Women's Boots for Winter?

5:43 p.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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Hi Everyone!  First, thanks for taking a moment to read this (it's a little long) and share any thoughts you might have!

My topic today is boots for winter.  I could use some advice. 

My current gear:  Scarpa GTX Kailash and Mountain Hardware Pinnacle Gaiters  (I honestly love the crap out of both of these pieces of gear, however.

My problem: No traction in the snow/ice/slush and freezing feet.  

What I do:  Wilderness search and rescue, off trail, back country, through briers, snow drifts, swamps, streams, up and down, left and right.  We train and use K9s to find missing hikers, campers, hunters, subjects with Alzheimer and Autism, etc - if you're lost and you're no longer on pavement, we get called in.  I follow the dog's nose, so if it exists, my feet are going to step in it, on it, through it, or over it.  I'm in the mid Atlantic US so I have to be prepared to be out in both the mountains of VA/WV/PA and the Great Dismal Swamp.

Things I need to take into consideration:

I'm a women's US size 5 to 5.5, EUR 35 to 35.5 aka, absurdly small, I also have a wide forefoot and a narrow heel.  good times.  :)

I rarely have to stay out multiple days, but an overnight is possible, and I have no problem putting my wet boots in a dry sack and cuddling up with them at night to keep them from freezing.  Boots are used 2 to 4 times a week for training.  I don't  have a lot of time for maintenance, so I'm thinking it's best I stay away from leather without a goretex class wpb.  I know myself and I won't remember to regularly waterproof them.    

When I'm looking for boots, I'm finding that what they call 'snow boots' are made for women walking to and from their car - there is no way they are going to hold up to the abuse I put my feet through.  'Hiking boots' aren't warm enough.  The few 'winter hikers' they make don't seem to promote confidence for waterproof.  I don't mean to seem like an equipment snob - if I could find boots for $70 that would really hold up to the abuse, I'll buy them - but the North Face Iceflare GTX boots probably aren't going to cut it for me.  If was sticking to trails, I'd be all over something like that, but I'm off trail.  

I'm starting to feel foolish looking at mountaineering boots for use on (at least half the time) 5 to 10 foot contour intervals, but I'm not sure where else to go. The trouble I have with some of the mountaineering boots is that they are made for high altitude areas where there isn't any liquid water, so they aren't overly concerned with puddles and slush...  And the other half of them are definitely WAY too technical for my needs.  I need the boot to move with my foot and have some flexibility.   

Surely they make a boot that is light, somewhat flexible, warm, and water proof, that can hold up to some serious abuse?  I will pay for whatever works.  I'd rather buy one pair of $400 boots than suffer through 3 pairs of $150 boots that don't work, if possible.  

6:34 p.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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It doesn't sound like mountaineering boots are the right choice for what you are doing.  i haven't met a pair that 'moves with your foot' or is 'somewhat flexible.'  they are also pretty heavy if the bulk of your use is walking without crampons & not in alpine terrain.

i would normally steer people toward a pair of rocky boots for what you are doing.  take a look at the rocky blizzard stalker.  insulated, high, somewhat flexible, waterproof but not leather, and super warm.  someone i winter hike with regularly swears by the rocky boots - made in the USA, too, if that matters to you.  probably too warm for non-winter use in the mid-atlantic. 

sorel is another option; they don't all have leather uppers any more.  consider the sorel alpha pac.  i have a 20+ year old pair of sorels, quality is outstanding (mine have leather uppers); i heard that quality declined somewhat when manufacturing went from Canada to Asia, though i have no idea how they hold up today. 

a word on sizing - if you're out a lot for extended periods of time in the cold, as is the case with SAR, you know that feet tend to swell.  between that and heavy socks, you may want to consider going up a size - to a 6 at a minimum, maybe even larger.  depends on fit, what socks you're using.

for off-trail traction in conditions that aren't too steep, i suggest you get a pair of Kahtoola microspikes.  like a combination of tiny crampons and tire chains for your boots.  whatever boots you get, strap on the spikes and walk around your front lawn in them, make sure they fit and don't fall off.  it stinks to find that out in the when you're off-trail and not a short walk from civilization. 

6:49 p.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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If your only worried about your traction, keep the boots you have now and just add the microspikes. They work really well.

7:31 p.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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I'd recommend taking a look at the Baffin line of made-in-Canada boots. Many styles,  rubber/neoprene, rubber/leather, etc etc. I find my all-rubber -40C rated boots (the 'Hunter' model, I think) wonderfully comfortable. A lace-up nylon collar at the top keeps snow out, no gaiters required. Traction's good, but take microspikes for ice. They make boots rated to -100C, even. You can buy extra wool-blend liners, to swap out if they get sweaty. And you can sleep with just the liners in your bag!


1:49 p.m. on December 19, 2012 (EST)
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You guys are all awesome!  :)


Already put an order in for a pair of microspikes.  Those will come in very handy, both on my existing boots until I find the right pair of winter boots, and for the 'wintry mix' we are prone to seeing in the non-mountain areas.  Most excellent.  

I'm definitely going to check out the Rocky boots.  I always check hunting dog supplies for things my dog needs, never thought to do it for humans, too.  If nothing else, I have a list of some other boots worth checking out from various hunting outfitters, so I'm sure I will be able to find something that works.  

Thanks for the baffin suggestion as well.  I will also check them out!  


7:51 p.m. on December 19, 2012 (EST)
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Hunting boots are the way to go. Somewhat of a compromise between Sorels and hiking boots.  Danner, Irish Setter, Rocky, etc...   Unfortunately there aren't as many choices in women's sizes, but there are still some.

3:36 p.m. on December 20, 2012 (EST)
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It's true they're aren't many choices, but at least there are some! (and they aren't pink cammo!  Why companies insist on making all women's outdoor gear be pink, purple, or covered in flowers is beyond me.)

Worse case, they have boys options, and I've had okay luck with boys shoes in the past.  They aren't as amazing quality, but they are less expensive, so I usually just buy two pairs if I find something that works well for the same price.  

If it works, I'll wear it!  

Looking forwrad to hitting a Cabela's up north over my holiday break to see how things fit.  

6:18 p.m. on December 20, 2012 (EST)
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I have my own ideas of what works under different circumstances Sorrels and Baffins are both great solutions, but the different models are for different circumstances.  Rather than attempting to divine what your working conditions are from a text description, I suggest asking your fellow in your theatre of operation SARs what they use for footwear.


1:28 a.m. on December 21, 2012 (EST)
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I'm going to suggest a pair of Steger Mukluks and a NEOS overboot. I don't have a pair, but have read great things about them. They aren't waterproof, which is why I suggested the overboot for warmer weather. They are not a year round boot, just deep winter. It's not cold enough here for Stegers so I'm probably going to get a pair of Kamiks (kind of like Sorels, but cheaper) for snowshoeing.

4:16 p.m. on December 22, 2012 (EST)
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I checked, my Baffins are actually the 'Storm' model, rated to -30C, with a -40C liner available. And they're 'hunter green' :) Now, if you look at them online they appear to be rubber boots with a wool & reflectix liner. The rubber Baffin uses, however, remains soft and flexible even in extreme cold. Hence the comfort and the easy tramping in them. The temp ratings are accurate, maybe even understated. Warm feet after a day of ice-fishing sure is nice.

A lot of Canadian women (and children) spend time outdoors in winter, so there's a good selection beyond the men's. Many outdoor worksites in Canada (oilfields etc.) actually require Baffin boots specifically (usually the steel toe & shank models).  I don't think they make anything pink. But the tread pattern leaves a pretty maple leaf in your footprint!

5:27 p.m. on December 22, 2012 (EST)
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My wife has a pair of Steger's under the tree, I hope she likes them and I hope they fit.

9:22 p.m. on December 22, 2012 (EST)
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Alan, let us know.  I know there is a whole thing about fitting them-I've read their website and read about them on wintertrekking.

12:25 a.m. on December 23, 2012 (EST)
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I called the store before I placed my order so I hope I got it right, not so much the length, but the width.  No real good way to subtely ask, "say honey, how wide is your foot?  Oh, no reason, just curious."

If I were buying her, or myself, a pair for hard winter use I'd go with the Empire Canvas Mukluk, I think it's a better product.

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