Outdoor

The Finest Winter Mountaineering Boots of 2021

We found the best winter hiking boots for tackling snow, rain, mud, and cold. Get ready to hit the trail all season long.

Winter means different things depending on your location. From the snowy Colorado mountains to the dry Arizona desert and up to the perpetually wet Pacific Northwest, we put these boots to the ultimate test.

We’ve broken this list into categories to help you find the best boot for your particular scenario. And if you need more help choosing, be sure to check the buying guide at the end.

The Best Winter Hiking Boots of 2021

Best Men’s Overall: Oboz Sawtooth 8” II

The Sawtooth 8 II ($165) surpassed GearJunkie’s expectations and quickly became one of the best winter boots for men. It delivered a confident, reliable, and protective winter hiking experience to check the boxes across varying conditions. The boot feels stiff, without compromising circulation to the ankle, foot, and toes.

Unlike many models, winter or summer, the tongue rides high to protect shins while bashing through the crust. Laces flow through webbed hooks to fine-tune tension and fit even with gloves on. Wrapped in Oboz’s proprietary waterproof-breathable barrier, Sawtooth manages internal perspiration while defending against the inflow of water or melting snow.

As part of an extended line of hiking boots across the spectra of height, insulation, and waterproof capability, Sawtooth deploys 200g insulation. While remaining protected by a proven combination of Nubuck leather and durable synthetics.

More than warm enough for winter hiking, its construction and materials keep weight lower and the price more reasonable. Comfortable out of the box, Sawtooth musters traction through a specialized, silica-infused sole that affirms it as our choice as the Men’s Overall Best pick.

  • Best for: Moderate to cold conditions and mid- to high-mileage outings
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Pros: Protection, moisture management
  • Cons: Appearance

Check Price at Amazon

Best Women’s Winter Hiking Boot: Oboz Bridger 7” Insulated

oboz bridger 7 insulated

Finding a boot that spans the spectrum of winter weather is a challenge, one that Oboz took on with vigor. With this Bridger model ($185), a well-managed cloak of 200g insulation handles moderate to fairly deep cold. That’s true even during brief periods of stop-and-stare appreciation of the winter landscape.

Wool-topped insoles fight back conductive heat loss through the boot’s outsole. And the addition of waterproof leather adds years of durability even on rocky trails or through sharp-crusted snow.

Oboz has never been shy about grabbing for traction with its hiking boots. Here, directional lugs and specialized, silica-infused winter soles add meaningful grip on icy surfaces. Testers took on extremely slick road surfaces along with frosty trails with no notable slippage.

While boot heights for winter hiking boots vary dramatically, the 7-inch upper on this Bridger strikes an efficient balance between weather protection, ankle support, and agility across mixed terrain.

Hikers with Oboz brand experience will instantly recognize the reliable lacing system, protective toe, and wrapped outsole in the Bridger, Sawtooth, and Arete lines. Styling is consistent as well, offering a distinctive profile that’s not shy about staking a claim to adventure.

Newcomers who make Bridger their winter pick will find a consistent fit across multiple products. This allows easy migration to a non-insulated model when the snowpack yields to spring wildflowers.

  • Best for: Sketchy or variable trail conditions from fall to spring
  • Weight: 2 lb. 9 oz.
  • Pros: Traction, warmth
  • Cons: Upper height

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at REI

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Runner-Up: KEEN Targhee II Waterproof Mid — Men’s & Women’s

keen targhee II waterproof mid

The mountains of North Carolina possess varied and dramatic weather. Even in early-season testing, a 50-degree range from 20 to 70 degrees took our tester from down jacket to t-shirt, with the Targhee ($139) keeping pace all the way.

While KEEN is often seen as significantly wider than others, the fit was true with enough room for midweight wool socks. Comfort came with first wearing, as secure lacing teamed up with waterproofing to splash confidently through icy Appalachian creeks.

Style points brought Targhee from path to café even as the boot’s structure and materials won on the trail. Based on the rigidity of its 6-inch upper, this boot is more for day hiking than backcountry overnights or extended trail campaigns with heavier payloads. Warmth is average for a non-insulated boot that offers fall and spring hiking options at a reasonable price.

Support, comfort, and solid foot protection from weather and gritty trail conditions. KEEN’s easy striding design made walking less tiring, particularly with two children in the mix across peak and valley.

Targhee’s agility allowed more starting, stopping, and directional changes without worry about wet, cold, or blisters. And its sole construction smoothed out the bumps along the way.

  • Best for: All-around winter wear, extending before and after hiking
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 2 oz. | 1 lb. 12 oz.
  • Pros: Adaptability, durability
  • Cons: Temperature range

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Best for Narrow Feet: ECCO Biom-C Trail — Men’s

ecco biom-c trail

Those with normal to narrow feet (B- and C-width) are the fortunate ones with this yak-leather-trimmed model from ECCO. Rather than floating on top of snow, crust, mud, and debris, the BIOM-C ($249) slices through to land a stay-clear lug pattern from top to heel.

With a synthetic rand more like a mountaineering (or Special Forces) model, the boot avoids taking in water by eliminating an exposed welt. Instead, a moderate bump toe and indented heel make for sure and steady snowshoe clip-in.

At the regular shoe size, there’s room for a midweight sock that’s plenty for active pursuits. Or, if more standing or perpetually deep snow is the program, notching up by a half size allows more sock insulation (and wiggle) room.

This boot adapts more like a form-fit ski boot liner, so a full unlacing is needed to get past the stretch-fit liner. Once in, feet stay put regardless of torsional movement or skating on black ice-covered rocks.

Pronounced sole stiffness is balanced by an exaggerated toe rocker to spare stress on Achilles tendons without losing speed. Unlike many boots, the tongue tucks in neatly with minor manipulation of the top round lace.

Count this one as ideal for fast-moving treks where the GORE-TEX shield is at the ready, in season and out. Testers saw extended fall and spring use as likely, and the $250 retail pricing wasn’t frightening as a result.

  • Best for: Longer hikes where pace outweighs the need for insulation
  • Weight: 2 lb. 4 oz.
  • Pros: Speed, efficiency
  • Cons: Convenience, pricing

Check Price at AmazonCheck Price at Moosejaw

Best Minimalist Boot: Xero Alpine Boot — Men’s & Women’s

xero alpine boot

The Xero Alpine Boot ($149) will satisfy anyone looking for a more minimalist winter hiking boot. With 200g insulation across a zero heel-drop platform, this one merited our attention for its expansive hiking-plus functionality.

The removable, heat-reflective insole adds to warmth in a boot floating in at less than 12 ounces per foot (in a women’s 7). The Iowa testing team pushed this completely vegan-friendly boot across forest and field, even jumping low-lying branches and disused farm machinery in the process.

Beyond snow, tar-like mud crisscrossed the trail. No slipping here, with efficient energy transfer from foot to tread. In and through it all, stability bordered on shocking (in a positive way) given the boot’s nontraditional appearance.

Attentive lacing is needed to capture Alpine’s performance. Our female tester noted the stay-connected heel cup that improved the boot’s structure. Toes could spread for wider feet. Greater warmth accrued, keeping biomechanical efficiency with the medium lug outsole. Easy to walk past in evaluating hiking options, this eye-catcher from Xero deserves a second look.

  • Best for: Stretching budgets where ice, slop, and mud are part of winter
  • Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz. | 1 lb. 7 oz.
  • Pros: Warmth, comfort
  • Cons: Support

Check Men’s Price at Xero ShoesCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Best Traction: Salomon Cross Hike — Men’s & Women’s

salomon cross hike

Our Seattle-based tester pulled this pair on, finding them more like “running shoes than hiking boots” with a true-to-size instant fit and immediate comfort. The higher, padded cuff made her first steps easy and sure, all underpinned by a Contagrip outsole with multidirectional lugs.

Determined to overcome wet or wild, the Cross Hike ($170) prevailed across conditions common to the Pacific Northwest. The integrated lacing system and closed-gusset tongue kept the Gore-Tex membrane’s performance intact.

Uphill and downhill, the Cross Hike couldn’t be prodded into slipping. As the boots aren’t insulated, there’s room for a reasonable sock.

We wore them without gaiters and were impressed to find the uppers dry after a wet, muddy, and snowy hike. Breathability was superior, with little water pushing past the cuff after post-holing through deep snow.

Salomon is known for winter performance from ski slope to cross-country trail to mountaintop. The Cross Hike delivered with extras, including a hidden tongue pocket for the lacing toggle.

While its heel drop is only 10 mm, the Cross Hike portrays an elegant heel height that echos fashionable footwear. With adequate room for feet nudging wider, this boot is an athletic option.

  • Best for: Making miles with or without a pack
  • Weight: 1 lb. 11.9 oz. | 1 lb. 8 oz.
  • Pros: Traction, durability
  • Cons: Temperature range

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best for Long, Snowy Miles: Salomon X Ultra Winter CS WP 2

salomon x ultra winter cs wp 2

Quick to adapt to a Pacific Northwest tester’s quirky foot shape, the CS WP took no break-in period. The multi-hook lacing locked in while allowing quick in-motion adjustment. Even as the 200g Thinsulate adapted to changing conditions in shower-heavy urban outings and powder-packed trail hikes.

From a storied brand born in “the heart of the French Alps,” this offering is among the most purpose-built winter options. It’s moderately warm and capable of serious miles across difficult terrain, and variable surface conditions. They also work well with gaiters as well as snowshoes.

For many winter hikers, 200g insulation is suitable when paired with midweight socks. The CS WP model can, in some sense, outrun the cold with active use.

Our intrepid tester exposed the boot to diverse conditions even as the wind chill kicked in, ice glazed into beautiful danger, and snow piled up in the forest. As a result, this boot made a new friend, who further noted its “stealthy, cool look.”

Our one concern with Salomon’s Contagrip W outsole was a tendency to retain debris.

  • Best for: Winter enthusiasts who embrace sub-perfect conditions
  • Weight:  570 g
  • Pros: Adaptability, adjustability
  • Cons: Debris accumulation

Check Price at Amazon

The Best of the Rest

Lowa Renegade GTX — Men’s & Women’s

Lowa renegade gtx

Lowa remains one of the world’s preeminent mountain brands. U.S. hikers who’ve worn a pair know what’s coming. As in, strong statements about design, construction, and the on-trail performance of the Renegade ($240).

Our tester — new to Lowa but a savvy denizen of the Appalachians — added another perspective to winter boots: a national champion and a professional athlete from the world of road cycling.

Now coaching, mountain biking, and hiking North Carolina and beyond, he admired it top to bottom, from a sturdy upper to its durable Vibram outsole. While the footbed needed an upgrade, the boot was true to size.

Lacing and adjustment took some level of concentration, but the tongue’s comfort was superior to other boots he’s evaluated. Out on the trail, energy transfer was positive and consistent across varied terrain and weather conditions.

With the sole’s debris-shedding lug pattern, progress was steady as the GORE-TEX lining performed under the durable Nubuck leather shell. As with many Lowa boots, the MONOWRAP frame construction meant the boot tracked forward with reduced foot fatigue.

An uninsulated model, Renegade needs proper socking to reach freezing temps. An offsetting factor is enough flex to move freely, quickly, and maintain blood circulation in this confidence-inspiring winter option.

  • Best for: Treks from day strolls to extended hikes in moderate winter conditions
  • Weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz. | 2 lbs. 2 oz.
  • Pros: Efficiency, agility
  • Cons: Temperature range

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Adidas Terrex Free Hiker COLD.RDY — Men’s & Women’s

adidas terrex free hiker cold.rdy

Many models in this guide make the step, leap, or jump into fall and spring use. Not the Terrex Free Hiker ($250) — it’s a pure winter hiking boot champion. This insulated model integrates a proprietary COLD.RDY insulation technology and uses an elastic liner and exterior zipper to harness the foot.

While startling to lace-and-eyelet traditionalists, this fitting and closure method is common in expedition-capable boots. That’s because gloved hands can operate the mechanism to change socks or switch to down booties at an alpine destination. Employing the BOOST technology improves the energy return (according to documented lab testing), making difficult miles less strenuous.

GORE-TEX is employed for waterproofness, with a PrimeKnit upper that means what adidas calls a “sock-like fit.” Testers needed the webbing heel pull to make the system work, finding workable ankle flexion, even with Free Hiker’s unyielding, motion-efficient EVA support frame.

While others at the trailhead might mistake it for a recreational pac boot (because of the zippered upper), they’ll be left standing in a cloud of snow.

  • Best for: Going big even in colder temperatures
  • Weight: 14.82 oz.
  • Pros: Protection, convenience
  • Cons: Pricing

Check Men’s Price at AmazonCheck Women’s Price at Adidas

Vasque Breeze WT GTX Mid — Men’s & Women’s

vasque breeze wt gtx mid

Vasque’s line of lighter-weight Breeze hiking boots expands with this winter-ready model. With both women’s and men’s versions, the 200g insulation yield even, gap-free warmth that’s tolerable in warmer conditions.

The noteworthy construction centers on favored MegaGrip outsoles. Reliable down into the 20s, our female tester noted strong arch supports that improved walking comfort in all conditions.

Traction was consistent across terrain and surface conditions even when ice hit, and the dog still needed walking. Brushy northern Wisconsin backwoods trails were repelled by the Air Mesh and Nubuck leather exterior, allowing the GORE-TEX membrane to go to work. With this boot, and to accommodate midweight socks, hikers between sizes should bump up for insulation, sock, and footbed room.

With a fairly mainstream look, everyday wear for commuting or errands is perfectly fine. Easy entry, competent closure, and rapid exit further suggest regular use to make Vasque a better value.

Even wearing them for winter workshop sessions, extended standing created no foot or leg fatigue. Wide sizing is available as the boot, ankle cuff included, is best suited to average-width feet.

  • Best for: Moderate hikes where comfort and traction rank highly
  • Weight: 2 lb. 14 oz. | 2 lb. 6 oz.
  • Pros: Lightweight, width options
  • Cons: Lower mileage limit

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Danner Inquire Mid Insulated — Women’s

danner inquire

PrimaLoft Gold steps into the mix with the Danner Inquire ($180) that’s as nimble as any tested for this Guide. Its trail capability competes with everyday utility for outstanding value across wide-ranging conditions.

Capturing the benefit of advanced, lightweight materials, the design doesn’t sacrifice structure to turn an OrthoLite footbed and TPU shank into hiking efficiency. These proven components serve Danner well across their line, including the Men’s Mountain 600 Insulated footbed (a boot also test-hiked with positive results).

Inquire sports a proprietary moisture barrier and midsole in a 5-inch-high boot. A leg gaiter is warranted for moderate to deep snow, as the easy-walking upper isn’t self-sufficient through deeps and drifts.

Our female tester, with flatter feet, wanted more arch support. An aftermarket footbed or insert is advised for most hikers. Danner offers a range of worthwhile options starting at $14. Importantly, MegaGrip material forms a high-traction outsole to make the entire package a durable result, with enough warmth to carry the day for winters to come.

  • Best for: All-around winter wear including backcountry day hikes
  • Weight: 2 lb. 13 oz.
  • Pros: Comfort, versatility
  • Cons: Low upper height

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX — Men’s & Women’s

La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX

This selection is back to the future, with big news attached to a perennial hiking favorite — wide is now available. For several years, this trail-and-mountain workhorse has taken hikers and their stuff up, down, around, and across challenging terrain.

While structured for moderate loads, the package of features assembled here deserves to be revisited. Blood circulation is critical to winter hiking success, and too-narrow boots are a common risk factor to comfort and safety.

GORE-TEX Surround Technology is central to the boot. Breathability in all directions doesn’t sacrifice waterproof protection. Instead, it aids the creation and maintenance of a 60% humidity environment.

Durable Nubuck uppers protect this function, with a warrior-like appearance to beguile any Mad Max fan. The upper’s superior ankle stability and protection drew kudos from the hulking tester, a former football and rugby standout.

Outsole construction and the lug design comprise the boot’s Impact Brake System. This allows superior control without blister-inducing movement inside the boot, or nasty spills while barging through snow, ice, mud, and sleet.

As a European brand, the traditional shapes, or lasts, can challenge some American feet. With wide now available, there’s good reason to take La Sportiva’s legacy of mountain adventure to winter trails this season.

  • Best for: Wide-footed hikers keen to trek without cold feet
  • Pros: Comfort, durability
  • Cons: Temperature range

Check Price at MoosejawCheck Women’s Price at REI

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Winter Hiking Boot

Where Are You Hiking?

Winter is a term that means wildly different things depending on your location. So, before seeking out the perfect boot, take a moment to think about your location. Is it wet, snowy, or mostly dry?

Do you regularly see temps in the single digits? Or do you enjoy a milder winter average? Answering these questions will help you weigh the importance of waterproofing and insulation.

Warmth

The importance of warm feet can’t be argued. This goes beyond avoiding frostbite or cold damage to your feet and toes. It can both ruin a winter hiking experience and change a life, dramatics aside.

Targeting the right level of insulation and weather protection for each hiker, given their location and types of trips, is part of picking the right boots. For some, an insulated boot is the antidote to cold weather. Others thrive with merino wool socks inside their synthetic or leather boots.

Waterproof Boots

Waterproofing fights back against the incursion of water, being impervious to incoming moisture at any temperature. These models are particularly attuned to deep snow and temporary immersion in shallow standing or running water.

This puts water protection inside a more durable exterior layer of leather or fabric. As with resisting or repelling water, the boot’s tongue and lacing system are potential weak points in achieving a tight seal.

Caution is needed here, as allowing the foot to maintain a 60% humidity level in the middle of exertion is a balancing factor. Those who get hot, sweaty feet while walking benefit from the ability to release excess perspiration even during colder months, and even when there’s wet outside the boot itself.

Many, if not most, winter hiking boots identified as waterproof now have “breathable” as a critical caveat to accomplish this feat.

Insulation

Most winter hiking boots have some level of insulation. It’s measured in grams and generally ranges from 100 g up to 600 g. Most of the boots included here are in the 100-200g range. We find that offers the best warmth, without overheating during active hiking.

Comfort

Comfort, for the purposes of this guide, is defined as “supporting good blood circulation, moving easily across terrain, and allowing minor fit adjustment for sock and weather conditions.”

Being easy to put on and take off contributes to this trifecta. As with traction, the thickness and composition of the sole system have an effect, both while walking and standing. From initial fit to comfort at rest along with comfort while in motion, a smart boot pick comes with box-to-backcountry confidence every time the trail calls and laces get tied.

Traction

Winter boots have a lug pattern designed for snow and ice. In addition, the rubber compounds used are made to stay soft and grippy in frigid conditions. This is adequate for most casual winter outings. However, in extreme ice, we still reach for a traction device.

Durability

Winter boots are susceptible to wear-induced failure in at least three ways. First is in the closure or lacing system, where pulling to tighten the boot stresses the seams, including the tongue’s attachment.

Second is the cuff around the ankle, where simple wear can break down the collar or padding at the top of the upper. And third is the material on the toe, as coarse snow acts like sandpaper to abrade the leading section of the boot.

Often, as on a work boot, this toebox area is reinforced against scraping from the outside as well as repeated toe impact on the inside.

Winter Hiking Gear

Along with a good winter boot, these pieces of gear will make cold, snowy outings that much more enjoyable.

Socks

Good winter hiking socks regulate temperature and humidity inside the boot, add comfort by cushioning the foot, and can improve the boot’s fit to some degree. Most winter hiking simply requires a single, midweight sock.

Insoles

Insoles (often called footbeds) have loomed larger in the last five years, as some manufacturers put thin factory inserts into boots as placeholders. In the case of winter hiking, season-specific insoles add a modicum of insulation. Others also improve the mechanical support for the foot inside the boot. The cost of a merino or hybrid foam product ranges from $25 to $60 and lasts up to three years.

Traction Devices

These turn many boots into a multitool that can move competently across slippery surfaces, crusted snow, and glare ice. The options are many, and those with miniature cleats or crampons allow safer travel.

These devices are convenient to carry, use, and then repack. Plan to spend between $40 and $120. Strong choices include the Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System and the Korkers Ice Walker, both at about $70.

Gaiters

They are seen most often in mountaineering photos or those of old-time backcountry skiing. While the low versions are most helpful for keeping debris out of hiking and trail running shoes, the taller models help prevent deeper snow and harsh rains from working their way into the boot’s cuff.

With gaiters, only a few worthwhile, waterproof-breathable options exist, most in the $100-120 range. Classic and hard to beat are Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters that add only a few ounces, defy abrasion, and come in all sizes.

Trekking Poles

Trekking poles come with or without ski baskets that allow their use in snow accumulations over 5 inches. Most are collapsible to attach to a daypack and earn their keep on steeper slopes on slipperier surfaces, as well as when carrying a heavier payload.

Snowshoes

Like many of the other system components, snowshoes deserve serious consideration if deeper snow conditions are common or anticipated. Boots with stiffer soles are great candidates for use with binding-equipment snowshoes.

FAQ

Should I Order a Larger Size for Winter Boots?

Over 90% of the time, the answer is “no” as the manufacturers have accommodated a midweight hiking sock into their sizing calculations. When possible, we recommend heading to your local gear shop for a fitting. Bring along the socks you plan to use and any aftermarket insoles to find the most accurate fit.

What Are the Best Boots for Ice and Snow?

The big concerns with winter boots are warmth, traction, and keeping snow out. And while all of the boots listed here can hold their own in these categories, there are a few standouts if your winter hikes are particularly snow- and ice-laden.

The Oboz Sawtooth and Bridger have a greater height, which combats snow well. They also offer insulation and great grip. One tester is also very fond of the adidas Free Hiker for its warmth, traction, and overall winter performance.

What’s Better, Hiking Shoes or Hiking Boots?

This really depends on the terrain, weather, and personal preference. Boots offer better ankle support and come in more insulated options. Hiking shoes are preferred by many for their light weight and improved maneuverability.

If your winter hiking entails lots of powder, it’s worth investing in a boot. If you live in a milder climate, a shoe can easily transition from winter to summer with the addition of wool socks and traction devices.

Have a favorite winter hiking boot? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it for future updates to this article.

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