The fit of your ski boots is hands down the most important equipment decision that you’ll spend time and money on. When your boots are dialed, it can be an incredible feeling that will take your skiing to the next level.
I am not a professional boot fitter, but I am an engineer and a guy who disappears into the basement for hours in search of the perfect boot fit. I have drawers full of foam, shims, random material from the hardware store, and strange ski boot gizmos I found on the internet. Over the years I’ve figured out what works, what doesn’t, and how to get my boots in shape on the cheap with minimal experimentation. It’s more of an art than it is rocket science.
In this two-part series, I’m going to pass on my tips and tricks to you.
Let us start with my golden rule of buying ski boots: If you put them on out of the box, and they’re comfortable right away, they are too big! Breaking this rule is the most common mistake I see people make. It’s counter-intuitive, but remember, unless you add a bunch of extra foam or shims (to be covered in Part 2 of this series), right out of the box is the tightest your boots will ever be. Once you ski in them and the liners start to pack down, things will start to change quickly. You can crank down the buckles extra hard, or wear really thick socks, but these are only Band-Aids for a bigger problem that’s pretty hard to fix (your boots are too big!!!)
This is how to try on ski boots.
First off, get rid of those super-thick, fuzzy socks and get some thin ones. Typically, if they say “Thin” or “Ultra Thin” on them, you’re headed in the right direction. It’s best to start out with the thinnest sock possible, so you can move to a slightly thicker sock as your liners break-in. Also, thin socks breathe better which will actually mean warmer feet (trust me, I’m a guy with cold feet). If you start with a thick sock, there’s no going in the other direction.
Second, you need a footbed. This is important. The piece of foam that comes in the bottom of your liners does nothing but take up space. Without a proper, supportive footbed, as you buckle your boots, your arch flattens, causing your foot to lengthen and expand side to side. This can be quite uncomfortable and also lead to the sensation of a given boot being too small. If I take the footbeds out of any of my boots, they immediately feel like they shrunk a size. You’ll get a great fit by supporting your feet from the bottom, to maintain their natural shape, rather than crushing them from the top with your boot shells. Custom footbeds are a great option, but cheaper, off the shelf models like Superfeet often work just as well.
When trying on boots, (with your thin socks and footbeds of course) a mild to moderate amount of discomfort due to tightness should not be an instant deal-breaker, in my opinion. Most boots now come with a heat-moldable liner (but if they don’t Intuition Liners is an excellent place to look), so relieving pressure points is not a big deal. A tight fit to start out is only going to mean a more precise fit once your liners are molded. It’s generally easier to make more room in a boot than to take up space. How do you know when tight is too tight?
That’s why you should also do a shell fit, i.e. remove the liners and put your feet in the shells. I like to throw my footbeds in there to stand on as well. Slide your foot forward until your toes touch the front. If you have 10-25mm behind your heel, you’re probably in the sweet spot. If there’s no room, or you could fit a Red Bull can back there, well, maybe try on something else. If you center your foot in the boot, Is your foot touching, or really close to the plastic shell anywhere? Shells can be stretched, and space can be made, but you may want to check out some other options before committing. I failed to do a shell fit before buying a pair of lightweight skimo boots last winter, only to later find my heel and toes were touching the shell at the same time!
Lastly, you should consider what type of skier you are, and what these boots are going to be used for. My inbounds boots are borderline too small for the sake of a very tight and precise fit that I can charge hard in. My touring boots are a bit roomier all around on purpose which makes long days in the backcountry much more enjoyable. In the end, you shouldn’t be looking for the perfect boot right out of the box, but the best starting point to craft the perfect boot from.
Once you decide on a set of boots, get the liners molded, and ski in them for a few days. I often find it takes 2-4 days for my boots to break-in before they need some additional work. Part two of this series will get into all the fun techniques to dial in your boots for the perfect fit.