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Buyer's guide for ski boots and touring ski boots

Ski boots: transmitting power from your legs to your skis

Ski boots are one of the most vital parts of your ski setup. The key to a natural skiing position is a well-fitting pair of ski boots and only when you feel comfortable can you perform at your best.

Ski boots transfer energy from your leg muscles into your bindings which then transfer that energy into the skis. As the first point of energy transfer, manufacturers really focus on quality of function, materials and design. Producers like Atomic, Full Tilt and Salomon use only the highest quality components and are constantly improving their ski boot offerings year on year.

  1. Skier type: your riding preferences
    1. Freeride and all-mountain ski boots
    2. Freestyle and jib ski boots
  2. Flex: the resistance of your ski boots
  3. Size: getting the right fit
    1. Length: the length of your foot from heel to toe
    2. Width: last width
  4. Liners: high tech solutions for comfort and warmth
    1. Atomic – Memory Fit
    2. Full Tilt – Quick Fit™ Liner Technology, 3-piece design
    3. Salomon – Custom Shell 360°, My Custom Fit 3D
    4. Insoles: improve your fit
  5. Outer shell: the shell of your ski boot
    1. Buckles: ski boot closure systems
    2. Full Tilt: the boot with the cables
  6. Ski boot soles: binding compatibility

1. Skier type: your riding preferences

Just like with skis, ski boots are also sorted into a couple of categories: freeride & all-mountain and freestyle & jib. Once you’ve decided which style is for you the most important thing is that they fit comfortably. Just read on for more info.

Limited edtition Full Tilt 3-piece ski boot (shoe, liner, tongue)
Limited edtition Full Tilt 3-piece ski boot (shoe, liner, tongue)

1.1 Freeride & all-mountain ski boots

Freeride and all-mountain ski boots come in two different varieties: hike oriented and ride oriented.

  • Hike oriented boots are lighter and easier to walk in. Their soles can be coated with rubber to give you better grip on icier, steeper terrain.
  • Ride oriented boots offer more stability and control.

Both types of freeride boots have to …

  • … be able to ride once needed to.
  • … be capable of quick, challenging descents.
  • … can be padded to reduce shocks.

And if you want to go touring or hiking …

  • … they should be comfortable and have enough range of motion in the cuff enough for hiking.
  • … they should be compatible with touring bindings.
  • … they let you walk as naturally as possible so you can overcome rocky or more difficult terrain.

1.2 Freestyle & jib ski boots

Freestyle & jib boots have to be able to cope with intense spinning and jumping motions without restricting the rider so they’re often equipped with a softer flex than freeride boots.

A good pair of freestyle boots should …

  • … be lightweight for initiating spins
  • … have good shock absorption
  • … have a softer flex for forgiveness in the park

2. Flex: the resistance of your ski boots

The stiffness of ski boots, as with skis, is also given a numerical rating. This rating is an indication of how easily a pair of ski boots bend forwards or, more specifically how much your ski boot resists the forward movement of your shin. The higher the number the stiffer the boot. So it takes more energy to flex it.

Unfortunately, there’s no universal flex index for manufacturers to use so one brand might give their flex ratings on a scale from 50-130 while another might use a 1-10 scale. It’s easier to just describe boots as being soft, medium, stiff or super stiff.

When choosing your flex it’s important to take into account your

  • riding ability
  • riding style, terrain, speed, predominant snow conditions and
  • size/weight

4 or up to 80 6 or 90-100 8 or 110-120 10 or 130+
Characteristics Soft Medium Stiff Super Stiff
Ability Beginner Intermediate Advanced Expert
Terrain Jib/Freestyle Freeride/All-Mountain Hard pistes, Racing
Speed Low Medium High
Snow conditions Soft/average Hard
Body size Small Medium Large
Weight Light Average Heavy

This table is designed to show you which characteristics are recommended for which riding style. If you find the characteristics you’re looking for are somewhere between two different flex grades, just take the average. Thus, pro freestylers, for example, might go with a stiff flex while beginners might go for a medium-stiff flex.

Size and weight are important factors since the larger you are the more leverage you have. With more leverage and more weight it’s much easier to flex a ski boot – that’s why you should go with a stiffer flex.

Ski boot with four buckles from Nordica
Ski boot with four buckles from Nordica

3. The size: getting the right fit

By far the most important factor to consider when buying new ski boots is the fit. Simply put: if you’re not comfortable in your boots you’re not going to ski as long or as well. Fit is paramount but other factors can influence your comfort too, such as stiffness, features and material.

3.1 Length: the length of your foot from heel to toe

Just how big should your boot be then? With the boots all buckled up you don’t want your toes to be touching the end of your boot but have a little bit of wiggle room. When you stand up straight your heel should only shift slightly forwards and your toes should touch the end of your boot. If your toes don’t tickle the end of the boot when you stand up straight it’s a sign that the boots are too big. The right ski boot should buckle up in such a way as to give you a good foothold. You shouldn’t have to heave and tug and battle with the buckles to get them tight enough to grip your feet properly. If you do they’re too big.

Ski boot sizes are given using the Mondopoint system so all you need to do is measure the length of your foot from your heel to your longest toe when the foot is rested against a hard surface.

If you’re not looking for a really aggressive fit consider adding an extra 0.5 – 1 cm for comfort. Below you’ll find a little table that should act as a theoretical guide to choosing your ski boot size. Of course, we strongly recommend coming in to one of our Blue Tomato stores to try them on in person so you can get the best fit possible.

Mondopoint in cm – foot sole length conversion table
EU 35,5 36 37 37,5 38 39 39,5 40 41 41,5 42 42,5 43 44 44,5 45 46 46,5 47 47,5 48 49 49,5
UK 3 3,5 4 4,5 5 5,5 6 6,5 7 7,5 8 8,5 9 9,5 10 10,5 11 11,5 12 12,5 13 13,5 14
Mondopoint 22,5 23 23,5 24 24,5 25 25,5 26 26,5 27 27,5 28 28,5 29 29,5 30 30,5 31 31,5 32
Junior 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

3.2 Width: last widths

How wide should your ski boots exactly be? When it comes to width you want to measure the widest point of your foot. This width corresponds to the last width of the boot which is given in Millimetres, e.g. 92 mm or 103 mm.

A boot up to 99 mm forefoot is a narrower last, 99 mm to 101 mm are medium and above 102 mm are categorised as wider boots. You should pick a boot which is closest to the actual width of your foot to receive the best power transmission. Narrower boots are usually reserved for high-performance and race boots as they offer the best foothold. However, unless you have narrower feet they can be uncomfortable. If you’re looking for supreme performance and foothold you can go for a narrower boot but you might sacrifice comfort.

It can be tempting to go for model which is wider and longer than your foot as initially it will feel more comfortable. However, this is one of the most common mistakes to make when buying ski boots. The liner will wear in leaving your foot to move around in the boot. This could lead to you trying to grip with your toes or your foot sliding around and slamming against the shell of your boot.

4. Liners: high tech solutions for comfort and warmth

The liner is one of the most important elements of a ski boot as it’s the contact point between the boot and your foot and lower leg.

Its role is to keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable. Nobody enjoys riding when their toes are frozen and wet. But a liner also has some serious climate control responsibilities too. If things get too hot in there your foot will start to sweat and that’s not comfortable either. Your ski boot liners should be breathable and deal with climate control issues effectively.

Your liners, in conjunction with the other elements, also play a huge role when it comes to riding comfort. But every foot is different so manufacturers had to be pretty inventive. Heat-mouldable liners conform to your foot and lower leg for optimised comfort.

Wrap liner and shell of a Dalbello ski boot
Wrap liner and shell of a Dalbello ski boot

4.1 Atomic – Memory Fit

To guarantee incredible fit in their Hawx or Redster models Atomic have equipped them with their amazing Memory Fit technology. The boot shell is heated in an oven before you put the liner inside and try on the entire boot. The liner moulds perfectly to the shape of your foot and lower leg. As the boot actively cools around your feet and legs each element of the boot remembers your foot shape. This reduces the likelihood of pressure points and friction areas, giving you a perfect individual fit.

4.2 Full Tilt – Quick Fit™ Liner Technology, 3-piece design

Full Tilt are all about making their boots as customisable as possible using one simple concept: each part is available separately so certain elements like flex can be easily adjusted or sent off for repair. The innovative 3-piece shell is super easy to personalise.

Full Tilt’s liners with Quick Fit Technology™ use Intuition® closed cell foam, an amazing foam that moulds to your feet either in the shop using boot ovens and hot air blowers or with the heat from your feet.

4.3 Salomon – Custom Shell 360°, My Custom Fit 3D

Salomon also let you customise your ski boots to fit your feet perfectly. Thermo-formable liners give you a never-before-felt level of comfort that’s totally customised to your foot shape. Add to that padded areas, shock absorbing pads and innovative shell reinforcements and you’ve got one hell of a ski boot from Salomon.

4.4 Insoles: improve your fit

If you want to improve the fit of your boot by relieving any pressure points or by compensating for any misalignment you can use insoles just like with normal shoes. Certain insoles will adjust to your foot or just improve comfort by supporting your arch.

Either way, a good insole can improve your stability and comfort by helping you stand more naturally in your boots.

5. Outer shell: the shell of your ski boot

The shell keeps all of the important parts of your ski boot together. It’s usually made of a high quality polyurethane or polypropylene plastic designed to withstand all the stresses and strains of the mountains and to transfer energy to your bindings as efficiently as possible.

Touring ski boot from Atomic
Touring ski boot from Atomic

5.1 Buckles: ski boot closure systems

Buckles and hook and loop closure systems are what keep your boots closed. In combination with the liner they’re absolutely integral to a well-fitting boot.

When we take a closer look at boot closure systems there are a number of variables:

  • Number of buckles
  • Buckle length adjustment
  • The angle/orientation of the buckles
  • The position of the buckles
  • Buckle material
  • Velcro straps

Traditionally, ski boots have three to four buckles per boot, though some models (usually freestyle) come with just two. The distribution of the buckles on the shell lets you adjust the way your boot fits in specific areas. Being able to adjust the length of your buckle (how loose or tight you fasten your buckle)is important. The more precisely you can adjust the loop length the more you can adjust the fit of your boot for maximum comfort. You can also adjust the fit by adjusting the angle of the buckles.

Some manufacturers let you adjust the positioning of your buckles, others are fixed in place. Make sure you can get into your boots easily and that tension is spread equally across the whole shell. Maintaining consistent angles across the buckles reduces the tension on the material and gives you a more uniform foothold.

Even the material the buckle is made of makes a difference since they’re in the most exposed position on the ski boot. To guarantee they’re robust enough manufacturers usually go for aluminium or durable plastics.

Not all ski boots come with a Velcro strap at the top of the cuff but it’s very practical in terms of providing a bit of additional hold at the boot’s highest point. What’s more, you can strap your ski boots together and hang them over your shoulder for ease of transport.

5.2 Full Tilt: the boot with cables

Alongside the traditional buckles Full Tilt boots also feature a cable system. A loop of cable is fixed in place around a hook on the other side of the boot. This lets you precisely control the fit of the shell, helping you avoid any unwanted pressure points.

6. Ski boot soles: binding compatibility

One of the most important things when buying your new ski boots is making sure that they’re compatible with your bindings. There are plenty of different sole systems on the market but they aren’t all compatible with all bindings systems although the trend is shifting towards a universal standard.

Tech bindings require a ski boot with special heel and toe slots. This is predominantly found on Dynafit products so you need to be really careful to make sure your bindings and boots are compatible.

Although normal ski boots are becoming more and more suited for touring you still need to be wary of the difference between touring boots and normal ski boots. Hiking oriented touring boots are lighter and more comfortable to walk in than riding oriented boots, though riding oriented boots offer more stability and control over your skis.

“Walk To Ride”, also known as WTR, is a new trend for ski boot soles. These robust WTR soles are rubber coated for extra grip and slightly rounded so your foot can roll over in a more ergonomic way, making it far easier to walk in your ski boots. Just make sure your bindings are WTR compatible.

Freeride touring ski boots often have interchangeable soles. Their soles are designed for touring and freeride action but with a change of the sole also fit into piste bindings. This means you’re not bound to one specific type of binding but you can use a whole range instead.