My other big purchase for this winter was a pair of Forty Below Light Energy Overboots. These were a big gamble for me, since I’m very sensitive about my toes getting cold while hiking in winter. I usually day-hike in heavy leather hiking boots, and I’ve done longer trips using various kinds of insulated boots. A few weeks ago I tried just sneakers with vapor barriers, which was very nice, but I was hoping the Light Energy (LE) overboots would be better for longer trips.
Initially, I read glowing reviews of these from Backpackinglight.com. That place is basically my bible, but I treat gear reviews from there with a grain of salt. Footwear, especially, is hard to take advice for, since my feet are such a mess. I had a great back-and-forth email correspondence with Joel, the owner of Forty Below, and then a long phone conversation. Forty Below is like Mountain Laurel Designs, Gossamer Gear, and those other tiny gear companies that are basically just one or a handful of guys sewing up badass backpacking gear in their garages. Joel takes a heck of a lot of time to chat with customers, or potential customers, so I finally decided to give it a go.
My first impression upon opening the box was that these overboots are way more rugged and durable than they look in pictures. I had been afraid I’d rip them on hidden sticks or on my snowshoes after a few seasons of use, but the fabric is very tough. That’s a good start. It’s also very stretchy, which means it fits over my clown-sized sneakers.
The overboots come with two sets of insulating footbeds– one thin and one thick. I chose the thin one because I wanted to get my sneakers into the overboots easily. It’s a trick to get them in at first before you get the hang of it, but a snug fit is important so you don’t have sneakers slipping around inside the boots. You don’t want it too tight, though, because, as I discovered in field testing, tight footwear seems to be the greatest cause of cold feet.
Sometimes I leave the sneakers in the overboots and just treat the whole thing like one piece of footwear, but putting the sneaker on first and then stretching the overboots onto the sneaker isn’t too bad once you get the hang of it. The next trick is to line up the velcro closure. The gaiter of the overboots goes all the way up to the crook of my knee, which is great for wading in snow if you take off your snowshoes. The velcro opening is basically all the way from the toe of the overboot to the top of the gaiter. The tricky thing is lining up the velcro over the sneaker so it fits snugly but also straight all the way up the gaiter.
Okay, now that the overboots are on, how well do they work? Pretty great! I used them every day for the nine day trip at the end of February, with temperatures down to -20 and only as high as about 30. My feet weren’t always toasty, but they were only cold when I was standing around. I think they would have been better if I’d used the thicker footbed, but it wasn’t a big deal. As long as I moved around enough to keep blood flowing, my feet felt great. Not cold, not hot, just comfortable. And even when I was standing around in camp, my toes were only cold about half the time. Which is a great improvement over my previous footwear.
The most important thing I found was that with soft sneakers and soft overboots, I had to be careful not to tighten the straps of my snowshoes too much, lest I cut off circulation, which would cool off my toes very fast. That’s one of the reasons I went with the Lightning Axis snowshoes, since the front strap just holds the toes rather than crushing them, and the two other straps can easily hold the foot down without being too tight.
Finally, the tread of the overboots is pretty tough, but not made for walking around on its own. It’s okay on packed snow, but snowshoes and crampons are the way to go if you want to walk a lot with them.
I can’t say too much more about the overboots. They work great. While I might use the sneakers and vapor barriers for day hikes on mixed terrain, the overboots are fantastic for overnight trips and longer day hikes. My feet haven’t been happier in winter in many years!