HOW TO CHOOSE MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS
In the mountains, moving through remote areas and wild and isolated locations, your footwear is perhaps your single most important piece of gear. But which boots are best for your trip? Make sure you choose the right model to keep your feet dry, comfortable and at the right temperature during your adventures in alpine terrain.
What should you consider when selecting a boot? First up, do your research. Make sure you understand the kind of terrain and climate conditions and weather to expect in the region you’re visiting for the time of year.
What will the terrain be like? Are we talking snow, ice and mixed terrain? Or rock, mud and scree?
How long will you be hiking for?
Will you be heading cross-country over loose terrain, or mainly on paths and trails?
Will you encounter warmer climate conditions?
Do you expect rain, deep snow or storms?
Will you be ice climbing in steep waterfall ice?
How heavy will your backpack be?
What kind of pace do you plan to move at?
Different manufacturers have different ways of categorising their footwear, but ultimately there are two main types of mountaineering boots:
- Three-season boots
- Insulated boots
Three-season boots are suitable for spring, summer and autumn, but not winter. They might have a leather, synthetic, or hybrid upper and come in various styles. These can range from lightweight boots for warmer, dryer, summer-like conditions to models that offer better water resistance and warmth for higher altitudes, but which weigh more.
Three-season boots can come with fully-rigid soles or more flexible soles, and offer varying degrees of ankle support. They might have a waterproof, breathable membrane, but they generally have no insulating layer. Their uppers are usually treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish that can be periodically refreshed.
- Super-comfortable, comfortable to walk in and quick to break in
- Versatile – also suitable for hiking, scrambling and even climbing
- Less prone to overheating in warm, midsummer conditions
- Lightweight and agile – they often perform better on rock
- Three-season boots might not be warm enough at higher altitudes in very wet conditions or extreme cold weather
- Lighter, more flexible boots are less suitable for use with crampons
Insulated mountaineering boots are designed specifically for use in colder conditions and have a multi-layered boot design construction.
- Insulation (the warmest models have an insulated, removable inner boot)
- Suitable for more extreme use
- Generally compatible with full or semi-automatic crampons
- Too warm for summer, alpine use
- Stiffer crampon-compatible soles are less comfortable to hike in
Your first decision is how much warmth you need, i.e. do you need a fully insulated boot? If you’re planning to climb in lower temperatures, then an insulated, flexible boot could be a better choice.
Leather is the traditional material for making mountain boots. Thankfully, modern leather boots are much lighter than their predecessors. Leather is robust, hardwearing and very comfortable to wear.
Synthetic boots are lightweight, robust and abrasion resistant. Synthetic lining materials also dry very fast. This can make them preferable for multi-day trips where you expect bad weather, but will have nowhere to dry your boots out overnight.
For optimal protection in harsh weather conditions, look for a boot with a waterproof and breathable membrane.
Leather uppers and lining
- Rugged, hardwearing and abrasion resistant
- Water repellent
- Leather moulds to the shape of your feet
Synthetic uppers and liners
- Lightweight, flexible and breathable
- Quick to break in
- Fast drying
The way your boot fits makes all the difference. Ideally you should go for a roomier fit, with space inside for a medium-thick sock or thick mountain sock. If you still have room to wiggle your toes, this will make your feet feel a lot warmer than opting for the next half size down.
Of course, we all feel cold weather differently. A simple way to further increase the warmth of your boots is to use overgaiters or an insulated footbed.
Your new boots should be large enough so that there is minimal heel lift at the back to prevent rubbing. In addition, having a more relaxed fit will prevent your toes from banging into the front of your boot during long descents – this can be painful if it persists over longer periods.
If you feel that you still want to improve the fit of your boot, consider inserting a different insole. Many SALEWA® models come with a customisable Multi Fit Footbed Plus (MFF+). It has interchangeable layers that allow you to further fine-tune the volume.
HOW TO CHOOSE CRAMPONS?
Crampons are pieces of equipment that we attach to our shoes to improve traction when the ground is completely or partially frozen over, or if there is heavy snow.
HOW TO PREVENT ALTITUDE SICKNESS
High altitude sickness is a condition that is triggered by ascending to high altitudes without allowing your body the time to adjust, or acclimatize, as it’s known.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG
Having a cosy night’s sleep can make a huge difference to the enjoyment of any night out camping or bivvying, so it’s important to spend some time carefully considering what sleeping bag is the right choice for the activities you’ll be undertaking and the environment you’ll be in.
The weight of your backpack has an impact on your choice of mountaineering boot. Either way, we recommend that you keep your pack as light as possible by taking just the essentials. Lighter packs also help you conserve energy, and your feet will thank you for it.
If you plan to carry say a tent or a stove and food, then look for boots that will give you extra stability. High-cut models give you extra support at the ankles, particularly in more technical terrain.
In higher mountains and high alpine terrain, where slipping could have serious consequences, you want a mountaineering boot with a sole that offers excellent grip and high precision. Mountain boots have soles with aggressive-edged lugs that give good traction on loose scree and in névé/firn. They have a large heel that helps you to brake when moving downhill. Alpine mountaineering generally involves sections of rock climbing. For this reason, these soles also have a large, flat climbing zone at the toe.
When buying new boots, spare a thought for your crampons too. Being clear about what kind of activity you are planning, will help you better determine the type of boot you want. Do you want a sole that’s mainly for hiking on easier trails, so very flexible; or do you want a semi-flexible or rigid sole for mountaineering? If you want a boot for steep ground and ice climbing, then look for one with toe and heel welts to wear them with technical step-in climbing crampons.
If you already own crampons, then make sure your boots will work with the type of crampons you have.
If you don’t own any crampons, get the mountaineering boots first, to concentrate on getting a good fit, before choosing your crampons (bearing in mind the routes you hope to undertake).
To learn more about crampon types, read How to Choose Crampons.
Modern mountaineering boots with good padding can be quick to break in. However it always pays to wear your boots as much as possible prior to your trip. Generally speaking, the stiffer the boot, the more you need to break it in.
Take your time. Break in your boots steadily. Walk to work in them before testing them out on your local trails, or in more diverse terrain. Walking in different types of weather is a good idea too. Wet weather can help to soften leather. Top tip: For longer tours pack blister plasters.
It makes sense to invest in the right type of boot for your trip. Bringing the wrong type of boot might restrict how much you and your partners can climb or hike. Especially if they prove inadequate or too painful.
If you’re planning to use your mountaineering boots for general hiking too, then consider lightweight, non-insulated boots, because they’re lighter and more flexible. Bear in mind though, that mountaineering boots are designed specifically for summiting snowy peaks and that stiff, crampon-compatible soles can be less comfortable to hike for long distances in.
The ideal situation is to own two pairs of boots: one pair of mountaineering boots you can also use in winter or for ice climbing trips and then another pair of lighter trekking boots for mountain hiking trips.