This article has been years in the making. I started writing minimalist footwear reviews in 2009 and only recently has a winter minimalist boot comparison been possible as the options for this type of footwear have been extremely limited. I finally have six pairs of currently available models to compose a comparison review of this all-important category of footwear. (Keep in mind, I live in Canada where winter footwear is worn at least five months of the year and can conceivably be worn all year depending on the weather ).
On to the boots, listed in alphabetical order (click on the name for my review and the picture to view larger):
Feelmax Kuuva 2
This unisex, low-calf boot from Finland has an extremely minimal rubber outsole, is made of water-resistant leatherbuck and suede, and features ten pairs of lace eyelets and hooks placed from below the toes to the top of the boot for a very personal fit. It has a roomy toe box and last, and a very comfortable feel throughout. It is currently only available in black and retails for 169.00 € from Feelmax or $165.99 USD from Gifts from Finland.
Lems Shoes Boulder Boots
This just-above-the-ankle boot is available for both men and women. It is made of water-resistant nylon with a cotton insulating layer throughout the interior. It has a 9.0 mm rubber outsole with 3.0 mm grip depth. It features seven lace eyelets for a custom fit starting at the midfoot to above the ankle. The last is very wide in the toe box but the laces allow a personalized fit to keep the boot firmly in place on the foot. It is currently available in black, grey, and brown for $115.00 USD from Lems Shoes.
OTZShoes Troop Leather
This low-calf boot is available for both men and women. It is made of 1.8 mm oiled, full-grain leather with an internal stretch sock, water-resistant liner and a TPU compound outsole of approximately 10 mm in thickness. It features ten lace eyelets for an extremely adjustable fit. It has an extremely wide last and roomy toe box. It is currently available in black, brown, and red for $245.00 USD from OTZShoes.
OTZShoes Troop Shearling
This women-specific, low-calf boot is made of shearling sheepskin and a TPU compound outsole of approximately 10 mm in thickness. It features three lace eyelets and a wrap-around leather lace design for individual fit and lacing preferences: left loose for easy donning or tied tight every time. Like the Troop Leather, it also has an extremely wide last and roomy toe box. It is currently available in grey, black, tan, and sand for $270.00 USD from OTZShoes.
VIVOBAREFOOT Off Road Hi
This just-above-the ankle, hiking boot is available for both men and women. It is made of waterproof leather and nylon. It has a 7.0 mm outsole including a 4.5 mm grip depth. It features seven lace eyelets and hooks for a personalized fit. It has a narrow last and a tight feel from the toes to the ankle. It is currently only available in dark brown (although additional colourways used to be available) for $175.00 USD or £160.00 from VIVOBAREFOOT.
This women-specific, knee-high, water-resistant boot is made of leather, waxed canvas, and a thermal control mesh lining with a faux fur top interior. It has a 3.0 mm road outsole with minimal grip depth. It features a medial side zipper for easy donning but no personalized fit other than a small elastic area on the inside of the upper calf. It has a medium-width last and a somewhat loose fit due to the lack of adjustments. They are currently available in black and brown for $225.00 USD or £175.00 from VIVOBAREFOOT.
Now for some comparisons:
Rather than an individual most to least comfortable list, I would say that the Kuuva 2, Boulder Boot, Troop Leather, and Troop Shearling are extremely comfortable while the Ryder is somewhat comfortable (depending on the correct sock combination), and the Off Road Hi is not at all comfortable for me. I like footwear with wide lasts and roomy toe boxes, and the first four are just right while the VIVOs are a little on the narrow side for my wide feet.
In terms of fit, lacing systems are key! The Kuuva 2 and Troop Leather both have ten lace eyelets and/or hooks but both fit a little differently. The Kuuva 2 eyelets start just below the toes and go all the way up the boot, which is made of a soft fabric that hugs my feet and ankle contours. The three hooks at the top allow for just the right amount of tightness around the calf. The Troop Leather eyelets start at the midfoot, which doesn’t allow for personal adjustment further down the foot but also doesn’t interfere with metatarsal splaying. The soft leather upper is thicker and less malleable than the Kuuva 2 so doesn’t mould to my feet and ankles quite as well but the interior liner does provide a soft hugging interface. Both take a considerable amount of time to lace up and take off unless you prefer to wear them with the laces quite loose and leave them tied.
The Boulder Boot and Troop Shearling both have laces that start at the midfoot but the way they adjust above the ankle differs. The Bolder Boot has lace eyelets all the way up and the Troop Shearling has an extra long lace that you can choose to wrap around your ankle and calf tightly every time or loosely for easy slipping on and off.
The Off Road Hi feels like the thickness of the material dominates interior volume so have never fit quite right. The waterproofing system takes up substantial volume and the last was not widened to accommodate it. The tongue is also quite padded making it necessary to tuck it in just right to keep folds from bunching against the foot and ankle.
The Ryder has no lacing system at all and the only adjustment for fit is to wear different thicknesses of socks. I’ve determined that, although the boots fits great in length, because there is no adjustment around the ankle, I have to wear two pairs of socks to keep the heel from slipping down and crashing into the ground with every step. I find the zipper is completely non-functional as I can slip them on easily with it done up. In addition, I don’t have the widest calves and although I find the circumference of the upper calf area just right, I do think that many women will find the top of the calf constrictive.
Without a doubt, the absolute best ground feel is with the Kuuva 2. They have a 2.5 mm, soft rubber outsole that easily bends around EVERY ground contour. The next best would be the Ryder with their 3.0 mm road outsole. The remaining four boots have similar levels of ground feel but significantly less than the first two.
As a winter minimalist footwear option, there MUST be insulation, both from the ground and from the air. However, the degree to which a boot feels warm can be modified by the type(s) of socks one is wearing. I have found that the Kuuva 2 is warm enough at -20C as long as I have two insoles and two pairs of socks, and with only one of each, is comfortable at room temperatures. The Boulder Boot is warm enough at all tested temperatures with a single insole and is likely warm enough at -20C with two pairs of socks. The Troop Leather, with its interior, stretchy sock liner is warm enough down to -10C with one pair of socks but would need two for colder temperatures (which I can’t test because there simply isn’t room in the review pair size in length for more sock volume). I have found that even with two pairs of socks, the Troop Shearling and the Ryder aren’t that warm on the tops of my feet despite being plenty insulating from cold ground temperatures. As the Off Road Hi is too narrow, a second pair of socks is not an option and therefore definitely not a cold winter weather footwear option for me.
In addition to cold temperatures, Canadian winter features A LOT of snow. Therefore, a winter minimalist boot must be water-resistant to keep feet protected from snow and slush. The only advertised waterproof boot included in this list is the Off Road Hi. I thoroughly tested this feature last winter and can attest to their rugged waterproofness in the slushiest of puddles.
Boots advertised as water-resistant include the Troop Leather, Kuuva 2, Boulder Boot, and Ryder. In all tested slushy conditions, these boots have kept my feet dry and warm. The Troop Leather water-resistance is attributed to the lined bootie within the footwear rather than the leather exterior. This boot definitely requires a leather protector in order to maintain a quality leather look and is not the best choice for deep, abrasive snow as the leather will get worn quite quickly. The water-resistance of the Kuuva 2, Boulder Boot, and Ryder is attributed to coatings applied to the upper materials so I imagine that additional layers of coatings may need to be applied with frequent and/or multi-season wear.
The Troop Shearlings, however, are not the least bit water-resistant. I have sprayed them with leather protector and they are fine in a light rain but winter snow conditions are out of the question for this product unless you care nothing for how water will ruin the suede finish. These are more my fall/spring boots in dry conditions.
There can be no doubt that the Off Road Hi has the best grip with their 4.5 mm lugs that easily bite into snow. The Boulder Boot would have the next best grip but their traction pattern is a little close together for significant bite into snow. The remaining four have basically the same lack of snow traction due to limited grip depth. However, because the Kuuva 2 has such an amazingly flexible outsole, I haven’t had any traction issues on slippery snow because my feet wrap around small bumps in the snow providing enough grip for most winter conditions encountered so far.
An important feature for winter minimalist footwear is how well they insulate from the ground. This can most easily be accomplished with the insoles included with the product. However, I’ve had to make some modifications to some of the boots in order to make them accommodate walking in deep snow or on frozen ground after a week or so of -20C temperatures.
The original Troop Shearling insole, as mentioned in the review, is the opposite of minimal and was therefore chucked. The new OTZShoes minimal insole made of a flat, relatively thin layer of cork that the company supplied with their latest review products is more than adequate for cold ground insulation and will likely suit most minimal customers well. They do reduce the ground feel of the boot compared to a felt-like material insole, therefore one or two of these will also provide good ground insulation and more ground feel. This boot absolutely requires some sort of insole because the footbed is unfinished and quite holey.
The Troop Leather footbed with the lined bootie does not require an insole so the anti-minimalist insole can easily be chucked and the boot worn as is. The new OTZShoes minimal insole or a felt-like insole could be added for additional ground insulation if required but will significantly reduce interior volume, which feels somewhat limited in height rather than width.
The Kuuva 2 absolutely requires a second insole for cold ground insulation. This is not a question as the extremely thin insole that came with the product is great for summer but not the least bit adequate for freezing temperatures. I wisely ordered a size bigger than normal of this boot to accommodate the extra volume of an additional insole and double socks.
The remaining three models, came with insoles that, in combination with their outsole thicknesses, provide sufficient insulation from cold ground temperatures. The Boulder Boot comes with a Lems Shoes insole made of a moisture wicking foam, although they do feature small bumps that some people will like and others not so much (I’m of the latter group). The Off Road Hi comes with VIVOBAREFOOT’s standard, high proprioception insole that is removable for even more ground feel (and less insulation). The Ryder, however, comes with a new Thermal Plantar-Protection™ insole that is both surprisingly thin and proprioceptive, made of an unknown shiny material sandwiched between layers of foam. In addition, this is the first VB product with an unfinished footbed making the insole not-so removable.
Most winter boots are not known as fashionable footwear but I find each of these boots stylish in their own unique way. The Ryder would probably be considered the most conventionally stylish as a knee-high, mostly slim-lined boot. The Troop Leather is an all-leather boot with punky styling and considerable attitude. The Troop Shearling resembles the trendy sheepskin designs of this season. The curvy, layered designs of the Kuuva 2 exude minimalist elegance to me. The rugged, functional, and deceptively simplistic style of the Boulder Boot appeals to my appreciation of minimalist design (and received an immediate and unsolicited compliment my first time wearing them in public). The Off Road Hi is all hiking boot and the grey and red colourway of the review pair was quite sharp and I’m a little sad that is only currently available in dark brown (maybe VB is out of stock of the other colours that used to be available, including a ubiquitous all black).
These six winter minimalist boot options range in price from $115.00 to $270.00 USD. If I were to consider price as the only determining factor of value, then the least expensive Boulder Boot would be considered the best value. However, I like to consider comfort, fit, ground feel, style, versatility in air temperatures and ground conditions, as well as price as factors when determining value. Including all these factors, I would say that the Boulder Boot is still the best value. My second choice would be the Kuuva 2, which also happens to be the second lowest in price. It also happens that in this first half of this Canadian winter, I’ve worn these two pairs the most no matter the temperature or snow conditions outside. I wear the Ryder the next most often as they are my go-to boot for quick trips around town as they are so easy to slip on and off, not to mention wonderfully waterproof. I would wear the Troop Leather much more often if my feet hadn’t lengthened since receiving the review pair (a well-known hazard of switching to minimalist footwear) and they fit a little on the small size now. Unfortunately, the Troop Shearling just isn’t waterproof enough for winter but is an excellent dry weather fall and spring boot. And the Off Road Hi just is not comfortable enough for me to wear despite their great grip.
Of the six boots compared here for Canadian winter footwear appropriateness, there are definitely clear distinctions and conclusions. The Troop Shearling is neither warm nor water-resistant enough to be considered a Canadian winter footwear option but if you live in a warmer and drier clime and like the look of the very fashionable and comfortable shearling sheepskin boot, these may work well for you. The Off Road Hi is both warm and waterproof with great grip but the narrowness of the last leaves considerable comfort to be desired. The highly fashionable Ryder is also quite warm and water-resistant but the lack of adjustable fit may leave many experimenting with sock solutions to find just the right amount of comfort. The stylish and comfortable Troop Leather is warm and water-resistant but lack in traction for slippery conditions and is not the best choice for deep, abrasive snow as the leather finish will wear quite quickly.
My go-to boots for harsh winter conditions have been the Kuuva 2 and the Boulder Boot. They are both wonderfully wide and comfortable, have equal water-resistance and warmth (now that I’ve determined the right amount of ground and air insulation via insoles and socks, respectively). They are both my kind of style no matter what I’m wearing. Both are made of strong upper materials capable of withstanding deep, abrasive snow. There really are only two determining factors for which to wear: 1) How much do I want to feel the ground this particular walk? and 2) How long do I feel like taking to put them on and off? The Kuuva 2 has far more ground feel than the Boulder Boot but the Boulder boot takes much less time to get on and off. It also turns out that these two boots are the least expensive of the six with the Boulder Boot priced at $115.00 USD and the Kuuva 2 at $165.99 USD. If you are thinking of purchasing either of these two boots, it is noteworthy to mention that the Boulder Boot currently comes in three colours whereas the Kuuva 2 is only available in black.
It has been a joy to finally write a comparison article of winter minimalist footwear and has been a dream of mine since I started writing reviews. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.