Our focus in this article will be on new products and technologies that have emerged since our article on Lightweight Footwear Systems for Snow Travel, published in March 2007. There are very few noteworthy developments in gaiters, vapor barriers, socks, overboots, and booties, so not much to say there. However, the selection of lightweight insulated boots continues to expand, and we found several noteworthy products.
Lightweight insulated boots is a fairly new category emerging over the past couple of years. Of course there are lots of warm boots intended for après ski, but our interest is restricted to boots that are suitable for cold weather hiking or snowshoeing. Until recently, most insulated boots were HEAVY, because rubber and leather are just plain heavy. Now we are seeing more waterproof/breathable lightweight insulated boots made of mostly synthetic materials that drastically reduce the weight.
However, the category is still in transition. Many footwear manufacturers still adhere to the notion that hikers prefer leather boots, so many of the boots we found have leather components. Granted, today’s leathers benefit from high tech waterproofing processes, but leather is still heavy compared to fabrics, and the waterproofing disappears after a while, allowing the leather to soak up water. Insulated boots with a rubber bottom section also tend to be heavy, but manufacturers are now finding lighter substitutes - like porous synthetic rubber and injection molded polyurethane and EVA foams - to make them significantly lighter.
Most of the insulated boots we found have 200 gram Thinsulate or Primaloft insulation, which is warm enough for active snow travel, but not enough to prevent chilly toes in really cold weather or while winter camping. Some of the boots have thicker insulation (400 to 600 gram) of the same insulation types, which adds more warmth for really cold conditions and winter camping, and adds a little more weight. Two of the boots we found have a removable insulated liner, which puts them in the extreme warmth category (-40 F claimed), and the liners can be removed for faster drying. Finally, we found one boot that is insulated with Aerogel, an ultra-lightweight nanotechnology developed for space suits.
The following table summarizes the results of our search for lightweight insulated boots. It is by no means comprehensive; we were not able to contact every manufacturer and weigh every model of boot. Notably missing is The North Face, which has several good candidate boots, but we were not able to get in to see them during the show.
|Manufacturer/Model||Weight/Boot (men’s 9)||Insulation||MSRP|
|AKU Suiterra Injected GTX||26.3||600g Duotherm||$240|
|Ahnu Lodi Mid||18.7||200g Thinsulate||$130|
|Baffin Edge||28.7||Synthetic Liner||$90|
|Kamik Viper||19.0||200g Thinsulate||$100|
|Kamik Shadow||9.6 (kid’s 6)||Felt Liner||$60|
|Helly Hansen Kikut 3 Hi||22.7||200g Thermolite||$180|
|Keen Summit County||26.5||600/400 KeenWarm||$140|
|Keen Snoqualime||21.3||400/200 KeenWarm||$135|
|Keen Blackcomb||19.0||200g KeenWarm||$120|
|Keen Growler||19.5||200g KeenWarm||$125|
|Keen Winterport||22.4||200g KeenWarm||$110|
|Lowa Creek II GTX Mid||22.5||200g Primaloft||$210|
|Salomon B52 TS GTX||20.8||400g Thinsulate||$140|
|Salomon Chill Out WP||22.8||200g Thinsulate||$120|
|Salomon Tundra Mid WP||24.0||Aerogel||$160|
|Salomon Snowtrip TS WP||20.1||200g Thinsulate||$100|
|Salomon Deemax Dry||17.3||200g Thinsulate||$140|
|Sorel Timberwolf||24.0||200g Thinsulate||$100|
The following boots are Backpacking Light staff favorites, based on our testing to date.
Still a favorite is the Keen Growler (19.6 ounces/boot). It’s made of durable synthetic materials, so it won’t soak up water. The insulation and waterproof/breathable liner are proprietary KeenWarm and Keen Dry. Available now in men’s and women’s sizes.
The Kamik Viper (19 ounces/boot) is also made of synthetic materials and is insulated with 200 gram Thinsulate. The waterproof/breathable membrane is proprietary. The Viper runs a bit narrow for a winter boot. Available now in men’s sizes only.
The Salomon Tundra Mid (24 oz/boot) is insulated with Spaceloft, which contains Aerogel, a nanotechnology insulation developed for space suits. The Tundra Mid will be available in fall 2008 in men’s and women’s sizes.
Perhaps the ground breaker in this roundup is the Solomon Tundra Mid Boot (replacing the taller Salomon Aspen Boot for fall 2008), which is insulated with Aerogel (a nanotechnology insulation developed for space suits). Aspen Aerogels's Spaceloft insulation is ideally suited to footwear applications because it provides a very high warmth/thickness ratio and is unaffected by compression. It allows thinner uppers that provide the same level of warmth as thicker and heavier insulations. These boots look heavier than they really are. Will is currently testing the Aspen Boot, and they are awesome!
Some Strong Contenders
Following are some standouts we found in our search for lightweight insulated boots at Winter 2008 Outdoor Retailer. We have not had an opportunity to field test these boots, so we don’t have any information on their performance and warmth.
Although the Kamik Shadow (part of their new Synergy series) will only be available this fall as a kid’s boot, we included it because of its technology and light weight. Kamik has developed a proprietary injected EVA foam for the lower, which combined with a waterproof nylon upper, reduces weight substantially. The Shadow, with a removable liner, weighs just 9.6 ounces (kid's size 6) and is rated at -40 F. Available fall 2008; if the line is successful, the technology will be offered in adult boots in 2009.
The Salomon Deemax Dry has an outer softshell fabric and weighs just 17.3 ounces/boot. It’s insulated with 200 gram Thinsulate and has a proprietary WP/B lining. Available fall 2008 in men’s and women’s sizes.
For more insulation and low weight, the Salomon B52 TX GTX has 400 gram Thinsulate Ultra and weighs just 20.8 ounces/boot. The membrane in this boot is Gore-Tex. Available now in men’s and women’s sizes.
The Keen Snoqualamie (left) is a taller and warmer boot with 400 gram KeenWarm in the toe area and 200 gram in the upper. The waterproof/breathable membrane is KeenDry. At 21.3 ounces/boot, the Snoqualamie should give a lot of warmth for its weight. Available now in men’s sizes. The new Summit County (right, 26.5 ounces/boot) is warmer yet, with 600 gram Thinsulate in the toe area and 400 gram in the upper, and will be available in men’s and women’s sizes in fall 2008.
The Keen Winterport is a taller boot that saves weight with an insulated fabric upper with drawcord closure. Weighing only 22.4 ounces/boot, it’s insulated with KeenWarm and kept dry with a KeenDry membrane. Available now in men’s and women’s sizes.
We didn’t know that Helly Hansen made shoes until we visited their booth at the OR Show. The Kikut 3 High has a lacing system inside its insulated waterproof/breathable soft shell cover, accessible via a waterproof zipper on the front. The boot is insulated with 200 gram Thermolite, and weighs just 22.7 ounces/boot.
While we are seeing some clear progress toward lighter insulated footwear, it seems that this category still has a ways to go. For one thing, it’s time to ditch the leather. It’s counterintuitive to build a leather waterproof/breathable boot. Many of the boots can be made lighter through the use of durable, more breathable fabric uppers (like the Kamik Viper) and injection molded foams in the lower section (like the Kamik Synergy Light series). Rubber is still the best material to provide an outsole with good traction on ice, and some manufacturers have reduced weight by making the outsole thinner. Thinsulate and Primaloft insulations dominate the market, but we would like to see more boots that incorporate advanced materials like Spaceloft containing Aerogel. With these improvements, it should be possible for manufacturers to provide insulated boots that weigh 16 to 22 ounces/boot, depending on the boot height and the amount of insulation.