The first few weeks of 2016 saw me testing several heavier-duty boots, but about mid-winter it dawned on me that insulated footwear don’t need to extend much past the upper ankle. True, deep powder requires more leg protection, but walking on compacted snow or simply over frozen ground doesn’t require industrial-grade rubber. In fact, with apparel like the Baffin Zone Men boots, the footwear can be downright posh as well as protective.
Unlike the Muck Boots (Arctic Pro and Arctic Sport Mid-Height) or Kamik Boots (Snowvalley and Coldcreek) we reviewed this winter, the Baffin Zone Men boots look deceptively docile. From a distance, they don’t look all that different from standard hiking boots. They lace up like spring- and summertime boots, their grip has a traditional waffle pattern, and their uppermost point is just above the ankle. But you know how the saying goes: you can’t judge a book by its cover. In reality, the Baffin Zone Men boots are an insulating wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Much like taller rubber-based boots, the Zone Men boots have an impressive temperature rating and are billed to keep feet warm from 50 degrees to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. I live in Oregon and tested the boots over multiple outings on Mt. Hood, so I never experienced sub-zero cold, but it did get well below freezing on my adventures. I can say without question that the Zone Men boots kept my feet just as warm as their beefier alternatives, yet in a smaller form factor.
The downfall of that smaller factor is that the Baffin Zone Men boots aren’t ideal for walking through powder. When the snow depths are more than eight inches deep, you really need gaiters to keep the snow from cascading into your boots. That is, of course, unless you’re snowshoeing. I wore the Zone Men boots on several different snowshoeing treks and found them to be lightweight, warm and perfectly suited for that activity. Take the snowshoes off, and they were still light and warm but not really appropriate for deep-snow conditions.
Having spent so many weeks testing beefier boots, I didn’t really expect the Baffin Zone Men boots to keep my feet as warm as they did. And yes, I’ll confess, part of it was because they look so everyday chic. The Charcoal color scheme I tested (shown above) was quite nice, and the little visual touches – though superficial – showed Baffin paid just as much attention to form as they did function.
The Zone Men are also a soft-shell boot. This is notable because it makes them more “athletic comfortable” to wear than other boots, and also because it makes them seem a little less durable than heavily rubberized footwear. Not only did the Zone Men boots hold up well against surface scratching, their suede-feeling exterior also kept out every drop of moisture Mother Nature threw their way. I didn’t go wading through creeks in them like I did with the bigger boots this season, but it wasn’t due to a lack in confidence. Rather, the Zone Men are hiking-height boots, not shin- or knee-highs, so they’re not intended to be used that way. But whenever I encountered a Northwest downpour – and yes, those happen in February (trust me: 35 and rain is gross) – they kept the water at bay.
Truth be told, the insulation and waterproofing would’ve been enough to make me happy, but Baffin included a few other creature comforts that I really appreciated during my tests. First, the interior of the boots is incredibly soft, almost to the point of microfiber, which helps your foot slide easily into the form-fitting boot. The sole also has a nice bounce to it, making the boots feel more like athletic shoes while you’re wearing them. Reflective piping on the top is also a nice touch for extra visibility in low-light conditions. And the removable anti-microbial insoles completely eradicated any stink I might have left. I really tried to get them to stink, too: at one point I wore them three days for eight consecutive hours – indoors. No stink whatsoever.
Although I personally tested only four insulated boots this winter, three of which were the heavy rubberized type, I never felt a need to keep going after my time with the Baffin Zone Men boots. The comfort lasted from the moment I slid them on until the time I took them off, no matter how cold it got or how rainy the day was. They’re not ideal for walking through deep snow, but most people either do that with snowshoes or don’t do it at all, so I’m not going to hold that against them. They’re also perfectly suitable for early spring hiking as long as the temperature stays below 52 degrees or so. In sum, Baffin’s got a comfortable and warm groove going with their Zone Men boots, and that’s something my Raynauds-suffering feet in particular appreciated.
The Baffin Zone Men boots were provided for review. All opinions and words are my own and honest, and the article contains no affiliate links.
Baffin Zone Men Boots
- Soft-shell exterior is pliable when walking
- Great insulation kept feet warm in the snow
- "Normal" appearance keeps cold-feet coverups discreet
- Size tag inside the tongue can be scratchy at times
- Thick tread, but didn't seem especially grippy on ice