The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Backcountry Ski Boots

By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday February 20, 2020

The vast majority of our findings are based on using and comparing the boots in actual, human-powered backcountry skiing. Since this is how you will use them, we feel it is important to test that way. We also know that truly robust findings are based on this "real world" testing. We also skied a little bit at ski areas and do a few simple "lab" tests.

Overall  AT ski boot testing is a pleasure and a gift. We're happy to do the dirty work to get you the info you need.
Overall, AT ski boot testing is a pleasure and a gift. We're happy to do the dirty work to get you the info you need.

Uphill Performance


Mainly, we skinned uphill. We also cramponed and booted in each pair of footwear. While doing so we monitor for range of motion and friction within that range of motion. Finally, we measure cuff range of motion with a table and an inclinometer placed on some rearward part of the boot. We remove the liner, flex the shell all the way forward and take a measurement. We then take another measurement with the cuff flexed all the way back. The difference between these two measurements is the cuff range of motion, in degrees.

Uphill performance  uphill testing.
Uphill performance, uphill testing.

Weight


Each pair of boots, in size 26.5 or 27, is weighed on our calibrated and verified digital postal scale.

Our boot scale consistently delivers numbers consistent with the occasional calibration against other sources.
Our boot scale consistently delivers numbers consistent with the occasional calibration against other sources.

Downhill Performance


Again, we mainly just went skiing. Backcountry skiing, with backcountry ski and bindings, backpack and wild snow, is different than resort skiing. We mainly tested this way for better information. That being said, resort skiing is also a handy way to make quick comparisons between different models. Similarly, immediate in-home comparisons of the relative stiffness and sort of flex range provide rudimentary information that you often wish to read about.


Comfort and Fit


We wear them for long days. Also, we make sure to get a variety of different foot shapes in each boot. Each boot is tried on by at least a handful of different testers, with a known wide array of foot types, shapes, and preferences.

Warmth


Immediate comparisons of warmth are pretty difficult. A single tester's own perception of warmth can vary significantly from hour to hour and day to day. Further, warmth is a function of the boot itself and of its fit on a particular person. Nonetheless, we can pretty reliably correct for these variables and draw at least rough conclusions about relative insulation value. Skiing in the high and cold Tetons all winter long helps us assess warmth.

High  dry  and cold. The warmth of ski boots is often overlooked  and varies from one model to the next.
High, dry, and cold. The warmth of ski boots is often overlooked, and varies from one model to the next.

Ease of Use


Extensive testing draws out the usability of a product. We look for transition time and complication, reliability of hardware, and complications or not with getting the boots and liners on and off. We also consider compatibility with bindings and crampons.

Crampon compatibility is one small factor in ease of use.
Crampon compatibility is one small factor in ease of use.

Conclusion


We test thoroughly, with a highly experienced team of testers. Our team knows how AT ski boots are typically used and tailors the testing and the findings to that knowledge.