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Hands-on Gear Review
Sorel Caribou Review
Cons: Very heavy, large, sloppy fit, potential durability issues
Bottom line: A classic snow boot that is good for errand running and snow shoveling, but not well suited to hiking.
Shaft Height (from bottom of sole to top of shaft): 11 in
Maximum puddle depth before major leaking: 10.5 in
The Sorel Caribou first came out in 1962, and it has been an often-imitated mainstay of the winter boot category ever since. As a typical Pac Boot, this model features an inner liner that sits inside a waterproof outer boot. We reviewed two different Pac boot models this year, the Sorel along with the Kamik NationPlus. The Caribou was awarded top marks for its robust waterproofness, and thanks to a thick and insulated interior liner are also quite warm. We disliked the sloppy fit that this boot allowed - our feet swam around inside the boot if we were not wearing big thick socks. Ideal as an around the house, doing your chores snow boot, we wouldn't consider taking it on a long hike or for snowshoeing, but it is warm, weather resistant and easy to use, making it a perennial favorite.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Winter Boots for Men of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Sorel Caribou is one of two Pac boots tested in this review, with the other being the Kamik NationPlus. We liked each of these models, and both had their advantages and disadvantages. In general, Pac boots are very comfortable and offer a spacious, sometimes sloppy, fit. They have the advantage of having a removable liner that allows you to dry them out quickly should you sweat too much, or get snow or water inside of them. The NationPlus, while scoring slightly lower than the Caribou, retails for about $65 less, which we think presents a better value overall. We found the Caribou to be the warmer and more waterproof boot when comparing the two but found the NationPlus to have better traction and to be more comfortable and to fit better. If you are interested in purchasing a Pac boot, we would recommend you try them both.
It's worth mentioning that we are concerned there is a durability issue with the vulcanized rubber that forms the bottom lining of this boot. There are countless reports online from user reviews of this rubber cracking or splitting over time due to drying out or simple material fatigue. Numerous other people, we have talked to directly confirmed that this had happened to them. Most of these reports claim that the issue started after a year. Our test period was not long enough to test these claims, and we experienced no such issues of cracking or splitting in our tests, but this is something to consider when purchasing a pair of Sorel boots.
The Pac Boot style construction of these boots means their warmth comes from the 9mm thick ThermoPlus felt inner boot. Upon first inspection, after removing it from the boot, we were a little disappointed at the thickness and the opening of the tongue of this inner bootie. We reserved judgment, however, until after testing, figuring that these boots wouldn't have been around so long if they hadn't got something right. There were plenty warm, the third warmest in our ice bucket test, behind The North Face Chilkat 400 and the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry.
They were just a tad warmer than the NationPlus. Our experience is that cinching the front of the boot tight with the laces closes up the front opening of the liner, allaying our concerns about that opening. That said, we are not sure that these boots can handle -40F all day, although we admit it never got cold enough to test this. There is room for a thick sock, which we recommend if it is truly numbing cold outside. 8 out of 10 points.
The Caribou keeps water, slush, and snow at bay with a very effective rubberized molded sole that extends up around the foot creating a bathtub of sorts. The upper is a treated Nubuck leather that also resists water quite well, beading off water even after the full 8-minute ice bath immersion test. Since there is no inner membrane like found on boots such as The North Face Chilkat 400, they rely heavily on the outer boot. This means that an annual treatment of the Nubuck material will help them repel water longer. Due to flaws in the NationPlus construction, there is no doubt that these boots are more waterproof, and because of their 10.5-inch stack height and full height tongue, they have the highest tolerance for water in this review. 10 out of 10 points.
Fit and Comfort
We hesitate to say that these boots are uncomfortable because their super large and spacious fit guarantees that statement would be false. However, there is no doubt that these are the worst fitting boots in this review. The problem is that they are gigantic, both in the fit inside the boot, and just the design of the boot in general. Even with a very thick sock on, there is so much foot slop and movement inside this boot that we would consider sizing down. No amount of cranking the laces down tighter is going to cinch up this boot to make it feel snug. But the room on the inside isn't the sole problem, the whole boot is just huge, and made us feel like we were trying on some pair of basketball player's shoes as a joke.
We also couldn't get over how heavy they are. At 5 lbs. 5 ounces for a pair of size 11 men's boots, these are well over a pound more than the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, the second most substantial boots, and almost three pounds more than the lightest boot in this review, the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS. The sloppy fit, large design, and hefty weight guarantee that this is not a boot we would want to spend any time hiking round in. Limited to shoveling, chopping wood and running errands, this is a niche boot model. 5 out of 10.
Ease of Use
For a boot that has laces and needs to be tied, this one was fairly simple. The super huge opening of the boot makes it very easy to slip the foot into, and we admit that on a few cold mornings we were happy to just leave the laces untied while stepping outside with the dog for the morning routine. The large metal grommets allow the laces to slip through very easily, and these boots cinch tight no problem with one pull. Of course, you still need to tie the laces, but that isn't difficult. In general, these boots are slightly easier to get on than the Kamik NationPlus, and are easier than virtually all of the other boots that had laces. 7 out of 10.
The Caribou features a proprietary rubber compound called Aerotrac, and the sole pattern is made up of small dot-shaped lugs that look more like golf cleats than the burly soled we have been accustomed to seeing on boots like the Columbia Omni-Heat. The low profile lugs did seem to perform best when on slippery surfaces such as icy sidewalks, where increased surface area made the boot grippier. For most other circumstances, however, traction was not one of this boot's strongest traits.
We found that it was roughly similar to the Timberland Schazzberg Mid, although nowhere near as good as the Kamik NationPlus, which had the grippiest outsole of them all. While it was predictably a bit slippery on ice (all of the boots tested struggled on ice), what surprised us was how it seemed to perform worse than most on snow and packed snow. We would have to blame this on the roundness of the lugs, which to us doesn't make a lot of sense, as sharp edges that bite into snow seem to be the best designs. 6 out 10.
Due to the heaviness and sloppy fit of this boot, it is not one that we would want to take on a hike. We also don't recommend it for snowshoeing for the same reason. This boot served us well as a versatile snow boot for using around the house in winter; whether it was shoveling the walk, going to the post office, or wearing before and after a day of skiing, this boot is easy, warm, and spaciously comfortable.
This boot retails for $150, which is about average for the contenders in this review. It is a bit more limited than some of the other boots at this price, and we already voiced concerns about the durability of the rubber used in the upper, although we repeat that we didn't encounter that problem ourselves. Also worth pointing out is that the other Pac Boot, the Kamik Nationplus, our Best Buy winner also scored comparably in most of our tests, and costs only $85. So while we wouldn't go nearly so far as not to recommend this boot, we would be happier ourselves if we managed to find it on sale.
The Sorel Caribou has been around for the past 50 years and is many people's definition of a snow boot. The design concept is solid, and while we feel that it is not a suitable candidate for long winter hikes, as an overall good winter boot that provides great warmth, weather resistance and is easy to use, will fit the needs of many people looking for a quality boot to see them through the winter.
— Ryan Huetter & Andy Wellman
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