Choosing touring boots

Gustav Corin

Gustav is a trained ski racer, although he’s abandoned that path for a while. He’s now a top level freeskier, and tours as much as he can. He’s worked in a ski rental shop for many years. Apart from skiing at every opportunity, he also works as a freelance journalist for Freeride.

There has been something of a ski boot revolution over the last four-five seasons. Almost every available freeride-oriented boot today comes with a walk mode and tech inserts. One major contributing factor for this is the rando trend. There is no longer any reason to compromise on your boots, and given the wide selection available, a test was in order.

Who am I?

I’m a trained ski racer, but have abandoned this in favour of free riding at a high level. I ski tour as much as I can. As a shop worker (I’ve worked in a ski rental shop for many years), it’s vital for me that boots are easy to repair. It should be easy to replace buckles and fix walk mode mechanisms. Ideally with basic tools and without having to pull fingers out of joint. I take a size 25.5, stand about 180cm tall in my socks and weigh in at 65-70kg.

How did I test?

I’ve skied every boot model both up and down hill. At least a full day in each pair. Other equipment and snow conditions have varied, but I’ve strived to keep everything as level as possible. As a reference, I have narrow feet and prefer a tight fit with a stiff, but not dead flex and a good walk mode. By good walk mode I mean that I can take normal strides without the boot limiting me. A good, all-round boot should function well both on lighter skis and bindings and more sturdy freeride guns.

Not every boot works for every skier

A male skier of 90kgs could in theory get on with most of the boots I’ve written about here. He’d without doubt be able to ski the Dalbello Lupo Factory Carbon, as they’re the stiffest. But not every boot will work for every skier, that’s just a fact. It’s up to you how much you choose to prioritise the ski boot weight. If you weigh 90kgs and ski fast and forcefully, more or less every sub-1,500g pair will be too weak, but it’s up to the individual skier to decide how important this is. It’s still possible to ski, but perhaps not at the highest level. On the other hand, lightweight touring skis and bindings will also limit a forceful, 90kg skier, so in that context perhaps the boots matter less? Regardless of philosophy, the most important aspect is that the boot fits your feet well, which should always be the number one priority.

The flex number isn’t everything

To pick a boot with as high a high flex number (harder/stiffer) as possible is meaningless on its own. This is based on the fact that touring boots have traditionally been flexier than what’s required for forceful free riding and so skiers have tended to look for stiffer boots that are tourable. But ski boots shouldn’t be stiff as a post and dead, they need to be able to bend and flex. How stiff you want your boots is a very personal preference, and what works well for one skier will not necessarily work for the next. The flex of a boot isn’t just its stiffness, but also more specifically how it flexes. Two-piece and three-piece boots have completely different feels, and neither one is better than the other.

Don’t just choose your boot, but also your skis, to suit your riding

To choose your boot to fit your ski, or your ski to fit your boot, that is the question. However, it’s not as simple as stiffer boots are always better, or that stiffer boots only work with stiff skis. A boot pair with flex 130 should most likely work with most freeride-oriented skis on the market today, unless they’re extraordinarily heavy (there are examples of this). A lightweight, soft boot on a pair of stiff, heavy skis will make turning more difficult and the skis feel heavier than they are. But in saying that, stiff boots will work on all skis, lightweight and heavy, soft or stiff. There, instead the problem is that the skier carts around too much weight on their feet, and perhaps is tempted to push harder than appropriate. A stiff, well-fitting boot inspires confidence,  but if you combine them with a lightweight ski with a lightweight binding you might not be able to deal with all kinds of skiing. I don’t believe in picking a ski to match your boots, but rather that you need to choose both skis and boots together with the type of skiing you intend to do in mind. What this means isn’t crystal clear, so I’m looking to write a guide on the topic for Åka Skidor magazine (probably autumn 2019). It will show examples of combinations of boot-binding-ski that work well together.

Custom cast insoles are required

Custom insoles change much for the positive. Indeed, they can actually solve many problems with a bit of luck. In other cases they should at least improve boot comfort. I will however state in no uncertain terms that as a serious skier (or guide), custom insoles are a hard requirement. There are two main brands, BootDoc and Sidas. I can’t say that one is any better than the other. There are different types of insoles, too, full custom and part custom. In most cases, full custom are better, but part custom are definitely better than the stock insoles that came with your boot inners. In my experience no one specific insole is best for every use case. To ensure the best outcome, it’s important to choose a store with very experienced fitting staff. Also important to remember is to remove your insoles when drying your boots.

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