What are Arctic Shoes?

Kay Whittenhauer

Arctic shoes are designed to be worn in cold climates to protect the feet from extreme cold temperatures. The rating system for arctic shoes shows the lowest temperature that the shoes protect against, which is typically -40° to -50° Fahrenheit (about -40° to -45.6° Celsius). Some, but not all, arctic shoes are designed to protect the feet from deep snow, as well as cold.

Woman shopping
Woman shopping

Other names for arctic shoes are Yukon shoes, arctic boots, and pac boots. The defining qualities of arctic shoes are that they usually are built for function and utility, not fashion. There are two basic types of shoes or boots designed for cold weather and snow: inactive and active.

The first type is designed for people who sit or are relatively stationary when they are outdoors in frigid climates. This type of arctic shoe is targeted to people who ice fish or wait at a bus stop in the snow. These usually are bulkier, heavier, and taller than the other type.

A second type of arctic shoe is designed for people who are physically active and avoid deep snow. These shoes generally are lighter, better fitted, and lower than the first type. This type of shoe is primarily marketed to people who work in the outdoors.

All arctic shoes typically are waterproof. Melting snow can cause the feet to get wet, which makes them feel colder faster. Extreme cold may lead to frostbite, and having wet feet could accelerate the frostbite process.

Rubber is commonly used in winter shoes and boots because it is highly durable and waterproof. In addition to its waterproof qualities, rubber can be molded in a manner that makes it optimal for gripping a slippery surface. Rubber is not breathable, which may cause the feet to sweat. Moisture-wicking socks generally are recommended with rubber-soled boots.

Some arctic shoes have rubber shells, as well. Rubber shells are molded to go around the entire foot, not just the sole. Some rubber shells attach to the shoe upper at the ankle, while others go up the calf to form the entire boot. Typically, an arctic boot with a full rubber shell will also have a removable liner.

The upper part or removable liner of an arctic shoe is usually made from an insulated material designed to keep the feet warm. While rubber keeps the moisture out, the insulated material keeps the warmth in. Two common brand names in arctic shoe material are Thinsulate® and Gore-Tex®.

Thinsulate® is a synthetic material that provides insulation. It traps insulated air and reflects body heat back to the foot. Thinsulate® is a trademark of the 3M corporation.

Gore-Tex® is a trademarked synthetic fabric with a triple-layer membrane. It is impenetrable to water, yet still breathable. Gore-Tex® keeps external moisture out while allowing sweat to evaporate, helping ensure that the feet stay warm and not wet.

The laces on an arctic shoe can be important to the fit. There are different styles of laces, including eyelets, D-rings, and hooks. The more active the wearer, the more fitted the arctic shoe typically should be. If arctic shoes are worn by someone who is relatively inactive, he or she usually does not need to have laces at all.

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