Gear trends: 2015/16 Winter hiking boots

Back in Demand: Hiking boots rebound with stylish, cold-weather protection. See the top products and trends that will hit retail shelves in 2015/16.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

While in the summer some consumers are willing to pass on waterproof properties in exchange for maximum breathability, in the winter they demand full protection in their hiking footwear.

And with a second cold and snowy winter dominating much of the country, sales in this category continue to rebound.

“Usually people are looking for something that contains waterproof protection — that’s a key factor when buying hiking boots during the winter,” said Dan Vardamis, sales manager for Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo. “Gore-Tex or leather boots treated with sealant are both popular options that shoppers routinely ask for.”

Staple waterproof/breathable technologies Gore-Tex and eVent (the latter now owned by Clarcor Inc. after being sold by G&E) continue to resonate well with consumers, but many footwear brands are also banking on their own proprietary versions to help lower price points and offer market differentiation.

Oboz’ new Men’s Sphinx Mid BDry and Women’s Phoenix Mid BDry (MSRPs $150) feature an inner bootie made from BDry, a tape-sealed polyurethane film sandwiched between water-fearing materials like treated textiles and nubuck. It not only waterproofs the shoe from the inside, but also prevents water absorption on the outside. Generous lugs and Oboz’ anatomically designed, triple-density EVA insole round out the boot.

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Columbia’s Men’s Bugaboot Plus III Titanium Omni-Heat (MSRP $170) is a heavy-duty, high-rise winter hiking boot that features OutDry, the brand’s waterproof material that is heat bonded to the inside of the outer layer. This method leaves no seams or gaps for water to become trapped between the layers. Omni-Heat reflective lining and 600-gram insulation rates these hard-working boots to a whopping -65 degrees Fahrenheit. The Hanwag Abisko GTX boots (MSRP $450) are rated down to -49 degrees with a removable thermo inner boot and multiple forms of insulation including foam, fleece and poly fills. An integrated ankle Cordura gaiter keeps snow from getting in.

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Keen Footwear saw great success with its American-built, Keen.Dry waterproof/breathable Durand boot this summer, and expands the program to the winterized (with added coverage and insulation) Durand Polar (MSRP $200). Full disclosure: The boots’ uppers are still made overseas, but then put together with a direct-inject polyurethane midsole at Keen’s factory in Portland, Ore. By Fall 2015, Keen expects 25 percent of its lineup to be “American-built” in some form or another. It’s a baby-step process toward more domestic manufacturing, officials said. Keen’s new Liberty Ridge (MSRP $200), made with waterproof leather and synthetic overlays, is also American-bulit. Both the Liberty and the Durand feature relatively high-rise ankle support, a property that functions not only for added stability, but also to prevent snow from pouring in from the top.

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Shoppers also expect their winter hiking boots to have excellent traction, said Neptune’s Vardamis, “even if they also plan to use something like YakTraks or Kahtoola microspikes to supplement.” The hiking footwear launches at Winter Market don’t disappoint. For example, both Columbia’s Bugaboot and Keen’s Durand Polar feature temperature-sensitive outsoles: When the mercury drops below freezing, one part of the rubber firms up while the rest hardens, allowing the boot to grab both snow and ice. Vasque’s  new Talus Collection (MSRPs $140-$150) — named after the larger chunks of scree the shoe adores — employs Vibram’s Nuazi outsole for excellent traction. The Talus Trek features a durable, waterproof suede upper, abrasion-resistant mesh and an EVA midsole for burly, yet agile expeditions.

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Brands are also perfecting their insulation in footwear — in many cases, bringing over the lighter, more breathable and water-resistant fills developed for their apparel lines to footwear. Case in point, see The North Face’s PrimaLoft ThermoBall insulation (a synthetic fill made to mimic down clusters) quilted into the upper of its high-ankle ThermoBall Utility boot (MSRP $140) along with a waterproof leather. It too, has temperature-sensitive outsole lugs for increased traction. Another winter warmer performer is The North Face Ultra Extreme II GTX boot (MSRP $150) with Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable protection and Duratherm insulation. Although it’s a boot, it sports some trail-running tech inside, including a cradled heel and midsole to enhance stability and impact control, plus a flexible TPU plate to protect the ball of the feet from bruising and blistering on rough terrain.

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Along similar lines, Adidas Outdoor pins its new Terrex Ultimate Boost CH boot (MSRP $200) for faster-paced wintersports activities, featuring its Boost technology, which claims more energy return with every step through its many cells of midsole cushioning versus a solid block of regular EVA. PrimaLoft insulation, a close-fit collar and waterproof/breathable membrane round out this boot’s cold-weather protection.

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In the comfort department, Hoka transitions its ultra-cushy running shoes from the pavement to the trails, unveiling a new category of footwear designed for the mountain. The Hoka One One Tor Ultra High WP (MSRP $230) pairs the brand’s signature midsole volume and balanced Meta-Rocker with a supportive leather and nylon trekking upper, fortified with eVent waterproofing. Hoka-lovers can charge through both wet and dry terrain with Vibram’s MegaGrip rubber outsole, complete with crazy-deep 5mm lugs.

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Though industry trends suggest that long backpacking trips are waning in popularity, shoe weight still remains a shopper concern, especially in activities like snowshoeing and winter hut trips. Salomon’s X Ultra Winter CS WP (MSRP $170) taps this audience by featuring an aggressive outsole, sturdy and supportive chassis midsole, but weighing a paltry 16.5 ounces. This high-top boot is ideal for both shorter winter day hikes and weekend backpacking when every gram counts.

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--Jenna Blumenfeld

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