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Western Mountaineering Expedition Booties

rated 4.5 of 5 stars
photo: Western Mountaineering Expedition Booties bootie

In forty years of winter camping these have arguably been the warmest booties I've encountered. The outer fabric is highly weatherproof.

Pros

  • Very effective closed cell foam insole and heel area.
  • Gore WindStopper fabric.
  • Integrated over-the-calf gaiter.

Cons

  • No mechanism to cinch the ankle area.
  • Feet slide around inside the bootie especially on uneven surfaces.

I've been a four-season backpacker for 40+ years, and have suffered from cold feet most of that time. I've experimented with various products and homemade designs ever since, but have now resigned myself to the fact that I'll rarely experience "toasty" feet, but will happily settle for toes and heels that aren't "stone cold". With the long nights in winter, there is a fair amount of sitting around camp before climbing into my bag, and that's when my feet get their coldest. Placing a piece of closed cell foam under my feet definitely helps, but it's rare when my feet are actually feeling warm. Note: I do not suffer from diabetes or peripheral vascular disease. I seem to have feet that just get cold real easily.

The following are the three products, or variations thereof, that I've been using for the past 15+ years: MontBell's "Down Booties" (think down socks), MontBell's "WindStopper Booties", Western Mountaineering's "Expedition Booties", and Feathered Friends' "overshell" half of their down booties. (FF's are a two-piece bootie — a plush down sock plus a nylon-shelled, closed cell foam-soled "over shell").

Of the three company's off-the-shelf products, the WM's Expedition Bootie is a clear winner in the warmth category. However, there are compromises with all three. All three brands use 800 fill goose down. All three utilize a "grippy" material on the sole, which doesn't grip at all on crusty snow or ice.

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Western Mountaineering's Expedition Bootie

WM's Expedition Booties are mostly well thought out. The only thing lacking, and thus the 4.5 stars, is no ability to cinch the bootie around the ankle. Inside the foot section is an elastic gasket that closes around the ankle which keeps the warm air from escaping, however the foot volume is such that one's foot slips and slides on the inside all over the place when attempting to walk on uneven surfaces, which is just about everything in crusty snow. The outer soles do not grip at all on hard, crusty snow or ice, but the same applies to the other two brands as well.

The two big "pluses" from my perspective are the over-the-calf integrated gaiter, and a closed cell 'cup' built into the heel area so when sitting with your legs extended, and your heels are the only part of your foot making contact with the ground (snow), they benefit from the extra padding and insulation. The gaiter is essential when walking around in fresh or non-consolidated snow. You can post hole with abandon and keep snow out of the bootie. Even when tromping around in wet snow the outer fabric has never wetted out or let moisture in (after more than ten seasons of use). 

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MontBell's WindStopper Bootie
MontBell's down bootie is very similar in appearance to WM's except they do not have a closed cell foam insole. Other than the patch of waterproof material on the bottom, these are essentially a very puffy down sock with an integrated over-the-calf gaiter. I'm baffled by the lack of an insulated insole as they're next to useless 'as is' for walking around in snow. Sure you can posthole with abandon and no snow will get inside, but your weight will compress the down in the sole, and your feet will absolutely freeze in a few minutes. Based on how these feel, I'm guessing these may contain more down the WM's booties. These are also a bit more tailored for feet than WM's so my feet don't slide around inside. So now,  you're asking yourself why I hang on to these. Because I've happened upon a very clever solution to the insole issue.

 

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MontBell's bootie inside Feathered Friends' outer shell
Feathered Friends' down booties are a two-piece product with a plush down 'sock' inside a nylon outer bootie (shell) which includes a closed cell insole and a waterproof bottom layer of fabric virtually the same as both MB's, and WM's. I ordered just the outer bootie from FF for around $50 2-3 years ago. It's not listed as an option on their web site, but just call and request. The outer bootie has two cinch toggles: one at the top, and one around the top of the foot. This combination seems to be as warm as WM's but in addition, my feet don't slide around inside. Another plus is when fresh snow sticks to the bottom of the outer bootie, I slip those off when entering the tent and I still have the insulated bootie on my feet. There is no 'heel cup' built into FF's outer bootie like WM's so after sitting a while with legs extended, my heels get quite cold.

 

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Feathered Friends' outer bootie with Mont Bell's down socks
This combination I use for spring snow camping when the snow is highly consolidated and post holing is a small concern. I already owned the down socks (MontBell calls them "booties") so no need to purchase the complete two-piece bootie from FF. A hiking buddy of mine has the two-piece set up from FF and believes the FF down 'sock' has less fill than these MB socks. I've used this set up a couple of times in mid winter with temps down in the upper teens/low 20's, and it's been very apparent how effective the over-the-calf gaiters work on the other booties. These are just short enough that they let cold air up my pant legs, and what a difference.
If I could only own one pair of down booties, I'd probably choose Western Mountaineering's as there's only one piece to mess with rather than two, and the heel cup really makes a noticeable difference for insulation. With the amount of 'sitting around' camp during the short days of winter, the overall comfort of the WM booties is hard to beat. Lastly, I've added aerogel insoles to both the WM and FF booties, and to be honest I don't notice any improvement.
Current prices:
WM Expedition Booties $165; Mont Bell WindStopper Booties $129, MB "down booties" (socks) $80; FF down booties $119 (outer shell alone around $50). If you order the MB WindStopper Booties directly from their Japanese web site, with the current yen:dollar exchange rate, they're about $80 - heck of a deal, but there will be shipping added, maybe $20 - 25. When your order exceeds somewhere around $150 shipping is free, or it used to be.

Background

Been using all of these products in cold, winter conditions for more than ten years.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: WM $160, FF $50, MB $90 & 24

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Specs

Price Current Retail: $130.00-$165.00
Historic Range: $109.95-$165.00
Reviewers Paid: $160.00
Weight <8 oz per pair
Insulation 800 fill power European goose down
Material Gore Windstopper shell fabric
Made in USA
Product Details from Western Mountaineering »

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