What to wear on your feet really depends on what winter activity you will be doing. I have three different types of footwear that I gravitate to. There are many options available for cold weather activities, and I won't be able to cover everything here. The following is what I have found works for me. Whatever you choose, I have found that good quality footwear is worth the investment.
For winter hiking when it is cold but with no more than two inches of snow on the ground, I wear my regular Vasque waterproof hiking boots with a pair of warm socks (see below). My boots are no longer available but here are some similar pairs:
Vasque Women's Hiking Boots
I personally like a hiking boot as opposed to a shoe in the winter months for the extra warmth and to keep snow out. I did by gaiters last year, but have not tried them yet. Some people like gaiters instead of a taller boot in deeper snow and wear them with an insulated hiking boot. I'm planning on trying it this year and will report back in the comments. I do not have insulated hiking boots, but I have been thinking about giving them a try after seeing a lot of positive comments about them on the Facebook page listed in Part 1 here.
A word about footwear in general: there is no right footwear for everyone. This is one place where recommendations from others can only go so far. I have purchased boots based on recommendations from friends, the Facebook page mentioned above, and store staff and have absolutely hated them. One pair of highly recommended Oboz shredded my feet while the same pair is a favorite of a hiker friend. This is where I highly recommend REI for footwear. Most REI items can be returned for a year even if used with very few exceptions - read their policy here. I understand how expensive they are and that items can sometimes be found cheaper elsewhere. However, when it comes to footwear, I think it's worth it. If you become a member they offer rewards that can offset the cost - membership info here. Also, REI is another place where I hardly ever buy anything at full price as they offer sales throughout the year on many popular items. If you are not sold on REI, please check the return policy wherever you buy your footwear.
Okay, moving on! When we have over 2" of snow, I move up to ski boots. (Full disclosure here, I rarely do any long-distance hiking in the winter, so if you are looking for footwear to hike the White Mountains, for example, you may need to search for a different blogger.) While my ski boots are not the most comfortable walking footwear, I find the warmth and extra traction worth it. Merrell no longer carries what I have, but here are some options that combine the ski boot warmth with more of a hiking boot:
Merrell Women's Thermo Aurora 2 Mid Shell Waterproof
Merrell Women's Thermo Chill Mid Shell Waterproof
And a winter boot option:
Merrell Women's Thermo Waterproof Boot
Here is an article with suggestions from today.com that may be helpful too.
In the deep snow, I recommend a warm, waterproof boot with a tall shaft. After getting snow in my boots for years, last year I splurged on a pair of Bogs boots. I'm glad I did. While they are not a boot I would wear for long hikes, they are great for shorter walks, mindful outdoor experiences, and nature and forest therapy walks. My feet stay warm and dry and I couldn't be happier.
Bogs Women's Winter Boots (I suggest the tall)
When it comes to socks, I definitely underestimated the difference a good, warm sock can make. Not only to keep feet warm but to provide a barrier between footwear and foot. A good sock can help to keep your shoe or boot from rubbing your foot and causing blisters. My favorite for winter activities is a good merino wool cushion sock. The two brands I gravitate to are Smartwool and Darn Tough (made in Vermont). Some people get sticker shock when they see the price of these socks, but again, good equipment is well worth it. I have had some of my Smartwool socks for almost 10 years and would have had to replace a cheaper sock every 2-3 years.
Other Winter Equpiment
Whether hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing, having the right equipment for these activities is essential. For hiking, I always recommend having some sort of microspike in your backpack. You never know when you will come across a patch of ice and microspikes can help you safely cross a slippery area. I have these and they come with a bag so they don't get tangled up with other things in your pack:
My microspikes fit right over my hiking boot. They do not fit my winter boots, however.
Crampons are similar to microspikes but are a larger spike for climbing and mountaineering. I haven't found a need for them yet but thought I would mention them for awareness of the difference in spikes.
Snowshoeing can be a fun way to work out in the winter and to see things that you may not see otherwise. A word of warning, this is a strenuous activity! My first time out I thought it would be easy and ventured out pretty far on the trail. I was surprised at how much work it was and my trip back was exhausting. My suggestion is to take it slow and work up to those longer treks. There are many good options with or without poles from REI and L.L. Bean.
Poles are a great way to provide some stability when out on the trail especially because we don't always know what is under the deep snow. Also, when snowshoeing they can help with the effort it takes to keep moving. Some hiking poles come with "snow baskets" so one set of poles can be used all year long.
I have this set from Amazon, but there are many options available:
I have not used foot warmers, but some women who participate in my outdoor experiences do and swear by them.
Hot Hands foot warmers
Finally, a word about the cost of equipment - often when I share my recommendations for outdoor equipment, someone will comment about the expense of these items. I thought that way too at one time. However, what I've learned is that these items last a long time, so the cost per wear actually ends up being lower than if I bought a cheaper item and had to replace it every year or so. As I see it, buying less keeps more items from ending up in the landfill. We, humans, create a lot of waste, and buying better quality items is one small way to reduce that waste so we are not taxing our Earthly resources quite as much. Additionally, I purchased my good quality items over a number of years and asked for items for my birthday or Christmas, so don't feel like you have to go out and spend thousands of dollars at once. Decide what is a priority for you perhaps based on where you feel cold the most when you are outside and choose your items from there.
I hope you find these recommendations helpful and are encouraged to get outside even on the coldest of days!
*These suggestions are based on the climate where I live in Connecticut, USA. These are not affiliate links, and I do not make any money if you click through these links. All information shared is based on my many years of experience with being outside in the winter. My experiences may be different than your experiences.