Table of Contents
Looking to dip your toe into sustainable fashion? You’ll need some eco-friendly waterproof winter boots for that.
What makes a boot eco-friendly? In short, the materials and processes used to make it. This means recycled fabrics or fibers, efficient cutting and construction techniques, non-toxic glues and dyes, and natural or physical waterproofing technologies, rather than toxic chemicals that can harm wildlife and workers making the shoes.
Curious about how we rate products? Click here to view our methodology, which at its core, is about voting with our dollars to fight climate change.
Highlights: Made from sustainable materials in a factory powered by the sun and by a company that cares, these comfortable, fully waterproof, carbon neutral boots are rated down to -22 / -7.6 Fahrenheit and may well become the best pair of boots you’ll ever own.
These cozy Snow Boots are highly water resistant with special waterproof membrane, sealed tongue and treated uppers but no PFC. The boot allows breathability and long-lasting protection, has rubber injection outsoles with areas for grip, traction, braking and stability, and is fully lined with insulating vegan wool and vegan shearling, so the boots are suitable down to -22° / -7.6 Fahrenheit. There are also removable EVA insoles for support forefoot and midfoot and advanced ballistic welded duck boot construction with abrasion and scuff resistant uppers. Best of all, these boots are carbon neutral!
About Will’s Vegan Shoes
Will’s Vegan Shoes are have been making sustainable shoes, clothing, and accessories since 2012, with products made ethically in small batches in Tuscany, Italy. They don’t use phthalates, PFCs, nanotechnology, or APEOs in their shoes, and all their waterproof boots are certified PFC-free. The company’s eco-friendly vegan leather is made using bio oil from organic cereal crops grown in Northern Europe and their leathers meet OEKO Tex 100 and REACH regulations, with Ecolabel certification for many products where applicable.
WVS use recycled rubber for their insoles and also use exclusively recycled polyester and recycled cotton, taking pre-dyed offcuts from the textile industry and giving them new life. This helps to save resources such as water, energy, fertilizer, and pesticides, and reduces carbon emissions overall. They also try to source as many materials as possible from within Europe, to further reduce environmental impacts. They have also installed a very large solar array at their Italian factory, with 70% of the power used to produce WVSport footwear renewable solar power.
The company operates a plastic-free carbon neutral supply chain using sustainable materials. There should be more details about this and other environmental initiatives in the company’s expected Environmental and Ethical Report due in Spring 2021. Earlier this year, in June 2020, WVS noted that they plan to introduce fully biodegradable sneakers and trainers shortly, with a fall launch of biodegradable versions of their most popular models. They have already begun incorporating these biodegradable components into other products, including their Chicago Low Top and Rio trainers.
WVS also has solid ethics when it comes to workers’ rights with anti-discrimination and agency worker protection and their own Charter of Human Responsibilities (or Code of Ethics) which helps ensure the company is committed to respecting the rights, work and dignity of its employees. They only work with factories in the European Union, which are covered by a variety of staunch health and safety laws and employment regulations. They explicitly say, “We don’t believe in doing something to protect animals whilst harming humans and the planet… There is always a story behind a low price.”
Other things we like about Will’s Vegan Shoes include certified Carbon Neutral deliveries, returns, and exchanges, free shipping and returns in the US and exchanges for 365 days on all orders. Boots are delivered in sustainable non-treated paper and cardboard packaging that is plastic-free and carbon neutral.
As for the shoes themselves, these are made using CAD design technology that mirrors typical walking patterns to ensure comfort and function while minimizing resource use in manufacturing processes. The shoes use Vibram soles and a patented Support System to ensure a secure and comfortable fit and excellent grip.
Our experience after one year
A member of our team, Popra, has been wearing these boots for two winters now in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and has been happy with the quality and ability of the product to tackle snow and wet mountain weather. Our only gripe is the boots can’t handle really deep snow as the boots are only mid-rise.
Highlights: These carbon neutral, waterproof boots are affordable and ethically made.
Carbon neutral and ethically made in Italy, the WVSport Waterproof Hiking Boots are extremely affordable and arguably the best hiking boots you’ll ever own. They have been designed (in the Dolomite mountains!) for traction, stability, comfort, and durability, boast a Vibram rubber injection sole, with outsoles ballistic welded onto the uppers so they won’t suffer the fate of many hiking boots and just break apart after a few gnarly descents on steep scree.
The uppers are made with abrasion and scuff resistant Lyliane 3DMX and Cordura, and the boots are comfortable as well as technical, with removable cushioned anatomic insoles and padding on the tongue and around the collar. These boots are also easy to put on and take off! They have a finger tab and high-grade laces with smooth sliding.
The WVSport Hiking Boots are lab-tested for waterproofing, with waterproof seams, a sealed tongue, and a special waterproof membrane that prevents water penetration. WVS note that this boot is perfectly fine to wear for “in deep snow, deep puddles, running water or extended periods of heavy rain.” Whatever the conditions, your feet will stay dry. That said, these aren’t insulated, unlike the Snow Boots. So, if you want to wear these in colder temperatures, get a good pair of socks.
Highlights: A more formal, streamlined winter boot with ecorepel® finish, insoles made with recycled polyurethane and castor oil polyurethane and no fluorocarbons or PVC.
Eco Vegan Shoes offer a balance of durability and style with sustainability and eco-friendliness. Their argument is that a well-made pair of vegan shoes featuring polyurethane will outlast most leather shoes, making them more eco-friendly overall as fewer resources are used.
While Eco Vegan Shoes try to find that happy middle, they certainly don’t compromise on animal ethics, with all of their offerings vegan-friendly. And, happily, they use recycled polyurethane and polyurethane made from castor beans to make their OrthoLite® insole. The castor beans are a great crop that requires little water or other inputs.
The water-repelling finish ecorepel® is made with paraffin, so isn’t actually eco-friendly as it’s a petroleum-derived products. That said, paraffin is a by-product of the petroleum industry and does break down over time. The ecorepel® finish doesn’t contain fluorocarbons and allows treated fabrics to remain almost entirely biodegradable and non-toxic while also being waterproof.
Eco Vegan Shoes use faux leather made from PVC-free polyurethane and all products are certified by the Vegan Society.
The Alicia Boot has a replaceable Eco-OrthoLite® insole for comfort, support, and hygiene, and is water resistant and hard wearing. This country-style knee boot has a leather look but is made of microfiber, and is warm and dry in the winter but not too hot in fall or spring.
The Alicia Boot has a Grip+ sole by Solepex Finland made of hard-wearing thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). It is designed for extreme cold and plenty of snow, with special spikes in the grip made of a softer material than the rest of the sole, so you get more friction, i.e. traction, on wet surfaces, ice, and snow. The sole’s open channel design also helps snow fall off, so it can’t form a slippery film.All Eco Vegan Shoes products are made either in the EU or in Indonesia, with footwear BlueSign® approved, meaning “no child labour, no sweatshop labour, no slavery, fair pay and decent terms of employment, safe working conditions.”
Highlights: High fashion, vegan-friendly, eco-friendly waterproof winter boot made from sustainably sourced rubber with rubber neoprene sleeve for comfort.
Hunter Boots recently collaborated with the fashion designer Stella McCartney to produce a version of their iconic gumboot. Debuted at Stella McCartney’s Autumn Winter 2019 runway show in Paris, the boot was made with natural rubber from certified sustainable forests in Guatemala. The stretch sock inside the boot is made with Yulex, a plant-based (certified natural rubber) neoprene that generates 80% less carbon dioxide than conventional neoprene. The boot has the iconic Wellington style but also boasts a sculptural sole and tread that is handmade. It is available in olive and black for every gender and is vegan-friendly, waterproof, and comfortable.
I confess, I’ve had little luck with Hunter boots over the years. I’ve managed to destroy every pair within a matter of weeks by doing nothing more than taking my pup to the beach. Going through boots so quickly is certainly not very eco-friendly, so I’m hoping this latest move by Hunter will help make the boots more durable and reduce their overall impact.
Hunter is also taking other steps to improve sustainability. The company has been working with The Carbon Trust since 2018 to measure carbon emissions from stores and office and have set targets for reducing those emissions in alignment with the Science-Based Targets Initiatives to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The company also carried out a lifecycle analysis of their Original Tall boot in 2017, from rubber harvesting to end-of-life. This has allowed them to find areas in which to improve sustainability, and it was this initiative that led to the collaboration with Stella McCartney.
Hunter has also begun including recycle polyester and organic cotton in their collections from Spring 2020 onwards. The company is also careful to work only with rubber tree plantations that don’t contribute to deforestation, use biocides, or use slash-and-burn techniques and where workers’ rights and local communities are protected alongside the natural environment. This means they commission third-party audits and visit the farms themselves.
And finally, if you live in the UK, near London, you can now drop off your old Hunter boots at their Regent Street store for recycling in partnership with First Mile as part of their Hunter ReBoot campaign. The old boots are recycled into equestrian arena flooring, playground surfacing, roads, kickboxing bag filler and other products. They plan to roll out this campaign across their distribution network in time.
Highlights: Known for being innovative and eco-friendlier than most companies, Patagonia offer a leather work boot made with vegetable tanning and a partially recycled, replaceable sole.
Patagonia typically focuses on producing technical wear from recycled fabrics and fibers, including recycled materials from landfills and fishing nets dredged from the oceans. Their October surprise this year is the Wild Idea Work Boot, made using leather hides from the buffalo killed in South Dakota to produce the company’s spin-off outfit Patagonia Provisions® Buffalo Jerky. The boots went on sale October 30th, 2020, and there will be just 500 Wild Idea Work Boots available in the men’s design (with a cap toe) and 500 in the women’s Chelsea style design, so if you like them, get them now!
So, while Patagonia pat themselves on the back for no longer wasting the hides from the buffalo they slaughter, this is a bit of a weird convolution of the ‘by-products’ argument sometimes used in favor of leather. The line is limited to 1,000 pairs of shoes as this is the number of bison harvested at the ranch in a year. Admittedly, I don’t know much about making leather shoes, but I do know that bison are pretty big, so I’m not sure why one bison hide can only make a single pair of shoes. If you do know, I’d love to hear from you in the comments – seriously!
Happily, Patagonia have partnered with an eco-friendly tanning company that uses wet-green technology. This means fewer toxic chemicals and instead uses tannins from fallen and waste olive trees. Though they don’t explicitly mention that they avoid chromium or other toxic heavy metals, Patagonia is generally very good about avoiding toxic chemicals.
The Wild Work Boots also have a Vibram® EcoStep outsole made with 30% recycled material. This sole should last for years and has excellent grip, but can be replaced easily to extend the life of the boot thanks to the use of a Goodyear welt to attach the sole to the upper.
Buffalo leather is a hardworking, breathable, moisture-wicking material that is comfortable and has a relaxed fit without losing its shape. This boot also has sturdy side elastic panels and a back pull tab to make it easy to pull on and off. The boots are made by traditional cobblers in Portugal, which does mean the hides are shipped from the US to Europe and back again for sale.
Patagonia’s Women’s Wading Boots are another decent option as these are waterproof, ultralight, and made of synthetic leather. Their best feature, though, is that you can resole the boots as many times as you need, which makes them super durable and far more eco-friendly than a pair you have to throw away in full.
California-based Patagonia is well known for developing innovative technical fabrics and pushing the outdoor clothing industry to do better for the environment. They make some of my favorite down alternative winter coats and eco-friendly swimwear, so you’re probably not too surprised to see them on this list for eco-friendly waterproof winter boots.
That said, Patagonia’s boots aren’t quite as sustainably made as the Stella McCartney Hunter Boots or Will’s Vegan Shoes. Patagonia shoes are certainly easier to find, though, and come in a variety of sizes and styles.
The company focuses on producing technical wear from recycled fabrics and fibers, including recycled materials from landfills and fishing nets dredged from the oceans.
As a company, Patagonia is a leader in sustainability. Their aim is to be carbon-neutral by 2025, nearly three quarters of their products are made with recycled materials, and all of the electricity they use in the US is sourced from renewables.
They’ve also been instrumental in shifting industry standards towards greater environmental responsibility and since 1985 have pledged to donate 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. In 2002, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies, created 1% for the Planet, a non-profit corporation to encourage other businesses to do the same.
Highlights: Ideal for leisure and travel, with great tread for slippery conditions.
The Auckland WT Texapore Boot W is a waterproof and breathable winter boot ideal for leisure and travel but probably not for hiking up any mountains. It has a street style with all the robustness of an outdoor boot.
The Auckland is made with suede leather and fabric, has a warm fleece lining made of polyester, and is PFC-free thanks to the Texapore polyurethane membrane that keeps water out. It’s unclear whether the Texapore and Nanuk-Ultra fleece lining are the same 100% recycled material used in the Ecosphere line, so I’ve reached out to the company for clarification and will update when I hear back.
This boot also boasts a sure-grip outsole with great tread for slippery conditions. It has a classic rubber look but is lighter and has a cushioning EVA midsole (which may be made from algae foam) and comfortable fit. There are stitched overlays for toe and heel protection and an easy lace-around lacing system for easy wear.
About Jack Wolfskin
Jack Wolfskin is a well-known company that has made great sustainability strides in recent years. So much so that they just announced they have been awarded “Leader” status by the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) for the sixth time in a row, have completed certification for EcoLabel, and on August 1, 2020, joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), introducing the Higg Index for measuring sustainability within the company.
Jack Wolfskin is a BlueSign® partner and part of the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) program, with the aim of banning all dangerous chemicals from the entire production chain by 2020. BlueSign has a list of permitted and forbidden chemicals and Jack Wolfskin publish their own Restricted Substances List (the Green Book) on their website.
The company stopped using PVC in 2011, banned the use of APEO and phthalates in their products in 2014 and aims to completely phase out PFCs by the end of this year (2020). So far, the waterproof membranes and coatings of Jack Wolfskin polyurethane products have been PFC-free since 2013 and all of their clothing items, packs and bags are completely 100% PFC-free as of spring/summer 2019.
Jack Wolfskin’s TEXAPORE weatherproof technology is PFC-free as it is based on membranes and coatings made from polyurethane which are extremely flexible, durable, and waterproof, with high breathability. Their Nanuk Ultra fleece is made with polyester, which is less harmful to human health, as well as being a super warm lining for winter shoes that is very breathable and quick-drying.
It’s not clear whether the Texapore and Nanuk Ultra used in their winter boots is 100% recycled. These materials are 100% recycled when used in the company’s Texapore Ecosphere jacket, with PET bottles primarily used to make the fabric and the membrane manufactured from reconditioned remnants left over from the production process, creating a zero-waste process. The company also uses these materials in hats and gloves and has set its sights on producing buttons, zips, and polybags from recycled materials next. I have reached out to the company to see if the Auckland WT Texapore boot uses these recycled materials and will update as necessary.
Jack Wolfskin use exclusively certified organic cotton, including GOTS and OCS cotton and has since 2013. The company regularly inspects the wastewater from their suppliers’ factories which is essential for anyone using leather materials.
Unfortunately, Jack Wolfskin do still use down in their products, but they have at least adopted the Responsible Down Standard which goes some way to safeguarding animal welfare even if it’s not foolproof. The company states that it does not use real fur, angora, or mulesed merino wool.
I like that the Jack Wolfskin website lets you select PFC-free under the Attributes filter tab when searching for any product. I also like that the company uses 100% green electricity, including some that they generate themselves. They try to reduce energy consumption, but what they do use has been ‘green’ since 2012. They have solar arrays installed at their sites in Idstein and Neu-Wulmstorf, and they use energy efficient fixtures, fittings, and lighting in stores, with complete avoidance of PVC materials. Instead, they favor locally sourced wood and recyclable materials.
Highlights: Made in North America using synthetic rubber that is recyclable through Kamik’s recycling program, these waterproof rainboots have a generous cut and lightweight construction.
Kamik’s rainboots are a great fit for gardening, splashing in puddles, rambling through the forest, or a day at the beach. They’re made in Canada or the US from lightweight RubberHe, which is synthetic rubber but not PVC (Kamik no longer uses PVC in any of their products). The boots themselves don’t seem to be made from recycled rubber but they can be sent back to Kamik for recycling at the end of their life. To recycle your boots, send Kamik an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a prepaid shipping label.
The company boasts making 360,000 black rain boots from recycled rubber in their North American factories annually. They also claim that their recycled and recyclable packaging saves approximately 132 cars CO2 emissions. Kamik also claims to recycle 90% of the cooling water used in their Canadian factory. There is no third-party auditing of these claims though, and no environmental report with more information, unfortunately. I’ve asked for more info and will update as necessary.
Back to the boots. These have a good grip with decent traction, are fully waterproof, and are vegan-friendly. They are cut wider at the calf for extra leg room, measure 31.5 cm in height and weigh under a kilo at 980 g per pair. The insole is removable and made with EVA foam (it’s not clear if this is the BLOOM EVA foam made from algae. Again, I’ve asked for clarification and will update as needed.
These boots don’t have a felt liner, but for the boots that do, Kamik uses exclusively recycled plastic content, claiming a minimum of three plastic bottles goes into each liner (or 3 million water bottles a year).
All in all, Kamik seem to have taken some decent first steps in the direction of eco-friendliness, but I’d like to see more consistency across their materials and manufacturing processes and more transparency in environmental reporting.
Choosing Eco-Friendly Waterproof Winter Boots
Fall is here and winter’s coming, so how do you pick a pair of boots to keep your feet dry and cozy without harming the planet? Easy! Just grab some leather boots and you’re good to go splash in puddles, right? Not so fast.
While cow skin or other leather might be a natural material, it also decomposes naturally. This means it is preserved or ‘tanned’ by the leather industry, typically using a slew of harmful chemicals including trivalent chromium sulphate, sodium sulphide, sodium sulfhydrate, arsenic and cyanide. This work is almost always carried out in countries with few, if any, safety regulations for workers or the environment, and tannery effluent, i.e. the water run-off from tanneries contains large amounts of pollutants, including protein, hair, salt, chromium and other heavy metals, lime sludge, and acids. These are potential pollutants of air, water, and soil, with chromium one of the most serious pollutants worldwide.
So, what’s the alternative to leather for waterproof winter boots? Your best bet is natural rubber or, failing that, recycled plastic or bioplastic. Sure, conventional plastic is made of petrochemicals, but if you choose boots made using post-consumer plastic waste or polymers made with, say, organic castor oil, this is far less polluting.
Ideally, your new boots will have a natural lining that keeps any petroleum-based plastics away from your skin. This might be made of organic cotton or ethically sourced organic wool, hemp fiber, kapok, or other soft, insulating material. Hemp is ideal because it is naturally antibacterial, which means you can also avoid one of the other sneaky non-eco-friendly hazards of winter boots: chemical antibacterial agents that can leach out and damage the environment.
In general, it’s best to choose shoes made with materials that are naturally waterproof or water-resistant. Those that aren’t are typically treated with PFCs (perfluorocarbons) to make them waterproof. PFCs are bad news for you and bad news for the environment. Many companies, including most on our list, have taken a strong stance against the use of PFCs, phthalates, PVC, formaldehyde, and other chemicals that can harm people and planet.
Other things to consider when buying new winter boots include fair labor practices, the use of child labor, water conservation, chemical run-off and pollution, and other manufacturing and shipping practices that affect carbon emissions and environmental impact overall.