We've been formally testing backcountry ski boots for 6 years, all around the world and on the feet of the best in the mountains. This review compares 14 varied and highly functional boots for your perusal. Testing through these pandemic seasons has involved hundreds of days in the high Tetons with smaller forays to the US Mountain West. To test, we assemble a team of diehard practitioners and consult with users across a whole spectrum of backgrounds and experience levels. We divide our test findings into descriptions and scores of uphill performance, downhill performance, weight, comfort and fit, ease of use, and warmth. The end result is a user-friendly, comprehensive comparison of boots that you can be assured has been used, extensively and by focused skiers, in miles and miles of actual backcountry ski terrain.Let us help get your backcountry skiing quiver up to snuff with our ski reviews. We've tested it all: backcountry skis, skins, bindings, and poles, along with other essentials like avalanche beacons and ski helmets. Our backcountry experts have put in the vertical work to share their recommendations with you.
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|Pros||One move transition, progressive forward flex, excellent downhill performance||Excellent downhill performance, durable, warm, reliable, familiar||Stiff, comfy fit, Intuition liner||Balanced up and down performance, wide/high volume fit||Excellent downhill performance, lightweight, innovative|
|Cons||Heavy, slightly wide fit, “one move” transition is unnecessarily complicated||Very limited uphill and foot-travel performance, heavy||Heavy, high friction cuff pivot||Ski/walk mode prone to issues, recall to past versions||Claimed easy transitions leave you in a tour mode that is significantly compromised., binding and crampon compatibility limited|
|Bottom Line||Skis downhill very, very well, and it goes uphill well enough to enable full-day, all-around human powered skiing||These are lightly modified resort boots, built to optimize the downhill and be minimally functional on the way up||A downhill oriented boot for the discerning human-powered skier; they'll go up hill just easy enough to make it happen on the down||Proven ski boots with modern updates and an overall performance profile that is optimized for the majority of bc riders; if you have high volume feet, even better||Innovative boots that push the envelope in terms of downhill performance (at this weight point) but have some design and branding inconsistencies for actual backcountry use|
|Rating Categories||Dynafit Hoji 130||Lange XT3 120||Scarpa Maestrale XT||Scarpa Maestrale RS||Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour|
|Uphill Performance (20%)|
|Downhill Performance (35%)|
|Comfort and Fit (10%)|
|Ease of Use (5%)|
|Specs||Dynafit Hoji 130||Lange XT3 120||Scarpa Maestrale XT||Scarpa Maestrale RS||Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour|
|Weight Size 26.5, pair||6 lbs 14 oz||7 lbs 11 oz||6 lbs 13 oz||6 lbs 5 oz||6 lbs 2 oz|
|Weight of One Boot Shell||1251 g||1398 g||1237 g||1080 g||n/o|
|Weight of One Stock Liner, No Footbed||310 g||352 g||308 g||252 g||n/o|
|Weight of One Complete Boot, No Insole||1561 g||1750 g||1545 g||1432 g||1389 g|
|Range of Motion; Degrees||42||34||55||60||55|
|Binding Compatibility? Tech Only, or Tech and DIN AT standard, or Tech, DIN AT and DIN Alpine/WTR||Tech and DIN AT||Tech, DIN AT, Grip Walk||Tech and DIN AT||Tech and DIN AT||Tech only|
|Stated Flex Index||130||120||125||125||Not reported|
|Stated Last width||102 mm||100 mm||101 mm||101 mm||103.5 mm|
|Alpine Wrap or Tongue||Tongue||Wrap||Tongue||Tongue||Tongue|
|Shell Material||Glass impregnated Grilamid||Polyurethane||Carbon Grilamid||Carbon Grilamid||Grilamid|
Best Overall Light Backcountry Ski Boots
Scarpa F1 LT
The top-scoring Scarpa F1 LT is exactly tied for our highest award. As a result, we grant two of these highest awards. We couldn't pick one over the other if we tried. Both boots are excellent and carefully balanced, and both fit a broad array of foot shapes. Both are also suitable for all-around, day-to-day backcountry skiing. The F1 is for those that lean towards uphill efficiency, while the Tecnica is optimized slightly more for downhill. The F1 is among the lightest and most nimble in our test but performs on the downhill like the bigger kicks.
The Tecnica will go downhill better, be a little warmer, and is more durable. The F1 is lighter and goes uphill better. Either one is an excellent choice. Choose the F1 LT for optimal uphill performance and realize that your ski pairing might be limited. The F1 LT is nimble enough to climb rocks and drive a stick shift (not that we'd recommend either) and then ski down, at a metered speed, anything you might encounter out there.
Read review: Scarpa F1 LT
Best All-Around Backcountry Model
Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro
A few years ago, the Zero G Tour Pro entered the fray from long-time backcountry ski boot manufacturer Tecnica. Their previous touring boots were basically alpine boots with tech fittings and a walk mode. This model (and subsequent update in a new color scheme; no meaningful changes other than aesthetics) is a full, ground-up touring boot and is remarkable in many ways. Essentially, it is a "normal" ski boot that tours. The overall configuration is familiar and durable. The execution is light and well balanced for all-around, high downhill energy backcountry skiing. The weight-to-downhill performance ratio is amazing. This Tecnica is lighter than many options and skis downhill better than most AT boots available at any weight. Further, the cuff range and low-friction enable near-effortless touring and walking. You immediately trust these boots for their familiarity, and the performance won't let you down.
All backcountry boots present inherent trade-offs. Right off the bat, uphill and downhill performance are inherently conflicting. Boots get better and better at optimizing both, but you can't have it all. There are definitely other boots that tour better than the Tecnica, and a few ski downhill better. Further, to minimize weight and maximize performance (uphill and down), insulation is sacrificed; the Tour Pro is noticeably less warm than average touring boots. However, when it comes to trying to balance these opposing performance metrics, this boot is the best of its class. For all this, but balanced even more to the lightweight, efficient end of the spectrum, check out the other highest award-winning Scarpa F1 LT.
Read review: Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro
Best Bang for the Buck - All-Around Backcountry Skiing
Scarpa Maestrale RS
If any current ski boot model earns the "venerable" qualifier, it is the Scarpa Maestrale RS. The Maestrale has been around for over a decade now, with slight and steady updates that leave it near the top of the heap, widely available, at a reasonable price, and frequently discounted further. The forward flex is carefully tuned, the buckle selection is smart and easy to manipulate, and the included Intuition brand liner further enhances the value. In other boots, you might choose to immediately dispose of the included liner and purchase an aftermarket liner that is essentially the same as that included in the original purchase price of the Maestrale RS.
The Maestrale RS is rather generous in fit. The volume is evenly distributed along the length of your foot, with no particular places especially tight or roomy. The width of the last is fairly typical, but the overall volume feels higher than average. Many people find the Maestrale very comfortable "out of the box" but then go on to need somewhat clumsy modifications to hold their foot in during high-performance skiing. This is by no means a dealbreaker. Many, many skiers have enjoyed long seasons and careers in the Maestrale family of shoes. Performance-wise, the Maestrale RS is fairly average. They go uphill well enough, but other, more recent, and more expensive designs have eclipsed the touring mode of this award winner. Similarly, downhill performance is good enough for all kinds of skiing but is nothing flashy.
Read review: Scarpa Maestrale RS
Best Bang for the Buck - Fast and Light Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering
Atomic Backland Carbon
You want a second, lighter ski touring setup. Or you know, right off the bat, that you will prefer lighter weight ski gear. But you are on a budget. In this niche, the Atomic Backland Carbon is the best backcountry ski boot we have assessed. It uses proven technology and brings ultralight performance to a price point much further below close competitors. It is comfy and tours uphill like a dream. Pair it with similarly lightweight skis and bindings, and you will fly up entire mountains, fresh and ready for huge downhills.
You'll pay a bit of a price on those downhills. The lower cuff and softer flex of these lightweight boots will never ski downhill like beefier options. We are confident that you will be more than willing to accept this compromise. However, you need to fully understand what you are getting into. These are suitable for expert-level skiers on small skis, that are willing to tone down the energy in their downhill skiing in exchange for uphill efficiency. Further, the fit of the Atomic Backland is relatively high volume. For optimum downhill performance in any sort of boot like this, a close fit is best. These will perform best for those with wider or higher volume feet. Making them work on narrower feet might not be worth it; check out other options if you have narrow feet.
Read review: Atomic Backland Carbon
Best for Hard Charging Downhill Performance
Lange XT3 120
The Lange XT3 120 is the best we've tested for downhill-optimized performance. For someone who spends most of their time riding chairs or other mechanized access, it's a great choice. It's also optimal for those that typically engage in short tours, boot packs, and "sidecountry" touring. It is one of a few available that will work with tech-style touring bindings and with resort alpine bindings (the resort bindings must be "GripWalk" compatible). Our lead test editor and full-time backcountry ski guide has used them for day-to-day guiding, where comfort, downhill performance, and warmth are his biggest considerations.
The weight and lack of touring mobility will narrow the appeal of these boots. They don't tour nearly as well as any other option we assess. We do not recommend them for big days or technical tours. That said, if you're a fan of going into the backcountry for short jaunts and want excellent downhill performance, where the uphill isn't as much of a concern, this is a top recommendation. We've seen people take these exact boots on 8000 vertical feet walkabouts. It isn't recommended and is more a testament to those testers' grit than to the efficiency of the boot. Nonetheless, almost anything is possible.
Read review: Lange XT3 120
Best for All-Around Touring, Downhill Optimized
Dynafit Hoji 130
The Dynafit Hoji 130 is the beefiest boot we can recommend for all-around, all-day, human-powered ski touring and ski mountaineering. It skis way better than all the other award winners, aside from the Lange XT3. It is lighter, with considerably more touring cuff efficiency than that same Lange. The Lange is too much for day-to-day touring. The Hoji Free is the absolute maximum weight we'd recommend for extended, strenuous touring.
You get excellent downhill performance and serviceable uphill efficiency. We like, on the surface and in some settings, the "one step" transition feature. To loosen the cuff and release the lean lock requires just one lever. When you loosen the boot like this, you get a touring mode that works but isn't optimized from ski to tour mode. To get truly functional uphill touring performance, you have to loosen the top buckle and power strap separately. This is the same as on pretty much every other touring boot. We don't mind doing it, but we'd be really psyched if the one-step "Hoji Lock" actually fully freed up the cuff. In the meantime, if we had to choose between the current system and a more traditional transition procedure (that should be lighter, all else equal), we would choose a more traditional transition procedure. Best would be for the Hoji Lock to be refined to open further, allowing free-range touring performance while keeping the "one step" transition feature.
Read review: Dynafit Hoji 130
Why You Should Trust Us
Our AT ski boot testing team is led by long-time tester and all-around mountain athlete Jed Porter. As an IFMGA certified guide, Jed spends a huge amount of time on skis for both work and play. Furthermore, these professional and personal ski pursuits take him deep into the backcountry in a multitude of locales, providing a unique opportunity to put gear to the test over a variety of real-world conditions. In addition to Jed's wealth of knowledge and experience, we sought out input from seasoned ski mountaineers, beginner ski tourers, and other guides to round out our evaluation of these ski boots.
We have used parts or all of our selection of backcountry ski boots in locations all over the world. From the western United States to Canada, Alaska, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Europe, our testers encountered every type of snow and terrain conditions. We took these boots up just as much as down and found whatever limitations, quirks, or impressive qualities each pair brought to the table. In addition to testing out in the wild, we measured, weighed, and flexed each boot in our lab to gain empirical data and see how manufacturer claims held up to our measurements. Our testing is ongoing and continuous. Through all of the Northern Hemisphere ski season (and beyond, travel climate allowing), we have tester boots out on the snow almost every day. One test round merges right into the next.
Our backcountry ski boot test team has had hours of conversations with people, just like you, seeking advice, assessment, and comparisons between the ever-expanding list of options on the market. We'll be the first to admit that even if you're well versed, it can be thoroughly mystifying. We've got your back. With many decades of experience backcountry skiing, dozens of years spent in ski gear consulting, and thousands of days of touring, ski mountaineering, and human-powered ski guiding under the belt of our test team, we can make authoritative and relatable recommendations. We've distilled deep and broad information, critiquing hundreds, using dozens, and publishing these reviews on the 14 best backcountry ski boots on the market.
Analysis and Test Results
We've been testing these boots over the years and gathering more and more information on performance and best uses. To rate each comparatively, we look at six important metrics: uphill performance, weight, downhill performance, comfort & fit, warmth, and ease of use. This review compares each thoroughly across the metrics.
It is likely that you've already dished out for a pair of touring skis and some sweet AT bindings to go with them. Now you're looking at the up-to four-figure price tag of backcountry ski boots has you really prioritizing value as you shop for a pair of boots. Worry not! We rounded up all the specs for the boots in our review and mapped them out specifically in terms of value. First, ski touring boot prices are consolidating. The best, most expensive ones aren't nearly as far from the least expensive as they used to be. This is largely due to a decrease at the top of the heap, though the least expensive boots have inched up too.
The high-value selections (Atomic Backland Carbon and Scarpa Maestrale RS) represent what we believe to be a great value. Further, each of these (and many others) has even less expensive versions that compromise on performance but save you even more money. Value shopping for ski boots usually compromises performance and weight more than durability or fit. If the boot fits, less expensive options will do the trick, and you will grow accustomed to their particular performance trade-offs. In fact, less expensive boots are often more durable than the lightweight options at the top of the heap.
Uphill Touring Performance
Range of Motion
The range of motion of the boots we tested range from 79 degrees (more than you need, more than you are even capable of) to a minimal 34 degrees, with most boots being in the 40-55 degree range. To be clear, we are talking about the forward and rearward hinging of the boot cuff relative to the lower boot shell, all while the boot is in its touring mode. We measured this cuff range ourselves, using a standardized, repeatable method. We chiefly found the manufacturers' reference to be close to accurate. Ten years ago, most boots had around 30 degrees range of motion, but with design improvements, the range of motion has increased dramatically.
With that said, there are diminishing returns on additional cuff range of motion. For example, most people don't need more than 45-50 degrees; you just aren't striding that far, and naturally, your ankles don't have that much range. We do think that 45 degrees of motion is WAY BETTER than 35 degrees, and users will instantly notice this critical difference. You'll see the difference going from 45 to 60 degrees, and it feels better, but it isn't a dealbreaker. Beyond 55 or 60 degrees is irrelevant to your experience in the boots; your ankle just can't bend that far in even the weirdest ski mountaineering scenarios. Backcountry ski boots with around 35 degrees of range or lower like our favorite Lange have an excellent walk mode for an alpine boot but a weak walk mode for a human-powered option. They perform comparatively poor for all-day ski touring.
The best touring mode ranges in our test were found on the Scarpa Scarpa F1 LT, Fischer Travers CS, and Atomic Backland Carbon. For an alpine boot, the 34 degrees range of motion in the Lange XT3 isn't bad. Further, the 55 degrees of articulation of the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro is admirable for an "overlap" constructed shoe. We noticed the limited range of motion of any of the backcountry ski boots tested here when skinning on flats and in scrambling terrain.
The Scarpa Maestrale XT has an advertised range of motion above 50 degrees. However, in use, the stiff liner and tight cuff rivets inhibit that. Further, as noted below, cuff friction within the range of motion also matters.
The range of motion is easily quantified and, once past that 45-degree threshold, makes a huge difference in one's touring efficiency. The trickier part, and arguably more important, is the friction within that range. Plastic flexion, liner binding, upper/lower interface friction, interference from ski/walk mode hardware, and cuff pivot tension all inform the ease with which a boot's cuff hinges through its range of motion. The best backcountry ski boots approach zero interference within the range of motion. It is difficult to describe what creates friction, but it seems to be a combination of plastic thickness, ski/walk mode construction (pin-in-bar systems have more friction. Bar-less systems have less), and liner stiffness, especially in the ankle flexion zone.
The ultralight backcountry ski boots we tested have the least friction, while the Quantum Asolo, Travers, Backland Carbon, and Scarpa F1 are in a class of their own. At the other end of the spectrum are also the heaviest boots. The Lange, Atomic Hawx, and Salomon have significant friction. The Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour and Free Tour feature cuff ranges (basically 50 degrees for each) that rival those of the ultralight boots but have considerably more friction within that range.
It is cuff friction in the Hoji Pro Tour that sets it apart from the Tecnica. Both Hoji models (Free and Pro) feature an innovative buckle and lever system that theoretically allows for one-move transitions between up and down. However, when used as intended, the cuff friction in tour mode is significant. If you lift your pant cuffs and individually disengage the relevant buckles, you get lower cuff friction. The Scott Freeguide Carbon tours much like the Tecnica and Hoji Tour.
We tested the cuff range and friction with each of the boot cuffs unbuckled. All AT boots tour better with the cuff buckles and Velcro straps undone, which makes a good fit even more crucial. If you need the upper buckles secured for a comfortable fit (or, in the case of the Hoji Boots, for transitions as advertised), you will be significantly compromising the touring efficiency.
We tested and compared all these boots mainly while ski touring but also scored some mileage on chairlifts. Downhill performance captures how well the boot helped us ski down, and as a whole, stiffer boots performed better in our testing. Heavier boots, too, helped us ski down better. Stiffness has a direct causative relationship with performance. The weight of your ski boots has a strong correlation with performance.
Overall Flex and Stiffness
Generally speaking, everyone wants or at least thinks they want stiffer boots. That being said, depending on your skiing ability, personal body weight, and skiing style: ski boots can easily be too stiff and will work against you instead of helping you while skiing down.
For example, most 120 pound people won't benefit from the stiffest boot available; they won't be able to absorb bumps as effectively as someone who has just a little more mass behind their ankle flexion. On the other side, a 225 pound 6'3" user will need a stiffer boot even at an intermediate ability because they just have more weight and leverage to flex the boot.
Our testers flex tested the stiffness of all the boots in our review, side-by-side indoors, and also did our best to test them one at a time while skiing multiple laps in varied terrain. In order to reduce variables, we made sure to make at least a few direct comparisons using the exact same skis and bindings. However, testing realities dictate that we can't use every boot with the same exact ski and binding setup. Our testers agreed the stiffest boots were the Lange XT3. Just below these are the Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130, Hoji Free Tour, and Scarpa Maestrale XT. The next category down holds the Salomon S/Lab MTN, Dynafit Hoji Pro, and Tecnica Zero G.
After that, the next stiffest boots down were the Scarpa Maestrale RS and Scott FreeGuide. We'd say that the Maestrale represents the middle of the pack, as well as presenting a downhill performance that virtually no one will complain of. Just slightly softer than the Maestrale and Scott, in a class of boot that technically proficient skiers should be able to use in any terrain and conditions are the Scarpa F1LT, Dynafit TLT 8 Expedition, Fischer Travers CS and the Dalbello Quantum Asolo.
The superlight Atomic Backland Carbon is the softest boots on our roster.Forward Flex Pattern.
In actual ski use, absolute stiffness is only part of the equation. For the most part, all else equal, stiff boots ski better. However, when comparing similarly stiff boots, we further differentiate by examining the subjective sense the skier gets from the forward flex pattern. Fully rigid boots, especially when pressing shins forward, are actually impossible to ski. One needs some degree of forward motion. The best boots flex easily at first, maybe in just the first degree of travel, and steadily meet greater and greater resistance. This resistance should ramp up steadily and smoothly in what we call a "progressive flex."
Lightweight, stiff materials, especially carbon fiber and other types of fiberglass, constructed into "three-piece" style boots (lower shell, upper cuff, and tongue) offer less progressive flex than "overlap," two-piece boots (lower shell and upper cuff - no tongue on the shell) made of thick plastic and no carbon. Generally, the best flexing boots we tested are those overlap boots at the hefty and less-touring friendly end of the spectrum. Special mention must be made here of the Dynafit Hoji Tour and the Scarpa Maestrale XT. The Hoji and XT are both tongue-style boots that flex nearly as well or, in some cases, better than an overlap boot. The cuff and ski/walk mode of both Hoji models is an entirely different, tensioned design that better locks the parts in downhill mode, dramatically improves the initial feel, and at least somewhat enhances the ultimate performance of the boots.
As evidenced by the Hoji and Maestrale XT, tongue boots can be made to offer a modicum of progression in their forward flex. It is in this attribute that the Salomon S/Lab MTN also stands out. It isn't a ton stiffer than the bulk of the pack, but its forward flex has a progressive quality that closely simulates that achieved with an overlap shell. All else queal, tongue boots are lighter and tour better (though Tecnica upends this generalization, to some degree), so the pursuit of progressive flex in a tongue boot is many boot manufacturers' goal. Notable is the way that Atomic has built their overlap Hawx boot to be only a little heavier than the Salomon, with even better progressive flex that skis better than the S/Lab MTN. The Tecnica Zero G Tour is lighter than and tours better than the Salomon with a flex pattern that is equal to or even slightly better.
Forward Lean Adjustments
Some of the boots we tested feature at least two forward lean positions and some of the boots in our review had the option to further tweak that forward lean forward or backward depending on personal preference. As a whole and theoretically, backcountry skiers don't need as much forward lean as resort skiers. Folks in the backcountry are typically skiing a little slower, turning more, skiing more variable snow, and have a backpack on. Fixed (or only slightly adjustable), moderate amounts of forward lean are usually adequate in touring boots. We had no issues with the forward lean or forward lean options of any tested boots. If you know you have out-of-the-ordinary preferences or needs in terms of forward lean, buy your touring boots accordingly. Otherwise, don't sweat it too much. Realize, too, that your forward lean experience is a function of more than just the boot cuff. Binding geometry, ski performance, insoles, and liner modifications all affect your experience with forward lean.
First, let us talk about conventions in communicating weight in backcountry ski gear and boots in particular. There are many variables. Metric or Imperial? One boot or two? Shell, or liner plus shell? Include the weight of an included (and likely disposed of) insole? With respect to these variables, our comprehensive comparison chart includes many different ways of looking at the weight of a given product. All that said, a convention is emerging. Among diehard backcountry skiers, it is becoming somewhat "standard" to communicate with the weight of one boot, including the stock liner but not including the insole, all in grams. Out of respect to this emerging and logical convention, we employ the same protocol in this review. Basically, all our tested and weighed ski boots are size 26.5.
There is a pretty big range in boot weight among Alpine Touring boots on the market. The heaviest boots we tested were the Lange XT3 at a stout 1750 grams; the lightest was the Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory at a scant 959 grams. There was a time when we were testing AT boots weighing over 2200 grams, and sub-kilogram (1000 grams for the metric illiterate) was reserved for rando race boots and nordic skiing. For the ski performance they deliver, the Langes are fairly light. The Dynafit TLT8, Tecnica Zero G, and Scott Freeguide all bring average downhill performance at a fairly light weight.
For durability and all-around use, provided you do not need class-leading downhill performance, you should be able to keep your boot near 1400 grams. The fact that Tecnica, with their Zero G Tour Pro gets alpine-like performance into size 26.5 boots that weigh 1320 g is a benchmark to celebrate. 1500 gram jobs have to now ski much better than the Tecnica to stand out. The Atomic Hawx and Dynafit Hoji Free fit this description. Right around the 1400 g mark is also the Dynafit Hoji Pro and the Scarpa Maestrale RS.
Ultralight boots are around 1000 grams. The Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory, Fischer Travers CS, Atomic Backland Carbon, and Scarpa F1 LT are solidly in the ultralight category. You'll fly uphill but have cold feet and limited durability. Downhill performance, after an adjustment period, won't suffer as much as you might fear. These boots don't charge downhill, but you'll adjust and enjoy yourself in a different way.
Ease of Use
We compared the "fiddle factor" of each boot in normal use. We identified how easy it was to buckle, how easy it was to switch to touring mode and ski mode, as well as ease of entering and exiting the boot. In the ease-of-use category, we also assessed durability. A broken boot in the backcountry is not easy to use. Some are more likely to break than others, and on some, the consequences of failed parts are greater.
Entering and Exiting:
Generally speaking, boots with tongues, or "three-piece" style, are easier to get into than two-piece boots or boots that feature an "alpine wrap." Among the three-piece boots, we found the low-cuffed, super flexible ultralight boots easiest to get on and off. The Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory and both versions of the Scarpa Maestrale (RS and XT) open wide. The Lange, Atomic Hawx, and Tecnica, predictably, are hardest to get in and out of. We would be reluctant to choose these lattermost boots for expedition or multi-day use, where you'll be getting in and out of the boot while in a tent.
With the overlap touring boots, remember that you can activate the walk-mode for greater ease in getting them on and off. Overlap touring boots are easier to get on and off than overlap resort boots because of the walk mode.
We compared how easily each buckle was to operate, as well as how durable they are. Our favorite buckles were on the Salomon S/Lab MTN, Atomic Hawx, and Tecnica Zero G because they were super easy to use, even with gloves, and durable. Dynafit has slimmed down the buckle arrangement of their flagship TLT series. The TLT7 employed a complicated arrangement of cables and snaps, while the TLT8 eliminates the cable and some connections. We like the TLT8 closures better than we liked the closures of the 7. There is something very satisfying about the positive snap of the standard buckles on the overlap cuffed Atomic Hawx and Lange boots.
The closure system of the Scott Freeguide is nearly the most elaborate of any we assessed. First, the liner closes with a proprietary BOA closure. BOA is a knob and cable system that tightens down on your instep. The lower and mid cuff of the Scott closes with regular levers. The top closes with one wide velcro strap tightened with a camming buckle. The ski/walk mode lever is an old-school, internal affair. Scarpa's F1 LT award winner and new additions from Fischer and Dalbello are all similar: BOA lower shell closure and upper buckle.
The upper cuff closure of both Dynafit Hoji boots is about as complicated as it gets. The whole Hoji cuff is designed with two major goals in mind; the cuff locks together super securely, and the user can switch between tour and ski mode with just one lever. The result, though, is a more complicated system than other options and more vulnerable (theoretically… we didn't have any actual problems) to failure. Once you are accustomed to the "Hoji Lock", you can indeed make transitions with just one move. However, the tour mode, when used this way, involves more cuff friction than anyone wants. The "pants down always" transitions that Dynafit claims are novel but not a useful reality when undoing the buckles completely results in much better-touring ease.
Buckles that stick out are more vulnerable to disengagement or damage while skiing or walking. We especially like that Tecnica has turned the lowest buckle of the Zero G Pro around 180 degrees. In this configuration, it is less likely to be flipped open or snag on rocks and brush while walking.
Most of your backcountry ski day will be spent going uphill. Another good portion is downhill. Many people love these things, and the love of one or both of these things is what draws people to backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. Another large chunk of your day is spent transitioning between the two. That isn't nearly as fun. Therefore, it is nice when equipment makes it easy to get through the transitions without much drama. Your boots will have two distinctly different modes, and switching those modes involves buckles and adjustments. The best transitioning boots make this process easy.
The Dalbello Quantum Asolo is the fastest boot to transition. All that is required to switch modes is one lever accessible without moving your pant cuffs. The Dynafit Hoji should be as simple, but the walking articulation in "fast change mode" is significantly limited. The Dynafit TLT8 changes between modes with an upper buckle and a cam-lock power strap. The award-winning Scarpa F1 LT can be stripped of its power strap with minimal detriment. So modified, the F1 can transition with a main buckle flip and a rear lever snap. However, like the Hoji boots, this streamlined transition yields a touring mode that isn't as efficient as it could be. We found it best to add a third step and loosen the main cuff velcro strap on the F1 for most transitions. The Fischer Travers CS transitions between full lock and full tour mode with a cuff buckle and a rear lever.
No other product in our test matches the transition ease of the above. The next closest competitor is the Salomon S/Lab MTN. It has two main buckles, a ski/walk mode lever, and a cam-locked power strap. To go from walk to ski mode (and vice versa), the user manipulates the cuff buckle, the ski/walk lever, and the power strap.
The Atomic Backland Carbon is solidly in the ultralight, fast category, but its transitions are more complicated. To go between uphill and down, you have to lift your pants cuff and change the rear lock, cuff buckle, and power strap. It's not that bad, but it isn't as slick as some other options in this weight class.
Contrast these with these others that complicate transitions. The Lange XT3 and Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro both have four buckles, a rear ski/walk mode lever, and a power strap, all of which usually require adjustment between up and downhill mode. The Atomic Hawx Prime has the same configuration as the Lange and Tecnica, requiring all the same steps. One major advantage of the Atomic Hawx and Tecnica over the Lange is that the Atomic and Tecnica have a fully external ski/walk mode lever. While the mode-changing levers of the Lange sometimes gave us trouble, the Hawx and Zero G go easily and securely every single time.
The Scarpa Maestrale RS and XT have buckle and transition setups much like the Lange and Hawx. These two are discerned from one another by the Scarpa Maestrale RS "instep" buckle. Many users really like this buckle configuration (the Hoji boots also have it) that pulls and holds the skier's heel down and back.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort is a little relative as each person has a different foot shape, width, and size, but we did our best to compare boots for touring and downhill comfort, as well as how each liner affected fit. Our test team represents a variety of foot shapes, all in size 26.5. In years of comparisons now, it seems that our lead test editor has feet that are right in the middle of the road. They aren't super wide, nor super narrow. Ours is a comparative, qualitative assessment, largely based on the experience of our lead testers. With length fixed at 26.5, for test and comparison purposes (in some cases, given the different shapes and volumes of different models, we might opt to size up or down for our use), we compared rough estimates of the boot's volume and additionally noted toe box, overall volume, and heel pocket retention/volume. We also commented on general impression of width, though volume is a better metric.
The Salomon S/Lab MTN fits on the narrow, low volume end of the spectrum. The Lange XT3, Dalbello Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, and Dynafit Hoji are neutral in fit. The Scarpa Maestrale RS, Fischer Travers CS, and Scarpa F1 seem to be higher volume than the others. One tester found the Maestrale XT to be narrower than he expected a Scarpa boot to be. Other testers did not have this experience. Special mention must be made of the Atomic Hawx. These start with a pretty neutral fit but are made of special plastic that is far more readily adjusted than the plastic used in the other boots. They can be easily "heat molded" to accommodate a wide range of foot shapes and issues. The Atomic Backland Carbon is high volume, while both the Dynafit TLT8 and Scott Freeguide are optimized for very wide, high-volume feet. The Fischer Travers CS shell is shorter than all the others. Only in this boot does the toe of our lead tester bump the front.
After the fit, there are comfort concerns. Fit is king, but there is one major non-fit-related comfort criteria we looked at. For some boots to get lighter, materials in both shell and liner have gotten thinner. Thinning the liner serves two major purposes. First, it is less material. Therefore it is lighter. Additionally, and less obvious but thin shell materials offer better support when they fit closer to your foot. Any shell material offers better support when it is close to your foot, but thin shell materials need that performance bump more. In the end, some liners are thinner than others. For bony feet, no matter how well you fit the boots, thin liner boots are more prone to cause pressure points. The Atomic Backland Carbon seemed especially prone to this, causing bruising on the ankle bones of two testers.
We find it surprising how seldom the insulation value of ski boots is mentioned in other web reviews. Skiing regularly takes place in cold conditions. Your boots should accommodate that, and your review should discuss it. With a wide range of construction styles and materials, we found variation in the warmth of the boots we selected for review. Thicker liners and thicker shells make for warmer boots. More material between your warm foot and the cold outside slows the transfer of heat. What this means is that there is a pretty clear correlation between the weight of the boots and the insulation value. Of course, fit matters, but that can be adjusted. The other thing that matters is the "density" of the liners. Softer foam in the liners seems to feel warmer.
The ultra-light boots are the least insulating, while the beefy boots are the warmest. A notable exception is the Scarpa Maestrale RS. It is among the lighter four-buckle boots in the test, but the liner is thick and fluffy. Scarpa works with Intuition Brand for their liners, and Intuition liners are proven and highly functional. Many will replace stock liners with Intuition liners for performance, warmth, and comfort. If you are committed to Intuition liners, Scarpa saves you significant hassle and expense by sourcing their liners from Intuition.
The least insulating boots in our test are the Dalbello Quantum Asolo, the Scarpa F1, and the Atomic Backland Carbon. It is no coincidence that these are also the lightest boots in our test. Lightweight backcountry ski equipment users, especially footwear and clothing, rely on speed and movement to keep themselves warm. This is almost always a fine solution. However, when things go south, and one is forced to stand still for any reason and for any length of time, the choice to bring no extra jacket and glorified sneakers as boots seems a little sillier. It is a blast, literally, to move unencumbered through the mountains but do so knowing the consequences of that choice.
Warmer options include, as mentioned above, any of the heavier boots. The Tecnica Zero G Pro Tour can be configured for acceptable warmth. The stock liner is thin and cold, but the boot is supportive enough to "size up" and insert a thicker aftermarket liner. You get greater comfort and warmth with this strategy, with only a little compromise in downhill performance.
Narrow your choice of boot first by your chosen application and preferred position on the "spectrum" of touring boots. Be real about what you'll do in the boots. Backcountry skiing is way more uphill time than downhill time. Further, good ski technique and slowed ski pace combine to allow enjoyment with less supportive boots. Both these things combine to push people toward lighter boots if you let yourself be pushed that way. Once you've narrowed down to a sub-category, then obsess on fit. Get your feet in as many boots as you can, and then work with a pro to get your fit fine-tuned.
— Jediah Porter
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