Lou’s Denali Boots – Part One

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 30, 2009      


This post is pretty funny. It was a draft that I accidentally published a few days ago. So I took it down by advancing the date, but wasn’t thinking and just advanced it a few days, so it published again this morning! It’s the post that won’t go away! I guess the Logos is speaking to me (“it’s gear review season Louuuuuuu, get on the case!”, so I guess I’ll just publish it and expand upon the subject this weekend.

Dynafit ZZero selection for Denali.

Dynafit ZZero selection for Denali.

We’re using three or four brands of boots on Denali. Eight guys, different feet to fit, different brands fit different feet. You know the drill. SCARPA will be well represented, as will Garmont. We might have a pair or two of Black Diamond in there as well, since they’re in their sophomore year with bugs worked out. I’ll be in a pair of Dynafit ZZero “Green Machines,” which fit me well and yield a nice combination of stiffness, tourability, and light weight.

My choices:

Present Dynafit ZZero, 27.5, sole length 306 (my performance fit, but too small if it got cold up there on the big one).

Choice one: Size 28 shell, 316 mm sole length, another centimeter of room.

Choice two: size 29, 326 mm sole length, two centimeters over original.

So, the deal is that I’ve got skinny ankles and skinny lower legs (actually, I’m all skinny, even my ears, but that’s another subject.) To get a good fit in most ski boots, I go with a smaller shell and punch out the toes. That way I get good ankle snugness without resorting to endless boot fitting tricks. But the weather up on Denali can get super cold in the summit regions. You might luck out and get balmy conditions, but with your feet you have to be prepared for the worst. Frostbite can damage your peds for life.

If you’re a non-skiing climber, you can just carry overboots as insurance. But using overboots with AT ski boots is a hassle. For one, you have to remove them to get into your skis (or else modify them). And overboots involve more messing around with crampons as well. So in my opinion the best ski boot strategy is to just fit them with plenty of volume, make sure they’re not too tight in the toe area, and fill the volume with wool socks, a vapor barrier liner, and a nice puffed out thermo-form liner. If this is all done correctly and you have average feet, they should be safe for below zero temperatures provided we’re dressed warmly, eating correctly, and healthy.

At any rate, Dynafit sent me a selection of boots for fit checking. On first try, it looks like the 326 is WAY too big to fit. But the 316 is still a bit narrow in the ball of the foot. So I’ve got some work to do. I’ll either stay with the 316 and do some punching, or resign myself to a winter of fitting toil and make the 326 work. It’ll probably be the 316.

BTW, key with this sort of fitting is how the shell fits your foot _without_ the liner. What I’m looking for is something like a 2 1/2 finger fit, meaning one can place the thickness of 2 1/2 fingers behind their heel with bare foot in the shell. But more, I’m looking at insulation space on either side of my forefoot when it’s in there without the liner. To get an accurate read on that, I throw a couple of generic footbeds in there to raise my foot up a bit so it’s the same as if I was inside a liner with footbed. What I’m seeing is that insulation space is limited, so I’ll have to be careful.


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14 Responses to “Lou’s Denali Boots – Part One”

  1. john Gloor October 30th, 2009 7:23 pm

    Lou, is there a misprint in the sole lengths given. It looks like the Mondo 29 is 30cm longer, not two. Is you present boot too tight, or too tight for cold temps?

  2. Lou October 31st, 2009 4:27 am

    John, it was a typo. Corrected. I’ll be writing on this post today and doing some editing. But main thing is I’ve got skinny ankles, so I get the best boot fit by downsizing then punching out the toes if necessary. But doing that results in a boot that’s got minimal volume and is not particularly warm. So I have to upsize quite a bit for Denali. Likewise, most guys with a performance fit (all of us) will not to upsize their boot shells one step. So we’ll all be begging, borrowing or scrounging boots for the trip.

    In my case, Dynafit is lending me some boots for the winter/spring. My plan is to use them quite a bit this winter as I have a lot of trouble fitting larger boots so this is going to take some work. Thanks Dynafit!

  3. ed October 31st, 2009 7:58 am


    With the Scarpa’s in mind, and your “present fit”, how did you come up with the 27.5 precisely? What measurements did you go by & how much room (front-back) do you have left in toe-box when clamped down? Or from your experience, how much should you have, ….for performance fit??


  4. Lou October 31st, 2009 8:11 am

    Ed, there is no hard and fast rule for fitting a ski boot. I came up with the 27.5 in the Dynafit ZZero because the next shell size up just had too much room in the ankle area and I couldn’t easily control my heel rise, especially while touring. That’s probably my biggest fit problem, that of my heels moving up and down while touring. Lace-up liners really help me with that, but most liners are not lace-up anymore so I’ve gone to other methods.

    As for room for performance fit, you basically end up with very little and just make sure there is enough in the toe area not to get black toenails or frostbite. When you’re fitting the boots you can feel it by just buckling down then kicking the toe of the boot into the floor. When you do this with performance fit, your ends of your toes will feel the liner, but just barely. With a “mountaineering fit” you’d have quite a bit more room than that. You might still feel the liner when kicking, but not much.

  5. Thomas B October 31st, 2009 1:26 pm

    Lou, have you ever found VB socks that actually fit well, no creases, weird seams, etc. I end up resorting to plastic bags…
    FYI something on your dynafits tips and tricks page is making my computer crash every time….It never crashes otherwise! It’s a Mac running firefox.

  6. Thomas B October 31st, 2009 1:28 pm

    oh yeah, what about the Scarpa tele boots that are Dynafit compatible and published weights lighter than AT boots!

  7. Nick Washburn October 31st, 2009 3:32 pm

    Lou – just curious, what combination/system did Davenport go with when he did Denali?

  8. Jason McGowin October 31st, 2009 4:20 pm

    Having skied Denali, I have to say I am against the conventional wisdom on applying a “mountaineering” fit to AT boots for high altitude. I found great success using my standard AT boots (with an at-most 2 finger performance fit) and just re-bake the liners to make sure that a liner-vapor sock-outer sock combination fit in the boot. We used overboots (with Frischi’s) and it worked really well. When I go back, I would really try to work out overboots with Dynafit. I would think you relish trying to figure out the overboot/Dynafit combo. Frankly, when I saw that you were going to go to Denali, I assumed you would solve this for me so I did not have to.

    Also remember that at high altitude (above 14K) with a heavy pack, any slop is magnified.

    If you get a boot that’s too big, you’ll have to crank down your buckles to ski, cutting off circulation. Guaranteed to make your feet cold. The only one in our group who had troubles with his feet had fit them a size bigger.

    I’d also cut out a spot in your footbed for heat packs.

  9. Lou October 31st, 2009 5:28 pm

    Jason, good thoughts, am planning on the molded in heat pack. But I disagree about the fit. But perhaps you’re getting the wrong impression. By mountaineering fit I don’t mean a poorly fitted sloppy boot, I’m just talking about enough insulation to make them safe at cold temps up high, without the hassle of overboots. Also, enough room for the toes! Taking a boot up there with performance fit could work fine if conditions cooperate, but with 8 aggressive guys who will probably summit no matter what the temperature, we’ve got to be a bit more tricky than that. You only get one set of toes.

    Also, bear in mind that the Dynafit boot fit I presently use would NEVER work up there. I’ve tested them in Colorado, and they’re marginal in terms of warmth, though they ski great!

  10. Dostie November 1st, 2009 4:45 pm

    Thomas B,

    I HAVE found VB socks that fit and work well. Even tested them on Denali. Only side effect worth noting is they stink to high heaven. But within the limits imposed by the wrong sized boots I took, my feet stayed warm.

    Which brings me to my next point. It is a well documented fact that digits swell at altitude. Thus, make sure you have LOTS of toe wiggle room that can be filled at lower elevation with an extra layer of socks, or cranking the buckles, and alleviated up high with fewer socks or loosely clamped buckles.

    I lost circulation in my feet 5 minutes out of camp at 17k. Turned back at 18.6k after calculating I hadn’t felt anything beneath my ankle for about 2 hours. Returned to camp at 17k, pulled off the boots and had freezer burn blisters on both my big toes. No summit, but I still have all my digits.

  11. Dostie November 1st, 2009 4:47 pm

    Thomas B. et al,

    Sorry, forgot to include the VB sock company. Gator socks. Neoprene socks that fit well, hold the moisture in and prevent blisters while they’re at it. Highly recommended where VB is advised.

  12. Lou November 1st, 2009 7:09 pm
  13. Ron Rash November 2nd, 2009 10:06 am

    Hi Lou,

    Are you and the boys taking Outdoor Research Brooks Ranger Overboots? I would suggest taking them for when you get to camp. I have had great success putting them on over my ski boots when I get to camp and start digging in. Later I take my ski boots off and put the inner boots in my parka under my armpits. The inner boots are in one of three places at all times. On my feet, in my sleeping bag with me, or under my parka. The over boots are great too if you get snowed in and have to go out and dig out. They can be used for extreme cold if your not using skis and adjustable crampons do fit over them. The Brooks Ranger have been on the summits of most if not all of the 8,000 meter peaks and their still cheaper than alot of other overboots on the market.

    Who do I send my invoice to for my consulting work?

  14. Florian November 20th, 2009 6:50 am

    Hi Lou,
    Other than my megaride’s (which i love for touring), I’m looking for boots on which I can climb ice and mixed terrain comfortably as well. And of course with which I can step in my dynafit bindings afterwards (or on top of the climb) for a comfortable descent. Climbing will be up to 80/85 degrees on for instance Chamonix couloirs. I was looking at Dynafit TLT 4’s myself but I am eager to hear any ideas.

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