Alpine Touring Boots – The purchasing decision (2017 update)
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.
Other required reading
- Dave Williams “The Answer to What Boots“
- TGR forums thread – AT Boot Comparison Flex
- Wildsnow 2016 – AT – Backcountry Ski Touring Buying Guide
- Older article from 2013 re AT Boots – the Purchasing Decision
Testing alpine boots in the Duffey – Dec 2012
Scarpa Maestrale RS on the Diamond Glacier at Icefall Lodge
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 and (especially if you need punching or orthotics) Comor Whistler.
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 *, last sizes **etc) but they are high-level generalized rules. People have different feet, different abilities and different preferences/goals for their skiing and ski-touring. Just remember; a good boot fitter can make a boot that is small’ish bigger. Nobody is going to be able to make a too-big boot smaller.
This segues nicely to the next topic …. just what kind of alpine touring are you going to do?
Comments from Dave Williams re boot-sizing rule – of – thumb
* Footnote 1 re heel space – Re finger sizing, as all people hands are different sizes/shapes, and people put the fingers in sideways vs stacked; 5-15mm is the usual range for aggressive skiers who don’t mind a tight fit; 10-20mm is the touring fit/recreational, sizing and 25mm or 1″ or three fingers is too big
** Footnote 2 re last sizing — Boot manufacturers usually give a last sizing. This sizing ballparks width but is a measurement that depends on foot size. For example; for a size 26 boot a 100mm last is average, 95mm last is narrow and 105mm last is wide. However if one had a size 23 boot (small foot); a 100mm last is wide. If one’s foot was in a size 29 boot (big foot); a 100mm last is considered narrow.
Scarpa F1 at Sol Mountain Touring in the Monashees
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:
- Will you scramble on rock?
- Will you use the boots on a sled?
- In a season how many times will you ski on that boot? How many times will you tour?
- Are you fit? Are you out-of-shape? Or maybe somewhere in – between…
- Have you ever skinned before? Have you bootpacked a little? A lot?
- Are your approaches to where you tour relatively flat? Or are all the approaches steep?
- Do you trash gear? Or are you the kind of person who maintains their gear well?
- Will you use the boots in Dynafit-style “tech” bindings? Or will you switch between tech bindings and frame-style touring bindings (eg Fritschi, Marker, Saloman etc)? Or will this be a one-boot to do it all and you will use the boots in an alpine binding?
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.
Dynafit Vulcan – Dynafit Mercury. Peters Lake – Monashees.
1. Freeride touring/all-around boots
This is a marketing term. This used to be a category where the touring performance was an afterthought and sacrificed for downhill performance. It’s now a broad category; one almost singlehandedly created by Dynafit’s Vulcan which showed that you could have downhill/uphill performance and reasonable weight.
It’s still a broad category but on the whole these will be stiff boots. The worse examples will have a walk mode just for show so you can have some comfort walking to apres; I don’t even consider these to be alpine touring boots so if all you want are boots to make the parking lot texas-carry more comfortable go read Unofficial Networks or the Tetongravity.com front page or some other Buzzfeed crap.
The best should have a Jekyll/Hyde walk mode so once the switch is thrown, you can stand around upright in them, possibly even fall over backwards and have a free-ranging touring stride. The best should have a rockered sole (helps when you’re walking around or bootpacking). They should be fairly stiff; at least a 120 or more in the Flex Index below.
Many of these boots will be on the heavier side and will weigh in at 1600g per boot or more (~3.75lbs per foot) and have three or 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. There will be boots in this category which dip down to the 1400g range and these boots will skip the “stuff” mentioned in this paragraph; tradeoffs remember?
If you’re looking for a boot that does it all or if you’re 60/40 inbounds/touring then you should be looking at this category of AT boots. This category is the one which will change the most. The boots that suck donkey for touring will disappear the way of the dodo (looking at you BD)
Examples of these boots worth considering include (list is by no means exhaustive)
Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD – Matier Glacier
2. 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 but no more. Touring oriented AT boots will have smooth, big walk modes (generally 60 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 1400g 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 supposed 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 how 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:
Mt Baker backcountry – Arcteryx Procline
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
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 – Atomic HawX Ultra XTD 130, Dalbello Lupo AX130C, Dynafit Vulcan (w/ tongue – w/o tongue subtract 10), Tecnica Cochise Pro 130, Dynafit Khion
120 – Dalbello Lupo AX120, Scarpa Mobe, Tecnica Cochise Pro 120, Salomon Mtn Lab
115 – K2 Pinnacle 130, Scarpa Freedom SL, Tecnica ZeroG Guide Pro
110- Dynafit Mercury (w/ tongue – w/o tongue subtract 10), Dynafit Khion MS
105 – Scarpa Maestrale RS, Black Diamond Factor, Dynafit Titan, Titan UL, Scarpa Hurricane
100 – Arcteryx Procline, Dynafit TLT6 Performance, Tecnica Cochise Light 120, Dynafit Zzero (“Green Machine”) CF 4-buckle [2011-12 version with full carbon cuff),
95 – Atomic Backland, Scarpa F1, Dynafit TLT7, Dynafit Winter Guide, Scarpa Typhoon/Skookum (stiff tongue), Black Diamond Quadrant, Garmont Endorphin, Garmont Axon,
90 – Dynafit One PX, BD Prime, Garmont Radium, Dynafit ZZeus, Dynafit Aero Freeride (4-buckle), La Sportiva Spectre
85 – Dynafit TLT5 Performance,Scarpa Maestrale, Scarpa Tornado/Pro (black tongue), Dynafit TLT6 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 – Dynafit TLT5 Mountain, 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 – OLD 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)