My first pair of Merrell insulated boots I got in 2010, a gift from my parents on my going away to Maine to live for college. These were the most rugged shoes I’d ever owned in my life: waterproof, 200 grams of insulation, a predominately leather upper, a vulcanized rubber mudguard, and an M-Select GRIP outsole. The boots were a beast, overkill for the shoveled-out trek between dorm room and dining hall, but they were a comfort in regular blizzards and constant slush.
We’ve grown used to the bad weather in the northeast. Warmer ocean waters fuel nor’easters that get pushed by the jet stream into New England. Connecticut and Rhode Island in particular sit right in the path of most storms. “Snowmageddon,” “Snowpocalypse,”—we’ve heard it all; so SUVs fill our roadways, and the supermarkets stock rock salt. Coming from Connecticut, I thought I knew what I was getting into. But I didn’t.
I wasn’t prepared for my first Maine winter, nor the second, nor the third. Temperatures rarely rose too high above freezing, and without a car I found myself needing to walk everywhere. Snow stayed on the ground well into April, and I was thankful every day for my winter boots.
In fact, I still own those boots. I’ve re-stitched two seams, replaced the insoles twice, and gone through a gallon of mink oil, but they’re still kicking. They still come out of my closet when snow shovels come out of the shed, and they’re the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten. It’s clear; when you deal with New England’s cold, wet winters, the right winter boots make all the difference.
So What Makes Winter Boots…Wintry?
Let’s start with the basics. Most winter boots sport leather uppers. An upper is exactly what it sounds like, the exterior part of the shoe above the outsole. Designers choose leather because it’s a naturally waterproof material, and a boot’s considered “waterproof” if it has either sealed seams or some kind of membrane lining the upper. Waterproofing matters. Dry feet are warm feet.
Winter boots run thicker than their warmer weather cousins, and that’s because of insulation. You’ll find winter boots with “200 Grams of PrimaLoft Silver®” or “400 grams” if it’s really warm. These numbers refer to the grams per square yard of insulation or “fill” lining the boot, and you’ll notice the fill most in the slightly puffed collars and tongues, where insulation is heaviest to prevent heat loss.
Some winter boots don’t use traditional fills. Lining fabrics create layers that trap air and heat, substituting insulation for felt liners or fleece. Think: the warm and cozy classic UGG, but a little more rugged. Even uninsulated waterproof boots work as winter boots if you combine them with a thick wool sock. Comfort all depends on how you layer, but a good pair of winter boots will never steer you wrong.