During the last seven years, our expert alpinists have personally tested 15 of the best mountaineering boots, and recently bought seven of this year's top models for our latest side-by-side analysis. From ice climbs in Ouray, Colorado to mixed rock and ice routes in Patagonia, to classic alpine climbs in Utah and the Sierra Nevada, we put these boots through their paces in the same diverse terrain and conditions that you're likely to endure. Whether you plan on climbing rock, ice, snow, or a mix of it all, we'll help you find the best mountaineering boots to help you send your next big objective.Related: The Best Mountaineering Boots For Women
The Best Mountaineering Boots
Best Overall Mountaineering Boot
Scarpa Phantom Tech
Supergaiter boots have begun to dominate the mountaineering boot category, and the Scarpa Phantom Tech is an excellent example of why that is. This boot will keep your feet warm and dry for pretty much any weather that the lower 48 states can throw at you. Most impressively, it will do that for only 1.5 ounces (40g) more than the lightest boot in our test. They also climb well, especially on steep ice.
While the lace lock allows for great tensioning in the forefoot of the boot, it can be a bit confusing to use at first. We haven't had any durability issues with our pair of Phantom Techs in the time we've been testing them, but we have heard reports from other climbers of the zipper teeth disengaging after closure, though apparently, this is always easily fixed. This is an excellent boot for anyone with winter mountaineering, ice climbing, or alpine adventures in mind.
Read review: Scarpa Phantom Tech
Best Bang for the Buck
La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX
Every boot in this review is good, and despite the fact that the Trango Tower Extreme is our lowest scoring model, it's still a great boot. They're incredibly light for a full-shank boot; the ankle flexibility allows for exceptional performance on mixed terrain, climbing rock without crampons, and hiking. It features a solid lacing system that even a toddler could figure out.
While it's warm enough for most winter days, it is a little thin on the coldest days or for mountaineers with chronically cold feet. The low cuff means that water could slosh in the top of the boot during shallow stream crossings. This is a great boot for winter climbers with warm feet on light-and-fast missions, or for climbers who need a technical boot for spring, summer, and fall routes.
Read review: La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX
Best for Overnight Trips
Arc'teryx Acrux AR
There is a lot of category-bending innovation happening with mountain boots these days and climbers are the biggest beneficiaries. In the past, mountaineers on overnight trips (especially in winter), have not had a great option when it came to drying their boots out overnight. With the Acrux AR mountaineers get a warm, waterproof boot with a removable inner boot. This means that on overnight trips you can bring the inner boot into your sleeping bag to dry it out. You get this benefit without the bulky, clunky package of a 6000-meter boot.
Many of our heavier testers found the sole to be a bit less than rigid for steep front-pointing. Other testers had no issues, but climbers with weaker calves should be aware of this potential pitfall; these boots are also not cheap. However, for alpine climbers and mountaineers who spend a good chunk of time out overnight, this boot is a perfect tool.
Read review: Arc'teryx Acrux AR
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team of mountaineers is led by strongman Ian McEleney. As a true mountain man, he spends his days guiding hard days in the mountains. He climbs up to the tops of high peaks, traversing over snow, rock, and ice. When he's not in the alpine, you can find him soaking up the rays of sunshine near sunny crags or eating ice cream after a challenging day of work.
To test all the boots, we wore each pair throughout a range of conditions. Wearing them from South to North America, we truly put in the miles. We tested each boot with and without crampons and spent hours hiking up and down steep terrain. We tested using core criteria, unbiasedly, to provide you with some of the best feedback out there.
Related: How We Tested Mountaineering Boots
Analysis and Test Results
If it's true that our security in the mountains begins with our own movement and our movement is rooted in our feet, then boots might be the single most important piece of gear you bring with you into the hills. A good mountain boot keeps our feet dry in cold conditions, protects it from precipitation, supports the musculature in our feet and legs appropriately, doesn't inhibit efficient hiking on approaches and descents, is easy to adjust, and doesn't burden us with unnecessary weight. Sounds like an impossible mission! Modern mountain boots do these things better than they ever have in the past. In this review, we tease out the differences between a field of good products, rather than sort the winners from the junk.
To ensure that our test was as fair as possible, we restricted our selection to full-shank boots that have some insulation and a toe welt for automatic crampon compatibility. We excluded double boots that are designed for extreme cold and high altitudes (these are sometimes referred to as "6000-meter boots"). We also left out ¾ shank summer boots without a toe welt; the type of boot you might use for a simple snowy approach to a rock route. All of the boots in our review are suitable for use on winter ice and alpine climbs in the lower 48 states, Canada, Europe, and beyond. They are compatible with all crampon binding types.
Even with these restrictions, there are significant differences between products. This is in part because climbing mountains are more popular than ever before, and this growing economy allows manufacturers to create products that may have been to niche to be economically viable in the past. What this means for us lucky climbers is that we can find a boot that's designed specifically for the climbing we want to do!
Quality mountaineering gear is a major investment. While some may not hesitate to pay top dollar for a pair of boots, others are looking to walk the line between price and performance. In scoring and ranking these boots, we kept value in mind and identified boots that offer the performance you need at a price that is easier to swallow. Most notably, the Best Buy winning La Sportiva Nepal Cube GTX offers great performance at a more approachable price point. We also suggest that value-conscious shoppers consider the La Sportiva Trango Ice Cube, Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro GTX, or the Lowa Mountain Expert GTX Evo.
A note about fit
Anyone who has done any kind of mountain travel knows that the footwear fit can make or break a trip. Boots that fit poorly can make a WI 3 feel like a WI 6 or leave you limping - instead of leaping - up a glacier. In this review we delve into the features and performance characteristics of the mountaineering boots but can't truly speak to fit because the feet of our testing team are not the same as your feet. Even if a pair ranks highly in our test, if it doesn't fit your foot it's not the right boot for you.
Weight is an important consideration for most any piece of gear we use in human-powered activities. For footwear this is even truer. "A pound on your feet equals five on your back" is a classic adage from the backpacking world. It turns out that this has been validated by a number of scientific studies, including two conducted by the US Army (in 1985 and 1986). While the studies vary slightly in the exact amount of additional work required by heavy footwear, five pounds remains a good reference. For numbers a climber can understand, an additional pound of footwear is like adding four #6 Camalot C4's to your pack, or twelve 22cm steel ice screws, or ½ gallon of water.
We tested the weight of each boot by weighing it with our trusty WeighMax 2822. We weighed one boot (½ of a pair). La Sportiva, Scarpa, and Asolo all advertise the weight of just one boot on their website. Our tester size is 43, some boot manufacturers use 42 or 42.5 as their reference size.
It used to be that there was a correlation between weight and warmth. Modern insulation and construction technologies have disrupted that connection. The La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX is the lightest boot in our review at 1lb 13.6oz (835g) despite having the longest name. It's also the least warm - no surprise there. However, two of the warmest mountaineering boots in our review, the La Sportiva G5, and the Scarpa Phantom Tech are each only a few ounces heavier.
While pretty light by old single boot standards,the La Sportiva Nepal Cube is the heaviest boot in our test at 2lb 5.4oz (1060g). Slightly lighter but much warmer is the Arc'teryx Arcux AR.
Mountain environments present many hazards, and when we're distracted we don't notice or respond to these hazards effectively. Cold feet are a serious distraction and a challenge for any mountain boot. Not only do we sometimes stand still for extended belays, but we're also standing on the snow or ice, and with metal strapped to our feet conducting the heat away! Additionally, our feet are located far from our heart and core (the source of warm blood) and are a relatively low priority for our hypothalamus (the part of our brain that regulates body temperature).
A good mountaineering boot keeps our feet warm in several ways. It traps heat with insulation in the upper of the boot. Boots with a thicker and higher cuff generally keep our feet warmer, as a bonus, this type of construction often lends more calf support for steep ice climbing. However, the cost is sometimes decreased range of motion in the ankle and so lessened performance on mixed terrain, rock climbing, and hiking. Boots also insulate our feet from the cold surfaces we stand on and from crampons. A thicker midsole and outsole help with this, but, depending on the materials used in their construction, can also add weight to the boot and compromise climbing precision.
Innumerable factors affect how warm our feet feel. We evaluated boots for warmth first by examining their construction and materials. Then we wore a different boot on each foot for a day of climbing, for a side by side comparison.
How warm a given boot is will be of different importance to different climbers. Those with a history of cold feet, a cold injury, or compromised circulation and who are heading out in the winter, would do well to prioritize boot warmth. Climbers looking for a boot for technical alpine and ice climbs in the summer months such as couloirs in the Sierra, ridges in the Cascades, and big faces in the Canadian Rockies may seek something with a bit less insulation to avoid sweaty feet.
Dry feet are warm feet, so the ability of a boot to protect our feet from water in all of its forms enhances the warmth of our mountaineering boots and overall performance. Wet feet are also more prone to blisters, which are a sure-fire way to spoil your trip.
There are a lot of ways our feet can get wet on an alpine or ice climb. Snow can come in the top of the boot while we're post-holing. Seams in the upper can form weak points that let moisture in while we're belaying in sloppy wet snow. A creek crossing can be deeper than it looks. We can punch through the top layer of ice on a pitch to find water pooled beneath. It even rains in the mountains!
Our testing team looked at several factors when examining water resistance. First, we looked at the construction and materials of the boot. Boots with an integrated gaiter scored more highly, especially those with a super-gaiter. The Nepal Cube and Trango Tower Extreme lacked a proper gaiter but the boot cuff was designed to hug our calves. Taller boots allowed us to step into deeper streams before water came rushing in over the top. They also helped when engaged in serious post-holing.
Close readers of this review will notice that we avoid using the word "waterproof" to describe a boot. Step in a deep enough puddle with any of these boots and you'll take on water fast. Almost all of the boots in this review will keep out liquid water to around a 6-inch (16cm) depth. The exception is the La Sportiva G5, which allows significant water in when immersed in liquid water deeper than about 3.5 inches (9cm). This boot performed fine in wet snow and when post-holing.
Varying designs can make it hard to tell where exactly the "water line" of a boot is. The Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro has a low point in the tongue bellows, just behind the gaiter, where liquid water can enter the boot surprisingly low. While the gaiter on the Eiger GV keeps snow out with aplomb, the fabric isn't waterproof, and liquid penetrates it quickly. To discover these weaknesses, we filled a plastic tub with about 6 inches of water in stood in it with each boot for 5 minutes. While this test might not have the most real-world crossover, it did quickly reveal any weakness in a boot's design.
Climbing performance is the most important thing we're after in this review. After all, if the boot can't handle the route, it doesn't matter if it can keep your feet warm or lace up easily. However, readers should be aware that of all of our metrics, climbing performance is most affected by fit. Also worth noting is that while these boots work with all crampon binding systems, not all crampons fit all boots well. Most of our testers prefer a fully automatic crampon binding as they find it gives a better and more secure fit. It seems to us that the boots with less rocker, particularly the G5, Phantom Tech, and Mont Blanc Pro are the easiest to fit crampons.
Our testing team tried to evaluate climbing performance as objectively as possible by climbing with the boots in three different media: water ice, mixed/dry tooling, and rock climbing without crampons. For ice climbing we sought materials and construction in the upper of the boot that gave good support to fatiguing calves on steep ground, the Nepal Cube really shined here. We also wanted a sole that was perfectly rigid. Most of the models were are rigid, but we found the Acrux a little lacking. Those with big burly calves won't notice, but chicken-legged ice climbers might prefer something stiffer underfoot.
For mixed climbing and dry tooling we want a rigid sole, just like for ice, but we prefer it to be a bit thinner. We also want a lot of freedom in the ankle for fancy footwork. The Eiger GV is a champ in all of these criteria, and the Trango Tower Extreme is just behind with a slightly thicker sole. Some of our testing team was pleasantly surprised with the G5 on mixed ground because they could quickly loosen its velcro power strap for more ankle articulation.
Like with mixed climbing, on bare rock with no crampons we like a lot of range of motion in the ankle and a thin sole. To our surprise, we also found that we like a boot with a bit more rocker in the sole for climbing rocks. As with mixed climbing, the Eiger GV and Tower Extreme were favorites.
Even for those who don't enjoy a good hike for its own sake every now and then, hiking is an intrinsic part of mountaineering and alpine and ice climbing. We often hike to approach and descend from even the most technical routes. On easy mountaineering routes, the movement is basically hiking! Still, that's not often the main thing we're looking for in a boot, so we don't give this metric a ton of weight in our evaluation, just some consideration.
The qualities we looked for when hiking are not too far off from those we look for in rock climbing performance. A rockered sole leave room for a more natural stride. Fore-to-aft ankle freedom contributes to this as well. This was one area where the slightly less rigid sole of the Acrux AR really shone. This boot performed well on the hard, frozen, ground of early season approaches, and the unforgiving ice of glaciers in late-season conditions.
The way we put the boot on our feet and get a good fit has evolved quite a bit from the simple shoelace. Some of the models in our review stand in testament to this fact. While boot closure systems don't make or break our selection of one model over another, they are relevant and so we gave them some consideration in our metrics.
We've gotten used to lacing systems that let us dial in different tensions on our forefoot and ankle. Our testers think this is crucial for a good fit and one of the tricks that help us keep our feet warm when climbing steep ice. Every boot let us do that. We also liked closure systems that were simple. The fewer steps we had to take when putting on the boot the better. The Eiger GV required 4 discrete actions to get it fully closed and so lost some points.
Most any human who has worn a boot could pull the Nepal Cube or Trango Tower Extreme out of the box and immediately know how to put it on. The lace lock on the Phantom Tech was highly effective, but also took us a number of tries to figure out. The gaiters on the cuff of the Mont Blanc Pro and Eiger both fasten under the laces, which seemed counterintuitive to some of our team.
While the G5 required 3 steps to put on, it was also the fastest boot to put on, take off, or adjust, and won some points for this. We appreciated the power strap on the G5 and Acrux because it provided the fastest adjustments to upper boot fit.
Footwear is probably the most important purchase a climber makes, and also one of the most difficult. When choosing the best pair of mountaineering boots to buy, you first need to take into account what type of boot will best fit your goals. None of the boots in our review are bad, but they won't all work perfectly for all climbs. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. They also won't all fit every foot. How well a boot fits your foot is the most important performance metric, and one that's impossible for our (otherwise competent) testing team to evaluate.
— Ian McEleney