Leather Boots...IN THE SNOW?
April 23, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Have you used high quality leather work boots (Danner / Hathorn / Wesco) in the snow? With proper care do you find that these boots are adequate for occasional use in snow?

I am an avid outdoorsperson looking to get a new pair of boots, the caveat being that they need to be waterproof because I tend to snowshoe in the winter so I can get my hike on all year. I am looking to purchase a top-quality leather / welted sole logger style boot, something similar to this. I need a welted sole because I usually have the sole replaced with a less aggressive sole so the boot is a bit more low-profile. I like that boots with welted soles tend to be "modable." Not to mention the fact that replaceable soles won't come unglued and...well...can be replaced. I have a pair of Alden 405 boots I have worn since 1999 that I have "waterproofed" using a yearly or bi-yearly application of Pecards leather dressing. They have withstood being out in the occasional rainstorm...but have never seen snow and do not have a gore tex liner ( I don't regularly use them for hiking ).

So my question goes out to those who have used Danner / Wesco / Hathorn (maybe even Redwing etc...) gore tex lined boots in the snow. Assuming proper care and reconditioning...do they hold up well? I have seen Hathorns with bad water damage as the owner didn't take proper care of them...the leather got stiff and the boot curled. In my case they will only see snow a handful of times per season as I live in SoCal and race up to the mountains whenever it snows...but when I do use them they will literally be strapped into snowshoes all day. Otherwise they will be used on trail in non-winter conditions throughout the rest of the year. If the consensus is that they simply aren't worth the trouble then I will likely go with a more modern glue-soled made-in-china synthetic boot...but I'd like to avoid that if possible...

posted by jnnla to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've got a pair of Redwing leather boots [not high performance but definitely not fashion] that I use snowshoeing regularly and they are fine. Mine are literally about ten years old and they're bulletproof. I keep them greased up with ... man I can't even remember what I use, but I've found that don't even really absorb water, much less have problems with staining or curling. The biggest deal seems to be not getting them warm/hot to dry them off because this leads to ... I'm not even sure what it is but the leather gets softer in a not-great way and can crack. The biggest problem I had with them is that they're often cold, in the sole area and elsewhere, (mine did not have a gore-tex lining) if I'm out in them all day so you might want to look into an insole and make certain you're wearing the right socks which will matter more than in other hiking boots.
posted by jessamyn at 2:39 PM on April 23, 2012

Leather does fine in the snow but your feet are going to be cold.
posted by fshgrl at 2:44 PM on April 23, 2012

Unless you get quite heavily insulated boots, your feet will be cold. Of course, you probably don't want heavily insulated leather boots, because then they aren't usable in the summer. It is worth it to get proper winter boots.
posted by ssg at 2:50 PM on April 23, 2012

Of course they will hold up. Snow isn't really any harder on leather than water is, and you treat the boots the same way afterwards. If you're in California, I don't think you'll have to deal with the kind of cold temperatures that might lead to leather cracking. I have a pair of LL Bean Katahdin Engineer Boots, which are on the cheap end of work boots, and they have handled two Toronto winters with all the snow and salt that that entails without any problems. It's leather, it's tough.

That said, I also love snowshoeing and hiking, and I don't know why you want to do this. Work boots like those are heavy. They don't tend to have a lot of flex or ground feel. They're not breathable, so they don't handle a wide range of temperatures well - when they're hot they're very hot, and when they're cold they're very cold. If you do get snow or water in there, odds are the boot isn't constructed in a way that will let it drain. They're frankly just not a lot of fun to walk long distances in.

There's a reason why even a hardcore boot company like Danner makes fewer and fewer old-fashioned boots like their Mountain Light, and more of the lightweight and molded-sole boot you disparage. For things like hiking they just work a lot better. I get the appeal of a timeless work boot, but I'd strongly recommend taking a look at a newer, high tech boot for the purposes you're talking about.
posted by ZaphodB at 2:59 PM on April 23, 2012

I have the insulated version of the boots in your example. They are heavy as hell and I love them.

I have treated my Danner boots like crap. I have polished them once in their life (I think). I think that the small tear in the leather behind my right ankle may not have happened if I had actually taken care of the leather.

Other than that, these boots have gone through several winters of snow without a problem. The salt used in New York doesn't seem to have caused any problem to them. I had to get the insides rebuilt once, but that was the insides, not the outside.

The boots I have are lined with 200g of thinsulate each. Which has been sufficient in a bitterly cold Ohio winter (the pond had several feet of ice on it and the heaters at the old school I was working at were not happy). On the other hand, wearing them in SoCal out and about does not seem like it would do my feet any favors. I can't speak on how to keep your feet warm with uninsulated boots, but the insulated ones do a fantastic job.

They look a lot better if you replace they yellow laces with black and get rid of the lace guard (unless you actually need it).

They do not breath well. I think I may actually get Acadias when these die.

A lot of what ZaphodB says is true. On the other hand, I went from destroying a pair of boots every 6 months- 1 year (I eventually started wearing military boots in an attempt to have them last- those lasted a year) to having a pair that have lasted 10 years.

Separating from my gushing, I think part of it is how often you will wear your boots. I wear mine about 5-6 months out of the year. If they are being worn only occasionally, the toughness that I love about them may not be a pressing matter. There is a loss of flexibility in the boots, however, there is more protection.
posted by Hactar at 3:12 PM on April 23, 2012

Oh, and feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions that I haven't answered.
posted by Hactar at 3:13 PM on April 23, 2012

Response by poster: Great input! As to the work boots being "heavy / stiff" - this is why I switch the sole out with a thinner sole. I have had the opportunity to use a pair of leather work boots of my friends where he replaced the sole with a flat vibram sole and the ground-feel was better than any moulded-sole "lightweight" boot I have ever used. I currently hike in pair of low-profile Belleville military boots...which have outlasted most of the other popular brand hiking boots I have tried...but I still crumbled the soles in a two day 30 mile hike across Yosemite last summer. Not to mention that the uppers are popping threads. I really love the low-profile fit though...it's just that they aren't waterproof...looks like I'll be looking into some leather boots after all. Thanks!
posted by jnnla at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2012

jnnla, our boot selections are eerily similar. The combat boots I destroyed in a year were Belleville. I can't remember exactly what happened to them, just that by the end they were kind of drooping when they were not on my feet to the point that I could fold them over around the ankle. I think the sole may have come loose also. And those I polished quite a bit.

I think I'm a little hard on my footwear.
posted by Hactar at 3:01 PM on April 24, 2012

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