Poll: Plastic vs. Leather Winter Boots

6:16 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Hello everyone,

I'm considering doing more winter hiking, primarily in the White Mountains of NH, and also possibly trying ice climbing. I realize I'd probably need to get winter hiking/climbing/mountaineering boots. I am debating between plastic and leather boots. I talked to a number of people and read many on-line forums and it seems some people really prefer leather boots and some like plastic, for various reasons. I think I am starting to lean towards leather boots, but I'd like to get a better feel for what kind most people prefer and why. I created a poll with 5 questions Plastic vs. Leather Winter Boots 2008 Poll; if a number of folks vote we might be able to find out.

6:34 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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There is a problem with your poll right off the bat. My answer to question 1, for example, is "it depends on the conditions and what I am doing". Then the activities - I use plastic boots for certain activities and leather for other winter and snow activities. I suggest some more thought be put into the design of the poll (I might point out that this is a flaw in the vast majority of polls - the question design slants the answers - just look at the huge flood of polls this past political season)

6:56 p.m. on November 7, 2008 (EST)
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Most people know better than to ask for my opinion, however you are in luck, because I do not have enough experience on the topic to have an opinion.

Isn't honesty nice?

8:05 p.m. on November 9, 2008 (EST)
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I'm not a statistician, but it seems like if you flipped questions 1 and 2 a bit you'd at least get more relevant answers.

Such as:

Do you ice climb?
What type of boot do you primarily use/prefer for this activity? (and maybe a space for why)

Do you do winter day hikes?
What type of boot do you primarily use/prefer for this activity? (and maybe a space for why)

And so on... You're still going to have the "it depends" element to each activity's answer, but it would be more relevant overall.

Without doing your poll, I'd probably consider buying crampon-compatible leather mountaineering boots suitable for the types of winter hiking or mountaineering you expect to do. Then if you want to try ice climbing you can rent and try gear and later buy plastics specifically for that, if you decide you're really into it. But that's just my preference.

Remember, no boot will do everything very well, so figure out first what you want to do most of the time.

8:47 p.m. on November 9, 2008 (EST)
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I agree with that, most winter treks are more comfortably done with good pac boots, such as Hoffman's and leather mountain boots are often too cold and FREEZE harder than you would believe in any really cold weather.

So, Alicia is right on here, it is, as so often, a case of "horses for courses". For ONE cold weather boot that can do a lot, look at the "Winter 800" by Meindl and usually only found at Cabela's. I might well buy a pair in January for cold weather hiking in the steep country in the Kootenays as I now have a "long" winter bag to keep them warm in at night.

9:19 a.m. on November 10, 2008 (EST)
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Leather mountaineering boots if not water proofed right can absorb moisture and freeze solid overnight when you are not wearing them. I had this happen to me in Yosemite years ago and I could not put them back on. I ended up having to wear my only other footwear my snow booties, to snowshoe on to my next camp.

1:16 p.m. on November 10, 2008 (EST)
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Following Alicia's model, here are some answers with the "conditionals" -

Since you are talking about the Whites in NH (where I have done a fair amount of winter hiking (day and overnight) and ice climbing -

Day hike -
- on well-used trails, a pac boot
- off trail and on trails right after a snowfall, snowshoes or skis are necessary (even though New England snow is wet and dense, boots without snowshoes or skis sink in, making progress miserable), so:
-- snowshoes - pac boots
-- skis - boots appropriate to the kind of skis - track, skate, tele, AT - have to match the bindings, obviously. Note that ski boots are generally not good for much walking, though tele and the lighter AT boots are ok for short distances. These days, those are pretty much all synthetic, whether semi-rigid plastic or a softer leather-like plastic

Multiday -
-- snowshoes - I find pac boots are too soft to cinch the bindings down without cutting circulation for multi-day snowshoeing. So I often use heavy full leather mountaineering boots (Used to use double boots, since the Whites can get pretty cold), or sometimes my plastic double mountaineering boots. As Alicia noted, it is a good idea to have boots that can take crampons, especially on multi-day trips in the Whites, where you can run into ice (I have done some day hikes up peaks in New England, following the trail, which turned out to be a frozen stream, and the crampons were really nice to have).
-- skis - again, have to use boots that match the bindings, of course.

Ice Climbing -
-- As Alicia noted, you can rent the specialized boots you really need for ice climbing until you decide on what you want. Boots for ice climbing have been evolving rapidly over the past few years. They are pretty much all synthetic, some very rigid, some fairly flexible. Yeah, 10-15 years ago we used to thrash up easy ice with leather boots. And you can do moderate ice with plastic double mountaineering boots. But the specialized ice climbing boots make things a lot easier.

10:46 p.m. on November 10, 2008 (EST)
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I found this out the hard way as a lad when I first started using "misery slippers" and tried various boots to find which worked best. I have used Meindl Aconcaguas, Galibier Super Guides, Kastingers of a similar type and even Raichle leather double ski-mountaineering boots.

However, all of these are not capable of withstanding severe cold and one can very easily get frostbitten if using them in -20*F, for daylong treks. What we found WOULD work was/is pacs with stiff soles as in my old Actons, the Schnee's with the "air bobs" and various others of this type.

It seems as though the more rigid sole gives enough overall resistance to the snowshoe binding that the straps/harness does not cut too deeply into one's foot. I have used these for 40 years this coming January and with total satisfaction.

I have tried my "Mickey Mouse" boots, but, can't get too fashed over these as they make your feet sweat and are too bulky in the mountains. I did have a pair of Canforce issue "duffle mukluks" and these worked superbly, however, they are VERY costly and quite hard to get. Mine were a gift from a former colleague and nothing works like these, but, they were stolen with my 4x4 and I have not replaced them.

One might look at leather hikers/mountain boots plus NEOS insulated overboots, could be a good option.

11:40 a.m. on November 11, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks, kutenay, for the reminder.

noreaster, overboots are a good solution for boosting foot warmth. You can wear them with crampons or on snowshoes. One problem, though, is that most overboots have smooth bottoms (can't even call them "soles" in most cases), hence no grip. The overboots will also keep your leather boots dry.

12:32 p.m. on November 11, 2008 (EST)
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What I do is to carry the light Kahtoola alloy crampons and these are a REAL benefit to a geezer with gimpy legs, like me, when hauling a heavy pack or when caught on a frosty, steep grass meadow or crusted snow.

I go with my pacs, the Kahtoolas, Komperdell C3s and may carry an ice axe on my pack as well. Since I am usually solo, this gives me a level of safety that makes it worth carrying the slight extra weight. I have fallen enough times and am too damm old to not take every precaution I can; the Kahtoolas fit over NEOS boots very nicely and are a VERY useful mountain tool.

1:27 p.m. on November 11, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks, everyone! Lots of good info and clearly many aspects to consider. Appreciate all the feedback. About 20 people voted on the poll (http://www.wepollyou.com/poll/show/12) and so far it shows that most people seem to prefer leather boots and primarily for fit and comfort. for high-altitude mountaineering plastic boots are almost as popular as leather boots (but very few total votes). I think I'll be doing mostly day hikes in the Whites this winter and it sounds like leather boots would serve me well for that. Whenever I look at plastic boots I imagine how uncomfortable it will be walking in them, although some people indicated it's not too bad.

6:40 p.m. on November 11, 2008 (EST)
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Plastic mountaineering double boots are made with a rocker, so they actually walk as easily as a leather mountaineering boot suitable for cold weather and snow. Besides, in snow, the snow itself provides the "flex". They are somewhat less comfortable on flat pavement, until you learn the technique of walking in them. I have done as much as 15 miles in mine, carrying a 55 pound pack, crosscountry and on non-maintained trails, no snow cover, with no problems.

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