Knowing which footwear you can and cannot hike in is important for anyone, no matter their experience levels. Snow boots are a rather expensive option, so many people want to know if they can hike in snow boots outside of the season they’re designed for.
You can hike in snow boots, but there are a multitude of reasons as to why this may not be a great choice of footwear. While snow boots can be comfortable for regular hiking, they’re often bulkier and heavier than normal hiking boots, and they may be uncomfortably warm on hotter days.
To get the most out of them, you need to have a good understanding of snow boots and the best time to wear them. Below, we go into more detail about the differences between snow boots and hiking boots, so you can be sure which is the right option for your next hike.
First, let’s draw some comparisons between snow boots and hiking boots to see the actual differences between the two. There are some differences that may determine when you should or shouldn’t wear them.
Hiking boots are suitable for pretty much every type of terrain. They are regarded as being something you can wear on almost any hike. This is due to the high level of traction they give. Usually this is exceptional, and it’s something snow boots are unable to compete with.
The traction on hiking boots is designed to help you with both going up inclines, and back down again. They’re also designed to be suitable on flat hikes, through forests, and even in conditions where there’s some frost underfoot. Unfortunately, they don’t really help with wintery conditions.
A snow boot has one clear objective, and that is to help you hike in snow. The traction offered is different, as these boots are not primarily designed to be used in other terrain. However, they can still be worn on most hikes as the traction is designed to kick in when the going is tough.
In general, hiking boots are lighter than snow boots, and this is often down to a couple of key factors.
First, the soles of snow boots are made from rubber, which does have the tendency to add some weight. Also, a snow boot extends up the leg to the calf, or to the knee when a gaiter is incorporated into the boot.
That adds more weight through the use of more material, and then there’s the insulation needed to keep your feet warm. With added insulation, it means more weight is added to the boot. That can then result in using more energy to complete your hike, as you are literally carrying extra weight around on your feet.
Another huge difference, and one to never overlook, is breathability. Quite simply, hiking boots allow your feet to breathe, but snow boots are designed to keep your feet warm.Snow boots focus on keeping your feet warm and dry. The only way they can do this is by stopping anything getting in and out, including cold air and moisture.
Hiking boots do not always cover the ankle. Some stop just below, and that may not always be suitable for the trail you wish to go on. Also, the material is not only lighter in nature, but it sometimes feels as if it is incapable of protecting your feet from getting wet or cold. This can especially be the case with hiking boots where the material used feels more like fabric.
The same cannot be said about snow boots. Just as they are designed to keep out the cold, they are also designed to keep any form of moisture out. Snow boots offer exceptional protection from the damp, and that is why they can be the ideal solution when hiking through mud.
So, the protection level varies depending on circumstances, and hiking boots are not always going to be the correct choice. Think carefully about your hike, and the situation, to ensure you have the correct footwear.
Snow boots will typically come with some added features you just will not see on normal hiking boots. For example, some snow boots have an added groove on the sole where the band from gaiters can sit in order to really keep them in place. Hiking boots don’t have that same option.
Also, snow boots often allow you to easily add snowshoes or spikes, and even crampons with mountaineering boots. Once again, this is something often lacking with normal hiking boots as they are designed for a different type of terrain where those items are not required.
Honestly, the main difference is hinted at in the fact one is referred to as a snow boot. These boots are manufactured for a very specific purpose, and a specific set of circumstances. Other than in snowy conditions, hiking boots would tend to be the best option.
You can wear winter hiking boots in the summer, but it’s usually not the best decision. This is due to the design of the boots, and the fact that they are designed to keep all sorts of moisture out. This can make winter hiking boots uncomfortably warm during the summer.
Keep in mind that winter hiking boots generally come with a cuff that sits around the bottom of your calf muscle. This cuff has the intention of keeping snow from getting in the top of the boot and down to your foot. While it’s a great idea in the snow, as it helps keep your feet warm and dry, it’s not such a good idea in the summer.
The problem here is that the cuff makes it harder for your feet to breathe, and that’s bad in the warm summer months. It means your feet will sweat and become uncomfortable, leading to blisters and sores.
If you were to wear winter hiking boots in the summer, your feet are likely to overheat. That is the primary reason you should avoid wearing winter hiking boots in dry, warm conditions.
The only time where it could perhaps be recommended to wear snow boots in summer is if you know you will be hiking through very muddy conditions. At that point, the protection these boots can offer you may make a difference.
But the only problem here is that you may still end up with the issue of your feet getting too warm if conditions clear up. That means it’s something of a balancing act between the two. Make sure to check the weather forecast, and plan your footwear appropriately.
The Length Of The Hike
With snow boots being heavier, warmer, and less breathable, it can mean they may feel uncomfortable to wear for an extended period of time. (This only applies when wearing them outside the conditions they were designed for.)
We certainly would never recommend wearing snow boots for a hike of several miles on a nice sunny day. The chances of the boots then hurting your feet and making the entire hike less enjoyable would be high.
If you only have snow boots available, and the hike is around a mile long, then you will probably be fine. However, when you start pushing yourself to walk for miles, then you will run into problems.
While winter hiking boots aren’t necessarily useless in summer, you should consider wearing normal hiking boots when hitting a trail during the summer. These boots are not the best to wear when hiking up dry slopes. They offer very little in the way of traction.
But as we said, if you know you are hitting a trail with a lot of standing water, then winter hiking boots could save the day. Apart from that, they are not the best option.
You can wear hiking boot in snow, but they perform better in light snow and frost, or under normal dry conditions. If you are looking at hiking in snow that is above ankle height, then normal hiking boots would not be the correct footwear.
First, be aware of the height of the hiking boots. Most will come to either just below the ankle, or just above. While that’s fine in light snow, where it doesn’t even cover the thickness of the sole, it does cause problems at other times.After a deeper snowfall, the snow will potentially work its way into the top of your boot, making your feet both wet and cold.
While all hiking boots offer some degree of waterproofing, there is usually a limit to what they can cope with. In general, most hiking boots are not designed to be able to withstand being surrounded by moisture all the time. That is what will happen when it comes to hiking in deep snow, meaning that the sides of your boots will become saturated with water, leaving your feet damp.
Hiking boots are designed in such a way so that they strike the balance between breathability and keeping your feet warm. However, hiking in snow is completely different.Your feet are potentially encased in snow, and the insulation that exists on normal hiking boots falls short when it comes to dealing with very cold temperatures.
Snow boots are specifically designed to cope with snow around your foot and will stop any of that cold air from getting through.
A big part of all of this is connected to the sole. Remember that snow boots usually have a rubber sole, and that makes a big difference in keeping your feet warm and dry. We aren’t saying that soles on hiking boots are poor. They certainly are not poor in most cases, but they just don’t match soles on snow boots for these conditions.
But that does in itself make sense. You need your hiking boots to be lighter and easier to wear for those long hikes, but dealing with snow is a whole different ball game. Here, the sole plays a completely different role, and it’s one the normal hiking boot cannot really help with.
1. Merrell Overlook 2 Tall WP Boots
The Merrell Overlook 2 Tall WP boots are an excellent choice, because not only do they come with 400g insulation designed to withstand up to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, but they also have fleece around the cuff to help keep your feet warm.
Fully waterproof, you also have full-grain leather uppers to help make these boots extremely comfortable. They do also come with waterproof wraparound rands, and they just have the overall feeling of being extremely well designed.
This boot won’t let you down in the sole department either. Merrells have EVA midsoles, and the arch shanks are molded nylon. There’s no doubt they will keep your feet steady and comfortable throughout your hike.
Add in features such as the ability to wear snowshoes or microspikes, and also gaiters, and these boots can cope with pretty much anything that the snowy conditions can throw at them.
Be aware that the Mid WP boots only come with 200g of insulation, and that can make a difference in the warmth they provide. Look at getting the tall version for added warmth.
- Fully waterproof
- 400g insulation
- Can add snowshoes or microspikes
- Mid WP versions only offer 200g insulation
2. Salomon Toundra Pro
The Salomon Toundra Pro is a rather special boot, and it’s probably the only one you would wear that contains insulation actually designed for a NASA spaceflight. That comes courtesy of Aerogel insulation.
From a temperature perspective, they are rated down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, so they can cope with most snow you will come across. They also come with a fleece-lined tongue, and there’s fleece on the inside of the boot as well to just add to the feeling of comfort.
Talking of comfort, these boots have a large toe box, so you won’t feel as if your toes are being cramped. The toe cap is also reinforced, so that’s a nice little safety feature that you don’t always get with other boots.
For the sole, it comes with an arch incorporated into the design, and this allows gaiters to be worn with ease. The soles are thick, rubberized and offer substantial grip in snowy conditions. However, it’s also easy to add microspikes or snowshoes when required.
- Aerogel insulation
- Large toe box
- Thick, rubberized soles
- Quite expensive
3. KEEN Revel IV High Polar Winter Boots
These winter boots by KEEN will do a fantastic job of keeping your feet as warm as possible even when hiking through some ice cold conditions. Rated to -40°F, you also get five additional lugs to give you some added traction in the snow.
Also, what we love about these boots is that they do run slightly wide. That means you can have thick socks on to help keep your toes warm, and these boots won’t be too tight. In addition, they have a large toe box, which is common with KEEN boots, so these boots are pretty roomy.
While the sole is pretty standard, at least when it comes to winter boots, KEEN has incorporated a thermal heat shield for the insole. That just takes the insulation up to a whole new level, and it means your feet are not going to feel the cold.
Add in a good toe kick, heel kick and side protection, and these boots will have you covered even in the toughest of terrain.
- Rated for low temperatures
- Large, comfortable toe box
- Thermal heat shield sole
- Not the most waterproof boot on this list
4. Columbia Powderhouse Titanium Omni-Heat 3D Outdry Boot
Forget about the lengthy name for a moment, because these boots are exceptional in what they can offer. In fact, if you tend to suffer from cold feet and still want to hike in winter, then these boots have you covered to temperatures as low as -65°F.
This is thanks to them having 600g insulation incorporated into the boot. They also come with a waterproof wraparound, and that provides protection for even the harshest of conditions. If you want to wear gaiters, there is a clip on the front of the boots that they can easily be clipped to.
The cuff on this boot also runs higher than most, and there is more than enough padding around the cuff to ensure they feel comfortable. Add in significant support on the midsole, along with ample room, and you start to see why these boots are some of the best on the market.
- 600g insulation
- Rated to very low temperatures
- Very high cuff to keep snow out
- Boots may feel cold at the lower end of the temperature rating
5. Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro GTX Boot
Finally, we have the Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro GTX, and this pair comes with some Gore-Tex insulation, so we are talking about some of the best insulation around. These boots also come with integrated gaiters, so there’s no need to clip anything on to keep your ankles dry.
These boots are exceptionally sturdy, and they have a firm midsole along with a nylon shank for some added rigidity. This also gives you some shock absorption, and it feels nice and secure around your ankle as well. They also come with both front and rear lugs, so you can add crampons if you need to without much hassle. Add in a large toe box and these boots are comfortable to wear as well.
Overall, these boots are exceptionally waterproof, and your feet will be kept nice and dry at all times. The fact they run slightly wide gives for some added space for those thicker socks should you know you are heading out into extreme temperatures.
- Gore-Tex insulation
- Sturdy and comfortable
- Very expensive
Snow boots can indeed be used for hiking, and in certain circumstances they would actually be the preferred choice. However, in most situations, snow boots will make your feet overheat and can lead to blisters and sores, so they’re best reserved for the colder, snowier conditions.