Your guide to buying ski boots
The process of buying ski boots can be a daunting one. Many of us have only experienced rental boots - worn before by loads of people with a bunch of different foot shapes. More often than not, rental boots aren't fitted by a trained boot fitter - they're at best uncomfortable, at worst the wrong size altogether - and can easily restrict your enjoyment and progression.
But fear not – there's a whole world of comfort and performance available to everyone when you know what to look for, and you've come to the right place.
At Freeze, we're all passionate riders, with a detailed approach to boot choice and fitting, because we know how much difference a well-chosen and fitted boot can make to your enjoyment of that all-important time on the hill.
Our ski boot buying guide will take you through the main things that you'll need to consider, and help you make a choice that's right for you. We'll look at...
- Outer shell
- Footbeds & insoles
- Sock choice
We break our boot range down into men's, women's and touring-specific boots. Here's what makes each category different...
Men's boots are specifically designed for adult males and older teenagers, sized from a UK7 to UK15. The boot is generally stiffer given that men are generally heavier and more powerful than women and juniors.
Women's boots are usually sized from a UK2 or US4 to UK9 or US11. They generally rise to a lower height up the leg and have specific fit and shape that's tailored to women.
Touring boots are specifically designed to deal with the unique challenges associated with ski touring. They're generally contstructed with lighter weight materials to make them more comfortable and manageable during a climb. It's also worth remembering that they can be specific to a particular type of touring binding, like 3-Pin and Pin Tech, which you can read more about shortly.
Ski boots are generally sized in a scale called Mondo Point, which measures the length from the heel to the end of the longest toes in cm. To understand roughly what size you’d be in Mondo Point, check out this chart that compares UK, US and European shoe sizes together with the Mondo scale.
Each boot also has a sole length too. This doesn’t relate to your foot size – it's the length of the outer shell of the boot in millimetres. You'll usually find it stamped into the plastic on the outside heel of the boots and is needed to accurately fit the binding to the boot.
Ski boots come in a number of styles to suit how they'll be used and in what terrain. Almost all ski boots are made using an outer plastic shell, an inner liner and an insole or footbed. We'll look at each one in order...
1. The outer shell
The shell is generally made of two parts, sometimes three. Two-part designs use a lower clog and an upper cuff. The lower clog wraps around your foot and connects you to the skis through the bindings.
It's the structural part of the boot that defines the shape of the boot in terms of heel, instep and toe width and volume. You can fine-tune the fit of the lower clog using the boot's bottom buckles, but it's important to get a good fit initially when trying them on.
The upper cuff is the part that connects to the top of the lower clog, pivoting at the ankle, and wrapping around your lower leg and shin. It supports your weight and keeps you balanced and it's largely responsible for transferring energy onto the edge of the ski – providing grip and driving the ski through the turn.
The outer shell will have a flex rating that defines how stiff or strong the boots are. Women’s will generally rated between 70 and 110 and men’s are generally between 90 and 140. The higher the number, the stiffer the boot. Generally stiffer boots give a higher performance, with the exception of some freestyle boots which are designed with more flex in mind.
If you're taller or heavier, you'll feel more supported with a stiffer model.
Mid-range men’s boots are usually between 100 and 110 flex, while women’s are typically around 80 flex. Most brands used this stiffness indicator in the model name or number – like in the case of Rossignol’s Alltrack Pro 110 with its flex rating of 110.
2. The liner
The inner liner sits between your foot and the outer plastic shell of the boot, delivering comfort, fit and performance. All of the ski boots we stock have heat-mouldable liners that allow the boots to be fitted to your feet quicker than they would though general wear. This helps to create a more personalised fit around your foot.
Most ski boots come with a classic liner with a floating tongue that’s stitched at the toe area, allowing you to seat the tongue in the right place for your foot and flex your ankle inside the shell. Brands like Full Tilt use a wrap around liner that offers excellent heat-moulding properties, so the fit is very specific to your foot and lower leg.
Liners come in slightly different designs, depending on the type of boot you're buying – all-mountain alpine, ski touring or freestyle. High performance alpine liners tend to be thinner and firmer helping the transfer of energy into the ski, whereas the liners in ski touring boots tend to weigh less, helping to reduce the overall weight of the boot for faster and easier ascending and skinning.
Classically ski boot liners take a little time to pack out or wear in, so make sure to take that into account when trying on boots for the first time or when they're new out of the box. It’s important to remember that they'll settle in after a week or so of skiing thanks to the warmth of you foot and the pressure of closing the buckles.
3. Insoles & footbeds
Whatever the style of your ski boot, they'll have an insole or footbed which can be taken out and replaced with a more performance-orientated, supportive or moulded footbed. These replacement insoles from the likes of Sole, Superfeet and Sidas, offer either off-the-shelf supportive alternatives or custom-moulded footbeds, which offer more comfort, a better fit and increased performance.
Often the numbness and cramps you feel in ski boots are directly related to the way your feet move within the boot – known as pronation or supination. These rolling movements are a result of the shape of your foot requiring more support from underneath.
Excessive pronation or supination of your foot in a ski boot can result in fatigue, rubbing and pressure which can cause significant discomfort. Thankfully, these problems are, more often than not, resolved by fitting a more supportive insole or footbed. Check out our range of footbeds and custom liners here.
Ski boots from different manufacturers appear to come with a whole array of unique features, but many of them work in much the same way from one brand to the next. Here are a few that you might want to consider...
• Multiple buckles with micro-adjustment: These allow you to adjust the fit of the ski boots, over the foot width, the instep, the lower leg and the upper leg/shin. Each buckle generally has 4-5 teeth which allow step-based tightening or loosening. Most buckles also have a micro adjust feature which lets you fine turn the fit between each step too.
• Power strap: Located at the top of the leg or cuff of the boot, the power strap makes sure that the top of the inner liner and tongue is held close to the leg, improving the fit and performance, whilst also reducing movement and rubbing.
• Walk mode: This feature allows the boot's upper cuff to disengage from the lower shell and move backwards away from your leg, making it much easier to walk to and from the ski slope. Walk modes are commonly found on lower-level performance boots, almost all ski touring boots and WTR or 'Walk to Ride' boots.
• 'Hike and Ride' or 'Walk to Ride': This is another name for walk mode, often featured on a higher-performance ski boot. Combined with a grippy sole unit, or with touring bindings and skins, it allows you to hike up the hill with much more ease, to access fresh snow in unpisted terrain.
• Replacement heel and toe plates: Certain boots give you with the ability to change sole plates as they start to wear down due to excessive walking. It's important that there isn’t excessive wear on the sole of boot to maintain a tight fit between the sole of the boot and the binding. Replacement sole plates will give a new lease of life to well-worn boots, increasing their lifespan and adding value.
• Custom-moulded shell: This feature allows the boot-fitter to heat the outer plastic shell of the boot to provide a more customised fit around the inner liner, foot and lower leg.
• Canting: Canting allows the angle and position of the upper cuff of the ski boot to be adjusted in relation to the lower shell/clog. This ensures that, when you're standing in a relaxed ski position, the base of the ski boots and in turn the skis below are running flat. If you have a neutral stance that is slightly knock-kneed or bow-legged, the ski boots can be adjusted to get you running flat in the centre of the ski and not always on the inside or outside edge.
• Walking rubber or Vibram soles: Commonly only found on ski touring boots, these special soles allow you to walk long distances with confidence and grip on snowy and icy terrain.
• 3Pin or Pin Tech inserts: These are the inserts found on the outside of the toe piece of the shell and the back the heel. The design provides an excellent connection between certain ski touring boots and bindings, allowing you to quickly and efficiently climb the hill with snow skins.
At Freeze we take great care in fitting ski boots in-store, regardless of if you're buying your first pair or you're an industry professional. If you're nearby, we'd welcome you to pop in and have your boots fitted by one of our experienced technicians. A professional boot fit is, hands down, the only way to guarantee a properly fitted boot. But if you don't have the luxury of living near our Edinburgh HQ, here are a few hints and tips that will make sure that you get the best possible fit at home.
Check the shape of your foot fits the shell
When fitting ski boots one of the key things to look for first is that your foot shape matches the shell in the heel and forefoot, and the shape of your leg matches the upper cuff design. Dependant on the brand and model, different boots will have different shapes that are best-suited to narrow, medium or wide feet.
The best way to check you've got the right match is to shell-check the ski boots against your foot and lower leg. Take the inner liner out of the shell and place your foot inside the boot, either with a thin ski sock on or bare footed. Check the length, width and volume over the instep of the foot to make sure there are no pressure points or large spaces.
Check that the liner fits and the footbed supports your foot
Once you're sure the shell shape is right, fit the liners back into the boots and try them on. Check that the footbed supports the full length of your foot. If you know that you have high arches, or overpronate (perhaps you've been fitted for a set of running trainers before?), you'll need the same support in your ski boot. Luckily, if you need it, the liner can be fitted with a supportive insole or footbed to keep everything in line.
The liner should fit very snugly at first, but should be an even fit all round - try to avoid pinch points. If everything feels as it should, we would still normally advise having your boots heat-moulded to your feet at this stage. If you take your boot to your local ski shop, chances are they'll be able to give you a professional fit, but if you can't, the boot will slowly mould to your feet over time.
Whilst we wouldn't advise it, if you try and get some heat into the liner at home, to help the moulding process, it's important to get heat all the way into the toe area of the liner and be careful not to overheat and damage the boot.
If at any stage you feel that the boot isn’t right then we would advise seeking professional help. Lots of adjustments can be made to ski boots by a professional - heat moulding, stretching or grinding the shell, or heat moulding and stretching the inner liner. Getting the right size and best fit to start with will make sure you get as much enjoyment as possible from your boot.
Another key part of the boot-fitting process is to choose the right ski socks and there are a range of materials and thicknesses available from brands like Teko, Wigwam, Mons Royale, Armada, Sidas and more.
Getting the right thickness is key – from ultra-light to mid-weight. Choose from merino wool or synthetic materials, woven for the best fit, warmth and moisture management. We even even have ski socks with padding woven into the shin of the socks for those who suffer from bad shin bang when skiing.
So what are you waiting for?
Now that you know what to look for, check out our range of alpine, touring and hybrid boots from brands like Full Tilt, Salomon, Rossignol, Dynafit, Scarpa and Scott.