3 Piece vs. Overlap: Which Ski Boots Are Better for You?

Published on 05/27/2023 · 6 min readIt's a little-known fact that ski boots come in two different construction types! Ski Expert Lauren Dobbins explains what they each mean and how they differ.
Lauren Dobbins, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Lauren Dobbins

Photo by Lauren Dobbins

Traditional overlap boots (or 2-piece boots) and cabrio boots (or 3-piece boots) are the two main ski boot construction styles on the market today. One style may be a better fit for you depending on your skiing style, foot shape, and overall budget, and in this article, we are going to walk through the pros and cons of overlap and cabrio style boots.

I’m Lauren, a Ski Expert here at Curated. I’ve been skiing my entire life, and I ski 70+ days a season in my home state of Colorado. I know from my own experience that having a ski boot that is comfortable and performs well is CRITICAL for making the most out of a full day on the slopes. Most of my customers have the same concern about boot fit and comfort. However, many people are not aware that ski boots primarily come in two different shell construction styles that can make or break the skiing experience. By the end of this piece, hopefully, you will know which style is best for you!

Overlap (2-Piece) Boots

Image courtesy of Dalbello

Traditional ski boots have an overlap design. These boots have two main pieces of their shells: the calf piece and the foot piece. They are known as overlap shells because these pieces overlap where they connect—usually right above the ankle. Overlap boots typically have four buckles: two across the foot and two across the shin. These are the boots that you will see on all of the Olympic-level racers. They allow for exceptional power delivery and control while reducing the risk of torsionally twisting forces.

As the traditional style, these types of boots are found from almost every major manufacturer (i.e. Lange, Atomic, Rossignol, Technica, and so on). They are offered in a huge range of sizes and flex ratings, making them accessible to beginners and professionals alike. While they are the longest-running construction style in production, their traditional style and variety of options make them the most popular style of ski boots.

Benefits

  • Immediate power delivery
  • Offers precise control
  • Wide selection from numerous brands
  • Budget-friendly and beginner options are easily accessible

Be Aware

  • Limited flex can cause shin bang
  • Difficult to take on and off your foot
  • Generally uncomfortable
  • Not forgiving when a mistake is made

Skiers Who Will Prefer Overlap Boots

  • Those who value precision and power delivery over comfort
  • Beginners looking for an accessible boot
  • Current or ex-racers who need a performance fit
  • Skiers who ski exclusively on-piste
  • Heavier and/or very aggressive skiers who need a strong flex
  • People with a very narrow foot and/or low arch
  • Individuals on a tight budget

Cabrio (3-Piece) Boots

Cabrio boots first became popular in the 80s, but they have made a powerful resurgence into the market today. Cabrio boots are made with three separate pieces: the footbed, the back ankle piece, and the tongue. The separate tongue piece allows for incredibly easy entry and exit, as the tongue can be pulled exceptionally far forward in order to slip the foot in and out. The tongue also allows for a progressive flex, meaning it moves with the skier depending on how hard they are driving. This tongue piece can be swapped, allowing for a customizable flex based on the skier’s needs. Cabrio boots are also special in the placement of the buckles. They have the traditional one or two buckles across the foot and a buckle across the shin, but the key buckle is unique across the ankle joint. This buckle allows the user to lock down their heel and provides the additional ankle support that is often lacking from the tongue peice.

These features make cabrio boots phenomenally comfortable, though this unique construction often comes with a higher price tag and limited options from very few brands (i.e. Dalbello and K2).

Benefits

  • Easy foot entry and exit
  • Progressive flex nearly eliminates shin bang
  • Exceptionally comfortable and customizable
  • Ankle buckle prevents heel slip

Be Aware

  • Often more expensive than overlap boots
  • Lack of beginner-friendly options
  • Limited offerings from a few select brands
  • Not as precise and responsive

Skiers Who Will Prefer Cabrio Boots

  • Those who value comfort and easy foot entry/exit above all else
  • All-mountain skiers who enjoy off-piste conditions
  • Park/Freestyle and Freeride enthusiasts
  • People with a high arch
  • Ex-snowboarders who miss the comfort of a snowboard boot
  • Skiers who frequently experience heel slip
  • Individuals with ankle injuries who can no longer flex their foot into a traditional boot

Which Boots Do I Own?

Photo by Lauren Dobbins

I own the Dalbello Krypton AX 110. They are drumroll please... cabrio!

I had two consistent issues with my previous overlap boots that made me seek out cabrio boots instead. The first issue was that I constantly had heel slip. I have very narrow ankles, and the heel slip I experienced left me with massive blisters. No matter how much I tightened my old boots, the heel slip would still be there. Switching to a cabrio boot, I’m able to lock down my heel with the buckle across the ankle joint. Heel slip is virtually non-existent now, and I no longer get blisters. The second issue, which was less of a deal breaker, was that I always struggled to get my boots on and could never get my boots off by myself. I once had to plug in a hair dryer into my car’s outlet in order to heat up my boots enough to get them on. Every time I had to take them off, I needed a friend, or even a stranger, to yank my boots off for me.

With my cabrio boots, entry and exit are mindlessly easy! Dalbello boots are the only option I would consider for myself, but this reasoning is because the benefits of a cabrio boot strongly outweigh the negatives. Plus, that style matches my skiing style and fit issue preferences—my preferences are skiing off-piste conditions, finding a boot that alleviates the problems of heel slip, and I desire a progressive flex.

Closing Thoughts

In summary, an overlap or cabrio style boot will best fit you depending on your skiing style, foot shape, and overall budget. Hopefully, you now have more insight to help narrow your search based on the style of the shell construction.

But still not sure which option is right for you? Here at Curated, we have hundreds of Ski Experts ready to help you find the right boots for your needs. Finding the right boots for me was nothing short of a scientific process, so don’t hesitate to send me a message if you want to talk more about overlap and/or cabrio boots!

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