Expert Review: Fischer Ranger Free 130 Ski Boots
This review is my honest opinion of the boots which I purchased with my own money in January of 2021.
About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the boots which I purchased with my own money in January of 2021.
The Fischer Ranger Free 130 is the latest entry in the arena of hybrid resort/touring boots. It is geared toward advanced skiers looking for a lighter boot for touring uphill without sacrificing the stiffness and aggressiveness of a dedicated resort boot.
About the gear
- Model: 2021 Fischer Ranger Free 120
- Size: 28.5
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 200 lbs
- Street shoe size: Men’s 12
- Experience: 25+ years of skiing
- When I bought these: January 2021
- Days tested: 100+ days
- Skis: Blizzard Zero G 108 and K2 Wayback 106
- Bindings: Salomon MTN Tour
- Where I’ve used it: Utah, Wyoming, and Alaska Backcountry
- Terrain: Advanced and expert terrain in both backcountry, trees, couloirs, steeps, and powder
How it performs
What I was looking for
As backcountry gear improves with new technology, I am constantly looking for light, comfortable boots that allow me to walk uphill all day in the backcountry, but then allow me to ski as fast and aggressively as I do in the resort—a tall order indeed.
Why I chose this gear
I happened to be looking for a new touring boot at the right time. Touring and backcountry skiing has been exploding in popularity, and while once the domain of smaller, more specialized brands, such as Dynafit and Scarpa, the big, heavyweight ski brands are now jumping into the fray. Fischer has half a century’s worth of sterling reputation in ski and boot craftsmanship and design, and I was eager to see what new engineering they could bring to a touring boot. I had also heard good things about the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, but my foot shape does not always adhere well to Tecnica shells.
What I love about it
- Accuracy of Claimed Stiffness: Fischer rates the Ranger Free in the 130 category, putting it right up there with some of the stiffest boots on the market. Weighing in at 200 lbs, the stiffness is one of the factors that drew me to this boot. Unfortunately, stiffness ratings in boots are unregulated and very ambiguous, but as far as touring boots go, the Ranger is certainly one of the stiffest I’ve skied, though there are stiffer touring boots on the market, such as the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130. That being said, I found that during warm spring days, the Ranger Free shell softened and was not as stiff as during cold days, requiring me to adjust my skiing style—this is no doubt due to the use of Grilamid in the shell, which is a more malleable material.
- Accuracy of Claimed Fit: Coming from a racing background, I like my boots tight, so I tend to size down. I would fit comfortably in a 29.5, but often purchase a 28.5. I have found the Ranger Free to be very comfortable in size, and have had no problems regarding my toes hitting the front of the boot or my heel slipping out of the pocket. I do have wider feet, and the Ranger Free boasts a 99mm last, so I did have to punch out at the base of my big toes.
- Comfort: Overall, the Ranger Free offers a very comfortable and almost plush feel, which is saying a lot for such a high performance ski boot. The heel pocket conforms nicely to the shell and I’ve had no issues with my heel pulling free. Fischer also did a great job with the liner—it is plush enough to keep my feet not only comfy, but warm. I skied the highest point in North America, Denali, in the Ranger Frees, and my feet hardly ever felt cold during my whole trip.
- Weight: The weight for the Ranger Free 130 falls in the Pro column. As Fischer touts this as a touring boot capable of skiing like a resort boot, it is impressively lightweight and very easy to lug up a mountain while touring. With the 26.5 size weighing in at 1555g, the Ranger is shockingly close in weight to more dedicated touring boots, such as the Scarpa Maestrale XT. I find I can tour all day in the Ranger Free and my legs never feel fatigued, which is quite astounding for a stiffer, four-buckle boot.
- Ease of use: Because the Ranger Free is designed to ski like a dedicated resort boot but is built with softer material in order to lighten it for touring, I’ve found it much easier to get on and off than a resort boot. However, there are many dedicated touring boots that are easier to get on and off than the Ranger Free. Because this is designed as a hybrid boot, I feel it is exactly where it should be on the spectrum—not too hard, but not overly easy.
- Backcountry: Even though the Ranger Free is designed to ski well both in the resort and the backcountry, I’ve found it to be much more inspiring in the backcountry. It is certainly not the lightest boot, but it is impressively stiff and responsive for how light it is, whereas lighter touring boots often feel like mush when forced to ski aggressively. The Ranger Free’s walk mode also pales in comparison to other lighter touring boots, but I feel this is a fair trade off for having a boot that I can ski aggressively. Overall, I feel this boot performs admirably in the backcountry, allowing me to ski confidently in any type of conditions.
- Adjustability: The Ranger has been relatively easy to adjust. There are multiple holes in the shell allowing me to move the buckles to different locations to accommodate my thinner calves. Likewise, I wore through the GripWalk soles after two seasons, but it was very easy to remove and replace them with new soles.
- Grip: The Ranger Free utilizes GripWalk soles, which offer much more friction than regular alpine soles. They have provided superior grip on most surfaces, whether that be in the parking lot or scrambling up alpine ridges. It seems that most boots in the future will be moving toward GripWalk, so Fischer is ahead of the curve on this one.
- Durability: I ski a lot, and I have run my Ranger Frees through the wringer. Backcountry skiing is much harder on gear than normal resort skiing: my gear is constantly being put under pressure for multiple hours at a time. Through all that, my Rangers have held up incredibly well. All the buckles still work properly, the liner has zero holes, and the power strap is still intact. Beside me swapping out the GripWalk soles, these are the same boots I purchased.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Flex: The Ranger Free 130 has a very long, linear flex compared to other stiff boots in the 130 category. While many boots are immediately stiff, I’ve found I can lean into the Ranger quite a bit before I find the stiffest range. While some skiers might be attracted to so much forward flexion, the long range of the flex can be a bit disconcerting. The long flex can feel a little loose and sometimes does not allow me to drive the ski the way I like. This range of motion can work very well for average or lighter weight skiers, but can be a bit difficult for heavier, more aggressive skiers.
- Resort: While Fischer markets the Ranger Free 130 as a hybrid resort/touring boot, it does not quite reach the lofty heights of a dedicated resort boot. While skiing in the resort, the Ranger feels just a bit too soft and a bit too sloppy for my tastes. The Grilamid shell tends to cave under very aggressive skiing, leaving me with weak ankles at the apex of a big turn.
- Park: The Ranger Free 130 is definitely not stout enough to be doing anything in the park—I would not recommend!
- Walk mode: If I have one major point of contention with the Ranger Free, it is the Walk Mode mechanism. While many manufacturers are opting for an external, spring-loaded walk mechanism, Fischer went the route of an internal mechanism. At first glance, it seems impressive: I can flip from Walk Mode to Ski Mode with the simple flick of a small level that lies flush to the boot underneath the top buckle. It is simple and highly efficient. However, a different story arises once out in the mountains. I have found that snow and ice can quickly build up inside the internal mechanism, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to engage Ski Mode. There is nothing more frustrating than hiking to the top of a ski line and being unable to put your boots in Ski Mode. While the internal design is revolutionary, more thought is needed in the future.
- Hot spots: I have experienced issues with hot spots on the inside of my foot, near the base of my big toe. I attributed this to my wider feet coupled with the constant friction of touring in these boots. I took them back to a fitter and he was easily able to punch out room in each boot, which mitigated the hot spot.
Favorite moment with this gear
My most memorable moment on my Fischer Ranger Free 130s was climbing with them to the very top of North America, Denali (20,310’) and then skiing 6,000 vertical feet back to my tent. On such a long and strenuous objective, most skiers opt for lighter and more climbing-friendly boots, but I opted for the more robust, skier-friendly Rangers and they did not disappoint. I skied off the summit under a glowing midnight sun and was able to lay down confident and aggressive turns all the way down one of the most impressive mountains on Earth. Take me back!
Value for the money vs. other options
For a hybrid resort/backcountry boot, the Ranger Free 130 is a great bang for your buck. It offers the stiffness of a resort boot, but is as lightweight and user-friendly as most dedicated touring boots. In terms of value, the Ranger is more affordable than many other options, such as the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130 or the Salomon Shift Pro 130, while essentially filling the same niche.
While Fischer still has some design kinks to work out, the Ranger Free 130 is a great option for skiers looking for a stiff, aggressive touring boot that they can ski confidently in any snow conditions and any kind of terrain.