Happy Feet, Happy Hiker
Boots are an important part of your winter hiking gear, but they're not the only thing you want to consider to keep your feet cozy.
Every season is hiking season. But in winter, you’ll need to work a bit harder to keep yourself safe and warm. Taking care of your feet is important. Beyond picking the right boot you’ll also want to consider other factors to take care of your feet — so they can continue to take you amazing places.
- Wear gaiters: Waterproof gaiters are key to keeping your feet as warm and dry as possible in cold, wet weather. If you’re snowshoeing, they’ll keep snow from collecting in your boot, melting and getting your feet wet. If you’re hiking in the rain, they’ll provide an extra layer of protection to keep rain from slowly soaking in from the top. If you need to do a creek crossing, or pass through a mud puddle, gaiters offer an extra layer of protection. They’ll also help keep your pants dry, keeping you warmer and cleaner overall. You can choose what height gaiter works best for your use, but calf-height gaiters are going to keep you drier in particularly wet conditions, while ankle-height gaiters could be more comfortable and less likely to cause overheating.
- Wear warm socks: For winter hiking, you’ll probably want a warmer, thicker sock than you use in the summer. Keep this in mind when buying boots for winter — you’ll want room for those socks. If your boots are too tight, they’ll restrict circulation and you’ll end up with cold feet. Wool socks are warm and will still insulate even when wet. A wool-synthetic mix will be a little lighter and dry faster. (Stay away from cotton, which will stay wet and cold if it gets wet.) If you’re backpacking, you’ll definitely want a pair of dry socks for camp. Even if you’re just out for a day, be sure to pack some dry gear for when you get back to your car.
- Think carefully about stream crossings: If you have a pair of waterproof boots and high gaiters, you’ll be able to handle minor stream crossings and probably still have dry feet. But at some point, water will eventually seep through all boots. The more you dunk them in water, the sooner you’ll end up with wet feet. If you can do so safely, try to cross streams on logs or rocks — trekking poles may help here. If in doubt, however, it’s safer to simply splash through the water if it’s shallow or turn around if it’s deeper than you’re comfortable with. (Check out our Trail Smarts page for suggestions on safe stream crossings.) One thing to keep in mind: It’s better to walk through mud puddles on a trail rather than going around them, which can trample vegetation and widen the trail.
- Stay warm: Your feet will stay warmer if your whole body is warm. Think carefully about layering, including a warm hat and possibly a neck warmer. Be sure to add layers when you stop for breaks. Chemical hand or toe warmers are useful on particularly cold days.
- Start dry: Consider changing into your socks and boots at the trailhead. If your feet are in your warm socks and shoes while you drive in your cozy car, you’re going to end up with sweaty feet before you even start hiking. Wearing a separate pair of shoes solves that problem — and gives you something clean to change into after your hike.
- Eat and drink: You’ll stay warmer if you have fuel. Warm drinks in a thermos, or warmed up with a stove, are particularly nice in winter.
- Care for your boots: If your boots are starting to wet out quickly, it’s probably time to refresh their waterproofing. Click here for suggestions on how to re-waterproof your boots.
LA SPORTIVA TRANGO TRK GTX
These are boots that might convert those who don’t like boots. They’re supportive and sturdy, yet don’t leave your feet feeling trapped. The materials used for this boot are completely synthetic, a nice option for those who avoid leather. The outer material of the boots cleans easily. The boots are also relatively lightweight. We found that they were comfortable right out of the box — and that they became even more so after a few hikes.
The Trango kept us nicely dry in cold, wet conditions. If, however, they do get wet — all boots will eventually — they seem to dry faster than most. The tongue has a handy velcro strip that allows you to pull it out of the shoe, which helps dry things out. These boots can also be resoled — easier on the environment and your pocketbook. rei.com mens|womens; $220
TIMBERLAND MT. MADDSEN MID
These boot fit the two most important bills for winter hiking in Washington: waterproof and comfortable; and they’re nicely affordable. The fully gusseted tongues do a good job of keeping out debris when laced up tight. The boots themselves feel light on the feet while also offering reliable protection and traction for normal trail conditions. (And the use of recycled materials for the rubber lug outsoles and the lining are nice touches.)
We were able to wear them to hike right out of the box. For those with wider feet, be sure to try them on with the weight of sock you intend to wear them with. Paired with a tall, thick sock, we also found these worked great on WTA work parties. rei.com mens|womens; $99.95.
OBOZ BRIDGER 8-INCH INSULATED WATERPROOF BOOTS
These boots work well for rain, snow or rocks. We found they fit true to size and were hikeable immediately — their first test trip was a 10-mile hike through Gothic Basin. Rubber on the toe and heel helps keep your feet protected and dry, and a molded heel kick makes it easy to add winter traction or snowshoes. Oboz has improved the sole insert for extra warmth and added 200 grams of insulation throughout the boot to keep your feet comfortable in colder temperatures.
Coming in at around 3 pounds for the pair, they are light enough for longer treks, while providing great traction and support for scrambles or while snowshoeing. We appreciated that there was a D-ring for gaiters. (Although it might not fit larger hooks — but the laces can still be used in that case.) For more extreme conditions, Oboz Bridger offers another insulated boot with 2-inch-higher support and double the insulation. rei.com mens|womens; $185
SCARPA R-EVOLUTION PLUS GTX
These are solid, sturdy boots that will last for years and keep you dry. An interesting construction using a Gore-Tex liner makes a one-piece boot — the tongue is cleverly integrated in such a way that it rests neatly against your foot while keeping you as dry as possible. This boot has a relatively high ankle, which fits tightly but comfortably. The laces have an excellent lock at the ankle, ensuring they stay tight and you can adjust the laces above and below the ankle to different tensions. We tested out the waterproofing on these boots with a very wet hike with a lot of water crossings.
We especially appreciated the high ankle while passing through mud puddles and streams. We were pleased to still have warm, dry socks at the end of the day. This boot also handles slippery, uneven terrain. And if you manage to misstep, the solid ankle support should save you. It also makes it more comfortable to carry a heavy load. scarpa.com; $280
When Keen brought these back into their lineup, customers were thrilled, and with good reason: They’re the sturdiest, most waterproof boots Keen makes for hikers. We found that they stand up to year-round use, from trail work to a snowshoe outing. Because they’re built for hiking, they fit well into snowshoes and are better suited to long walks than most winter boots.
The leather keeps your feet dry, while the waterproof lining also functions as an insulator, so they’re warmer than other boots we tested. The factory insole is removable, making it easy to use specialized insoles if you need. The lug-soles work on muddy or slushy trails, and the high ankle coverage keeps any dirt and duff out of your shoes. But if you’re wearing these for a snowshoe outing, you’ll want to supplement with gaiters. These are boots that will see you through winter, spring, and all the way to next year’s fall adventures. keenfootwear.com mens|womens; $150