The pursuit for the ultimate minimalist winter footwear continues but I think I am getting closer. The preceding stages have been as follows:

  • Russell Moccasin Russell Tracker boots: I bought these with the hopes of making them my general purpose winter boots. They were made with waterproof leather, they had flat soles, and I had them sized to accommodate thicker socks. They ended-up being not as waterproof as I needed, stiffer than I wanted, and not particularly warm, even with thick socks. I have found that in cold weather, having insulation under the soles of your feet is very important for keeping them warm.
  • Quoddy Trail sheepskin lined Grizzly Boots in combination with NEOS Adventurer overboots: The idea behind this combination was to try to solve some of the the problems I had experienced with the Russell Moccasins. The sheepskin lining would keep my feet warm, and the overboots would keep them dry. The other benefit would be that I could wear other footwear under the overboots if I didn't need the warmth of the sheepskin. The moccasins were very warm and flexible, and the overboots were definitely waterproof. The system was not without problems however. The overboots were not breathable and thus had a tendency to get hot and sweaty during physical activity. The overboots were also very bulky/baggy, making them feel sloppy and rather large for fitting in crampons or snowshoe bindings. The moccasins still had a tendency to get wet (from sweat, etc.) and took a very long time to dry due to their leather construction.

I am now in the third iteration of my winter minimalist footwear search, and I think I am getting closer. The current system that I am trying is based on research and recommendations from a series of articles at BackpackingLight. I am taking the ideas from those articles and am slowly adapting them for use with minimalist footwear. The approach involves treating footwear as a layered system (not unlike we are used to doing with clothing) for use in a wide range of weather conditions. The various components of this system and how they work together is outside the scope of this article, but I plan on writing more about it once I have completed more in-depth testing.

Note: For the record, I just wanted to say that I purchased all of the products described above with my own money, none were given to me as samples for review. Yes, it gets expensive, but I have managed to sell most of the failed experiments to recoup some of the money. The same goes for the new system I am testing (with the exception of the Kuuvas). I thought it was important to say this so that you know that this is genuine, that there are no perks/incentives for me in talking about these products.

One of the components of this system is a light weight overboot made by Forty Below: The Light Energy TR Overboots. The TR stands for Trail Runner, which means that these overboots were designed to go over light-weight running shoes. They are described as having the following key features:

  • Designed to help insulate trail running shoes and light hiking boots for a variety of applications.
  • Superlight and Supercompact!
  • Low profile, and dynamic fit design.
  • Stretchy nylon covered neoprene foam insulation on sides of foot.
  • Upper gaiter has stretchy side panels to allow for wide range of clothing and temperature range.
  • Coated rear calf area to reduce snow buildup and melt through.
  • Removable closed cell foam bottom insert to help reduce conductive heat loss.
  • Light and flexible Rubber Dot patterned sole fabric.
  • Easy to put on in the cold.

An added bonus is that when you purchase a pair of these, they send you several different thicknesses of foam inserts that you can stick inside to accommodate various shoe sizes. Because the lower section is made with stretchy neoprene they fit snugly over your footwear, and because the gaiters are breathable they don't get nearly as hot and sweaty as the NEOS did. The soles are thin, flexible, and have no heel (a huge bonus as far as I am concerned). One downside is that the outsole is not really designed for heavy use on it's own (it is not highly abrasion resistant like a normal boot), it is designed to be used in snowshoes or crampons. If you want to be able to use them on their own, then they need to be paired with a pair of external soles/cleats like STABILiciers.

Pictured here with my STABILicers Sport (not recommended, get the Originals instead)

I have only had the opportunity to take them out on two occasions so far, so I don't have much to report as of yet. At this point I am very pleased with the results and can't wait to do more testing. Tomorrow we are heading out do do some winter hiking and I am planning on trying them out with my Feelmax Kuuvas. Stay tuned for future posts on this topic!