Winter Footwear

I hate cold. But every year I do one or more winter trips in the snow. I started doing this in the 1980’s. On those early trips I used heavy leather boots, always freshly covered in Snow Seal. Also I usually brought a pair of ancient Sherpa brand snow shoes, and crampons. Until a couple years ago, my crampons were Black Diamond Contact Crampons. All of this was heavy and bulky.

After I lightened my 3 season footwear, my thoughts turned to doing the same for my winter footwear. After reading a 3-part series on lightweight winter footwear, I decided to try it out, and am happy to report that is has worked out well. I have used this system for the past two years.

If you are a member of, you can read the articles by by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl here.

Basic Winter Footwear


Top (left to right): Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters, Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra Trail Running Shoes.

Bottom (left to right): Synthetic liner socks, thick wool socks, Rocky GoreTex waterproof/breathable socks.

The trail running shoes are breathable, not waterproof. The are the same model I sometimes use for non-winter hiking, only 1.5 sizes large to accommodate the extra socks. I wear the socks in this order:

  1. Liner Socks
  2. Wool Socks
  3. Rocky GoreTex Socks

The Rocky socks are hard to locate and tend to run small. Also there is a “right” and a “left” sock.

This system has worked well for daytime temperatures below freezing. I haven’t taken them below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. When I stop for rest breaks, my feet don’t get cold, although I do have to add a puffy jacket to keep my torso warm.

Thinsulate Insoles

In addition to this 3-layers system, I replaced in stock shoe insoles with a pair of Thinsulate Insulated Insoles.

Shoe with 3 socks worn

Shoes, insoles, and 3-layer sock system.



Everything topped off with the OR Verglas gaiters.




When hiking in snow traction and/or flotation devices are needed. The 3 items I use are:

  1. Kahtoola Microspikes
  2. Kahtoola KTS Aluminum Crampons
  3. MSR Lightening Ascent Snowshoes

If I am sure I will need to deal with ice, I take the Crampons, they only weight 3.3 ounces each more than the microspikes, and there is no comparisons about how they work. The crampons are vastly superior. Aluminum crampons are subject to easy dulling of the points on rocks, so care must be taken. But they weight about 20 ounces less (pair) than my Black Diamond Contact Crampons. They also are easier to strap on, and they stay secure.

Traction Devices

Left: Microspikes in a 1 liter water bottle. Right: KTS crampons in 2 liter Gatorade bottle.

Kahtoola Traction Devices

Left: Kahtoola KTS Aluminum Crampons. Right: Kahtoola Microspikes.

Kahtoola Traction Devices

Left: Kahtoola KTS Aluminum Crampons. Right: Kahtoola Microspikes.

Kahtoola Traction Devices

Left: Kahtoola KTS Aluminum Crampons. Right: Kahtoola Microspikes.

MSR Lightening Ascent Snowshoes. For around camp at night I wear these Western Mountaineering Down Expedition Booties.


The MSR snowshoes are lighter than my old Sherpa’s (top) and work better too. I bought “tails” for additional flotation  which would make them as long as the Sherpa shoes. But have not had to use them. Not the wire bar crossing the MSR shoe near the right hand side of the picture. These are called “Televators.” Flip them up and it increases traction going uphill and really reduce fatigue.