Staying warm: Winter boots for active versus less active use

We’ve all seen people suffering at bus stops in the middle of winter. Teenagers mostly, shoulders hunched, shuffling their feet side to side, hands in pockets with faces like those poor souls in cold medicine ads. Running shoes are never a good idea in January, but the alternative doesn’t have to be galoshes or cheap rubber boots.

Nowadays, manufacturers have come up with a wide range of solid winter boots to suit active types as well as fashionable hipsters braving a winter’s night on the town. Nobody has to put up with cold tootsies if they take the time to think things through about how and where they’re going to use the boots.

Which type of insulation is best?

There’s a fine line between enough insulation and too much insulation.

People assume that buying a boot with heaps of insulation guarantees you warm feet. Like any outdoor equipment, the better suited to your use; the better it’s going to perform.

Winter hiking or moving through the forest on snowshoes generates a lot of body heat, especially in deep snow or on steep terrain. Consequently, boots for high-energy activities tend to have lower levels of insulation – say 200 or 400 grams – to prevent overheating and sweat which causes cold feet in cold weather.

Many casual winter boots use the same amount of insulation for the same reason. It’s also hard to fit more insulation into a boot that is hard to distinguish from a summer casual shoe. So, don’t necessarily go for the boot with maximum insulation. Think about other features that suit your intended activities.

Which boots suit your activities?

If you’re snowshoeing or hiking in the snow, look for higher-cut boots with good ankle support. On
snow-covered slopes it will lessen strain and help prevent a sprain or fracture. Deep lugs on the outer sole provide traction and in some models different types of rubber are combined to provide more grip in slippery situations. A waterproof, breathable boot is probably the best way to go unless you’re in places with cold, dry snow such as the far north. Leather uppers, on the other hand, provide support, breathe well and keep your feet dry if they are cleaned and treated regularly with a waterproofing spray.

If you spend a lot of time waiting at bus stops or staring into holes on frozen lakes, you may want to consider higher levels of insulation.

Those hefty winter boots you see on snowmobilers are full of insulation mainly because snowmobilers don’t move around much unless they’re out of gas or their machine has capsized.

Snowmobile boots tend to be heavy and cumbersome making them tiring over long distances, but nothing beats them for comfort in cold conditions. Boots in this category also tend to be high cut to deal with deep snow and some even come with extendable snow collars for really big drifts.

Four items for a warm and a safe winter

1)      Socks

No matter what boots you wear, if the socks on your feet aren’t up to winter conditions, chances are you’ll find yourself with cold feet and craving a fireside chair. Invest in a good pair of merino wool or synthetic socks that wick heat vapour away from your skin. Keeping your feet dry is half the battle when it comes to being warm in winter.

2)      Boot treatments

To keep your boots waterproof and protect your investment, a number of treatments are available. Be sure to get one that is designed for the materials on your boots. For leather, this is even more important because if untreated, the leather dries out and cracks and that eventually results in a leak, soggy socks and cold feet.

3)     Heated insoles and socks

Battery powered insoles and socks offer a warm refuge from the cold. If you live with very cold temperatures or if you have poor blood circulation, these may be the solution. When fitting your boots, however, remember you’ll need extra room for the insoles.

4)    Ice crampons or spikes

Unfortunately, no boot can guarantee you won’t slip on ice. That’s where ice crampons or spikes come in. Just slip them over the bottom of your boots and suddenly you‘ve got the traction to take on the iciest conditions. These are great ideas for dog walkers and seniors with fragile bones.

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Author: Chris Higgins