Lou’s Denali Boots – Stretching and Molding

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 3, 2010      

The two brands of boots that fit me best are Dynafit and Garmont. No mystery, as the two companies are somewhat cross-pollinated in terms of the Italian boot experts that design the things. As I’m still a big fan of how the Dynafit ZZero CF combines performance with lack of weight, I thought it would be fun to use a pair of the “Green Machines” for our Denali trip.

Mark Rolfes was kind enough to let me use his boot fitting bench, which includes a nice array of stretching and punching tools.

Master fitter Mark Rolfes was kind enough to let me use his boot fitting bench, which includes a nice array of stretching and punching tools.

Thing is, my present size 27.5 (sole length 306 millimeters) ZZeros are performance fit by downsizing the shell for ankle snugness, then blowing out the toe so I still have room for my little piggys. That won’t do for Denali; simply not enough volume in the toes for me (in terms of staying warm, my feet are average to cold). So as I posted about a while ago, I upsized one shell to a 28 (sole length 316 mm). I then blew out the toe of the 28 about 4 millimeters more, then molded a size 29 liner with my neoprene vapor barrier liners and wool socks. Follow along.

Interestingly, I also tried the next shell size up from the 28. The toe area fit great, but the ankle and midfoot area were huge. Thus, I think my compromise of using the 28 for a decent ankle fit but blowing out the toe a bit is a good blend. I used the 29 liner because when checking the 28, I noticed there was some extra volume available, and I was pretty sure from past experience that stretching out the 28 liner in the toe area would thin out the liner foam and make the boots colder.

AT randonnee boots have sole rocker. Rocker is good. Stretching the toe can easily remove the rocker if you're not careful so for starters I place a marked shim under the rocker for reference, and to hold the toe rocker up while molding.

AT randonnee boots have sole rocker. Rocker is good. Stretching the toe can easily remove the rocker if you're not careful so for starters I place a marked shim under the rocker for reference, and to hold the toe rocker up while molding.

Water was puddled inside the boot to prevent sole warpage, but protecting the lower sole plastic from heat was also the ticket.

Water was puddled inside the boot to prevent sole warpage, but protecting the lower sole plastic from heat was also the ticket.

Regarding the liners, while they seem to work I’m not stuck on the Dynafit/Palau. I’ve got some of the new Intuition Pro Tour liners as well, and we’ll be sticking those in shortly and filing a report. Busy busy!

Red line indicates stock toe shape, I blew the whole thing out about 4 milllimeters.

Red line indicates stock toe shape, I blew the whole thing out about 4 millimeters.

I’m in the process of testing the fit, and while my custom ZZeros seem quite warm I can already tell I might need another punching sesh for more volume over my toes and a bit more width at the ball of the foot. And yes Virginia, I did temporarily remove the magic buckle.

As for the other team members, they’re mostly in Scarpa. Louie got an upsized pair of Spirit 3, Jordan is in some Skookums, and so forth. Most models of Scarpas have a slightly bigger toe box than is common in other brands, so they tend to be warmer out-of-the-box. We’ll file some fitting info about the Scarpas as well, once we get going on that.

And yes, some of you have mentioned that you’ve used regular fitted AT boots for Denali trips. For someone who’s feet tend to stay warm and who’s using a boot that’s not performance fit, that’s perhaps workable. But in the case of our trip, with only myself and Caleb having Denali experience, we’re erring on the conservative side and making sure everyone’s ski boots are safe at 30 below zero. The general idea is to upsize one shell size and use use a thermo liner, warm footbed, vapor barrier socks, and wool socks.

If you need help with boot fitting in the Aspen area, you can contact Mark Rolfes through his website, fitboots.com.


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29 Responses to “Lou’s Denali Boots – Stretching and Molding”

  1. ToddL February 3rd, 2010 11:57 am

    That’s interesting. I have been preparing for a cold weather trip as well, and upsized my normal 29 Garmont Mega-lites to a size 30. I then used a size 31 scarpa liner (TT high style). I found that the size 31 liner in the size 30 boot worked better than the stock Garmont liner, and better than a size 30 Scarpa liner. I basically picked the largest size liner I could fit into the boot. I also have a very low volume foot and skinny ankles. BTW, I also added a booster strap, and use the g-ride tongues to stiffen up the very floppy Mega-lite tongues. If I want it stiffer than that, I use Scarpa Denali tongues. I have noticed a slight down grade in performance with the larger boot, but it is much less than I thought it would be. For me, using the larger liner helped a lot. I use liner socks and thick wool socks in the boots for added warmth, and did not need to mold the liners.

  2. kirk Turner February 3rd, 2010 12:59 pm

    I have a pair of 27 titans with 28 intuition luxury liners and couldn’t be happier, it allows me to run a supportive foot bed and ski all day long, the larger liner even for an everyday boot seems it make a big differance if you have fit issues…..

  3. Bill February 3rd, 2010 2:44 pm

    Not knowing much about customizing boots, I’ve always been curious. When you punch out the plastic, isn’t there a fear of weakening the structure of the boot thus causing future cracks, etc? And if not, why doesn’t the manufacturer make the plastic thinner thus saving on the weight that you’re always talking about. :unsure: P.S. I’m obviously not very smart because I just incorrectly answered your anti-spam quiz.

  4. Palouse Matt February 3rd, 2010 2:45 pm

    Lou, does your new boot fit take into account the expansion of your neoprene socks which will happen at higher altitude?

  5. Lou February 3rd, 2010 3:47 pm

    Matt, yes. What I did was fit them with the liner but no sock. With a sock they fit perfect, but they are not packed out. Once they pack out there will be room for expansion. The neoprene socks we got are the super thin ones, so I doubt they expand much. But they certainly will a bit. Thanks for the reminder, I’ve heard that’s really messed up some people’s feet. If all else fails, I can always throw a plastic bag in there over my socks, or just use without a VBL if conditions aren’t too severe.

  6. Lou February 3rd, 2010 3:49 pm

    Bill, most boots are over-built to compensate for wear and abuse. When you punch out, it is really very little change so doesn’t thin the plastic much. Going agro with it could certainly be a problem, but I’m always pretty careful when I do it.

  7. Blue Alpine February 3rd, 2010 4:21 pm

    What do you make of that color?! Nobody will miss you on the slopes in those neon green boots.

  8. Mark W February 3rd, 2010 5:34 pm

    I like my zeroes a lot, butwould like the TLT 5 equally I suspect.

  9. Terry February 3rd, 2010 6:33 pm

    I wonder if you could write a little about “blowing out” your boots, Lou? I keep hearing that Pebax rebounds and can’t be stretched out…but that’s from a shop that doesn’t have tools to stretch boots – gotta love the SF Bay area :-(. huge populations but many small towns in British Columbia have more pro boot fitters than this entire area!

    Also, am wondering if you have discovered the magic temp range beyond which boots melt? You had an article a year or so ago, which had me go out to buy an infrared thermometer (great tool).

  10. Lou February 3rd, 2010 6:52 pm

    Terry, I left my test swatch at the boot fitter, but I think the magic temperature was around 250 degrees the last time I did it, but I might have gone hotter. And no, it doesn’t rebound if heated up enough. If it did, my test swatch would have returned to its original shape.


  11. Andrew February 3rd, 2010 10:38 pm

    If you are worried about the cold, bring a few of those Warmer Grabbers and put them inside your liners. It may get down to -30, but probably not for an extended period, so you don’t have to bring a ton of them. They also tend to help keep your feet drier as well.

  12. Arne February 4th, 2010 3:29 am

    Sorry for the slightly off topic question: I seem to have low volume feet as I feel like I’m swimming in most AT boots. My impression is that Garmont has low volume compared to Scarpa, while Dynafit is about the same as Garmont of slightly larger. How would you order these boots in terms of volume, and what about the Black Diamonds?

  13. Arne February 4th, 2010 3:49 am

    Did you consider a boot cover, for example the Alpenheat?

  14. KevinD February 4th, 2010 9:54 pm


    I have Garmont Heliums which are my first pair of overlap style boots. I’ve seen posts on your blog about overlap boots (Radiums) having less “vertical” toe room. I seem to be having cold toe problems (Chilblains) and want to blow my shells vertically over my toes.

    Have you ever seen it done? Wonder how it would affect the overlap, like possible water leakage.

  15. Lou February 5th, 2010 8:35 am

    Kevin, yeah, you have to be careful with that or the overlap can get all messed up. You might check and see if there is anything in there that’s pressing down on your toes, that could possibly be ground down a bit. Also, look at how thick the layers are UNDER your foot, perhaps you can drop your foot down a hair by playing around with your footbeds or something.

  16. Scott February 5th, 2010 3:40 pm

    Lou, in regards to flexibility/stiffness how would you compare the Intution Pro Tour liner to Garmont’s G-fit liner? I am in need of new liners for my Radiums and thought the Pro Tours would be a good option for my skinny bony feet but I can not find any info on them and the folks at Intution were not very helpful.

    Thank you

  17. Lou February 5th, 2010 4:37 pm

    Scott, funny you should ask, as I just molded some Intuition Pro tours for one of the Denali boys. I’d consider the G-Fit and Pro Tour to be about the same in terms of stiffness, but know that the Pro Tour also has the option of a tongue with more stiffener laminated on top. I sent Tyler off with those, we’ll see what he says in a week or so after he’s tested them.

  18. Brian Muller October 23rd, 2010 11:54 pm

    Hey Lou, Im curious about your overboot system on the trip. did you guys use a full on overboot, and if so how did you mod it for use with skis.

  19. Lou October 24th, 2010 7:33 am

    Brian, we used the 40 Below neoprene overboots, combined with ski boots fit for warmth. The overboots were not necessary other than summit day since everyone had their ski boots oversized and fitted for warmth. If we had not had the overboots on summit day, some of us would have gotten frostbitten feet. Per tradition, the overboots were removed for the ski down as they don’t work well in ski bindings. I did try to mod some overboots to fit in Dynafits, last winter while prepping for the trip, and was not happy with the results.

    40 Below is prototyping a more binding compatible overboot, of which I have some samples we’re testing. More on that soon.

    Also, I used the Boot Glove product and found it to be excellent for those cold morning starts, though it didn’t provide enough warmth for summit day and I ended up using overboots instead. If you play around with Boot Glove, my advice is to forget the aluminum foil boot liner “insulator” that comes with it (in my testing, the aluminum foil did nothing for warmth, and basic physics shows it might even make your feet colder), and mod the Boot Glove and your boots with some velcro to hold the Boot Glove toe down.

    More about Boot Glove via following link.



  20. Pete October 10th, 2014 9:00 am

    Nice job. Respect.
    Blog is public, so I ask directly. There a lot of talk about sizing for boot models I am verey interested in. How long are your feet in mm? In US its 26,5cm ?

  21. Pete October 10th, 2014 9:27 am

    Probably your “antispam” guard software added some letters to message and removed word “median” in the last question. MM info helps me to understand your boot reviews even better. Thank you for info in advance.

  22. Lou Dawson 2 October 10th, 2014 10:08 am

    Pete, our test boots are usually size 27 or 28. Is that the information you’re looking for?

  23. Pete October 10th, 2014 11:16 am

    Thank you for your prompt answer. I was asking about your feet length. Did I understand right depending on purpose you tour mondo size 28-29 wih Dynafit boots?
    What I am after, how small shall can be for 2 day trips.

    I am just starting touring and touring boot sizing question is very important and complicated for me. Buying 2 pairs of top expensive boots not under the question right now.
    E.g. I have 277/8 mm feet and nomally ski boots size 26 with thin liners (Nordicas, Zipfits now also with very thin Intuitions). With heavy plugs I am happy with size 27 (they offer the best fit).
    Looking for touring boots first I tried size 27 Vulcans and Scarpan DIN/Tech model. They both were really huge in length and width. Again size 26 is good, slightly small in the length, but how it could be on longer days? It is not only shorter but also narrower. I try to find answers from comments about the boots tested here. Personally I can hike up in shorter hiking boots, but how is it when hike up in hard shell with under 10mm shell fit? Trying to figure it here. Thanks for your advice in advance.

  24. Lou Dawson 2 October 10th, 2014 11:29 am

    Pete, you need to work with a boot fitter. In my case, I often go down in size and expand the toe, so I can fit tighter around other parts of my foot. Sounds like you have the same situation. In other words, a 28 is a nice length for me but too roomy and large, a 27 is slightly too short but fits well everywhere else. So we expand for toe and then very comfortable. Adding some length is a standard procedure for a boot fitter. Lou

  25. Pete October 10th, 2014 11:39 am

    How much Grilamid can be stretched in length with 26 size Vulcans? I tried to discuss the matter with boot fitter. He was very cautious about all the idea (Grilamid shell length stretching). I did’nt get picture why, probably because of Grilamid. BTW it was well equipped shop. They do boot fitting around the year.

  26. Lou Dawson 2 October 10th, 2014 12:07 pm

    Find another boot fitter. Grilamid is easy to work with. How much it can be stretched depends on shape of your foot. If all you need is a bump out for your big toe, super easy. If you need the whole toe box enlarged, more difficult. Lou

  27. Pete October 10th, 2014 12:19 pm

    -Important to know. Thanks!
    -Yepp. Will look better around. All the toe box should be expanded. I know a couple other placed around.
    -Is it very bad idea to hike in short shell? Do you know in person people who tour in short shell in reasonable temperatures for reasonable distance/vertical? How much space in the shell a person need (narrow feet). Thank you for info 🙂

  28. Pete October 11th, 2014 8:33 am

    Hello again, my question left unanswered and finding the answer is interesting could you please give me your opinion:
    1) how bad feels hiking up in short shell with like 5-10mm shell fit on longer days? Doesn’t heel go back in hard shell as well? Doesn’t short shell help again excessive movements in the shell and blisters? On short hikes there never prob for me, never blisters. I am asking about longer days.
    2) How much free space in the shell a person really need in width and length for hiking up? Say, if person using molded standard Dynafit liners, and temp -15C.
    I far from finding answer for all my newbie questions here, but big thanks 😉

  29. Lou Dawson 2 October 11th, 2014 8:57 am

    Hi Pete:

    1. On a scale of bad from 1 to 10, hiking in a short shell would be a 9.
    1.a. Blisters are a result of complex causes, no way to know if short shell would help or not.
    2. Standard boot fitting technique is to place your bare foot in shell with no liner, stand with weight on foot and move foot until toes are touching front of shell. For for ski touring you want to be able to stack two fingers together and insert behind your heel in shell. That is how much space you need in the shell.

    Again, you need a boot fitter.

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