The place in our homes most likely to get cluttered and crowded is just by the front door—and this is never truer than in November. The pile of shoes seems to grow and grow. Sneakers and loafers nestle, rain and snow boots jostle and, perhaps, a stray hopeful flip-flop remains. We’ve searched high and low for giant shoe racks, but one large enough simply doesn’t exist. Happily, shoe designers have come up with another solution: boots versatile enough for every weather condition and occasion.
“Right now the outdoor influence is permeating lifestyle—brown leathers, red laces, textured wool that reminds you of hiking boots but is more sophisticated,” says Kristin Nelson, director of merchandise at MEC. She refers to these kinds of boots as “peak to pub.” When shopping for those can-do-everything boots, she has some tips as to what you ought to look at in order to make sure they’re practical, too.
“For waterproofness, the tried, true and best is a bootee construction, where there’s a waterproof membrane inside to keep the foot warm and dry and it’s still breathable,” says Nelson. GoreTex is the best-known material for this—breathability is a must to reduce sweatiness. “Open up the footwear and see where the membrane ends. There’s something called gaiter construction, where there’s extra fabric behind the tongue and laces to prevent your foot getting wet. In Vancouver you might not need that but, in Toronto, with those slushy snowy puddles, you definitely want it.”
Brands used to provide temperature ratings for boots to indicate what type of weather they’re most suitable for, but Nelson says not everyone does that these days, since people have different preferences about how warm they want their toes to be. “Some people like to have extra-toasty feet but, if you’re being active outdoors, you don’t necessarily want all that insulation,” she explains. Insulating materials include wool, which is warm and naturally odour resistant, and fleece. U.S. brand Keen insulates with recycled PET plastic.
The soles of your shoes need to be made from rubber to give good grip—materials like EVA, usually used for the soles of sneakers, will slip on ice. Rain, hiking and snow boots can all fit the bill. Hunter Boots’ soles are natural rubber, vulcanized for durability and water-proofness, and the brand’s Tall Rain Boots and Chelsea Boots now come in an insulated version. Italian brand Olang incorporates a folding cleat into its winter boots. Flip it out when you’re walking outside on icy ground to get maximum grip; flip it back in when you’re on the sidewalk or indoors. You can also get traction devices, a.k.a. city crampons or urban spikes, which can be added to any shoe or boot to give extra grip.
When it comes to hiking or snow, leather is a good and hardwearing option, though these days you can also get breathable synthetic fabrics—or rubber for a rainy Vancouver winter. Another option is to look for certified better leather, which is audited for its environmental impact. Brands that use this include Keen and Timberland.
Laces or zips? Lacing up boots can be one step too many if you just want to get outside. If they become undone, they trail in snow, rain and mud, and no one wants to touch a soggy bootlace. On the other hand, zips are easy on and off but don’t provide a variety of fit for different-sized calves. The modern solution is both: lace your boot to your perfect comfort level, then forget about it and use the zip. Try your boots before you commit; they should feel comfortable right out of the box. “Make sure your toes have enough space and that you still have enough room to wear a good pair of socks,” says Myriam Séguin, project co-ordinator at Olang Canada. Nelson is a big fan of insoles, which can be used to add or remove warmth and to reduce stink.
Looking after your boots through the fall and winter is essential to giving them longevity. Wipe them with a damp cloth after every use to remove salt—Nelson suggests diluted white vinegar and water. “There are many aftermarket boot-treatment kits that restore waterproofing and offer salt protection. While Keen boots are waterproof right out of the box, some fans find these aftermarket kits helpful to extend the life of their winter boots,” says Lindsey Elliott, Keen Footwear’s director of regional merchandising. It’s not a one-and-done situation— far better to waterproof your boots periodically through the winter.
At the end of the season, give your boots a thorough clean before storing them. “With my taller boots, I place cut-up pool noodles inside them and then put them in boxes,” Nelson says. Your boots’ longevity depends on how often you use them and what for, but the better you look after them, the longer they’ll last.
The best thing about modern winter boots is choice—you can get sporty rainproof ones from Vans, sleek and toasty ones from Hunter, rugged stylish ones from Ugg and a modern twist on traditional plaid from Sperry. That, and you really can get one boot to rule them all. “I think the big focus is to make boots multifunctional,” says Nelson. “People just want to own less.” Giving front-door clutter the boot? We’re here for it. —Aileen Lalor