When you’re getting ready for the ski season, there are certain pieces of gear that you will need. No matter whether you’re buying or renting skis, you’ll need ski boots to wear with those skis.
Ski boots should be personalized to your skiing style and preferences. They aren’t a one-size-fits-all piece of gear and it can seem a little overwhelming when you’re looking at page after page of options. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best ski boots in 2019 that will help you make the most of your skiing seasons no matter what your style is.
How To Choose Ski Boots – Buying Guide
When flex is mentioned in reference to a ski boot, it refers to how much effort it takes to bend the boot. The lower the flex rating, the easier the boot is to bend and vice versa. Stiffer boots offer tighter control over your skis and require more precision. Lower flex ratings are easier to bend but offer slightly less precision in how you move.
The general consensus is that beginners will want a lower flex because these types of skiing shoes are easier to handle. Advanced and professional skiers, on the other hand, are going to want a tougher, higher flex so they can keep a tight reign on how their skis move. This is especially important for skiers who want to practice free skiing tricks such as flips, airs, rotations, and hybrids.
The flex rating exists on a numerical axis between 50 and 140. As we mentioned, the lower the flex rating, the more flexible the boots. The exact category a flex falls into depends on if you’re looking a men’s ski boots or women’s ski boots.
For men’s boots, the beginner range is from 60 to 80. Intermediate ski boots flex is considered with a rating between 80 and 110 while advanced skiers should consider anything from 110 and higher.
For women’s boots, the flex ratings run a little lower. Beginner ratings sit at 50 to 60, intermediate is 60 to 85, and anything 85 or higher is considered advanced.
When you’re talking about ski boots, last is the width of the forefoot on the skis. This is a very important specification to get right and since it needs to be so precise, manufacturers usually offer varying sizes to accommodate anyone’s size.
Instead of measuring this width the same way shoe sizes are done, it’s measured in millimeters. This offers an industry-wide standard and, since the sizes are measured in such small increments, you can find exactly what you need.
If you have narrow feet, your last is going to measure about 97 mm to 98 mm. The average skier will want to look for 100 mm to 102 mm. Ski boots for wide feet start at 103 mm and include anything above that margin. It can be difficult to find boots in this margin, however.
In these ranges, women’s sizes are usually the smaller number. For instance, the average for a men’s size would sit closer to 102 mm while the average women’s size is usually around 100 mm.
There are a few factors that play into how your ski boot should fit you. These include your skill level, the shape of your calves as well as your feet. It also has to do with you boot liner which will look at in greater depth in a moment.
The shell – excepting the liner – should give you a snug fit on your bare foot. As for extra space, it shouldn’t exceed the space of two fingers. To measure this, you should push your foot forward until your toes are pressing against the toe of the boot. If you can slide more than two fingers behind your heel, the boot is too big. You’ll want that two-finger test to wor. No space at all isn’t going to give you the most comfortable ski boots.
The upper part of the boot should also fit snugly. You don’t want it to hug your shin, calf, and ankle loosely. Even boots with lower flex ratings should fit tight enough that your shin and calf don’t slip. For one, it’s safer. In addition, it prevents the boot from irritating your leg by uncomfortably rubbing against it. Specifically, it should feel like someone is holding your leg in their hands. Not squeezing it, but snug enough that you don’t have room to twist your leg from side to side in the boot.
The fit of your boot should also fit the purpose for them. The most basic choice is a comfort fit. In these boots, your foot should touch the toe of your boot when you’re standing up straight. When you bend your knees, you’ll feel your foot pull away from the toe without your leg rising up out of the shoe.
A step up is a performance fit. The best ski boots in this category will sit between the feeling of a comfort fit and high-performance fit. In other words, you aren’t going to sacrifice performance and you aren’t going to sacrifice all feelings of comfort. When you stand straight up in these types of boots, your toes should press against the tip and still barely touch the tip of the shoe.
For the best technical performance, you’re going to have to sacrifice some of the wiggle room of a comfort fit boot. In fact, when you buy these types of ski boots, they’ll run about a full size smaller than standard ski boots. No matter if your standing or bending down, you’ll want to feel your toes pressed against the toe of the shoe. These will feel comfortable when you ski but they aren’t going to be very comfortable to walk around in. It can also take longer to break these types of boots in.
Type of Skis
If you’re looking into ski boots, it’s best to match them with the skis you have or will buy. For instance, if you’re a casual skier with a comfort fit, you don’t need to shell out for top-of-the-line skis made for professionals. You’re safe in using a looser binding.
On the other hand, if you are buying high-performance ski boots, it’s a good idea to match these best ski boots with an equally high-performance set of skis. In these cases, look for skis with tight bindings. This way, when you put on your ski boots and skis, you have a tight fit that gives you complete control over how your skis move.
Obviously, you aren’t going to want to buy ski boots that will fall apart quickly or show low quality in general. Unfortunately, if you only look at what a manufacturer says about their boots, you’re likely to only find positive language because they are trying to sell you something.
The best place to get an idea of the quality of the ski boots you’re considering is with ski boots reviews like the one we’re offering you here. This will give you genuine opinion on the boots you’re looking at and help you sort the best downhill ski boots from lower quality options.
Quality is constantly juxtaposed with value. Finding top-rated downhill ski boots is great. If you can’t afford the price tag on those boots, though, it can be pretty disheartening. The best downhill ski boots will give you a high level of quality as well as plenty of value.
You don’t need to sacrifice quality for your budget or vice versa. There are plenty of top-notch choices that will allow you to get what you want while staying in your budget. You should never have to choose cheap, low-quality shoes over high-quality, budget-friendly ones.
The liners you might find in your all-mountain ski boots aren’t that different from the liners you’d find in your regular shoes. They slip into your boot and create a more comfortable fit. Unlike standard liners in shoes, these have the same shape of the shoe rather than just sitting on the sole. In ski boots, they are of heat moldable. In other words, as your body heat warms the liner up, it molds to your foot. This creates a customized fit that will work for your feet in particular.
Buckle and Straps
The design of the buckles and straps on the best ski boots don’t vary too much between brands. They’re a pretty standard part of a boot and it’s incredibly important that they’re durable.
When you’re looking for the best downhill ski boots, you’re going to see that most of them have four buckles. Two of these buckles sit across your foot while another crosses your ankle and one more across your shin. Some lightweight ski boots might cut out the buckle at the ankle to reduce the weight of the boot. Downhill boots don’t need to worry so much about weight, so they don’t need to worry as much about reducing weight. Removing this buckle does reduce the support a bit as well.
Aside from buckles, ski boots also have straps. The most critical one is the strap at the top of the boot which is often referred to as the “power strap.” This will keep your leg and boot locked into place without the weight of a fifth buckle.
When you’re taking a look at ski boots you might want to buy, it’s crucial to look for durable straps and buckles. For instance, investing in a pair of ski boots with metal buckles are going to last longer than plastic buckles.
There are multiple types of ski boots you can choose from with their own features, pros, and cons.
Alpine ski boots are also called downhill ski boots. These have a stiff, often plastic shell that will hold your foot firmly in place and they shouldn’t shift around on your foot so much. With this boot, you’ll want to choose the smallest size that you can wear.
Interestingly enough, Alpine ski boots can be further broken down into four subcategories. This includes freestyle ski boots, freeride ski boots, race ski boots, and piste ski boots.
Piste boots are a little more relaxed and are made to be comfortable and used at resorts and lodges rather than more high-intensity skiing. There are tighter versions of a piste boot meant for higher performance but these bleed over into the category of race boots.
Race boots are stiff and tight because they are specifically dedicated to performance. These are pretty uncomfortable if you’re just walking around, so wearers typically wait to buckle the boots until they’re ready to start to ski.
Freeride ski boots are made to handle different terrain styles. Because of this, they have more lateral give. This side-to-side flexibility helps you adjust to different terrain types. The gripping sole also helps them adjust to packing or uphill skiing.
Freestyle boots are pretty flexible too. This is because they’re made to give extra control and absorb impact while the skier is hitting jumps and rails.
Getting away from Alpine ski boots, the next type is touring ski boots. These are unique because they have a switch on them that allows you to flip between touring mode and downhill mode. They have a large range of motion and they’re a very lightweight style. Touring bindings will allow you to free your heel for easier uphill movement and lock your heel back into place for downhill movement.
Cross-country ski boots are another type of ski boot where you need more movement for your food. You’ll want to be able to bend your heel while you ski in these. However, the sole needs to be pretty stiff laterally. This helps you to not make awkward moves with your ankle and it adds to the longevity of these boots. If you’re planning on racing, you’ll want to invest in the more expensive lightweight versions of these boots.
Telemark ski boots were once just a heavy-duty version of cross-country but this isn’t really the case anymore. Now, telemark ski boots are more similar to downhill ski boots. When you’re skiing in lift-access areas, your boots should be taller and stiffer. If you’re using your telemark gear for touring, it should be a lighter weight telemark design.
With these ski boots, you’ll want to feel your heel firmly held but allow your toes to move around a bit. These will fit securely around your calf but, interestingly, your toes shouldn’t ever sit pressed against the toe of the boot. These boots will feel a little looser than an Alpine ski boot. Standard telemark ski boots measures in at 75 mm across the front of the sole so they’ll fit 75 mm bindings.
Ski boot sizing isn’t always exactly like standard boot size we’re used to. Most notably, downhill ski boots use mondo sizing. This uses the length of the sole of the boot in centimeters rather than conventional numbered sizes. Even still, the measurements can vary slightly from brand to brand.
This is often considered an easier size to deal with than standard sizing methods. For one, it offers a concrete measurement. In addition, it’s a unisex measurement that makes things clear for any skier. For instance, in the United States, a women’s size 7.5 and a men’s size 6 both come in at a mondo size 24.
Remember, when you’re choosing a size, take last into consideration as we discussed earlier.
You’ll also want to keep in mind that some ski boots might stretch as you wear them. This is why many styles suggest you get a ski boot size smaller and tighter than you think you might need.
Walk or hike mode is available in most high-end and even medium-end ski boots. This allows you to separate the lower part of the boot from the upper shell. This lets you walk while the show is separated and it quickly latches back together when you’re ready to ski downhill. This is particularly useful to backcountry skiers.
Q: What should my ski boot flex be?
Your ski boot flex depends on a few factors. We already discussed that ski boot flex ratings are broken up into difficulty levels. For example, a beginner skier might want a lower range flex like 50 or 60. On the opposite hand, an experienced skier who’s looking to challenge themselves might want a stiffer boot in the 110+ range.
It can also depend a little bit on size. If you’re a pretty small woman, you might find that lower flex fits you better than a man over 6 feet tall.
If you aren’t sure what flex you want exactly, it’s better to use a low estimate instead of a high one. This will help you avoid pain and discomfort on the slopes.
Q: How long does a ski boot last?
Of course, you’re going to want ski boots that last you a long time rather than ones that will only carry you through one or two seasons. How long a ski boot lasts, though, depends on both the quality of the ski boot you wear and the frequency with which you wear it.
The average ski boot can last anywhere from 50 to 200 days of full skiing. This might not sound like much but if you were to ski for 20 days each year, that’s up to 10 years of use. Lower-end quality ski boots are going to lean towards the shorter lifespan while high-end boots will lean toward the long side of the lifespan scale.
You’ll know your skis are reaching their maximum lifespan by a few identifiers. If they aren’t detaching from their bindings easily, this means they’re fairly worn down and it can prevent a safety issue. You’ll also notice that the liners pack out which means you should either repair the ski boots or ditch them. There are also standard signs that you’d see in your ski boots as any other failing pair of shoes. For instance, if your feet are cold in what was once your warmest ski boots, it might be time to upgrade to a new pair. You might also see cracking in the shell of the boots.
When you’re looking at stiff flex ski boots, in particular, you’re going to eventually notice the flex softening when they near the end of their lifespan.
Q: What to do with old ski boots?
The obvious answer here is to throw your old ski boots away. Just toss them in the dumpster and wait for the trash company to do its part. However, there are better, greener ways to handle old ski equipment.
If your ski boots aren’t completely ruined, you might be able to donate them. You can look around for organizations that might be interested such as local recreational centers or even the ski lodge you frequent. This can give your ski boots a new life rather than just giving up on them.
Unfortunately, by the time many of us are ready to retire our favorite ski boots, they’ve been run into the ground. Don’t worry, these can still be taken care of in a green way as well. Hard plastic skis aren’t going to fit into your standard recycling fare. You’ll want to find someone who will take these items as a recyclable.
One such example is the Snow Sports Recycling Program by the Snow Sports Industries of America. Earth911 is also a great resource for finding a place for recycling unique waste products.
Q: How to clean and dry ski boots
The most important part of the ski boot when cleaning them is the liner of the boot. The shell of the boot doesn’t need as much cleaning but can be wiped off if it gets dirty.
The liner should be cleaned routinely rather than just done at the end of each season. Yet, you can get away without cleaning them with every use but you’ll want to clean them often enough that you don’t have to worry about dirt and odor buildup.
The manufacturer of a boot usually suggests whether their product should be machine or hand washed.
If you’re machine washing a boot liner, you should pull the liner from the boot and toss them in the washing machine. Be sure to use a mild detergent and set the machine on a gentle cycle.
When you’re handwashing liners, start by filling your sink up with warm water and a healthy squirt of dish soap. If your liners are particularly odorous, add about ¼ of a cup of household ammonia to the mix.
Place the liners into the sink and let them sit for about five minutes. Then, you can use a sponge or soft-bristle brush to scrub the liners.
No matter if you machine or hand washed your liners, do not put them in the dryer. Instead, stuff them with paper towels so that they keep their shape and sit them out to air dry. Any excessive heat runs the risk of shrinking the liners.
Ski boots are an essential and basic part of your winter sports gear. So, you’ll want something that offers you quality and will last you a long time. So, you’ll want to consider the important features of your ski boots and make a careful choice.
If you’re looking for the perfect pair of ski boots for you, you’re sure to find something that suits your needs on this list. These ski boots are all great choices with unique features that make them valuable to individual skiers’ needs.
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