Winter can be cruel. Take for example, those days when your plans for shoe game supremacy are thwarted when you wake up to a blanket of snow. But as we know, a well-prepared gent always has a plan B, which in this case means investing in the right pair of boots as a backup. When it comes to surviving the frosty months, and I mean survival of your shoes, salt is enemy number one. Everyone enjoys a well-brined holiday turkey but the stuff really does wreak havoc on leather – combined with water and it’s even worse. Choosing the right pair of boots will not only spare your finer shoes from the corrosive destructive power of salt, but can keep you looking stylish in the snow. So here is some advice on what to look for in picking the right boots to survive the winter, some boot care tips to get rid of salt, and my recommendations for buying options.
Unlike clothing, you can’t just add more layers to your boots for protection so understanding what to look for makes all the difference. Don’t bother with synthetic materials; they look stupid and perform poorly. Conveniently, full grain leather is really the only option, which actually refers to a leather grade classification. Don’t confuse full grain with top grain, which is a cheaper quality grade typically used in designer handbags and wallets in which the top layer is sanded down to create a clean appearance. Full grain leather retains the outer surface below the hair where the grain is tighter, making it durable and less permeable to water. Since it’s not sanded down to remove blemishes and imperfection, the skins are chosen with a far more rigorous selection process – meaning the cost is much higher. Believe me though when I say, the added price of good leather is well worth it; you get a more supple appearance and rich colours.
Goodyear welted is the gold standard in shoe construction. Without getting too technical, it refers to the method of stitching the upper to a strip of leather called the welt, and then separately stitching the sole to that welt; the result being that the sole is not attached directly to the upper. While this construction method increases durability and waterproofing, it also enables the sole to be easily replaced. An in depth description can be found on the Shoesnob blog.
Although less common and likely more expensive, there are some other specialty construction options that shouldn’t be overlooked including storm welted, Norvegese, Veldtschoen and hand welted. As for the soles, a leather sole is always acceptable, but if you want something a bit more impervious to salt and moisture consider some of the various rubber and hybrid options out there.
Boot care tips:
Even the toughest boots can succumb to the perils of winter without adequate shoe care. The most important factor for success is time; it is crucial particularly with salt that boots are cleaned as soon as possible or the damage will be irreparable. The following process is fairly simple but does require some effort to extend your boots’ life:
My recommendation for boot options:
There are plenty of options out there with varying degrees of ruggedness. However, I do recommend looking for something that offers a good value. After all, these are essentially beater boots we are talking about so maybe save your big shoe investments for something you won’t trudge through salt and mud.
My go to pair is the Wolverine 1000 mile boots. They are classic and stylish, made in the USA and made from a thick and tough as nails full grain leather with a Goodyear welted construction. I’ve featured them many times before - check out these articles on how to style them:
If you’re looking at investing in some winter boots, below are some recommended brands to get started. Certainly there are many other boots, but I since I own all of these brands I can vouch for their quality: