This backcountry ski boot review is an authoritative examination of our selection of the 16 best 2022 products. Our accomplished team has assessed boots like this for six years and used backcountry boots for decades prior to that. Choosing boots is a complicated, consequential decision. Promotional efforts seem to broaden your options every few months while supply chain realities pinch that scope. When you get it right, your boot choice becomes part of every success. When you get it wrong, a boot choice is a parking lot non-starter. Trust our findings to help steer your ski footwear choice.Dynafit Mezzalama, top contender La Sportiva Vega, and the lightweight beast Atomic Backland Ultimate.
|Price||$680 List||$850 List|
$849.00 at REI
|$449.95 at Amazon|
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|$535.47 at Evo|
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|$543.73 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Well balanced performance, easy on and off||Balanced up and down performance, wide/high volume fit||Well balanced up and downhill performance, simplified construction and use, super high volume fit||Excellent downhill performance, lightweight, proven style||Light, simple, balanced performance|
|Cons||Neutral fit is both a pro and a con, flimsy liner||Ski/walk mode prone to issues, recall to past versions||Speed Nose limits usability, super high volume fit||Moderate insulation, hard to get in and out of||Wide, short fit; likely rear shell discomfort in touring mode|
|Bottom Line||A solid, well-balanced touring boot that emphasizes your downhill experience while still allowing most touring paces and giving freedom of motion for mild technical ascending||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||All-around, well-balanced touring ski boots for those with wide feet and the patience to accessorize for the “Speed Nose” limitations||Whether a newcomer adjusting from the resort or a seasoned expert gunning for 100+ backcountry days a season, here is a top of the line shoe contender||A great lightweight touring boot that gives those with particular foot shapes an alternative|
|Rating Categories||La Sportiva Vega||Scarpa Maestrale RS||Dynafit TLT 8 Exped...||Tecnica Zero G Tour...||Fischer Travers CS|
|Downhill Performance (35%)|
|Uphill Performance (20%)|
|Comfort and Fit (10%)|
|Ease of Use (5%)|
|Specs||La Sportiva Vega||Scarpa Maestrale RS||Dynafit TLT 8 Exped...||Tecnica Zero G Tour...||Fischer Travers CS|
|Weight size 26.5, pair||6 lbs 8 oz||6 lbs 5 oz||5 lbs 5 oz||6 lbs 0 oz||4 lbs 7 oz|
|Weight of one boot shell||1220 g||1180 g||n/o||1119 g||0870 g|
|Weight of one stock liner, no footbed||253 g||252 g||n/o||204 g||142 g|
|Weight of one complete boot, no insole||1473 g||1432 g||1205 g||1323 g||1012 g|
|Range of Motion; degrees||60||60||52||55||79|
|Binding Compatibility? Tech only, or Tech and DIN AT standard, or Tech, DIN AT and DIN Alpine/WTR||Tech and DIN AT||Tech and DIN AT||Tech only||Tech and DIN AT||Tech only|
|Stated Flex Index||115||125||Not reported||130||Not reported|
|Stated Last width||102.5mm||101 mm||103 mm||99 mm||106 mm|
|Alpine wrap or Tongue||Tongue||Tongue||Tongue||Wrap||Tongue|
|Shell material||Grilamid||Carbon Grilamid||Grilamid||Grilamid||Grilamid|
Best Overall Light Backcountry Ski Boots
Scarpa F1 LT
The top-scoring Scarpa F1 LT is tied with the the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro | Zero G Tour Pro for our highest award, so we are putting both at the top of our ratings. Both boots are 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 bigger kicks.
The Tecnica will go downhill better, be a little warmer, and is more durable. The F1 is lighter and goes uphill better. 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 more: Scarpa F1 LT review
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 an update in a new color scheme; no meaningful changes) 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 tradeoffs. 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-winner, the Scarpa F1 LT.
Read more: Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro review
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 well over a decade, with slight and steady updates that leave it near the top of the heap. It is 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 dispose of the included liner and pay extra for an aftermarket liner that you already get with 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 boot. Similarly, downhill performance is good enough for all kinds of skiing but is nothing flashy.
Read more: Scarpa Maestrale RS review
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 other options 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 strong recommendation. We've seen people take these boots on 8000-vertical-foot 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 more: Lange XT3 120 review
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 our other award winners, aside from the Lange XT3. It is lighter, with considerably more touring cuff efficiency than that 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 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 more: Dynafit Hoji 130 review
Best for Speed Touring
The Dynafit Mezzalama is the boot we recommend for super high tempo, all-conditions ski touring and ski mountaineering. Quick and half-day ski tours at roadside destinations represent the bulk of backcountry ski volume. Light, close fitting, fast-transitioning ski boots enable more vert in these short sessions and enable significant energy savings on bigger days. The Mezzalama is the best boot for this fast-and-light sort of touring.
The Mezzalama weighs around one kilogram. Other boots cluster around this weight but none have the touring ease of the Mezzalama. Others might ski a little better, but those have greater cuff interference and more complicated transition sequence. Others that are similar in transition sequence don't ski nearly as well. None in this weight range that we have used have the low friction cuff that the Dynafit does. These are great ski boots for the speedy set. Pair them with lightweight all-around skis and race bindings for an optimized setup. 1000 gram boots on 100 gram bindings and 1200-1300 gram skis is the sweet spot for all-conditions, fast ski touring and ski mountaineering.
Read more: Dynafit Mezzalama review
Why You Should Trust Us
We have used 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 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.
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. 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 belts of our test team, we can make authoritative and relatable recommendations.We assess each boot on our weighted scoring matrix that considers these variables, weighted as noted:
- Downhill performance 35%
- Uphill performance 20%
- Weight 20%
- Comfort and Fit 10%
- Warmth 10%
- Ease of Use 5%
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. 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.
Related: How We Tested Backcountry Ski Boots
Analysis and Test Results
We've been testing these boots over the years and gathering more and more information on performance and best uses.
Related: How to Choose Backcountry Ski Boots
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 prioritizing value as you look at the up-to four-figure price tag of backcountry ski 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 selection (Scarpa Maestrale RS) represents what we believe to be a great value. Further, this supplier has an even less expensive version 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.
We tested and compared all these boots mainly while ski touring but also scored some mileage on chairlifts. 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.
Overall Flex and Stiffness
Generally speaking, everyone wants, or at least thinks they want, stiffer boots. That 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 same skis and bindings. Our testers agreed the stiffest boots were the Lange XT3. Just below these are the Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130, Hoji Free Tour, Dynafit Radical Pro, and Scarpa Maestrale XT. The next category down holds the Dynafit Hoji Pro, Scarpa Vega 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 about. 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, Dynafit Mezzalama, and the Dalbello Quantum Asolo.
The superlight Atomic Backland Ultimate are 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 stiff boots ski better. However, when comparing similarly stiff boots, we examine 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 of the Dynafit Hoji/Radical family and the Scarpa Maestrale XT. These Dynafit boots and Scarpa XT are all 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.
As evidenced by the Hoji and Maestrale XT, tongue boots can be made to offer a modicum of progression in their forward flex. However, overlap boots remain better. Atomic has built their overlap Hawx boot to be only a little heavier than nearby competitors, with even better progressive flex that skis better than the tongue boots. The Tecnica Zero G Tour is lighter than and tours better than heavy tongue boots with a flex pattern that is equal to or even slightly better.
Speed touring boots like the Dynafit Mezzalama and Fischer Travers CS are stiff without optimum progressiveness. The ultralight Atomic Backland Ultimate isn't stiff enough for progressiveness to matter much; they pretty much just fold under forward pressure.
Forward Lean Adjustments
Some of the boots we tested feature at least two forward lean positions and some had the option to further tweak that forward lean forward or backward depending on personal preference. As a whole 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.
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. 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 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 poorly for all-day ski touring.
The best touring mode ranges in our test were found on the Scarpa Scarpa F1 LT, Fischer Travers CS, Dynafit Mezzalama, Dalbello Quantum, and Atomic Backland Ultimate. For an alpine boot, the 34-degree 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. The Scarpa Maestrale RS and La Sportiva Vega are right in the mix with the Tecnica.
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 Dynafit Radical Pro is similar; range is high, but friction interferes.
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 Ultimate, Dynafit Mezzalama and Scarpa F1 are in a class of their own. At the other end of the spectrum are also the heaviest boots. The Lange and Atomic Hawx have significant friction. The Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour, Free Tour, and Radical 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.
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. We employ the same protocol and all our 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 Atomic Backland Ultimate at a scant 785 grams. For the ski performance they deliver, the Langes are fairly light. The La Sportiva Vega, 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, La Sportiva Vega, and the Scarpa Maestrale RS.
Ultralight boots are around 1000 grams. The Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory, Fischer Travers CS, Dynafit Mezzalama, 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.
Finally, in the most recent test period we dropped well below 1000 grams to test the Atomic Backland Ultimate. This is a "rec class" skimo racing backcountry ski boot that can be pressed into use in certain "real world" wild ski situations.
Comfort and Fit
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. 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, 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 Lange XT3, Dalbello Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, La Sportiva Vega, Dynafit Mezzalama, and Dynafit Hoji are neutral in fit. The Scarpa Maestrale RS, Fischer Travers CS, Dynafit Radical Pro, 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 and Backland Ultimate. These both 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 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.
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.
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 and your boots should accommodate that. Thicker liners and thicker shells make for warmer boots. More material between your warm foot and the cold outside slows the transfer of heat. This means is that there is a correlation between the weight of the boots and the insulation value. 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, Dynafit Mezzalama, Scarpa F1, and the Atomic Backland Ultimate. It is no coincidence that these are also the lightest boots in our test. Lightweight backcountry ski equipment users rely on speed and movement to keep themselves warm.
Warmer options include, as mentioned above, any of the heavier boots. The Tecnica Zero G Pro Tour and La Sportiva Vega can be configured for acceptable warmth. The stock liner in each is thin and cold, but their respective shells are supportive enough to "size up" and insert a thicker aftermarket liner.
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
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 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 elaborate. 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, Dynafit, and Dalbello are all similar: BOA lower shell closure and upper buckle.
The upper cuff closure of both Dynafit Hoji boots and the newer Dynafit Radical Pro is about as complicated as it gets. The whole "Hoji Lock" 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 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, less time downhill. 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 much 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, Atomic Backland Ultimate, and Dynafit Mezzalama are the fastest boots to transition. All that is required to switch modes is one lever accessible without moving your pant cuffs. The Dynafit Hoji and Radical 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 "standard" 3-4 buckle configuration of the Scarpa Maestrale (both of them), Lange XT3, Tecnica Zero G, Atomic Hawx Prime, and La Sportiva Vega involve multiple steps, but those steps are familiar and readily repeatable. All these have four buckles, a rear ski/walk mode lever, and a power strap, all of which usually require adjustment between up and downhill mode.
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. 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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