Welcome to our introduction to what to look for or expect when trying on your new ski touring or freeride ski boots.
We’ve written this article to help you know what to look for when trying on brand new ski touring and backcountry ski boots before any fitting work has taken place.
All these boots feature a walk mode, and are designed to be used to walk or skin in, as well as for skiing, so the fit requirements are a little different to a performance downhill alpine boot fit.
When walking and skinning your foot will exert different forces within the boot and you may be wearing these boots for multiple long days out where stopping to unbuckle or adjust them regularly isn’t an option, so getting the right boot as a starting point and having it fitted correctly is a must.
The key thing to understand with any new backcountry ski boot is that your boots will feel very different once they have been used for a couple of weeks
The key thing to understand with any new backcountry ski boot is that your boots will feel very different once they have been used for a couple of weeks so your first impression when you put your feet in them will not tell you everything about how the boots will end up feeling.
There is a detailed account of what you should be looking for further down this article but we have boiled it down to a few quick bullet points to get you on the right track.
What To Look For With Your New Ski Touring Boots
At A Glance
- Your ski boots are going to get roomier as we heat fit them and as you use them for the first week or two so they need to feel a bit too tight in general from new.
- The length, however, should feel about right from new, test length in walk mode leaning back and ski mode leaning forward. Your longest toes (Big or second) should touch the end of the foam liner when you are stood upright in walk mode and come off the end when lent forward in ski mode. Ideally try this with a supportive footbed as well as trying them with the stock footbed as this will hold the foot back and effectively gain a little length.
- In the perfect starting point you would have length as described above and an even but a ‘bit too snug’ fit around most of the foot with good heel hold (minimal heel movement, though we would still expect to have a few mm of heel lift even in a well fitted touring boot). Most people will find some pressure or pinch points in a new boot but the heat fitting of the liner and some use, or a small shell stretches will even out these problems.
In short, when you are trying on new ski touring and freeride boots you are looking for a boot and size that is just long enough to accomodate you foot when using the walk mode, that has an even as possible fit around your foot and is a bit too snug all round. This should mean that after fitting and use they end up perfect.
How new Backcountry boots should fit – In Detail
The biggest thing to note is that as with all ski boots your new Backcountry ski boots will get a bit roomier as time goes on. This is due to the foam packing down in the inner boot, it particularly happens within the heat fitting and first 4 – 5 days of use and they should settle down for a while after the first couple of weeks skiing. What this means is that in order for you to end up with the boots being the ‘right’ amount snug, they will need to feel a bit too tight to begin with.
What this means is that in order for you to end up with the boots being the ‘right’ amount snug, they will need to feel a bit too tight to begin with.
It’s important to note that whilst the foam will pack down to create more space, this will give you more volume (general space around the foot) rather than much more length (room in front of your longest toes). This is because areas with more foam are likely to pack down more and most boot liners don’t have a lot of foam at the toes. Ideally what you are looking for with a new and unfitted Backcountry ski boot is an even fit around the foot which is a generally a bit too tight but you want the length of the boot to feel about right.
Ideally what you are looking for with a new and unfitted Backcountry ski boot is an even fit around the foot which is a generally a bit too tight but you want the length of the boot to feel about right.
What is the right length in ski boots with a walk mode?
This is a key question when it comes to whether a boot will work for you and it is the biggest difference between a good ski touring boot fit and a good performance alpine downhill boot fit. It’s worth taking the length seriously as there is a limit to how much extra length can be created when fitting. Touring boots which are too short will ruin your toes and your ski trips.
It’s worth taking the length seriously as there is a limit to how much extra length can be created when fitting.
In essence you will need a bit more length in your ski touring boot than you will in a close fitting downhill boot. This is due to the fact that when you are using a boots walk mode you will end up with your foot moving a little forwards and backwards within the boot and we need to allow enough length in the boot for this to happen without ‘banging’ the end of you toes.
In essence you will need a bit more length in your ski touring boot than you will in a close fitting downhill boot.
In a close fitting downhill boot you can fit them so that your toe has constant contact with the end of the inner boot but it doesn’t cause you issues as long as you keep your weight forward with your shins on the front of the cuff (this pulls your foot back a little in all ski boots). In these close fits if you end up in the ‘back seat’ (with your weight leaning back in the boots) then your toes will suddenly be uncomfortably jammed into the end of the boot and you can run into bruised toe nails and discomfort. This can work for alpine downhill skiing as you will be keeping your weight forward and shins on the front of the boots.
In a boot with a walk mode, when you flick the walk mechanism to touring function, the cuff releases and is allowed to come more upright or even leaning back. As this happens your foot will be pushed forward a few millimetres every stride and that can make the difference between a tolerable tight fitting boot and and something that gives you black toe nails.
As a result you need to factor in this small movement of the foot forward in the walk mode to make sure the boots are long enough to be able to comfortably hike and skin with. Our advice is that when the boot is in walk mode and you are standing up right (with 90degree angle in the ankle) your toes should be able to touch the end of the boot liner. This should be fairly light contact rather than pushing hard at the end and your toes should be able to be out flat rather than forced to bend back a little due to pressure at the front.
Alongside this, when you flick the boots into ski mode and buckle them up, lean forward with your weight on your shins and your hips forward, as if you are skiing, we would then expect your toes to pull back away from the end of the boots slightly. Ideally here you would have no, or only very light, contact with your longest toes and the foam liner at the end of the boot giving you some toe wiggle space.
We would suggest conducting the length tests above both with the stock footbed that come with the boots, and with a suitable arch support footbed in there instead. This allows you to feel what difference the arch support footbed makes to the length but also gives you a sense of the space in the boot without that support. We fully recommend that most people use a good arch support footbed in their backcountry ski boots for the best fit and performance and there will be more on this later.
We would suggest conducting the length tests above both with the stock footbed that come with the boots, and with a suitable arch support footbed in there instead.
Once again it is very important to get this length right as the length is the hardest thing to make meaningful changes to down the line.
If you are trying on a new backcountry or ski touring boot, whether that is at home or in a shop, and it ticks all of the boxes discussed above then there is a very good chance that the boots will work for you though there may still be some work required to get them to perfection.
Once you have found the best (or least bad) starting point boot for your foot then it’s time to start working on them to get them to properly fit. There are several tools at our disposal to make these changes and below is an introduction to some of these.
Arch Support Footbeds.
A good, suitable arch support footbed will do a variety of things to improve the fit and performance of your ski touring boots.
There are many options out there from fully custom moulded to off the peg pre formed footbeds and it is a case of working out which will work best for a particular foot and boot combination.
We are not looking for something that is extreme in it’s level of support, or to make radical changes to your leg allignment. What we aim for is a footbed that will support your foot in it’s natural weighted position, this will be comfortable to wear and feel natural and even throughout the base of your foot. By supporting your foot in this way the footbed fills the void beneath the arch, holding your foot better in place in the boot, and preventing over pronation when pushing hard through your turns or when weighting your foot while hiking or skinning.
Preventing or reducing overpronation helps in several ways. Importantly it reduces the extension in your foot as you weight it thereby gaining you a couple of mm in length. These footbeds can also reduce the amount you move forward within the boot whilst in walk mode by mechanically cupping the heel back, again helping gain length. Supportive footbeds will also reduce the inwards rotation of the foot and ankle found in over pronation. This gives better ski performance and reduces pressure against the (inside) side wall of the boot, most commonly manifesting on the inside ankle bone and navicular.
An appropriate supportive footbed will improve comfort and ski performance in your backcountry boot so they are a good idea for everyone.
What changes happen when thermo or heat fitting ski touring and backcountry ski boots?
Most commonly heat fitting a ski boot involves heating the inner boot or liner then using the customers foot, sometimes with additional padding or toe caps, to compress the foam in the liner. This begins the process of bedding in the inner boot to even out the fit and create a little space.
Heat fitting an inner boot will only create space, the inner boot doesn’t swell up to take up room and make the boots tighter , so it is important that the boots start off a little too snug.
Heat fitting an inner boot will only create space, the inner boot doesn’t swell up to take up room and make the boots tighter (like a foam injection can), so it is important that the boots start off a little too snug. The heat fitting begins the process of the foam packing down and that process continues for the first couple of weeks skiing the boots.
How much the fit changes during this process varies from one boot model to the next. The Scarpa Intuiton liners probably change the most through the fitting due to the amount of thermo foam in them. Some cheaper, thinner inner boots will not change a great deal. This heat forming process is really about speeding up the bedding in. We think that whether you heat fit the liner or not, after a couple of weeks of skiing you will be in the same place. It is usually still worth doing the heat fitting though as it will make the first few days skiing more comfortable and give you an idea about how the liner will feel as it packs down while you are still in the shop and able to make further alterations.
Heat fitting shells and shell stretches
Some boots offer heat formable shells such as Atomic Memory Fit and Salomon Custom shell. In this process the shell is heated and the foot (often with additional padding) is introduced. This can make some subtle but important permanent changes to the shape of the shell.
We can also perform more localised shell stretches to ski boot shells making them wider or to accommodate prominent ankle bones.
These shell alterations are very important as they will make permanent changes to the fit of the boot that will not happen with use or bedding in. Once a boot has been used for a couple of weeks then these shell changes are the best way to remove persistant pressure points and fit problems.
Once you’ve been through the process above you should be getting there with your new boots and able to do multiple days out in comfort with good skiing performance.
If you have any further questions then please get in touch.