Mountaineering boots are specialized pieces of equipment designed to provide the highest level of support, comfort, and warmth.
These features are often significantly compromised in mountaineering boots because they contribute to increased weight, a serious problem for mountain climbs.
However, the design trade-offs make sense if you understand what you need these boots for. There is no single best boot for all applications when you choose mountaineering boots. Many different models are available depending on your needs.
Many stores that sell mountaineering equipment will have knowledgeable staff who can properly fit boots or order them from manufacturers’ catalogs.
As with any specialized piece, it’s essential to try on many different models with the socks you plan to use for your expedition. So, how to choose mountaineering boots?
Mountaineering Boots Anatomy
Mountaineering boots cover a broad range of styles and designs, but most have several common components that you should look for when deciding which pair is right for your needs.
Here’s a list of common features in mountaineering boots:
A stiff piece of plastic or carbon fiber on the back of the boot that prevents heel lift while still allowing flex in other areas. This helps improve both fit and energy transfer from the lower leg to the boot when confronting extremely steep terrain.
The climbing zone is an area on top of the foot that provides increased traction for side-hilling and front-pointing on ice and snow. It should have a very sticky rubber compound or metal studs to provide reliable traction while kicking steps in ice or while traversing steep slopes.
These are metal rings fitted internally around the boot’s toe, accommodating crampons for winter climbing.
Good fitting boots will be supportive without being too stiff or constricting. Roomy toe-boxes are essential for allowing the toes to “spread” when front pointing on steep terrain.
Mountaineering Boots Construction
Many people believe that mountaineering boots must be rigid with little flexibility to provide the best support during climbs requiring crampons, but this is not always true.
Some manufacturers build mountaineering boots that offer an extreme level of stiffness, which is very helpful for ice climbing but can be uncomfortable during longer hikes because of the lack of resilience in the sole.
More flexible boots are intended to allow greater comfort over long distances with crampons. Many mountaineering boot models have removable liners that can be replaced if they wear out or are damaged after years of use on rugged terrain.
The idea is that it’s better to replace a $100 liner than have to buy a new pair of expensive boots when insulation wears thin or wet conditions begin causing cold feet.
Insulated boots used by climbers who spend most time above 12,000 ft. mountain climbing, should have removable liners because sweat buildup inside the insulation will eventually cause discomfort and cold feet due to moisture absorption from the foot itself.
Mountaineering Boots Brands
Many manufacturers produce mountaineering boots at a wide range of prices and designs. Some of the most recognized brands currently on the market include Scarpa, La Sportiva, Lowa, Meindl, Asolo, Salewa, and Millet.
Different designs suit different needs, so it’s a good idea to try many different models with the design features listed above before you buy.
The boots do not have to be identical but should have similar characteristics for consistent performance when being used together. When shopping for boots, consider your physical size compared to the manufacturer’s sizing charts because they tend to “run small.”
For example, if you usually wear a U.S. Men’s size 10, you might wear a size 45 European mountaineering boot.
How Shouls Mountaineering Boots Fit
When trying on boots, wear the sock-liners you will use for climbing and walk around in them indoors or outside if possible to ensure they fit properly and allow easy movement.
After buying boots, you should take them out of the box and perform “break in hiking boots” hikes by wearing them around town until they’re softened up to conform more closely to your feet.
This can prevent blisters and other discomforts that could hinder performance during climbs requiring crampons.
Here’s some mountaineering boots’ terminology we found on various websites:
- Toebox: The front part of the boot surrounding the toes.
- Ankle Collar: A stiff ring around the ankle area that helps hold down the tongue.
- Velcro: Slots on the side of the tongue to allow tightening around the leg with strap.
- Closure: Material and mechanisms used to secure the top of the boot around the leg.
- Tongue: A flexible layer inside the boot that covers the top of the foot.
- Shank: Reinforce material in the sole that helps flex the point of the ankle.
Boots are sized based on the European metric scale.
Each full size represents a 6.7 mm increase in length. For example, if you wear a U.S. Men’s size 10, you need a 45 Euro mountaineering boot because 10 x 6.7 = 67mm or 2 5/8 inches or 45 Euro.
After establishing your proper boot size, it is advisable to purchase an aftermarket insole to provide extra arch support and comfort, which can be removed when boots are used with crampons.
Other Things to Consider when Choosing Mountaineering Boots
An important piece of gear every climber should invest in is a good pair of socks too! Wearing an inner layer made from wool or synthetic fabric offers insulation. It helps dry quickly when paired with an outer boot, while over-socks provide comfort and the most breathability.
Before you buy, make sure to try them both on together with your new boots so you know they will be comfortable when walking long distances (they should feel like an extension of your legs), not just in the store.
A good sock shouldn’t restrict or bunch up inside your boots, but it should fit snuggly, allowing some room for you to adjust the laces on the boot to accommodate any foot swelling.
When trail running, make sure not to choose too thick socks; they’ll only cause blisters and discomfort. Additionally, you can see how to lace your hiking boots so your feet won’t get swollen.
If you’re interested in making sure your feet stay warm and dry, look into getting a new pair of gaiters! Gaiters help keep snow out of your boots by covering the upper part of your leg with an elastic band that secures around your calf with either velcro or snaps, depending on which type you get.
They are usually made from a waterproof material like nylon or even neoprene to keep warmth in without the extra bulk. They also help prevent snow and water from getting in your boots and over-socks and work as a great wind barrier too.
Gaiters can be worn with or without crampons, so think about what type of footwear you’ll be wearing most often when considering whether or not to purchase a pair for your next expedition. Read more about how to waterproof your hiking boots (mountaineering boots) and how to clean hiking boots.
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