It’s early December. Matt and Cindy are walking downtown on a date. Snow is sprinkling down, and soon enough, white hills will be lining the roads. Matt’s feet begin to sting, then go numb. He’s antsy to escape the 20-degree weather and yank off his soggy sneakers. Cindy looks down and thinks about how much her shoes resemble astronaut footwear. Blisters develop, and her feet sweat as they swim in the oversize, overinsulated boots.
They should be walking to a shoe store, not a cafe.
Functional and fashionable
Whether building a snowman or racing to the raised flag of an ice-fishing trap, you’ll need footwear that’s waterproof, insulated and fitted.
“I think for heavy-duty usage, something with a felt liner is a wonderful thing if you’re going to go out snowmobiling or outside actively playing,” said Jim Wellehan, owner of Lamey Wellehan Shoes, which has stores in six locations throughout Maine.
Wellehan recently purchased Kamik felt-lined boots for his two young grandchildren.
“They’re very warm, and in the event that the snow tumbles into the boot, you can take the felt liner out and let it dry out by the wood stove,” Wellehan said.
With snow, ice and sometimes slush dominating the winter landscape, waterproof is key. Many footwear companies place the waterproof material Gore-Tex inside their boots. Other companies develop their own waterproofing technology. Either way, make sure to look for the words “Gore-Tex” or “waterproof” on the outside of the boot.
Water-resistant means that the material deflects small amounts of water, but it does not mean waterproof.
Whether you buy your boots at a big-box store or choose to shop locally at a specialty footwear retailer, fit and usage are two important factors to consider when picking out winter boots.
“Try them both on and make sure you have plenty of wiggle room,” said Brian Horne, owner of Colburn Shoe Store in Belfast. “You can’t beat buying them in the store versus buying them online.”
At Winterport Boot in Brewer, employees work individually with customers to fit them into proper boots. They measure the customers’ feet, ask them about foot problems and ask them what they will be doing in the footwear.
“On top of asking all these questions, we carry all of the variety and the widths. The proper width and proper fit is important for keeping warm,” said Winterport Boot owner Mike Allen, who keeps a detailed, computerized record of each customer.
The store carries widths from AA to H, causing its inventory to consist of more than 20,000 pairs of shoes.
“A lot of people come through the door and want a boot for everything,” said Winterport Boot employee Halis Sirimoglu. “That’s not the case when you’re in Maine.”
For active people, Sirimoglu suggests medium to light insulation: 200-600 grams. For someone who is idle — sitting in a tree stand hunting or working as a crossing guard — he suggests heavy insulation, 1,600-2,000 grams.
Boot insulation isn’t always measured in grams, but the measurement usually includes temperature ratings in degrees. Temperature ratings always are based on an active person. Therefore, if you aren’t going to be active, you should consider buying boots with a temperature rating lower than the temperature you intend to use it in.
For people who spend a lot of time in the winter woodland, Sirimoglu suggests the neoprene boots made by Muck Boot Company. He describes them as the “space age version of rubber boots” that fit to the feet like memory foam.
“It’s a silly saying, but happy feet make a happy person,” said Sirimoglu. “You’re not supposed to be begging to get out of the boots at the end of the day.”
Fashionable and functional
This year, everything from ankle booties to thigh-high boots are in style, but in Maine, the taller the fashion boots, the less likely you are to get your feet wet. You never know when a snowdrift is going to settle beside your car, even in a downtown parking lot.
“There’s a real fashion movement for boots of all sorts, all different heights,” said Wellehan. “It’s a great variety. They can be really pretty and look great.”
Leather boots often are waterproof or can be waterproofed with a variety of waxes and sprays that can be purchased at shoe stores. But suede — a soft, velvety type of leather — develops water stains that need to be brushed or buffed out.
Shoes made of faux leather are less expensive, so you can buy several pairs. Just don’t expect the material to stand up to winter trailblazing or frolicking through slush. Keep them on the sidewalk.
“Everyone who’s from 11 to 27 loves UGGs [boots] — and some older people as well,” said Wellehan.
Classic UGGs — flat-soled, shin-high boots with sheep skin insulation — are not waterproof. However, UGG does make some styles that are waterproof.
Over-the-knee boots, or thigh-high boots, are great for keeping your legs warm while wearing a skirt or dress. These tall boots also can be worn with tight-fitting pants or leggings, but that style might look a little too extreme for school or the office.
If you can’t decide what leg height suits you, try a boot with a leg that zips or buttons down from the top, allowing you to fold the boot down to shorten it. This style is versatile and practical for Maine. If the snow gets deep, fold the leg back up.
For women who dislike heels, buy boots without them. It’s simple. Flat soles might look more casual, but there are other ways to dress up your boots. Pointed toes and buckles often dress up a boot, while rounded toes and laces dress it down.
Although fashion boots seem to be a woman’s domain, men need stylish winter footwear, too.
Ice Boaters for men are fashionable enough to wear to the office, but functional enough for shoveling snow. The leather boots are waterproof and have an aggressive tread and supportive insole.
“I wouldn’t suggest someone go ice-boating in them,” said Wellahan. “But they are a sensational product.”
Whether man or woman, remember that most fashion boots are not insulated or waterproof. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside, cold temperatures can numb unprotected feet and even cause frostbite. Fortunately, Matt and Cindy can choose from a variety of fashionable and functional shoes to walk them through the Maine winter.
Necessary additions to winter footwear
When there’s snow and slush, there’s also ice. Winter boots usually have good treads, but sometimes you need something extra to prevent dangerous falls. A variety of ice cleats ranging from $21.95 to $59.95 are sold at Epic Sports in Bangor. The additions can be strapped to most winter boots and sneakers.
Good quality footwear is useless without a good layer of material between your feet and the inner wall of the boot. It’s not as simple as putting on any old sock.
Cotton socks, though comfortable, don’t wick away moisture from your feet. If your feet sweat, the moisture collects in the cotton and, in cold weather, moisture makes your feet feel cold. That’s why most footwear stores carry wool and synthetic socks. They’re more expensive than cotton, but they wick away moisture and keep your feet comfortable.
Red Wing Shoes “Aztec Supersole 2.0”: waterproof, 400-gram Thinsulate insulation, puncture-proof sole, metal toe, $299.99 at Winterport Boot in Brewer.
Merrell “Prevoz”: waterproof, 200-gram Primaloft insulation, $185 at Lamey Wellehan Shoes in Bangor.
Born “Lila”: insulated, $150 at The Grasshopper Shop in Bangor.
Muck Boot Company “Woody Max”: waterproof, insulated, comfort range of -40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, $149.95 at Winterport Boot in Brewer.
Bogs “Classic Mid Paisley Boot”: waterproof, insulated for as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, $92 at Colburn Shoe Store.
Kamik “GreenBay”: waterproof, insulated for as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, removable felt liner, $69.95 at Lamey Wellehan Shoes in Bangor.
Blondo “Anelie”: waterproof leather, Coldshield Comfort System, $135 at Colburn Shoe Store in Brewer.
Ice Boaters “Winter Harbor”: waterproof, insulated, $135 at Lamey Wellehan Shoes in Bangor.