What I look for in outdoor gear can be summed up simply: I want my cake, and I want to eat it too.
I don’t like compromising. For example, a choice between gear that is lightweight and weatherproof is not acceptable to me. I want both. Or, more to the point, I want it all. My gear should do everything I need it to, no matter how unreasonable I am about it!
You would think this approach to outfitting would lead to a lot of disappointment. But with a little research and patience I can often find a piece of gear that fits my exact needs.
Winter boots however, have long been the exception.
I HATE big, bulky footwear.
I HATE cold feet.
That right there probably sums up why I have been unsuccessful in finding the right winter boots. I want a lightweight boot that will keep my feet warm.
And I don’t mean a boot that is light compared to other boots, I mean I want something that is more sneaker than boot. And when it comes to keeping my feet warm? I am not talking about preventing chilly toes here… I am talking about saving my poorly circulated piggies from frostbite.
In the world of winter boots, I am just not sure how much middle ground can be found between warmth and bulk.
But I was determined to give it a try, so off I went to several local outfitters to give it a go.
0 Degrees Fahrenheit
I kid you not when I say that my feet freeze up on cool summer nights. I suspect if I could ever be bothered to get them checked out I might find that I have Raynaud’s phenomenon or some other devious disorder. And while I know that manufacturer’s temperature ratings are equal parts marketing and voodoo, I have to start somewhere, so to address the frozen toes issue I decided I would only consider boots that were rated zero degrees Fahrenheit and below.
That is really pushing it, ideally I want something less than 3lbs… a lot less. But for this initial search I figured I would cast a wide net. Also, at least as far as I am concerned, when it comes to avoiding “bulk” in footwear it has as much to do with the feel and fit of a boot as it does the actual weight. I would choose something that feels and moves more like a trail runner over a stiffer, bulkier boot even if the latter were technically a few ounces lighter.
The North Face Slot
-40F, 3lbs 2oz
I decided to give the slot a try after ruling out The North Face’s more popular Baltoro boot (due to weight). With 400 grams of Primaloft Eco insulation, and a comfort range of -40F, this boot certainly has the warmth requirement nailed. The fit was “boot-like”, but comfortable, and generous enough for larger socks. It also comes with some nice “extras”, little features that I could tell I would appreciate with use. Such as a molded lip on the heel of the boot designed to hold snowshoe or crampon straps in place, and a large, reinforced loop on the back of the shoe to assist you in pulling them on. However, despite coming in under my weight requirement, it didn’t take long before realizing that this was going to be more “boot” than I wanted. It is larger than I prefer, and has a stiffer fit than I prefer. You would never confuse this boot with a lightweight hiker.
Salomon Snowtrip TS
-18F, 2lbs 8oz
The Snowtrip was recommended to me as a hybrid hiker/winter boot, and for the most part it seemed to fit that bill. With 200 grams of Thinsulate it gets a comfort rating of -18F, and it weights and feels more like a high top hiker than a classic winter boot. I generally love the way Salomon shoes fit my feet, and this was no exception. Comfortable, with a very cushy collar and plenty of room for larger socks. The Snowtrip is clearly a step in the right direction when it comes to bridging the gap between bulk and warmth.
Salomon Beluha WP
-13F, 2lbs 12oz
When I first saw the Beluha in the store I remember thinking to myself, “this is it!” It had the look of a substantial winter boot that was somehow squeezed into the package of an ordinary hiking boot. When the information tag mentioned a proprietary blend of insulation and a comfort rating of -13F I was even more convinced. However, the fit and feel quickly dashed my hopes. Whereas Salomon’s generally cradle my feet perfectly, this boot seemed too narrow around my heel and mid-foot before opening up in the toe area. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but the effect was that I felt pitched forward in them. They also turned out to be a little less giving and flexible than I prefer. Unfortunately, the Beluha, like The North Face Slot, was going to be too “boot-like” for me.
Garmont Momentum Snow GTX
-35F, 2lbs 8.5oz
When I tried on the Garmont Momentum I immediately knew that this was the fit and feel that I was looking for. Nothing about it felt like a winter boot. It is light, nimble, flexible in the right spots, feels like it would be a breeze to break in, and was a pleasure to walk around in. Easily the most comfortable “winter” boot I have tried on, and even more comfortable than some of the high ankle summer hikers I have worn. But I had questions about the warmth rating. Could something this comfortable and light REALLY be rated -35F? My skepticism started to get the better of me. I held the Momentum in one hand, and the large hulking North Face Baltoro in another. One is more like a pack boot, the other more like a sneaker… and there is only a 5 degree difference between the two? How? I handed them both to a salesperson at Eastern Mountain Sports and basically said, “I don’t believe it”. They just shrugged, which didn’t help much in alleviating my doubts. However, a quick look through the manufacturer specifications revealed that Garmont did pack 400 grams of Thinsulate into this boot. That is the same level of insulation that some of the warmer models I looked at were using, so in the end I settled on trusting the comfort rating (well, as much you can trust any comfort rating, that is.)
In the end, it was a bit of a no-brainer. The most comfortable shoe I tried on was also one of the lightest, and one of the warmest. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I may have just found that no-compromise winter boot that has eluded me all these years. It will take me a solid month of an Adirondack winter before I am completely convinced that a boot that feels this light on my feet can actually keep me warm through negative temps, but I have already taken them for a spin in snowy conditions and temperatures below freezing and so far I am impressed.
Keep an eye out for a full review once the mercury dips for real.