Winter Minimalist Boot Comparison

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 2Feelmax 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 BootLems 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 LeatherOTZ Shoes 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.
 

OTZ Shoes Troop ShearlingOTZShoes 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 HiVB 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.
 

VB RyderVIVOBAREFOOT Ryder
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:

Comfort
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.

Fit
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.

Ground Feel
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.

Warmth
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.

Water-resistance
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.

Grip
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.

Insoles
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.

Style
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).

Value
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.

Summary
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.

24 thoughts on “Winter Minimalist Boot Comparison

  1. Julia

    Thank you soooo much!!! This has been a most useful review! I live in northern Norway with winter weather conditions much like you describe. I have only recently decided that I want to switch to wearing minimalist footwear and have been wondering what to get for our harsh winter up here. Now I am much wiser already! Thank you!

    1. Tina Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Julia, you are very welcome. Let me know what you decide to try. :)

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Karl,
      What’s the weather like in New England in the winter? I’m from Alberta so I don’t know. :)
      Tina

  2. Daniella

    Your blogs are such a great find! I’m new to minimalist footwear since July this year. I’ve been pain free since wearing only my minimalist sandals or shoes. I have the xero camo sandals and don’t really like them, but wear them because that’s all I have along with my flip flops, which I’ve learned are wrecking my feet!
    I’m looking for Vancouver, BC weather appropriate shoes. We get extremely wet weather and some snow in the winter. We have a few mountains and I do go up on them in the winter, so will need something that works in the wet and in the snow. Also, one thing you do not cover is kids shoes. I have a 2 year old and want to be proactive and get her into minimalist footwear now so that she can develop strong feet from the start. Do you have any recommendations, as I haven’t found much so far. I’m ok with her wearing rainboots for the rain (even though there is no minimalist rainboot) but she’ll need a warmer boot when the weather gets colder. Thanks for all your work!

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Daniella,
      Thank your for your comment. As far as suggestions for Vancouver-weatherproof shoes or boots, I’d recommend the Kuuva 2s but they’ll likely need waterproofing spray every few weeks for that kind of wet weather. Also, Lems is supposed to be coming out with a waterproof Boulder Boot this fall and they might work out really well for you. For more grip but less height, the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail might work as well.
      There are not a lot of options for kids shoes, especially at 2 years old. The only companies I know that make specifically minimal shoes for kids are Soft Star Shoes and VIVOBAREFOOT. I don’t have any suggestions for a kids rain boot, unfortunately. For indoors, I would recommend the Padraig slippers as I adore the warmth and comfort of mine.
      Best,
      Tina

      1. amy greene

        Just in case anyone is reading this, I’ve been using the MyMayu boots for my kid since she was 1. They are extremely lightweight and flexible, zero-drop, reasonably flexible sole. You can pair them with fleece socks to wear, so she wore them fall through spring (and even occasionally in summer because she likes them so much.) They are not 100% waterproof, but except for some dampness when she’s spent hours in the rain, her feet have stayed pretty dry.

  3. Dawn

    Thank you for this extremely helpful comparison!!! I appreciate it! I love the look of the Kuuva, but its durability got pretty poorly reviewed on Amazon and I was curious what your experience has been? While I plan to wear them for just day to day use, I still don’t really want them wearing out after only a season …

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Dawn,
      My Kuuvas have held up really well through one season. I know that I will have no problem wearing them for another. I will be spraying them with a waterproofing spray for the snow but that’s it. The sole has stayed attached to the upper very well on my pair despite negative reviews elsewhere.
      Best,
      Tina

  4. Kate

    Wow, once again, extremely thorough, helpful reviews! Alberta winters sound a lot like Maine winters. My family does a lot of winter-walking through woods and fields and snow-shoeing and just in general being-outside-so-we-don’t-go-stir-crazy-with-cabin-fever….have you ever tried or Vivo Barefoot’s Kula Ladies winter boot? They look pretty amazing….

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Kate,
      Thanks for your comment. I had not seen the Kula boot yet, thank you for introducing them to me. I’ll see if I can try a pair to review. :-)
      Tina

  5. Lou

    Thanks for this really helpful review! Like you, I find a lot of even minimalist shoes too narrow – Vivos for example are way too narrow for me in the toe box. I wonder, if it’s not an imposition, could you maybe post the max width measurements for your size of OTZs? It would be incredibly helpful. I’ve been looking at OTZs a lot, they sound like a great product, and I’ve actually emailed the company to ask about width measurements but so far no reply – and while they do ship internationally (I’m in the UK) they say they don’t accept international returns, meaning a mistake would be pretty expensive!

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Lou,
      I have a pair of size 41 OTZ Troop Leather boots and their max width is 10.5 cm.
      Tina

  6. Rachel

    Tina,

    I am curious if you would be willing to the measurement (i.e. length of your foot) when traced or whatever else. I want to order some Boulder Boots but as I am also in Albera, want to get it right the first time around due to duties and the like. We seem to take the same size shoes in many of the brands/models and I usually do wear a size 8 to get the wiggle room but am a little worried that if I go up to a 40 the boots will be a bit too big lengthwise; I can always swap out the insole for a sheekpskin insole from Soft Star to take up some room and don some thicker socks (my plan anyway since I plan to use them for winter and even as hikers in warmer months I still like to wear thicker socks) but I still want to get it as right as I can. I am more worried about length than width for the Lems, I know they are known for a much wider toe box and despite 7 years of barefoot/minimalist I still have relatively narrow feet.

    For reference I measure about 24.5 cms/9.5″ in a tracing – of the boots listed in this post I wear a 39 in the Off Road Hi’s and have hiked many miles in them (though even I find the toe box a bit too narrow) and a 39 in the VB Viennas – the predecessor to the Ryders.

    Thanks!

    Rachel

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Rachel,
      Thanks for you comment. My feet are 24 cm long. My size 40 Boulder Boots are big enough for a thin pair of toe socks and a thicker pair of regular socks, which is how I wear them in colder temps. They are not big enough for two thick pairs of socks. I also wore a size 39 Off Road Hi’s but found them much too narrow for me but just right in the length.
      Best,
      Tina

      1. Rachel

        Thanks Tina! That is very helpful! Just FYI I regularly check here to see if you have tried something first before I buy it, as you have really well written reviews that hit on all the points I am usually wondering about :)

  7. Faye

    Thank you so much for this review! There’s just enough choice now to be overwhelmed. I’ve spent the Australian summer mostly barefoot or in thin toe-shoes… But I will be moving to Canada for spring 2015 and am dreading having my feet encased in cement again!
    Your review has given me hope that my feet will be able to stay free in the cold weather.

    Now what can I put my 3 year old in?!

  8. Renee

    Just found your website, thanks so much for the in depth reviews! I’m a more recent convert to minimalist shoes, and happily have my summer backpacking and trail running figured out, but last winter I struggled with finding a good solution. I’ve never tried Lems, so think I’m going to give them a try!

    Question, do you wear crampons or spikes at all? I’m interested in any performance related thoughts you might have. It can get very icy where I live (lots of wet snow and varying temperatures) and after a while no amount of tread can stop the slipping around.

    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Renee,
      The Lems are decent for grip but are sadly not waterproof. I don’t wear crampons or spikes with any of my minimalist footwear because the soles are too thin. Again, the Lems would probably be the best but I’m not sure the upper would last long with anything attached to them as they weren’t designed with that purpose in mind. Icy conditions are definitely an issue with the minimalist boots I’ve tried to date.
      Best,
      Tina

  9. Paula

    Thanks a lot for this important review. It’s so hard to find and compare minimalist winter shoes. I hope you are able to try Kuuva 3 too. It’s quite different compared to Kuuva 2. Soft Star Shoes has a winter boot also and then there are mukluks, but they seem to have thick soles. It would be nice to hear something about them in use too. I’m also interested in Soft Star Chukka’s with lambskin innersoles – in how cold weather are they still ok? Could you get a pair for trial and review?
    I ordered a pair of Camper Peu shoes, which have flat sole, but they were way too narrow. I was disappointed, because they are warm and good quality plus they looked great. With very wide feet (and winters -20 C or more and then slush&rain) this shoe hunt seems hopeless, so I thank you again for your work for us winter minimalists:)

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