So you’re ready to purchase backcountry ski boots. You’re probably familiar with a downhill ski boot fitting but backcountry boots are a whole other beast. There’s a lot you should know before taking a seat on the bootfitting bench. This boot fitting guide will help you learn what goes into finding the perfect backcountry boot and how to be prepared for your next boot fitting. If you’re ready to upgrade your backcountry boot or start backcountry skiing for the first time, read through this guide and make an appointment with one of our expert boot fitters!
Know Your Skier Type
When a customer comes into Tahoe Mountain Sports, the first part of a bootfitting conversation is figuring out what kind of skier they are. If you’re new to skiing, we are going to recommend a different boot than if you’ve been ripping up Palisades Tahoe since you could stand. If you’re not sure where you fall, check out this helpful guide to determining your skier type.
For beginner skiers, we focus more on fit and comfort than things like flex, forward lean, and power transfer. At the end of the day, if your boot isn’t comfortable, you’re not going to want to go skiing. Identifying the appropriate boot for a skier’s ability is important and could save them a couple of hundred dollars in the process.
Intermediate and advanced skiers have so many options thanks to technology developments in the last few years. There are many performance-oriented backcountry ski boots that balance uphill and downhill performance beautifully. Many are even as stiff as your inbounds boot and have an impressive progressive flex. They differentiate themselves with buckling systems, walk mechanisms, liners, fits, and binding compatibility.
Where will you do most of your skiing? How often?
This goes hand in hand with the conversation above. It’s important to reflect on how often you will go backcountry skiing and where. Do you plan to use your boot at the resort? Or exclusively in the backcountry? Are you going out on day trips or overnight trips?
The answers to these questions have a lot to do with weight and uphill vs. downhill performance. If you plan to use your boot exclusively in the backcountry, you want to prioritize something with a great walk mechanism and range of motion. You can go light and fast since you will be spending about 80% of your time hiking.
For those who plan to use their boots inbounds and out of bounds, look for something beefier that balances uphill and downhill performance. Weight might not be as big of a consideration for you if you are spending an equal amount of time skiing at the resort. While there is still no one boot to rule them all, recent advances in boot technology have led to some great contenders.
The burly backcountry enthusiasts among us, going out for multi-day trips, will have very different considerations than those heading up to Castle Peak for a quick jaunt. If this sounds like you, you’ll want to prioritize comfort, especially in walk mode. As the miles add up, so do fatigue and discomfort. Even a few grams can make a big difference when you’re carrying a heavy pack over vast terrain. For the avid overnighter, it’s really important to find a light backcountry boot that fits comfortably and provides excellent support. For these folks, we might recommend the Scarpa F1 LT, a lightweight, uphill-oriented boot that shaves almost a pound off of competing boots.
If the boot fits… (the most important part of your boot fitting!)
Here we are, at the meat of our boot fitting. The fit is the most important part of any boot fitting. Comfort is king; if you’re not comfortable, you won’t want to put on your boots and go skiing. We start by looking at your feet and noting the shape, size, and any irregularities. Then we measure your feet and do a shell fit. The point of the shell fit is to see how much room you have in the boot. Once we get the boot on your foot, we are hoping for a snug, secure fit. You should be able to wiggle your toes, but you want your heel to be firmly locked in place with no movement. Stand and walk in the boots in ski mode and walk mode to see how they feel. Are there minor pressure points? That we can usually take care of with the liner mold. Are there major pressure points or discomfort? That’s usually an indication that it’s the wrong boot for you.
We recommend skiing your boot several times before doing a heat mold of the liner. This allows you to break in the boot naturally and gives you time to see if any minor pressure points are resolved with the break-in process. It also gives you a chance to come back with better feedback on exactly where you’re experiencing discomfort if a liner mold is needed. This helps our boot fitters heat mold the liner specific to your needs.
Match the right boot to the right binding
If you’re building your backcountry set up from scratch, start with the boot. Always. Your ski boots are the most important piece of your backcountry set up. This is the only part of gear that can be molded and customized to provide a perfect fit. From there, we will think about binding compatibility and which binding aligns with your backcountry use. Not all bindings are compatible with all backcountry boots, especially if you want to use your boot with a resort binding. If you are particularly interested in a specific binding, or if you already have bindings that you wish to use with a new boot, it’s important to bring that up with your boot fitter.
Replace the factory footbed
Try this exercise. Take the factory footbed, the one that comes with the shoe, out of one of your ski boots or running shoes. Give it a shake. As you can see, these flimsy, thin pieces of foam don’t do any good for your foot. Put it on the ground and stand on it if you don’t believe me. Does your foot feel supported and secure? Nope. That’s where a custom insole or footbeds like Superfeet or Sidas drop-ins come in.
Replacing the factory footbed is the easiest and cheapest thing you can do to improve the performance and fit of your backcountry ski boot. There are endless benefits to this seemingly minor change. A footbed provides support and can reduce pressure points on the top and bottom of your foot. This helps you fend off fatigue and means you’ll stay energized for longer. Almost everyone naturally supinates or pronates, a slight inward or outward leaning of the foot. A footbed helps balance your stance and anchors your foot in a neutral position. It can also modify the fit of a boot if you are struggling with slightly too much space, a sloppy heel, etc. Always ask to try on a ski boot with a footbed.
Come prepared for your boot fitting
Here are a few tips that can help you be better prepared for your boot fitting.
- Bring your own socks – Socks are a critically important component in your boot system. We recommend finding a high-quality merino wool sock, like Smartwool or Darn Tough, that is light or ultralight thickness. A thin sock? While it might sound counter-intuitive, thinner socks actually help keep your foot warmer because they are more efficient at wicking moisture away from your foot. And you better believe that your feet will start sweating once you hit the skin track! Bring the socks that you typically ski with to the boot fitting. Every millimeter matters inside of a ski boot so it’s important for your boot fitter to know if you like to ski in a medium weight, light, or ultralight sock.
- Plan to spend at least an hour with your boot fitter – You’ve read this far so you know that boot fitting can be complicated, even with a completely normal, symmetrical foot. In reality, 2% of customers that come in for boot fitting have normal, symmetrical feet. So the process takes time. Make an appointment with one of our boot fitters and give yourself at least an hour, preferably longer, to spend the time needed to find the right boot.
Get a boot fitting at Tahoe Mountain sports and earn rewards!
There are so many reasons to shop local at Tahoe Mountain Sports – high-quality customer service from our attentive, knowledgeable staff, personalized gear and trip recommendations, dollars that go to our community partner non-profits – we could go on and on! But did you know that we also have an amazing rewards program that gives YOU 10% back on every purchase? For every $100 you spend, we give you $10 to put back into your adventures.
We are Truckee and North Lake Tahoe’s backcountry headquarters! Stop by and let us help you get geared up for your next adventure, big or small.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Tahoe Mountain Sports will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate commissions help fund the content for this blog.