Our lead test editor is a diehard "touring dork." He's used rando race style boots almost exclusively for 13 years and is reluctant to try "four buckle" "overlap" style boots. Boots constructed like this, such as the Atomic Hawx XTD 120, are much heavier with higher friction in the touring mode. The Hawx XTD mitigates a great deal of these issues, without compromising much of the downhill performance one wishes for. The most celebrated endorsement we can provide is that the lead editor used these boots for a high tempo, 8000 vertical foot day of Teton ski guiding. He's never used an overlap boot for this much human-powered skiing in one day. The middle of the ski touring and ski mountaineering boot buyer bell curve is evenly split in preferences. All want to optimize downhill performance and minimize uphill interference. Nonetheless, half are willing to lean one way, while the other half leans the other. The Atomic Hawx XTD is the one boot that (if it fits), we can heartily recommend to those looking for absolute maximum ski support in a package that still tours all you would want. For this reason, it wins our Editors' Choice award.
Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120 Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Great downhill performance, progressive forward flex, reliable buckles and ski/walk mode
Cons: High friction in range of motion, smooth sole
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Our Analysis and Test Results
AT ski boot design is exciting right now with progress on all fronts. Light boots are getting lighter and skiing better. Big boots are skiing better and getting lighter. Manufacturers continuously break long-held assumptions. The Atomic Hawx 120 XTD upends the idea that an overlap constructed boot can't tour all day. This is the greatest range of motion we've ever experienced in an overlap boot. It brings the performance attributes of this construction style to the ski touring masses.
The Atomic Hawx has close competitors in a variety of categories. It is tempting to compare it to the other overlap boots on the market. The Tecnica Zero G Guide and Top Pick Lange XT Freetour 130 are both overlap boots with tech fittings. Neither, though, tours anywhere close to as well as the Atomic. In a variety of ways, the Atomic goes head to head with cousin Salomon Mtn Lab. In the end, the Atomic skis better, tours better, and has a fit that is more amenable to more feet than the Mtn Lab. For 2018, the Atomic Hawx XTD displaces the Salomon Mtn Lab from an Editors' Choice award, but only by one point. All of these aforementioned products are touring boots for skiers. They make a decided tilt toward ski performance. Among those, the Atomic Hawx 120 XTD is the best we've used.
AT ski boots are compromises. Those best for the downhill are worst for the uphill, and vice versa. That being said, materials and construction are slowly narrowing the gap. Every once in a while a product comes along to narrow that gap. The Hawx Ultra XTD is one such product. For the degree of downhill performance it offers, it tours fabulously. There is more cuff articulation than your ankles can use, and the friction within that range is acceptable.
On our 10-point scale, the Atomic falls right in the middle in uphill performance. All those that beat it in uphill performance have far lower downhill performance scores. It tours uphill quite similarly (regarding range and friction) to the Salomon Mtn Lab. It will never touch something like the rando-race inspired Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS. Even our other Editors' Choice Dynafit TLT7 Performance climbs much much better, with greater range and less friction. The Hawx Ultra XTD tours much better than the downhill optimized Tecnica Zero G Guide and Top Pick Lange XT Freetour 130.
The Hawx Ultra XTD weighs seven pounds and five ounces. This is solidly in the upper echelon of weights for standard touring boots. Replace the liner and you can shave almost a pound for the pair, but downhill performance might suffer.
Only a few boots are heavier than the Atomic. The Tecnica, Lange XT, and Dynafit Radical are all heavier and the Fischer Transalp Vacuum TS is the same weight as the Hawx. Close competitor Salomon Mtn Lab is almost a half pound lighter for the pair. This is the one metric in which the Salomon exceeds the Atomic Hawx.
Here, the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD shines. This is the best skiing all-around touring boot we've ever used. Without a doubt, overlap boots ski better than tongue constructed boots. The reasons for this are varied, but the result is a "smoother" stiffness. It is easy to make boots stiff, and easy to make them light. It is hard to make them stiff and light (enough) with a progressively tuned flex. Given construction limitations, overlap boots are better tuned for this progressive forward flex. The best boots respond predictably when the user presses his or her shins forward against the front of the boot. That predictable response is, ideally, very light initial resistance that steadily, and linearly, increases with forward flex of the user's ankle. Overlap boots do this best. Tongue boots are lighter, but suffer in progressive forward flex. The Atomic Hawx is an overlap boot and flexes like one. Lateral stiffness is more than you'd ever need, and if your skiing gets sloppy and you need to work "from the back seat," the construction holds up there as well.
Only the Lange and Tecnica boots ski better than the Atomic Hawx. These boots are stiffer overall, with even more carefully tailored progressive flex. The best skiing tongue boot we've ever used is the former Editors' Choice Salomon Mtn Lab. The Mtn Lab has a forward flex that pretty closely approximates an overlap boot, but isn't quite there. Additionally, the Mtn Lab has just two buckles. The standard four buckle configuration of the Atomic better locks in one's foot and better spreads the pressure for downhill performance.
Comfort and Fit
The initial fit experience of the Atomic Hawx is almost perfectly average. Our lead test editor has an almost exactly average volume foot. When a boot is considered narrow, it pinches his foot. When a boot is considered wide, he swims in it. The Atomic fits perfectly, right out of the box, in overall volume. Further tipping things in favor of the Atomic, fit-wise, is the ability to heat mold the shell. Atomic claims (and other online user reviews verify this) that the shell can be molded in a rather simple process to add millimeters of width and volume, in specific places. We did not test this attribute.
The toe box is slightly snugger than the heel pocket, reminiscent of the Scott Cosmos II. The overall fit is much wider than the Salomon Mtn Lab. The Fischer Transalp Vacuum TS has a similar heat molded shell, but a much wider initial fit. The Atomic fits similar to the Lange XT and wider than the Tecnica Zero G. The Editors Choice Dynafit TLT7 is similar in volume, while the Arc'teryx Procline Carbon Lite is much narrower.
The liner of the Atomic Hawx 120 is more like that of an alpine boot than that of a touring boot. The tongue is stiffened and the lining is soft. An aftermarket liner will be considerably lighter, and likely tour better, but won't be as comfortable nor ski as well.
Warmth is most closely correlated with fit. Boots too tight will inhibit circulation, so we encourage you to get boots that fit correctly for backcountry warmth. In our testing, we correct for fit differences for warmth comparisons. Fit should always be tailored and, ultimately, be the same for any user in all boots. After fit, warmth is most strongly correlated with the amount of material in the shell and liner. More material in both parts makes for warmer boots. The liner is the most insulating part, but the shell also provides protection. The Atomic has a relatively thin shell, given its ski performance, however, the liner is thick and insulating.
The liner is very similar in insulating value to that of the Tecnica and Lange boots. The Tecnica and Lange boots, though have beefier shells that further protect. The Scott Cosmos has a very warm liner and thin shell. It is only a little less insulating than the Atomic. The Atomic is far more insulating than any of the lightweight award winners. The Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS is downright drafty compared to the Hawx. The other Editors' Choice Dynafit TLT7 Performance falls somewhere between the warmth of the Hawx and that of the Alien.
Ease of Use
The Atomic gets mixed reviews for ease of use. First, those coming directly from alpine boots will find the design familiar. As compared to regular resort kicks, the Atomic has the same buckle configuration and an overlap shell that is just as hard to get into. The buckles are durable and reliable. As compared to lighter touring boots, the six clasps (four buckles, velcro power strap, rear ski/walk mode lever) of the Atomic seem complicated. There are indeed more things to do in a transition with the Atomic, but all will work just as intended every single time. Notably, the ski/walk mode lever is the best we've ever seen on a ski-optimized touring boot. External, spring loaded, and easily cleared of ice, this is the only boot of its type that reliably switches between modes every single time. For the user seeking a boot like this, we consider the Atomic Hawx very easy to use.
A boot like this is made for your traditional ski touring outing. You will reach a summit and grab a snack, maybe sit down, while transitioning. You don't want to have to take off your gloves or battle weird levers, but you don't mind hiking up your pants and making some adjustments. For this rhythm the Hawx is great. Other boots, of course, change modes way faster. No matter how you configure it, the Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS changes from ski to walk mode, and vice versa, with one move. Same with the TLT 7, as long as you ditch the power strap. These light boots, though, are vulnerable to material failure. Break a buckle and you are screwed. The bigger boots made by Tecnica and Lange both feature ski/walk mode levers that are very, very moody. Both have failed our testers in important situations, sticking either in downhill or uphill mode when the opposite was desired. We like where Atomic has made refinements (in the ski/walk mode lever) and where they have kept it familiar and proven (in the main buckles).
We can recommend the Hawx Ultra XTD 120 for skiers looking to cover the full spectrum of backcountry skiing, from resort side-country to long traverses, as long as the user is looking to optimize downhill skiing with some touring compromises. The main drawback of the XTD is its weight, which can be mitigated with an aftermarket liner.
The price of the Atomic is competitive, and the design is apt to be super durable. Our testing has not yet been extensive enough to truly test the durability, but we are confident that the integrity and buckles will last a long time. Reasonable price, great performance, and long durability add up to a great value.
We'll reiterate that the best endorsement of this boot is our lead test editor's selection of it for day-to-day Grand Teton National Park ski guiding. Jed chooses this for everything from avalanche courses to athletic days of powder hunting. It tours well enough for miles and miles, is warm and durable enough for everyday use, and skis like a dream. As long as you pair it with reasonably light touring skis, you won't wish for any more ski performance than the Hawx provides.
— Jediah Porter