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Winter hiking boots!

Looking for a pair of winter hiking boots.  I have only ever used the plastic shell mountaineering boots and I am looking for something lighter and it does not need to have a liner.  I looked into the north face storm winter, but not sure if that will be warm enough and I also checked out the merrell polarand 8 boots.  Any other suggestions, what is your setup? What do you like and dislike about it?  

I have a pair of Meindl Bhutans (plus warm socks)... but havent taken them out into anything lower than -5 oC. They are very nice well built boots. They work well for me but I generally run warm so I cant really judge how they would be for other people.

when it's really cold, I wear plastic mountaineering boots, scarpa invernos with an upgraded/insulated liner.  by 'really cold,' I mean consistently sub-zero and with a goal of keeping my toes intact at -30 to -40.  they are also easier to dry out if you're doing trips of any length b/c you can remove the inner boot and put it in the foot of your sleeping bag. 

if it's cold but not brutal, if I don't anticipate needing crampons, and if it's a day or a short overnight where I don't worry so much about drying the boot out in a tent overnight, I have been happy with Merrell's winter boots - the ones I use now are an older version of the merrell glacier shell, a relatively inexpensive option.  the merrells I have are comfortable, with a good pair of wool socks, down to about zero, even if I'm sitting around for a while; they feel very warm if I'm walking steadily, especially if it's warmer, say 25 Fahrenheit or above.  I'm guessing the polarand 8 you looked at is somewhat better insulated than the boots I'm using. 

(for what it's worth, bring along a section of the local newspaper and stuff crumpled newspaper into your boots overnight - it is very effective at drying them out, even if they don't have removable inner boots, esp. if you have a waterproof stuff sack or garbage bag so you can put the damp boots inside the bag, in the foot of a sleeping bag). 

A lot depends on how a boot fits and how cold you tend to get.  you want a certain amount of wiggle room in insulated boots, because too tight can limit your circulation and chill your toes.  Merrell winter boots fit me well; I have a pretty wide foot.  I am not one of those people who tends to get cold feet. 

I have an old pair of sorels, have probably replaced the felt liners 4 or 5 times over the years.  they aren't great for hiking, the fit is too washy and I tend to blister in them as a result.  but, they are very warm and remain very nice for snowshoeing.   

neither sorels nor the softer winter boots like the merrells I have work with crampons, even flexible ones (people may tell you otherwise, but try hiking along and constantly having your crampons fall off.  it is so annoying).  they do OK with kahtoola microspikes if you expect slippery conditions. 


Both the La Sportiva and Scarpa boots I have have done well for me in winter and Alpine conditions. They also both have lasts that are very close to my foot shape. I am referring here to my lighter winter boots, like La Sportiva's Evo Nepals. They take crampons well and hike well on approaches as well as on the mountains in the Andes where I have been spending the past 3 "summers" (their winter June-July), as well as in the Cascades and Wasatch. I used to use my Scarpa Invernos a lot in the Alaska Range in summer as well as the Cascades and Wasatch in winter. But I decided they were too heavy after using the Evo Nepals. I used the Invernos in other ranges with overboots for a number of years.

As Andrew says, the main thing is how the boots fit your foot. While Scarpa and La Sportiva may match my feet, they might not match yours. So the old advice still holds - go to an experienced professional boot fitter.

Thanks for the tips! 

You may want to ask on other websites besides Trailspace where the members spend more time in really cold weather than most of us do. Views from the Top is a New England site and is a deep winter camping site with mostly Canadian and Northern US members. Many of them wear mukluks like Stegers or boots like Sorels. Not really hiking boots, because they are usually on showshoes, but they will keep your foot warm.

The thing to watch for with plastic boots, if you haven't encountered it already, is toe bang or shin bang, which will really ruin your day, and yes, I've had both from ill fitting plastic boots.

Thabks, I will check that out too but you guys seem to be on the money with what I am looking for though. I have used sorels, too sloshy for day hikes where I'm covering lots of ground on mixed rock, ice and snow and too warm. The plastic boots have worked perfect for expeditions but too much for a quick jaunt up a mountain. I'm really just trying to decide on 100g or 200g of insulation, since my feet sweat but my toes get really cold. I guess it will really all come down to fit, maybe? I've not encountered tow bang or maybe I have? What happens? My boots have never fit all that well sincw they were usually borrowed.

Finally getting around to answering your question. Toe bang happens when your foot slides forward in your boot and your big toe hits the front of the boot. It can cause serious bruising and you can eventually lose your toenail. It really hurts after a while and will make walking or skiing very painful.

My wife and I have had really good luck with Salomon boots. We both have the Quest 4D GTX models. They are all we use in the winter for day hikes in the Whites of NH. We pair them with a nice wool sock and, if the snow is deep, a set of Gators. They work well with snowshoes and our Hillsound Trailspike crampons.

They provide enough warmth without being bulky and they have a fairly aggressive sole which helps in the snow.

"NEOS" over boots look like waterproof mukluks and are used as a lighter alternative to felt pacs. Mine have a felt insole below the felt liner bootie and an arch supporting rigid foam insole inside the felt bootie. REI has a good selection.

** When winter camping it is VERY important to wear a Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL). I've found the very best VBL is a light neoprene, seam sealed diver's sock worn over thin poly liner sox. Liner sox must be changed out every night after removing the VBL and turning it inside out to dry).

Eric, which NEOS do you have? I've looked at them online, but haven't seen them in person. My next pair might be Steger mukluks, but it might be too warm in the Sierra for them. Still thinking about it.


I have the original knee-high black NEOS from 14 years ago that were made as "extreme overshoes". Being knee high they require no gaiters.

NEOS are waterproof. Steger mukluks are breathable but not waterproof B/C they are meant for sub zero temps.

Thanks Eric. I knew that about the Stegers, so I thought those with a pair of Neos might work.  But I have a pair of Asolo F95 or something like that and maybe a pair of overboots with those would work.

i use stephenson's vapor barrier socks.  they suffer abuse well.  the seams weren't sealed, and i have had to re-do the seams once.  if/when they fail, i might go back for a custom pair that are a few inches taller.  i wear a thin liner (wool or capilene )underneath.  

in case it's not clear, vapor barrier socks are completely waterproof material - coated nylon or something similar - that do not allow water vapor to escape or wick into your thicker socks or boot insulation.  all the moisture your feet generate stays right there next to your foot (and hopefully the liner sock you're wearing underneath the vapor barrier sock).  

vapor barriers are good for people who get cold feet and sweat because they preserve the integrity of your sock and boot insulation.  it may seem counterintuitive to keep all that moisture contained, and it takes some time to get used to how they feel, but they really do work.  I use a vapor barrier lining in down sleeping bags when it's really cold for the same basic reason - they keep the vapor your body generates while sleeping out of the bag's insulation.  

Most of the discussion seems to be about mountaineering boots.  For winter hiking I like leather insulated hunting boots. Worn with gaiters they work fine for all conditions including snow.  The leather can be treated and most come with a Goretex liner. They are made for walking and are not that expensive.  They work fine with snowshoes.

Columbia Bugaboot, cheaper, warm, more comfy than mountaineering boots, which we only really need when we use crampons. 


I use thin neoprene diver's sox for my VBLs. I just seam sealed them and they have lasted for years of hunting and winter camping. You only need to wear a thin poly sock under them to prevent clamminess.

At night I put the liner sock in a small roll-top waterproof (i.e. stink proof) bag, turn the neoprene sox inside out to dry and later put them in the foot of my sleeping bag all night to stay warm for morning. Same with my felt pac liners.

Boot shell tops get "telescoped" over each other and placed in vestibule.


I think it is not completely clear what you are looking for and the situation you will be using the boots for. The suggestions from me and others have been aimed at several situations that are mutually exclusive.

Personally, I have a number of different boots that work well in the conditions they were designed for, but are awful in other conditions. For example, my Scarpa Invernos are excellent when climbing Denali and work fairly well for hiking and climbing in Antarctica, but not very good for winter snowshoeing in the Sierra. My La Sportiva Olympus Mons are excellent for technical climbing in Antarctica during the "summer" season, but not much else. My Baffin boots are fantastic for mushing a team of huskies, but I wouldn't want to hike very far in them.  When teaching the in-snow session of the Winter camping course I do for adult Boy Scout leaders or leading a snowshoe ecology hike for the Sierra Club's lodge, my Sorels are just fine (we stop a lot to identify trees, discus how the snow we are hiking on will be the participants drinking water next spring and summer, etc). They are warm enough for Sierra snow in February, but not a January storm hike.

You mention having used double plastic boots for guiding trips, but are asking about "other" activities. Maybe you can define what the "other" activities are going to be.

The sock combination is another thing that varies according to application. I use VBL socks with some of my boots (the Baffins have very thick insulation, which can hold a lot of moisture if you don't use VBL socks, as can my Sorels in their felt liners). With other boots, VBLs sometimes get too clammy even for me.

If you are snowshoeing, the mukluks from Cooke Custom Sewing work well.  I put a pair of wool-felt liners in mine to give them a bit more shape.  These would not work well for general hiking.

If Kevin Kinney at Empire Canvas Works ever starts making his mukluks again, those are the ones to buy.  He has not had time to produce these the past couple of seasons and I don't know if he plans on bringing them back into production.

I'd like to also suggest looking online at Cabela's catalog. They have the most extensive collection of winter footwear anywhere. 

I've found the Sorel Conquest to be an excellent boot for snowshoeing and hiking. It laces well down toward the toes so you can fit them to your feet (they tend to run wide), and the -40 temp rating is pretty accurate. The outsoles aren't as rigid as backpacking or mountaineering boots but they do offer decent support (I wouldn't scramble in them), and the Achilles strap is nice on ascents. I've used them for 10 years now and have no real complaints. 

Alan sounds like he knows his way around snowy trails.

November 24, 2020
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