7 Important Features to Look for in Winter Boots

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1. Warmth

Warmth is obviously a major concern when shopping for winter boots. How can a consumer measure the warmth a boot will offer without trying them out? For one, manufacturers of serious winter boots often give a temperature rating. Sorel, a popular brand of cold weather footwear, makes boots that can handle up to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. When no temperature rating is available, look at the lining materials. Different kinds of winter boots have different linings. Pac boots have removable linings made of polypropylene, wool, acrylic, or special materials like Zylex. These boots are used for outdoor activities, such as hiking, when it is important to be able to quickly dry out boots. Winter boots without a removable liner often use thermal materials like Thinsulate. Look for boots with 400 to 800 grams of insulation for extreme cold and less insulation for boots that will be used during fall and spring as well. Fashion boots often use a kind of wool called shearling. True shearling provides good insulation, but beware of faux shearling made of synthetic fibers that may look like the real deal but provide little warmth.

Another factor that contributes to the warmth of a boot is the insole. The lining is a moot point if the cold seeps in through the sole and insole. For this reason, the insole is often insulated as well.

2. Breathability

Boot linings do more than insulate the foot against the cold. Many winter boots have antibacterial or antimicrobial properties to prevent foot odors and bacterial growth that can start when the boot is left moist with perspiration. Look for these as well as quick-drying technologies when shopping for winter boots.

Breathability sometimes clashes with the need for waterproofing. For example, some lightweight winter hiking boots feature a nylon mesh in the upper that permits great breathability, but this allows in water. Most winter boots are made of a combination of materials. Full leather boots are more waterproof but not as breathable as boots with a combination of split-grain leather and nylon. However, there are also materials like Gore-Tex, which are considered both waterproof and breathable.

Those who tend to perspire a lot should take care to buy breathable winter boots. Although special waterproof and breathable materials may cost more, the passage of air in the boot will prevent foot fungi, or worse, frostbite that can occur when the feet are wet in sub-zero conditions.

3. Comfort

When winter boots are worn for extended periods, comfort is a very important issue. In particular, a good boot should support the foot and the arch and encourage good walking posture. The boot insole and lacing systems are mainly responsible for the comfort of a boot. Good insoles have padding and arch support. If special orthopedic insoles are used, make sure to size the boot accordingly. Some boots offer pronation control. Pronation is the inward roll of the foot upon impact with the ground. An incorrect amount of pronation can lead to knee and back problems. Those who will be using winter boots to walk long distances or run should look for this feature when gauging the comfort of a boot.

Lacing systems also have a lot to do with good fit. Full lacing provides the best possible fit. Winter Pac boots often do not have full lacing but make up for it because of their superior protection against deep snow. Other fashion boots are also pulled on and not laced at all. When this is the case, the shaft measurement is often given to make sure the foot will enter easily.

4. Boot Traction

The traction that a boot offers is determined by the size and depth of the lugs on the outsole. Lugs are the channels and bumps in the rubber that grip the ground surface to prevent slips and falls. The outsole can also have a heel brake. This is a heel that stands out from the rest of the outsole, providing protection against slips on sharp descents and uneven terrain.

By far the most common material for the outsole is rubber. However, there are many classes of rubber and different kinds of outsoles. More expensive boots have interchangeable outsoles that can be replaced as they wear out, prolonging the life of the boot. Some outsoles are made of rubber mixed with carbon. This makes the rubber much harder, extending the life of the outsole, but this kind of rubber can be slick on icy surfaces.

5. Waterproofing for Winter Activities

Besides water-resisting properties of the boot upper material, there are other features in boots that prevent water, snow, or slush from entering the boot. One is a gusseted tongue. A gusseted tongue is attached to the boot with triangular pieces on the sides so that there is no space through which water could seep.

Another important characteristic of water-resistant boots is a cuff or gaiter. A cuff is a snug lining that curves at the top of the boot to form a kind of collar. This catches snow that would normally go into the boot, and encourages the snow to fall to the outside of the boot. Similarly, a gaiter is meant to stop snow from getting in through the top of the boot. Also called “top closures,” gaiters are tubes that extend upwards from the top of the boot and tighten around the calf. Gaiters can be bought separately, but they are also included in winter boots. They can extend anywhere from just above the boot to all the way up to the knee.

6. Lightweight Winter Boots

With all that insulation, padding, and waterproofing, winter boots are not exactly the lightest shoes one will ever own. In fact, after a few hours of wear, heavy winter boots make their presence felt unmistakably. While a feeling of sturdiness is good on the feet, the weight of the boots should not make moving a chore. Today’s technology has made padding and insulating materials more lightweight and less bulky than ever, a fact which shoppers should take advantage of. Petite women in particular find that lightweight winter boots are more comfortable and a pleasure to wear.

7. Ankle Support in Boots

Even the lightest boots will be heavier than a favorite pair of summer sandals. For this reason, it is important to support the ankles, which might not be used to carrying so much weight. Just because boots have high tops, it does not mean that they provide ankle support. Look for padded sides, a firm structure, and lacing all the way to the top to make sure the ankle will be well supported.

Winter Boot Feature Summary

The table below lists the features in this guide and how to check for them in a winter boot. All the necessary information should be in the manufacturer’s shoe description. Other factors like sizing and comfort can be checked in reviews or by trying on the shoe at a brick-and-mortar store.

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