Synthetic down, recycled rubber, and ripstop PET or sheepskin, wool, and suede? The humble Ugg boot is facing stiff (yet, oh so soft) competition from the upstart down bootie. Matt did some hardcore testing to find out which winter slippers he preferred.


We’re serious about wearing the right shoes at We Are Explorers. We’ve debated the pros and cons of burly hiking boots or agile trail runners and we’ve been known to ask why are outdoor shoes so uncomfortable

Reviewing outdoor gear can be hard, dirty work. Run through puddles and for long distances in some trail shoes. Test a coffee filter on zero sleep. Surf in cold water to test a neoprene-free wetsuit

However, nothing could have prepared me for this gruelling comparison. 

The (self-commissioned) brief? Spend a few weeks walking around the house in a pair of Ugg Boots and a pair of The North Face’s popular and luxuriously puffy Thermoball Traction Mule slippers


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


I walked to the clothesline, I took the bins out. I walked up the road for a coffee and drove to the beach to check the surf. I helped a friend move a couch in them and tested both pairs lying on my own couch. I conducted rigorous sound-tests by walking along timber floored corridors at varying, albeit leisurely paces holding tea and tested the grip after spilling said tea.  

Heck, I’m even wearing them right now as I type.

Before getting into how each pair performed, let’s inspect our two feet burritos up close.

Ugg Boots

They need no introduction. Ugg boots have been around since the 1920s (according to Wikipedia and judging by the look of the pair my Dad owns) and were popularised by Australian surfers in the 1970s. 

My own pair used for this comparison doesn’t look any different from the sandy pairs worn by surfers fifty years ago. They’re approaching 10 years old and have the exploding toe with exposed wool stuffing to show for it, but are in otherwise solid condition.


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?

Down Boots/Slippers

These booties or slippers can be filled with duck or goose down, or in the case of the Thermoball Traction Mules — synthetic insulation.

They’re a lighter and lower profile offering than the classic Uggs and are popular in cold climates and ski towns. They’re commonly seen out winter camping or inside huts and the rubber soles with grippy luggs make them perfect for walking around a capsite or collecting firewood. 


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


After countless hours and maybe half a dozen total kilometres, here’s how each pair of foot ovens compared to each other in some key departments.


The name of the game here truly is comfort. There’s no denying both types of footwear have this in spades, but they do still feel very different. 

Wearing Ugg boots feels like a soft woollen blanket is wrapped loosely around your feet. They’re floppy, heavy, and fun.


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


Wearing down boots feel like having a sleeping bag scaled down for just your feet. You feel way more locked in, but in kind of a comforting, bear-huggy, cosy way.


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


The down boots are a much more precise fit, more akin to a pair of Vans or Converse than a loose, bouncy slip-on boot.

The Thermoball Traction Mules both have padding stitched throughout the forefoot. The quilted construction means the Eco insulation stays in place and the baffles are highly efficient at warming the tootsies. 

For those that want a looser, more cumbersome fit — not necessarily a bad thing — go for the Uggs. 

For a more snug, secure and nimble fit, the down boots are for you.


From my rigorous testing during brisk Sydney mornings between the 5 — 15 degrees Celsius mark, the down slippers win in the warmth department. The bonus of synthetic insulation is they also retain their warmth when wet.

I’m looking forward to wearing these in the snow this season and hopefully on some winter camps. The only caveat is the low ankle cuff, so socks are critical when it gets really cool. However, a proper bootie option is also available

However, I found socks are a good addition when it gets a little warmer too as they help to wick moisture away from the boots and your feet. I found my feet could get pretty warm (sweaty) when wearing them on hotter days and doing more rigorous activities — like moving a couch — but I was too lazy to take them off they were just so damn comfy!


As mentioned in the intro, I’ve had my Ugg boots for nearly 10 years now, something that can’t be said for any other pairs of shoes that I own. 

For this reason, the durability nod has to go to the Uggs. That’s not to say the down boots won’t last years and years though. 

The exterior upper in the Traction Mules is made from 100% recycled PET ripstop with a durable water-repellent finish to keep them dry. The outsole is made from 20% recycled rubber (40% on the boot cut length) and there’s around a 5cm lip that extends above the sole up the shoe that’s made from a more hard-wearing and waterproof material that appears especially durable – And carbon-esque. 


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


The upper on the Traction Mules is definitely more fragile and susceptible to rips or tears than the suede Uggs but I would say they feel way more solid than they look.


My Traction Mules weigh in at just 231 grams per shoe, while my standard singular Ugg boot is pushing 600 grams. 

The Mules not only win when it comes to weight, but they also pack down and compress really well, so you could conceivably chuck them in an overnight pack and enjoy them at a campfire somewhere. I can guarantee you’ll be the envy of everyone else’s toes after a day hiking.


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?

You might notice the articulated triangle shaped hinge under the ankle? This stitched hinge folds down so you can slip your feet straight over the top of the heel and wear them as true slippers without pulling the heel up — A good hack when ducking outside for a brief minute.


Ugg boots and down boots definitely aren’t built for the runway. 

The baffled look of the down boots might not be for everyone, but I rate the novelty factor. Did someone say Gorpcore? They look neat and the black colourway helps keep them fairly low profile. If you want to really fly under the radar, The North Face also make them in a men’s camo print. While the women have the option of ‘wasabi/harbour blue’ or ‘gardenia white’. 

One of the alleged creators of Ugg Boots, Frank Mortel, is said to have named his company’s sheepskin boots ‘ugg boots’ because his wife said they were ‘ugly’. For this reason, I’ve got to give the visual points — and novelty points — to the down gang.

Cleaning and Washability

Earlier I mentioned the wicking properties of the down booties and while the ugg boots are arguably better at moisture management with their being wool, the booties have one major advantage. Washability. 

The felt lined inner soles of the down booties are removable, so you can chuck them in the sun if they’re feeling (and smelling) a little vitamin D deficient. While I’m not game enough to chuck them in the washing machine with their rubber outsoles, some folks on the internet have reportedly done so with success on hand wash mode.


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


Both forms of footwear pride themselves on sustainable construction and materials. 

The brand ‘Ugg®’ utilises ethically-sourced sheepskin, leathers, suede, wool, down, cotton, and hemp. They only use suppliers that meet their strict ethical sourcing and animal welfare policy

Meanwhile, The North Face has replaced the traditional ‘down’ in their down booties with a synthetic alternative to down — their Thermoball Eco insulation.

Both premium brands make a product that greatly considers its impact, so it depends a lot on personal preference as far as the materials relied on and what is the most sustainable.


The Thermoball Traction Booties retail for $140 and the lower ankled Thermoball Traction V Mules for $130. Wild Earth currently has them for $107.95 and the booties available for $116.95.

This is compared to Ugg boots which can sit anywhere along the $120-$200 range and even up to $280 for the proper Ugg brand-name experience. 

I would say both are perfectly good value for money considering their longevity — and the longevity I expect to get from the Thermoball boots.


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?

The winning slipper?

So, who is the winner of our winter slipper Cinderella story? 

For a reliable, light and packable little foot burrito, the Thermoball Traction Mules are my pick for the most comfortable and inviting pair to wear. 

There’s something to be said about getting excited to wear a pair of shoes and I expect to be exclusively in these puppies all winter long. 


Shop Men’s Slipper

Shop Women’s Slipper


Down Boots Versus Ugg Boots — Which Is The Ultimate Winter Shoe?


Matt was given The North Face Thermoball Traction Mules for testing and was allowed to keep them afterwards. He was allowed to say whatever the heck he wanted about them in this comparison. Check out our Editorial Standards for more!

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