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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Chilkat 400 Review
Cons: Fit is short (order up in size), mildly laborious to tie up
Bottom line: This is the top performing boot in our review and wins our Editors' Choice Award thanks to its great comfort and warmth.
We included The North Face Chilkat 400 in our review for the second year in a row. While it had stiff competition from other models, we were so impressed by its overall performance that we couldn't help but award it the Editors' Choice Award for Best Overall Winter Boot again. This boot was easily the highest scorer in our side-by-side comparison testing and is also our Top Pick for winter hiking. It features 400g of Primaloft Eco recycled insulation, double that of all but one other boot in this test, making it hands down the warmest boot in the review. It scored the highest marks we could award for water resistance, and as long as it is sized correctly, it is the most comfortable of any of the winter hiking style boots we tested. Its temperature-sensitive lugs scored near the top when it came to traction. If you see a pattern here, the Chilkat 400 scoring near the top in every metric, then you are starting to understand why we loved this award winner so much.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Winter Boots for Men of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
This boot has once again garnered the attention of our expert review team, by providing top-notch warmth and comfort for cold winter conditions. Winning the Editors' Choice Award for the second year running was no easy feat, as many other contenders compared favorably and gave the Chilkat 400 a run for its money. We loved many things about the Chilkat, but some things stood out that consumers should be aware of, namely its sizing. The North Face winter boots have consistently run small over the course of our boot testing over the years, so we need to stress that you should try on at least one full size larger than your typical boot size.
When compared to, say, the Timberland Schazzberg Mid, the height of this boot is very tall, coming up six inches or so above the ankle. This design is great for keeping snow out of the top opening but means that it is prone to rubbing on the front of the shin. That said, the upper of this boot is very soft and flexible, so the high shaft isn't as much of a rub as some other models. All in all, there was little to complain about with this boot, and it was easy for us to recommend it to you as our favorite winter boot.
After extensive testing in cold and snowy environments, we can comfortably say that this boot offers unparalleled warmth in this category. Scoring higher than any other winter boot in our review, we were impressed at how cozy, and snug these boots fit (when properly fitted, as previous reviews noted that sizing these boots too tightly led to cold toes).
We put our feet into an icy cold bucket filled with slush and ice, and after eight minutes we still had toasty warm feet. Even while wearing the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry and the Sorel Caribou, our feet could feel the cold creeping in after a full eight minutes; in the Chilkat boots, we may as well have been sitting on a sundeck on the beach (which we weren't; we were huddled on an icy patio while it snowed). The 400g of Primaloft insulation does the trick, and while we weren't able to test these boots in -40 temps, as they are reputedly good for, we remain convinced that they would work. Perfect 10 out of 10 for warmth.
By using a thick molded upper that extends from the sole up to three inches on the foot, the water resistance of Chilkat 400 is one of its outstanding merits. This durable shell keeps water at bay, while a membrane lining is used to further bolster the water resistance of the leather upper. Submersion in the ice bath did not phase this boot one bit, and we feel confident recommending it for wet weather as well as just cold.
In the end, we scored it the same as the Columbia Bugaboot Plus III Omni-Heat, another perfectly waterproof model, because they both have a relatively similar water entry height of around 8.5 inches. What we mean is that at 8.5 inches above the bottom of the sole, water could leak in at the gap where the tongue attaches to the main shaft of the boot. We gave each of these contenders a 9 out of 10, as the only shoe to score a perfect 10 out of 10 was the Sorel Caribou, which was solid against water entry until 10.5 inches of height.
Fit and Comfort
There is no doubt that the boots in the insulated winter hiking boot category, as this one is, were not quite as plushly cozy as the softer, more loosely fitting Pac boots that we tested. That said, we think this one tied with the Vasque Snowburban UltraDry for the coziest of the bunch. There is no doubt it was more comfortable than some of the other competitors like the Keen Summit County, which was much baggier feeling. The comfort of this boot comes from the flexibility of the upper. No other boot was nearly as flexible, which can make a huge difference when walking for long distances.
Regarding fit, size this one up about a full size. User reviews on the internet refer to this boot as being short and narrow. We wholeheartedly agree with the assessment, but don't think that it is overly narrow; in fact, it seemed pretty average to us. The shortness means that there is not enough room to wiggle the toes around to help keep them warm, but even with our normal street size, we found we could wear this boot all day as long as we had a thin sock on. 8 out of 10 points.
Ease of Use
Ease of Use was this boot's poorest characteristic, but the low score was in relation to the other boots in this review, not because we thought that it was difficult to insert or remove our feet from this boot. Sliding our foot into this boot was no problem, even with the high shaft. It is relatively easy to cinch up the majority of the boot with a single pull on the places - where they cross and are attached to the tongue.
From that point, one must loop the laces around two hooks on each side and tie. The large, flat laces grip each other well and do a better job of staying tied than the round skinny laces found on the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS. While they aren't difficult to put on, they take more time and effort than the ridiculously simple slip-on boots, the Bogs Classic Ultra Mid, or the Blundstone Thermal 566, and thus ended up with a score of 5 out of 10.
The North Face claims that the rubber compound used on the bottom of these boots is temperature sensitive, and increases traction. Most of the days we spent testing these boots were in soft snow or on snowshoes. However, on the day that we performed our comparison traction test, with sunny conditions just below freezing, the rubber on the outsoles of these boots was very soft and sticky, a combination we found to work optimally on ice. They were the clear second best boot on the steep icy hill we tested them on, with only the Kamik NationPlus having superior sticking power. There is no doubt they were better than competitors like the Salomon X Ultra Winter CS WP or the Vasque Snowburban II UltraDry. We awarded them 8 out of 10 points for traction.
This is an idea choice for casual use around the house like going out to shovel the walkway but is also good looking enough to be paired with jeans to commute to work or go to school. Snowshoers and winter hikers will appreciate the high cuff that keeps snow from entering in when tromping through deep snow.
The MSRP for these boots is $150, which is about average for the boots we have tested in this review. Since we find them to be the best of the bunch, it is easy to justify the expense, and we think that they will present a great value. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck, consider our Best Buy Award winner, the Kamik NationPlus, which rings in at $85.
The North Face Chilkat 400 is the highest scoring winter boot in this review of the most popular models available on the market today. It is an incredibly warm boot that is also totally waterproof, so you can count on it to keep your feet warm when the days are cold. It is our favorite boot for winter hiking and snowshoeing and is also versatile enough to use around the house or for commuting. As long as you buy a pair that is about a size larger than your normal street shoe size, we can't imagine you not being happy and satisfied with this winter boot.
— Ryan Huetter and Andy Wellman
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