Winter mountain hiking boots

Boots for hiking in winter on Scotland's mountains - B1, B2 & B3

How to choose the right type of boots for hiking and rock-scrambling on the mountains of Scotland in winter !

Probably the most important bit of gear to consider when hiking on Scotland's mountains in winter is your footwear. There does however seem to be a bit of vagueness about what type of boots are appropriate. So, I'm going to try and clarify what type of boots are right for winter mountain-hiking and what to look for when you are shopping for a new pair in an outdoor shop.

Only consider boots called "mountaineering boots" and ignore anything referred to as 'trail shoes', 'walking boots', 'hiking boots' or 'backpacking boots' !

There are four categories of mountaineering boots : B0, B1, B2 and B3.

B0 boots are 3 season boots and not designed for winter use. After a day's hiking up high in snow and ice, this type of boot will most likely be trashed !

B1 boots (sometimes referred to as 3-4 season boots) or B2 boots (sometimes referred to as 4-season boots) are most suited for walking on Scotland's mountains in winter. These boots are described in detail below.

B3 technical boots are totally rigid and designed for winter-climbing. Although B3 boots will be fine for mountain-hiking in winter, they are very ridgid and quite heavy, therefore tiring on a long day's hiking.

B1 boots (3-4 season boots)

B1 boot Suitable for general winter mountain walking, B1 boots have a semi-stiffened mid-sole to take crampons and a more supportive upper. The heel will be fairly flat, the lugs on the sole will be aggressive and widely spaced and there will be rubber protection at the front of the boot and possibly around the sides just above the sole. The upper will have a waterproof and breathable lining.

Expect to pay upwards of £200 for a good pair - the boots shown are Scarpa SL Active and sell for around £250.

Compatible crampon type : C1 only. B1 boots will not have the toe or heal lips required to take mountaineering crampons, therefore can cannot be used with C2 crampons. More information on crampons is here.

B2 boots (4 season boots)

B2 boot Like B1 boots, B2 boots are also suitable for winter mountain-walking, but they can also be used on glacial terrain and mid-grade climbing. The soles of B2 boots will have aggressive and wide-spaced lugs and the mid-sole will be near fully stiffened. The upper will have a breathable and waterproof liner which be thicker, more insulated and more durable than a B1 boot. There should be a rubber rand around the boot and the ankle cuff will be set higher, both of which offer better protection than a B1 boot.

Expect to pay around £250-£300 for a good pair - the boots shown are Scarpa Manta Pro GTX for £300.

Compatible crampon type : C2 or C1. With a lip at the top of the heel, and semi-rigid sole these boots are designed to take C2 crampons with heel-clip bindings, but they can also be used with flexible C1 crampons. More information on crampons is here.

4 checks to tell if your boots are suitable

If you're wondering if your boots are appropriate for winter hiking on the Scottish mountains, then go through this checklist :
  • Firstly check the stiffness of the sole - hold the heel and toe of one of your boots, then try and push the heel to the toe, at the same time twisting the boot. If you can flex the sole, then your boot is not suitable for winter mountain-hiking ! If you can flex it a little, then your boots are probably 3-4 season boots (B1). If there's almost no movement or none at all, then your boots are 4-season (B2 or B3).
  • Secondly, check the heel of the boot - is it flat or have a kick up ? If it's the latter then the boot isn't designed to heel-plunge into snow and ice and therefore not suitable. If it has a lip at the top of the heel, then it's likely to be a B2 boot, designed to take C2 crampons.
  • Thirdly, look around the boot, it should feel rugged and look highly durable. Signs of a B1 or B2 boot include rubber rand or other protection above the sole, a high ankle cuff and a breathable membrane in the liner.
  • And finally, if you know the brand and model of boot, check online to see what it's designed for !

Places to buy or hire

There are many good outdoor shops selling quality B1 and B2 rated boots. Rather than buying online, better to go into one of the retailers and try some boots on while getting advice. If you only occasionally expect to head onto the mountains of Scotland in winter, then you can hire boots instead of buying them. Typical cost of hiring a pair of B2 boots are around £10 per day. Here's some places dotted around the Highlands that hire B2 boots : If you hire boots and crampons, best to get the shop to adjust the crampons to the boots. If you are hiring just crampons, take your boots to the shop to get the crampons fitted to them.

You'll find more information on other winter gear needed for hillwalking on Scotland's mountains on this winter gear page.


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