Prepping for a hike, especially a long one that is well outside of the civilized world, can be a daunting task. You have to prepare for several eventualities and if it’s snowing outside, keeping your feet warm and dry is a priority. With that being said, can you wear hiking boots in the snow?

You certainly can, however, the hiking boots have to be of a certain type or upgraded a bit to withstand the water. When snow is sticking to your boot, it begins to melt, which is why a waterproof hiking boot is important.

Winter boots (or snow boots) are commonly suggested in place of regular hiking boots, however, there are some advantages and disadvantages there as well. And, of course, there are a lot of things to consider before you march out of the door with your hiking kit, such as insulation, comfort levels, the waterproof capabilities of the boot, the weight, ankle support, and breathability.

Pros & cons of wearing hiking boots in snow

HIKES IN EVEREST
Photo by Manuel Meurisse / Unsplash

The most important thing about hiking in snow is keeping the snow out of your boots. Once it’s inside of your boots, it melts against your ankles, with snow melt flowing down and covering your feet. Once your socks are saturated with ice-cold water, it’s all downhill from there.

Fortunately, most hiking boot manufacturers produce hiking boots that are either waterproof or partially waterproof. But, is that enough to keep snowmelt from covering your feet?

👍 Pros 👎 Cons
Sturdy and longlasting Hiking boots don’t always have a high collar
Traction or uneven surfaces Potential lack of waterproofing
Lightweight Designs for the terrain is variable
Waterproof sole

There’s little doubting the efficacy of hiking boots in the great outdoors. They’re made for roughing it and are generally lighter in weight than snow boots or work boots. Hiking boots are designed to break in but remain sturdy and viable in the long term.

Traction is a must as well and hiking boots, especially high-end or premium hiking boots, are designed to grip uneven surfaces, especially rocky terrain or forest floors that are slick with pine needles and leaves.

Hiking boots are often decently insulated as well which, in turn, means they are also very comfortable, with plenty of cushioning within that also creates a snug fit. There are some heavy hiking boots out there but they are certainly lighter than snow boots and steel-toed work boots, so you can hike longer between breaks.

Most hiking boots come with a waterproof sole, however, that doesn’t mean that the upper is going to be waterproof as well. There are a smaller number of hiking boots that are manufactured with a waterproof upper, which is primarily found in Gore-Tex boots.

When it comes to hiking in the snow, there are a few problems with hiking boots that become apparent rather quickly. Not all hiking boots come with a high collar and if you are going to be hiking in snow that is deeper than just a few inches, the lack of a high collar will allow snow in and around the ankle.

There’s also the fact that most hiking boots lack a waterproof upper. That’s not normally such a bad thing in light rain or something along those lines, however, snow tends to stick to your entire boot, and no waterproof upper leaves a channel for melting snow to access.

Last but not least, most hiking boots are made to handle a variety of terrain types, as mentioned above, but not necessarily ice. Even the grippiest hiking boot will lose purchase on a thin film of hardened ice. Depending on the terrain you are prepping for, you may want to consider spiking your hiking boots beforehand.

Pros & cons of wearing snow boots in snow

a pair of black snow boots close up
Image credits: Taylor Skaff

Snow boots are designed for what hiking boots are not, in that they can carry you through heavy snow while maintaining a dry, warm, and comfortable environment for your feet. As with anything though, there are always a few caveats that are worth considering.

👍 Pros 👎 Cons
Excellent traction in the snow Useless for other types of hiking
Completely waterproof Overly warm and stifling
Highly insulated Very heavy
Much higher collar
Excellent ankle support

The fact that snow boots have excellent snow traction makes sense. They are snow boots after all, so that point goes almost without saying. They are also very waterproof. Snow boots are designed to keep the snow out, even if it melts onto the material.

They are heavily insulated as well, so it will be very difficult to make your feet cold while inside a snow boot. The much higher collar is designed to keep the snow from gathering at the bottom of your pants cuff and the top of the boot. The collar on snow boots runs nearly up to the calf to keep the snow out of your boot.

The additional advantage of such a high collar is excellent ankle support, especially if the material is comfortable and well-fitted.

Unfortunately, you can’t use snow boots for much outside of snow. They simply aren’t designed for the kind of work that you put a good pair of hiking boots through. The traction, while much better on ice, loses its stability on rocky or otherwise uneven terrain.

Snow boots are also very heavy and if you have ever walked a long way in hiking boots, you will recognize the importance of a lightweight boot. Snow complicates the situation as well, making your snow boots heavier as it sticks to them.

Lastly, snow boots are heavily waterproofed which creates a lack of breathability. This means hot, sweaty feet and a general feeling of discomfort throughout your hike. The worst part is that if your feet sweat a lot and you take a break, that sweat will turn icy cold, potentially even freezing.

What to look for when picking hiking boots for snow

The ‘cons’ listed above, for the hiking boots, gives you a bird’s eye view of what you need to avoid when picking out the right hiking boots, if that’s what you want to wear in the snow.

Some of the things you want to be looking for are:

  • A high level of waterproofing
  • A higher collar
  • Traction on ice

You can also try to waterproof your current hiking boots.

Waterproofing your hiking boots

If you have a pair of Gore-Tex hiking boots, there isn’t much that you have to worry about as far as having a high enough level of waterproofing to keep snow melt away from your feet.

If you don’t own a pair you can always waterproof your hiking boots to tackle the winter terrain. There are waterproofing sprays on the market that are designed to waterproof your boots, in a temporary fashion, without reducing the breathability to a large degree.

KIWI Protect All Rain and Stain is designed to do just that. If you enjoy hiking in the winter, especially during or after a heavy snowfall, you should consider both picking up and maintaining a few cans.

The stuff doesn’t last forever but one treatment will last you through a hike at the very least. Many of these waterproofing sprays offer the added benefit of keeping out dirt and other debris from your hiking boots.

There isn’t much you can do about the height of your collar, outside of duct taping your boots up to the calf portion of your hiking pants, which is a bit of overkill and quite restrictive. If you frequently hike in heavy snow, you will want to invest in hiking boots with a higher collar or just go with some snow boots instead.

What are the best hiking boots for snow?

Inside the Mendenhall Glacier Ice caves.
Photo by Sonny Mauricio / Unsplash

Fortunately, there are a few options that may suit you. The Lowa Alpine Expert GTX boots are kind of a hybrid between your traditional hiking boot and a snow boot. The collar is much higher than a normal hiking boot but not quite as high as what you would find with a snow boot.

The Lowa is also designed with a Gore-Tex membrane designed to increase the waterproof capacity of the boot and keep the snow off of your feet. The Salomon Quest 4 GTX is another amazing choice. Like the Lowa, it lacks an extremely high collar but it still maintains some significant height.

The Salomon Quest is also manufactured in waterproof Gore-Tex to keep your feet dry. Salomon is typically a brand known for competing with the likes of Keen and Merrell, with smaller boots and innovative technology. However, this boot is an exception and may just be your next winter choice.

If you want something a little more sporty, while still retaining the Gore-Tex material and a relatively high collar, you should check out the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX. This boot has everything that the Lowa and Salomon offer, with a little bit of coloring and style to give the overall aesthetic some pop. It will certainly stick out in a white, snowy background.

Final thoughts

Whether or not you use hiking boots in the snow (or whether it’s even feasible or not) boils down to the type of hiking boot you have, how heavy the snow is, and whether or not you prefer something a little sturdier for hiking in the snow.

The truth is, there are many hiking boots out there that will be enough to tackle even some of the heaviest snowfalls but you’ll still have to do your homework so you can ensure that your feet are protected for the long run.