When shopping for a snow boot that won’t leave you disappointed while trekking through their first winter storm, you’re looking for footwear that will keep your feet both warm and dry. However, there’s more to it than that. They also need to strike a delicate balance of both flexibility and protection to make it easier for navigating snow while also keeping blisters from forming and your toes comfortable.
Simply put, not all snow boots or “snow shoes” are created equal, style expert Jené Luciani tells us. “Some will keep your feet dry, but not quite warm enough and others will do the trick with warmth but are not exactly water resistant.”
But the first step in picking out the ultimate pair of boots before the next brutal snowstorm is knowing what you’re shopping for: What’s the difference between winter and snow boots? And what about any difference between snow shoes and snowshoes?
Snow shoes versus winter boots
When searching online for the right set of footwear, don’t let terminology trip you up. As Kevin Rosenberg, a mountain guide and owner of International Adventure Guides explains, these terms denote key differences in the type of shoes you’re looking at and its relevance to different use cases.
Snowshoes are meant to be worn with a base pair of boots. “Snowshoes help to distribute your weight across the surface of the snow and prevent you from sinking in,” Rosenberg explained. “Snowshoes are a bit like clown shoes — you need to imagine yourself wearing skis so that you don’t trip yourself when trying to turn around — and will generally have crampons built in so that you also have traction on icy patches.”
Snow boots or snow shoes are commonly interchangeable and refer to the same thing: a waterproof or water-resistant pair of boots specially designed for trekking through snow.
Winter boots are made for winter temperatures but aren’t necessarily waterproof. They’re typically more fashionable and aren’t necessarily intended for snow activities. “Winter boots are worn during the winter months for style and warmth,” explained Casey Ann Pidich, a podiatrist and founder of Dr. Glass Slipper. “They are also acceptable to be worn around inside a home, a restaurant or the office, whereas it is more acceptable to remove snow shoes before entering a home.”
Best snow boots of 2021 for men and women
With the above guidance in mind, along with input from the experts we consulted, here are some of the best snow boots for men and women to consider right now.
“The best winter boots are basically high-top hiking shoes,” said Nelya Lobkova, a certified surgical podiatrist and founder of Step Up Footcare. “These shoes need to have adequate ankle support (mid to high), midsole stability and good traction in the sole for balance.
Best affordable short snow boots for women: DREAM PAIRS
With both a zipper and lace closure, these boots are easy to take on and off but can also be adjusted depending on how thick your socks are for a more custom fit. They also hit mid-calf, have insulation that’s rated to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the company, and are available in nine different color options. Pidich added they are “really cute, priced right, warm, and have excellent ankle support, slip-resistant rubber soles and reinforced toes.”
Best affordable tall snow boots for women: POLAR
These boots are functional, waterproof and ready for deeper snow, explained Stephanie Hensley, a stylist and former footwear design director. Their tall shaft hits below the knee and they feature rubber outsoles with a deep tread, quilted detailing, lace-up closure, synthetic fur trim and five color combinations with different materials. “This kind of boot with the rubber partial upper is called a ‘duck boot’ and is fantastic for keeping moisture out,” she added.
Best affordable short snow boots for men: LABO
These 100-percent synthetic suede boots are water-, oil- and slip-resistant, according to LABO, and come in six different color options. In addition to an adjustable lace closure, these durable snow boots also have a rubber sole with a patterned tread. This rugged pair of short snow shoes from LABO is also Hensley’s top pick of affordable boots for men because “they have all of the features above for a great price and look great, too,” she said.
Best snow boots overall for women: The North Face
These tall waterproof boots have rubber lugged soles with deep indentations for increased traction and come in two color combinations. The snow boots feature wool and waterproof leather uppers that are also salt-resistant. They are also insulated with PrimaLoft, a type of sustainable, synthetic insulation made in part from post-consumer recycled content. They’re also available in a shorter version should you prefer.
Best snow boots overall for men: Sorel
With a plush removable insulation for easy washing, faux-fur lining and seam-sealed waterproofing, these lace-up boots with rubber sole have earned Pidich’s recommendation of most impressive overall option for men. And Patrice J. Williams of Looking Fly on a Dime agrees that men can’t go wrong with Sorel. “The brand has tons of boot options that have a high lace up style and a waterproof exterior,” she adds. “This is the boot you want to wear when you know you’ll be out in the snow for quite some time and want to return home with warm, dry feet.”
If you’re going to splurge on a luxe pair of winter boots, Pidich suggested treating yourself to these leather mid-calf boots that are also available in a taller style. With a cushioned removable wool insole, sheepskin lining and waterproof rubber outsole “bootie” reinforcing the toes and heels, this is rated for cold weather as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit, according to UGG. Plus, you can either cuff the top to show off a pop of sherpa or lace the boots completely up.
Best high-end winter boots for men: MONCLER
Made in Italy, these shearling-lined boots offer a winter take on traditional hiking boots. “Moncler is a name synonymous with luxury winter gear and this classic style does not disappoint,” says Hensley. “The suede is waterproof, the lining is shearling and the thick sole is rubber, so form and function are in perfect alignment.”
Best fashion winter boots for women: Sorel
Sorel is a more fashionable yet dependable brand for insulated boots, explained Rosenberg. A slight platform lift with the rubber sole, fluffy faux fur cuff and metallic leather and suede details give these heavy-duty snow boots a sleek feel. “Light colored boots are also a major trend in winter boots for women with thick socks peeking out of the top,” Hensley added, noting they’re “perfect with leggings.”
Best adventure snow boots for women: Merrell
This brand of outdoor gear offers a range of snow boots ready for extreme weather and cold-weather activities that has impressed multiple experts we consulted. This insulated pair with faux-fur offers a waterproof and salt-resistant leather upper. It also boasts an interior zipper for ease putting them on and off after adjusting the laces to your desired fit. It equips a removable contoured insole and an “Arctic Grip” outsole that provides superior traction on ice, according to the brand.
Best adventure snow boots for men: Vasque
Despite various boots with different levels of insulation available depending on your intended activity, Rosenberg has found Vasque’s Snowblime boot as an affordable option that will cover the needs of most adventurous wearers during snowy, cold-weather ventures. This hiking boot style is made of waterproof leather and was designed with a fleece collar to lock in heat and thick indentented sole for traction on frozen trails.
How to find the best winter boots for you
Finding the optimal snow boots requires a delicate balancing act, explained Lobkova. “It is important to take into account the sole of the boot, the upper material and the structure of the shoe.”
So while shopping for your next pair of boots worthy of battling the snow, the experts we consulted recommended some specific properties and attributes.
Snow shoes: Materials
As you’re scrolling through options, you’ll come across these materials in snow shoes and should lean toward whatever applies to your use case.
- Gore-Tex is a brand of waterproof and breathable material that will prevent liquid from entering while allowing vapor out so your feet stay dry instead of soggy.
- Shearling, or wool derived from sheep — synthetic shearling is typically known as sherpa — and, according to fashion expert Dawn Del Russo, “is exceptional for warmth.”
- Leather gives the boots a more stylish feel and some styles are water-resistant. “Leather has some water resistance to it and is naturally able to resist penetration but won’t be protected entirely,” she said. “In order to be waterproof, the material must be treated or have a wax coating over it.”
Snow shoes: Properties
Aside from material, you want to be on the lookout for snow boots that feature these details, according to experts:
- Flexibility and ankle stability. The right snow shoe allows for some movement of the ankle for trekking through piles of snow. “Simultaneously, our ankles need to feel stable for walking on irregular surfaces,” said Pidich.
- Good traction. “Check out the sole of the boot and look for something that will give you good traction in the snow and a firmer footing on ice,” said Rosenberg. “Avoid anything flat or smooth and look for lugs (deep indentations in a rubber sole) that will flex.”
- Substantial warmth. As Pidich explains it, our toes and fingers are the body parts most prone to frostbite, so it’s key to find boots that will keep them warm.
- Water resistance. There are different elements to a snow boot that can be waterproof, noted Rosenberg: Think of a membrane layer as “a thin sock that is sewn into the boot” that you want to be waterproof and breathable to keep your feet dry while in the snow. You also want the upper part of your boot, the outer portion that completely covers the foot, to be waterproof and not just water-resistant. “Water-proof means that when immersed in cold water or wet snow, it will not penetrate the shoe,” explained Lobkova. “Water-resistant repels water but may allow it to penetrate the shoe when the shoe is immersed.”
- Protection. Ideally, your snow boots will have reinforcement on the toebox and a thick sole to help protect toes when wading through deep snow. “We also need extra bottom protection on our snow shoes because our feet contain thousands of nerve endings,” said Pidich. “These nerve endings are incredibly sensitive to temperatures. A rubber sole will protect the sensitive bottoms of our feet from snow and ice.”
- A rigid sole. The rigidity of a sole dictates the stability of the shoe, according to Lobkova. “If you are able to freely twist the shoe, it is not a good snow boot,” she said. In order to prevent common winter injuries like ankle sprains, she also advised a shoe with a firm heel counter, which is the back part of the shoe that surrounds the heel. “A firm heel counter minimizes the tilt of the heel bone during walking and prevents twisting the ankle on ice or snow,” she explained.
- A removable liner. This is ideal if you deal with a lot of snow and wear the boots often or if you will be wearing them during intense activity. “This makes it easy to remove and clean the liner, cutting down on any odor,” Williams told us.
- Boot height. How tall your boot is depends on the length of its shaft. A shorter duck boot style is fine for a small amount of snow as long as you can tuck your pant into it but “if you’re talking three feet of snow, then you need a taller shaft boot,” advised style expert Jené Luciana.
- Laces. Although a lace-up closure can be more time consuming when you are putting the boots on, it gives you the ability to customize the fit according to your calf size and sock thickness. Bonus points if the boot also has a zipper closure, too, simplifying putting them on and off easier after an initial adjustment.