: Intermediate/Advanced | Width
Excellent medium volume fit for most skiers
Flex can be turned up or down
Lighter skiers should seek out a less stiff boot
Can be tough to take off
The Atomic Hawx Prime 120 S rises to the top again this year, winning our award for best overall ski boot. It is an approachably stiff 120-flex rated boot for all but the lightest skiers, but we feel that it is a capable performer for many skier types in varied snow conditions. It is easy to fit, with a medium volume, 100mm last, and required no additional boot work to fit well. We skied this boot over many days, in terrain ranging from bumpy moguls to firm faces requiring expert edging, and the Hawx Prime 120 S did not let us down.
Although it only has a 120 flex, this is a relatively stiff boot, and it may not be as easy for a lighter skier to push forward. It also has an overlap that is incredibly tight, and we had a hard time getting out of the boot without pinching our feet in the plastic - ouch! But, with three different forward lean settings and the ability to change flex rating with the turn of a key, these boots are versatile. They will easily grow with an intermediate skier as they want a stiffer and more aggressive stance.
Read review: Atomic Hawx Prime 120 S
: Advanced | Width
Medium volume fit
Excellent walk mode
Pro level performance
The Fischer Ranger One 130 is built with big lines in mind, both in the ski resort and out of bounds. The sole is compatible with both tech and alpine bindings. Also featuring a walk mode, the Ranger 130 is a good option for those who plan on spending most of their time inside the boundary line but would like the option to hike or to take on touring missions. These performance-oriented boots will be best appreciated by intermediate to advanced skiers who will enjoy their performance on the down as well as the up.
The 130 flex is not as stiff as others with this same rating, feeling a bit softer but not so soft as to be ineffective in difficult snow conditions. They tour well, remarkably so for this type of boot, but would not be well matched to a longer overnight tour.
Read review: Fischer Ranger One 130
: Intermediate/Advanced | Widths
: 97, 100mm
Great medium volume fit
Not too stiff for intermediate skiers
Sole wore through quickly
Thin tongue on liner
The Lange RX 120 has been a two-time Editors' Choice Award winner in past reviews and offers top-notch performance in an approachable design for most intermediate and advanced skiers. With a stiff, progressive flex that is in the top of its class, this boot is capable in most any in-bounds ski conditions that you are likely to find yourself skiing. The Lange RX 120 comes in two widths, with the Medium Volume version that we tested measuring 100mm wide and the narrower Low Volume version measuring 97mm. This medium volume boot delivered excellent edging ability out of the box, and the low-profile design of the RX120 allows the skier to get closer to the snow for quicker turn initiation.
The liner used by Lange in the RX120 is relatively comfortable with no modifications, but it will fit much better after you have it heat-molded to your foot. The shell of this boot is a basic 4-buckle design with a precise overlap design. The 120 flex is quite stout when compared to other boots of the same flex, and with a 12 degree forward lean it has a very upright stance that can be comfortable after practice, but at first it can be challenging to stay forward. The canting is adjustable, but otherwise, these boots are no-frills.
Read review: Lange RX 120
: Upper Intermediate/Advanced | Width
Great low to medium volume fit
Good downhill performance
Not as warm as others
Can be tough to get out of
The Atomic Hawx Ultra 130 is a prior winner of the Best Overall Ski Boot award, thanks to its outstanding performance. While we gave the award this year to the more approachable Atomic Hawx Prime 120 S, thanks to its more generous width, those with narrow feet should look to the Ultra 130. This boot can handle it all, from rallying down icy hardpack and mach speeds to chopped up conditions after a powder frenzy. It is rated as a 130 flex boot, but felt more akin to a 120 when compared to many other models we tested.
This is a boot for narrow to medium-volume feet so it can feel constricting if you are on the upper limit of a 98mm wide last and be tough to take off due to its rigid overlap design. Those needing a wider model would do well to look at the Atomic Hawx Prime 120. While the shorter than average boot sole length makes this boot easier to walk in, we preferred the Cochise Pro 130 for hiking to those secret powder stashes.
Read review: Atomic Hawx Ultra 130
: Advanced | Width
Great medium to wide volume fit
Outstanding 55-degree walk range
Lightweight for its downhill performance
Must use with tech or MNC bindings
The Scarpa Maestrale XT is designed to handle both resort riding as well as out of bounds ski touring. It is Scarpa's most aggressive boot available in its freeride line and is lives up to its 130 flex rating with proven performance in a range of snow conditions. It is an incredibly light boot for its stiffness, thanks to a Grilamid and Pebax shell. Its innovative cabled buckle gives it the security of a four buckle boot in a three buckle package. It has a remarkable 55 degree range of motion through a durable walk mode, and fits both tech bindings as well as the MNC (multi norm certified) bindings.
The Maestrale XT fits narrower than the 101mm last would indicate, and we found ourselves to be on the margin of what the boot could comfortably accommodate. It does not fit the same wide range of bindings as other cross-over models like the Fischer Ranger do, but for those who plan on doing as much touring as they do in-bounds skiing, and use their touring bindings at the resort, this boot is a great choice.
Read Review: Scarpa Maestrale XT
: Beginner/Intermediate | Widths
: 98, 100mm
Comfortable all-day fit
Intermediate to advanced performance
Not as warm as others
Less solid in firm and variable conditions
The K2 Recon 120 has garnered a fair bit of attention for its light weight and overall good performance. This is an intermediate to advanced skier's boot with its 120 rated flex index, but that shouldn't scare a heavier beginner skier from looking at the Recon 120. The lighter materials that help the boot shave pounds off when compared to similar boots allow them to flex more easily than their direct competitors. We liked the comfortable, slightly wider fit of the Recon 120, though it is also available in a low volume (LV), 98mm version. The fit is customizable from the canting angle to the forward lean, making it versatile for many skier's preferences, at a bargain price as well.
They aren't very warm and aren't as stable in variable conditions due to their lighter flex. Still, we have no qualms about recommending the K2 Recon 120 as our Best Buy Award Winner.
Read Review: K2 Recon 120
: Intermediate | Width
Limited range in walk mode
Poor quality footbed
The Rossignol Alltrack 130 gets the award for being the best budget-friendly boot of the year. It is a 130 flex rated boot, but don't let that fool you, this is an intermediate model that is pretty soft for its rating, which could be considered a blessing or a curse depending on your skier profile. We found this boot to be reasonably supportive in most on-piste snow conditions, is lightweight so it does not wear you down by the end of the day, and it has a walk mode that while not enough to go on a long tour with, can help you maneuver your way from the car to the lifts and even boot up some of the in-bounds terrain that requires a hike to get to.
This is not a boot that we recommend for advanced skiers, or for those who weigh much more than 170 pounds, as we found its forward support lacking when it came to aggressive skiing. We consider this more of an intermediate skier's option, which becomes especially attractive if you are looking for a walk mode.
Read review: Rossignol Alltrack 130
: Advanced | Width
No walk mode
Only DIN compatible
The Dalbello DS 130 is a high-end boot that consistently wowed testers with its all-mountain appeal. It is a traditional four buckle boot that has a number of useful features that allow it to be effectively custom-fitted, like canting and a boot shim. This is also one of the roomier feeling boots in this flex category, making it a great option for those finding their feet cramped in narrowed models.
We did not find a lot in the DS 130 that we did not like. It is stiff, though, so it is best suited for advanced skiers or heavier skiers who can push the boot forward. If this doesn't describe you then a 120 or lower flex may be the better call.
Read review: Dalbello DS 130
: Advanced | Width
Medium volume fit
Pro level performance
The Tecnica Cochise 130 Pro is built with big lines in mind, both in the ski resort and out of bounds. It has a sole that is compatible with both alpine and tech bindings. You don't even have to switch sole blocks. Also featuring a walk mode, the Cochise 130 Pro is a good option for those who plan on spending most of their time inside the boundary line but would like the option to hike or to take on short touring missions. These performance-oriented boots will be best appreciated by aggressive and heavier skiers who will be able to take advantage of their stiffness and stability.
The 130 flex is one of the stiffest in the review, and this boot should be considered an expert-advanced boot. We found that works best for about 80% ski area and 20% backcountry due to its limited walk range and heavyweight. This is not a touring boot, but it is capable of short tours and hikes.
Read review: Tecnica Cochise Pro 130
Why You Should Trust Us
Our ski boot experts, Ryan Huetter and Mike Phillips, are both highly accredited outdoor professionals. Full-time mountain guide and OutdoorGearLab Review Editor Ryan Huetter is the mastermind behind this review. After earning a degree in Outdoor Adventure Management from Western Washington University, Ryan relocated from the Pacific Northwest to California's Sierra Nevada. Ryan is an internationally-licensed IFMGA , allowing him the freedom to guide anywhere in the world. Ryan also works as a ski instructor for the resort of Mammoth Mountain, teaching people introductory ski touring skills and downhill movement techniques.
Mike Phillips is also a full-time outdoors professional. Mike lives in the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, California and is a seasoned avalanche professional, working in the field of avalanche mitigation and ski patrolling. Mike spends countless days on skis per year (or, at least would prefer not to keep count), but even on his days off he can be found ski touring in the Sierra Nevada with his wife and dog. In the summer months Mike hangs up his skis in favor of a light pack and enjoys exploring hidden regions of the Sierra range.
We've spent time in these boots through several ski seasons, spending almost every day on the slopes. Seeking the advice of professional boot fitters and testing them ourselves, we've been able to create a review that is thoroughly tested. We tour, ride the resort and give these boots to folks to get the opinion of many. The result? A review that truly tests the limits of each product, without bias.
How to Choose Ski Boots
Your boots are one of the most crucial pieces of equipment to consider when hitting the slopes. Choose boots that suit your needs. They don't need to be overly stiff if you are a beginner or intermediate skier, or if you are not an aggressive skier. If you are crossing over to skiing outside the resort boundaries or want to access hike-to terrain in-bounds on occasion, consider a boot with a walk-mode feature. Also, consider your budget and how much you ski. There is no need to get an expensive boot if you only ski a handful of days a year. There are affordable boots with excellent features that could fit your feet well and provide good ski performance at your level. Below, we walk you through the most important considerations.
Related: The Best Ski Socks
Related: The Best All-Mountain Skis
Types of Ski Boots
— All of the boots we tested fall into a broad category of all-mountain alpine boots. We chose these boots because they are versatile and can be used to ski all conditions and on any terrain on the mountain. In other words, they are not specific to one type of skiing, unlike boots that are designed for ski racing or freestyle skiing. For example, race boots cater to a single type of terrain — race courses. These are a flat uniform surface where very stiff, very responsive boots are acceptable. All-mountain boots need to adapt to a wide variety of slope conditions. The models we tested are available in a range of sizes and flex ratings. Some also have several last width options available, which is helpful if you have particularly narrow or wide feet.
— We looked at a number of boots that blur the lines between a resort boot and a ski touring boot. These often are called "freeride" or "adventure" boots, and often they mix just too many variables to be worthy of time spent on either side of the rope, but the models we tested this year seem to be much better at skiing in both types of terrain.
While some are still quite heavy and provide an almost comical lack of range of motion, there are a few, like the Scarpa and Fischer boots, that have an incredible range and can actually be used for touring as well as being stiff enough to be a daily driver at the resort.
Newer or less aggressive skiers will enjoy a more flexible boot. Aggressive, expert or heavier skiers will need the support of a stiffer boot.
The flex rating of a boot refers to how difficult it is to flex the boot forward. It tells you how stiff the boot will feel. Your ability, size/weight, skiing style, and personal preference all determine what flex boot is appropriate for you. The flex rating is expressed using a number. You will find men's models rated from about 50 to 130. The higher the number, the harder the boot is to flex forward, and in turn, the stiffer it feels. In general, beginner skiers will get more out of a softer flexing boot, while advanced and more aggressive skiers will appreciate a boot that is harder to flex.
This guide suggests boot flex rating based on your abilities and skiing style. Beginners should choose a softer flex boot that is more forgiving, more comfortable and easier to get on and off. If you are more advanced or heavier, you may want a stiffer, more responsive boot.
For the most part, we review boots that are appropriate for intermediate to advanced skiers. We assume that most beginner skiers will rent their boots.
We refer to boots both by their flex rating as well as by the type of skier they are best suited for. Beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers require different stiffness levels to correspond with their skiing style, but these are not absolute. For example, an advanced skier who does not weigh very much might have a hard time flexing a stiff boot and could opt for a softer flex. Using the same logic, a heavy intermediate skier might want an advanced level boot for better performance.
Having a comfortable and well-fitting boot can make your day of skiing much, much more enjoyable. We tested boots over many full days in each pair and during back-to-back laps in different boots on the same ski. Here the OutdoorGearLab test team takes a lift ride in Kirkwood, CA.
Buy boots that fit your feet well. Seek professional boot fitting advice if you are having trouble finding a good fit, and try on several different boots in different sizes before buying. Ski boots should be snug without being painful, and you should be able to wiggle your toes but not be able to lift your heel. There should be little to no lateral movement in your forefoot.
When shopping for ski boots you should have an idea of your skiing ability, the style and terrain you prefer, the metric length and width of your foot, and the general shape of your foot. With this information, you can look for a boot in the correct size, last width, and with an appropriate flex rating for your ability or preference.
Ski boot manufacturers use the Mondo Point sizing system. It is a measurement of the length of your foot in centimeters. (Width is measured in millimeters.) Here we provide a conversion chart that can show you what your street shoe size equates to in Mondo Points. This is a good place to start. You can also measure your foot or have it measured by a professional.
The Mondo Point system used in ski boots measures your feet in centimeters. This chart converts these centimeter measurements into American shoe sizes. This is just a guide. You or a boot fitter can take exact measurements.
Boot Sole Length
The total boot length is measured in millimeters. The actual external length of a boot from the toe to the heel will vary from boot to boot, even if they are the same size. Check the sole length of your current boots before stepping into your bindings with new boots. They may not fit! You should have your bindings checked every season with the boots that you are going to use with those skis/bindings.
The last width of a boot refers to how broad it is at its widest point. This is a good indication of the general shape and width inside the shell, which is the outer boot excluding the lining. Generally speaking, narrow boots have a last width somewhere in the 97 to 98mm range. Medium width boots are in the 100-102 mm last range. Wide boots are 102mm and larger.
Unlike a pair of running shoes, which easily expand to accommodate different foot shapes, a pair of ski boots should match your foot's width more precisely. Last widths can help narrow down potential boot selection. But since ski boot shells are rigid plastic, it is common for skiers to need an expert boot fitter to help expand the shell and mold the liner for them. A last width is a good starting point, but if the boot is still somewhat uncomfortable do not hesitate to have them worked on. Skiing isn't supposed to be painful!
The Alltrack 120 has a rubberized sole that helps maintain traction on uneven terrain. The shell design is intended to save weight. You can see the listed boot sole length imprinted into the shell.
We suggest trying on ski boots later in the day. Feet tend to swell a bit throughout the day and at higher elevations. By trying boots on in the afternoon or evening, you are mitigating the risk of buying boots that are too small. Also try boots on (and ski) while wearing very thin wool or synthetic socks. They help to wick moisture away from your skin, are resistant to bunching up, and provide a more precise fit. Thick socks can restrict circulation and can actually make your feet feel colder.
A precise boot fit will increase your performance, make you more comfortable, and reduce the risk of foot injury. Visiting a professional boot fitter will help you choose a boot that is right for you and make adjustments to the boot as needed.
Anatomy of a Ski Boot
Here's a quick run-down of the most important parts of a ski boot.
The liner is a soft, removable inner boot that is contained within the shell. Often these liners are heat-moldable for a customized fit.
The footbed inside the liner gives your foot support. Usually, the ones that come with boots are thin and do not provide adequate support. We suggest purchasing an aftermarket footbed.
The shell is the hard plastic outer boot, which is the primary factor contributing to the weight and stiffness of the boot. Usually, a skier fits into a specific shell size and then can make adjustments to the liner to fine-tune the fit.
The power strap is the large, usually Velcro, strap along the top of the boot's shaft that tightens the cuff around your shin and calf.
The Salomon X Pro 120 buckles are easy to operate with gloves and mittens on.
Ski boots have between two and four buckles that tighten the shell. We prefer metal buckles because they are more durable. Most buckles have a number of adjustments and micro-adjustments to customize the fit.
Alpine boots are DIN compatible, meaning they are designed to function safely with traditional alpine ski bindings. The sole can be a continuation of the shell or may consist of pieces that can be removed and replaced. This helps you deal with wear and tear and can make a boot compatible with touring bindings. For example, Alpine/Freeride hybrids are DIN and Tech compatible, so they work with alpine or backcountry bindings. Some soles are made of soft rubber to provide traction on slick surfaces.
The Walk/Ski mode switch on the back is simple and durable.
It is increasingly common to see a walk/ski mode on alpine boots. This mode disengages the cuff from the bottom of the boot to allow more ankle flexibility. This is a technology adopted from alpine-touring boots, which are used by backcountry skiers.
Boots perform the ever important job of driving skis, and they make a significant difference in a skier's performance and enjoyment of the sport.
Having a boot that suits your skiing style is just as important as having a boot that fits. It is no fun to be outmatched by a boot that you can't flex, or that can't keep up with the demands of an aggressive skier. We spent countless days skiing in these boots in order to give you the highest quality review with which to base this important decision. Take the time to read all of our product reviews and all the various articles that can give you additional insight into what goes into choosing the right ski boot for you. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sliding downhill on snow, but you can't enjoy it if your feet are searing in pain!