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Updated Jun 14, 2022 11:04 AM

Skiers love talking about and shopping for their next pair of skis, but no ski-gear purchase is more important than your next pair of ski boots. A pair of ski boots that don’t fit properly or don’t match the way that you actually ski can ruin your skiing experience, no matter what skis you’re clicking into. Ski boots connect your body to your skis, so a solid connection between your feet and your boots means better performance and more comfort. 

There’s no one boot that’s right for every skier and every ability level. To help, we’ve made selections in a wide range of ski-boot styles and provide advice along the way to help you choose the best ski boots that are right for you.

Things to Consider Before Buying Ski Boots

The basic design of ski boots hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Materials and construction differ quite a bit in the more expert-level boots as compared to softer, easier-to-use beginner boots. The cost also goes up the more expert your boots, so it doesn’t make sense to buy more boot than you need for your ability and skiing style. So, when you’re looking for the best ski boots for you, consider the following before you make your purchase.

Boot Size

There’s no better place to shop for the best ski boot than a well-stocked local ski shop with a wide selection of boots that you can try on in person and an expert bootfitter who can guide you through a selection. That said, the boots you want may not be available locally in your size and there’s a good chance you can get them cheaper someplace online.

No matter where you end up purchasing your ski boots, though, it can save you some time—and headaches—if you’re able to try as many of the top downhill ski boots that you’re considering in advance. I’ve had the same size boots from one brand fit perfectly in one style, be too big in another style, and another fit small my toes had to curl under to get my feet inside. Never assume that because you know your shoe size, you can select a boot that fits appropriately, unless you’ve worn a particular brand for long enough to know your size in that brand, specifically.

Warmth

Cold feet is one of the greatest fears of a new skier, but a proper fit can often alleviate circulation restrictions that accelerate how quickly your feet get cold. Ambient temperature definitely plays a part but unless you’re regularly skiing in subzero temperatures, you should be able to ski for several hours without feet going cold. Having a good winter jacket and snow pants will keep your core warm and keep your body from pulling its efforts to stay warm away from your extremities.

Simply finding boots of your own that fit well is the first step, but if you’ve had professionally fitted boots before and still struggle with cold feet due to extra-cold temperatures or circulation issues not related to the boot fit, you may want to consider heated boots. Custom boot liners from companies such as Surefoot offer heated options, but many ski-boot manufacturers also offer heated versions of their boots. You can also try heated socks or footbeds from a company such as Hottronic, but a heated boot liner is the most straightforward solution.

Skill Level

Most skiers want to believe they’re experts, but even if you ski the double black diamond trails, you probably don’t require pro-grade boots. The most “expert” boots are often extremely stiff, unforgiving boots aimed at racers and they aren’t much fun to ski recreationally in. Luckily boot manufacturers make lots of the top ski boots for expert-level recreational all-mountain skiers that offer a performance fit and stiff, responsive plastics in the shell.

Flex Rating

Flex rating is a manufacturers’ estimation of how stiff a particular boot might be. Unfortunately, this isn’t a standardized measure, so stiffness of a, say, 110 flex may vary between companies and even between models from the same brand. It’s best to view the ratings as an indication of how the company views a particular boot in their lineup. Generally, a 130 flex boot is a brand’s most “pro” and stiff option, 90 to 110 will be intermediate options, and anything below 90 is aimed more at a beginner or casual skier.

Fit

The perfect fit in a pair of ski boots is snug without compressing and free of obvious “hotspots” where the fit is too tight and creates pinching, rubbing, or pressure that leads to pain. Fit also shouldn’t be too loose and ideally the foot doesn’t move around easily within the boot which can cause rubbing which can lead to blisters. 

An expert bootfitter can identify if your foot is wider or narrower than average, but most adult already have a sense of where they stand, pun intended. If you know you have wide or narrow feet, start with a boot made for your foot often called high- or low-volume when trying on boots.

Best Overall: Salomon S/Lab 120 GW Pro Ski Boots

Best Overall

Why It Made the Cut

The S/Pro 120s are a supremely comfortable boot out of the box and comfort means warmer, happier feet and longer ski days. The shells and liners also have advanced customization options if you need to dial in the fit further.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1750g
  • Flex Rating: 120
  • Ability Level: Advanced

Pros

  • Comfortable out of the box
  • Advanced heat molding system
  • Seamless liner 

Cons

  • A bit soft for the most aggressive skiers

No boot that I’ve worn has been as comfortable right out of the box as the Salomon S/Pro 120s and that was before the option to heat-mold the boots’ Custom Fit 4D Pro liner. Some of that could be chalked up to the boots simply being better suited to my particular foot shape and volume, but the design and materials of the liner surely play a part. The 120 flex is plenty for all but the most hardcore, advanced skiers and if you like to consider yourself in the upper echelon of ability, don’t let your pride get in the way of a good time. For most recreational skiers, these boots are more than enough for any conditions and any level of aggression. Race-minded skiers may want more stiffness, but most skiers will benefit from the comfort of this stiff, but not-too-stiff boot for abilities from intermediate to advanced.

Best Heated: Salomon S/PRO 120 Custom Heat Connect Ski Boots

Best Heated:

Why It Made The Cut

The non-heat S/Pro 120s were our top overall pick for their comfort and fit which helps keep circulation flowing and feet warm, but the addition of the built-in heating elements makes these a great option for advanced skiers who struggled with cold feet.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1850g
  • Flex Rating: 120
  • Ability Level: Advanced

Pros

  • No additional hardware
  • Much cheaper than custom heated liners
  • Advanced-level performance

Cons

  • A bit soft for the most aggressive skiers

Thankfully for those skiers who suffer with cold feet, our top overall pick also comes in the Custom Heat Connect version which has a liner with built-in heating elements. These boots are already supremely comfortable which will help your circulation, but the addition of the heating elements will buy you additional time on the slopes when temperatures threaten to end your day early. As a sales rep for a heated socks company once told me, “You might not be able to tell when the heat is turned on, but you’ll definitely know when it’s off.”

Best Budget: Dalbello Panterra 90 GW Ski Boots

Best Budget

Why It Made The Cut

The Dalbello Panterra 90s offer features usually reserved for higher-end boots such as GripWalk soles and metal buckles. A great boot for beginners to advance with and for most intermediate skiers.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 2016g
  • Flex Rating: 90
  • Ability Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Pros

  • GripWalk soles
  • Metal buckles
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Intermediates can progress out of it

For a sub-$500 ski boot, the Panterra 90s offer a lot of features you normally only find on pricier boots such as Grip Walk soles which help keep you upright when you’re awkwardly stomping your way back to your car or to happy hour. They also have metal buckles which always outlast their plastic cousins over time. The 90 flex is perfect for intermediate skiers and advancing beginners and, when properly fitted, the comfort will far exceed a used and abused pair of rental boots.

Best Women’s: Tecnica Mach Sport MV 95 Women’s Ski Boots

Best Women’s

Why It Made the Cut

The Mach Sport MV 95s are a great all-around boot for all but the most aggressive skiers and they offer women’s-specific anatomical build in shell and liner.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1760g
  • Flex Rating: 95
  • Ability Level: Expert

Pros

  • Women’s-specific fit
  • Moderate flex 

Cons

  • Soft for truly expert skiers

The medium 95 flex of these boots hits a sweet spot that should work for progressing beginners as well as intermediates and provide all-day comfort. A comfortable boot usually allows for better circulation which means more time on the slopes on cold days before your feet start to get numb.

Like most Tecnica boots, the Mach Sport MV 95s come with a heat moldable Custom Adaptive Shape liner that helps ease the blow of the break-in period. If you have a narrower foot or just want a more secure fit without moving to a stiffer boot, consider the Mach 1 LV 95.

Best for Wide Feet: Atomic Magna 110 S GW Ski Boots

Best for Wide Feet

Why It Made the Cut

The Magna deliver a boot made especially for extra wide feet but doesn’t sacrifice performance and offers nice-to-have features such as GripWalk soles and Memory Fit liners that offer cheap customization built-in.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 2079g
  • Flex Rating: 110
  • Ability Level: Advanced

Pros

  • Stiff enough for advanced intermediates
  • Extra-wide fit

Cons

  • Price nearly doubles for 130 flex model

While most people can get a proper boot fit in a medium volume boot or pursue a more performance fit in a low-volume boot, there are feet out there that are just too thick and/or wide to be comfortable with the average. Atomic’s Magna 110s deliver space with a 102mm last and a higher-volume fit. They also aim to keep you warm with 3M Thinsulate insulation and EVA closed-cell foam.

Best for Narrow Feet: Atomic Hawx Ultra 100 Ski Boots

Best for Narrow Feet

Why It Made the Cut

Whether you have narrow feet or just want a more performance fit in a softer-flex, more comfortable boot, the Hawx UIltras offer the affordable performance on the Hawx line in a lower-volume option.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1750g
  • Flex Rating: 100
  • Ability Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Appropriate for intermediate through advanced
  • Affordable

Cons

  • None

Because expert skiers want a tight, nearly compressed fit for responsiveness, it’s easy to find narrow last expert boots. But if you don’t want a stiff, unforgiving boot but need a narrow fit, your options are limited. Luckily Atomic makes lots of size and stiffness combinations and their Hawx Ultra 100s are a light ski boot that delivers a narrow fit with a forgiving flex that lets intermediate skiers get a proper fit without wearing a boot that’s beyond their ability to drive it.

Best for Experts: Tecnica Mach 1 MV 130 Ski Boots

Best for Experts

Why It Made the Cut

The Mach1 130s are a long-running, little-changed favorite of aggressive expert recreational skiers. The liners, buckles, and shells are also built to last so you can ski them hard for several years.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 2330g
  • Flex Rating: 130
  • Ability Level: Expert

Pros

  • Great power transfer
  • Easy on, off
  • Dense, longer-lasting liner

Cons

  • Heavy for lighter skiers
  • Demands aggressive skiing

I’ve skied multiple iterations of this long-standing 130-flex boot over the past eight years or so and it serves me well as an expert recreational skier with a race background. The boot is stiff enough to be responsive but has enough give to soften impacts on crud or landings. The boot asks you to maintain an aggressive stance, but unlike some race boots, it doesn’t punish you if you want to slack off on a few turns. This popular boot also comes in low- and high-volume versions if your feet fall on either end of the spectrum.

Best for Beginners: Dalbello DS MX 75 Ski Boots

Best for Beginners

Why It Made the Cut

Beginners can affordably get away from the hassle and poor fit of most rental fleet boots by purchasing the Dalbello DS MX 75 boots for themselves.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): Not listed
  • Flex Rating: 75
  • Ability Level: Beginner

Pros

  • Same cost as a handful of boot rentals
  • Comfortable liner and soft shell

Cons

  • Too soft to progress in

Slipping into hard plastic ski boots can be a shock for newbies and boots are usually the number one complaint from learning skiers of all ages. Often, those bad experiences can be chalked up to using well-worn rental boots, but fit and too stiff of a boot can also cause misery. Getting a pair of comfortable ski boots of your own such as the forgiving wDalbello DS MX 75s can get you out of the rental boot nightmare and into a boot that’s fit to your feet.

The DS MX 75s  have an extra-wide 104mm last so your feet don’t get cramped and the 75 flex rating is stiff enough to stay upright, but forgiving enough for those just starting out.

Best for Kids: Dalbello Menace 2.0 GW Ski Boots

Best for Kids

Why It Made the Cut

These streamlined beginner kids’ boots help dodge the hassles of getting kids booted up and skiing by limited the boot to two easy-to-use buckles. Aimed at young, beginner skiers, the boots are affordable enough to be replaced when kids grow out of them.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): Not listed
  • Flex Rating: 25
  • Ability Level: Beginner

Pros

  • Easy on-off
  • Streamlined buckle system
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Only for younger, beginner skiers

A traditional four-buckle ski boot can be a nightmare for younger skiers and usually results in parents struggling to get junior’s boots just right through trial and error. Dalbello has simplified things with the straightforward, two-buckle setup on the Menace 2.0s. The traditional 3-piece construction is here but there’s one traditional buckle over the forefoot and another ratcheting power strap-style buck on the lower leg.

The streamlined design is paired with a soft 25 flex that’ll help them stay comfortable through long days on the hill. The cost is also blessedly low so you won’t feel quite as burned when they suddenly grow out of them after a single season of skiing.

How I Made My Picks

For this article, we considered mostly ski boots readily available to a North American audience, though many of the brands are European in origin. We recommended boots based on history with those models but also based on hands-on testing of many of the boots while skiing in the Mountain West.

FAQs

Q: Should ski boots be tight or loose?

For the best experience skiing, you want your boots to fit snugly with firm pressure evenly distributed around your foot. If you feel a lot more pressure in one area of the foot, that may be a place an expert bootfitter can make adjustments to help customize the shell to fit your foot better. You want your heel held firmly in place so you don’t feel like you’re stepping out of the boots. For an initial fit, it’s okay if your toes are pressed up against the toebox of the liner as long as they’re not forced to curl under. Boots will pack out with use giving you extra room, so you want to err on the side of too tight.

If you find a pair of boots that fit you perfectly out of the box, congratulations! But if you feel hotspots or your feet are cramping frequently, it’s worth taking your boots in to an expert bootfitter. They’ll have specialized equipment that can adjust your shells and even add material around your liners if needed to adjust the fit and feel.

Q: How much do ski boots cost?

Like almost anything related to skiing, ski boots aren’t cheap. If you buy high-end boots and add custom liners and heaters, you’ll easily spend over $1,000 on a pair. Luckily for new skiers, beginner boots are often much cheaper than expert options which rarely retail for less than $500. You can still get a decent pair of beginner ski boots for around $250, and that’s a great way to get your own boots for the cost of a few rental days. For experts looking for a bargain, your best bet is to shop at stores and online in the spring when retailers are looking to unload their inventory before the season ends.

Q: How do I break in my new ski boots?

Ski boots tend to get much more comfortable after about 5 ski days in them, where the normal impacts associated with skiing will start to break in the boots and form them to your individual foot shape. There are several things you can do to ensure a better out of the box fit, though. Most modern boots offer some level of customization, some of which can be done at home by gently heating the liners. But an expert bootfitter will have more tools at their disposal and are able to selectively “punch out” the hard plastic shell of a boot to better fit your foot. They also have training from the specific boot brands in how to customize their liners and shells. These initial customization options may not be as good as a well broken-in boot but they are probably at least equivalent to a few days of skiing in them and can save you from those initial awkward first ski days in a pair of brand-new boots.

An alternative for those let down by out-of-the-box or semi-custom liners, is fully custom boot liners. Franchise operations such as Surefoot provide custom liners that aren’t cheap but use foam injection to create a one-of-a-kind fit tailored to your body. 

Q: Do ski boots fit all bindings?

It’s always good to confirm with your local ski shop if the boots you’re considering will fit the bindings on your skis and vice versa if you’re purchasing boots first. That said, most alpine boots and ski bindings are compatible with each other. Many bindings are “MNC” which means Multi-Norm Compatible and will accept most modern boots. If you already own skis and bindings and want to be sure you get boots that will fit, you need to determine the exact make and model of your bindings to confirm what types of boots to shop for. If you aren’t sure, take them to a local shop for help or reach out to the binding manufacturer directly and ask them to confirm what types of boots will work with their bindings. 

Final Thoughts

Ski boots are likely the most important ski gear purchase you’ll make and, if you choose wisely, they should serve you for years to come. Ensuring a proper fit by selecting a brand that fits you well from the start and then working with an expert bootfitter to tweak them to your feet will give you a good start toward warm, comfortable feet and performance that’s appropriate for your ability level and style of skiing.

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