Knowledgeable riders know that snowboard boots – the interface between a rider’s body and board – are often the most important part of one’s setup. But with so many boots on the market today, it can be a stressful and overwhelming process deciding which pair is right for you.
We will help simplify the snowboard boot buying process, and give shoppers the confidence to buy online, by breaking it down into the four major factors a rider should consider when deciding on which boots to purchase: fit, performance, lacing systems, and technology.
A note on women's snowboard boots: Women-specific boots are just as capable and diverse as men's boots, but are designed specifically to fit the female foot. Aside from the aesthetic differences, women's boots are relatively softer and narrower than comparable men's models, and they are shorter in the backstay to prevent that uncomfortable calf-bite. (Example: Burton Sapphire, shown on right)
If the shoe fits, wear it. That old cliché has never been so true. Advice from friends is great, but not if they’re recommending a pair of boots that doesn’t fit your feet. Everybody has a different shaped foot, so everybody has a different idea of what is comfortable. Finding a good fit is the most difficult and most important part of the boot-buying process, so keep these things in mind when trying on a boot for the first time:
• Your boots should fit more snugly than your sneakers. You do not want a loose or sloppy fit. If your boots do not fit snugly, your feet will twist and move around in your boots, resulting in cramping and poor performance on the hill.
• Your boots should fit snugly everywhere (including the toe), but should not feel uncomfortable anywhere. Think of your boot as an oversized sock.
Snowboard boots do not just protect your feet from the cold, they are the vital interface between your body’s input and your board’s performance. Therefore, it is essential to find a boot that matches your riding style and compliments your snowboard and bindings.
The main thing to consider when judging how a boot will perform is the flex of that boot. Here is a general breakdown of how flex relates to performance:
• Stiff flex – Stiff boots are typically used by advanced freeriders who like to be able to turn quickly and ride big mountain terrain. The stiff flex provides an immediate response to a rider’s input, though the ride can be less forgiving than a more moderately flexible boot. Stiff boots will also provide support for riders will ankle problems. (Example: Burton Driver X, shown at right)
• Medium flex – If you are looking for a boot for all conditions, you will probably want something with a medium flex. A medium flex will provide you with a good balance of response and forgiveness, and will compliment an all-mountain snowboard well. (Example: 32 Lashed, shown at right)
• Soft flex – Both beginners and dedicated terrain park riders will appreciate softer flexing boots. For a beginner, a soft boot will provide the forgiveness needed to build confidence and learn quickly. And park riders will appreciate a softer boot that allows for fully tweaked out tricks. Typically, park specific boots also incorporate more technology – designed to help riders stomp big airs and dial in other terrain park tricks – than soft-flexing beginner boots. (Example: Burton Freestyle, a soft park boot, shown at right)
Keep in mind that when you see a boot flex rating in a catalog or on a product page, those ratings are relative to other boots in that company’s lineup. Not every boot manufacturer will have the same idea of what is stiff and what is soft.
Also, it’s important to take your weight into account when judging how flexible a boot will be – a 200-pound rider might consider one boot to have a medium flex, while a 150-pound rider might consider that same boot to be stiff.
Now that you know how to find a boot with the right fit and flex for your riding style, you can start deciding on the secondary factors. One of these other factors is the lacing system. Every company offers at least two types of lacing.
• Traditional lacing – The tried and true method, and still the choice for most avid riders, traditional lacing may take longer to complete, but it will provide you with the best control of your fit. With traditional laces you can tighten exactly where you want and loosen exactly where you want. Also, in the event that your laces tear or break while on the mountain, they can be repaired or replaced easier than with any other system. (Example: 32 TM-Two, shown at right)
• BOA lacing systems – The BOA system, usually a wire that replaces traditional laces and can be tightened with a knob somewhere on the boot, has been used in snowboard boots since 2001. Since it was first incorporated, BOA has been improved and redeveloped many times. It is safe to say that today, BOA is a reliable lacing system that offers a variety of benefits. Firstly, a BOA boot is effortless to “lace.” No more yanking on your laces with your bare hands in the freezing cold; instead simply turn the knob until it is tight and get out there. When it is time to leave, just pop the knob out and take off the boot. Getting ready has never been so easy. (Example: Vans Encore, shown at right)
• Speed Zone systems – Burton first introduced the Speed Zone system a few years back and it has really taken off. The Speed Zone system features easy-to-pull cords that tighten the upper and lower portions of a Burton boot independently, making micro adjustments easy on the hill or in the lift line. (Example: Burton Ion, shown at right)
• Powerlace - Salomon's Powerlace system comes in two editions: the Speed Powerlace and the Powerlace Pro. The Speed Powerlace is featured on the more affordable models and is a quick alternative to the hassle of traditional laces. Powerlace Pro, although still quick, is a bit more intricate and is found on the premium models. Powerlace Pro is the original alternative lacing system and is still widely popular due to the independently locking zones. (Example: Salomon Pledge, shown at right)
• Fast Track - ThirtyTwo's newest speed lacing system is featured on many of their top-selling models. The Fast Track system is very similar to the popular Burton Speed Zone system - it employs two handles, one for the upper half and one for the lower, which are easily pulled to tighten their respective zones. Having independent control of each zone allows you to find your perfect fit. (Example: 32 Lashed Fast Track, shown at right)
• TriZone - The TriZone lacing system is Forum's alternative to traditional lacing. TriZone is a new system which gives the rider control of three separate zones to maximize comfort. (Example: Forum Kicker, shown at right)
• BoaCONDA - This system combines the advantages of BOA and Traditional Lacing. The BOA knob on the outside ankle is used to tighten the liner, ensuring a snug and strong fit. The shell is still laced using the classic method, allowing for that unparalleled customization. The BoaCONDA system isn't so much of a "Speed" lacing system as it is an "Improved" lacing system. (Example: K2 T1, shown at right)
Lastly, riders will want to consider technology that may or may not be important to them. Today’s snowboard boots are loaded with tech – some in the liner and some in the shell. Different technologies can be the deciding factor between two competing boots, so be sure to take the following into consideration:
• Heat-moldable liners – Every boot will mold to a rider’s foot a bit when heat is applied, but some boots will mold better than others. Companies such as ThirtyTwo and K2 incorporate special liners made by Intuition. These liner become super pliable when heated and will really allow you to customize your fit. This feature is great for everybody, but is especially useful for people with abnormal feet. (Example: K2 Darko Conda, shown at right)
• Shock absorbing materials – Many higher-end freestyle boots will have shock absorbing materials in the sole and other locations to limit the impact felt by the ankles and knees when landing jumps. If you plan on frequenting the jump line at your local terrain park, this is one technology you’ll definitely want to consider. (Example: Burton Jeremy Jones, shown at right)
• Shrinkage technology – Shrinkage tech, which refers to boot manufacturers’ attempt to build boots for bigger feet with smaller-than-normal footprints, is something to consider for riders with bigger feet. Boots such as the Burton Ruler and Salomon F20 are specifically designed to limit the bulk of the boot and reduce the foot print, which can mean the difference between having to purchase a wide board vs. a standard deck. (Example: Burton Ruler, shown at right)
• Boot/binding interface – While most snowboard boots and bindings (excluding proprietary step-in systems popular in years past) will work together, as long as you purchase the right size bindings for your boots, manufacturers that make both boots and bindings typically make them to fit perfectly together. So if you’re dedicated to Burton bindings, you might want to try to find a Burton boot that has been designed to fit perfectly into Burton bindings. Same goes for K2, Salomon and other brands that make both.
While there's no substitute for actually trying on a pair of snowboard boots in our store before deciding what to purchase, let's face it, sometimes it's just easier to buy online and try them on when they arrive at your door. Shoppers with Sierra Snowboard can buy boots with confidence because we offer a no-hassle Return Policy, a Price Match Guarantee, as well as Price Adjustments if an item goes on sale within 30 days of your original purchase.