Selecting the Right AT Boots
As innovations in Alpine Touring binding technology have increased in recent years, boot manufacturers have followed suit and raised the bar substantially. AT boot choices now range from low-top touring boots to high performance four buckle monsters, and everything in between. Unlike your alpine boots, all AT boots are built with rubber soles and have some rocker underfoot for hiking. (Although several now come with optional “alpine” soles that are flat and constructed of hard plastic instead of rubber.) Also, upper cuffs can be unlocked for greater comfort and movement while skinning. Sure you can use your big, heavy alpine boots with some AT bindings - but if you plan on spending much time in the backcountry, you'll want an AT boot. Which boots should you buy?
First, decide which boot characteristics are most important to you. Lightweight, low top boots are very comfortable to tour and climb in, but lack the support and performance of a bigger boot when skiing downhill. These boots are great when skiing in soft snow conditions, in terrain that isn't too steep, or when skiing a softer or lightweight ski. Conversely, tall and stiff boots offer downhill performance closer to that of an alpine boot. They can drive the biggest freeride skis out there and can handle steep, icy conditions. Of course, these boots are going to weigh more and be somewhat less comfortable to hike in.
Dynafit Compatible Boots with Tech Fittings
Scarpa, Black Diamond, and Garmont make a few different models of Dynafit-compatible boots that have metal inserts in them called “Tech Fittings”. The NTN system also has tech fittings for some models. Originally, each manufacturer would make one model that was Dynafit-compatible, but it's become necessary to diversify as people are skiing bigger skis and harder lines on Dynafit bindings..
Scarpa makes several models of Dynafit-compatible boots from two buckle super light F1's to the stiffer, award-winning Mobe. Essentially, you need to consider your skill level with what you value as far as touring comfort when choosing among Dynafit boots.
Note that almost every Dynafit-compatible boot is also compatible with a step in binding, giving you greater flexibility with different set ups. Three exceptions are the F1 and the NTN boots the Terminator X and Terminator X Pro, all of which you should not use in a step in binding. The bellows incorporated into the boots are great for more flexible touring, but could potentially pop you out of a step in binding.
People who are more concerned with touring comfort will lean towards a lower profile, softer flexing boot. These are people who like to do long days over multiple passes and who are out there to see how many miles they can log, not necessarily for the turns they're going to get. Also people who are lighter weight, or who are just starting to get into alpine touring without a strong background in alpine skiing will want to go with a softer flexing boot. You also want a good match with your set up. If you have a slimmer lightweight ski, you want a boot that's going to complement your ski.
Some people with a strong skiing background, who have been alpine touring for years, or who are moving into bigger and wider skis, may find that their three-buckle boot isn't getting the job done. While you sacrifice some hiking comfort, moving up to a four-buckle stiff boot will give you more control in thicker conditions, on steeper pitches, or more aggressive skiing.
It's worth mentioning the super light boots meant for lightning fast ascents. Randonnee isn't as big in the US as it is in Europe, but it is gaining popularity. These people know who they are and what they're looking for. . . like the Scarpa F1 the F3. If you don't see the boot you're looking for, give us a call; we may be able to special order it for you.
Ski Boot Fitting
When choosing which boot manufacturer to go with, the most important consideration is fit. Almost all of the boots that we carry have a heat-moldable liner. They provide a custom fit to your foot and a seamless interface between foot and boot. Keep in mind that your boots should feel extremely snug out of the box. The heat moldable liners are meant to be molded before being skied in, and should be comfortable and secure after they are molded. If your boots feel like hiking boots out of the box, chances are you're in too large of a size. Visit our boot-fitting page for more info on getting the best fit in your boots, and our size chart for help figuring out which size you need. If you have questions on boot size, please give us a call at 970-468-5687, and we can help.