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Grey winter boots walking through snow

How to choose winter boots

Choosing the right pair of winter boots is important to keep your feet warm and dry, whether you’re hiking, snowshoeing or walking the dog on a -30°C Winnipeg morning. If you find yourself in prep mode for snow season and need of a new pair of winter boots, learn more about:

  • Why are winter boots so important? They’re more than just a big bulky pair of shoes.

  • What are things to look for in a pair of winter boots? Know about breathability, waterproofing, temperature ratings, traction and closure systems.

  • What boots do I need for activities? There’s more than just one type. Are you planning to snowshoe, hike or just want warm feet walking around this winter?

  • What accessories should I get for my winter boots? Learn about gaiters, traction devices and crampons.

  • How to fit winter boots? Tips to find a good fit with your winter boots.

Why are winter boots so important?

Once winter covers trails and sidewalks with ice and snow, a proper pair of boots is essential to protect yourself from cold, wet feet and nasty spills. There are different types of boots to choose from depending on the activity you’re doing, whether it’s walking the kids to school, shovelling the driveway, snowshoe trips on the weekend, or evenings on the toboggan hill. They’ll keep your feet warm, dry and help give you a grip on slippery surfaces too.

Two people walking in the snow wearing brown winter boots and grey pants

What should I look for in a pair of winter boots?

First up: think about how cold, snowy and wet the conditions will be in your area. Next, consider what you need the boots for. Heading out into the winter backcountry? Or just a simple day of snowman sculpting? When you look at boots, keep those factors in mind and see what features match up with your plans and the weather conditions.


While it’s important to keep your feet nice and warm outside, breathability is an important factor to make sure your feet don’t overheat. This is especially true for high-energy activities like hiking and snowshoeing, which can quickly warm you up. When you’re looking at boots for higher-output activities, check to see if they’re made with breathable material to keep your feet comfortable on the move.


Wet feet + cold temperatures = not a great combo. Seam-sealed construction is a must to keep out water from snow and slush. Look for boots that use tech like Hydroseal or GORE-TEX® that prevents moisture from seeping in but still allows your feet to breathe.


Keep your toes nice and toasty when the temps dip. Boots that have synthetic insulation give you a great combo of durability and warmth. Winter boots often state the number of grams (g) of insulation; this refers to the thickness of the boot’s insulation. The more grams of insulation, the warmer your boots are for colder temperatures.

These can be an additional help when it comes to deciding which boots to grab depending on how cold it is in your area. For an extra dose of warmth, slip on a pair of merino wool socks, perfect for wicking sweat and keeping your feet dry.


Winter boots with good traction can help you avoid slipping on icy surfaces. Go for boots with a grippy outsole (the bottom of the boot), usually made from a rubber compound that doesn’t harden in the cold and has a lug pattern to prevent snow buildup. You can also add traction devices for added grip (more on this in the accessories section below).

Closure systems

Many boots, especially styles for high-energy activities like hiking or snowshoeing, have laces so you can manually tighten them as much as you want. They’re also cost-effective; if a lace breaks, it’s easy to replace. The downside is that they can sometimes come undone or loosen throughout the day, so you may need to re-tie a couple times if you’re out all day. Slip-on boots that are larger usually come with a drawstring collar, so you can tighten it around the ankle or leg to keep snow from falling in. These are great for days playing in the snow, but not necessarily long treks.

What boots do I need for certain activities?

Winter boots are usually grouped into two different categories: casual and active.

Brown winter boots walking through the snow

Casual boots

These are more focused on giving you insulating warmth but aren’t made for activities where you’re moving along at any serious speed. Think: playing outside in the snow, walks around the neighbourhood and shovelling the sidewalk. They still have a good grip and keep wetness out but aren’t designed for steep slopes or moving fast.

Person hiking through the snow wearing dark green pants and brown winter boots

Active boots

Many active winter boots look like regular hiking boots but have extra layers of insulation as well as water resistance. They’re also more lightweight, which makes it easier to get around for winter hikes and snowshoeing. Be sure to check how deep the snow is where you plan to hike and choose boots with a higher shaft that can keep powder out, or pair them with gaiters (more on this below).

What accessories should I get for my winter boots?

When things get particularly icy or snowy, there are a few different add-ons you can get for your boots:


Gaiters are great additions for winter boots. They’re made to slip over your boots and cover your calf to keep out snow (or mud) while hiking or snowshoeing. Most of them have water-resistance or waterproofing built in, along with closures to keep them fitting snugly.

Traction devices

Traction devices slip on quickly and easily over the soles of your boots (think of them as snow chains for feet). They can give you an excellent grip on steep, slippery terrain, and are useful for icy paths or packed down trails. Note: they don’t provide you with any floatation, so if you use them in powder snow, you will sink – snowshoes would be a better option for deep, fluffy snow.

Two people sitting on camping chairs lacing up their winter boots

How to fit winter boots?

To find the right fit, you first need to know what your exact foot size is. You can find that out with a foot measuring device at our MEC store, but you can also do it yourself at home. Be aware of the width of your feet as well, as different boot brands will have a wider or narrower fit and could have an impact on your comfort.

While trying on a pair of winter boots, lightly tap your heel and toe on the ground to get them snugly in place and tighten the closure system. A good pair of boots should feel snug, not tight, around your feet with enough room to wiggle your toes and not too much slippage at the heel. Walk around with them on, especially up an incline or a staircase, to get a sense of how they’re feeling.

While giving them a test run, ask yourself:

  • Are the backs of your heels lifting as you go up the slope? If so, try going down a size.

  • Are your toes crammed into the front as you go down the slope? If so, try going up a size.

  • Try on boots with a pair of socks you plan to wear with them.

  • Do your feet feel snug? Make sure the laces are tied tight and consider how bulky your socks are to make sure you feel comfortable in your boots.