Best Backcountry Ski Boots of 2022



Published Jun 22, 2022 12:33 PM

With the explosion of interest in backcountry skiing has come an explosion of research and development from ski boot brands into developing ever-lighter and higher-performing boots for the off-piste explorer. The backcountry ski boots of a decade ago are outdated relics today thanks to an expansion of both the quality and design of boots as well as the breadth of offerings. 

Today, if you’re interested in getting away from the resorts, you can get an ultralight, low-profile boot best for touring that makes covering ground uphill faster and easier—or you can get burly downhill-oriented boots that rival the performance of top-of-the-line alpine boots. You can even get boots that do double-duty working well in both the backcountry and at resorts.

But like purchasing any ski gear, there’s no one size fits all and the wealth of offerings (and high sticker prices) makes decisions even tougher. Luckily, we’re here to help and have highlighted selections in a wide range of ski-boot styles and provide advice along the way to help you choose the best backcountry ski boots that are right for you.

Things to Consider Before Buying Backcountry Ski Boots

The decision of which boots to buy used to be straightforward, as there were only a few (mostly European) companies that made boots for the sport. Today, most major ski boot manufacturers have dipped their toes into the backcountry waters. You can narrow your decision down quickly, however, by considering a few big questions about your feet, your skiing style, and how and where you intend to use the boots.

Boot Size and Fit

No matter what features and specs a boot has, the most important aspect of a backcountry ski boot is the fit. While professional bootfitting can adapt boots well to your feet, it’s a good idea to start with a shell and liner that both fit reasonably well out of the box. If you have access to a good local ski shop (or can visit one while traveling), it’s worth your time to walk in and try on as many boots as you can in person.

A good ski boot fit is a snug ski boot fit, but you may want to go a bit wider and roomier than your normal resort boots. Feet can swell while going uphill and hotspots and pinch points quickly become problems as your feet sweat and move while moving uphill. Manufacturers tend to address this in their design and toe boxes on touring boots are usually much roomier than alpine boots and lasts tend to be wider as well.

Warmth

In general, backcountry ski boots offer less insulation and thinner liners so you might initially be concerned about warmth in your touring boots. Brands compromise on the plushness and insulation to save weight, but they also know that cold feet when touring isn’t nearly the problem it is when riding chairlifts. Most of your time backcountry skiing is spent climbing and the exertion and blood flow tend to keep your extremities warm. Of course, feet can get cold quickly on the downhill or even when standing around or transitioning, so if you have issues with circulation and cold feet when touring, ensure you have a proper fit and consider taking the weight penalty to get custom heated boot liners for your backcountry boots.

Skill Level

Most backcountry skiers come to the sport after at least a few years skiing resorts and, as a result, are generally at least intermediate skiers. Manufacturers realize this and skew their offerings toward more expert skiers and there aren’t a lot of soft, flexible, comfortable boots aimed at beginners. (See our Best for Beginners pick below for one option.)

More and more companies are offering downhill-first boots that have expert-level stiffness, but if you mostly ski mellow terrain, those boots may be unnecessarily heavy, expensive, or uncomfortable compared to softer-flex options that might be adequate even if you are an expert-level skier. 

Likewise, it’s easy to get caught up in looking for the lightest boots around (going uphill isn’t easy for anyone), but if most of your touring consists of short jaunts into the backcountry, those few grams saved are probably not going to change your experience much. Be honest with yourself about where you intend to ski and choose a boot that meets your needs but doesn’t exceed them.

Resort and/or Backcountry?

Where you intend to ski is another big factor that can direct your backcountry boot-buying decision process. If you’re new to the backcountry, or to skiing in general, you may want to look at getting a “50/50” boot designed to be used both at the resort in alpine bindings and in the backcountry using tech fittings on the same boot. These boots are often a bit heavier and lean closer to being an alpine boot, but they include the tech you need to be able to go for a ski tour. 

Both alpine and backcountry boots are expensive, so the option to buy only one pair of boots is attractive to many people, especially newcomers to the sport who may already be experiencing sticker shock. You’ll likely make some compromises in performance in one or both of the resort and backcountry environments, but the savings and simplicity make that easier to swallow.

If you intend to ski all or mostly backcountry terrain, you likely will want a dedicated touring boot that will have a more forgiving uphill mode and be lighter. Within that category, however, the terrain you’re skiing and how you ski will dictate the type of boot you’re considering. If you’re covering long distances on your tours and you value speed, you’ll likely want to look at boots that weigh less than 1500 grams, have a lower cuff, and generally aren’t as stiff as the downhill-oriented boots. If your mindset is “suffer up to have fun going down,” you may want to look at one of the many alpine-style touring boots that offer expert-level stiffness and are generally heavier.

Best Overall

Why It Made the Cut

The Maestrales offer a familiar alpine boot feel that makes the transition to the backcountry easy but are light enough for most experienced tourers as well.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1451g
  • Flex Rating: 125
  • Last: 101mm

Pros

  • Comfortable Intuition liner
  • Unique buckling systems
  • Good downhill performance

Cons

The current design of the Maestrales has changed very little over the past five iterations despite all the new offerings in the backcountry boot space, and that’s with good reason. The Maestrales are not quite as stiff as some of the newer 130 flex boots but I consider that a good thing for most backcountry skiers. The flex is progressive and responds more like an alpine boot than many of the “light-and-stiff” boots I’ve tried. The Intuition liners are also more familiar and comfortable than the sparse, weight-shavers you get in many (slightly) lighter boots. Overall, the Maestrales are a great first boot for someone transitioning into the backcountry from the resort, but they’re also loved by plenty of longtime “off-pisters.” There’s a reason they’re one of the best-selling touring boots in the world.

Best Lightweight

Why It Made The Cut

The Dalbello Quantum Asolo boots shave weight without departing too far from what resort skiers expect from a ski boot thanks to smart design and space-age materials.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1060g
  • Flex Rating: Medium (not stated)
  • Last: 99mm

Pros

  • Ultralight
  • Simple, quick closure
  • Fast transitions

Cons

  • Challenging for new backcountry skiers to ski well

If you’re pursuing backcountry skiing for the fitness, there are lots of boot options that prioritize the uphill and speed in both touring and transitioning from one mode to another. The Dalbello Quantum Asolo boots stand out in this category for retaining a bit more downhill performance. They’re not going to provide anywhere near the stiffness of an expert alpine boot, but skilled skiers will have no problem driving this boot in most terrain, and the one kilo weight per boot means you can log big missions without feeling like you’re dragging around ankle weights.

Best Resort and Backcountry (50/50)

Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130 Ski Boots are the best resort and backcountry (50/50) ski boots.

Why It Made The Cut

The Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130s deliver a true alpine boot feel for those who want a boot to do double-duty in the backcountry and at the resort, or who just don’t want to compromise on downhill experience when touring.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1647g
  • Flex Rating: 130
  • Last: 100mm

Pros

  • Snug, performance fit
  • Progressive flex

Cons

  • Too heavy/stiff for more casual tourers

I tested the Hawx Prime XTD 130s last winter and, unlike most touring boots, had no reservations about going full bore at the resort in these boots. While they don’t quite have the mass and responsiveness of my heavy, expert alpine ski boots, the performance differences are minor and will be hard to notice for most, especially if you ski these boots 100 percent of the time. Instead of having a dedicated backcountry and resort boot, most backcountry skiers who still spend a lot of time at the resort will be happy using these inbounds and for all but the longest tours, where the weight may become a factor. If you have a narrower foot, Atomic also makes this same boot in their Ultra line which offers a more snug, 98mm last. You can also get both lines in softer flex versions and women’s-specific models. Note: The Hawx Prime XTDs are only compatible with GripWalk-ready alpine bindings so be sure your alpine ski bindings can accept GripWalk soles before dropping in on these boots.

Best Women’s

Why It Made the Cut

The Scarpa Geas feature the same great liner and downhill performance of our top overall pick the Scarpa Maestrale, but offer women’s-specific anatomical build in shell and liner and a slightly softer flex for lighter skiers.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1250g
  • Flex Rating: 100
  • Last: 101mm

Pros

  • Women’s-specific fit
  • Moderate flex 
  • Innovative closure systems

Cons

  • Expert skiers may want more stiffness

The medium 100 flex of the Geas aren’t just dumbing down the unisex Maestrales; they account for the fact that women generally are significantly lighter than men and may not have the mass to truly drive a 125-flex ski boot. The cuff is lower to account for women’s different calf shape (again, in general), but the design of the boot is the same and retains the unique closure systems that I love from the Maestrales. Larger folks may prefer the stiffness and support of the Maestrales, but the Geas offer a lighter, softer alternative designed with women in mind.

Best for Beginners

K2 Mindbender 100 Ski Boots are the best backcountry ski boots for beginners.

Why It Made the Cut

There aren’t many entry-level options in the backcountry ski boot category, but the K2 Mindbenders offer a familiar feel and friendly price point to match.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1700g
  • Flex Rating: 100
  • Last: 100mm

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Comfortable liners
  • Good for resort riding as well

Cons

There aren’t many beginner skiers trying to break into the backcountry, but as more skiers realize they have the option, it’s not just expert skiers touring anymore. K2 is one of few companies that have stepped in with a softer-flex option with a familiar alpine-boot feel for intermediate skiers. The shell and Luxfit liner combo are substantial enough to not require too much adjustment in skiing style but they’re light enough to not destroy you on the ascent, either. They’re also fully heat-moldable and can be adjusted by a bootfitter even further if need be. The price point and the fact that they’re compatible with certain alpine bindings mean that you can save some loot by purchasing a single pair of boots, which helps ease the blow of a costly initial backcountry ski setup.

Best for Experts

Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro Ski Boots are the best backcountry ski boots for experts.

Why It Made the Cut

The Zero G Tour Pros are one of the first boots to deliver maximum stiffness for expert skiers while keeping the weight low and the touring capabilities high.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 1320g
  • Flex Rating: 130
  • Last: 99mm

Pros

  • Great power transfer
  • Incredible weight-to-stiffness ratio
  • Performance last width

Cons

I’ve skied this boot the past two winters and I’ve yet to find its weakness. While the flex isn’t as progressive as my alpine Tecnica boots, and they obviously lack the mass of a solid pair of alpine boots, they deliver the stiffness experts demand in high-consequence terrain and they’re light enough on the uphill for even the longest missions (unless you’re racing skimo). The Zero G Tour Pros also have a narrower last than most touring boots which help deliver a performance fit, just make sure to take them to an expert bootfitter and try them on in advance if you can. The snug fit makes them harder to fit right for a comfortable up and down, and they’re not going to be right for everyone.

Best for Wide Feet

Salomon MTN Explore Ski Boots are the best backcountry ski boots for wide feet.

Why It Made The Cut

The highly moldable shell and comfortable, customizable liner offer those with wider feet the option to expand the boots just enough to fit right.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): Not listed
  • Flex Rating: 75
  • Ability Level: Beginner

Pros

  • Wide latitude for adjusting fit
  • Comfortable liner

Cons

  • Softer flex than most expert skiers want

Because touring boots generally have wider lasts than alpine boots to allow for a more comfortable uphill experience, skiers with wide feet have more options when shopping for backcountry boots. What the Salomon MTN Explore boots offer, however, is the ability to customize the width and the overall fit in an incredible range from 98 to 104mm. Because the starting point is fairly narrow, almost everyone will need to heat-mold these boots, and we recommend taking them to a professional bootfitter. While the priority for those with wider feet may be to accommodate width, professional bootfitting on the Custom Shell HD means only making the boot wider where it needs to be and keeping a snug fit overall. Likewise, the My Custom Fit 3D Freetouring Liner is cushy, customizable, and longer-lasting than other spartan touring liners. The 100 flex rating will be too soft for some aggressive backcountry skiers, but provides maximum comfort for wider feet than may have struggled to find a proper fit in the past.

Best for Speed Touring & Racing: La Sportiva Stratos V Ski Touring Boots

Why It Made the Cut

These streamlined beginner kids’ boots help dodge the hassles of getting kids booted up and skiing by limited the boot to two easy-to-use buckles. Aimed at young, beginner skiers, the boots are affordable enough to be replaced when kids grow out of them.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 575g
  • Flex Rating: Not listed
  • Last: 103.5

Pros

  • Pro race features
  • Extreme ultralight

Cons

If you’re a skimo racer or just want the absolute pinnacle of high-tech in your touring boots, La Sportiva spared no expense in making the race-oriented Stratos V. These boots are ludicrously lightweight at under 600 grams. For perspective, that’s less than half the weight of most of the other boots I’ve featured here and that’s because these are aimed at hardcore ski mountaineering racers who will be happy to pay nearly $2000 for a boot where La Sportiva has stripped away every unnecessary gram of weight by using the latest materials and barebones design. If you’re a casual backcountry skier, these aren’t for you, but if you know what these offer already and have the budget, they just might be.

Best for Nordic Backcountry

Alpina Sports Montana Nordic Backcountry Ski Boots are the best for nordic backcountry.

Why It Made the Cut

The hiking-boot style delivers familiar comfort yet enough support and structure for the mild descents of nordic backcountry skiing.

Key Features

  • Weight (per boot): 784g
  • Flex Rating: Medium
  • Last: Not listed

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Extreme ultralight
  • Attractive leather upper

Cons

Backcountry skiing isn’t for everyone and I’ve seen plenty of would-be ski tourers scale down the vertical and take up some version of cross-country skiing. Nordic backcountry (indicated in the gear by the NNN BC binding/sole standard) falls somewhere between the long, skinny skis of traditional nordic skiing and what most people picture when they hear “backcountry skiing.” The skis are generally much wider than normal nordic skis and they may or may not come with skins or built-in scales to help on the ascents. The hiking boot stylings of the Alpina Montana are a great entry point into the sport. The thick sole has a robust bar at the toe that engages with the bindings and can stand up to some off-the-beaten path exploration. And, not for nothing, the boots look much more casual and cool than most nordic skiing boots.

How I Made My Picks

For this article, I considered most of the widely available European and North American ski boot brands that are producing touring boots—though that list is getting longer each year. I recommended boots based on my personal experience with those models including hands-on testing of many of the boots while skiing both in and out of bounds in the Mountain West. I also spoke to fellow backcountry skiers, brand representatives, and shop owners to understand where the boots fit into the market.

FAQs

Q: How stiff should backcountry boots be?

Historically, alpine touring boots have been generally far softer in their flex than alpine boots. A decade ago, it was much harder to find touring boots that offered anything close to the stiffness of an expert alpine ski boot. Today, your options range from light, flexible, and comfortable to 130 flex boots meant to perform on par with alpine boots on the downhill.

The level of stiffness you want in your backcountry boots depends on the way you ski off-piste. Many new backcountry skiers may start out with a more affordable, softer touring boot and find the downhill performance isn’t what they’re used to having at the resort. Some skiers adjust their expectations and ski more conservatively in the backcountry and are able to learn to ski a softer boot just as well within some constraints. If you don’t want to compromise on your downhill performance, you’ll want to look for a stiffer boot that mimics the design and behavior of an alpine boot in a lighter package.

Q: How much do backcountry ski boots cost?

Ski boots generally are one of the most expensive pieces of ski gear, and backcountry ski boots are more expensive than alpine boots. There isn’t a robust beginner/budget category within the backcountry ski boot industry in part because it takes more design and high-tech materials to deliver performance at lighter weights and in part because most backcountry skiers are already at least intermediate skiers. This pushes the range of prices higher and you can expect to pay at least $500 for a pair, though end of season sales are a great way to get deals on the previous year’s models.

Q: Can a backcountry ski boot be used with snowshoes?

Short answer: no. The strap systems created to hold most modern snowshoes onto your feet are designed with some kind of hiking, mountaineering, or winter boot in mind. You want a boot that’s fairly stiff with some structure, but because of the exertion, you also want something breathable. A flexible hiking boot-style boot permits a natural stride and athletic movements. If you are getting into more serious terrain, a rigid mountaineering boot may be a good idea, but backcountry ski boots will be far heavier and stiffer than you want for snowshoeing.

Q: Should you size down in backcountry ski boots?

Backcountry ski boots should fit similarly to your alpine ski boots and, if anything, be a bit roomier. While I personally like a very tight fitting alpine boot, I sometimes have to go up a half-size to make sure I’m not smashing my toes with each stride on the uphill in my backcountry boots. As with any ski boot, your best bet for ensuring a proper fit is to visit an experienced bootfitter with a wide selection of touring boot options and try on as many strong candidates as you can.

Q: Will backcountry ski boots work in downhill ski bindings?

More and more backcountry ski boots are being made that offer dual compatibility with both tech or “pin” bindings common in the backcountry as well as some types of alpine ski bindings. Because there are multiple alpine binding standards, many touring boots that offer alpine compatibility may only work with certain bindings such as GripWalk compatible bindings. Your best bet is to check with a certified technician or contact the seller of the boots to double check which binding standards a particular pair of boots’ soles are compatible with. 

If you are a regular backcountry skier, it’s probably worth getting a dedicated pair of touring boots rather than accepting the compromises that usually come with choosing one pair of boots for both resort and backcountry skiing. The best candidates for a “50/50” style boot are folks new to the backcountry who want the option to take their boots touring, but want to prioritize downhill performance.

Final Thoughts

Building a backcountry ski setup can be an expensive commitment and the decision shouldn’t be made lightly as it isn’t usually possible to return ski boots you’ve worn in the field. When possible, demo or rent boots you’re considering that you haven’t tried before. For most people, I recommend the Scarpa Maestrales (or a similar style of touring boot if the Maestrales don’t fit your foot shape well). They offer a level of comfort and downhill performance that is close to what skiers are used to in alpine boots while having enough backcountry-specific specs and features to address the different requirements of touring such as a lighter weight and great range of motion in touring mode.



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