AT Backcountry Ski Touring Boot Buying Guide – How To


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 11, 2016      

Editor’s note: This post was buried, we’ve edited and brought it to the front for the 2016-2017 ski boot sale season — which is now. Edits are ongoing. Please know that the boot examples are just that, and not intended to be a complete listing of what’s available. What is more, ski touring boots are tending to overlap categories more than ever, so our attempt at categorization is under revision. Suggestions welcome. By the way, it’s been interesting watching the ski touring boot market these past few years. Traditional makers such as Scarpa have responded to new competition by really stepping it up on the innovation front. Meanwhile, established alpine companies such as Tecnica and Dalbello are giving us beefy ski touring boots that yield a better than ever blend of traditional downhill performance with uphill efficiency.

New backcountry skiers often ask me for advice. Questions about buying AT (Alpine ski Touring) boots are by far the most common. Therefore I thought it would be useful to put together a comprehensive yet basic buying guide for AT ski boots. This aims to be an explanation of all the types of backcountry skiing boots and boot features rather than recommending certain brands (though for our example boots we only use those with a good reputation). It’s targeted to those new to backcountry skiing, but hopefully will find some use by everyone.

Which boot

Which boot is for you?


Fit

Fit is the most important question when buying a ski touring boot. A well fitting “shoe” will be more comfortable, warmer, and will ski better than one that doesn’t fit your foot. Pressure points can be painful, or too much wiggle room will make even a stiff boot ski worse than a well-fitting softer boot (which is yet another reason “flex ratings” can be lame).

lasts vary

Same size boots made from different lasts. Dynafit TLT6 (on left) we consider a narrow boot. Scott Cosmos is medium width. The two boots in the photo are the same shell fit size, difference in width is obvious.

The shell of a boot (as well as the liner) is designed according to a “last.” This is basically the generic foot form that the boot is molded on. Different companies use different lasts. Because the shape of lasts vary, it is difficult to buy your first ever backcountry ski boots online, sight unseen. Instead, we recommend buying from a reputable shop so you can easily evaluate how the last of the boot fits your foot. Once you find a brand/last that works, it can possibly be the brand you pick for many years. (Find the best shops here)

If you’re new to the ski touring game, the best way to figure out the best match for your foot is to work with a bootfitter or a shop employee trained in bootfitting. We can’t emphasize this enough. They’ll help you evaluate your foot and point you to a boot that can accommodate your shape and issues. Do not base your purchase on what fits your friends, or what a magazine reviewer says “fit off the shelf,” or “felt great.” Those are not your feet.

After matching the shell to your foot, the next step is the liner. Many higher-end AT boots come with thermomoldable liners that mold to your foot when heated. If your boots don’t have these, fear not. Intuition makes some of the best heat-mold liners on the market and they can be bought separately. More, boot makers are constantly improving liners that are intended to fit without heat molding. It’s possible that type of liner will work for you, so if the “non mold” option exists have the shop employee help you explore it.

Personally, I can rarely ski a boot without first molding the liner (here’s how!).

liners

Thermomoldable liners from high end AT boots.


Boot Categories

A massive variety of ski touring boots are available. They lie on a spectrum from lightweight boots to heavy, stiff “beef boots,” and everything in between.

AT boots are always a compromise between the ability to ski well and walk well. Boots that ski downhill the best are often heavier, more uncomfortable and inefficient for walking, and efficient touring boots may have less performance on the descent. Hence the huge variety in boots. In the last few years this gap has shrunk and some newer boots ski almost like an alpine boot while having excellent efficiency skinning up. What kind of boot you want will be dictated mostly by how you plan to use it. Consider how much time you will spend at the resort vs. backcountry, your skiing style, and what type of touring you plan to do (e.g. powder, spring skiing, mountaineering, etc.)

Scarpa Freedom, a beef boot

Scarpa Freedom, a beef boot

Beef boots are boots that put a priority on their ability to ski downhill well. Generally these boots are basically alpine ski boots with the addition of a walk/ski mode, rubber sole, and sometimes tech fittings that allow use with tech bindings such as Dynafit. Although these boots put the emphasis on the down, they are generally quite usable for hiking (much more than a traditional alpine boot). Polyurethane (PU, used in most alpine boots) is often the material of choice with these boots. Pu “feels” like an alpine boot, although its use may result in a heavier boot.

These heavy duty AT boots often have the option of sole blocks you can swap between alpine and touring versions. In some brands, the tech fittings are on the sole blocks while others may have the tech fittings built into the boot body above the sole block attachment point. The latter is clearly superior due to the stress placed on the sole blocks by the tech fitting binding attachment. K2 Pinnacle exemplifies a boot with the tech fittings molded into the main shoe body. Note that while swap soles might appear to be an ingenious option, in real life very few skiers have the time to constantly swap soles and most simply do it once if necessary after purchase, to configure the boot for its most common purpose. Point being, be realistic if you’re letting the swap sole option drive a purchase decision.

Beef boots are recommended to those who will be skiing mostly on the resort and need one boot to do it all. Also, aggressive skiers who like a stiff boot, will often use beefy boots even on long tours. Some examples of beef boots are:

Scarpa Freedom
Technica Cochise
K2 Pinnacle

“All around” ski touring boots are the most common touring boots, and what WildSnow.com readers are usually in. They generally have a traditional AT boot construction with a walk/ski mode, rubber sole, tech fittings, and lower cuff. Most use tongue construction, while some are overlap boots (see below). “All around” may have a conventional “DIN” shaped sole that works in frame bindings as well as tech binding if tech fittings are included. Examples of exception are the Dynafit TLT5 and 6, popular “all around” boots that do not have a DIN shaped sole.

Clipped

La Sportiva Sideral, an all around boot with a non DIN 'clipped' sole shape at the toe.

As their name implies, all around boots work very well for a variety of backcountry skiing. They are generally lighter in weight and still have a fair amount of stiffness for skiing. However, they are aimed at traditional skiing and ski mountaineering so you may find them too wimpy for aggressive skiing. Pebax is the plastic usually used in these boots, but higher end models are tending to use Grilamid and other plastics that can be molded thin but still stiff to save weight. If you are planning on using the boot mostly in the backcountry and don’t mind sacrificing some downhill performance, these boots will be a good choice. Be aware that this category is somewhat subjective, so our examples may overlap into other categories:

Scarpa Maestrale (regular, not RS model)
La Sportiva Sideral

Ski mountaineering race boots are ultra-light shoes designed for randonee “skimo” racing, although many people use them for standard ski touring as well as fitness uphilling. They place a high priority on uphill efficiency at the expense of downhill performance and/or price. In addition to the standard features of AT boots, ski mountaineering race boots usually include technical features such as innovative buckles or carbon-fiber construction. These boots often use Grilamid (a nylon plastic) which is stiff, yet lightweight due to how thin the walls of the boot are (many say these boots don’t “feel” like an alpine boot’s flex, which is generally true, as achieving downhill performance with minimal material may require an extremely rigid flex). Race boots always have tech fittings. They often have a sole shape that will not function correctly in frame bindings such as Fritschi Freeride or Marker Tour.

La Sportiva Stratos race boot.

La Sportiva Stratos race boot.

There are mixed opinions on the downhill performance of race boots. Many feel they approach the stiffness of alpine boots, and use them for all their backcountry skiing. They are indeed quite stiff, and ski strong, however they don’t quite have the “feel” of an alpine boot due to lack of progressive flex in the cuff and other more subtle factors. Race boots are often pricey. Also, race boots often save weight by being very low-volume. This can make them cold and difficult to fit. A few race boot examples from different brands:
Dynafit PDG
Dynafit Evo
Scarpa Alien

Category-breakers have come on the scene in the past couple of years. These are astoundingly light in weight while also performing on the downhill. These boots are still a slight compromise, and won’t quite ski as well as some alpine boots, or climb quite like race boots. However, they have proven to be an incredible advancement in AT boots, and are highly recommended. Unfortunately some of these boots command a high price. Some examples of category breakers are:
Salomon Mountain Lab
Scarpa Maestrale RS tours well but skis somewhat like a heavier boot.
Dynafit Vulcan is super stiff to the point of having an unforgiving flex, very light.
Dynafit TLT 6 is on the lighter side, but skis stiffer than its look and weight would indicate.

Women’s boots are made by most boot manufacturers, and generally have a close equivalent on the male side of the line. Most often they have many of the same components and features as an equivalent men’s boot. However, they often have softer flex, a slightly different fit, and of course different sizing. There’s nothing wrong with a woman using a guys boot, or vice versa. Women’s boots may lack stiffness, so some aggressive women skiers may consider trying men’s boots. Conversely some smaller guys might want the soft flex and smaller sizes of women’s boots. Women’s boots from various manufacturers:
Scarpa Gea RS (women’s Maestrale RS)
Dynafit women’s One
Dynafit women’s TLT6
La Sportiva women’s Starlet

Bargain ski touring boots are offered by many boot manufacturers. These boots are often a “dumbed down” version of some of their higher-end boots. They are are often made with polyurethane, and may lack features such as thermomoldable liners and tech fittings. Bargain boots can be a good choice for someone on a budget or a beginner. However, many skiers will eventually want to upgrade to a nicer boot. Therefore, “bargain” boots can end up costing you more money in the long run. Put another way, so long as your boots and skis cost less than your bicycle (or, bicycles?), get the best shoes and skip that wheelset upgrade. We don’t review bargain boots at Wildsnow since they are usually compromised clones of higher-end boots. An example of a bargain boot is the Dynafit Neo PX, it uses less expensive Pbax plastic. With a non-thermo liner and sale price, this can be quite a value as it still includes tech fittings and a walk mode that’s quite comfortable. Still, nearly every skier will eventually want thermo mold liners and less weight. Why wait?


Common features

Most AT boots have a variety of common features. Depending on your intended use, some features are nice to have and some should be avoided.

Materials define performance.

Polyurethane, often abbreviated PU, is a plastic used in most alpine ski boots, and some varieties of alpine touring backcountry ski boots. It is a stiff plastic and has a consistent, familiar flex, hence it is used in alpine ski boots. PU is also inexpensive and easy to manufacture. Because it is common in alpine boots, boot fitters are accustomed to working on it and are able to more effectively fit boots made from polyurethane. Unfortunately PU is the heaviest of these materials as it needs to be thicker to provide necessary beef. You’ll find PU used in a variety of boots, sometimes to reduce cost, other times to yield a more alpine-like feel. Also, the stiffness of polyurethane is affected by temperature; the boot will feel noticeably softer on a warm spring day. Conversely, they feel stiffer the colder it gets.

Pebax is another traditional plastic used in AT boots. It is light and somewhat stiff. Most AT boots are made of Pebax. Unfortunately you will be hard-pressed to find a truly stiff Pebax boot. Also, Pebax isn’t affected by temperature as much, so it’s great for spring ski mountaineering when it’s warm.

Grilamid is a relatively new shell material on the ski mountaineering boot scene. It’s a specialized plastic that’s a formulation of nylon. Grilamid has the advantage of being stiff and strong, therefore minimal material can be used, reducing weight and bulk. Many newer high-end AT boots utilize this plastic. Although stiff, some skiers feel Grilamid doesn’t have as nice a flex as polyurethane. It also tends to be expensive to manufacture, and those costs are passed through to the consumer.

Carbon fiber is used to varying degrees in various high-end backcountry ski boots. It is ultralight and ultra stiff, and can dramatically reduce a boots weight. Unfortunately, carbon fiber boot parts are expensive and difficult to manufacture.

Walk/ski mode is probably the most important feature – it makes an AT boot what it is. At it’s most basic, it’s a mechanism that makes the boot more flexible for walking uphill. Some mechanisms work better than others, and there’s a big variety in how much they “loosen up” the boot. Traditionally they simply attached the top and bottom portions of the boot shell. Recent innovations have made the connection tighter and the walk mode softer.

The walk/ski mode mechanism on a Scarpa Freedom.

The walk/ski mode mechanism on a Scarpa Freedom.

Lugged soles are another feature that sets AT boots apart from other ski boots. Almost all touring boots have some sort of lugged sole made of a soft grippy material. This helps with walking and hiking, especially in difficult terrain. Unfortunately rubber soles wear out quickly when used for hiking without skis, and often can’t be used in normal alpine bindings. Some newer AT soles have hardened areas that are certified for use in frame and alpine bindings, while other boots may have ‘swap soles’ so you can configure the boot for alpine use. The swappable sole feature can make boots heavier, but is something to consider if you want a do-everything boot or are worried about your boot soles wearing out.

Tech fittings are small metal fittings that enable a backcountry skiing boot to be used with “tech” bindings. These bindings, long solely made by Dynafit and now produced by a variety of manufacturers, are lighter than “frame/plate” type AT bindings. Tech fittings are only available in some AT boots, and may bring the cost of the boot up. Although they add cost, if you think you might use tech bindings in the future, it’s a good idea to get a boot with the fittings; doing so can end up saving you money in the long run since most backcountry skiers will eventually be on tech bindings.

Shell construction is generally divided into two categories; overlap and tongue (cabrio). Overlap shells are similar to shells used in most alpine boots and generally provide more stiffness, although they also make for a stiffer walk mode. Tongue boots on the other hand are how most traditional AT boots are constructed. The tongue is similar to the one found in a normal shoe, although stiff and plastic. Tongue boots get much of their stiffness from the stiff tongue, which saves weight, but can result in a boot that isn’t very stiff, and doesn’t have as much lateral (side-to-side) stiffness. Recently however, well engineered tongue boots have caught up to overlap boots, and may ski just as well as their overlap cousins.

Buckles are of course how boots are closed, and they can provide much of the stiffness. Traditionally the number of buckles directly correlated to the stiffness of a boot. “4 buckle” boots were seen as the burliest boots out there. However, recent developments have thrown this out the window with some boots that have 2 or 3 buckles being as stiff as 4 buckle boots. Even many alpine boot companies are producing boots with fewer buckles. When shopping for older boots (3+ years old), it can be a good idea to consider the number of buckles. However with newer boots, do not use the number of buckles as a way of evaluating the “power” of the boot.

Adjustments for cuff alignment and forward lean are common on alpine boots, but unfortunately not on AT ski touring boots. They add weight and complexity, and therefore are commonly left out. If adjustment is a feature you need, take care your boot choices include it or plan on having a boot fitter make adjustments using fitting techniques.

IMG_0207-side-adjustment

Cuff alignment is available in some boots.

A note on stiffness: It is difficult to ascertain how a boot will ski. For one, stiffness depends largely on fit (not to mention how tightly you crank your buckles). Also, there is no good way to compare boot stiffness. Many manufacturers assign a “stiffness rating” to their boots, usually from 110-130. Don’t be fooled by these numbers. There is no regulation governing them — they’re somewhat arbitrary and best for comparing boots within a brand rather than across the shopping spectrum. Most manufacturers simply assign “130” to their stiffest boot in a line, and “110” to their softest boot. There is little to no correlation between different companies. The best way to ascertain stiffness is to read reviews, and then get out and demo the boot if possible. Perhaps most importantly, don’t fall into the trap of using stiffness as your most important criteria for boot performance. Pro skiers leaping off 75 foot cliffs might need a boot that fits like cast iron, while most skiers appreciate something with more comfort and can simply adjust their technique to accommodate an average flex.


Used backcountry skiing boots

Generally boots are the hardest backcountry gear to find used because of the variety of sizes and how poorly worn out and customized liners will fit you. If you do find a pair of boots that seems right, here are a few tips. Check the shell first. Look for cracks in flex areas, especially at the curve in the tongue on “cabrio” boots. Check all buckles for function and breakage. Examine the sole for excessive wear. Ski touring boots can be re-soled, but finding someone who can do this well is sometimes a challenge in the U.S. (much easier in Europe). The liner is what really gets the wear. It’s definitely going to be “packed out,” meaning the padding gets permanently compressed. The liner may also get holes worn into it, usually in the heel area or from wear points in the shell (usually screw or rivet heads). Luckily liners are inexpensive compared to buying new boots, even for top-quality Intuition liners. Therefore, it can be a good deal to buy used boots and then replace the worn out liners with new. That being said, it’s worth attempting to “re-bake” and mold thermo liners that are not too worn out. Talk to a qualified bootfitter about that option.

Other ways boot wear out: Plastic deteriorates over time, making the boots softer. It’s safe to assume that a well worn (1+ good seasons) pair will be somewhat softer than a new pair of boots. The soles of AT boots often wear out quickly as well due to how thin they are (weight savings). If you are planning on using the boots with Dynafit or other tech bindings, sole wear is a minor issue as it won’t affect the performance of the bindings. However, if you are using your boots in alpine bindings or plate/frame style AT bindings (Fritchi, Duke, etc), then sole wear can make the binding fit incorrectly and compromise the release mechanism (check used boots in such bindings before purchase). Also, if you hike or climb without skis, sole wear can be a detriment and some AT boots wear quickly at the toes under the tech fittings when used for these activities.

There are quite a few complex mechanisms in most AT boots, and these can break and wear out as well. Buckles are especially prone to breaking. Luckily it’s fairly easy, with a little tinkering, to retrofit another buckle onto most boots. Walk-mode mechanisms and cuff pivots are more difficult to repair; failure of these mechanisms may mean a boot needs to be dumpsterized.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments, or if I missed something, leave a comment. If you have a comment on a specific backcountry skiing boot, check out our boot reviews section, and if we’ve reviewed it before, feel free to comment on that post as well.

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Comments

63 Responses to “AT Backcountry Ski Touring Boot Buying Guide – How To”

  1. Lou Dawson November 8th, 2013 12:14 pm

    Good job from Louie on this post. We’ll keep editing and updating, suggestions appreciated. If you’re reading, keep in mind we’re trying to make this helpful for the beginner. Lou

  2. SteveR November 8th, 2013 12:51 pm

    That’s a good article that explains a lot.

    I think this section would be confusing for a beginner…

    ‘Most use tongue construction, while some are overlap boots (see below). “All around” may have a conventional “DIN” shaped sole that works in frame bindings as well as tech binding if tech fittings are included.’

    I think the use of the acronym DIN would be taken by most to mean ‘will work in my alpine bindings’ rather than ‘will work in my Fritschi Freerides / Marker F10s’

  3. Charlie November 8th, 2013 1:05 pm

    It’s my understanding that Pebax is *less* temperature sensitive, not more.

    This page, from Pebax, would seem to corroborate that fact?

    http://www.pebax.com/en/applications/sport-equipment/index.html

  4. Lou Dawson November 8th, 2013 1:53 pm

    Charlie, I noticed that when I was editing, but let stand for Louie to clarify or fix. Louie?

  5. Dave J. November 8th, 2013 1:57 pm

    Nice article, Lou. I’d be interested in your personal take on the Scarpa Freedom SL. At sub-8 lbs a pair they seem to straddle the beef/all-around category. I’ve tried them on and the tour mode feels really good for an overlap boot.

    My Green Machine’s are getting long in the tooth.
    I read Joe’s article published earlier.
    Thanks,
    Dave J.
    Tahoe Sierra

  6. andrew November 8th, 2013 2:24 pm

    Great write-up Louie.

    Although your calling maestrale RS a “category breaker” but not TLT5??

  7. Louie Dawson November 8th, 2013 2:37 pm

    Whoops, I was wrong about the pebax temperature. Polyurethane is more susceptible to temperature differences, while pebax is less.

    Dave- I just got a pair of Scarpa freedoms to test. Skied for the first time on them last weekend. They are indeed super light, stiff, and have a great walk mode. It’s definitely close to being a category breaker, but I think it is still a beef boot. The walk mode isn’t quite good enough, it still feels awkward to walk in.

    Andrew- In my opinion the Tlt 5 doesn’t ski well enough to be a “category breaker” If you take it on a ski area, it isn’t much fun (compared to a Vulcan). Definitely up for debate though.

    The categories are quite general, and definitely up for debate. Perhaps we’ll switch some boots around. For simplicity, i tried to keep the number of categories to a minimum, and since all boots are different, they don’t fit into them quite perfectly. It’s more to give people an idea of the different types of boots out there.

    Thanks for the comments!

  8. Joe Risi November 8th, 2013 3:03 pm

    Dave,
    I skied the Freedom’s in both Pebax and PU this January at Snowbird for their PR camp. I got a chance to chase down Chris Davenport and push these boots to their limits downhill.
    I skied the Pebax boots in the morning and initially thought they would be stiffer. I’d say a 120ish flex. The skis underfoot were hardly touring skis;110mm+ underfoot Kastle’s with alpine bindings, on hard pack I was really able to flex the tongue of the boot.
    For the afternoon I switched into the Pu boots(Tan colored) and found them to be stiffer.
    I’m almost sure I can attribute some of this to tiredness on my part but rising afternoon temperatures could have played a part as well.

    Both boots had great walk modes but I didn’t get a chance to tour in them as you read.

    I would say their target market is a 70/30 resort to backcountry skier. Without a doubt they belong in the Beef boot category.

  9. billy g November 8th, 2013 4:06 pm

    I skied the Freedom’s (SL) most of last spring after testing the majority of 2014 AT offerings from Scott, K2, Dynafit, Rossi, La Sportiva(fail) and the Freedom in my opinion is a game changer (along with the Vulcan) for aggressive BC/ski mountaineering/resort one boot quiver. I did blow out the width in the forefoot a little to achieve an ideal fit. I spent 2 weeks ski mountaineering and glacier camping in AK logging serious time in these with very happy feet. The walk mode has serious range (especially rearward, a little more forward would be nice but it limits out when the calf and instep buckle contact). It is definitely the burliest walk mode out there and super solid in ski mode, the metal-metal visible lockout inspires confidence and there is never the question of if the ski mode engaged properly or the possibility of wear created slop. The intuition tongue liners are really nice and low profile which will minimize pack out but I did notice that these were not the warmest boots I tested… Yes there are lighter boots and there are burlier boots, but this is the one to rule them all…

  10. Tom m November 8th, 2013 5:50 pm

    Billy G,

    Why the (fail) for La Sportiva?

  11. OMR November 8th, 2013 8:05 pm

    Nice Louie, good info, but am I the only skier in blogdom with rugby calves?? I realize you’re writing to a general audience, but do you have recommendations on a boot for wide lower legs? I never see that issue addressed yet some boots just don’t work for me due to the walk/ski mode coupled with the top buckle (Dynafit), thereby complicating any customization for abnormal shapes. Just wondering, my Radiums are toast and I’m shopping.

  12. Dave J. November 8th, 2013 8:18 pm

    Thanks for the input on the Freedom SL’s, everyone.

  13. Bar Barrique November 8th, 2013 9:43 pm

    Very good post. Finding the boot that fits the best cannot be over stated. There are many boots in the 3.0 kilo range these days that can provide good touring , and, downhill performance for BC skiing, get the fit that you deserve.

  14. Josh November 8th, 2013 10:42 pm

    Thanks a bunch for this guide! I’ve been reading your blog for a few years, but I think this could be the year I finally make backcountry a priority.

    This article came out at the perfect time, as I’m in the market for AT boots. I’m already invested in a pair of Marker Tour F10s, so I’m looking for a compatible boot. I’m interested in getting a boot that is still good for walking.

    What boot would you recommend that goes uphill well, but fits in a non-tech binding? I actually really liked the boots on the Beef list. But now that my focus is shifting away from the resort, should I be thinking of a lighter boot?

    My other concern is about an adjustment I’ll need to make to the front toe piece. I’ve heard that I need to tighten up the front piece because even compatible boots will have a smaller toe piece. Is that true and if so, is it hard to do? Do you have any articles about changing the toe piece from alpine boots AT boots?

    Thanks so much!

  15. Lou Dawson November 9th, 2013 5:58 pm

    Josh, how about:
    Dynafit One
    Scarpa Maestrale RS
    La Sportiva Spectre
    Black Diamond Prime
    Scott Cosmos

    Shop by fit.

    As for binding adjustments, the HEIGHT of the toe unit is key. Generally, it goes higher with AT boots. The adjustment is easy, usually a screw on top of the toe unit. You test by being able to pull laser printer paper out from between AFD and sole without it tearing.

    BTW, you’ll want to adjust cuff angle and overall ramp/delta to match your alpine boots, or you’ll feel “weird.”

    Lou

  16. Pietro November 10th, 2013 7:02 am

    Did not include the dynafit Mercury in the line up?

  17. Lou Dawson November 10th, 2013 7:23 am

    They’re just suggestions. Sure, Mercury is worth a look. Lou

  18. Dan V November 10th, 2013 10:59 am

    Great article. Here at Neptune Mountaineering the Scarpa Maestrale and Gea have been our predominant boots for the past three years as most customers are looking for something that works in the resort but tours very well. That boot is definitely a game changer. This year we’re noticing the Sportiva Spectre – at the exact same cost as the Maestrale – is making big inroads due to its only slightly softer downhill flex but bet range in touring. These are all awesome boots…in the end it comes down to fit. We’ve also had great success with the RS version of the Maestrale and Gea, and the Freedom is gaining traction. Interestingly, the Freedom is the only AT boot that comes in 21.5, and we’ve sold a number of pairs to women for this very reason. On the flip side of the stiffness spectrum, the TLT 6 is fitting many more people than the TLT 5 and is much easier to mold and get space out of.

    Fun stuff.

  19. Roger November 11th, 2013 3:57 pm

    May have missed it, but I’ve been looking for a comparison of the TLT 6 performance and mountain. Do they ski that differently? I rarely ski at resorts.

  20. Lou Dawson November 11th, 2013 4:12 pm

    Roger, they don’t ski much different, and depends on your size and style. A larger guy skiing aggressively will notice more of a difference. Mountain can actually be better due to damping of harsh input by the slightly softer cuff. The carbon is sometimes too stiff. I like the carbon cuff, but don’t find it to be essential. Other than the carbon and non-carbon cuffs, there is really nothing else to compare. Lou

  21. billy g November 11th, 2013 4:32 pm

    Since you asked Tom, I think my biggest issue with the La Sportiva Spectre were the ez flex tongue which has a rubber accordian right at the flex point. This is likely there to increase walk mode range of motion which was freaking amazing but in my opinion seriously detracted from downhill performance (you could fold this boot over by looking at it) and you really need to ski it in a neutral position to counter that. A couple of replaceable tongue stiffness options would be crucial. I also had issues touring when there was no tension on the buckles I got interference with the side of the tongue consistently catching on the inner shell ‘s instep. Kind of hard to explain but the instep plastic would fold out and the plastic from the tongue would drop below the spread instep plastic and bind (click) with each stride. Like any new offering, this one needs some refinement and will carve out a nice niche for itself with some future tweaks. It is stupid light and the walk mode is crazy but comes at too much of an expense of the main point… skiing.

  22. Warren November 16th, 2013 2:15 pm

    Hi Lou,

    I used the TLT5 Performance for one season and really liked the lightweight and support the boot offered. However, I have fat feet and the boots killed my feet. I was really hopping the TLT6 would be more accommodating for my feet but it doesn’t sound like it. Do you know of a boot that is as light as the TLT Performance that will fit wide feet? I will probably try on a pair of La Sportiva Spitfire’s

    Thank you,
    Warren

  23. Arnie November 16th, 2013 2:30 pm

    Hi Warren… I am also fat footed and found the tlt 5s too painful..but too good to give up on! The answer for me was a reasonably aggressive punch and crucially the palau ultralight 5mm liner…

    http://www.palau-boutique.com/chaussons-thermo-ultralight-ski-alpinisme-vertical-race-rando-perfadaptation,fr,4,PAL-ULTRALIGHT.cfm

    I think I might have got away with a milder punch..I even got my superfeet green in there.
    cheers

  24. Arnie November 16th, 2013 2:33 pm

    PS I’ve yet to get hold of the tlt6’s but without the overlay for the “proto bellows” width punches will be a breeze compared to the 5’s anyway.

  25. Warren November 16th, 2013 4:32 pm

    Arnie,
    Thanks for the response. I forgot to mention I did have the boots punched out as much as the boot fitter dared. The boots were slightly better, but still painful. I probably shouldn’t have been in the boots in the first place, but damn they are nice boots.
    Warren

  26. Lou November 16th, 2013 10:58 pm

    Take the 4th buckle and power strap off a Maestrale, compare to weight of TLT with optional toungue. TLT6 is light, but main thing is how well it tours and how awsome the lean lock buckle is. Spitfire is an option, and Scott Cosmos. You could also tune your fit in the TLT5/6 by upsizing one shell size. Lou

  27. wildskizer November 22nd, 2013 11:25 am

    Have a question about Thermo fitting: I just bought a pair of Dynafit One PX boots, and the directions from Dynafit say to only heat the boots with the liners inside the shells to a temp of 110*s? They neglect to state if that is C* or F*?
    And it sounds like they do not want the liners baked separately? Any clarification is welcome .
    Cheers

  28. James Browning December 18th, 2013 11:18 am

    Hi Lou,

    I was wondering if you (or anyone else) know any good bootfitters who can do a boot punch in the South Germany, North Switzerland, or West Austria area? I have wide feet with pronounced 5th metatarsal tuberosities (the bony bump halfway between the ball of the little toe and the ankle) which currently is not playing nice with my maestrales (which otherwise fit and ski great). I’m thinking a punch about 1/8″ out at the side over an area of 1 1/2″ long by 3/4″ high would do it nicely. Can anyone help me out which a recommendation or will I have to go the DIY route?
    If I go DIY what is the rebound of Pebax, i.e.50%? I’ve heard its quite a lot but I haven’t got any first hand experience.

    Cheers,
    James

  29. Lou Dawson December 18th, 2013 11:33 am

    James, if you can’t find a boot fitter (or get a recommendation here) for one in those areas, then you’d better quit skiing (grin). More than 12% of our website traffic is from Western Europe, so hopefully someone over there will see your question.

    Euros? Help!

    And the Pebax? It’s a pain but can be punched. Grilamid is like putty when heated, in comparison.

    Lou

  30. Jim September 1st, 2015 8:14 am

    Just a slight error in the caption of one of your pictures. Canting is not the same as cuff alignment. Canting is actually changing the angle of the entire boot (by grinding an angle into the boot sole) while cuff alignment only changes the angle of the upper cuff. Both need to be taken into consideration when properly fitting a boot.

  31. Lou Dawson 2 September 1st, 2015 9:54 am

    Jim, you are entirely correct. I’d add that “canting” can also be done by shimming bindings… I’ll edit. Thanks, Lou

  32. Patrick November 30th, 2015 3:04 pm

    Note: this isn’t a solve my boot problem online because I’m too lazy to go to a boot fitter. I’ve spent a number of hours trying on boots this fall. Just wondering if someone might see something I am missing.

    Sorry to resurrect an old article, but I am currently shopping for a pair of touring boots and cannot seem to find a solution. Can you recommend any wide boots that fit the “all-around” to “category-breakers” categories? I can just about guarantee that I will need shell punching (every boot I have ever skied has required it), but I would like to try and find the best starting point. My foot has been described as wide, moderate to high volume, mid-low arch, low arch flexibility, and small heel (this is one of the bigger issues as heel fit has a bit impact on my boot performance).

    The closest I have found for purely fit/shape is the Neo PX, however, I am 6ft & 210 lbs and generally ski a wider stiffer ski. I have some serious woes about whether a neo px could hold up. alternately I looked at the Maestrale RS and the Vulcan, however, both seem to fit out of the box equally poorly. The Maestrale may be ever so slightly more confortable but it is more that likely simply due to the softer/more-maleable out-of-the-box intuition liner.

    Thanks!
    Patrick

  33. Lou Dawson 2 November 30th, 2015 3:31 pm

    Hi Patrick, if the heel and instep area of the Maestrale RS fit ok in a shell fit and an unmolded liner fit, punching more width to the toe area is trivial due to the Grilamid plastic. We just punched some here, they move like water when you get a little heat on them. You can also consider upsizing one shell size it you need more volume, then short-last the liner (use a shorter liner) — but that’s going to widen the heel fit so probably a no go but at least worth fooling around with. The other thing you should consider are the Fischer Vacuum boots, they mold like crazy. Lots of solutions a BOOT FITTER (grin) can probably come up with. Lou

  34. George H. Michel January 14th, 2016 9:14 pm

    I am a 82 year old, who has skied all his life with his children and Grandchildren. I now only ski on Green or Easy Blue slopes with my family. However, last year I developed a problem getting off the chairlift. I think it was the combination of the low seat and the high and stiff ski boots. I fell every time on every chair lift, and I never fell in past years.
    Many Persons are getting older, and some are changing to snowboarding because of this problem. I would prefer not to change to snowboarding. Do you have any recommendations. I think it is important for the skiing industry to work on keeping skiing a famly activity.

  35. byates1 January 14th, 2016 9:31 pm

    ^^ proving the internet’s value. thank you.

  36. Bruno Schull January 15th, 2016 1:11 pm

    Hi George. Way to go keeping up with the skiing and holding family together on the slopes. I hope I am still skiing with my daughter (and maybe my grand children?) when I am your age. I don’t know what kind of boots you are skiing with now, but maybe you could try some modern touring boots? If you are not skiing in touring boots, the advantages would be that they are much lighter than alpine boots and would therefore generally make getting around easier, if you choose a less expensive PU model they might be more flexible, and if you switch them to touring mode between runs, you would have much better mobility and natural movement. I would say go with frame bindings, which will basically perform like downhill bindings. You don’t even need to use the touring function of the bindings, but it could be nice walking from place to place with skis on your feet. It sounds like you are a good skier, so I am sure you could adapt to the new system. Other than that, perhaps you could work with a boot fitter to change the position of the upper buckles on the cuff of your present boot, making them lower, and hopefully making the boot more flexible, or you could cut the cuff down, or try a more flexible boot that fits differently? Good luck!

  37. See January 15th, 2016 8:50 pm

    Perhaps a seat cushion that effectively raises the height of the chair so that less leg strength is required to stand up at the top? And maybe a little cooperation from the lift operators…

  38. Lou Dawson 2 January 17th, 2016 10:14 am

    George, ditto on the boot fitter. If I were you I’d get to know one well. Perhaps you can get a complimentary deal as their most seasoned client! Lou

  39. Terry Lee February 24th, 2016 12:00 am

    Hi Lou,

    My friend has EEE wide Asian feet. Sounds like Fischer Vacuum fit may be the answer. Anything else worth trying? Can Grilamid be punched out that much? We will go to a boot fitter, but just looking for a starting point.

  40. Max August 10th, 2016 9:17 pm

    Thanks a lot for the article. I was looking for information on what to be aware of when you buy a used pair, and that section was very helpful!

  41. Lou Dawson 2 August 11th, 2016 7:21 am

    Glad you find it useful Max! I’ll do some editing and updating on it so it’s ready for winter 2016-2017! Lou

  42. Lou Dawson 2 August 11th, 2016 7:38 am

    Terry, the Fischer Vacuum would indeed be something for your friend. Grilamid can be punched quite easily, it softens readily at a low temperature, and it’s usually quite thin. Lou

  43. Greg Louie August 14th, 2016 10:54 am

    Lou/Louie, it makes sense to categorize by weight.

    For 2017, I’d call boots between 1500 grams and 2000 grams “Beef” or “Crossover” boots, Midweight AT boots between 1200 and 1500 grams, Light AT boots sub-1200 grams, Rando Race/Endurance boots sub-1000 grams.

  44. Lou Dawson 2 August 14th, 2016 7:09 pm

    Hi Greg, I totally agree, perhaps with a few crossovers at the grey areas. Ultimately, other than extremes that are clearly in one class, it’s futile to get too carried away with this, but I think for the newcomer it helps sort things out. Lou

  45. Greg Louie August 14th, 2016 9:40 pm

    Yeah, there should be some sort of standard for comparison – I usually try to weigh a 26.5 mondo in men’s boots and a 25.5 in women’s for comparison’s sake (also because they are usually the “sample size” and the first to be produced when a new model is introduced. Make sure the wads of paper are out of the toe, cut off labels, and include everything the manufacturer intends you to ski downhill with including tongue and stock insole.

    It might be better to bump the lower limit of the beef boot category to 1600 grams to include the Vulcury, MTN Lab (and Zero G Guide Pro). Maybe not pure touring boots by your definition but lots of people have lots of vert in ~1500 gram shoes.

  46. atfred August 15th, 2016 1:17 pm

    Hi guys,

    good article, but I saw no mention on insoles. I always swap out the crappy insoles that come with new boots with SOLE heat moldable insoles. You can do it yourself, and they come in different thicknesses.

    I think good fitting insoles are just as important as a good liner, if not more so,

  47. Greg Louie August 15th, 2016 8:25 pm

    @atfred:

    A reasonably comprehensive article on footbeds would easily be as long as Louie’s entire AT boot piece. DIY Sole heat moldables may work well for you, but it’s not a universal solution by any means.

    When it comes to custom footbeds, there is a huge range of variables and opinions regarding best casting method, best blank to use, best posting method/material, unweighted vs. semi-weighted vs. fully weighted, etc. etc. etc.

    Even the trim-to-fit and semi-custom options are myriad, and most consumers tend to pick based on the advice of a bootfitter they trust or or what they feel they can afford. Very few people are in a position to “choose” their best option in a custom footbed, whereas choosing an AT boot by weight or cuff range of motion or feature set is fairly straightforward.

  48. See August 15th, 2016 9:36 pm

    It seems to me that in most cases a good fitting boot should accommodate most insoles, but a discussion about insoles would be very interesting (at least to me).

  49. XXX_er August 16th, 2016 10:07 am

    I have several custom molded orthotics costing $$$ also the 40$ SOLE of different thickness and green superfeet. For my flat feet the soles work as well as the custom made and I don’t heat mold them for max support … what is good for you all depends on your foot type

  50. Lou Dawson 2 August 16th, 2016 10:46 am

    Regarding placing footbed info in the buyer guide, I think I’ll just leave the reminders in the comments and keep the post specific to just the boots. There is actually a percentage of the population for whom the stock “footbeds” in ski boot liners work fine. I’d agree most people can benefit from a custom footbed, but sometimes they’re used as an upsell by dealers when it would be better to wait and see how the boot performed with the OEM bed. I’m a big advocate of the custom beds, don’t get me wrong, but we’re trying to help out the newcomer here who is often on a budget. Lou

  51. See August 16th, 2016 6:45 pm

    My experiences with orthotics/insoles have been all over the map. After some knee, ankle, foot injuries in my twenties expensive custom orthotics helped me a lot. Since then I’ve found Sole insoles or just stock insoles are fine for most footwear except rigid carbon bike shoes with road pedals. For those, my feet/legs aren’t happy unless I have just the right posting, arch support and even a metatarsal bump. I’ve been happy with molded Soles in my ski boots for quite a while now, except for my skate boots which I’m still trying to get sorted out. And I agree that insoles can be an upsell, but if you need them and you get some made by people who know what they’re doing, they can be easily worth the money. But some vendors are frankly ripping people off.

  52. BillyGoat August 20th, 2016 4:19 pm

    I like to think of the following categories:

    Cross over: true alpine performance, work in alpine bindings. Generally >1800g/26.5

    Freeride touring: stiff, close to alpine performance, requires minimal change in skiing style improved ROM, may only work with touring bindings, 1400-1800gr/26.5

    Light Touring:
    Gives up on ski performance, requires a change in ski style excellent ROM, may be tech binding specific, 900-1300g/26.5

    Race: ski like shit, walk amazing, under 900g/26.5

  53. Richard Stum September 5th, 2016 10:25 pm

    I’ve narrowed down my choices for a 2-buckle boot: LS Sideral, Scarpa F1 or Dynafit TLT6 MS CR. I have a wider than average forefoot. Which might be best to look at?

  54. Lou Dawson 2 September 6th, 2016 5:22 am

    Richard, I’d look at the Scarpa first, for sure. They have a tradition of having a more forgiving forefoot area, and my recollection is my F1s did indeed fit that way, though they’re still out on the recall exchange so I can’t look at them in person at the moment. They’re nice boots that do an amazing job of combining uphill comfort with downhill performance, though keep in mind they are a 100% ski touring boot, not a freeride boot. Lou

  55. Sandrine October 17th, 2016 11:30 am

    Thanks for the info on boots for wider feet. I’m a woman with wide feet but narrow heels who only ski tours. My current pair of TLT 5 have never fit me right despite several boot fittings by several professionals.
    The Scarpa F1 seem promising, do you have a sense of how they compare in stiffness to the TLT 6 Mountain CR?
    And if I still needed to widen the F1s, is the HPA&carbon core shell workable? (not by me, by a shop of course) I saw that Grilamid is easier to work with than Pebax, where does HPA fall on this spectrum?

  56. Lou Dawson 2 October 17th, 2016 12:10 pm

    Sandrine, the F1 carbon only goes around the heel yoke area, it’s not at the toe where you would punch for toe width. I’ve heard the plastic the F1s are made with is otherwise workable. I have not heat molded any myself, seems we’ve had no need with the way the toe area tends to fit.

    In terms of stiffness comparison, I’d say they’re similar to TLT6 MTN.

    Lou

  57. Sandrine October 17th, 2016 3:06 pm

    Thanks Lou! I’m going to give the F1s a try. (feel free to delete this comment, just wanted to say thanks for the great help!)

  58. Lou Dawson 2 October 17th, 2016 3:34 pm

    Sandrine, please drop back by here and let us know how the boots do for you. We don’t get enough of that type of comment. Thanks, Lou

  59. Mark February 1st, 2017 12:55 pm

    I’m afraid I already know the answer to my question, but…

    Is there any way to replace (or somehow repair) the toe piece fitting on a Dynafit boot? My left boot’s inside fitting has a groove in the top that allows the binding pin to slip in and out while skiing – noticeable “clicking” and very disconcerting! It hasn’t pre-released (yet) but it’s definitely a problem.

    I’m hoping that I don’t need new boots (love my Titan’s).

  60. Lou2 February 1st, 2017 2:50 pm

    Nope.

  61. Sandrine February 1st, 2017 4:01 pm

    Update on the F1 vs Dynafit TLT6:
    I went for the F1s and so far am loving them! They ski great. The fit is definitely comfier for my wide feet than my old Dynafit TLT5. I did not punch them yet, just did a thermofit at home and my heels remain too loose while the width is a bit tight. I will get a proper thermofit by professionals soon, it should take care of the width issues and I hope we can do something to prevent those heels from dancing around too much.
    One interesting detail: during climbs/when flexing the foot, there is a plastic popping noise every now and then. It sounds bad but I don’t see anything wrong going on, I am guessing it’s just the way the boot bends and “speaks”. Just weird.
    Thanks for the help Lou!

  62. Truax February 2nd, 2017 10:35 am

    @Sandrine

    My guess on that plastic popping noise is maybe due to the tongue and overlap not seated/laid(?) properly. I had such a noise once in my F1s and it was because one side of the overlap was under the tongue. No more noise once corrected. Not sure if that helps but thought I’d throw it out there.

  63. ellen February 10th, 2017 5:55 pm

    I searched on wildsnow for ‘spring skis’ and couldn’t find what I needed. I want to replace my volkl nanuq with a lighter shorter spring ski – I like sidecut, no rocker, stiff enough to hold an edge on corn or firm funky snow…Anyway, if you can direct me to a post on this I would love to check it out! (Too many skinnier 90-98 skis seemed to be designed for powder which worries me…)

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  Your Comments

  • Christian: Doh! Never mind, wasn't reading the descriptions of the different cuts clea...
  • Christian: Any experiences on straight skin all the way down on wider skis? eg a 110mm...
  • Lou Dawson 2: Seems what folks need to know is that if you do not need heel flat on ski, ...
  • Lee Lau: Alex - the downside to using the Expert spring is that you can't easily wha...
  • Matus: VTskier, what is considered wider ski? I ski on 107mm skis and have my Raid...
  • VTskier: Just picked up a set in Val d'Isere. Locals in climbing/guide shop there (M...
  • Matus: IONs are OK but not light enough....
  • Lou Dawson 2: Regarding helmets, while I was skiing uphill today and thinking (imagine th...
  • Jack: Jim, See. Thanks for the advice. The G3 IONs appeal to me (they look coo...
  • Lou Dawson 2: Xer, I guess I did need to do a video (smile). The spring controls both sid...
  • XXX_er: a generic question on minimalist tech bindings, how is the up and down ret...
  • Daniel: I have the legacy Mammut RAS Pro 45 pack, very nice long back. I am 6'2 but...
  • Brent MacGregor: I have 2 European bottles. One steel, one carbon. I am happy to sell them a...
  • Alex: So if you are using the expert spring on this, to rotate the heal piece for...
  • Greg Louie: Thanks for the look, Lou, and hats off to Amer for taking the "Everything Y...
  • Matus: Lou, video is always easier for us to understand. Step by step photos of di...
  • Lou Dawson 2: See, I have some older Vipecs I can do a take-apart of, been meaning to, bu...
  • See: Interesting post, Lou. Thanks. Now if you could only break some Vipecs…...
  • Matus: I am switching from ATK to this Atomic next season. It looks like and ideal...
  • Lou Dawson 2: Eric, the plastic housing on the rear of the spring is strong, and doesn't ...
  • Eric Steig: Cool. What keeps the plastic housing, which holds the U-spring, from blo...
  • Lou Dawson 2: Shafty, not sure what you are referring to, you mean using screw rivets to ...
  • shafty85: Would this work on the Dynafit Mercury?...
  • Brent MacGregor: I have a carbon cylinder and a steel one both of which we brought from Euro...
  • See: And, as Lou said, alpine bindings aren’t perfect either. Tech toe lock is i...
  • See: I have a couple dozen days on G3 Ion 12’s, and I have a feeling that they a...
  • Jim Milstein: Jack, if you want a tech toe that behaves more like an alpine toe, consider...
  • Tom Gos: Cool Lou, and gutsy - I would be freaked out about doing this to a new pair...
  • AT: Hey lou- I'm somewhat confused by this post. Are the Fischer bindings just ...
  • Lou Dawson 2: Nice! And yeah, for exchange you can mail them empty totally legal, but yo...

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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