I've tried various kinds of boots and traction aids in deep snow, icy pavement, urban environments, and in the country. I've rated each kind of boot in each of five categories: Warmth, Traction/Grip, Style, Price, and Water Resistance. All scores are out of 5.
Fashion BootsFashion boots are widely available in stores across the Twin Cities. They might look the part, and while the price ranges from cheap to designer, there are plenty of budget options. But how well do they stand up to the abuse of a Minnesota winter? Leather fashion boots are often thin material, although I picked up a vintage-style pair of substantial leather boots lined with fleece for about $50 from a consignment store. And you can always wear a good warm pair of socks underneath without compromising style.
Be wary of potential damage to leather from salt, and wet snow - treat your leather boots before venturing out in them, which will also improve water resistance. Avoid suede at all costs: suede boots will be destroyed by snow and salt.
All of those issues can be mitigated but the major problem with fashion boots is this: they almost universally have smooth soles, or a minimal amount of grip. Add YakTrax (see below) or another traction aid defeats the point of buying a fashion boot, no? And needless to say, high heeled boots are a total liability.
Water Resistance: 3
The bottom line: If you only buy one pair of boots, fashion boots won't cut it. A nice addition to a boot wardrobe with a more practical kind of boot though.
Ugg Boots and other sheepskin boots imitating the style are very popular here in Minnesota, and there's plenty of styles to choose from. The warmth of sheepskin can't be beat, they bring out new styles every winter, and the rubber soles provide plenty of traction. While cold snow won't penetrate, you'd be wise to waterproof them otherwise slush and spring puddles will leak in. Negatives: even though the range of styles seems to expand every winter, the look isn't for everyone. And, fashionable sheepskin comes at a price, Ugg boots retail from $150 and up.
Water Resistance: 2
The Bottom Line: If you like the style, you'll love these: practical, warm and grippy, so long as you waterproof them.
Water Resistance: 2
The bottom line: Expensive, need care, but warm as anything, will last forever, and buying locally made is a bonus.
Hiking boots, and mountaineering boots seem to be interchangeable marketing terms. The difference is stiffer soles, greater ankle support, and more warmth, and a higher price tag in a genuine mountaineering boot. Since we don't have mountains here, hiking boots are more comfortable to wear, and can be found with Minnesota-appropriate insulation. Boots with Goretex or similar waterproof liner will keep all water out for dry toes. Functional, yes, but style? These probably aren't going to work for a night out, or at the office.
Water Resistance: 5
The bottom line: Warmth, comfort, durability and practicality means I live in hiking boots in the winter, as long as the occasion permits.
Snow BootsWhen rating performance in the winter, the dedicated snow boot wins hands down. As functional as can be, the snow boot is waterproof, warm, grip, and price can't be beat - you can find a snow boot for around $40. Outdoor retailers, department stores, and sports stores all carry snow boots for adults and kids. The taller height makes them great for shoveling snow, playing in the snow, and any activity involving snow.
Are snow boots the answer to the eternal winter boot question? Sadly, no. They aren't terribly comfortable for long periods, and if an attractive snow boot exists, I'd like to see it. Although younger kids can happily live in snow boots all winter.
Water Resistance: 5
The bottom line: An essential to have, especially for kids - but you'll likely want to compliment your snow boot with another type of boot.
Any boot, no matter what the sole is like, can slip on ice. A smooth sheet of ice can be as perilous to a mountaineering boot as it is to a flimsy fashion boot. YakTrax are flexible slip-on outsoles made from coiled metal springs. Add a pair to the outside of your boot or shoe, and YakTrax claim they'll add traction for winter activities on snow and ice. They are cheap, from $20, and work on any boot or shoe. Except flip flops, I'd guess. These take some abuse during wear, and they don't tend to last more than a season or two - but the price makes it easier to cope with buying a new pair every year. YakTrax are great for snow and icy snow, but don't be complacent - how well do they work on pure ice? Hard, solid ice is just as treacherous - it can be impervious, even to the YakTrax. YakTrax are widely available in outdoors stores and department stores.
Warmth: Depends on the boot used with the YakTrax
Style: Depends on the boot used with the YakTrax
Water Resistance: Depends on the boot used with the YakTrax
The bottom line: Cheap way to add traction, but don't expect them to last more than one winter.
Why would you buy crampons when we don't have mountains in Minnesota? There is nothing that can beat their traction on ice. I've worn mine to take the trash out when the ice melt turns into a skating rink overnight. You can run around on an ice slick with nary a thought of sliding. You can run uphill on ice with abandon. You also look somewhat crazy, which may not be a good thing. And the awesomeness of their grip on ice has a negative: there is no grip whatsoever on bare pavement, and wearing them on anything but ice or snow will destroy the spikes, or whatever you are walking on.
Warmth: Depends on the boot used
Style: Depends on the boot used
Water Resistance: Depends on the boot used
The bottom line: Unbeatable on slick ice or if you happen to plan to ice climb: otherwise unlikely to be worth the investment.