Snow Boots vs Hiking Boots (What’s the Difference?)

Whether you’re a trained hike enthusiast or wholly new to the world of hiking, snow travel, and winter sports, there is a fair chance that you’ve been stuck between choosing snow boots or hiking boots.

While the two boot styles mentioned above can look fairly similar and are often made by the same companies, there are several key differences between snow boots and hiking boots which make them both suited for specific and different types of sports or outdoor activities.

Quick Summary 

  • Snow boots are bulkier and have better traction and ankle support
  • Hiking boots are more breathable and better suited for low-impact hiking
  • Wearing the proper boot for your hike can improve your overall comfort and make you less likely to strain yourself

Can I Wear Hiking Boots in the Snow?

a person who is wearing hiking boots is hiking on a snowy mountain
Credit: Scottish Dream Photography

Hiking boots can be suitable for light snowfall, but they shouldn’t be the trail runners’ first choice when venturing into a winter outdoor adventure. While some are indeed waterproof, sporting a Gore-Tex membrane, they are not insulated for extremely low temperatures.

In contrast, winter boots are designed to protect your feet from cold and wet conditions typical of the winter months. They’ll offer heavy insulation to keep your feet warm and are typically waterproof to guard against snow and slush.

I’ve personally used regular hiking boots in snowy weather on various occasions and found that they needed more insulation and weight to provide the stability this kind of weather requires.

Can You Hike Using Snow Boots?

Snow boots are bulky and much bulkier than hiking boots and aren’t necessarily built for long walks. Your feet may get sweatier faster, and the heel and your ankles may ache if you were wearing hiking boots.

When hiking in the snow, we tend to walk a bit slower, both because of the snowy conditions and the higher precaution of walking on uncertain ground. If you, then, took snow boots on a normal snow-free path, you may end up walking faster than the boots were built to handle.

What’s The Difference Between Snow Boots vs Hiking Boots?

a hiking boot and a snow boot side by side

Generally, snow boots are for cold and wet conditions with waterproof and insulated materials, while hiking boots are for outdoor activities with breathable and durable materials.

1. Versatility

Hiking boots are multipurpose shoes built to suit a large number of outdoor activities. They are usually lightweight and made for taking long walks and even scaling some beginner mountains if you’re careful.

Hiking boots are a safe pick for any adventurer who plans on hiking, riding or even climbing in a place with dirt trails. Snow boots are good for any kind of snowstorm or type of activity where you know you’ll be wading through the snow for the majority of it.

2. Warmth

a pair of QUECHUA snow boots

Snow boots are built to hold in warmth since you’ll be using many hiking boots in the snow. With the right pair of socks, snow boots can keep users sufficiently warm in just about any cold climate.

Hiking boots instead are built to regulate the body’s own temperature, sweat and heat.

This means that hiking boots are often built instead to have traction features to keep the rest of the feet cool.

When your sweaty feet rub on the soles of your hiking shoes or boots, you create a bit of friction which eventually heats your foot.

3. Comfort

Hiking boots are built singularly for the comfort of the user when hiking or taking on any other outdoor activity. The goal is to be able to use your hiking boots just about anywhere that you may be walking on rough or uneven terrain.

Snow boots are designed rugged, tight, and thick for the purpose of keeping snow and water off your feet when walking in the snow. The toughness, grip, and thickness of the rubber that usually lines snow boots make them unmalleable and not great for tough hikes.

4. Waterproof

closeup of a waterproof tag on a pair of snow boots

By their very nature, just about every decent pair of snow boots is waterproof.

But when it comes to hiking boots, there are quite a few brands and varieties that are not waterproof.

Since the main job of your snowshoeing boots is keeping snow (and melted snow) off your feet, the best snowshoes and boots are consistently waterproof.

5. Weight

There is quite a range of hiking boot weights. While climbing boots and hybrid trail running/hiking boots tend to be relatively light, rough-terrain hiking boots can still be heavy.

If you are planning on using your boots for trails with rocks and weathered paths, your boots can definitely get by as being rather thin. Some pure rubber galoshes or thicker Gore-Tex snow boots, however, can run very light.

But these resemble rain boots and may not give your feet the correct protection in very snowy or icy conditions or climates.

6. Breathability

merrell moab 2 mid ventilator hiking boot
Hiking Boots are more breathable.

Hiking boots are consistently built with breathability in mind [1].

One of the biggest concerns that hikers face is blisters and foot comfort as a whole matter.

So most hiking boots are, then, remarkably breathable.

Taking long hikes (especially in warm weather) can make breathability a big concern for hikers but note that that very important thing is certainly less true for people who use snow boots.

Snow boots, by their nature, are the opposite of breathable.

Most snow hikers or skiers are not looking for boot breathability but rather insulation [2].

7. Insulation

Hiking boots and snow boots are both insulated for different reasons and in completely different ways.

study by the Stanford University Medical Center found that feet can lose heat rapidly in cold situations, especially when wet.

Snow boots are insulated with wool or other heat-retaining materials for the purpose of keeping your feet warm in very cold temperatures, cold weather, and conditions, namely for when you are wading through snow.

The last thing you’d want as a hiker in the middle of the snow is a wet snow or boot that doesn’t keep your leg and foot warm. Hiking boots are insulated to make sure that the toes and ankles don’t rub too aggressively on the fabric of the boot.

Snow Boots vs Hiking Boots Comparison Table

a comparison table between Snow Boots and Hiking Boots features

Do Snow Boots Need To Be Insulated?

Adequate insulation is a key feature in snow boots to trap body heat and prevent cold air penetration to avoid cold-related harm.

We’ve seen that most snow boots are also lined with insulated material because they are built to hold off the cold. Wearing thick socks and proper-fitting boots is often enough to stay warm and provide good insulation when walking in the snow.

Are Snow Boots Waterproof?

gore-tex tag on a pair of hiking boots

Through our trial and error, we discovered that most snow boots are waterproof.

This feature is the most important thing because snow boots are made to protect and keep snow (and snow that melts into water) away from your feet and socks.

Snow boots are usually lined with rubber or other waterproof materials like Gore-tex for protection in wet conditions.

Further, many snow boots are made with a tighter fit on the sole of the foot support ankle so that water, mud and snow can’t get to the sock, calf, and midfoot that way either.

Are There Hybrid Boots that Can Be Used for Both Purposes?

There are such things as hybrid boots that work for general hiking, and walking in the snow. But because the two boot styles are so different, some of the advantages and benefits of both are often compromised on hybrid boots.

For example, the stiff rubber and thick leather soles of snow boots often don’t allow for comfortable hiking. Another example is insulated snow boots could quickly overheat the foot when hiking in warm and dry summer.

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Which Boot Is the Right for You?

Most people who do outdoor activities year-round have both a pair of snow boots as well as a good multi-use pair of hiking boots. The purpose of the two boots is so different that wearing either kind of boot in the wrong environment could lead to you enjoying your activity less, or worse, feeling some pain.

If you are a regular hiker in seasons other than winter, a good pair of hiking boots will likely serve you well. If you live in a place where it regularly snows or you choose to do winter hiking, it definitely pays to have a sturdy pair of snow boots.


Are Hiking Boots and Snow Boots the Same?

Hiking boots and snow boots are distinct types of footwear. Hiking boots are lightweight, breathable, and provide good support for walking on uneven terrain, while snow boots are heavier, and insulated to keep feet warm and dry in cold and snowy conditions.

Do Hiking Boots Keep Your Feet Warm?

While hiking boots may provide some warmth to your feet, they are not designed specifically for use in cold weather, and it’s recommended to wear appropriate socks and layer your clothing for warmth.

Which Is More Versatile, Snow Boots or Hiking Boots?

Hiking boots are generally more versatile than snow boots, as they can be used in a wider range of environments and conditions, including hiking trails in various terrains and climates, whereas snow boots are specifically designed for cold, snowy and wet conditions.

Are Hiking Boots Lighter Than Snow Boots?

Hiking boots are usually lighter than snow boots. This is usually because snow boots are built with thick rubber soles and insulated with wool or other thick textiles to hold in heat.

Do Snow Boots Work on Ice?

While snow boots can provide some traction on ice, they may not be as effective as specialized ice cleats or crampons designed specifically for icy surfaces.

Can Hiking Boots Be Used in Snow?

Yes, hiking boots can be used in snow, but it’s important to consider the level of snow and the type of hiking boots. Hiking boots designed for winter use with insulation, waterproofing, and aggressive treads will provide better traction and support in snowy and icy conditions.


Christina Utz

Christina Utz

Christina Utz is a professional writer, mountain addict, and hiking enthusiast. She successfully finished a rock climbing class and a wilderness survival course, and by the age of 24, she hiked more than 1800 miles and finished over 260 different trails! Her expertise in hiking and outdoors helped numerous people to fulfill their adventurous spirit!

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