- The ideal kids snow boot will encourage longer outdoor play by keeping feet warm and dry, without being too heavy to move in.
- When shopping for kids' snow boots, look for a pair that is waterproof, insulated, flexible, and easy to put on.
- The Baffin Mustang were the warmest winter boots we tested, and they are still light and flexible enough for play.
A good pair of snow boots is essential to winter outdoor play, but boots are some of the trickiest types of footwear to buy for children.
"If your child's feet are cold, chances are, the whole child will be cold," said Linda McGurk, author of "No Such Thing as Bad Weather." "Snow boots are an essential part of your child's winter wardrobe." However, finding snow boots that are lightweight, flexible, and easy to move around in yet warm and dry can be a challenge. Insulation and waterproofing tend to have the opposite effect, and a heavy boot can discourage active play.
Shoes that are stiff from too much insulation can interfere with proper foot development. "Children are born with flat feet, with a fat pad on the bottom of their feet," explained Dara Jones, a pediatric physiatrist at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery. "The foot arch doesn't develop until around age 6 or 7 as the foot muscles become stronger. The only way to develop that [arch] is by feeling and gripping the ground under them. It's important [that shoes] support and not interfere with this process."
To find that balance between weather-ready and developmentally friendly, I tested 12 pairs of kids' snow boots over four months, from traditional insulated boots to athletic fit snow boots to all-weather boots. In addition to Jones and McGurk, I consulted with the founder of 1000 Hours Outside and parents participating in the challenge. I also chatted with Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods," and dug into research from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
I searched for boots with both physiatrist-recommended flexibility and outdoor expert-recommended warmth for everything from sledding to winter hikes with my three children. You can read more about how to choose and size snow boots for kids at the end of this guide, as well as more details on how each boot was tested.
Here are the best kids' snow boots:
- Best kids' snow boots overall: Baffin Mustang
- Best kids' athletic snow boots: Keen Hoodoo III
- Best kids' all-weather boots: Bogs Classic
- Best snow boots for toddlers: See Kai Run Gilman
- Best lightweight kids' snow boots: Keen Lumi II
The best kids' snow boots overall
From the warm, cushy inside to the thick tread on the outside, the waterproof Baffin Mustang is the ideal boot for all day snow play.
Pros: Very warm, waterproof, flexible sole and foam-like inner sole, excellent tread pattern, easy to put on
Cons: Expensive, not as light as an athletic-fit snow boot
The Baffin Mustang is everything a traditional snow boot should be, from the warm and cushy insulation to the thick traction treads on the flexible sole. My 8-year-old wore these shoes on a 1.5-mile winter hike in 30-degree weather, and, instead of complaining he was cold after more than two hours, he said he wanted to stay all day.
With an insulated, moisture-wicking removable liner, the Mustang was both warm and dry. The boot is rated to -40 degrees F, and while those rankings are just a guideline that varies based on things from activity level to the individual's metabolism, the boots were also warmer than the others in our review. The boots also passed our water test, where they were dunked in 5 inches of water and held there for at least 10 seconds.
The lining has other benefits. The bottom is quite cushy, and, while I could only fit my hand in there, feels like it would be comfortable for walking. My son had a similar "wow" reaction when he first pulled them on. A foam-like padding is helpful for developing feet, according to Jones. "The inner sole should be soft and generally foam like — it doesn't have to have an arch in it," she said.
While the sole isn't the most flexible among the ones we tested, the boots do have a little bit of flex to them. My son was still able to run in them. The Mustangs also have nice deep treads that kept him from slipping on our winter hike that included plenty of ice.
Although the Baffin Mustangs are the warmest boots we tested, we also tried a few excellent boots that had more flexibility and were lighter weight. Those boots are warm enough for snow sports and extended play in the cold, but they may not be the best option for areas with milder winters or kids who need the lightest, most flexible shoe. The Mustangs are also pricey, an expense that's harder to justify for kids who will outgrow them in a single season.$85.45 from Amazon $62.73 from REI
The best athletic snow boots
The Keen Hoodoo III fits more like a tennis shoe than a snow boot, and it keeps out the snow and cold.
Pros: Flexible, lightweight, waterproof, easy to run in, warm
Cons: Tougher to put on, shorter boot height
Traditional snow boots tend to be heavy and clunky, encouraging lots of stomping and shuffling rather than the typical gait. The Keen Hoodoo III, however, fits and feels like a normal shoe with a longer boot shaft on top, but with good insulation and waterproofing. These were the most flexible kid snow boots that I tested, and flexibility is ideal for proper foot development.
The toe flexes easily, and the rubber sole extends to cover the toe, a feature called a bump toe that prevents wear. The bottom has a good amount of tread to them too — not as deep as the Baffins, but better than the Bogs Classics. Waterproof leather covers most of the boot, with textured fabric on the back of the calf and the tongue that add a pop of color.
Unlike traditional snow boots, the Hoodoo III boots are very lightweight. My daughter could run, jump, and climb while wearing them, all activities that shouldn't have to stop just because there's snow on the ground.
The mid-weight insulation isn't as warm as the Baffins, a tradeoff for the weight and flexibility. The boots are rated to -25 degrees. My daughter didn't complain about cold feet after sledding in temperatures in the upper 20s. She did get cold sledding in 14-degree weather with these boots and only cotton socks. For temperatures less than 20 degrees, these boots are best paired with good wool socks.
There are a few features of traditionally designed snow boots that are missing. The shaft is shorter, roughly 6 inches from the ground in my daughter's little kids size 11, so kids will need to pair these with snow pants for deeper snow.
The boot passed our waterproof tests, but only up to about 4 inches of water, where the tongue begins to open up without a seal. The boots were also a little trickier to put on than the slip-ons, but since they close with a bungee and Velcro instead of ties, she could still manage with a little extra time. The flexibility and tennis shoe-like fit, however, are worthwhile trade-offs for many.$54.99 from Keen
The best all-weather boots
From sledding to splashing in spring puddles, the waterproof Bogs Classic boots will get kids through nearly every season.
Pros: Flexible, easy to put on, waterproof, suitable for multiple seasons
Cons: A little heavy, not was warm as some others, smaller tread that wears faster
Snow boots only get a few months of wear, but the Bogs Classic boots are suitable for both rain and snow. That makes them ideal for every season except summer (when the lightweight insulation would be too warm) and means parents only have to buy one pair of boots.
Bogs Classics are rubber with a neoprene upper. That same neoprene is used in the boot's insulation, creating a warmth rating of -30 degrees. While the Baffin Mustangs were much warmer and the budget Cat and Jack boots from Target slightly warmer, my son didn't complain of cold toes. Bogs were the most recommended boots when we asked the parents of 1000 Hours Outside, and some Alaskan parents even recommended them.
As both a rain and snow boot, these are excellent for wearing in slush and puddles. The boots didn't leak at all when submerged in 5 inches of water, not even the neoprene upper. Both the tread and shaft were flexible enough and easy to play in, though not as mobile as the Keen Hoodoo III.
I also loved how easy the Bogs are to put on. The handles on the top made it easy for my son to quickly get ready to go outside. Putting on snow gear is sometimes one of the worst parts of playing outdoors in the winter, so a fast on and off is ideal. That's also great for hurrying to get ready for recess at school in the winter.
While excellent for parents who want a boot suitable for more than one season, the tread on Bogs is not very deep, which isn't ideal for ice. It's also not good for wear and tear; my son wore a small spot on the heel completely flat. The boots were also a little on the heavy side.$67.98 from Amazon
The best snow boots for toddlers
The See Kai Run Gilman's flexible sole is easy for new walkers to navigate in, and the boot is still warm and dry.
Pros: Lightweight, flexible, suitable for new walkers, warm, waterproof
Cons: Not machine-washable
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best shoes for new walkers are no shoes at all, but that's not an option when it comes to protecting little toes from the cold. The See Kai Run Gilman boots were as close to barefoot as possible for a protective, insulated, waterproof boot. Finding snow boots in sizes for new walkers is difficult, but the Gilman starts at size 4. The company recommends sizing up by one size for the best fit.
These were my 1-year-old's first pair of hard-soled shoes, and he was able to easily walk in them once he grew accustomed to the feeling of shoes. The upper portion around the ankle is flexible, and the sole of the boot easily moved with my his foot. Flexibility is most important for the youngest kids, said Jones. "The shoe should really look like the child's foot, not the child's foot having to accommodate to the shoe," she said.
The boots passed our waterproof test up to 3 inches of water. They're lightweight, but my son's feet were still warm to the touch when pulling them off (and in the autumn, occasionally even sweaty). The tread isn't super deep, but offers lots of rubber tread without adding much weight and providing a bit of grip.
As a toddler boot, the shaft of the boot is short, about 3 inches. That's common for toddler boots because a taller boot wouldn't fit the child's shorter legs. It is something parents should be aware off. They'll need snow pants for deeper snow. While they are the most flexible toddler boots that I tested, the Gilman boot is pricey, and it's not machine-washable like options from Stride Rite.$43.58 from Amazon $75.00 from Zappos
The best lightweight snow boots
With the Keen Lumi II, warmth doesn't have to mean a heavy, bulky boot.
Pros: Lightweight, warm, waterproof, easy to pull on, removable liners
Cons: Not as warm and lacks the padding of the Baffin Mustang
Getting a great winter boot is a matter of finding a balance between insulation and weight. Keen found that with the Lumi II. Although incredibly lightweight, the boots are still waterproof and offer decent warmth.
The Lumi II is rated to -40 degrees. I didn't find them to be quite as warm as other boots that had the same sub-zero rating, like the Baffin Mustang. They performed more in line with boots rated to -30 degrees. However, the insulation was sufficient. My 8-year-old didn't complain of cold feet, and he was able to move around easily and without stomping like he does with heavy boots.
The boot is designed with a rubber outsole and a lightweight rubber-like EVA that covers the boot from sole to ankle, with an upper shaft of light, flexible fabric. The insulation comes in the form of a removable insert. While the sole didn't move as easily as athletic-style boots, it still flexed with the bend of the foot.
I preferred the warmth and soft, cloud-like lining of the Baffin Mustang, but the Keen Lumi II is a good pair of winter boots. These are a great option for kids who need a lightweight boot but like a more traditional style than the tennis shoe-like Keen Hoodoo III.$57.58 from Zappos $44.99 from Keen
What else we considered
I tested a dozen pairs of kids snow boots to find warm, dry, and flexible options for outdoor play. These boots didn't quite make the cut.
Cat and Jack Brody: This Target brand boot was my favorite kids' snow boot on a budget. They kept my son's feet warm and dry. Unfortunately, they are out-of-stock at the end of the season. I've also purchased different Target brand boots in the past with a rubber-like lower and textile upper, and I wouldn't hesitate to purchase similar options. They are warm and dry, just a little heavier and stiffer than more expensive boots.
Northside Frosty: These budget boots are lighter and more flexible than the Cat and Jack Brody. Unfortunately, water leaked in quickly through the seam between the rubber lower and the soft upper.
Bogs B-Mocs: These toddler boots are warm and flexible but difficult to put on a squirmy 1-year-old. They would be an excellent choice for toddlers learning to dress themselves, however, with their pull-on handles.
Stride Rite Made2Play Shay: These boots can simply be tossed in the washing machine to clean and are still warm. They are the stiffest toddler boots that we tested, and flexibility is essential for this age group.
Kamik Kid Snobusters: The rubber design of this boot helps keep the water out, and it has a good tread. However, they were not as warm as others we tested.
Our testing methodology
I tested boots for four months, starting in October with my three kids, ages 8, 5, and 1, wearing them for adventures from getting lost in a corn maze to sledding to snowy hikes. Along with evaluating each pair through real-world use, I also tested the following:
- Waterproofing: I filled the bathtub and dunked each boot for at least 10 seconds. After every boot passed in 1 inch of water, I filled the tub up with 5 inches of water, less if the boots were shorter (such as the toddler boots) or had an opening such as a tongue that pulls away from the boot. Boots that were tested in less than 5 inches are noted above, including the Keen Hoodoo III and See Kai Run Gilman.
- Warmth: How warm your feet are in a pair of boots depends on a number of different factors from activity level to what socks you are wearing. Along with asking my kids if their feet were cold (and feeling the 1-year-old's toes), I used a thermal gun to measure the temperature of their feet after at least 10 minutes playing outside.
- Ease of use: Taking too long to get dressed cuts into recess time for my older kids, while the 1-year-old doesn't sit still. I evaluated how easy each pair of boots was to get on, whether the oldest two kids could get them on themselves, and how quick they were to pull on. I also bent each boot to see how flexible it was and whether or not it would move with the child's foot.
- Wear and tear: At the end of the testing and after at least two weeks of regular use, I examined each boot for signs of wear. I looked at the tread as well as looking for wear signs in the rest of the boot. I continued to test the boots that made our top picks, which have now all been worn for at least a month.
- Snow wear: Each boot that passed the tests above were worn in the snow at least once. After snow play, I checked to see if the boots were still dry on the inside and noted any complaints for my kids.
How to choose snow boots for kids
Choosing the best snow boots depends on a few different factors, including the age of the child, the climate you live in, and the child's activity level. The best boots for areas that only get a few inches of snow may be shorter (and thus lighter) than a pair of boots for a place that measures its snow in feet rather than inches.
New walkers are some of the toughest children to buy shoes for, since the boots need to be warm and waterproof, yet flexible and lightweight. Babies that will be carried in the snow can wear soft-soled booties for warmth, while walking toddlers need a sturdier tread that still flexes with their developing feet. Most snow boots for toddlers are short in order to allow better movement, so for deeper snow, they'll need to be paired with snow pants pulled over the top of the boot.
Pull-on, insulated rubber boots tend to work well with younger children. "Boots that are all rubber on the outside and insulated on the inside are really good for the younger kids that tend to get wetter and messier than the older kids," said McGurk.
Boots should fit loose enough to allow for a pair of thick socks; Jones recommends trying the shoes on with the winter socks that they'll be wearing to ensure a proper fit. With these socks on, you should be able to fit one finger between the top of the toe and the end of the boot, she said. When walking, the heel should stay in place in the boot, while the toe and midfoot area of the sole should flex with the foot.
All of our experts agreed that wool socks are better than cotton for winter wear. Allowing the air to circulate will also keep feet warmer, so parents should avoid boots that are too small. "Shoes or boots that constrict blood flow can cause feet to become colder," said Louv.
Because boots' thermal performance can depend on several different factors, like socks and activity level, the advertised temperature isn't an exact science. Temperature ratings, however, can be a good tool for comparing boots to each other. A pair of boots rated to -40 degrees may not necessarily keep you warm to that temperature, but they will typically be warmer than a pair rated to -25 degrees, for example.
When choosing a brand for snow boots, McGurk recommends looking for warmer, tougher gear over style. "Stick with brands that are known outdoor brands that manufacture outdoor clothing for adults," she said. "They know what they are doing."
Where you shop also matters. Multiple experts recommended shopping at sporting goods stores and outdoor retailers rather than the more fashion-oriented department stores.
A good pair of boots can help encourage longer outdoor play. "Outdoor play is important year-round, not just during mild weather," says Ginny Yurich, the founder of 1000 Hours Outside. "Movement and sensory play lays a foundation for lifelong learning, it brings feelings of joy and well-being, and it helps improve overall health. While it's tempting to cozy up next to the fireplace all winter long, having the right gear helps kids get the outside movement they need throughout the year."
- Linda McGurk, author of "No Such Thing as Bad Weather"
- Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods"
- Ginny Yurich, founder, 1000 Hours Outside
- Dara Jones, MD, a pediatric physiatrist at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery
- 1000 Hours Outside Facebook group, for brand recommendations
- Staheli, "Shoes For Children: A Review," Pediatrics, August 1991
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