Headed to the mountains for a hike or taking a breezy stroll through the woods this winter? Keep those feet dry and comfortable with these boots that were made for walking...
We asked gear manufacturers to submit the winter walking boots they felt were best suited to travellers. From the 14 pairs we were sent, our editor, Phoebe Smith, took them out on the road to see which performed best. The ‘Value Buy’ and ‘Best in Test’ boots are indicated.
At the budget end, you get a bendy sole that isn’t crampon compatible but a good set of multi-directional lugs for slippery ground (though not ice). A big rubber rand helps protect your toes, while the upper is synthetic fabric and mesh, to help it breathe. There is a waterproof lining but all that stitching could affect durability. You do get a good amount of ankle support and reasonable cushioning, but while it is the lightest on test (850g; size 5.5), it is the least versatile.
Verdict: Great value for level and lowland trails; a stiffer sole is required for tougher terrain.
Made from quality Nubuck leather, and with little stitching, these boots rate high for durability. A waterproof liner, good ankle support and reasonable cushioning are balanced by a less-than-firm toe box and no rand. The stiffer sole is not crampon-friendly, but underfoot are Michelin (as in the tyres) soles with a ‘winter compound’ rubber and deep lugs for grip. They are the third-lightest (987g) on test.
Verdict: Good freedom of movement for multi-activities – but not the best on ice or snow.
Go over £200 and you move into B1 territory. With a stiffer sole, these B1s take a C1 crampon, for use in the mountains. They also have a good set of lugs, with a pronounced heel break, huge rubber rand and a solid toe box, protecting both your foot and the boot itself. The ankle support is good and padded; there’s also a waterproof lining with cushioning underfoot – though they are less comfortable on the flat. At 1,329g, they are the heaviest on test.
Verdict: A great option for winter walking on trails and mountains, with good durability.
This ‘heritage-style’ offering from Portland (USA) bootmaker Danner featured in the Reese Witherspoon film Wild a few years ago. Made from soft suede and boasting a waterproof liner and little stitching, there’s a good Vibram sole underfoot with an excellent set of lugs and firm toe box. They don’t take a crampon but were the comfiest (like slippers!) by far, if a little heavy (1,015g; fourth lightest).
Verdict: Comfy, durable and a good price for suede, though with no crampon compatibility.
Pay a bit more and you get a proper leather boot with minimal stitching, to help with durability. There’s a waterproof lining and a good amount of underfoot cushioning, too. The toe box is nice and firm, and a pronounced set of lugs and heel break help with descents; however, they don’t take crampons. They do offer good ankle support, though, and at 944g they are the second-lightest on test.
Verdict: A leather boot that’s good in the cold and on low-level walks, but limited.
Also in the B1 category (taking a C1 crampon), the Scarpa boasts a set of aggressive lugs and a stiffer sole with a heel break. The toe box is firm and ankle support good, plus there’s also a decent-sized rubber rand. They are lighter than the Aku option (1,196g) and have a waterproof liner, but feel slightly less cushioned underfoot. If you’re looking for a wider fit, they will suit you better, but there really is little in it.
Verdict: A great winter option for those with wider feet, just pipped to the post by Aku.
Types of boot
Some winter boots offer extra warmth, some provide more grip on wet and frosty ground, while others will take a crampon if you want to go hiking on icy trails or go winter hillwalking. Decide what you will mainly be doing and make your choice.
As usual, with luggage weight restrictions, this is key. Going light is great, but do check the other features of the boot to make sure you’re not getting a lower weight at the price of comfort, or possibly less cushioning or warmth.
Lighter boots often have less cushioning underfoot. Check how much there is by trying on the boot and stamping your feet. You’ll quickly feel the difference between the models. If you plan on doing a lot of walking, then more cushioning is preferable.
This can be leather or synthetic. It’s worth bearing in mind that a boot with fewer panels and less stitching should, in theory, last longer, though it may often be heavier. Synthetic fabric also looks a bit more modern. Look for something waterproof (important in snow) and breathable.
Know your Bs and Cs
If buying a traditional walking winter boot, aka four-season, you’ll notice the soles are stiffer than the three season version. But even among these, they range in flexibility. That is because they are rated – either as B1 (least stiff), B2, or B3 (stiffest). This also helps you choose the right crampons (for walking on ice or thick, solid snow), which are similarly rated C1, C2 and C3 depending on flexibility. B1 boots are the most comfy to walk in, as they still offer some flex in the sole but only take a C1 crampon. B2 boots can take a C1 or C2 crampon, and B3 boots offer hardly any flex, as they are meant to help provide a platform for your foot (usually for Alpine mountaineers) but they can take any crampon types.
This is where you’ll feel how flexible your boot is. If you’re going to be walking on paths and even surface trail at low elevation, then a very bendy boot won’t really be a problem. You will feel more through it, though. However, if you want to tackle more rocky and uneven ground higher up in the mountains, a stiffer sole is the way to go, and then crampon compatibility becomes important.
Turn the boot over and look at the lugs – deeper ones will take longer to wear and grip better on slippery surfaces. Some boots will also have a heel break to help you grip better when descending.
A stiffer toe box with a large rubber rand covering will offer better protection from rocks and knocks.