Here’s What Makes the Perfect Winter Boot According to a Podiatrist (With 10 Styles to Shop Now)
When it comes to shopping for footwear, we tend to look for just two things: are they cute and are they comfy. But winter boots are a whole other ball game. We know they should be warm and come with plenty of traction to combat icy sidewalks, but what else should we be looking for in a solid winter boot? We asked three podiatrists— Dr. Miguel Cunha, a board-certified podiatric surgeon and founder of Gotham Footcare in NYC, Dr. Sarah Haller, DPM, of Essex Union Podiatry, and Dr. Jaqueline Sutera, DPM, a Vionic Innovation Lab member—to share their recommendations on what makes any particular style worth buying, along with a few specific picks to shop ahead of the season’s first snow.
What makes a good winter boot?
There are six main features to consider when shopping for a good winter or snow boot. And while some are absolute must-haves, there are a few traits that offer some wiggle room depending on your personal style.
1. Weather Resistance and Water Proofing
This is one of the required features you just can’t pass on. Even if there isn’t snow or rain in the forecast for today, walking through old puddles or melting frost can leave your poor toes vulnerable to frost bite. Moisture collecting inside your boot also creates an ideal environment for fungi and bacteria to grow which can cause a slew of other issues. Most brands tend to label their boots waterproof, weather resistant or water resistant or shout out materials like Gore-Tex, rubber or PVC. But if you’re struggling to find mention of any kind of protection from the elements, it’s likely the boot won’t perform well in bad weather.
2. A Slight Heel
Surprised? Us too, but don’t get too carried away, none of our foot experts are recommending high heels for snow days. Says Dr. Cunha, “Winter boots that have somewhat of a slight heel—less than ¾-inch in relation to the front—is actually better for you than shoes that are completely flat because it takes the stress off the Achilles tendon.” Alleviating that stress can improve you posture and balance, making falls or injury less likely. That said, platforms or flatforms are not a great option. “Avoid platforms as they lack flexibility,” says Dr. Sutera. “Instead choose a short, stacked heel with tread.”
3. Solid Arch Support
Speaking of flexibility, a good winter boot falls somewhere within a Goldilocks levels of rigidity—not totally immovable, but not as floppy as your favorite sandals. Per Dr. Cunha, “look for a winter boot that doesn’t bend too easily in the mid arch. This will provide more shock absorption, and in turn will result in less foot pain in your heels or arches.” How can you tell if your boots hit that sweet spot? You should be able to somewhat flex and point your toes, but shouldn’t be able to reach your full range of motion.
4. Traction for Slippery Surfaces
Another non-negotiable feature is tread on the soles. If the boot doesn’t have a rubberized lug sole, put it back on the shelf. It may look super cute, but you’ll be peeved when you find yourself slipping all over the grocery store parking lot or while shoveling the sidewalk.
5. A Higher Boot Shaft
In addition to arch support, ankle support is key. In the words of Dr. Haller, “ice has no mercy,” and just about everyone is at risk of slipping and potentially injuring their ankles or feet. She recommends choosing a boot that hits at least two or three inches above the ankle joint to minimize the risk of potential injury. And sadly, “no, UGGs don’t count as stable.”
6. Adjustable Laces
Although this feature isn’t 100 percent necessary, all three of our podiatrists touted the benefits of an adjustable lace-up style.“Lace-ups are more adjustable and can accommodate thicker socks on even the coldest of days,” says Dr. Sutera. More than adjusting for different levels of sock thickness, shoelaces can be knotted and laced in different ways to offer additional support in some places or relieve pressure in others. REI has a handy guide for three tying methods to address various foot concerns.
Now, onto the fun part—picking out which of these podiatrist-approved boots you’re going to work into your winter wardrobe.
1. Eddie Bauer Hunt Pac Deluxe Boots
These classic snow boots check all six of our podiatrist’s boxes, and also come decked with rustproof hardware and a cozy faux-fur collar to prevent water from sneaking in the top of your boot. The arch-supporting molded EVA footbed is also removeable if you prefer to use your own insoles. One thing to note: Some reviewers found these boots to run a tad small, especially with super-thick socks, so you may want to consider buying a half-size larger than normal.
2. The North Face Shellista III Mid Boots
Multiple reviews of these boots mention the streamlined design that’s not nearly as bulky or fussy as many other snow boots. The lining is made from recycled materials, while the entire outside, sole, shaft and laces have been waterproofed to ensure your feet stay totally dry, no matter how much you trudge through the rain.
3. La Canadienne Connor Waterproof Boots
These lug-sole Chelsea boots may not look like they’d hold up well through a wet winter, but they’re actually entirely waterproof and weather-resistant. Canadian company La Canadienne is all about creating stylish boots folks can still get practical use out of during the country’s cold and snowy winters. And while this sleek design doesn’t come with adjustable laces and won’t offer as much warmth as the true snow boots on this list, they are a great option for everyday wear to the office, school or out for dinner with friends.
4. Columbia Ice Maiden II Boots
There are 11 different color options to choose from for this cozy snow boot, but we’re partial to the classic camel brown and red combination. One of the best things about this fleece-lined boot is just how lightweight it is, so even if you spend the day trudging through the snow, your feet and legs won’t feel nearly as tuckered out. The fluffy trim at the top isn’t continued throughout the shaft, however there is a lighter, thinner lining that provides ample warmth while that decorative trim actually prevents snow or rain from seeping in through the top.
5. Sorel Joan of Artic Wedge II Boots
“If you absolutely have to have an elevated look, I’m into the bold look of a wedge with a rubber lug sole,” says Dr. Haller. And while the necessity of such a heel is definitely debatable, we’re also really into this sleek Sorel style. It helps that they come with a lug sole that can handle rain, snow and ice like a champ. Wedges also offer more arch support than regular heels, but for truly heavy snow or ice Dr. Haller recommends picking up a more heavy-duty pair and perhaps leaving these for lighter days.
6. Kodiak Surrey II Waterproof Boots
The lining on these hiking-inspired boots isn’t quite as thick or warm as some of the other styles on this list, so we recommend these for folks with slightly milder winters (sorry, New England, but these are not the boots for you). The memory foam insole should keep your feet feeling happy all day long, but its also removeable for those who use more supportive or doctor-prescribed insoles.
7. Sorel Kinetic Sport Waterproof Insulated Winter Boots
This sporty style is all about that exaggerated lug sole (which is actually quite easy to clean if you’re worried about the white turning gray after just a few wears). We love that these remind us of our favorite chunky basketball sneakers, just with a much cozier lining and the ability to withstand all the puddle jumps your heart desires.
8. Chaco Borealis Peak Waterproof Lace-Up Boots
We are big fans of Chaco not just for its weather-proof footwear, but for its impressive sustainability efforts, too. For example, the insulation of these boots is made from a coffee-based composite rather than a man-made foam. Although the shaft is not so high, it does meet Dr. Haller’s ankle-supporting requirements and can be aided by utilizing certain lace-tying methods.
9. Bos. & Co. Hudson Waterproof Boots
Another Canadian brand focused on combining fashion and function, Bos. & Co. has a number of snow-ready boots that don’t actually look like your typical snow boot. Case in point: this chic riding boot that comes lined with super-soft merino wool and has tread tough enough to handle even the worst winter weather. The footbed is also made of memory foam, meaning you can wear these beauties all day without your feet tuckering out early.
10. UGG Adironidack II Waterproof Boots
OK, so those unbelievably cozy classic UGG boots may not be podiatrist approved (like, at all) but these upgraded winter boots definitely fit the bill. The lacing allows for adjustable support along your shin and ankle, and the bottom tread is much better suited for snowy walkways than the brand’s OG styles. That said, these heavy-duty boots are lined with UGG’s signature super-soft shearing alternative for that same supremely comfortable feel.