Things to Consider When Searching for the Perfect Ski Boot
The ski boots that you use are likely one of the most crucial pieces of equipment to consider when you’re about to hit the slopes. However, you need to ensure you choose boots that suit your exact needs. The ski boot that is perfect for your needs may not be right for the next person.
Someone who is a beginner or intermediate skier isn’t going to need a boot that is extremely stiff. Those who are moving over from resort skiing to more challenging environments may want to choose a boot that offers a walk-mode feature.
You also must think about what your budget looks like and how often you plan to ski in the future. If you only plan to head to the slopes a few days each year, a super expensive boot might not be needed. Many affordable narrow and wide ski boots offer excellent features, may fit your feet just as well, and offer plenty of performance for your experience level.
We’re going to dip deeper and look at all the most important factors to consider when choosing your new pair of ski boots.
Different Types of Ski Boots
There are several major types of ski boots which you will find on the market. All-mountain boots are the most common type you will run into, and there is a good reason for that. This sort of ski boot is extremely versatile and can be used with any type of ski conditions and on all sorts of terrain on the mountain.
Unlike freestyle skiing or ski racing boots, these boots are not made for a single type of skiing. On the other hand, race boots are made for one single environment, which is a racecourse. As such, race boots are very responsive and stiff to do their job right.
All-mountain boots are made to adapt to a large range of conditions on the slope. They come in various flex ratings and a large range of sizes. Many of them have an assortment of last width options, which can be a huge positive if you have quite wide or very narrow feet.
Some all-mountain boots can be broken down even further into freeride or adventure skiing shoes. These are boots that are a hybrid between backcountry boots and in-bound boots. They offer the inclusion of a walk-in mode along with soles that are created to be capable of walking over uneven terrain for longer distances without getting fatigued.
These boots are not appropriate for dedicated backcountry skiing because they can be a bit more clunky and heavier. However, they are perfect for those who need to step outside the resort’s boundaries for a short distance. They are also stiff enough to be great for all your in-bound skiing excursions.
Stiffness of Ski Boot Brands
You may have noticed that in our table, we mentioned the flex of the boot. This flex rating applies to how easy or challenging it may be to flex the boot forward. This number gives you an excellent idea of how stiff your ski boot is going to feel.
Everything from your skiing style to your ability, size, weight, and personal preference will have an impact on which flex of boot is right for your needs. Flex rating is expressed as a number. Most of the men’s models you will see rate from around 50 to 130.
If you see a higher flex number, that means that ski boot is going to be harder to flex forward and will be stiffer than a boot with a lower number. Someone who is just starting out with skiing will often get the most out of a softer flexing boot while someone who is more aggressive and capable of advanced skiing will likely appreciate a boot with harder flex.
When you move into boots with less flex, your energy is better translated into the skis and their bindings. You get a faster response time and energy isn’t wasted. As the preferred level of stiffness relates to body weight and size, many women’s boots will have a lower flex rating in terms of performance.
A basic idea of what flex rating to choose includes:
Men’s Flex Ratings:
- Beginner: 60 to 80
- Intermediate: 80 to 110
- Advanced: Over 110
Women’s Flex Ratings:
- Beginner: 50 to 60
- Intermediate: 65 to 85
- Advanced: Over 85
Sizing of a Snow Ski Boot
One of the most challenging things to home in on when shopping online is sizing of a ski boot. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as knowing your shoe size and using that to translate to a ski boot size on a chart. The truth of the matter is that the width, length, underfoot profile, and volume all need to be considered to ensure a boot fits just right.
Because this can be a complicated process, going into a local shop to get sized is the best solution. However, if this isn’t possible, you want to choose a retailer online who allows returns. You may want to order a couple of different sizes with the realization that the boots may not fit exactly as you expect.
In order to be prepared for this, there are a few pieces of terminology that you should know, which we’ll explain below.
When you look at the sizes for both men’s and women’s ski boots, you will find that they are typically listed in a unisex size called Mondo or Mondopoint. The length is measured by your foot in centimeters. Measuring your foot can be as simple as tracing the outline on a piece of paper or marking the bottom of your heel as well as the top of your toes.
While getting measured at a ski shop is the better option, this method works well at home. If you measure the tracing you made and come up with 35 centimeters, that means your Mondo size is 35. It’s as easy as that.
Each retailer and manufacturer should offer you an easy way to view a size chart that matches your typical shoe size to a ski boot size. However, you may find that your boot size is smaller than what you see on the chart because ski boots do best with a tight fit. The boot liners are typically made of foam and can mold to your feet, so a snug fit that you wear in over time is the best choice.
Also, on our chart at the start of this article, we mentioned the last of each ski boot we talked about. Last refers to the footbed width, which is another extremely important thing to consider when choosing a boot. Thankfully, most manufacturers create ski boots with various lasts in order to accommodate average, narrow, and wide feet.
Just as the Mondo size is important, so is getting the last fit right. When you are skiing down a hill, side-to-side motion happens, but a boot that is a bit too loose on the sides of your feet is going to affect your performance in a negative way.
Narrow: 97 to 98 mm
Average: 100 to 102 mm
Wide: Over 103 mm
If you have particularly narrow feet or want high performance with a great fit, something between a 97 and 98 mm range is best. Average lasts are typically between 100 and 102 mm for men and 100 mm for women. Those with wide feet are most likely to have trouble finding boots with a large last.
While the total length of the boot is measured in millimeters, the external length from toe through heel can vary even among boots that are the exact same size. You should look at the sole length of your current boots before you jump into your bindings with a new pair of boots. Having your bindings checked every season with the boots you plan to use is an excellent idea to ensure everything fits.
Even if you choose the absolute perfect fit for your ski boots, you may find that your feet are uncomfortable after a long day on the slopes. That is why it is important to consider replaceable insoles. Many downhill boot liners are removable just like with a hiking boot.
Sometimes, swapping the included boot liner for an aftermarket option that matches the profile of your foot can make a huge difference. These might provide more or less volume, better arch support, and a heel cup that holds your foot in place. Some of the top brands for boot lines include Sole and Superfeet.
Another option, albeit a more expensive solution, is to go to a boot fitter in person to have a custom footbed made. This will often cost quite a bit but may make a huge difference for someone who has stubbornly sized feet or for those who ski a lot throughout the year. Call up the nearest local ski shop and inquire about whether they offer custom footbeds.
Tips for Sizing
It’s best to try on ski boots in the afternoon as your feet may swell at higher elevations and later in the day. When you try on boots in the evening or afternoon, it is less likely that you will end up with ski boots that are too small on the powder.
You should also try on the boots while using thin synthetic or wool socks, which can wick away moisture, provide a better fit, and are more resistant to bunching up. Thick socks, on the other hand, may restrict circulation and result in your feet feeling colder than normal.
When you have a great boot fit, it will make you more comfortable, increase your performance, and reduce your risk of a foot injury. A professional boot fitter will help you find the perfect boot and make any adjustments that are needed.
What to Know About Boot Liners
In most cases, a ski boot is made up of two separate pieces: a removable liner for support, insulation and comfort and a hard plastic outer shell for strength and structure. The liner is filled with a certain amount of foam based on the type of skiing that a boot is to be used for.
While it might seem best to choose the plushest liner, this isn’t always the case. The extra soft foam is not able to hold your shin and foot as well when carving through the snow and may be less likely to mold to your feet as time goes on.
For intermediate and experienced skiers, you likely want to choose a liner that is comfortable but still supportive. As we mentioned earlier, the liner will adapt to your foot so it if feels a bit snug, don’t worry too much. However, make sure it’s not overly restrictive or that your toes aren’t pressed up against the hard shell.
All About Buckles and Strap Systems
The first thing you should know about buckles and strap systems is that they don’t vary to a large degree between brands. Most downhill ski boot buckle systems have a similar method used: two buckles run across your foot, one is at the bend by your ankle, and one is along the shin.
The best buckles are going to be made of aluminum, which offers a higher degree of durability. There are a few boots out there that look to cut some of the weight by removing the ankle buckle. However, if you are going to downhill ski, having more support and a bit higher weight is the better option.
The strap you notice on the top of the boot near your cuff is also an important facet of the boot itself. This is often called a power strap and locks in the top portion of the boot, so you get the best performance from your ski boot. This can also be more comfortable and lightweight than an additional buckle. Having the requisite number of buckles along with a power strap will help you ensure the best fit on your boot.
Choosing the Right Boot Soles
Assuming you are going for an alpine setup, boot soles are pretty standard. You want one that is DIN-rated, which means that if you take an accidental tumble, they can easily release from your downhill bindings. Most also have a standard shape that will fit any downhill binding listed as ISO 5355. Those who ski at resorts only want to avoid boots with a rockered sole or those listed for touring bindings.
One of the types of boots you will find when searching for the right one is a boot that accommodates both AT and downhill bindings. If you want to give a shot at skiing in both ways, one with a replaceable sole can save you a bit of money. Just keep in mind that these are not optimized for travel uphill. They are heavy and don’t pivot as naturally as other soles.
Weight of Your Ski Boot Choice
It has only become normal in recent years to pay much attention to the weight of a downhill ski boot. In fact, some manufacturers and retailers don’t even list this information on their website. However, due to growth in the side country and background skiing world, ski boots that are more lightweight are starting to become more common.
For uphill travel and boot packing, the benefits of a lightweight boot are fairly obvious. There is less weight for each step you take, but it can also help you control your skis when in a tight space with trees and bumps. However, it comes into question how much a lighter weight of boot will impact its durability over the long term. This used to be an issue, but it seems that this has changed in recent years.
Check out our article on the top snowboard rack.
Concerning Walk or Hike Mode
Many of the best ski boots are advertised offering a hike or walk mode. However, those modes are likely to be best used when going from the car to the resort since they do not have the flex and range of motion needed to walk long distances comfortably. These boots also tend to be heavier than other ski boots.
However, that doesn’t mean these boots have no place in the world of skiing. Those who prefer to downhill ski but also enjoy light hiking will find these boots offer the features they prefer. However, if you do any hiking uphill, this might not be the best solution.
Mistakes to Avoid When Shopping for Ski Boots
Now that you are aware of the basics needed to purchase a great pair of ski boots, there are a few other tips that might be helpful. There are a few mistakes that you want to avoid making when choosing the right ski boots to add to your closet. We wanted to share a few of these so you can be sure to purchase the best ski boots without any mistakes.
Choosing the Wrong Flex Level
Years ago, most skiers with narrow feet would end up using oversized, soft boots or a stiff and narrow boot designed for racing regardless of what kind of skiing they planned to do. Nowadays, there are a huge number of flex levels to choose from. We went over this above, but remember that the larger the number is, the stiffer the boot is going to be.
If you have a boot fitter near you, they can assist you with finding the perfect flex based on your ability level, size, weight, and style of skiing. That said, those who want the most speed and who may be larger are most likely to want the stiffest boots possible.
Selecting the Boot Someone Else Loves
If you have a friend, spouse, or family member who is pushing you toward a certain pair of ski boots, it might seem reasonable to purchase that specific boot. The problem is that even if that boot is absolutely perfect for someone else, that doesn’t mean that it will provide what you need. What matters more is which boot best fits you and has the features that will come into play while on the snow.
Ski shops, both online and offline, offer a huge number of brands and many of them are good. However, they all offer different fits, flexes, lasts, and extra characteristics. It’s better to decide on your own, based on all the factors we’ve talked about, which ski boot is right for you rather than taking someone else’s opinion and running with it.
Selecting a Boot that is Too Large
If you listen to the experts, nearly ¾ of people purchase a ski boot that is one or even two sizes too large for them. Having boots that are too loose, too large, or too wide can decrease the amount of skill that you have while out there skiing. For those who are new to the sport, having the right size can make a huge difference in how skiing feels.
Those who are more experienced with skiing may notice that boots which run too large can lead to cold feet, pressure points, shin bang, and skier’s toe, all things that you don’t want to deal with when having fun on the slopes. It’s worth it to be sure the boots you choose fit you if you want to ensure you have a great time.
Focusing Too Much on Aesthetics
There are a huge number of ski shoes out on the market, which means you are going to see all sorts of styles, colors, and shapes to choose from. On the one hand, this is a great thing because you are likely to find a boot that you enjoy looking at. However, you also need to keep in mind that aesthetics are not everything.
If the boots you choose look great but don’t fit your ability, feet, needs, or budget, they are not the boots you should invest your hard earned money on. While many people choose boots based on the way they look, you want to find a boot that properly fits you and then choose based on the options available to you.
Not Paying Enough Attention to Last
We mentioned above that the last size gives you the width of the boots at their widest point, which is located at the ball or forefront of your foot. Years ago, most racing and high-performance boots were created with narrow lasts between about 95 and 98 mm while intermediate and beginner boots have a wider last at 102 to 106 mm. The problem with this is that even expert skiers who had larger feet were forced to buy boots that were too big in order to accommodate the wideness.
Nowadays, things have changed. You can get racing and high-performance boots in a huge variety of lasts so anyone can choose a boot that fits them well. Rather than going up a size to get a roomier boot, you can choose the correct last and avoid the problem altogether.
Now that you have all the information you need to buy a great pair of ski boots you can decide if the ones on our list meet your needs. If they do not, you can easily peruse other options while knowing how to be sure they will stand up to the type of skiing you plan to do. Consider all the features and how you will be using the boots and then select based on those factors.
Once you peruse the boots here, you will likely find one that fits your needs and style. Take your time and have fun with it while checking out the most important features. Have a great time on the slopes!