What ski boots should I get? What is a touring ski boot? What type of boot is best for me? How does a good fit feel? The questions are many when it comes to buying ski boots. But it is without a doubt the most important part of your ski equipment. This is a all you need to know guide to buying the best ski boots for you.
Buying ski boots is hard. There’s an immense amount of models, variations and difficult words to keep track of. Plus the fact that they actually have to fit your feet. The positive thing is if you find that perfect model FOR YOU, you don’t have to change for more than a decade.
The fit of the ski boots is the most important thing, and the thing that most often makes your ski boots suck. Producer make ski boots from a 90 mm last to a 110 generally speaking. Most commonly they are around 100mm. The width of the inside of the boot should match your foot. Get it measured!
Measuring it is easy. Measure the length, measure the width, measure the height of your ankle, and measure if your foot is wide over the toes or the heel (It is often the toes). Measure while putting weight over your foot like you would if you where skiing.
The width of the boots should be displayed on the label of the box containing the boots. Another reliable source of information is Ridebrain.
Find the boots that match your foots dimension and try away. Trying the boots means walk around in the boots, flex, jump, run and bend. Be patient. Try to keep some forward lean in the boots. This way you can feel the flex (more on this later), but more importantly you are in a position you spend most of your time skiing in. Standing upright will cause your toes to bang the front of the boot and the fit isn’t correct.
How to choose the correct ski boot
Measure your foot. Length, width and height of ankle
Look up the last width of the boots, if possible, look up ankle height.
If possible, try out a number of boots that fits your foot on paper.
Walk around in the boots. Flex, jump, run and bend.
Warning signs. You decide
Just because someone once said ”boots are supposed to hurt”, doesn’t mean that it’s true. It’s a little bit true for some skiers. Racers for example, need extremely tight boots. That might mean pain. However, world cup racers usually get their boots custom made, from scratch, at the factory. Unless you have that opportunity, there’s no need to do as they do. Listen to what you feel works best. Boots are tight, and yes, they might hurt a bit. But the thing is, boots that are too big can hurt aswell.
Do you have problematic or sensitive feet? Have you tried a number of ski boots that don’t feel good? Then the boot doctor is your man. A boot doctor is someone who knows everything there is to know about a ski boot. And has a bit of autonomy knowledge on the foot. Its a mixture of a doctor, a carpenter and a ski bum. Describe your problems for him and he will find a solution. There are a bunch of modifications you can do with a ski boot. Make it a little broader, expand the toe box, increase the ankle height and the list goes on.
Skiing & Bindings
You need to figure out what you’ll be using the boots for. And what bindings they need to work with. Ask yourself questions like these:
With answers to all these questions, you’ll get a feel for which category your future boots belong to.
These questions are important and especially ”how much do I ski.” Why it is important how much I ski? Almost all ski boots take some time to brake them in. This process can be shortened with a thermo liner (more under Liner). So if you just ski one week per year you should buy a more comfortable boot since each week you ski each year you will break it in. Since you never have time to fully break it in.
Different types of boots
Let’s get into what we all came here for, some actual ski boots.
There are as many ways of putting boots into categories as there are boots, to be honest. We’ve chosen these:
Super stiff and tight boots. These are precision tools. For recreational skiers, they’re often too unforgiving. But if you like charging hard, going fast and want to feel every single snowflake, they might be for you. Good skiers of different styles use them, not just racers.
This is your typical, no gimmick ski boot. The idea is to deliver precise performance and feedback from the snow to your feet. They should fit quite tight, but there’s definitely room for personal preference here. A huge number of ski boots fit into this category. The flex can vary greatly, and so can liners and construction. Examples of boots in this category are the Lange RX-line, Nordica Speedmachine and Tecnica Mach1.
Usually, freeriding mean big lines, off piste in both powder and ice, and jumping cliffs and pillows. Boots in this category are stiff with some dampening to them. They can also have walk mode and tech inserts to accommodate all sorts of bindings and uses. The Tecnica Cochise could be the epitome of this. The legendary Dalbello Krypton Pro also belong here.
Lots of dampening here, and generally a little softer flex. Park skiers use boots from the above categories as well. Full Tilt Tom Wallisch or B&E are definite park slayers.
Any boots with a walk mode and tech inserts can be ski touring boots. But ski touring can be divided into many subcategories. To us, this category is boots made for walking, but also for skiing. If you’re walking to get to good skiing, but not necessarily extreme skiing, this is for you. Dynafit Hoji Pro is a nice example of ski touring boots made for great walking and great skiing.
All over the world people are walking up the groomed slopes at their local hill or resort early in the morning, to catch some virgin corduroy. Focused on the up, these boots weigh less, have more range of motion than your ankle and can get you down in one piece. A lot of them are used for long spring missions, big traverses or expedition style skiing. Dynafit TLT8, Atomic Backland Carbon and Arc’teryx Procline fit well here.
Same name but the complete opposite from the other race. This is about running uphill with skis on your feet. Boots are made from carbon fibre and small pieces of metal.
All boots have different flex patterns. Comparing them is difficult. The ”scale” that brands use for their boots isn’t really a scale at all. The numbers are usually some what relevant when comparing boots from the same line. Higher number, stiffer boot. But a 130 from one brand does not have be like a 130 from another brand.
Flex is not just how much force it takes for you to bend the boots forward. It’s also the character of the resistance, the range of the flex and how it changes. Temperature is also a factor, different plastics behave differently in alternating temperatures. More under plastics further down.
Don’t look too much at flex numbers. You’ve probably been told that ”you need a 130-flex”. Just because brands often name their top of the line boots as ”130-flex” doesn’t mean it they’re automatically the best. It doesn’t mean that they’re automatically anything actually.
Your liner should be thermo moldable. A
It doesn’t have to be, but this is the biggest breakthrough to make your ski boots comfortable since the 60s. You can mold it yourself at home, but doing it with a bootfitter will yield a better result. They don’t hold forever though, so you might have to redo it in the spring. A normal liner last about a 100 days before they’re packed out.
There’s the option of making a custom liner by foam injection as well. For some, it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s quite expensive, but can be worth it if your feet are problematic. Keep in mind that it renders walk-modes useless, and don’t last forever. Plus you still need to find a shell that fits you. However this turns out great for most people but the price tag is thereafter.
The latest trend in buying boots is that you have to have custom footbeds. This is not true. Custom footbeds are there to strengthen the arch of your foot. Collapsing of your arch will cause you a painful cramp that pretty much disables you from skiing. At least good. With this said. Pretty much everybody above recreational level uses custom footbeds and they help many people enjoy skiing. Plus protecting your joints (knee, hips) since a collapsed arch can put stress on them.
But there are also people who experience pain from a custom sole. Standing on a bun can sometimes disrupt the circulation to the foot somewhat, which ironically also causes cramp. But to put it in figures, our experience would say that 80-90% experience an improvement with custom footbeds.
Ski boots are made of plastic, and different plastics feel and perform very differently from one another. So knowing which plastics are used in your ski boots, and their pros and cons and general performance characteristics can help you find the best boot for you. The shells of ski boots are made of polymer plastics. There are three types of plastics that are the most common that you will find in 99,9% of ski boots. Polyurethane (PU), polypropylene (PP) or Polyamide. These can be broken down into sub categories. For example Polyurethane comes in low-grade, mid-grade and high-grade. But lets not get to sciency cause this doesn’t matter if you’re not close to Ingemar Stenmarks record of 86 world cup wins. Often the shell of a ski boot can be a mix of these plastics with different amount or densities. Or different parts of the boots. Each component of a boot can be made of different types of plastics, so be sure to check each of the injected parts like the lower shell, the cuff, and the grip pad. To tell what type of plastic a component is, look for a stamp with abbreviations (like PP, PU, PA) and an arrow will indicate which it is. This is so that different areas can be optimized for strength, stiffness, flex, comfort and putting the boot on.
Overview of Plastics (ordered roughly from less expensive to more expensive):
Generally the least expensive plastic
Atomic primarily uses PP in their kids’ boots or price point productsGeneral Pros:
PP is affordable, lightweight, and temperature stableGeneral Cons:
Not durable, not progressive, and not easily fitted, because it can deform under a heat gun or melt during grinding
Represents a step up in performance from PP plastics
Most adult alpine ski boots are made from PU plastics — but there is a wide range of PU plastics used for ski boots, from low-end to high-end.General Pros:
Produces a “progressive” flex pattern. Good durability. Easily fitted, and can be melted back down and reused.General Cons:
Heavy, less temperature stable, and can be very expensive
Atomic chops up and reuses their PUs to upcycle into entry-level adult boots in order to reduce waste during the production processPros:
General performance benefits of PU, more environmentally conscious, and cost-effectiveCons:
Limited stiffness, and can only come in a black colorway
Often misleadingly represented by ski boot companies as “PEs” — but shouldn’t be confused with Polyethylene, which fall under the “PP” category
Often used for mid- to high-end boots, like junior race bootsPros:
Progressive flex, durable, easily fittedCons:
Doesn’t have the “ideal” rebound and damping of more expensive PUs
The Gold Standard. PU-Ether is used in World Cup race boots.Pros:
Progressive flex, durable, easily fitted, easily colored, can have a range of rebound speedsCons:
Expensive, heavy, not temperature stable
Used in touring bootsGrilamid:
a commonly used, specific brand of “PA”, but not all PAs are Grilamid. (E.g., “Kleenex” is a brand of tissue, but not all tissue is “Kleenex”)Pebax:
(while not technically / chemically a PA) can be grouped in this category and can sometimes have issues with punchingGeneral Pros:
Lightweight, durable, easily fitted, progressive flex (but the flex pattern tends to be ‘springy’), temperature stableGeneral Cons:
PA is the most expensive plastic, and it’s difficult to color
Important Characteristics of Different Plastics:Durability:
Different plastics are more or less resistant to scratches and chips from use. Durability also is a major factor in boot fitting, because certain plastics behave differently when heated, ground, or punched.Weight:
That is, the weight of a particular plastic per volume. Specific weight plays a major role in the overall weight of a boot, along with how thick the walls of a boot are designed to be — which is another factor that’s affected by the plastic type.Temperature Stability:
How similarly or differently the plastic behaves and feels at warm air temperatures (e.g., inside, or on very warm days on the mountain) vs. cold air temperatures.Cost:
The range of costs of various plastics is massive, and plays a major role in the development, the design, and the price of different boot models.