If the boot fits, buy it
I get this question quite a bit: what is the best ski touring boot? In short, the answer is easy: if the boot fits, buy it. That is the one, and only, rule of ski boot fitting. Ski boots for alpine racing or aggressive resort skiing tend to get fitted on the tight side. I would recommend going a half size or so bigger if in doubt. But a good boot fitter who knows about ski touring should know that already.
Of course your foot might not fit into any boot comfortably. This is where the skills of a good boot fitter come in. Try to find a boot seller that offers quality boot fitting services. They’ll first of all find a boot that is the closest match to your foot possible. Then they’ll heat mold your liner and probably ask you to go out and do a short day of ski touring (on a day that’s not too cold!) and come back and report your experience. At that point they’ll likely make a few adjustments either to the liner (usually this is the first thing they address since it’s easier to reverse if necessary) or to the shell (punches are pretty much permanent, irreversible changes).
There are four main classes of ski touring boots: “Ski-mo”, “Lightweight”, “Hybrid” and “Crossover”. After fit, there are two broad categories of boots you should consider, unless your needs are very specific.
For most people, your first boot should be a Hybrid boot. This is a boot that is mainly designed for ski touring but does well at the resort as well. You might also consider a Lightweight boot if your goal is to keep the legs fresh on long missions.
Crossover and Ski-mo
I don’t recommend Crossover boots to anyone. Exceptions are are expert skiers looking to ski aggressive lines (think steep couloirs, cliff drops, etc.) or skiers who stick to the resorts with forays into the slackcountry (“lift accessed ski touring”). Crossover boots are heavy, stiff and consequently uncomfortable for touring. If they are any heavier than 1600 g (per boot) then you’re in the Crossover class. Four buckles is usually the clue to steer clear. For 95% of ski tourers you shouldn’t consider these boots unless you’ve got a lot of storage space, spare cash, and want a boot quiver.
Likewise, Ski-mo boots (aka “Ultralight”) are way too light for 99% of ski tourers. They weigh in the 500-700 g range and are typically constructed using carbon fibre, which cannot be molded, and are flimsy and prone to breakage. They are uncomfortable and have poor to very poor downhill performance. Only consider these boots if you are racing in Ski-mo competitions or are interested in very long and fast missions and don’t mind survival skiing for the downs.
Hybrid (aka freeride)
These boots should be your first consideration. When I first started ski touring over 30 years ago there wasn’t much selection for ski touring boots. That’s changed dramatically, especially in the last 10 years. Today there are dozens of options,
and most of those make for good hybrids, meaning suitable on or off piste. For marketing purposes many companies call these boots “Freeride” boots. I can see why — they’re great all-round off-piste boots — but they’re not stiff or burly enough for the heavy duty missions that you see in the Red Bull videos.
Look for a boot in the 1200-1500 grams/boot range that has 2 or 3 buckles. Almost all ski touring boots these days have “Dynafit-compatible Tech inserts” — don’t consider any boot without them. Any shop that sells ski boots these days should know what this means; if not then you’re at the wrong shop! Tech inserts allow you to use the lightweight pin-style bindings, which is essential.
From there, remember the (one and only) rule of touring ski boot fitting: find the boots that fit the most comfortably out of the box. In other words, what works for me might not work for you since everyone’s feet are different. Resist the urge to go out and buy whatever boot your buddy (or a review) raves about. All boots these days ski well if they fit well. The only thing that really truly matters is comfort.
Scarpa Maestrale RS boots are an example. They are lightweight but ski well on and off piste, and they’re the only boots that fit me out of the box without bootfitting (and I’ve tried a lot of boots). But if you’re not happy with the fit, there are many other boots in that class that would be great too, such as the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, Dynafit Radical Pro, Scott Cosmos Pro, Dynafit TLT 8 Expedition, Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130, La Sportiva Vega. or Fischer Transalp Tour. Lots to choose from. Remember: comfort above all, forget about everything else (color, weight, gizmos, reviews, even price!) unless you find two boots that fit equally well.
lightweight ski touring
The other ski boot to seriously consider is the “Lightweight” class of touring boots. If your priority is backcountry turns with an emphasis on long days then you should consider these. Look for boots in the 800-1000 gram range. These boots bridge the “Ski-mo” and “Hybrid” class of boots. They typically have one buckle or a power strap plus a knob/wire lacing system (e.g. Boa).
There are a few considerations before springing $1k on a pair of Lightweight boots. First, they are not durable. You need to treat them gently: no hard stomping or hard charging or you’ll break them in short order. Second, they are not warm. This is easily solved with heated socks. Third, they may not be comfortable (see Rule #1) and they may be hard for boot fitters to adjust (e.g. the Backland Carbon or Scarpa F1 LT, which use carbon in the shell). And fourth, they tend to be soft and not great for the down.
There’s actually a pretty good selection available these days in this class. Fischer Travers CS, Scarpa F1 LT, Atomic Backland Carbon, and Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory are a few examples. All weigh between 800 and 1000 grams.
I got to try out some pretty cool new gear in Winter 2019. Here’s a few reviews.
Check out this review for another positive take on Fischer’s awesome Travers boot, by Markus Baranow.
Great ski adventures
Bow Yoho Traverse – An awesome hut to hut ski traverse in the Canadian Rockies. Minimum skill levels required: Intermediate ski skills; no prior ski touring experience necessary
Svalbard Ski and Sail – an exotic ski adventure in the high arctic north of Norway. Access remote fjords and untouched slopes from the gaff rigged sailing vessel the s/v Noorderlicht.