No matter your ability level, a comfortable boot is an absolute necessity. Nothing ruins a good powder day faster than cold or painful feet, and ill-fitting boots also run the risk of not properly transferring energy to your skis and thereby harming your performance. Amid this doom and gloom, however, is the welcome news that ski boots have never been more foot-friendly than they are today. Most new boots have customizable liners and some even come with heat-customizable shells. Below are our picks for the best downhill ski boots of 2016-2017, ranked from our favorite performance options down to quality beginner choices. To complete your alpine kit, check out our articles on the best all-mountain skis and ski bindings.
Last: 100 mm (medium width)
Flex: 120 (advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 100, 130
What we like: Successful all-mountain adaptation of a downhill racing boot.
What we don’t: Steep price tag.
Women’s: Lange RX 110 W
For advanced skiers looking for the ultimate in performance, we like the stellar RX 120 from Lange. Inspired by their race-bred RS boots, which is evident in the burly 4 buckles and cam locking power strap, the new Lange 120 RX is a stiff, aggressive boot that responds precisely to small inputs. It will make demanding skiers quite happy, from former racers to serious up-and-comers and just about everyone in between. And the RX adds all-mountain flair to its downhill performance with swappable soles for hiking. If you can afford the $600 price tag, it’s the real deal. For heavier skiers and those that really like to rip it, the Lange RX is available in a 130 flex and a 130 Low Volume version with a 97mm width. And you can step down in stiffness to the Lange RX 100 as well.
See the Lange RX 120
Last: 98 or 100mm (narrow to medium width)
Flex: 120 (advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 90, 100, 130
What we like: Top-end fit customization and comfort.
What we don’t: Doesn’t connect you as well to the skis as the Lange.
Women's: Tecnica Mach 1 95 W
A lot of brands tout fit customization as a key feature of their boots, but few go as far as Tecnica. Their Mach 1 boots are a great case in point. Built to match the anatomical shape of your foot better than anything else on the market, you get a highly customizable liner and shell that can be punched, grinded and all-around manipulated by a bootfitter. The rest of the boot is no slouch either, with a natural stance and excellent power transfer in either the 130 or 120 stiffness models that falls only a little short of our favorite, the Lange RX above. And as a reflection of a greater market emphasis on medium volume boots, the Mach 1 120 is offered in either a medium width (100mm last) or low volume (98mm).
See the Tecnica Mach 1 120
Last: 100 mm (medium width)
Flex: 100 (intermediate/advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 80, 120, 130
What we like: Awesome heat moldable shell.
What we don’t: Those that require maximum stiffness should look elsewhere.
Women’s: Salomon X Pro 80 W
There have been a number of recent innovations in ski boot design, but outside of advances in safety, a heat moldable shell tops the list for us. It delivers 90% of the fit and comfort that used to require a big money bootfitter, and all that’s needed is a ski shop with an oven. The highly customizable shell found in Salomon’s X Pro 100 is one of our favorites. Referred to as a 360-degree custom boot, the X Pro can be manipulated in all directions around the foot. The boot itself has a downhill focus and has been lauded for its support and smooth forward flex. Advanced or powerful downhillers may want to look into the upgraded 120 or 130 flex models, but we think the mid-range X Pro 100 is a great choice for advancing intermediate skiers that spend more of their time carving the groomers.
See the Salomon X Pro 100
Last: 100mm and 102mm (medium and wide width)
Flex: 110 (intermediate to advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 130
What we like: A nice combination of power and comfort.
What we don’t: Not for narrow feet.
Women’s: K2 Spyre 100
A 110 flex is just right for many resort skiers, and combined with middle-of-the-road 100mm and 102mm width options, you’ve got yourself one of the most versatile boots on this list. The Spyne is made in a 130 flex as well for hard chargers and heavier skiers, but this version still is moderately stiff and fosters good, powerful turns. The PowerFuse Spyne, after which the boot was named, adds rigidity and allows for the use of lighter materials elsewhere. And we really like the comfort level offered by K2, which is aided by a quality liner and buckles that are smooth and even around the foot.
It’s worth noting that K2 still is relatively new to the ski boot world—the Spyne 130 was first released two years ago and the Spyne 110 is new for this year—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This line of boots is unique in that it did not evolve from racing boots and therefore has modern features created specifically for all-mountain skiing.
See the K2 Spyne 110
Last: 100-102 mm (variable fit and medium width)
Flex: 130 (advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 120
What we like: Supremely supportive with a comfy liner.
What we don’t: Fit technology isn’t a universal fix.
Women’s: Dalbello Kyra 95 I.D.
A great boot for skiers that cover all of the mountain, the Panterra is made with a slick 3-piece shell. The lower portion is super stiff for superior power transfer and a slightly more forgiving upper flexes smoothly when you tuck it and go. The upgraded I.D. liners are a real treat: comfortable, light and resistant to packing out, they land in that ideal space of warmth and support. Should you not have the option or not want to spring for a bootfitter, the liner and shell are designed to give a custom fit without any of the after-the-purchase work. Contour 4 Technology means the low-volume performance liner is given a little extra breathing space between liner and shell around the toes, and heel and bend in the foot and ankle. The result for most folks with normal sized feet is a snug fit that doesn’t pinch at the usual pain points. And at $600, it undercuts some of the competition quite nicely.
See the Dalbello Panterra 130 I.D.
Last: 99 mm (medium width)
Flex: 90 (intermediate skiers)
Other flexes: 100, 120
What we like: Great range of motion.
What we don’t: A little soft and flexy for a hard charger.
Women’s: Tecnica Cochise 85
Prized by bootfitters for being both comfortable and customizable, the Tecnica Cochise is a great value at $400. A medium-stiff boot with a flex rating of 90, it’s designed to be used both in-bounds and the backcountry. Indeed, the Cochise has a walk/tour mode and comes with both standard alpine soles and swappable tech binding soles. For 2016-2017, Tecnica has tweaked the design, bringing the last in 1mm (from 100mm) and upgrading the hike mode for even smoother operation. Some may prefer the stiffer 100 or 120 flex models for bombing down the hill, but for intermediate skiers that will appreciate the added mobility, the Cochise 90 is light, fun, and versatile.
See the Tecnica Cochise 90
Last: 100 mm (medium width)
Flex: 120 (advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 90, 100
What we like: High volume fit for performance-oriented skiers.
What we don’t: Logically is limiting for narrow feet.
Women’s: Atomic Hawx Prime 90
Proudly declaring the Hawx the most popular ski boot for medium-width feet, the Atomic Hawx Prime is a successful encore to the original. The big deal with this boot is the high volume fit that dishes out serious performance. It does the little things nicely with an adjustable forward lean that can be tailored to your angle preferences, a strong 4-buckle design, and replaceable soles should you take a short hike to find that elusive powder stash. Those looking for a regular fit boot may be better served with the Dalbello or Lange above, but if you’re a hardcharger that just can’t find a boot that keeps the blood flowing to every toe, the Hawx Prime may well be your ticket to comfort.
See the Atomic Hawx Prime 120
Last: 101 mm (medium width)
Flex: 100 (intermediate/advanced skiers)
Other flexes: 130
What we like: Strong but lightweight enough for sidecountry use.
What we don’t: Not a great fit for narrow feet.
Women’s: Atomic Waymaker Carbon 100
Incorporating advanced materials in an affordable package, the Atomic Waymaker Carbon 110 hits a nice balance for aspiring advanced-level skiers. The Waymaker has a tight heel pocket for those that struggle with heel retention, but is moderately wide in the toebox with a 101mm last. In addition, it has a unique zone of stretchable material built into the shell where lots of people have “sixth toe” issues, which basically negates the need to have a bootfitter stretch the shell manually. The Waymaker feels like it flexes softer than its 110 rating, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A walk/tour mode gives it 35 degrees of movement: just enough for skiers who primarily ski in the resort, but who want to tour to the goods beyond the ropes every once in a while.
See the Atomic Waymaker Carbon 110
Last: 102mm (wide width)
Flex: 100 (intermediate skiers)
Other flexes: 90, 120
What we like: A nice hybrid boot for downhill and touring.
What we don’t: Walk mode doesn’t flex as much as we would like.
Women’s: Rossignol Alltrack 80
Rossignol’s Alltrack line of boots is extensive and popular among skiers for doing just about everything well. We’ve picked the Alltrack 100 here, which is a nice option for intermediate skiers who stick mostly in bounds but may venture to other parts of the mountain on occasion. Rossignol plays up the walk mode function, which performs decently well but still falls behind the competition in terms of flex on the uphills. But at this price point, the Alltrack 100 is a solid boot for lighter skiers and those who want to start with short tours without taking the plunge on an expensive pair of specialty boots. And we like the comfort factor, which is cozy on the foot and lightly insulated for added warmth. For more flex options, the Alltrack series has two other models (90 and 120) and the narrower 100mm width Alltrack Pro line has four (100, 110, 120, and 130).
See the Rossignol Alltrack 100
Last: 104mm (wide width)
Flex: 90 (beginner/intermediate skiers)
Other flexes: 70, 80
What we like: The liner is made with a wool hybrid material for warmth.
What we don’t: Not for narrow feet.
Women’s: Salomon Quest Access 70
The Quest Access 90 is a solid beginner to intermediate boot from one of the most well respected brands in the business. One of our favorite features is the hike/ski switch on the back—when flipped to hike, the lower and upper cuff unlock to allow for normal upright walking, which is handy for schlepping gear from the parking lot or standing in the bar after a long day. The three-buckle design is simple to operate, and the liner is heat-moldable to customize fit before you head out. The 104mm last width is the widest in the Salomon lineup, and the Quest Access 90 is designed to work best with an average calf volume. A step up in terms of stiffness and overall quality from the Nordica Cruise below, this boot should serve progressing beginner and intermediate resort goers quite well.
See the Salomon Quest Access 90
Last: 99 mm (narrow width)
Flex: 6/10 (intermediate skiers)
Other flexes: None
What we like: Lightweight and versatile.
What we don’t: Buckle quality could be better.
Nothing is groundbreaking about the Full Tilt Classic, which is exactly why many people like it. This is Full Tilt’s original 3-piece shell and last with new some upgrades to the liner for 2016-2017, and it’s a nice all-around option for intermediate to advanced skiers with narrow feet. Full Tilt doesn’t use the same flex ratings as other manufacturers, but the Classic gets a 6 out of 10 for intermediate flex and good versatility all over the mountain. The lightweight materials allow for playfulness over moguls and in the park, but these boots can snap into turns when necessary (it’s right in line with Full Tilt’s freeride slant). With a $400 price tag, the buckles and liner aren’t as high end as some of the models above, but the Classic performs well and is a good value. And we love the simplicity: there just aren’t a lot of moving parts with this boot but it checks all the boxes.
See the Full Tilt Classic
Last: 104 mm (wide width)
Flex: 60 (beginner skiers)
Other flexes: 80, 110
What we like: Flexible, comfortable, and cheap.
What we don’t: Aggressive skiers or those looking to maximize performance will be sorely disappointed.
Women’s: Nordica Cruise 55
Not everyone requires a rigid boot that’s been designed to extract every last ounce of performance. Some folks just want to head to the slopes and cruise down their favorite blue run time and again, hence the aptly named Nordica Cruise 60. With a roomy 104 mm last and super forgiving flex, it’s about as comfortable as any skiing experience out there. This combination of flex and cush is a great way to get a reluctant beginner into the sport. We don’t recommend these boots, however, for anyone that loves carving down the hill. Even beginners that are planning to spend a lot of time on the mountain may want to upgrade to a boot like the Tecnica Cochise 90 so they don’t outgrow its limited capabilities.
See the Nordica Cruise 60
Downhill Ski Boot Comparison Table
|Lange RX 120||$600||97 or 100mm||120||100, 130||4 w/40mm strap||No|
|Tecnica Mach 1 120||$600||98 or 100mm||120||90, 100, 130||4 w/45mm strap||No|
|Salomon X Pro 100||$500||100mm||100||80, 120, 130||4 w/35mm strap||No|
|K2 Spyne 110||$500||100 or 102mm||110||130||4 w/45mm strap||No|
|Dalbello Panterra 130 I.D.||$600||100-102mm||130||120||4 w/strap||Yes|
|Tecnica Cochise 90||$480||99mm||90||100, 120||3 w/45mm strap||Yes|
|Atomic Hawx Prime 120||$600||100mm||120||90, 100||4 w/45mm strap||No|
|Atomic Waymaker Carbon 110||$500||101mm||110||130||3 w/35mm strap||Yes|
|Rossignol Alltrack 100||$450||102mm||100||90, 120||4 w/50mm strap||Yes|
|Salomon Quest Access 90||$350||104mm||90||70, 80||3 w/50mm strap||Yes|
|Full Tilt Classic||$400||99mm||6/10||None||3 w/40mm strap||No|
|Nordica Cruise 60||$200||104mm||60||80, 110||4 w/30mm strap||No|
- Boot Flex and Performance
- Ski Boot Sizing
- Boot Liners
- Buckles and Strap Systems
- Boot Soles
- Walk/Hike Modes
- Boot Warmth and Ski Socks
- Choosing Skis and Bindings
A great place to start your boot search is choosing the proper flex. Nearly every downhill boot on the market (the Full Tilt Classic is one exception) is given a flex index number ranging from approximately 60 to 130. Lower numbers are softer, have more give, and are more comfortable, making them ideal for beginner skiers. We cover a couple of our favorite entry-level models on this list, but for a complete look at the best options, check out our ski boots for beginners article. Moving up in stiffness to intermediate and advanced models gets you a boot that isn't as cushy but more efficiently transfers your inputs to the bindings and skis. Less energy is waster in flexing the boot forward and the response is instantaneous. A preferred stiffness also correlates with your body weight, which is why women’s boots have a lower flex rating relative to performance. Below are general recommendations; there are ranges within ranges but this paints a good picture.
Men’s Flex Ratings
- Beginner 60-80
- Intermediate 80-110
- Advanced 110+
Women’s Flex Ratings
- Beginner 50-60
- Intermediate 60-85
- Advanced 85+
Ski boot sizing is one of the most difficult things to hone in online. It’s not as simple as taking your shoe size and matching it to a Mondo size (ski boot sizing nomenclature) on a chart. The length, width, volume, and underfoot profile need to be dialed in for a boot to be “the one.” As a result, we recommend getting to a local shop to get sized. If this is not an option, find a reputable online retailer that allows for returns and order a couple sizes with the expectation that they probably won’t fit exactly as you may expect. For a good baseline level of knowledge, here are the most common boot sizing terminology and considerations:
Both men’s and women’s ski boots are listed in unisex Mondo (or Mondopoint) sizing: the length of your foot measured in centimeters. You can measure your foot by tracing its outline on a piece of paper or marking the bottom of the heel and top of the toes. If your foot measures 30 centimeters in length, your Mondo size is 30. Getting measured in a ski shop is preferred, but this is a rough way to do it at home.
Every manufacturer or retailer provides a sizing chart that matches shoe sizes to ski boot sizes, but your actual Mondo size may be a size or two smaller than what you see on the chart. This is because tight fit is recommended with ski boots. Ski boot liners are made of foam and will mold to your feet over time, so it’s best to start with a very snug fit and wear them in.
Footbed width, referred to as last, is another important specification for ski boots. This measurement is based on the width of the forefoot and listed in millimeters. Most manufacturers make ski boots with varying lasts to accommodate those with narrow, average and wide feet. Side-to-side motion is a given when descending a hill, and a boot that’s too loose around the sides of your feet will negatively affect performance.
- Narrow: 97-98mm
- Average: 100-102mm
- Wide: 104mm+
For those with narrow feet or looking for performance boots with a more precise fit, look in the 97-98mm range. Average lasts are around 100-102 mm wide for men and 100mm wide for women. Those work well for most skiers with normal width feet. For folks with wide feet, there can be some challenges in finding the right pair. You’ll find the occasional boot with 104mm width or more, but your options become more limited.
No matter how well you do in selecting the proper fit, you still may experience discomfort during a full day of skiing. That’s where the final piece of the fit puzzle comes in: replaceable insoles. Most downhill ski boot liners have a removable insole, much like a hiking boot. Swapping these out for a quality aftermarket insole that better matches your foot profile can really make a difference. New insoles can provide better arch support, more or less volume, and a heel cup that better locks your feet in place. Good aftermarket insoles can be found from brands like Superfeet and SOLE.
Another alternative is getting a custom footbed from a boot fitter (which requires getting fit in-person). This is an expensive process but can be worthwhile for those with stubbornly shaped feet or who ski a ton each year. You can call your local ski shop and ask if they make custom footbeds.
Most all-mountain ski boots are made up of two independent pieces: a hard plastic outer shell that provides structure and strength and a removable liner that delivers comfort, support and insulation. The liner is filled with varying amounts of foam, depending on the type of skiing the boot is intended for. It’s not always the best idea to get the most plush and cushiest liner (beginners and comfort-oriented skiers are an exception). The softer foam will not hold your foot and shin as well while carving, and it may not mold as well to your feet over time.
Supportive but comfortable is the preferred place to be for most intermediate and advanced skiers. As we mention above, your liner will conform to your feet, so don’t be too concerned if it feels snug at first (but make sure it’s not overly restricting or that your toes aren't smooshed against the hard-sided shell.).
Heat-moldable liners can be custom fit to your feet in a ski shop that has the necessary equipment. This is a nice way to get the liner to fit your feet right out of the box, but isn’t mandatory for most folks. You can get much of the same fitting accomplished just by wearing the liners around the house or in a few early season ski days.
To start, it’s helpful to know that buckles and strap designs do not vary dramatically between brands. The buckle systems on most downhill ski boots follow a similar methodology: two buckles across the foot, one at the bend near the ankle and another along the shin. Look for buckles made mostly with aluminum for greater durability (plastic is cheaper but a bit more prone to breaking). Some boots try and cut some weight by removing the buckle at the ankle, but for downhill purposes when total boot weight isn’t as important, we find it well worth having the more supportive four aluminum buckle design.
The strap at the top of the boot near the cuff is another important piece of the design. Sometimes referred to as the power strap, it keeps that top portion nicely locked into place to help bring out the full performance potential of your boots—and at a lower weight and more comfort than adding a 5th buckle. Having a full compliment of buckles as well as a quality power strap also helps in really dialing in the fit, which can make accommodating varying sizes of legs and calves that much easier.
Boot soles are pretty standard fare for alpine setups. They need to be what’s called DIN-rated, which essentially means they are able to release properly from a downhill binding should you taken an unfortunate tumble. They also share a common shape that fits any downhill binding, listed as ISO 5355. Resort skiers should avoid boots that have a rockered sole and are listed as being compatible with AT (touring) bindings. These are for backcountry setups and will not work with standard downhill bindings.
In your search, you inevitably will run into some alpine boots that have been set up to accommodate both AT and downhill bindings. If you’re interested in getting in to skiing both and trying to save some money, you can get a boot with a removable/replaceable sole, such as the Rossignol Alltrack. But keep in mind that this boot is not optimized for uphill travel. It’s heavy and doesn’t pivot as naturally while walking. Multi-purpose gear can be fun, but it’s often worth the extra dough to get a second boot that’s been specifically designed for backcountry use.
You’ll see a number of downhill boots that tout a walk or hike mode. In reality, these modes are best enjoyed in the trek from the car to the resort, as they don’t have the necessary range of motion and flex to be truly comfortable when walking long distances. In addition, downhill-focused boots are heavier than dedicated backcountry and randonee boots. It's not all bad news, and the walk feature has its appeals for folks that primarily ski downhill but want the option to do some light skinning or hiking. Just steer clear if you need to spend any more than a few minutes heading uphill.
Modern ski socks reflect the improvements made in boot liner technology. You no longer need a thick, heavy-duty sock, and the market is now full of trimmed-down options. Modern boots are better insulators and far more comfortable, which all adds up to a more enjoyable experience. The best socks are either merino wool or synthetic, and if you can swing the added expense, the wool option is our preferred type for stink prevention and temperature regulation. For a full list of options, see our article on the best ski socks.
Boots are a great place to start in assembling your ski kit. For one, it hopefully means you get the pair that end up fitting you best. It also should help guide the rest of your buying considerations. If you choose an advanced boot, you should pick out a correspondingly aggressive binding and ski that can help deliver the performance the boot is capable of. A stiff boot transfers power very efficiently as long as the binding and ski are capable of responding to those inputs. To help get you properly outfitted, our picks for the best all-mountain skis and ski bindings are organized in a similar fashion as boots, broken down by ability level and terrain.