Do Your Ski Boots Fit? How to Know a Ski Boot is the Right SizePublished on 06/28/2023 · 11 min readSki Expert Matt B. dives into what makes a good ski boot and how you should try it on to know if you've found the right pair.
Photo by Bear Fotos
What if I told you that the most important part of your ski setup wasn't your skis; would you believe me? Many skiers may not – after all, it's called "skiing," not "booting"! Alas, the most critical piece of your ski gear set up are those creaky, tough-to-walk-down-stairs-in, "thump" machines called ski boots. But what makes a good ski boot, and how should you try them on to know if you've found the right pair? Let's get into it.
THE Ski boot myth
First: Ignore your uncle who went on three ski trips to Alta, UT, back in the '80s and claims that, "if your boots aren't killing your feet, then they're too big." Those days are behind us, and boot manufacturers these days have really progressed to make some surprisingly comfortable, performance-oriented alpine boots that let you ski in the right size ski boots without killing your feet.
A snug fit does not mean that you need to size down to get a boot that will serve you well. The average boot is largely the best of both comfort and performance these days, with models that will let you rip beautiful, arcing turns on groomers but won’t make you think twice about hitting après in them, either.
Now that we have that cleared up, let's move on to what you're going to need to do to get set up in the right pair of boots, for beginners, intermediates, and experts alike.
We (you) need your digits
Break out your ruler, because it's time to measure your feet! And no, you won't need your shoe size this time; instead, you're going to find what's called your Mondopoint size, which is just the length of your foot, measured in centimeters (cm).
To do this: 1. Lay a measuring device on the ground perpendicular to a wall 2. Back your heel up to the wall, lean forward on an angle and do a sort of squatting motion, flexing at the ankle and knees, like you would while skiing. 3. Look down, see how long your foot is in centimeters, and write this down – you'll need it later. 4. Next, use your measuring device of choice (my favorite is a ruler, although I have used a kitchen bench scraper in a pinch) to measure the forefoot width of your foot in millimeters. Write this down, too, since you'll want it later. Heads up: the width of a ski boot is called its "last."
Expert Tip: By the way, ski boots are typically only sold in whole sizes, and it’s common to see a size like “27.0/27.5.” If you are an average skier who has, say, a 27.0 Mondo size, for example, then by all means, get a 27.0/27.5 model. If you are super serious about performance at all costs, then pat yourself on the back, tell your friends, and opt for the next size down: 26.0/26.5.
Pump up the volume!
This is a quick, semi-subjective measure that you'll need to assess on yourself: do you have a high instep (aka does the top of your foot kind of arch pretty high?) or a relatively flat, "low volume" foot? Instep height is important, but fortunately, you probably have a good idea of what you're working with if you’ve worn shoes before.
When assessing boot fit, volume is the measure of how much "room" you're going to have in the boot, which may affect its performance and comfort. Personally, I have a very high arch and wide feet, so high-volume boots like the Dalbello Panterra are a must for me. In fact, I can't even put many of today's low-volume models on my feet—they just won't fit!
Keep in mind that there are lots of ways to manipulate the volume of your boot and make a low-volume boot a high-volume pair (the reverse isn’t really feasible). Some people add a special footbed to take up more space in the boot (many high-volume boots actually come with an extra footbed for this purpose). Others wear thick socks – though this is not recommended, as thicker socks typically translate into more sweat and reduced blood circulation, which means cold toes.
Sock it to me
Speaking of socks, what should I use when trying on boots? Simple: use exactly what you'd wear when actually skiing, which typically means a ski-specific sock. Usually, these are made out of merino wool, which is a great insulator even when wet (ahem, sweaty), and offer some additional compression and arch support.
Wear these socks when trying on your boots and any time you have “work” done on them by a boot fitter (if desired – more on that later). Ski socks usually pull over your calves and sometimes have padding on the shins, ankles, and arches, so it's important that you are happy with how the boots and socks work together to avoid pressure points.
Ski socks are typically $20-$40 per pair, but they really are so much better than those tube socks you've been doubling up on in years past.
Weird flex, but OK...
Ok, so you have your foot length, aka Mondopoint size, aka that measurement you wrote down after jamming your foot against the wall. You also have your width measure, aka "last" in millimeters, and you've assessed whether you have a high or low-volume foot. What's next? Ski boot flex!
Flex indicates the stiffness of a boot, specifically the ski boot shell, and has an impact on comfort and performance: A stiff boot will allow more of your power to flow through the boot and drive your skis, while a soft boot will have some "give" in it, which will be more comfortable overall, but will make you work harder to really ski on edge. Further, if you are on the heavier or lighter side, you may need to be selective with your flex. Lighter skiers won't be able to generate as much force to drive their boots and skis, meaning they should opt for more flexible models, while heavier skiers should do the opposite and opt for a stiffer version when possible.
A zoomed-out flex rating for men and women by ability is as follows:
- Men: Intermediate to Advanced (85-100 flex); Advanced to Expert (110-130 flex)
- Women: Intermediate to Advanced (65-80 flex); Advanced to Expert (85-100 flex)
*Beginners may be well-served by choosing a flex lower than the "intermediate to advanced" measures; however, in my experience you will quickly outgrow this, meaning you'll need to buy new boots again pretty soon.
Note: Your Curated Ski Expert may recommend a couple of pairs of boots for you, some with different flex ratings. Don't worry – this is OK! Generally, the buckets of flex ratings are very similar, except in hyper-performance-oriented models. So, a 110 flex and a 120 flex are not too far off, for example.
Putting it all together
When buying boots, remember these things to avoid fit issues: 1. Your foot's Mondo size, aka length, in centimeters 2. Your foot's last, aka width, in millimeters 3. Your instep size, which translates into high or low-volume models if needed 4. Your skiing ability (be honest but leave room for progression, particularly if you're a beginner)
Having a good understanding of these factors is critical to buying the right pair of boots. There are more factors you can consider to really dial in the fit, too, such as calf size (for the upper cuff circumference). Talk to your Curated Ski Expert for more.
My friend says you shouldn't buy boots online - is this true?
This is a common question, but for many, many people, buying boots online is A-OK. When you take the time to understand your measurements and what different things like "last" and "volume" do to the fit of a boot, you can help ensure you get the right boot the very first time.
And, to boot (pun intended), purchasing online is typically much cheaper than buying in person, especially when looking at boots.
The best part: If you buy a pair online that you like, you can always take them into a local shop to have "work" done on them, such as "punching" the shell to knock the width out a bit, heating up the ski boot liner to fit your foot (although many liners, such as Intuition Liners, do this quite well without heat), and more.
Hey, sole sister. A note on binding compatibility
Let's talk about soles real quick – and no, not custom insoles on the inside (although custom footbeds are a great investment if you want to take comfort up another notch). Instead, we need to talk about boot soles.
There are a variety of boot soles, such as traditional Alpine Soles, various GripWalk Soles, and more, which don't all play nicely with every single binding on the market. The majority of today's boots have either standard Alpine Soles or GripWalk soles, and most new bindings are able to accept these soles. However, you need to make sure your boot's soles will work with your bindings, so either check with your Curated Ski Expert, wherever you get your skis mounted, or do some light googling.
Trying on your boots
Alright, you bought some boots. Awesome! Now, let's try them on.
- First, put on those trusty ski socks; you know, the ones you're going to use during the season.
- Then, undo all of the boot's buckles and the powerstrap (that wide velcro strap across the top – this allows you to transfer more power to your boots and skis.)
- Sit down.
- Put your feet in both boots. It is totally OK if your toes touch the end of the boot here – in fact, toe touching means you or your expert did a great job selecting a boot length.
- Give the boots a few taps on the floor with your heels to fully set your heel into the heel pocket of the boot.
- Fully buckle up the boots, starting with the middle buckles, and tighten the powerstrap.
- Stand up and get into a ski stance with your knees bent. Your feet will move a bit as your heel settles into the heel cup and your toes recede a bit.
- Make final adjustments to the buckles. Now is also a great time to make adjustments to the boots to maximize comfort and heel hold.
How do you feel? Initial indicators are important, however, the best way to tell is to keep your feet in the boots. A well-fitting boot should have a snug fit, like a firm handshake, and your toes should be right at the front of the boot without too much pressure. Ski boot fit is much different than street shoe fit as your spend the majority of your day in ski boot leaning into the front of your boots. This is why it is best to determine fit in an athletic stance rather than walking around. You can even clip into your skis in your living room to further judge fit. (Just don't wear them outside in case you want to return them for a different size!)
Fine-tuning with micro-adjustments
If you are in between buckles, or if your circulation is getting cut off, you can make tiny adjustments by "spinning" the buckles on the boot. Righty-tighty and lefty-loosey work here, just play around with things until you feel like they are set.
How should they feel?
By now, you know that boots should be snug, not constricting. If you are a super performance-oriented skier, then yeah, you want tighter boots. But for the rest of us resort skiers and weekend warriors, something that allows your power to translate to the skis is all you need.
Pay attention to pressure points in the boot. If your ankle bone is hurting, then they are likely not lining up with the ankle bone pocket within the boot. This is usually a sign of a boot that is the wrong size! If the edges of your feet have a little pain know that your liner will likely break in about a quarter to a half centimeter after skiing in the boots for a few days. If not, other hotspots can be "worked" out by a boot fitter at a local ski shop. On the contrary, reversing a boot that is too big is not as easy of a fix. Similarly, if your calf is too large or constricted, try loosening your top buckle, which doesn't need to be overly tight if your second-from-the-top buckle is correctly snug.
Talk to your Curated Skiing Expert to learn more about boots and fit!