The Best Ski Boots Review

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Boots perform the ever important job of driving skis, and they make a significant difference in a skier's performance and enjoyment of the sport. Here the Salomon X-Pro expertly arcs a turn.
Credit: Jediah Porter
What is the best men's all-mountain alpine ski boot? There are many factors affecting this qualifier, so to learn more we tested 6 models from different manufacturers during the winter of 2014. To choose what to test, we sought opinions from recreational skiers and pros alike, to find out which are tried and true, and which new models they were curious about. We tested them side by side, run for run, and for days on end while working on a professional ski patrol. We skied in a variety of conditions and in all types of terrain on Mammoth Mountain, California. These were put through the wringer to determine how they measured in downhill performance, comfort and fit, features, durability, and warmth. Check out the full review below to see how these compared to each other in our head-to-head tests, which revealed our Editors' Choice, Top Pick, and the Best Buy awards.

Be sure to check out our Buying Advice for to help you begin your quest for the perfect boot for skiing. For the ladies, read our Women's Review to learn more about why buying a women's specific boot is important.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Ski Boots - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Lange RX 120
Lange RX 120
Read the Review
Salomon X-Pro 120
Salomon X-Pro 120
Read the Review
Dalbello Panterra ID 120
Dalbello Panterra ID 120
Read the Review
Tecnica Cochise 120
Tecnica Cochise 120
Read the Review
Nordica Hell and Back H2
Nordica Hell and Back H2
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award      Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Street Price $600
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$600
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$550
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$455
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$350
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Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Excellent medium volume fit, liner, buckles, downhill performanceComfortable liner, great heel pocket, heat moldable shell, buckles, rubber soleIntuition liner, Variable Volume Fit, Rubberized MidsoleWalk mode, replaceable soles (interchangeable w/alpine touring bindings), liner, lightweight materialsRemovable soles, shell design, simple design and features
Cons Thin tongue on liner, soft rubber soles wear easilyColorBulky, walk-mode, power-strapBoxy fit, awkward power strapRoomy fit
Best Uses Advanced and expert level skiers, true medium volume feetAdvanced and expert skiers, medium width footAdvanced and expert skiers, medium volume foot, in-bounds skiingLots of hiking inbounds, “side-country” skiing, people who work in ski boots, advanced skiersUpper-intermediate to advanced skiers, medium-wide foot
Date Reviewed Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014
Weighted Scores Lange RX 120 Salomon X-Pro 120 Dalbello Panterra ID 120 Tecnica Cochise 120 Nordica Hell and Back H2
Comfort - 30%
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Performance - 40%
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Features - 10%
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Durability - 10%
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Warmth - 10%
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Product Specs Lange RX 120 Salomon X-Pro 120 Dalbello Panterra ID 120 Tecnica Cochise 120 Nordica Hell and Back H2
Weight (per boot, size 27.5) 5 lb. 4 lb. 12 oz. 5 lb. 7 oz. 4 lb. 7 oz. 4 lb. 13 oz.
Last Width 100mm 100mm 100mm 100mm 100mm
Available Flexes 100+120+130 80+100+120+130 90+100+120 90+110+120+130 100+120
Number of Buckles 4 4 3+ 3 4
Buckles Microadjustable? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shell Material ET/PU Bi-Material PU (Heat Moldable Shell) PU/PA Triax Triax
Liner Thermo-moldable? Yes Yes Yes No No
Binding Compatibility DIN DIN DIN DIN, AT/Tech DIN
Walk Mode? No No Yes Yes No
Skier Level Advanced Advanced Advanced Advanced Upper Intermediate-Advanced

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Lange RX 120
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Nordica Hell and Back H2
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Tecnica Cochise 120
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Salomon X-Pro 120
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Dalbello Panterra ID 120
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Atomic Hawx 120
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Selecting the Right Product
Your boots are quite possibly the single most important piece of equipment to consider when hitting the slopes. They provide the transmission of your body's energy to the ski and then the snow. Good-fitting boots can be the key to better ski performance and comfort for full days at the mountain. Careful selection and fitting will ensure a better return on your investment.

Every dedicated and experienced skier has a valuable opinion about which brand is the best, and has an even more valuable opinion about which are not. Be cautioned, the model that works best for the racers you see flying down a course, the ski patrollers working all day in their boots, and your friend will likely not be the best option for you.

Refer to our Buying Advice article to learn more about specific design features of an all-mountain alpine model and how to find the right one for your foot. Also check out How We Test article to find out how we tested and compared these test models.

Types of Alpine Ski Boots
All six models tested fall into a broad category of all-mountain alpine boots. We chose this type because they are versatile and can be used to ski in all conditions and in any terrain on the mountain. In other words, they are not specific to one type of skiing or another such as boots which are designed for ski racing or freestyle skiing. The models we tested are available in all sizes, a range of flex ratings, and some with different last widths.

We did test two models that can be classified as adventure/freeride boots within the broader category of all-mountain boots, the Tecnica Cochise 120 and the Dalbello Panterra ID 120. These boots overlap with backcountry boots just slightly, being heavy and stiff for in-bounds skiing but featuring a walk mode to allow for more comfortable access to side-country terrain.

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Front view of our tested boots: (L to R) Salomon X-Pro, Nordia Hell and Back, Atomic Hawx, Lange RX, Dalbello Panterra, and Tecnica Cochise.
Credit: Mike Phillips

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Liners from our tested boots: (L to R) Salomon X-Pro, Atomic Hawx, Dalbello Panterra,Tecnica Cochise, Nordia Hell and Back, and Lange RX.
Credit: Mike Phillips


History of Alpine Boots
Downhill skiing originally evolved from cross-country skiing when somebody realized that it was more fun to glide down a snowy slope than to walk on flat snow. However, to ascend to the top of the slope one needed cross-country techniques and equipment, and so the first boots were basically cross-country models consisting of a shoe-like boot made from leather and a hard but flexible rubber sole.

The need to first climb the slope limited the numbers of participants as well as technical innovation until the mid-30s when the world's first chairlifts and aerial tramways were constructed for the purpose of skiing. By the early 1950's, with the invention of both Kandahar bindings, which held the entire sole to the ski, and the Head Standard ski, termed "the cheater" for its incredible turning ability, boots now became a limiting factor in performance. Soft leather boots inhibited the ability to transfer lateral forces from the skier's leg to the ski for easier turning capabilities. To solve this stiffer leather boots were made by soaking in oil or glue, but with the comical downside of being nearly impossible to break in, and then once made comfortable enough to wear they quickly became soft and unusable.

The first innovation visible on the modern alpine versions was the buckle, introduced by the Swiss company Henke in the mid-50s. However, they didn't solve the rigidity problems as people instead complained of pinching and discomfort, as well as increased wear. But in the early 60s Bob Lange created the first thermo-molded plastic shelled boot, solving the problem of rigidity. Using newly invented plastics combined with Henke buckles (the first models used laces but it proved to be impossible to lace up a plastic boot) and a step in design which incorporated two pieces hinged and riveted at the ankle, Lange boots allowed lateral stiffness for turning control while still allowing some forward flexibility. Through the mid to late 60s Lange tested their designs working closely with the Canadian National Ski Team. When Nancy Greene won the 1967 World Cup wearing the new boots they became as hot as televisions before them and Uggs after, everyone had to have them.

Although very similar to what we use today, the early plastic models still conformed to the cross-country ideal of being cut low just above the ankle. This changed when the French invented a new turning technique that required one to lean back on their skis. To accommodate, the cuffs of newer models worked their way upwards to provide the support needed, eventually settling around mid-calf as we see today. With the notable exception of the Salomon designed rear-entry boot of the 90s (rental shop anyone?), there has been almost no change in the design of alpine ski boots since the 80's, with the only major differences being in materials, look, weight, and either greater or lesser flexibility based on whether ski-mountaineering or freeride has a greater influence on your style.

Criteria for Evaluation
It turns out that evaluating alpine boots for a large audience is quite difficult since we've already established that performance and comfort depends largely on fit. The evaluation criteria for our test attempts to address the big picture. We remain as objective as possible when critiquing each contender and we compare them to each other and across categories when scoring.

Comfort and Fit
Depending on your foot, ski boots will fit differently out of the box. We scored fit based on how quickly and easily it could be adjusted or tweaked to achieve an optimal fit. This includes micro-adjustable buckles and thermo-moldable liners, among other things. We used our tester's feet as a standard to judge if the boots felt narrow, wide, roomy etc. compared to the others in our test group. Comfort is also a bit subjective, but we stuck with it as a criteria for evaluation. The last width, the quality of the liner, the height, and the overall stance helped us to compare how comfortable overall each one is compared to the others. After all, if your feet feel good throughout the day, you're probably having more fun and skiing better. A boot that feels good deserves extra attention.

The Salomon X Pro 120 and the Dalbello Panterra ID 120 scored well in this category. They both have fit specific features that allow the user to adjust the fit of the ski boots easily. Read more in their individual product reviews to learn about their adjustable fit.

Downhill Performance
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Boots perform the ever important job of driving skis, and they make a significant difference in a skier's performance and enjoyment of the sport. Here the Salomon X-Pro expertly arcs a turn.
Credit: Jediah Porter
We want our alpine boots to be sensitive, supportive, responsive, and predictable. We skied all six of these on different skis and in varying conditions so that we could see how they performed across a wide range of usage. Predictable flex, responsiveness, and sensitivity were our primary measurements for this valuable and heavy hitting category. Choosing a flex that is appropriate to your size, skiing ability, and ski style will influence your own opinion on downhill performance and how supportive a boot feels. All of the contenders for this review are available in several flex ratings to suit your needs.

The Lange RX 120 far and away took the cake for best downhill ski performance out of the six in our review. Not surprisingly, the boot felt the stiffest and had the closest fit, so it shone in its ability to drive big skis in variable conditions and was very responsive when we needed the ski to turn in tight spots.

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The i-Flex zones featured on the Atomic Hawx boots increase sensitivity but decrease stability.
Credit: Mike Phillips
The Atomic Hawx 120 was very sensitive to ski vibration and the feel of the snow thanks to the "I-Flex Zones" incorporated into the forefoot. Although this feature did allow us to feel the ski and the snow well, we also felt a buckling sensation in the forefoot due to this added flexibility. It left the testers feeling like the boot was unsupportive in steep skiing applications.

Features
The features contribute to fit, adjustability, and performance. We focused our attention on the quality of features that are on all of the boots such as the power-strap and micro-adjustable buckles, as well as took note of the specialized features that go above and beyond what is standard to an all-mountain boot. We used this criteria to decide which features were beneficial, which ones we didn't notice as much, and which ones weren't of sufficient quality to warrant special attention. It turns out that having more features did not necessarily help one out-perform others in the review.

The Dalbello Panterra ID 120 is a good example of a feature laden boot. It even looks busy with features at first glance. A walk-mode, "variable-volume fit" adjustability, an Intuition liner, ramp angle adjustment, and micro-adjustable buckles all crowd this brightly colored model. However, we found the walk-mode to have a very limited range of motion, which didn't score big points with the reviewer.

The Tecnica Cochise 120 is like a toned-down version of the Dalbello, being lighter, more svelte, and haivng a better walk mode. This fine collection of features enables this to be more versatile, namely in transitioning between downhill skiing at the resort and doing some ski touring/backcountry skiing.

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A comparison of the Dalbello Panterra ID 120 (left) and Tecnica Cochise 120 walk modes. The metal pieces on the Cochise seem much more durable, and this walk mode allows for much more cuff mobility than on the Panterra.
Credit: Mike Phillips

To contrast these feature-heavy models, the Lange RX 120 has relatively few extra features. But what features it does have are simple, high quality, and function exceptionally well. This boot is focused on the downhill and it does that exceptionally well. Its simple design makes it easy to look at and understand, and its fit will either be natural for your foot or need professional adjustment by a bootfitter.

The Salomon X-Pro 120 is full of fit features like heat moldable liners and even a heat moldable shell. With the help of a professional boot fitter you can dial these things into a perfect fit for your unique foot.

Durability
These might seem like inherently durable products. They are made of pretty heavy duty plastics and metal. Although we had no major issues with things breaking or wearing out on these boots during our testing, there are some pieces on boots that showed more wear during our relatively short testing period and some pieces that we consider suspect in their long term function and durability. We value simplicity in design and good materials that will prolong the life of your boots.

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The RX 120 uses a soft rubber material on it's replaceable soles. These showed wear with less than a week of use.
Credit: Mike Phillips
We ski a lot, and with time we've found that the soles are the quickest thing to wear out. All of the tested models had replaceable soles, which is important if you spend any amount of time walking through the parking lot, the lodge, or just on hard snow around the mountain. The Tecnica Cochise 120 even has the ability to accept alpine touring soles! Boots with this feature will last longer than boots without replaceable soles.

Warmth
What makes one boot warmer than another? Liner material, last width, and fit can all influence how warm your feet feel inside. Although subjective, we feel that this is an important point of comparison between boots since having happy/warm feet will increase the fun level on the slopes. In general, the more relaxed the fit, the warmer it will be.

The Tecnica Cochise 120 and the Nordica Hell and Back H2 had the roomiest fits, allowing our toes to wiggle and keep the blood flowing to them even on the coldest days. The Lange RX 120 has a more performance oriented fit, which constricts feet a bit more, leaving them a little chilly on storm days.

All three of our award winners happen to come with liners that are prepared to accept an aftermarket boot heater, which can be installed on the bottom of the liner. These battery powered units increase your chances of having toasty toes on those long chairlift rides.

Editors' Choice Award: Lange RX 120
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The Lange RX 120 handles firm snow with ease in off-piste terrain beneath Hangman's Hollow on Mammoth Mountain, CA.
Credit: Jessica Haist
Lange was the pioneer of plastic alpine ski boots in the early 1960's and they have been a leader in the industry ever since. They continue to produce quality today. The Lange RX 120 is a familiar-looking boot: it has a very traditional overlapping 4 buckle design that is widely used by the company and the ski industry as a whole. We like its simple design, useful features, and consistent flex. With a responsive, close fit, it scored the highest out of all of the boots we tested in downhill performance.This boot handles skiing groomed terrain with speed and bounces through both off-piste terrain and steep technical terrain with ease. The 100 mm last makes it an approachable fit for average feet and the RX is available in 3 different flex ratings, 100,120, and 130, making the design available to skiers of different tastes, sizes, and abilities.

Best Buy Award: Nordica Hell and Back H2
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The micro-adjustable buckles on the Nordica Hell and Back are easy to operate with gloves or mittens due to their large size and articulated ends.
Credit: Sarah Hoff
The Nordica Hell and Back H2 is an immediately comfortable option with simple, quality features that we look for in high performance models. Its stealthy black color makes it look sleek and stylish. This boot is best suited for upper-intermediate and advanced skiers with a slightly higher volume foot than this boot's 100 mm last advertises. We had to really crank down on the buckles to get a good fit out of these roomy boots. Although it is given a 110 flex rating from the manufacturer, we found it to be stiffer than some of the other boots we tested, which were all rated 120. With a price tag of $100-$150 less than boots similar in design, it's a good choice for those in the market for new boots and shopping on a budget, or for those who only ski a few weekends a year. The Hell and Back series is available in 3 different flex ratings 100 (H3), 110 (H2) and 120 (H1).

Top Pick for Sidecountry Versatility: Technica Cochise 120
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Author and professional ski patroller Mike Phillips skis Mammoth Mountain, CA in the Tecnica Cochise 120.
Credit: Mike Phillips
The Tecnica Cochise 120 is a fine example of a modern freeride/adventure boot. It's stable platform, highly adjustable buckles, and traditional overlap shell/cuff design make it a strong performer inside the resort boundary, while it's lightweight materials, available alpine touring soles, and high-quality walk mode make it a likely candidate to take you outside of the ski area and on short tours. It's comfortable without feeling boxy, and is exceptionally warm on long chair lift rides. The Cochise line from Tecnica use a plastic material blend that is lightweight and has swirling colors that are unique to each boot, which we think looks pretty cool. The Cochise is available in 4 different flex ratings; 90, 110, 120, and 130.

Mike Phillips
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