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Let’s imagine you’re hiking through picturesque snowy terrain. Your feet are warm and footwear has good grip – despite the snow and ice. That’s the way it should be.
Winter hikes and snowshoe treks can be exhilarating. However, cold feet often ruin an otherwise enjoyable undertaking. Wet or numb toes can quickly make you feel fed up with winter. But it’s not a problem with the right winter-hiking gear. In addition to picking the right clothing, it’s primarily the right footwear that plays a role. And that’s where dedicated winter hiking boots come in.
“We’ve developed boots specifically for outdoor activities in winter. They stand apart for their high upper, insulation, and special non-slip soles,” explains Bettina Haag, R&D designer at HANWAG. Consequently, winter boots stop feet from getting cold and wet, and also provide plenty of grip when you hike through snow and ice.
No winter boots are the same. Quite the contrary, in fact, there are lots of models for different uses here. The range covers walks on cleared paths, moderate winter hikes in the great outdoors to footwear for demanding winter treks with heavy backpacks in backcountry, off-trail terrain.
A special feature is the ability to combine the footwear with snowshoes. “Winter hiking boots for this purpose usually have a firm upper so that the snowshoe straps don’t press onto your feet,” explains Bettina. A special heel welt or dedicated snowshoe attachment point to stop the strap from slipping at the back is also helpful.
Whether out walking the dog on a cold December morning, or hiking through a winter wonderland, the new HANWAG Bluestrait ES has many talents during the cold season. It comes with a warm lining, non-slip sole and is waterproof thanks to its sustainable EcoShell membrane.
There are lots of things that make winter boots stand apart from standard hiking boots. Here are the four most important ones:
As we’ve already mentioned, winter boots usually have a high upper that extends way over the ankle. It keeps you warm and has two other key benefits:
Winter boots for extreme expeditions, and also some winter running shoes, have a tight-fitting gaiter at the upper end. This prevents snow from getting in, but some people find it gets in the way while they’re walking. An alternative is to keep a pair of gaiters in your backpack and put them on if needed.
The outer material is called the upper. Here, leather is often used with boots for hiking in winter. Because leather is very hardwearing. It can put up with sharp ice crystals and snowshoe straps rubbing on it (–> Find out more: 5 reasons for hiking boots made of leather). Which is why winter boots made of leather are the number one choice for demanding hikes and treks.
The slightly more lightweight winter boots for moderate outdoor use have inserts made of synthetic material in the upper alongside leather sections. These fabric-like materials are more lightweight, flexible, and very breathable. Hardwearing fibres like polyamide also stop the material from wearing thin or getting damaged.
Whether it’s made of leather or synthetic materials, the upper on a winter boot has to be waterproof. And it’s usually an in-built membrane, like Gore-Tex or EcoShell that does the job. It’s not just waterproof, but also breathable. Sweat can therefore be wicked away. This prevents the inside of the boot from getting wet, which is particularly important in winter. In low temperatures, wet feet quickly turn into cold feet.
Winter boots need to be cared for and impregnated regularly to provide consistently reliable protection from getting wet. (–> How to Clean and Care for Your Hiking Boots)
The HANWAG Banks Snow GTX (the photo shows the women’s version) is the winter all-rounder for all activities outdoors from November to April. They’re waterproof, provide excellent insulation from the cold, have an extra high upper to stop snow getting in and come with a snowshoe attachment point on the heel. The hardwearing material stops the snowshoe strap from pressing onto the foot.
There are lots of ways of keeping feet warm in winter boots:
The HANWAG Abisko GTX will let you venture confidently into wintery northern landscapes. It’s waterproof and keeps feet warm in temperatures down to minus 49 degrees thanks to its G-Loft Fit insulation. An expedition-ready winter boot for extreme temperatures, custom-developed for the Fjällräven Polar Experience. Off you go into the cold!
“The outsoles on boots for hiking in winter have a particularly distinct tread with prominent studs and lugs that dig into the snow.” explains Bettina. Sometimes extra fibreglass or mineral particles are added to the rubber on the sole, which (like tiny spikes) improve traction when hiking in snow and on ice. The rubber compound should also be modified to cope with the cold temperatures and not harden. (–> Everything about hiking shoe grip)
The characteristics of a sole also affect the midsole. It tends to be on the stiffer side in boots for snowy hikes or snowshoe trails. Because on snow-covered ground, a sturdy sole helps with shifting body weight and taking precise steps.
It’s very important not to buy winter boots that are too small. Because if the boots are too snug (or laced too tightly), circulation in the feet is poorer and they get cold more quickly. Which is why you should buy winter hiking boots half or a whole size bigger.
For feet to have enough space at the sides, winter hiking boots are fashioned with a wider last. However, you shouldn’t have too much space at the sides. Because boots that are too wide make it difficult to dig the soles into the snow or stabilise snowshoes.
Temperature fluctuations at the extremities are nothing unusual. The human body runs like a thermostat. When outside temperatures drop, blood vessels in the extremities constrict to keep the brain and vital organs in the centre of the body at an ideal temperature. At the same time, the temperature in the feet and hands drops.
If your feet are always cold, this can also be due to health problems, such as heart failure, diabetes, or the results of heavy smoking. All these factors mean poor circulation.
And women have cold feet much more frequently than men. This is because muscles are crucial for producing body heat. While muscles account for an average of 40 percent of body mass in men, it’s just 23 percent for women. Hormones also play a role: oestrogen and thyroid hormones mean that the metabolic rate in women is lower.
Two factors are the main causes of cold feet, so prevent these from occurring and stop those cold toes.
Here are a few tips that work fast when you’re on tour:
“In addition to footwear, socks also play a key role in keeping your feet warm,” emphasises Bettina. They allow you to adjust and enhance the fit, moisture management and insulation of hiking boots.
Winter hiking socks with a blend of merino wool and synthetic fibres achieve the best results. The wool keeps wearers warm and (to a certain extent) work when it’s wet too. The synthetic fibres, in turn, help to wick moisture away from the foot to the outside. (–> Hiking socks buying guide).
Alongside good footwear and socks, these tips can also help to keep your feet dry and warm:
Conclusion: With the right gear, you can drastically reduce the risk of cold feet.
Most of all, make sure that your shoes are properly insulated. We have models to suit any temperatures. You can then enjoy the outdoors and keep warm, even in winter.