Alpine Touring Boots - The purchasing decision

Introduction

At the outset let me state that this is an impossibly large and mutable topic. Everyone's feet are different. The universe of boots keeps changing. The weakest link in the chain though is the skier. Generally men think they're better than they are; women think they're not as good as they are; which results in boot choices being made on the basis of ego rather than honest self-assessment.

Now that I've insulted almost the entire population of potential boot buyers, this article first assumes you want to buy some Alpine Touring (AT) boots because you may possibly do some ski touring. Second , the article then defines some categories of boots to try to make sense of the universe of AT boots. Third the article will give links to resources both in the Tetongravity Forums and on other websites which provide boot reviews.

A follow-up article will present highly opinionated suggestions on which boot to buy. As of the start of the 2013 - 14 season my picks are the Dynafit Vulcan and the Scarpa Maestrale RS


Testing alpine boots in the Duffey - Dec 2012

Scarpa Maestrale RS on the Diamond Glacier at Icefall Lodge


FIT

The most important thing in any footwear is fit. This goes especially for AT boots which must be comfortable on the up and fit well enough to have decent performance on the down. AT boots are inherently about compromises. It would be impossible to make something that is "perfect" for both up and down. Therefore the first priority is to get something that fits well and work from there. Fit is a big topic in of itself. Experienced bootfitters are worth their weight in gold and are trained and compensated accordingly. Explore this exceedingly complex topic and begin the process of educating yourself by reading this educational thread and discussing it in the forums. Or better yet buy your boot from a place where you can talk to a bootfitter who can see your feet and work with your boots. In Whistler the go-to shop is Escape Route.

Ski boot fit is complicated by the fact that is possible to tune fit by manipulating the shell of the boot (by heatmolding. grinding or by punching) and also by altering the boot liners (usually by thermomolding). My personal incredibly highly-biased opinion is that most boot companies would be better served if they tossed their stock liners and instead substituted them with Intuition Liners.

Generally, there are rule of thumbs about AT Boot fit (2 fingers of space between heel and ankle in the boot, liners should be snug etc) but they are high-level generalized rules. People have different feet, different abilities and different preferences/goals for their skiing and ski-touring, . This segues nicely to the next topic .... just what kind of alpine touring are you going to do?


Scarpa Maestrale at Sorcerer Lodge in the Selkirks


INTENDED USE

Do you ski like Hoji and climb uphill like Trevor Hunt? Or maybe you're a genetic athletic mutant with a VO2Max of 98? Or maybe you're just an average joe/jane who wants a decent boot and may go touring 2 weeks of the year on vacations to British Columbia? Or maybe you're an experienced alpine skier who'd like to try some ski touring?

I repeat *all* AT boots are about compromises. Try to be honest with yourself when thinking about how much touring you will do. Some factors to consider when picking a boot:

I'm sure there are other factors to consider that I've missed so feel free to add them in the comments to this article. Now that you've thought about how you want to use the boots (you were honest with yourself weren't you?) move on to the next part.


 

Somewhere in there is a Scarpa Spirit 3 - Duffey


BOOT CATEGORIES

1. Freeride touring boots

I'll cave in here and adopt the marketing term. These are stiff boots biased to downhill. They still should have a walk mode no matter how rudimentary (20 to 30 degrees) so at least you can stand around upright in them and have some semblance of a touring stride. Some but not all should have a rockered sole (helps when you're walking around or bootpacking). They should be fairly stiff; at least a 90 or more in the Flex Index below.

Most of these boots will be on the heavier side and will weigh in at 1700g per boot or more (~4lbs) and have four buckles (although you will learn that more buckles does not necessarily mean more stiffness). Generally they will have heavier construction (eg removeable boot boards and the like or beefed up walk mechanisms) and may be made out of heavier plastics. Many of these boots will also have interchangeable soles so you can tear them up on sled decks.

If you're looking for a boot that does it all or if you're 80/20 inbounds/touring then you should be looking at this category of AT boots. Examples of these boots include (list is by no means exhaustive)


Dynafit ZZeus - Fissile Peak in the Whistler backcountry


2. All-round boots

The majority of people who have two pairs of boots (a dedicated alpine boot and a dedicated AT boot) will be looking at all-round boots, which are the largest category by far. All-round boots used to suffer from mediocre downhill ability at the expense of decent uphill ability but now is not the case. Everyone of these boots will have a pretty good walk mode (30 - 40 degrees), rockered soles and in, the case of the standard offerings, will have some exotic plastics which are lighter, thinner and are less subsceptible to changing flex when cold vs warm (plastics are Polyamide, Pebax, Grilamid for example). Note that some of these plastics are harder to punch than polyurethane so be gentle and patient with your boots.

This category of boots will tend to weigh about 1500 - 1700g per boot (3.3 - 3.8 lbs). Not many of these boots will have interchangeable soles. These boots will tend to have four or three buckles. There's a lot of variety in this category in terms of stiffness/performance/tourability in this category so even here you are well served to remember that light boots don't make someone unfit climb hills well or make someone who skis poorly become a shredder. At their best all-round boots will be very good in almost every situation. At their worst, all-round boots will be mediocre; jack of all trades and master of none.

Get these boots if you're going to be 30/70 inbounds vs touring with inbounds counting as doing 2 or 3 laps on the lifts then heading out as soon as the powder disappears. Examples of such boots include:


 

Dynafit Mercury - Duffey

Dynafit TLT5 Performance - Duffey


3. Touring oriented boots

These boots are for those who don't bother with lifts and head straight out the door with the intention of walking uphill and earning turns. Some of these boots are specifically designed for rando racing but since I've seen some people ski insane lines with boots that were supposed to be designed just for rando race courses its wise to concede that touring-oriented boots aren't just designed for butt-wiggling 20deg pow slopes or skittering down rando courses.

Suffice it to say that this category used to be plagued by indifferent downhill performance to obtain superior touring performance. If any category of boots has improved in the last 5 years; this is it. Touring oriented AT boots will have smooth, big walk modes (generally 40 degrees or more), rockered soles, exotic plastics and will look for weight savings wherever they can. Unless all you're doing is meadowskipping pow, generally do not expect these boots to last more than a 100 days or so without showing their age.

This category of boots will weigh in at sub 1350g weights (3lb) with some getting below the sub 1kg weight. They will tend to have two or three buckles. They won't have interchangeable soles. Expect the plastics in the boot to be thin. Expect the liners to be thin; people who get these boots aren't suppose to be standing around a lot getting cold. They'll be very light and tour very well. Many boots in this category are specific to tech bindings only so be aware of your needs before buying.

People who look at boots in this category either don't particularly care well they ski downhill or are such good downhill skiers that they could crush any terrain even if they wore flip flops. They either don't need my advice or won't listen to it in any event. In this category of boots examples include:


 

Dynafit ZZeus - Whistler

Dynafit ZZeus - Icefall Lodge, Rockies


AT BOOTS COMPARATIVE FLEX

If you've read this far and are prepared to buy into what I've said you've now thought a little about what kind of touring you'll do and what kind of touring boot you'd buy. There's one more important thing you'll discover about AT boots. Manufacturers have good intent but there is no standardized rating system for stiffness. A La Sportiva 120 flex is not necessarily the same stiffness as a K2 120 flex and almost certainly not the same stiffness as a Lange 120 flex.

We now turn to the TGR forums for a very useful resource. This discussion thread is a crowd-sourced collection of impressions of almost 5 years of collective geek impressions about AT boots and their stiffness relative to each other. If you want some basic idea of how new AT boots and older used AT boots feel relative to each other than read on. Also feel free to jump into the discussion in the forums and throw in your two cents. The list is abstracted below

AT Boot Comparative Flex

The list has been (un-scientifically) compiled by:

a) Posters' input comparing their stiffest AT/Freeride boots' flex (Endorphins, Tornado, Aero Freeride) against their alpine boot. A single alpine boot brand's flex range (in this case, Salomon) makes for better comparability in contrast to mixing flex ranges from Lange, Tecnica or Nordica.

b) Once the stiffest AT/Freeride boots flex ratings have been established, the ratings of the softer AT boots were established down the flex range fine-tuning up or down according to, again, posters' input.

Alpine boots used for comparison

140 - Lange 140 RS
100 - Salomon X-Wave 9
95 - Salomon Gun
90 - Salomon X-Wave 

THE LIST (stiffest ---> softest) as of October 31st, 2013
-------------------------------------------------------------------

130 - Dynafit Vulcan, Tecnica Cochise Pro 130

120 - Scarpa Mobe, Tecnica Cochise Pro 120 

115 - K2 Pinnacle 130

110- Dynafit Mercury 

105 - Scarpa Maestrale RS, Dynafit Zzero ("Green Machine") CF 4-buckle [2011-12 version with full carbon cuff)

100 - Dynafit TLT6 Performance, Tecnica Cochise Light 120, Black Diamond Factor, Dynafit Titan, Titan UL, Scarpa Hurricane

95 - Scarpa Typhoon/Skookum (stiff tongue), Garmont Endorphin, Garmont Axon

90 - Dynafit TLT5 Performance, Dynafit One PX, Black Diamond Quadrant, BD Prime, Garmont Radium, Dynafit ZZeus, Dynafit Aero Freeride (4-buckle)

85 - Scarpa Maestrale, Scarpa Tornado/Pro (black tongue), Dynafit TLT5 Mountain, Scarpa Spirit 4 (black stiffer tongue), Garmont Adrenaline, Dynafit Zzero (older "Green Machine") CF 4-buckle [pre 2011-12 version), Black Diamond Method, Salomon Ellipse e2

80 - Scarpa Denali XT/TT, Scarpa Spirit 4 (green softer tongue), Lowa Struktura Rodeo/Pro, Dynafit Zzero PX 4-buckle

75 - Scarpa Rush, Scarpa Spirit 3, Garmont Megaride/G-Ride, Lowa Struktura Evo, Dynafit Aero Speed (3-buckle), Dynafit Zzero CF 3-buckle

70 - Dynafit Dy.N.A EVO, Scarpa Matrix, Old Scarpa Denali (4-buckle red shell), Dynafit TLT 700

60 - Dynafit Dy.N.A PDG, Scarpa Laser, Garmont Dynamite, Dynafit TLT 500 (2-buckle + strap), Scarpa F3

50 - Scarpa F1, Garmont Megalite, Dynafit TLT 4 Evo (3-buckle), Dynafit TLT 4 Lite (2-buckle + strap), Dynafit Zzero 2C

40 - Scarpa F1 Race (2-buckle, no strap), Dynafit TLT Race Pro (1-buckle + strap)


Dynafit Titan - Blackcomb backcountry

Scarpa Rush - Blackcomb

 


The Bottom Line

Marketing makes buying boots complicated. Your ego makes buying boots complicated. Don't overthink things. Get a boot that fits. Then figure out what you want when you say you want to tour. Then buy a boot that makes sense for you. When all else fails get the red boots. The red boots are faster.

 


 

Somewhere in there is a Dynafit Mercury - Duffey