Snowboarding can be a magical, transcendent experience, where you really feel in harmony with your board and the snow and the elements. When your feet hurt, though, all you want to do is hunker down in the lodge and get the darn things off! As you know, snowboarding is about being ON the mountain, so make sure that the boots you buy are going to be comfortable and functional enough to keep you riding happily all day long. There are several things to consider when you pick out your boots. Here, we’ll take you through each step of the selection process so that you can buy with knowledge and confidence.
Soft boots provide riders with the flex, comfort and support needed for freeride or freestyle boarding. Compatible with highback or rear entry bindings, these boots allow for range of motion in almost any direction.
These boots consist of two parts, the liner and the outer shell. The liner, or inner bladder, is there to keep your feet snug, warm and dry. The liner often has its own, independent lacing system, which lets you adjust the fit to your personal preferences. The outer boot has a sturdy upper section, allowing for supported ankle movement, and lacing to further tighten and adjust your foothold.
There is a wide variety of boots to choose from, with certain features designed to meet almost any riders’ needs. If you are a park or pipe rider, check out a boot with a loose, molded-foam inner lining for more flexibility. If freeriding is your style, go for a boot with a stiffer upper and a higher cuff to enhance firmness and motion control.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to find a boot that matches your riding style. Take the time to consider all of your options and find the best fit for you; it will mean a world of difference once you hit the slopes.
Snowboard boots are technologically impressive units, each designed to fulfill numerous duties on the mountain. They offer warmth, support, dryness and control – to mention just a few of the biggies. Here is the rundown on a few of the features aimed at making your day up as productive, efficient and comfortable as possible.
REMOVABLE VS. ATTACHED LINERS
The lining system in a boot will largely determine the comfort, grip and warmth of your foot while riding. You have a decision to make when it comes to liners: removable or attached?
One of the best parts about removable liners is the fact that you can take them out and let them dry following use. Airing them out before you hit the hill for another day will mean a warmer and less frustrating experience than riding around in damp liners, not to mention that keeping your boots dry in storage will help them last longer (see “Storage” section below). Obviously, attached liners are not able to dry separately from the boot, but they still need to be aired out post-riding. Using a fan or blow-dryer, give the boots and inner liners a preliminary once-over before setting them somewhere with airflow enough to do the rest of the work.
The other big distinction between the two types of liners is their potential to be altered. Removable liners can be tweaked with – after-market heel straps can be added or you can customize the material if a pressure point has been bugging you. This is not always possible with attached liners.
However, if you happen upon a boot with a high-performance, quality attached liner, chances are you’ll find that the manufacturer has compensated for these types of inadequacies. Using quick-drying antimicrobial liner material to combat mildew and odor, for instance, is an example of such an adjustment.
If the boots’ cost is a deciding factor for you, it might help to know that there is a price difference between the two types of liner systems. Typically you’ll find that boots with attached liners are less expensive than those with removable liners.
Keeping these factors in mind, seek out a boot that will work for your needs, making sure that your foot will stay in place and dry – whether that’s with a removable or attached inner liner is at your discretion.
A good, solid fit is one of the most important aspects of a winning boot selection. As such, getting the most comfortable and customized feel is going to be your top priority. Rather than cranking down on your bindings or lacing your boots up extra tight, try buying a boot with a heat-moldable or automatic shape-molding liner.
The latter type is pretty easy to figure out; simply stick your foot in your boot, lace it up, and tool around the house in your new kicks for a while to activate the molding properties of the liner material with your body heat. Then you’re all set.
A heat-moldable liner, however, can take a little more effort. Many stores carry heat-molding equipment and can help you customize your boot fit at the shop (recommended for the best fit). You can also do this at home by throwing them into the clothes dryer for a while or by using a hairdryer. After activating the liner with heat, step into the liner and your boots, lace them up, and keep them on for about 15 minutes while they cool off and begin to hold their structure.
While it’s crucial that you maintain a tight fit around your heel and midsole, some people prefer a little wiggle room for their toes. To achieve this result in a heat- or auto-molding liner, wrap a toe cap around your little piggies while you form them. A toe cap can be made from a thin sock, a shoulder pad or anything else that your imagination leads you to use. Don’t go too big with the toe cap though, as you’ll want to maintain the snug integrity of the rest of your fit.
Final note: You can mold (and re-mold) your boot liners more than once, but be cautious. The more you mold them, the less they’ll hold their structure, as the elastic properties of the material begin to give out over time. Six or seven moldings should be enough to test the limits of your liners.
BOA LACING SYSTEM
Even with a snug hold from your liners, you’ll still need to pull your boot shell tightly around your foot. Classic boot lacing systems rely on the rider’s strength and agility to get a secure hold, but one technology is quickly turning the man-vs.-boot scuffle into a thing of the past. Enter the BOA Lacing System, a quick, easy and often more effective tightening method than traditional laces.
Here’s how it works: Rather than using cloth laces, the BOA is comprised of a circular ratchet dial connected to an aircraft-grade, stainless steel lace. The lace crosses over the tongue portion of the boot, and weaves through elongated guides placed where lace holes would have otherwise been. Essentially, the idea is to get a uniformly tight fit across the whole of your foot, doing so with the quick ease of twisting a dial. BOA’s manufacturer maintains that the grip on your foot is incredibly secure and strong, while a very small amount of give in the laces allows for remarkable comfort.
For some riders, uniform tightness is too confining, so BOA has come out with a variation on the original. The Focus BOA is designed to offer riders the chance to tighten the upper and lower portions of the boot independently of one another, allowing for a looser fit up top and a tighter fit around the base (or vice versa). The Focus is especially key for maintaining a good heel hold while allowing your ankle a little more range of motion, to hit the park for instance.
You may also see a boot out there with hybrid lacing. Essentially, the BOA is combined with a traditional lacing system to allow for even more personalized adjustments. Riders who like to customize their boot tightness on a regular basis might opt for this set-up.
In all, the BOA is a great choice for new riders or for people who just like some versatility in their lacing options. Give them a try if that sounds like you!
Heel straps: These straps – combined with, or independent of, liner laces – work to deter that pesky heel-lift problem. Make sure that you are comfortable in the boot when everything is strapped up, paying close attention to your arches and pressure points along the bridge of your foot.
Lean adjusters: Some boot-makers will add a lean adjuster to allow for easier hiking and more aggressive turning power. However, too much lean can add a lot of pressure on your knees, thighs and shins, so experiment with your boot to see what angle is right for your riding style and your body.
Boot-to-binding fit: When buying a new boot, make sure that it fits securely and comfortably in your binding. There should be a clean compatibility between the binding straps and the boot; note whether there is squeezed material when you ratchet down, a sign of a bad fit. Any excessive tightness or looseness should be addressed before you buy.
You like the steep runs, deep snow and backcountry terrain. If freeriding is your style, you’ll probably want a boot with stiff flex to help control your turns, but with a pretty soft upper portion to pad your shins during long, hard shifts onto your toe- or heel-side edge.
You see all of your action in the park and pipe, you love to spin and flip, and you know that tabletops aren’t just for eating on. Park and pipe riders need the utmost control without a lot of added weight. Look for a boot that is lightweight with pretty stiff forward flex. Keep in mind that because these boots tend to be the most high-performance option, you’ll likely end up spending a little more on them.
As with most set-up decisions made by all-mountaineers, your first step is to determine where you spend most of your time on the slopes. Your best bet will be to choose a boot with characteristics that best match the riding you prefer. It’s also wise to look for a boot that is specifically designed for all-mountain riding, with features that cater to transitioning between terrains.
So you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few boots and now need to determine your size. Snowboarding boots are supposed to run the same sizes as any normal shoe, but don’t count on that being the case every time. Here are three steps you should always go through to ensure that you are getting the proper fit and feel from your boot.
1. SOCKS: If you try your new boots on in person, bring your riding socks to the shop with you. Snowboarding-specific socks are your best bet to keep dry, warm and comfortable in your boots. These socks have moisture-wicking properties and are specially designed to discourage rubbing and irritation while riding. Don’t wear socks that are 100% cotton – they retain moisture- and make sure that your socks fit well, free of wrinkles and loose fabric that could cause chafing during riding.
2. TOES AND HEELS: Standing in your normal riding stance (feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, back straight), you should be able to just barely touch the tip of your boot with your big toe. If you feel at all squished in the toes, TAKE OFF THE BOOTS. They don’t fit. Try a size bigger (or a half size if you have that option). Getting back into your riding stance, you’ll want to check for heel-lift. Doing your best to keep your heel on the ground, lean forward and judge how far your heel moves off the bottom of the boot’s liner. A little lift is to be expected, but a lot of movement may be a sign that you need to try out some other options. Many boots come with liners that restrict heel-lift with adjustable heel cups or heat-moldable material, so that you can customize the fit to your foot. Heel-lift can be a real nuisance when transitioning between edges or making sharp turns, so avoid the annoyance by getting a boot that fits you like a… glove?
3. FLEX: If you are a freestyle rider, you’ll want a boot with a good amount of flex. Initiating turns, jibbing and all that fun park stuff requires a rider to have a good range of motion in the ankle. So try on a few pairs of freestyle-specific boots and judge their flexiness and comfort to be sure that you can bend your leg forward without losing the vital stability and control that you’ll need to go big.
If you are a freerider, you need a lot more stiffness through the ankle to control your carving and stopping. Stability is key, but a little flex will keep you comfortable, so opt for a happy medium, depending on your personal preferences.
You’re going to have to dole out some cash to secure a good pair of boots, so why not take the best possible care of them to ensure they last awhile? When you store your boots, make sure they’re dry to begin with – mildew is smelly and gross and can ultimately destroy your boot. Next, pick a spot that is warm to stash them, but not too hot or muggy, and definitely not cold. Follow these easy rules and the next time you’re ready to ride, you’ll slip into fresh, toasty boots and your feet will be hot to trot (and not rot).
While soft boots have become something of a standard in the snowboarding industry, chances are you’ll run into a pair of hard boots or step-ins at some point. There are still some of these turning up on the used-gear market, so read on to understand a bit more about how they work and who should consider buying them.
HARD BOOTS (a.k.a. SKI BOOTS)
Note: These boots are not intended for use by recreational snowboarders.
Hard boots are the pinnacle of support; the molded and padded inner lining grips your foot, ankle and lower leg firmly while the outer shell restricts your range of motion. For racers and die-hard carvers, such support is necessary when making high-speed turns on solid snow, so a hard boot is the best choice. They have a padded inner bladder like those found in soft boots, however the shell is made out of a hard plastic, adjusted using buckles or ratchets.
While hard snowboard boots tend to resemble traditional ski boots, manufacturers have made adjustments to accommodate a snowboarder’s need for some movement. Hinges built into the ankles of many hard boots, for instance, allow for a bit more flexibility. However, the movement is still pretty limited, making these boots most beneficial to alpine racers who want their equipment to be stiff, thus directly transferring energy from their boots to their bindings to their board.
If you decide that hard boots are right for you, be certain that your bindings are compatible. Hard boots often have step-in or plate/lever binding attachments. Alpine racers tend to prefer the plate/lever bindings, because they don’t want any padding to come between their sole and their board. Step-ins for hard boots are not as common as step-ins for soft boots, meaning that your choices in replacement equipment will be somewhat limited.
Bottom line: Hard boots are ideal for alpine racers and zealous carvers; however, because of their limitations, few other riders will find that hard boots fit their needs.
Note: Step-ins are almost entirely obsolete, except in the rental market.
If convenience is your aim, step-in boots may be for you. These boots have a mechanism on their sole that is compatible with a particular type of step-in binding, allowing a quick and easy transition at the top of the lift. Simply click-in and take off.
The trouble with this set-up is that, unlike normal snowboarding boots, the step-in mechanism is prone to getting packed with ice. Chipping away at the ice can take time and can be especially frustrating when you’re sitting in deep powder somewhere. In addition, some riders insist that step-ins don’t provide enough support or durability, which can make advancing your skills difficult.
Keep in mind that if you opt for step-in boots, you must purchase the corresponding step-in bindings, which can be difficult as there are very few, if any, left in the market. Upgrades are possible, but you need to be prepared to buy another set of bindings if you change your step-in boots.
As an alternative, hybrid step-in boots combine the flexible, soft upper part of soft boots with the sturdy hard soles of hard boots. For a mix between the comfort and flex of soft boots and the control of hard boots, you might check out the hybrid set-up. Again, you’ll need to match up your bindings to your boots.
Remember that, while choosing snowboard equipment can be a process, it’s O.K. to be picky. You’ll be stoked when you get out on the mountain and realize that you put together the perfect set-up so that you can enjoy yourself to the fullest.