Why Do My Ski Boots Hurt? The 5 Rules for Wearing Ski Boots

Hunting for new ski boots that don’t hurt can be a daunting task, but don’t give up! By following these five rules, you can avoid a winter of sad toes.

Someone sits and bends over to put on their ski boots.

The Lange RX 130 Boots. Photo courtesy of Lange

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Ski season is right around the corner! While that's mostly exciting, if you are like many skiers, there is also a pang of anxiety when you think about the pain of shoving your feet back into your ski boots again. But don’t worry! By following these five rules, you can avoid a winter full of sad toes and tear-stained goggles.

Rule 1: Make sure they fit properly

It may seem obvious, but a poor-fitting boot is the main cause of foot pain when wearing ski boots. Many people who are teetering between two sizes end up going with the larger size, thinking that since it’s more roomy, it will be more comfortable. And in some ways, it might be, but it will end up causing different, worse problems. You can work with boots that are a little too small. When you have boots that are a little too big, you don't really have any options.

When you are skiing, your boot should move with your foot as one unit. If your foot is moving around inside the boot, you are going to have way less control over your skis and will be spending more energy trying to gain that control. Room for your foot to move around will also lead to bruised or blistered heels or toes.

If your boots are too loose around your shin, you are going to get shinbang, which is when your shins are hitting the front of your boot constantly and it feels like there are just large bruises where your shins used to be. These issues will be pretty immediate but will continue to get worse and worse as time goes on because your liners will pack out a bit, which will lead to your boots being even roomier (more about this on Rule 3).

It can be hard when hunting for new boots — especially when it’s your first pair — to know if they are actually too small, or if they feel too small but are actually perfect, so here are a few rules of fit to abide by when you are in that initial trying-on phase:

  • Use a ski-specific sock.
  • Only have the sock in the boot, keep the bottom of your pants out of there.
  • When you first put the boot on, your toes should touch the end and it should feel like the boots are a half-size too small.
  • As you buckle them and bend forward slightly, your toes should still be touching the end but be comfortable when flexed forward.
  • When you flex forward into ski position, you shouldn't feel any heel lift or much back and forth movement of the heel.
  • You should not be able to roll your foot from side to side.
  • Make sure you can only fit two fingers down the back of your boot.
  • The boot should feel as tight-fitting and snug as possible without crushing your foot or cutting off circulation anywhere.
  • Wear the boots around for a half-hour (in the store or at your house if shopping online) to make sure there's no numbness or pressure on any nerves.
A man stands in his boots and skis and looks down at the snow while planting his poles in the ground.

Photo by Jake Heidecker

Pro tip: They should be uncomfortable when you are standing straight upright, since they are made for skiing, and that's not how you will be standing when you are skiing. So make sure you are bending your knees as you are going through this testing process!

It’s also important to note that some boot manufacturers tend to run wider in the footbed, while others run more narrow. So if one brand feels like it isn’t working width-wise, try a different brand entirely and see if that helps! Similar story if you have wider calves; there are a lot of boots that have a wider cuff specifically to accommodate!

Rule 2: Wear proper socks

Ski socks are made specifically for being in ski boots. They have extra padding in certain spots that you put a lot of pressure on during a day of skiing to be more comfortable in those areas (your shins, the bottom of the foot, especially under the ball of the foot, and your heels). Normally, these socks will even have specific left and right socks to be more precise with that padding.

Another important feature of ski socks is the material they are made out of. The most common you will see is merino wool. Merino is awesome for a few reasons, including its sweat-wicking properties, its odor resistance, and its ability to keep in heat even when it's wet. There are also some awesome synthetic options that have similar properties, but the main story is no cotton socks.

Lastly, ski socks often act as compression socks, which increase blood flow and help with muscle cramps. Ski socks can be a bit more expensive than many other types of socks, but they'll be way less expensive than getting a custom ski boot. Not to mention, they solve a majority of issues that people have even with well-fitting ski boots. Well worth the investment!

Here are a few of my favorites: Icebreaker Medium Cushion Ski Sock and Smartwool Performance Ski Targeted Cushion Socks

Rule 3: Heat mold your boot liners

A line of ski boots in a store.

Photo by jarmoluk

I heat molded my boot liners for the first time a few years ago, and I will do it with every new ski boot I buy from here on out. Here’s why: boot liners have cushioning. Over time, as you ski in your boots, the tighter, more high-use areas will pack out a bit, meaning that the liner will compress, making it thinner in some spots. This will give you more room in those areas, taking a snug boot from being a bit on the uncomfortable side of snug to perfectly fitting. That can take time though and is a bit of an uncomfortable process. Heat molding your liners is a way of expediting that process.

Here's how it works: Take your ski boots to a ski shop and tell them you want the liners heat molded. They will remove the liners and put them on a liner heater for about 30 minutes. As they are heating up, the boot fitter will put a little rubber cap over your toes and any other spot of discomfort in the boot. Then, you will put your foot back inside the boot and the heated liner will compress in those areas under the pressure of the rubber pieces you’re wearing. This service costs around $50 to $80 and takes less than an hour.

In some boots, there is also the possibility of heat molding the shell of the boot (the plastic part). Many boot shells are too thin to do so and many shops don't have the tools for that, so check ahead of time. However, some boots coming out now, such as the Salomon S/Max series, are designed specifically with shell molding in mind.

Rule 4: Start the day off right

Keep your boots warm the night before. Don’t allow any possibility of your socks getting wet before they go into your boots. Make sure your sock isn’t bunched up in your boot and keep the bottom of your base layers out of there. Also, make sure the tongue is inside the liner and realigned correctly before buckling anything. Lightly buckle everything first, do a few forward flexes, and tighten those buckles to ensure you have a good fit.

Use that Velcro power strap at the top of the boot and make sure it's tight enough. You can tighten it throughout the day if need be and unbuckle in long lift lines, on lifts, and in the lodge so the blood flow to your feet is a little better (it’ll also keep them warmer). If you get a foot cramp, take a short break inside and try to massage it out early on so it doesn't get worse. Getting careless about buckling, bunched-up socks, and the like is going to lead to avoidable pressure points and make your ski day less enjoyable, so it’s worth paying attention to.

Rule 5: Don’t settle for an uncomfortable foot

A woman tightens her Rossignol ski boot.

The Rossignol Alltrack Elite 110 Women's Boots. Photo by Blake Jorgenson for Rossignol

Boots are perhaps the most important piece of gear you can spend time on getting dialed-in perfectly. It’s what controls your ski and is the most common discomfort complaint I hear from skiers. Don’t settle on something that isn’t working. Luckily, you shouldn’t have to. There are a lot of different brands, fits, and options for customization post-purchase. Ski boots have come a long way and every year they get better. It has never been easier to find a ski boot that is comfortable!

Other Customizations

Here are a few more post-purchase customizations you may want to look into if you have something specific that is making it difficult to find a boot that doesn’t hurt!

Insoles

If you have high arches or a flat foot, it’s a great idea to invest in insoles early on so you don't have issues with plantar fasciitis or foot muscle fatigue. There are a range of different options, from the cheaper side of standard cut-to-fit insoles to more expensive fully custom insoles.

Custom Boot Liners

If a custom insole or a custom footbed isn’t enough, there are a lot of companies that make custom liners. The most popular is Intuition Liners and the brand offers a variety of different options for people who have tried everything and still can’t make their feet happy on the slopes.

Boot Heaters

If your chief discomfort complaint while skiing is cold feet, there are some great options for boot heaters or heated socks as well. I don’t usually recommend these right off the bat, as I think most warmth issues can be solved with a thicker sock and unbuckling your boots more religiously on lifts, but they are a great option for some! One thing I caution people about when I do recommend them is that once you invest in these, you’ll have a tendency to use them all the time. That works in a similar way to heat molding in that it will pack your boot out fast but less selectively.

Hunting for new boots that don’t hurt can be a daunting task, but don’t give up! If you are still unsure, ask one of the Ski Experts here on Curated and we can offer more guidance!

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Hey there! My name is Hunter and I grew up in Ogden, Utah - one of the most underrated places for skiing IMO (but shh don't tell your friends). I considered leaving the state for college for all of five minutes until I realized the access to skiing, climbing, etc. in Utah is unparalleled. So I just...

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