Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Cold, wet feet are a big no-no for winter hikers. (Don’t even get us started on the “screaming barfies”). And unlike with summer hiking, you can’t just switch to your sandals if your shoes soak through. That’s why choosing a winter boot with enough insulation, waterproofing, and traction is critical to a successful winter backpacking trip.
To find the very best, we sent our testers out in ice-rink conditions, trudging through deep snow, slushy mud, and everything in between. Only these six boots vaulted to the top of the pack. Find the pair that’ll keep your feet toasty all winter long.
Read More: Editors’ Choice—The Best Winter Gear of 2022
What to Look for in Winter Hiking Boots
Assuming you’re hiking somewhere that gets snow, waterproofing materials and cuff and tongue height are all key to keeping you dry in a good winter boot. More insulation is essential on very cold trips, although too much insulation in warm winter temperatures can cause just as many issues. If you’ll be heading out on a long trip with lots of heavy gear, sturdy, supportive boots and midsoles will be a lifesaver. Lastly, pay attention to the sole of the boot: deep, wide lugs are great for traction in deeper snow, while special outsole compounds can help you stick better to ice.
Warmest Winter Boot: Kodiak Tagish Waterproof Arctic Grip Winter Boot
- Weight: 2 lb. 8 oz.
- Best for: Truly frigid temps
- Buy Now
A generous amount of PrimaLoft Gold insulation throughout the Tagish made all the difference on the coldest days. This boot withstood single-digit temps in the frigid Ohio winter without issue, even when our tester stopped for a long lunch along the Olentangy Trail to enjoy views of its namesake river. Worn with just midweight wool socks, the insulation, full-grain leather upper, and polyurethane footbed kept the cold from creeping up from the ground. A proprietary waterproof membrane also sealed out warmth-sapping snow and water on a wet day hiking at Highbanks Metro Park. Any day over 35°F had our tester reaching for something with a little less insulation, though.
The Tagish provides the support of a traditional backpacking boot, thanks to an EVA midsole, and easily handled a 40-pound pack. Large Vibram Arctic Grip lugs cover nearly the entire outsole, which provided excellent traction on ice and slush, but less grip in soft snow (they weren’t deep enough to penetrate the surface). The leather upper held up to a full winter of hiking with no sign of loosened stitching. Big complaint: The women’s version, called the Chadsey, features the same insulation and outsole but is otherwise a nearly completely different boot. It doesn’t have the Tagish’s hiking boot-style lacing and isn’t entirely leather, making it much more apt for the streets than the trails.
Best Traction in a Winter Boot: Merrell Thermo Rogue 3 Mid GTX
- Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz.
- Best for: Sloppy conditions
- Buy Now
It’s no secret that we love the Thermo Rogue: The original took home an Editors’ Choice Award in 2018. This year, the new, beefed-up outsole proved the grippiest in our test. A more durable version of Vibram Arctic Grip, as well as an updated lug pattern, allowed the Thermo Rogue 3 to stand out on both ice and wet snow as well as muddy slush and dirt while hiking throughout Colorado. New Vibram Traction Lug tech places smaller “micro” lugs on top of the boot’s regular lugs, boosting surface area by roughly 50 percent and improving traction. “Solid late-season ice and wet sloppy snow in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains were no problem for this boot,” one tester says. And where older Arctic Grip fell short (on non-icy terrain), the Thermo Rogue 3 bridges the gap between winter and spring, holding tight to steep dirt trails.
Designers removed a top buckle (deciding it didn’t add much support) and added lightweight TPU overlays on the upper to shave off 20 ounces per pair. A lightweight foam midsole and no shank (though it does have a lighter full-length rock plate which limits how much you feel the ground) hold back the support of the Thermo Rogue 3: We wouldn’t want to hike with more than 25 pounds on our back in this boot. PrimaLoft Gold Eco over the foot and ankle and aerogel surrounding the toe mixes capable insulation (our tester took this boot comfortably down to the low 20s while hiking outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado) with flexibility—something we loved in the original Thermo Rogue. A Gore-Tex membrane showed no signs of letting moisture through. Fit note: The toe box is a little narrow.
Best Stride: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid Winter Thinsulate ClimaSalomon Waterproof
- Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
- Best for: Speedy pursuits
- Buy Now
The X Ultra 4 Mid Winter is modeled after a trail running shoe last, and it shows: This boot provides a light, agile-yet-stable winter hiking platform that’s well-suited for fast-moving missions with or without snowshoes. An EVA midsole, lower cut, and light materials also mimic a trail runner’s responsiveness, but the X Ultra 4 has the chops for gear-heavy winter trips. “When I loaded up with an overnight pack for a snowshoe trip to build snow caves in Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, this boot provided all the support I needed,” one tester says.
Thanks to 3M Thinsulate insulation and a full-leather and nubuck upper, the X Ultra Mid Winter kept our feet warm while we hiked in mid-20s temps, but we started to cool down quite a bit when we stopped for breaks. Snow and even a little rain were no issue thanks to a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane. The 4-millimeter-deep lugs in the Winter Contagrip outsole held tight to soft and wet snow, as well as mud and dirt. “On a steep trail up Goat Mountain in Montana’s Bitterroots, these boots didn’t let me down when conditions changed from mud to hardpacked snow to slush,” one tester reports.
Most Supportive Winter Boot: AKU Riserva NBK GTX
- Weight: 3 lb. 8 oz.
- Best for: Heavy loads
- Buy Now
Winter packs are usually heavy, but the Riserva handles 50-pound loads like they’re nothing. A PU midsole feels firm but comfy, and the boot’s shape shifts weight from the outside of the heel during a heel strike: The motion takes advantage of shock absorption in the outsole, which transfers force to the center of the foot mid-stride, and then to the inside at the end to shift propulsion to your big toe. The tall leather cuff and 5-millimeter-deep lugs in the Vibram Octopus Multi Surface outsole provided consistent traction while we bushwhacked through a frozen swamp in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where slippery surfaces made heavy packs an even bigger hazard.
This boot kept our feet warm during a mid-20s hike up Mt. Liberty in New Hampshire. The full-grain leather, Gore-Tex membrane, and over-the-ankle height locked out wet snow and chilly puddles during a hike through Massachusetts’ Blue Hills Reservation. Our tester was hard-pressed to think of a single instance in a winter of testing where water seeped in or overtopped the snug seal at the cuff.
Most Comfortable Winter Boot: Teva Ridgeview Mid RP
- Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz.
- Best for: Warm winter days
- Buy Now
Winter boots can be clunky, heavy, and a little bit stiff. The Ridgeview, on the other hand, is nearly as comfy as your beloved summerweight hiker, with some added cold-weather details. A soft and forgiving PU foam liner and EVA midsole (providing 1.5 inches of cushioning) were easy on our tester’s feet while he hiked around Vermont’s Green Mountains. A near-ankle cuff height and easily adjustable lacing kept the Ridgeview from feeling as stiff or rigid as other winter boots. Its polyester waffle-knit lining is also supersoft, and proved warm enough for hikes in the mid-30s, though this boot left us cold with temps in the teens and hefty wind on Vermont summits.
A proprietary waterproof membrane kept moisture from seeping through the materials, though the Ridgeview is more at risk of over-topping than other boots we tested because of its lower height. The fabric-and-leather upper held up to wet snow and the occasional rock, and the Vibram Megagrip outsole stayed put on muddy and rooty trails later in the season, as well as on wetter snow.
Best Winter Boot for Mud Season: Tecnica Magma Mid GTX
- Weight: 1 lb. 13 oz.
- Best for: Mucky, slushy puddle-hopping
- Buy Now
Weather protection in cold conditions doesn’t just mean guarding against powder and freezing temps. Melted snow, ice, and the mud they create in shoulder season tend to get into every piece of gear you own, especially your footwear. But the Magma Mid GTX handles it all. A suede leather upper with rubber reinforcement around the toes, all backed by a Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable membrane, locked out any trace of water while we danced through puddles at Georgia’s Paynes Creek State Park. The Vibram Litebase Megagrip outsole glommed on to dirt and rock and uses small, variably-shaped treads—inspired by mountain bike tires—to dig into softer mud and slushy snow like a pro.
Even without insulation, the Magma Mid GTX was comfortable while we hiked in temperatures down to the upper 30s in summerweight socks. On faster outings, the boot’s high-rebound EVA midsole, lightweight ESS shank, and 8-millimeter drop made the Magma Mid GTX feel almost as nimble as a trail running shoe, and an oversized heel counter improved stability while we rushed down slippery paths. The leather upper, combined with an outsole that extends up into high wear zones (like the outside of the arch and toes), meant that even after a season of use, our tester was hard-pressed to find much more than mud stains on his boots.
How to Buy the Perfect Winter Boots
Winter hiking boots live somewhere between typical three-season hiking boots and a mountaineering boot, with more grip and insulation to keep you going deep into the fourth season.
Any winter hiking outside of dry desert environments will require some level of waterproofing for snow, slush, mud, and anything in between. That means a protective winter boot will have a some variety of treated leather or waterproof/breathable membrane. Take special notice of where the boot tongue separates from the upper of the shoe: that’s the depth at which water will leak in, even on a waterproof shoe, when stomping through a frozen stream. Boot height, too, is an important detail, depending on how deep the snow will be where you are hiking. A pair of gaiters can help mitigate snow spilling into the cuff of the boot.
Winter boots, just like your puffy jacket, need to be insulated in order to keep you comfortable. That typically comes in the form of synthetic Primaloft—which mimics down—or microfiber Thinsulate, or some alternative form of heat retention, like Columbia’s Omni-Heat lining, which reflects body heat like a space blanket. Overheating, sweating, and blisters can become a real issue if your boots are too warm—don’t wear an insulated pair on an above-freezing winter day.
Shoes meant for winter backpacking not only need to keep you stable on rock and dirt, but they also need lugs designed to keep snow from balling up and grip to keep you from slipping on ice. Much like snow tires, winter-specific lugs are made of compounds that stay soft in low temperatures and sipes that better grip snow and ice (and like snow tires, can be less durable on hard surfaces like rock). Vibram Arctic Grip is a prime example, and has a thermochromatic indicator to let you know when the temperature is below freezing. Deeper lugs are often better at gripping deep snow. Keep in mind that if conditions are extreme enough, you might be using microspikes, snowshoes, or crampons regardless of your boot sole.
Multiday winter treks usually involve heavy loads on your back and body. Thick midsoles will save your feet (either EVA, which is soft and cushy, but breaks down quickly, or PU, which has a break-in period but is more durable), while sturdy ankle support and lacing will keep you on-kilter.
If you’ll be doing light mountaineering or walking on steep, frozen terrain that requires crampons, make sure to choose a boot that is stiff enough and/or comes with welts. (Note that there is considerable trade-off in comfort and hikeability when wearing a stiffer boot with a full or ¾ shank.) A heel welt will give you compatibility with semi-automatic crampons, while an additional toe welt will give you fully-automatic crampon compatibility (probably not necessary unless you’ll be climbing ice).
What a Backpacker Editor Looks for in a Winter Boot
Emma Veidt, Assistant Skills Editor
“I’ve always dealt with Raynaud’s disease, which means I lose feeling in my fingers and toes pretty easily when I’m out hiking or snowboarding in the winter. Because I’m not a huge fan of feeling numb, insulation (my boots have Thinsulate) is a priority when it comes to winter boots. I also need a little bit of boot flexibility and wiggle-room, just in case I have to shove some foot warmer packs in there or double up on merino socks or sock liners.”