(2015 update, we’ve removed defunct shopping links, shop for backcountry ski touring boots here.)
Backcountry Freeride, Free Touring, Alpine Crossover — figure out your category yet? Skiers and industry players try to label the “new” trend in off-piste skiing, but we’re probably over thinking things. To keep it simple, I like to see it as simply “Powder Skiing,” since pow is what I’m out there for. But that’s not the point. The important thing is that gear is progressing in all areas of backcountry skiing. As we saw last year with all the pre-production boot demos we received, this year is bringing in an exciting slew of new, stiffer boots.
Thus, we begin a series of AT (alpine ski touring) boot buyer guides that list choices under various categories. Today we cover “overlap” boots, meaning boots that close with an overlapping flap on the lower shell, rather than a plastic tongue which extends from the toe up to the top of the upper cuff (known as a tongue boot). Stay tuned for more category overviews as the season progresses, especially other beefy shoes.
Overlap closure is the same as that of many performance alpine boots. For skiers such as myself with a background heavily influenced by downhill and resort skiing, overlap AT boots are a welcome addition to our arsenals. Not necessarily because overlapping construction is better, I’m not claiming that, but simply for the familiar feel and performance.
Below is a quick peek of the main players in the AT Boot – Overlap Construction Category for 2008. This is simply a buyers guide for your comparison (not intended as advocacy of any one type of boot construction or brand). Just a quick guide to see which boots offer features such as Dynafit fittings, weights (provided by the manufacturer until WildSnow receives production models to verified), price and sole options. Use the weights as a rough guideline only, as some are verified and some are not. More importantly, our weights are NOT normalized for an exact size, though they’re generally for a size around 27.
We excluded Flex Index numbers. As this is mostly a marketing scheme (or way of comparing flex within a brand line), with no reliance on standards of any sorts, we came to the conclusion that all you really need to know is which boot is stiffest within a brand. Also, know that all the stiffest boots are similar in beef, and factors such as fit and temperature of plastic during testing cause enough variation in stiffness to make comparison between brands difficult at best. As we receive production models of each boot, we will look into providing real world data on their individual stiffnesses. In the meantime, each boot marked with a is the stiffest boot in its brand line.
On to the boots…
|Dynafit / Tech Inserts||Flex Index||Weight (pair)||Sole Swap||Included Soles||Price|
|Factor||9 lb 2 oz||+$39.95||$729.99|
|Method||8 lb 12 oz||+$24.95||$669.99|
|Shiva (Women’s)||8 lb 12 oz||+$24.95||$669.99|
|Zzeus TF-X||8 lb 9 oz||$759.95|
|Argon||8 lb 8 oz||$699.95|
|Helium||6 lb 14 oz||$739.95|
|Agent AT||7 lb 8 oz||$825.00|
The Factor is a powerful combination of backcountry and alpine boots. It comes equipped with ISO Alpine DIN sole blocks and is compatible with BD AT blocks (sold separately), which are quickly and easily changed out with their four-screw attachment. (Though you have to remove the liner to access the heel screws.) BOA liner system offers a quick, fine-tuned liner fit.
Method & Shiva
The “Assistant to the Regional Manager,” these boots are slightly less stiff than the Factor. Sold with BD AT blocks (Alpine DIN blocks sold separately). Method is a bit friendlier in the climbs, but still stiff enough to drive big skis. Shiva is the women’s specific model.
Two boots in one? The Zzeus’s secret lies in its ability to convert from an alpine ski boot like flex into exceptional range of motion for uphill touring comfort. TF-X Liners for excellent out-of-the-box fit and probably the most durable of any liner we’ve seen. Dynafit’s “Quick Step-In” toe sockets for ease of binding entry. The ZZeus is designed to achieve both up AND downhill success. Includes both Alpine and AT soles standard. These boots may run slightly narrow for you wide footed Yeti’s out there.
This boot is Garmont’s 4-buckle boot with Dynafit binding compatibility. Available in a Men’s and Women’s model with G-Fit Liners. The manufacturer states weight savings of up to 1/2 lb per boot due to the boot being made from Pebax plastic. We’ll let you know our weight findings once we get all the boots at HQ. Radium offers a fixed AT sole with no alpine-swap options. Note that the Garmont way of doing an overlap is to extend part of the lower overlap up to the top of the cuff as a sort of modified tongue. This yields more beef and is also a handy “handle” used to open the boot when you put your foot in.
Burly enough to rip the toughest terrain and conditions on big skis, similar in stiffness to Radium. This polyurethane (PU) boot is available in a Men’s and Women’s model with G-Fit Liners. Argon gives you a price break if you don’t have the need for tech binding compatibility. Fixed AT sole with no swap options.
Utilizing a high overlap construction with only 3 buckles, Helium looks to provide a high level of downhill control at the lowest weight in the category. Perhaps the best choice for alpine tourers. Like the rest of the Garmont line, G-Fit lines and a fixed AT sole standard.
Tecnica’s foray into the Backcountry market. A few unique features we’re excited to see for ourselves including an instep buckle that has multiple positions for skiing and skinning (and only one lower buckle). Plus a spoiler that lowers when in walk mode (it drops down when you flip the walk switch). It will be interesting to see how a company with a more alpine focus executed an AT boot. Our samples indicate this boot runs large, and is of average yet adequate stiffness. Rearward cuff travel is excellent.
(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing and his wife Jessica live in Carbondale, Colorado, where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave’s ski career began due to a lack of quality skiing video games for NES.)