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Winter Boots

Winter boots just keep on getting better every year—warmer, more practical, and providing more value for the money. Nevertheless, given the huge selection of styles now available to consumers, we think you’ll find the following few hints more than helpful in guiding your purchase.

BUYING

Ideally, a good pair of winter boots should be warm, comfortable, light in weight, hard-wearing and waterproof, as well as, for those who can afford it, breathable. But since combining all these features in one and the same boot is expensive, it’s better to first consider which are most important for your needs.

So, if you love snowshoeing or other activities in which you are constantly in contact with snow, you should choose a boot that is, first and foremost, warm and waterproof, high enough (8 inches) to keep the snow out, and has properly sealed seams.

For everyday walking around town, a pair of well-insulated low (6 inches) boots can be suitable, even if they are not totally waterproof.

On the other hand, for activities that take place in intense cold and involve little moving around (all-day work in the outdoors, winter camping, etc.), high boots with thick felt liners make a better choice. Since these styles feature a looser fit, they enable you to wear several pairs of socks if there is a dramatic fall in temperature, again, if you are not involved in a highly active pursuit.

In any case, one of the most important considerations in deciding which boot to buy is its comfort (or temperature) rating. Although this can be as low as –100°C, it generally varies between –15°C and –40°C, depending upon the type and density of insulation used. Whether it goes by the name of Thinsulate™, PrimaLoft®, Polartec® or Heatseeker, insulation is the “mineral wool” that keeps feet warm. The higher the rating number (from 100 to 600), the more the boot will provide good protection from the cold.

Boot construction

Boots comprise a number of parts. The first is the upper, which refers to everything above the sole. The upper includes the vamp, which forms the top of the boot, from the toe to the instep (in line with the lower part of the ankle); the toe box, which, as its name suggests, covers the toe area; the tongue, an extension of the vamp (or located beneath it) protecting the front of the foot; and the collar (or cuff), which provides a kind of seal to prevent snow from getting inside the boot. Finally, the back of a boot is made up of a heel seat joining thequarters, the two rear sides of the upper, which sometimes incorporates a counter, a kind of reinforced support that keeps the heel firmly in place.

For its part, the sole is made up of three layers: the outsole, which comes into direct contact with the ground; the insole (or footbed) that the foot rests on; and the midsole, which is sandwiched between the previous two and absorbs shocks. The midsole is sometimes topped by ashank reinforcement of varying length for extra rigidity. A removable sock liner  (or comfort sole) is often put inside the boot, while a lininghugs the foot to ensure comfort and support.

Boot materials

Leather—flexible, hard-wearing, breathable, and very waterproof when given the proper treatment—is commonly used in making winter boots. Full-grain leather is particularly sturdy, but more expensive. Leather that comes from a thinner part of an animal hide will be more affordable, but less durable. Leather is also often used for boot linings, since it is comfortable and takes on the shape of the foot more quickly.

Certain boots feature waterproofed leather uppers with breathable membranes such as Gore-Tex® inside. Leather naturally “breathes,” while the inside membrane allows heat and sweat to escape.

Resembling the real thing at first glance and nearly waterproof, synthetic leather nonetheless does not wear as well, is less breathable, and tends to crack. In all other respects, however, it shares practically the same properties as real leather, and costs less.

A number of synthetic fabrics frequently go into the making of winter boots because of their light weight, low cost or relative breathability, with nylon generally preferred for vamps or linings.

Rubber stands out for its waterproofness, but this advantage has its downside—imperviousness, which keeps heat and moisture in. On the other hand, it is very practical when used to make uppers and hard soles. In those cases, it is treated in order to maintain its flexibility and gripping power in even the most frigid weather. The rubber base may sometimes extend up to the ankle in order to improve the waterproofing of the entire boot.

Finally, midsoles may be made of polyurethane, which is relatively heavy, or Evazote® (EVA), if the design aims for comfort and durability. For their part, carbon or fibreglass are often used to lend more rigidity to a shank.

USE

In order to keep them in good condition for as long as possible, boots must be given a protective treatment and waterproofed before being worn and exposed to bad weather. Certain types of seams must also be sealed with a specialized product (such as silicone) in order to ensure that the boots will be completely waterproof.

If you want to avoid freezing your feet, first make sure that your boots are not so tight-fitting that they hamper blood circulation. However, keeping feet warm also depends on your particular metabolism, whether you are properly hydrated, how cold it is outside and… the kind of socks you wear. To keep cold away, get yourself ultra-quick-drying technical socks made of highly breathable materials (whether synthetic fibres or merino wool, etc.), since keeping feet dry is the best way to keep them warm. In extreme cases you can also place battery-operated heated insoles inside your boots.

If you’re a snowshoer, wearing gaiters will keep snow out of your boots, which will therefore help keep your feet warm and dry.

To avoid blisters, especially when snowshoeing, make sure that your socks fit well. You can also wear a very thin synthetic-fibre liner sock under the regular pair, which will prevent skin from rubbing against the inside of the boot. Finally, you can sprinkle talcum powder on your feet before pulling on liner socks and socks to maximize the chances of them staying dry. If, despite all these precautions, you do end up with a blister, cover the skin with a bandage or moleskin (double-layered flannel padding).

Finally, if you’re buying winter boots for your children, you should pick up an extra pair of felt liners at the same time, so that you will always have a dry pair on hand when they need them.


MAINTENANCE

A good pair of boots will last for a considerably long time if they are properly cared for. The first thing to do is read the manufacturer’s recommendations on the protective products that should be applied, and then regularly clean and treat vamps in order to minimize the damage that calcium, road salts and other materials can cause.

Following each time you wear them, leave boots to dry in the open air, making sure not to place them too close to a source of intense heat, such as a fire, stove or furnace.

You should remove sock liners after each use in order to dry them—and cut down on the smell! For the same reason, you should also wash them from time to time.