The first step in researching ski boots is knowing how and where you want to ski. Alpine boots, touring boots, and hybrid boots — with a walk mode to go uphill but beefier build than touring boots for resort laps — all bring different features and benefits to the table.
Before you walk into your local ski shop, determine if you’ll want to stick to lift-served skiing, explore the backcountry or side-country, race, or get into a little bit of everything.
Buying new ski boots is best done in person or with a customer service representative who knows the category well. A good shop will measure your feet and help you hone in on what brands and models naturally fit you, your experience, and your aspirations.
Plus, everyone’s feet are a unique shape, which is all the more reason why you should try boots on in person and consider taking your pair to a professional boot fitter to dial in the fit.
While more boots are offering skiers the ability to resort ski and hike for turns in a single boot, a hybrid boot isn’t the best option for every skier.
If you’re not sure where to start, read over our buyer’s guide — which includes advice from a master boot-fitter on how to make sure you buy the best boot for you — and FAQ at the bottom of this article. Are you looking for a quick overview of each model’s price and features? Check out our useful comparison chart.
If you need a quick reference for the skier style and skill level that each boot is tailored to, check the “Best For” line in the Specs listed below each product.
Otherwise scroll through to see all of our recommended buys for the best ski boots of 2023, or jump to the category you’re looking for:
The Best Ski Boots of 2023
Best of the Rest
Ski Boots Comparison Chart
Why You Should Trust Us
The GearJunkie product testing team is made up of amateur to expert alpine and backcountry skiers. We’ve skied runs in-bounds and hut-to-hut all over North America, including bell-to-bell resort powder days, ski-to-surf trips on Vancouver Island and in California, and backcountry hut adventures. We’ve trained for the country’s toughest skimo races and enjoyed cross-country laps on countless miles of nordic trails.
We took this season’s newest ski boots up and down the lifts for hundreds of inbounds runs, and then skinned up and hiked for our turns in more than six mountain ranges, three states, and two countries.
Among our testers, Snowsports Senior Editor Morgan Tilton started alpine skiing in her backyard at Telluride Ski Resort at age 4, followed closely by learning to snowboard. Thirteen years ago, she completed her first AIARE 1 course and continues to pursue backcountry certifications and exploration today by skis, splitboard, and off-trail snowmobile. Whether going uphill or downhill, she loves sliding ski boots across snow.
While testing ski boots in-bounds and in the field, we assessed shell, liner, and outsole across durability, overall fit, functionality, comfort, value, weight, flex, downhill performance, and for some boots, uphill performance. We considered what type of feet and skier would be the best match for each boot design.
We’ve tested these boots while carving turns in a range of snow conditions affected by ice-cold temperatures, blizzards, blustery wind, intense sun, and even rain from far-out tours to parking lot tailgating.
In addition to our team’s experience, we also considered the most popular, innovative, award-winning, and bestselling ski boots on the market as well as a broad range of price points and a variety of features and applications.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Ski Boots
“Your boot is the most important part of your skiing setup,” said Dan Weis, master boot-fitter and Snowsports Department manager at Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont.
Weis, who has fitted at least 2,000 pairs of boots over the past decade, said, “Your boot is where your day starts and ends. It needs to be properly sized for all parts of your foot so that you can be comfortable without compromising performance.”
Ski Boot Construction 101
Ski boots are constructed with a squishy foam interior liner that absorbs vibration, provides warmth, and protects the foot. The hard exterior of a ski boot is made with a rigid outer shell, typically made of plastic.
The front of the boot widens a bit for you to slide your foot inside and then closes via buckles. Make sure your liner is flat against and cupping your shin before closing the boot.
Boot designs have various interior liners as well as exterior boot soles and insoles that affect the boot’s fit, compatibility, performance, and comfort in various conditions.
Types of Ski Boots
“The first step in buying ski boots is knowing if you want an alpine boot, touring boot, or hybrid boot,” said Weis.
Buy a boot to match your priorities (alpine/downhill, uphill, or both) and the ski you’ll wear it with. While a touring boot can be skied at the resort, most aggressive downhill skiers prefer a hybrid boot if they’ll ski resort and backcountry equally.
Alpine or Downhill Boot
These boots will have a bill at the toe and a DIN-compatible sole, which means they’ll release when they need to. Some downhill boots come with a cuff release to make it easier to walk to your car from the slopes. But Weis warns not to confuse a “cocktail clip” with a proper touring mode.
- Heaviest weight
- Heaviest duty
- For lift-served skiing
- Compatible with downhill bindings
Touring or Backcountry Boot
Also known as an uphill boot, a backcountry boot’s cuff will rotate so you can walk uphill. Some have a bill that’s compatible with a hybrid binding. They typically use pintech inserts in the toe, small metal divets on either side of the toe that accept pins from compatible bindings.
- Many backcountry-specific boots are lightweight
- Usually lighter than a downhill boot
- Some are geared toward quick ascents with a superlight ski, not technical terrain, deep powder, fat skis, or freeriding
A hybrid boot will have a tour mode, like a touring boot, but it will usually ski more like an alpine boot on descents.
- Usually heavier than touring-specific boots
- Somewhat less forward and aft rotation when you’re skiing uphill compared to touring boots
Ski Boot Flex
Flex describes a boot’s stiffness, and the correct amount of flex is determined by a skier’s experience level, strength, style, and preference.
Ski boot flex is determined and assigned by manufacturers. While the ratings give us an idea of how the ski boots feel within a brand’s lineup, the flex isn’t standardized across each company. So, for cross-brand comparison, the flex ratings can help you make broad versus apples-to-apples comparisons.
As you shop around, you’ll see boots with a flex that generally ranges from 65 to 120. The lower number represents a softer boot and gradually stiffens as you go up the scale. You’ll also see these flex ranges are usually lower for women’s-specific ski boots compared to men’s boots.
- Soft: 65-90
- Medium: 100-110
- Stiff: 110-130
Weis said a new skier should be looking at boots with flex from 65 to 90. A lower flex number is easier to engage.
“When a skier is engaging a boot, or flexing it forward, the boot needs to have resistance to transfer energy to the ski. If it’s too stiff, a skier won’t be able to flex the ski to carve — there won’t be any energy transfer,” said Weis.
Soft boots are also typically more comfortable and retain heat better than stiff designs. These are a good choice if you prefer cruising on green and blue runs or if you’re just getting started on the slopes. They’re also a fair choice for folks that weigh less.
They’ll also have the most economic price tag, but paying more for boots that match your ski style and skill level is worth the extra cost.
Intermediate skiers should focus on flex from 100 to 110. A higher flex number indicates the boot will have more resistance and responsiveness. The boot can handle more aggressive turns and faster descents than soft boots. “If the boot is too soft, the skier won’t be able to control their ski,” said Weis.
If you’re a beginner skier but are heavier set, consider a medium flex boot right off the bat.
Advanced and expert skiers should buy boots with flex from 110 to 130. These designs provide the highest level of response and hold their own through speed. The price tag is higher in this category because these boots usually have a more technical build.
Advanced-level boots strategically place and integrate a range of soft, medium, or stiff materials into the design for optimal energy transfer. Don’t be surprised if the most rigid boots, typically intended for racers, simply feel too tight to use as an everyday driver.
Sizing: Mondopoint & Last Width
Ski boots use unisex mondopoint sizing, often referred to as “mondo,” which is the foot length in millimeters. You’ll also commonly see this size reference in centimeters, instead, like the 24.5-30.5 size range, for instance.
Mondo sizes start as low as 21.5 (U.S. women’s size 5) and go up to 30.5 (U.S. men’s size 13). They increase by half-size increments.
The last or footbed width ranges from 97 mm to 106 mm. Skiers with a narrower foot will want a slimmer last, as will athletes that want a tighter fit for snappier energy transfer and precision. Many ski boots offer a variety of last width options for narrow, average, or wide feet.
- 96-98 mm
- Narrow feet
- Precise fit, feel, and responsiveness
- 99-100 mm for women
- 100-102 mm for men
- Good target range for feet with normal widths
- 103 mm+
- Wide feet
- Can be more comfortable for beginner skiers but might need to quickly upgrade to an average-width boot
To get the best boot for your foot, Weis recommends scheduling a fitting with your local shop. At that fitting, a ski tech will measure the length and width of both of your feet. They’ll properly determine your ski boot mondo and last size.
Depending on the ski boot model you need and your skill level, you also might need to size down to account for packing out the boot. But once they have those numbers, they should be able to advise you on which boots from which brands will match your physiology and best help you meet your goals.
Boot Sole (Outsole)
Not all ski boot soles are compatible with all bindings. Check with your ski shop to confirm the boots you’re considering will work with the bindings you own or plan to buy.
Don’t think you’re just being upsold if the ski tech recommends custom insoles. Weis said skiers with a soft or collapsed arch will especially benefit from aftermarket or custom insoles. By supporting the arch, an insole keeps your foot from over-splaying inside your boot.
“You want to make sure the natural shape of your arch is matched to the insole of your boot,” said Weis. “When your foot sits in the correct spot in your boots, it’s less likely to become fatigued.”
Following the growth of backcountry, side-country, and uphill exercise on skis, a boot’s weight has become a more important differentiator between boot types and preferences. There are more lightweight boot options for downhill and backcountry skiing on the market today than in years past. And the lighter a ski boot, the less weight you’ll need to slide atop the snow or step with as you climb a bootpack.
For instance, the SCARPA F1 LT is an ultralight boot for ski mountaineering that weighs 990 g (2.18 pounds). The SCARPA Alien 1.0, which is a hit among skimo racers, weighs 785 g (1 pound, 11.7 ounces).
Hybrid boots, like the Tecnica Cochise Pro W — 1,630 g (3 pounds, 9 ounces) — are heavy enough to drive skis at the resort but still light enough for touring. Pure alpine ski boots are heavier, like our top pick, the Tecnica Mach 1, which weighs 2,060 g (4.6 pounds).
Note: Our guide references the weight of one ski boot out of the set.
Women’s-Specific Ski Boots
A handful of manufacturers make ski boots that are women’s-specific. Compared to a unisex or men’s ski boot, women’s lineups typically have a lower flex rating set, so the boot options are softer. The models usually feature a smaller size or mono range compared to the men’s models.
Sometimes you’ll see narrower last options for women but not for men in a particular ski boot. The style features, like the color scheme, are usually tailored to a female demographic, too.
Some women’s-specific boots also have anatomical differences based on research, boot-fitter input, and feedback from female skiers. That includes the Tecnica Mach1 LV 105 TD boots, which are built with a unique upper liner that molds to the shape of the female calf. The result is no pressure points while charging steep laps or making fast carves.
The cuff is also built with a tad more forward lean and a higher spine, which increases performance while decreasing overall fatigue. In general, some ski boots have a narrower or tapered heel and greater cushion around the ankle for security.
While the male- and female-labeled ski boots might help the average skier, there are folks who identify as male who need narrower, softer boots, and there are female skiers who want extremely stiff boots. Don’t be afraid to try on boots across these two general categories. Choose the style and fit that best matches your feet.
Boot liners are made from various densities of foam. They provide foot and ankle support and comfort and help prevent fatigue. They also add a layer of heat insulation inside the boot’s exterior, which is a hard plastic shell.
Most boot liners naturally break in with the foot’s heat. Many boot liners are custom-moldable, so another heat source can warm the material to be worn and conform to the owner’s foot. Generally, the boot liners of the priciest ski boots feature a greater quantity of heat-moldable material.
Most boots have thermo-moldable foam liners, which are removable and should be heated at a ski shop and molded to your foot, a process that takes 30 minutes to an hour. Weis warns it can take up to three visits to get new boots perfectly fit.
The time investment of molding your boot liner is worth it. During the boot fit process, the tech will heat your liners, add padding at pressure points to compress the liner, and create more space. In some cases, a boot fitter may also grind, punch, or heat-mold a shell to accommodate prominent ankle bones or bunions.
Buying new ski boots can be one of winter’s biggest challenges. How a boot feels when you first slip your foot into it in the shop can be a far cry from how it feels once you have had it heat-molded and fit by a reputable boot-fitter.
The temperature inside the shop versus on a wind-chilled ski lift will influence the fit, as will how your foot swells on a spring day or during exercise.
“Go with the mindset you’re buying the tightest piece of footwear you own,” said Weis. “And pick the boot that most feels like you could ski it out of the box.”
It’s easier to make a boot bigger than smaller, and if a skier has one or two small issues, including pressure points or pain points, a boot should be workable. “If your foot isn’t happy in the boot in the shop,” Weis advises, “try something else.”
Whether you’re buying an alpine, hybrid, or touring boot, the same rules apply. Get your boot fit, consider aftermarket insoles, and be sure the boot you’re planning to buy matches your foot and binding.