If you’re looking to get outside during the colder months of the year, you’ll need a solid pair of winter hiking boots. However, not all snow boots are good for hiking, so it’s important that you get the right model for your needs.
One of the most common boots we see on the trail are Sorels, but are Sorel boots good for hiking?
Unfortunately, Sorel boots are not good for hiking. Sorel boots and other pac-style boots, like Kamik boots and L.L. Bean Boots, which have rubber on the bottom and leather/synthetic uppers, simply do not provide enough support for your feet and ankles while hiking in the winter.
Thankfully, you have other winter hiking boots to choose from other than Sorels. To get you started and to ensure that you have the right gear for your adventures, we’ll give you some more information about why Sorel boots are not good for hiking and what boots you can choose instead.
Are Sorel Boots Good Quality?
While we can’t recommend Sorel boots for hiking purposes, we certainly can’t deny that they’re good quality boots. Generally speaking, Sorel boots are made from only the highest quality materials and they’re known to last for years, even with heavy use.
That being said, in recent years Sorel has shifted their production overseas. Although the company has its roots in a small workshop in Ontario, Canada, they’ve since been purchased by Columbia Sportswear and they now make almost all of their products outside of North America.
Therefore, some long-time Sorel customers may have seen a change in workmanship or durability over the years, but most people still agree that their gear is of the highest quality.
What Is The Difference Between Snow Boots And Hiking Boots?
One of the key reasons why we don’t recommend Sorel boots for hiking is because they’re snow boots, not winter hiking boots. Although these 2 types of boots might seem similar, they are actually quite different when it comes to performance on the trail. Here’s what you need to know.
Snow boots are a type of winter footwear that is specifically designed for casual walking in deep snow. They’re usually made from thick leather or synthetic materials and they boast a sizable amount of insulation to keep you warm in the cold.
Some snow boots, like Sorels, are actually a type of “pac boot,” which means that they have a thick rubber shell around the foot and leather or synthetic uppers. When compared to other types of snow boots, pac boots tend to be heavier, but more durable.
That being said, snow boots are more designed for warmth and waterproofing than for high-octane pursuits on the trail. When compared to their winter hiking boot cousins, snow boots are heavier, bulkier, and less nimble, so they’re a better choice for shoveling your driveway than for a long winter hike.
Winter Hiking Boots
As the name suggests, winter hiking boots are, well, good for winter hiking. These boots are usually made from durable leather or synthetic fabrics and they often have a built-in layer of Gore-Tex (or a similar membrane) for waterproofing.
Unlike snow boots and pac boots, though, winter hiking boots are substantially lighter and less bulky. That’s because they usually opt for a thinner layer of Thinsulate insulation rather than faux fur to keep you warm.
As a result, winter hiking boots are much more adept for use on rugged trails, even if this relative lack of insulation means they aren’t as warm.
Snow Boots vs Hiking Boots: Which To Choose?
If you’re looking to spend time outside in the winter, you’ll need the right pair of boots. Here’s how to choose:
Folks who find that they spend most of their time shoveling snow, walking in town, or hanging out in a hunting blind might find that the extra warmth of a pair of snow boots is worth the added weight and bulk. On the other hand, if you’re looking to go on a longer hike in the mountains, a pair of winter hiking boots is going to be the better choice.
How Do I Choose Winter Hiking Boots?
Choosing winter hiking boots is no easy feat, so it’s critical that you know what to look for as you shop. These are some key things to keep in mind during the buying process:
Winter Hiking Boot Styles
A simple Google search for “winter hiking boots” will turn up thousands of results, but not all boots that claim to be great for winter hiking are actually a good choice for the trail.
In fact, it’s important that you understand the difference between the various types of winter hiking boots so you can get an appropriate set of shoes for your adventures. Here are some of the most popular types of winter boots that you can choose from.
Insulated Winter Hiking Boots
Insulated winter boots are essentially regular hiking boots that are winterized for use during the colder months of the year.
They boast thicker leather or synthetic uppers, waterproof membranes to keep your feet dry, and Thinsulate (or similar) insulation for warmth. However, they’re still light and compact enough for charging up and down the trail.
Generally speaking, insulated winter hiking boots are the best choice for casual winter day hikes and snowshoe adventures. That’s because they offer a good mix of insulation, durability, and affordability for the majority of winter hikers.
If you’re looking to head out on more remote winter adventures or if you’d like to spend time outside in particularly cold and snowy conditions, a pair of mountaineering boots might be the better choice.
Mountaineering boots can be made from leather and synthetic materials or they can have hard plastic shells with removable inner boots for added versatility. Regardless of which style of mountaineering boots you choose, however, you’ll find that they are warm, durable, and very, very stiff.
That’s because winter mountaineering boots are designed for use with crampons, so they’re generally not going to be as comfortable for use on flat trails. However, if you are looking to go on some mountain adventures and you’re okay with doling out some extra money, mountaineering boots, like the La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX or the Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro GTX, can be a solid choice.
Key Considerations For Winter Hiking Boots
Once you decide what type of winter hiking boot you’d like to invest in, it’s time to start seriously thinking about the different features that you need in your future boots. Keep the following in mind as you shop:
Insulation & Warmth
One of the key differences between winter and summer hiking boots is that boots designed for winter use are meant to keep you warm in the cold. Indeed, most winter hiking boots come with a sizable amount of insulation to help shield your feet from frostbite and other maladies.
Although you’ll find that some companies put a temperature rating on their boots, it’s best to use this information as a guideline, rather than as a hard and fast rule. There’s no universal standard for testing the warmth of a pair of winter boots, so manufacturers can technically list any temperature rating that they want.
Instead, we recommend taking a look at how much insulation a boot actually has as a way to understand how warm it will be. Most winter hiking boots have a layer of Thinsulate insulation, which is measured in grams. Higher gram counts (e.g., 400g) mean more warmth than lower gram counts (150g).
A good pair of winter hiking boots needs to shield you from the snow, so any pair you buy should be fully waterproof.
At a minimum, your winter boots should boast a Gore-Tex liner (or a similar liner, like BDry) and they should be fully seam-sealed to help keep you dry. Keep in mind, however, that you may have to frequently re-waterproof your boots with waterproofing spray or SnoSeal to keep them in tip-top shape.
Outsole & Traction
The final key consideration for any pair of winter hiking boots is their outsole and traction abilities. However, unlike summer hiking boots, where the outsole structure is of the utmost importance, the design of your winter hiking boots’ outsoles doesn’t always have a major impact on your hiking experience.
That’s because many winter hikers find that they end up wearing snowshoes, microspikes, or hiking crampons, which provide all the traction they need on the snow.
However, if you plan to hike without these traction aids, you’ll want to look for winter boots that have thick rubber soles with large lugs that can provide a better grip on slippery snow and icy surfaces.
What Are The Best Boots For Hiking On Snow And Ice?
With so many winter hiking boot options to choose from, it can be difficult to narrow down your options to just 1 pair of boots. That being said, if we had to opt for just 1 set of hiking boots for our winter adventures, we’d opt for the Oboz Bridger 10″ Insulated.
In particular, we like that these boots are made from durable DWR-treated nubuck leather and that they have a BDry liner for added waterproofing. They also feature 400g of Thinsulate insulation for warmth and a winterized outsole that provides traction on snow if you’re hiking without microspikes or snowshoes.
However, what’s important is that you find the right winter hiking boots for your unique needs. At this point, you have all the knowledge you need to select your next pair of winter hiking boots, so we look forward to seeing you on the trail!
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.