How Should an AT Boot Fit?
AT boots should fit a lot like an alpine boot, but much more comfortable.
On an average day ski touring, you spend 90% of your day going uphill. As you ascend through beautiful glades or up an alpine ridge, your feet tend to swell, especially in the spring when temperatures can creep up rather quickly. For these two reasons, we fit touring boots a half size larger than your typical alpine boot to accommodate for swelling feet, and to ensure comfort all day long. Below we talk you through our fitting process for next time you walk into one of our locations.
Sizing Boots by Length and Width
When you walk through the doors of Cripple Creek Backcountry and are looking for a new pair of touring boots, the first thing we'll do is measure your feet on a Brannock device just like at any high end running store. Here we are looking not only at length, but also width. Different boots have different widths and that is just as important as matching the length. We'll ask what kind of ski touring you're looking to do (for more on your kind of touring read here) and then grab two or three options for you to try on.
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With each boot you try on, we’ll do what is called a "shell fit." Put your bare foot in the shell, bring your toes so they are just barely touching the front of the boot and then check what kind of room you have behind the heel. You are looking for 1 to 2 fingers to fit in between your heel and the shell. The tricky part here is that everyone has two different sized feet. You are still looking for a shell where both feet meet the 1-2 finger rule behind the heel. Those that prefer a more Alpine style fit will want closer to 1 finger. This tightness provides a boost in responsiveness on the downhill, but can come at a cost of colder feet and blackened toenails on the uphill. A 2 finger or 'comfort' fit is also doable for an uphill race boot, or someone that values that slipper feel for all day comfort more than a responsiveness on the down. For most people, 1.5 fingers is the sweetspot.
Finding the Right Fit with Liners
Once you find the right shell, we slide the liners back in and try the boots on. When buckling up the boots start with the top buckles and work your way down. This helps to set your heel and then the rest of your foot into the proper position in the boot. DO NOT crank the lower buckles. They should only be finger tight, meaning you should easily be able to close them with one finger. If you over tighten these buckles you can cut off circulation on the top of your foot and end up with cold and numb feet.
Ski Mode and Walk Mode
Once in the boot with it buckled, make sure it is in "ski mode" and check the fit just like you would an Alpine boot. When flexing forward into the boot you should have wiggle room in the toe box and when standing upright you should feel your toes against the front of the boot. Now the fun part, switch into "walk mode" and walk around the shop. How does it feel? Don't be concerned with minor pressure points here, those will come out with a heat mold of the liner. What you're really looking for are major pressure points or any spots you know you couldn't handle if you had to be in the boots for a couple of hours. If there are spots you know would be uncomfortable, try on different boots until you find one that is pretty comfortable right out of the box. For some really wide feet or bunions, go with the boot that is the most comfortable right out of the box and we will correct the rest during a heat mold of the liner and/or with a punch of the boot shell.
Often we recommend once you find a boot that is comfortable to go out and ski it a couple times. First, if the boot does need additional fitting work, you will have a much better idea where problem areas are after doing the real deal versus walking around the shop. Second, you may not need a heat mold at all and will get a little longer life out of the liner by not heat molding. The thicker the liner the more it can change through a heat mold. Thin rando race liners generally to not change much during a mold, therefore make sure it is big enough out of the box.
Lastly, orthotics. All boots will come with generic foot beds. These have close to no shape or arch support and for many skiers that is fine. But, you will always have a better fit for more efficient skinning and skiing with an orthotic. We really like the Sole footbeds, because they are inexpensive and can be custom molded to fit your feet just like the liners.
View our complete intro to ski touring guide here.
- Thomas Bull