Snowboard boots: Sizing, fit, flex and features
Your snowboard boots are an incredibly important part of your kit. They can be the difference between a comfortable, controlled day on the mountain and being stuck in a purgatory of pinching, or a heel-lift hell.
It's super-important to choose a pair that have the right fit, the right level of flex, and all the features that you need to maximise your enjoyment. If there was one area not to skimp on price - it's your boots. You don't need to buy the most expensive pair, but make sure you buy the pair you need, rather than the pair you might want.
If you're near our Edinburgh HQ we'd love to talk you through the range in person, so please get in touch. If not, don't worry, our buying guide will take you through the main things to look out for so you can choose the best snowboard boots and make sure they fit correctly when they arrive.
We'll look at:
Once you've found the info you're looking for, you can take a look at our full range of snowboard boots, but until then, let's get started...
Snowboard boots are sized internally just like shoes. You'll find them in a range of UK, US and European sizes and you should look to match your shoe size. While sizes can vary a bit, there's no need to buy a size up or size down - go with your shoe size and see how they feel.
Externally, outsole sizes can vary quite a bit from boot to boot and manufacturer to manufacturer. The external length of a boot can have an effect on the size of binding you buy and the width of snowboard you need, so it's worth considering.
It used to be that riders with bigger feet needed to buy a wide board specifically to avoid their toes and heels dragging on the snow during turns. While this could still happen, we see it far less often, because advances in boot and binding technology have meant that boots themselves have become less bulky, with a much lower profile, and bindings generally feature a steeper ramp angle, which raises the heel and toe further off the snow.
Bindings will give a guideline range of boot sizes that they cater for, so make sure that your binding is likely to accommodate your boot size. Remember also that lower profile boots will be less bulky overall, so if you're riding a smaller boot size, at the lower end of a binding's capacity, and it's a low profile boot, the binding may end up being too large.
When they first arrive your boots should fit very snugly, but not to the point of pain. It's important to remember that the liner will pad out and mould to your feet in time. When that happens, you don't want to discover your boots are now too big.
To check the fit of your boots, choose a sock that you're likely to ride in - it should be thin or medium-weight, ideally made of a synthetic material or merino wool. Insert your foot into the boot and fasten it tight - you shouldn't need to over-tighten in order to get a snug fit.
When done up tightly, you should be able to move your toes slightly in the end of the boot. If your toes feel squashed, cramped or pinched, you may need to try a size larger.
You should feel the boot holding your heel quite firmly. Bend your knees and relax forward, shins pressing into the front of your boot. Walk around taking deep lunging strides. Your heels should remain firmly held to the base of the boot. If they lift away, you may need to try a smaller size or a different manufacturer to get the fit you need.
At this stage, it's important to be honest with yourself. If the boots need to be exchanged for a different size or type, they need to be exchanged. Anything that feels wrong with them now is likely to get worse and worse over time and can potentially ruin your enjoyment of that all-important holiday, trip or day out in the hills.
If you need some help or advice with the fit of your boots - we're here to help.
Flex is an important aspect of snowboard boot design. The level of flexibility you're looking for will depend largely on personal preference, but as a starting point, think about your ability level and the style of riding you like to do most.
As with boards, flexible boots tend to be aimed at beginners and freestyle riders, who want a more forgiving ride and a wider range of movement. Similarly, advanced riders who are likely to need to deal with the greater forces involved in travelling faster and absorbing bigger impacts will look for the support offered by a stiffer boot.
Some brands will give boots a flex rating from 1-10, but we'll usually categorise them as having a generally soft, medium or stiff flex.
Each boot will have a range of features, some unique to the brand, others that are common between them. In this section we'll look at the main features you should think about when choosing the boot that's right for you. We'll cover the...
- Lacing system
Okay, let's take a look.
Keeping your foot where it's meant to be in the boot is key, and there are a few different systems around to take care of the task. Your boot might use one of these exclusively, or a combination of them.
While more advanced systems have become popular in recent years, there's nothing to say that a well-made pair of boots with traditional laces won't keep your feet in place perfectly.
They might take a bit more work to get a consistent tension up the length of the boot, and may take some tightening over the course of a day to keep them right, but they're easily replaceable and give you more option to custom-tune your fit from top to bottom.
We got by on good old laces for decades before any of the new technologies came out, so don't be fooled, they can do a good a perfectly good job for you too.
Quick-pull or Speed Laces
Each brand may call this style of lacing something different, but usually the design is roughly the same. They use a single finer lace that's attached to a handle to make it easy to pull. Once you reach the tension you want, you simply lock it off, and clip the handle onto the boot.
They're really quick and easy to use, particularly with gloves on, which makes re-tensioning during the day a doddle. On the other hand, they don't give you much option to fine-tune the fit along the length of the boot, and it can be difficult to get a good tension right down to the toe, but some designs get round this by offering two handles or two independent systems to control the upper and lower boot.
Boa is a trademark you should see the same name used across different brands that use it. A Boa system uses wires instead of laces and a clever ratchet dial to tighten or loosen the boot. Like with speed lacing systems, they sometimes use two separate systems for the upper and lower boot to allow you to customise the fit more.
Boa systems are great for getting boots really tight, so if you lack hand strength or experience heel lift, a boa system could be the answer. Be aware that single Boa systems can cause problems if you've got high arches or need to adjust the fit in different parts of the boot - double or triple Boa systems will allow you to customise more.
The boot's liner is the part that's responsible for keeping your foot cushioned, supported and warm. Usually constructed of Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA), they should all mould to the specific shape of your feet gradually over time.
Some offer the additional option of being heat-mouldable, meaning that a shop will be able to heat them for you in a special oven before custom-fitting them to your feet. While it's not essential, a custom heat-moulded liner will be more comfortable more quickly than a more basic liner.
Liners can be built into the boot, but many are removable to make it easier to dry them quickly after use. Allowing your boots to dry is key to stopping them developing an unwanted stink, but anti-microbial coatings can help too, so look out for liners that offer this extra protection.
And if you're a freestyler, hitting big jumps and taking big impacts, you might want to consider looking for a liner with extra impact protection underfoot.
If you know that you've got high arches, or you need special support under your foot - perhaps you've been fitted for running shoes before - then chances are you'll need the same special additional support in your snowboard boots.
Luckily, there are a whole range of custom footbeds available to fit most models of boot. Replacing the boot's stock liner and offering the custom support you need, many footbeds can be moulded specifically to your feet for an exact match.
The outer sole of your boot can have some special features to make it perform better when out of your bindings and walking. Whether you're a beginner getting to the lift or a pro out hitting street rails, chances are you'll spend at least some of the time walking, so it's important to make sure that you've got the grip you need.
Boots offer different levels of tread and tread patterns, with some even offering special outsole materials like Vibram for even more grip. It's important to get an outsole that will match you riding style, particularly if you're interested in backcountry touring and freeride, where you might have to tackle particularly tricky terrain.
Time to boot up!
Now that you know what to look for, take a look at our full range of snowboard boots. If you have any more questions, or need help to pick between a few different options, we'd be happy to help.