Will these lightweight, insulated waterproof snow boots live up to the hype?
Disclaimer #1: I am an unapologetic, absurdly dedicated Vasque Fanboy. With high arches and narrow feet, as an ultralight backpacker I hike almost exclusively in trail runners, year-round. I’ve been moderately happy over the years with Salomon and pretty satisfied with The North Face, but in my experience absolutely nothing compares to the Vasque brand for comfort, fit, arch support, traction, and durability. I ❤ my Vasques so much that I own two pair of Velocity VSTs, with and without GTX, that sit safely in my closet only to be rocked exclusively on week-long 100 milers or if I might be postholing in snow; a third pair of the updated Velocity is reserved for daily/weekly training.
Such it was that I rarely if ever used my favorite pair of boots, the Vasque Wasatch GTX, except for snowshoeing because however comfortable they are, frankly boots are heavy and my pack is light. And then, ahead of a February excursion Vasque provided an early Valentine: the Snow Junkie. [Disclaimer #2: tip of the hat to Ploss who did in fact order em first. I’m sure he’ll share his own thoughts on his pair as commentary.]
The Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry was released last fall and quickly won a Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Snow Award for 2012; needless to say they were immediately slotted into wishlist pole position, and I finally had the opportunity to acquire and test a pair last weekend on a 14+ mile snowshoe overnight near Mt. Hood, Oregon.
The Snow Junkie UltraDry‘s value lay in the unique combination of weight, warmth, and waterproofing. Weighing in on my digital scale at a mere 2 lbs. 9.4 ounces (1174g) per pair (men’s size 10.5) they’re in line with the manufacturer’s spec and consistent with a retail spec of 1 lb. 5 oz per shoe for a size 11.5M. They’re also significantly lighter than my aforementioned, comfortable Vasque Wasatch GORE-TEX boots that weigh in at 3 lbs. 5.3 ounces per pair. In the field, they felt highly comparable to the trail runners to which I’m accustomed and sans snowshoes I spent my time in camp essentially unaware of them in terms of weight on my feet.
This, despite the addition of 200g of 3M Thinsulate™ Ultra insulating material that I can attest did an outstanding job of keeping my feet warm not only during a full day of snowshoeing in frequently deep powder, but more importantly back at camp in an evening when temperatures dropped into the upper 20s. This was key. I’m still likely in the market for a pair of Goosefeet Down Socks & over booties for winter camp comfort as I tend to run cold, but I was very impressed by how well the Snow Junkies kept me warm for several hours of standing around in camp, waiting for Franken to boil snow for my dinner. Perhaps I should have brought my own stove…
As for the waterproofing, I could not be more impressed. On neither day did my feet get wet whatsoever despite stomping out a tent area, time spent in camp and significant hours of snowshoeing in often deep powder. For clarity, full lower body compliment:
- Smartwool (merino blend) Mountaineer socks
- Mountain Hardwear Nut Shell high gaiters
- REI Polartec Power Dry long underwear bottoms
- GoLite Reed pants
- Atlas 930 snowshoes
- Hat Tip: Body Glide Anti-Chafe balm. BG + Merino wool socks + Vasque footwear = zero author foot issues spanning 3+ years/many hundreds of all season trail miles
How does the Vasque proprietary waterproofing technology compare to GTX? Per the manufacturer, “UltraDry™ construction combines a moisture management lining with waterproof components for dry, long-lasting comfort and performance” and in the field, the results were impressive. The leather/GTX uppers found on the Wasatch and other GORE-TEX footwear I’ve owned do an adequate job of keeping one’s feet dry in wet conditions, but aren’t particularly breathable – after a full day of backpacking upwards of 15+ miles in winter conditions my feet can get pretty cold simply from being damp & clammy. While I didn’t do much postholing in the Snow Junkies, I was astounded to find my socks completely dry when I called it a day earlier than Ploss and Franken would have preferred. It’s a small sample size but for winter backpacking these are quite simply the most waterproof/breathable boots I’ve ever used.
Conclusion: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry boots are not only the lightest waterproof boots the author has ever tested, they’re the warmest courtesy of an ideal amount of thin, light insulation. They provide the ankle height and fit one would prefer in lieu of trail runners in deep snow (particularly with gaiters), exceed expectations for waterproofing and insulation, and perform extremely well with snowshoes in particular due to their crazy light weight. With a 21 lb. pack full of UL winter gear, food and water I was perfectly comfortable traversing 14+ miles of varied terrain, and was equally satisfied back in camp standing about in the snow and cold. Given that I have previously opted for the posthole route when backpacking at elevation in Fall/Spring with trail runners, I’ll update this review again soon as I almost certainly will be wearing my Snow Junkies again instead on my next snowy trip, snowshoes or not.
Update: I did in fact have an additional opportunity to field test my pair of Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry boots in deep snow in April, once again in the Mt. Hood National Forest, this time without snowshoes – postholing in fresh, often knee-deep, powder for several hours and miles per day over several days. Pretty much worst-case conditions that were unexpected, as my hiking companion Franken believed that warm weather the week prior would leave the trail consolidated, leading me to leave my snowshoes at home (fail.) As before I wore Mountain Hardwear Nut shell high gaiters, smartwool socks, and GoLite Reed pants with the Snow Junkies, and the results were outstanding.
The Vasque Snow Junkie is the best pair of winter boots I’ve either owned, or short of plastic mountaineering boots, that I’ve ever heard of. No amount of postholing yielded either damp or cold feet, and once again my feet were sufficiently warm standing about in camp that a dedicated pair of down/insulated camp footwear seems unnecessary. These remain not only an ideal pair of snowshoeing boots, but a perfect way to traverse any non-technical route in the deepest, wettest snow you can find.
Note: the Author acquired this equipment at his own expense and was not compensated by the manufacturer in any way.
VASQUE SNOW JUNKIE ULTRADRY MEN’S BOOT. MSRP $129.95. VASQUE.COM