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Originally published Monday, December 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Best kids' snow boots on a budget

What stands up to snow and crackle-top puddles encountered by the pre-K-through-8 set, for $50 or less?

CHICAGO — Snow boots may be the one wardrobe necessity that children don't fight wearing. Who doesn't feel a bit mightier after stepping into them?

And some are as cozy as a blankie.

But let's get one thing straight: Most Uggs and knockoffs are not snow boots (and have never pretended they were). Moisture can seep through the suede.

What stands up to snow and crackle-top puddles encountered by the pre-K-through-8 set, for $50 or less? Kamik, which boasts the No. 1-selling kids' winter boot in North America (the Rocket, $45-$54 at zappos.com), and Sorel are among the best sellers at zappos.com, says Andy Hsieh, Zappos' director of children's merchandising.

"Stride Rite, Hush Puppies and Skechers make some good, very affordable boots too," he said.

"Right now more than ever, the majority of parents that shop our site feel price is important. Parents are always willing to spend a little bit more for their children, so quality is still in there, but they don't want to spend $100."

Function trumps fashion. Even so, parents should make sure their children like the boots, says Catherine Cook, marketing director for the Montreal-based Kamik. "If they refuse to wear it, the boot will not get worn," she says.

Perhaps to the dismay of young stompers, many brands are lightening up their boots. Kamik introduced a line called the Synergy-Light collection, boasting that it's 35 percent lighter than the average kids' winter boot. (Prices are around $65.) Indeed, Target has a perfectly cute toddler snow boot under its Circo brand for $14.99, but one mom at Target complained to her husband that it felt too heavy for when she has to carry their child.

Cook cites a few other features to look for in any boot.

Fit: Toes should be wiggleable. A too-tight boot restricts circulation, causing feet to freeze faster.

Rugged outsole: For grip on snow and ice patches.

Protection at the top: A drawstring or other closure at the top prevents snow and slush from sneaking in.

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Lining: A key to seal out moisture.

Proper temperature rating: A boot that is rated to minus 100 degrees might be a bit much for a two-block trek to the library. Too much warmth can cause the foot to overheat and sweat. Once the child stops moving, the perspiration cools and the chill sets in.

Hiker hybrid: A hybrid between hiking boot and snow boot, L.L. Bean's new Wildcat Boots are made of waterproof suede and Cordura nylon with a waterproof membrane for extra protection. In boys and girls colors, $49.50 at L.L. Bean.

Toddler snow boots: The cheapest waterproof ones we found: Circo Nadina and Nectar boots, $14.99 at Target. Others: The new Lands' End Character Snow Flurry Boots, $29.50 at landsend.com. Kamik Kid's Frosty for $34 at zappos.com. L.L. Bean's Snow Tread Boots for $34.50 at L.L. Bean. Stride Rite's Cold Front II, $34 at zappos.com.

For Ugg lovers: If your little girl loves Uggs but is young and rational enough to accept substitutes, L.L. Bean's faux shearling boots are less expensive and more weather-worthy than some variations. A waterproof suede upper is reinforced by a waterproof membrane. $49.50 at llbean.com (some sizes were sold out on our last check) and stores.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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