selecting winter boots

10:31 p.m. on August 12, 2010 (EDT)
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OK, it's August, so it's time to start thinking about what happens in another month (or longer if we're lucky) before cold and snow starts blanketing the terrain (read: Sierra :).

In the past I've used regular hiking boots in the winter, but they're obviously less than ideal. I've noticed recently, several stores have had a plethora of true winter boots in the markdown racks ... presumably to make way for not-really-different-yet-branded-with-the-current-model-year models. Now seems to be a good time to get ahead of the curve in terms of a functional pair of winter boots.

I haven't done any research yet, but what are your thoughts? My high level criteria are something like this:

- suitable for hiking/backpacking, snowshoeing ("probably" nothing technical like crampons)

- suitable for cold weather (read: 0-32F)

- as light as possible

- comfortable

- good tread/traction

What else should I look for? Any particular brands/models to look for / avoid?


11:21 p.m. on August 12, 2010 (EDT)
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Forget light. Winter boots aren't light. If you want to go old school, get a pair of Sorels. You can still find the old Canadian made Sorels on eBay. I've worn Sorels, mine and an old pair of Jim Shaw's. They are warm and clumsy and work just fine with showshoes. One advantage Sorels have is a removeable liner that you can dry out at night. They are relatively comfortable and compared to a lot of other winter boots, cheap.

Look on other sites like Views From the Top (a NE site) or Wintertrekking (Northen US and Canada) for lots of info on winter boots.

11:11 a.m. on August 13, 2010 (EDT)
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Tom is right. I have yet to see a true winter boot that is anything under about 4 pounds. That would be a feature I would toss out in my boot quest. However the good traction is something I find very important. I tend to always find the loosest dirt and slickest rocks on the trail!, so a good tread combo is a top priority. I have read that the Lowa Tibet boots are pretty good for cold weather, and that they are not recommended in warmer months due to the fact that they are a "warm-wearing" boot. But that is just what I have read. I have been using a pair of Merrells (I don't remember which model, I wrote a quick review on them when I first joined the site, so review not the best) with some good wool socks and they have worked pretty well down to mid to lower 30s, but haven't gone much colder than that.

9:48 p.m. on August 13, 2010 (EDT)
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Sorel still makes boots, which you can get at REI. They claim -60F, but that has to include wearing proper winter clothing - somehow I don't believe you could stand nekkid with only your Sorels on.

I have a pair of Sorel Caribous that I have had for 25 years and use a lot for snowshoeing, especially when Barb and I lead the snowshoe ecology hikes for the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge and some of the Boy Scout hikes. I don't remember the model of Barb's right now. As Tom said, they work great on snowshoes and stomping around in the snow (as long as it isn't too deep or you wear gaiters to keep the snow out of the top). I have worn them in -30F to -40F weather and for multiday snowshoe trips. It's a bit late for the sales at REI, but you will be able to get them cheap in spring.

Try Goodwill or Salvation Army for used ones.

4:58 p.m. on August 23, 2010 (EDT)
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for basic winter day hikes in reasonable weather I use a 4 season trailrunner that goes well above the ankle made by Cabella's. They were cheap, like $50, and they are rate for 4 seasons thus always keep my feet warm. I use them at a nearby small state park with a little 1000' mountain which I climb in the winter because no one else is ever in the park. Last winter the temps reached -10 with a wind chill and with just a pair of smartwool socks under them, my feet were toasty warm.

Again, this was a short hike, for mountaineering i use double plastic boots. I do not know if these will fit snow shoes...i know nothing about snow shoes actually.

8:17 p.m. on August 23, 2010 (EDT)
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Bill, I didn't mean to imply Sorels aren't still made. Sorry about the confusion. My pair, which I got off eBay were made in Canada, the newer ones come from.....China, where else?

In super cold weather, you can get insoles from Heat Factory that take a small chemical heater that fits under the ball of your foot. The only caution with those is that unless it's really cold, your boot will get too hot.

Also a caution about plastic boots-if they don't fit right, you can wind up losing your big toe nails from toe bang or banging your shins so badly you can barely walk. Umm, personal experience in both instances with different boots.

11:24 p.m. on August 23, 2010 (EDT)
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I have size 10 Willis and Geiger Arctic Boot. These are new with tags still on them. Rated to-70F Baffin Product with gel flex mid-sole and heel.These have a great grip pattern on them. Full grained timberwolf leather uppers,liner(removeable) has"therma-tuff"which pullsmoisture awayfrom the foot. If interested email I would guess the size is really about8.5 to 9.5 I'm 8.5 and with wool socks they would fit.

11:45 p.m. on August 25, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks for all the great suggestions!

I've seen some Sorels on the markdown racks at a couple stores.... only problem is, in both cases, they were size 14's.

Winter's a-comin' :-( so I better start looking harder...

1:54 a.m. on August 26, 2010 (EDT)
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I see you are in SF. Check out Sports Authority. I've seen them in the one down here in WLA. I found mine on eBay for about $50 in excellent condition. I later sold them for $40, and that was a steal.

If I was in really cold weather, I'd get these-a modern take on really old school Eskimo/Inuit technology.

3:50 p.m. on August 26, 2010 (EDT)
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4:11 p.m. on August 26, 2010 (EDT)
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Sorels are great for snowshoeing and short walks, shoveling snow, standing around....but I don't like them so much for longer walks or hikes, or when I'm carrying a pack of any significant weight (unless i'm on snowshoes). all winter boots feel a little washy and not close-fitting, which encourages blood circulation, but the classic Sorel (eg the Caribou, which i have used for over 20 years) has a very mushy fit and a fairly flat, unsupportive sole. in my opinion, anyway. Salomon, Columbia, North Face, Rocky, Cabela are all good alternatives, insulated with primaloft or thinsulate and with a more supportive sole and a somewhat closer fit. my brother in law swears by his Rockys, which he has even used with strap crampons (eg the north face contact strap.)

if you look toward Rocky or Cabela, look for something with 200-400 gram thinsulate unless you tend to get cold feet. the heavy-duty hunting boots w/1200 gram thinsulate can be uncomfortably warm for hiking unless you expect deep-freeze conditions.

if you don't have local places where you can try them on, campor and cabelas websites both have a variety of choices.

9:41 a.m. on August 28, 2010 (EDT)
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Tom - yep I'm in SF - and Sports Authority is one of the places where I saw the Sorels on closeout ... but i size 14's :). I only checked one location though so far. I'll check out others, as well as some of the other options others have suggested in this thread. Thanks!

1:00 p.m. on August 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Actually I take that back. It was Sports Basement where I saw the Sorels on closeout. I'll go check out Sports Basement too :).

5:53 p.m. on August 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Leadbelly is right about the mushy fit of Sorels. That was one reason I got rid of mine, plus I was switching over to skis and didn't need them. I think I'm going back to snowshoes for certain hikes, so I may pick up another pair and put an insole in them. I have Heat Factory insoles that are pretty supportive-they are licensed from SuperFeet, so they look like SuperFeet and take a small heat pack under the ball of the foot, if it gets really cold.

10:08 p.m. on August 30, 2010 (EDT)
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Something like that sounds good for me. I tend to have cold feet ... and that factor, along with my equally cold hands (fingers), is one of the major factors that keeps me from doing more hiking & camping in the winter months ...

3:47 a.m. on August 31, 2010 (EDT)
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In that case, definitely look at the Heat Factory insoles-

I also have a pair of their gloves-the Snow Claw - a kind of mitten/glove hybrid that take a small heat pack on the back of the hand. Never used them that way, but could in really cold weather, if need be.

12:47 a.m. on October 25, 2010 (EDT)
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Hmmm, Tom, somehow I missed that post about the  I'll check that out, thanks!  It sounds like that might be just the ticket for my cold fingers problem.

Anyway, now that I have my snowhoes, and we're on the cusp of winter, I'm looking more seriously at winter boots.  Several here recommended Sorels, but in my research, I've run across a bunch of threads where people say Sorels "used to be great but have gone way downhill".  Apparently they're not made in Canada anymore, and the newer ones are of poorer quality.  One site even had a video of a consumer demonstrating how they leaked for him, while still brand new.

So I'm exploring alternatives.  I see this boot from LL Bean that's a similar style, and maybe (being LL Bean) would still be good quality?

What do you all think of this one?  They have this one (with the Velcro fasteners) and one with traditional laces.  And they're about $40 less expensive than the Sorels.

Only real downside is they're in Freeport, I'm in San Francisco, so obviously I can't try 'em on ... so I run the risk of them not fitting and dealing with the hassles and expense of a return...

3:00 p.m. on October 25, 2010 (EDT)
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ll bean has a reasonable but not ideal return policy.  full refund, customer satisfaction guaranteed, $6.50 for return shipping (their site sells prepaid return labels).  they have a number of retail stores, but the closest to you is Illinois.  a long drive. 

if you like ll bean, i would opt for the same boot, but with laces.  if those velcro flaps come loose and get fouled with snow, they could become effectively useless.

you could also get a pair of sorels from REI; if Sorel is indeed an inferior product today, REI still has an excellent return/guarantee. 

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