Snowboard boots are the most important pieces of gear you will buy. There are a great variety of snowboard boot sizings and styles on the market, from stiff boots designed for increased support, to soft and flexible boots that allow for more freedom of movement. And then there are boots that utilize the best of both worlds. Getting the correct snowboard boot sizing is only one part of what you need consider when buying boots.
Helping you decide which type of boot best fits your riding style and your feet is our job. So lets go through some of the important considerations when choosing a snowboard boot.
Packing out refers to the process of the snowboard boot liner conforming to the features of your foot. Once a boot “packs out” it feel looser than when you first try it on…. more on this later.
Snowboard boots consist of an outer shell and an inner liner. The liner is made of a soft material designed to conform to the contours of your foot. The warmth generated by your body heats the inside of the liner, which is porous, allowing the material to condense where there is pressure. The material also has ‘memory’ so when you are done snowboarding the liner holds the impression of your foot. This is important because it not only gives you a truly customized fit, but it also holds your foot in place within the boot shell. It will take anywhere from 5 to 15 full days of riding for your liners to mold to your feet.
There are also heat-molding machines whose purpose is to speed up the packing out process by simulating what happens to the liners when you ride in them for several days. These machines heat the boot liners to a specific temperature at which point you put them on and walk around for 15 to 20 minutes. At the end of that time, your liners will be molded to your feet and much of the break in period will be done. At Neverbored, we provide this service for free for anyone who would like his or her boots heat molded.
A good heel fit is critical. The boot needs to securely hold your heel in place to prevent the dreaded “heel lift”. If your heel lifts when you turn onto your toe-side, you will find yourself working a whole lot harder than necessary and probably experiencing a degree of pain from your efforts. You will also lose a tremendous amount of board response and control which is not good. So you need to make sure that the boot will still provide adequate support around your heel once your liner packs out. Heel lift is the primary attribute of poorly fitted boots.
There are a number of ways that boot manufacturers combat heel lift. One is the aforementioned form fitting liners that heat mold to your feet. Another method is the use of an ankle harness that wraps around the outside of the liner and attaches to the inside of the boot shell. The harness holds the heel back in place and secures it with a lace and lock system.
The third common way to prevent heel lift is to physically build up the area inside the liner or the shell of the boot where it meets the sides the heel. These pieces are typically called J-Bars and some are removable. They are “j” shaped pieces of foam either built into the liner or attached to the inside of the shell. They curve right around the outside of your anklebone and anchor the heel by filling in that otherwise empty space thus holding the heel in place. They work quite well when used in a properly fitted boot.
If you are new to snowboarding you will probably find softer boots more comfortable right out of the box. If your feet aren’t happy, chances are you won’t be happy. And if you are distracted by foot pain, you will probably not be able to progress as quickly.
Softer boots also allow for greater movement which is a plus for freestyle riding like hitting park features, tweaking airs, bonks, butters and pressing. Freedom to move your ankles lets you leverage your board over multi-faceted features. For this reason, soft boots are normally the go-to boots for most park riders.
If you enjoy steep runs, cliff drops, tight chutes, euro carving, deep carves, charging down the mountain and you don’t spend a lot of time buttering around or on park features you may consider stiff boots. Stiffer boots provide a more efficient transfer of energy and provide a more responsive ride. Stiff boots are generally used for free riding anything from big mountains lines to black diamond runs at your ski area of choice.
Medium Flex Boots
These are the boots most people choose as they allow for a degree of flexibility, support and comfort that is ideal for a wide variety of riding styles. A good mid-flexing boot will allow you to easily handle everything from backcountry terrain to park terrain. And there is just about every conceivable variation you can think of on the market. So don’t be afraid to try on a few different pairs before purchasing.
When first trying on snowboard boots you want your toes to be touching the inside of the liner but not scrunched up. The general idea is to down size at least one half or full size from your normal shoe size. This is done to allow the liners to pack out to your foot size in order to provide the best fit.
When down-sizing, your boots will normally feel tight at first and you may feel pressure spots around the top of your foot and/or ankles. Some pressure points are ok, if they are in a spot where the liner will expand and relieve the pressure. But persistent, or particularly painful pressure points may be not be relieved by breaking in the boot, and you may need to try a different boot. For instance, pressure points on the calf (calf bite) probably will not be relieved by the break-in process.
There are a variety of aftermarket products that can help you get the ideal fit from your boot. Insoles and custom orthotics can provide additional support, which some individuals find necessary. And there are ways of adding a bit of padding here or there to minimize pressure points, or add a little bit of extra padding or support as necessary. A professional bootfitter can help you with these issues.
We hope this boot sizing article was helpful to you. Stayed tuned for our next blog post on the different lacing systems currently on the market!