how to choose snowboard boots

How To Choose Snowboard Boots [Buyer’s Guide 2024]

by Fraser

You wouldn’t go jogging in high heels or rock climbing in flip-flops, would you?

And yet, some brave souls venture onto the slopes with ill-fitted, uncomfortable snowboard boot. This needs to stop!

So I’ve put together a guide on how to choose snowboard boots. We’ll discuss the critical factors – flex, riding style, and lacing systems – whilst ignoring the marketing noise. 

Buckle up, let’s find you some boots!

1. Snowboard Boot Anatomy

snowboard boot diagram
  • Liner: Add comfort and warmth to your foot (inside the sturdy outer shell).
  • Backstay: The backbone of the boot, ensuring the boot maintains its shape. Also enhances response.
  • Internal harness: An internal lacing system integrated with the exterior of the liner. Keeps your foot in place and combats heel lift.
  • Tongue: Positioned against your shin, the tongue transfers power to the bindings and board.
  • Zonal lacing: This allows independent lacing of the boot’s upper and lower sections, promoting an ideal fit.
  • Eyestay: Keeps your laces tight and in place.
  • Articulating cuff: Allows the boot’s upper and lower zones to flex independently, decreasing shell distortion and enhancing heel hold.
  • Air pocket: Acts as a shock absorber, managing board chatter and heavy impacts.
  • Outsole: The bottommost layer of the boot – super important for grip.
  • EVA cushioning: Incorporated into the footbed to enhance shock-absorption.

2. Snowboard Boot Fit

Your boots should fit feel a little tight initially, but without any pain or pressure points. 

Aim for your toes to gently touch the toecap, leaving a small amount of wiggle room. They should pull back slightly when you drop into riding stance. 

size diagram - snowboard boot buying guide

Too much space puts you at risk of heel lift. To test this, drive your knees forwards and ensure your heel stays locked in place. If it doesn’t, you’ll be sacrificing board response – which gets worse over time!

Remember, most snowboard boots pack out around half a size over time. They should therefore be tighter when trying them on, or you’ll be sliding around in your boots after a few days. 

3. How are Snowboard Boots Sized?

Sizing snowboard boots isn’t too different from your regular shoes. Start with your standard US shoe size as a baseline. Be prepared to adjust per the brand’s specific sizing chart (sizes often vary between brands).

Trying the boots on before purchasing is crucial. During a fitting, stand and lean forward like you’re snowboarding; your toes should gently touch the boot’s front and pull back slightly when you lean, while your heel stays in place.

Always try on boots with the socks you plan to wear for snowboarding. Comfort should be your ultimate deciding factor!

Do Snowboard Boots Run Big?

No (although there’s some variation between brands).

There’s an ongoing myth that your snowboard boots should be a half size bigger than your regular shoes. Supposedly, this makes them more comfortable. 

Don’t do it! 

Oversized snowboard boots have loads of issues:

  • Heel lift 
  • Lack of circulation (due to needing to over tighten your bindings)
  • Reduced precision and response from your board
  • Toes sliding forward and banging against the front of the boot (risking lost toenails!)

Are Snowboard Boots True to Size?

4. Snowboard Compatibility

Your boot size directly influences the width of your board.

If your boots are too big for your board, you might experience “toe drag” or “heel drag.” This leads to instability and epic wipeouts. 

In contrast, boots too small for a wide board may make it difficult to apply sufficient pressure on the edges, reducing your carving ability.

Snowboard Width (snowboard buying guide)

To avoid issues, make sure you’ve carefully calibrated your snowboard sizing. 

>> Snowboard Length and Width Calculator

You can also check our width chart below. 

Boot Size (US)Width (mm)Snowboard Width
<8<245Narrow
8 – 10246 – 254Regular
10 – 11.5255 – 259Mid-Wide
11.5+260+Wide

5. Binding Compatibility

There are three main types of snowboard bindings: strap-in, rear entry, and step ons. Your boots need to match the type of binding you have.

  1. Traditional strap-in bindings are the most common and work with most boots. They feature straps that go over the top of the boot to secure it.
  2. Rear entry bindings also work with most boots, but have a slightly quicker entry system. 
  3. Step On bindings require boots designed for the specific system. They offer quicker boot entry and exit but come at significantly higher price points. 

When buying traditional or rear-entry bindings, make sure to check the binding size charts. This ensures your snowboard boots pair nicely with your bindings. 

6. Snowboard Boot Flex

The flex of your snowboard boot will influence your comfort, riding style and how you control your board. 

Consider your options carefully!

1. Soft Flex

soft snowboard boot flex chart

Soft flex boots are ideal for beginners, park riders, and freestyle snowboarders. The flexibility allows for a wider range of motion, making it easier to perform tricks, tweaks, and grabs. Soft boots can also be more comfortable. 

However, they do offer less support and precision compared to stiffer boots, making them less ideal for high speeds and steeper terrain.

2. Medium Flex

medium snowboard boot flex chart

Medium flexing boots offer a balance between comfort, control, and flexibility. They are highly versatile, making them suitable for all-mountain riding and riders of all skill levels.

Medium flex boots offer enough support for more challenging terrains, while still providing the flexibility needed for freestyle riding. If you’re an intermediate rider or enjoy a mix of terrains and styles, medium flex boots are a great choice.

3. Stiff Flex

stiff snowboard boot flex rating chart

Stiff snowboard boots provide the highest level of support and control, making them perfect for advanced riders tackling aggressive terrain.

They are ideal for high-speed carving, steep slopes, and deep powder. However, the reduced flexibility may make these boots less comfortable and harder for beginners to handle.

7. Riding Styles

All-Mountain

All mountain snowboarders hit every part of the mountain, from off-piste, to park, to groomers. To do this, your equipment needs a certain level of versatility.

So when it comes to snowboarding boots for all-mountain riding, you may want to choose a boot with a medium flex rating.

Snowboard boots with a medium flex rating are stiff enough to give you enough control when charging hard. But they are also soft enough for jumps and jibs. Medium flexing snowboard boots are also a good choice for intermediate riders and anyone who wants a little bit more performance and support.

Freestyle

A softer snowboard boot is a good choice if you spend a lot of time in the park. Freestyle snowboards are also very flexible, which works well with soft boots.

The soft board/boot combo provides a consistent and smooth feel. The extra give allows you to move your ankles, allowing you to tweak your snowboard and press more easily.

What Is Freestyle Snowboarding?

The forgiving nature of a soft pair of snowboard boots helps when landing jumps, especially if you don’t quite make the full rotation when spinning.

Hard landings can be punishing on your joints. Some snowboard boot manufacturers include shock-absorbing soles to reduce the impact when you stomp a trick. An invaluable feature!

Freeride

Freeride snowboard boots are designed for advanced riders who regularly tackle technical terrain and deep snow. These boots are super stiff, giving the rider lots of control.

freeride snowboard boots

Carving

Some snowboarders like to spend most of their time carving. There are two schools of thought for this style of riding.

The first kind is the old hard boot setup, which is generally used for slalom racing. This setup is incredibly specialist, and you don’t see it on the mountain that much these days.

However, there is a less extreme setup for carving. You may come across soft boot carvers with a graceful style and directional snowboards.

These riders will generally wear stiffer snowboard boots (like freeriders) to transfer lots of control and power into their snowboard edges.

8. Ability

An advanced snowboarder may choose very different snowboard boots than a novice rider. Allow me to explain…

snowboard boots ability levels

Beginner

If you are just starting out, you’re better off choosing snowboard boots with a softer flex rating (2-4).

Softer boots are more forgiving and have a wider tolerance range. By this, I mean that the board will turn with less chance of catching an edge. This allows beginner riders to practice controlling their snowboard while getting away with some mistakes.

Intermediate

Intermediate riders will be tackling steeper slopes and harder tricks. They may therefore look for slightly stiffer boots, often in the 4-6 range. 

Advanced - Expert

advanced to expert snowboard boots chart

At the other end of the scale, advanced riders often prefer stiff snowboard boots.

Whilst stiff boots are less forgiving, they provide lots of control and support. This is what you need when you are riding fast and technical terrain!

If you ride challenging places in soft snowboard boots, you’ll soon find their limits.

Note: If you don’t know your ability level, take our snowboarding ability quiz

8. Snowboard Boot Lacing Systems

There are a few different ways in which snowboard boots are fastened. Which you choose often depends on your personal preference, your budget, and your chosen snowboard boot brand.

Traditional Lacing System

Some snowboard boots use a classic lacings system, just like a pair of hiking boots. This is a reliable, tried, and tested method. It also keeps the price of the boots down!

The downside of traditional laces is that they tend to loosen throughout your day on the mountain.

traditional lacing snowboard boots

Pros

  • Classic old-school styling
  • Highly customizable – adjust the tightness at each section of the boot. 
  • Familiarity – the same as tying your regular shoes!
  • Easy to repair – if a lace breaks, you’ll easily find a replacement.
  • Cheaper (generally)

Cons

  • You often need to re-tighten your laces during the day (as they can loosen off).
  • Tying laces in cold weather with gloves on can be challenging.
  • Less consistent fit.
  • Slowest lacing system

Quick-Pull Lacing Systems

Most brands offer snowboard boots with some kind of speed lacing system. These systems are quick and easy to use, even while wearing gloves.

They normally consist of two zones: one lace tightens up the front of the boot, while the other secures the ankle zone.

quick-pull lacing snowboard boots

Pros

  • Fast and convenient, just pull them tight and lock the laces in place.
  • Zonal lacing. Most systems allow different sections of the boot to be tightened independently.
  • Less time-consuming. Usually stays tight throughout the day.
  • May not even need to remove your gloves.

Cons

  • Potential uneven pressure. Can create pressure points if not laced correctly.
  • More challenging to repair (than traditional laces).
  • Less customization. Not quite as adaptable as laces.

BOA Lacing Systems

BOA lacing systems adjust the tightness of your snowboard boots via a circular dial and metal cables.

Some more expensive BOA snowboard boots have two dials (or even three!), allowing you to fine-tune the fit of your boots.

The other advantage of this system is that they don’t really loosen off.

boa snowboard boot lacing systems

Pros

  • Maximum convenience. The simple dial system makes it super easy to tighten and loosen your boots.
  • On-the-fly adjustments. Easy to adjust, even while wearing gloves or on the move.
  • Zonal lacing. Some Boa systems allow for independent tightening of different sections of the boot.

Cons

  • Typically comes with a higher price-point. 
  • More difficult to repair.
  • Some riders worry that the wire system creates pressure points. I’ve never had an issue personally – but I hear it’s more likely with single-BOA. 

9. Snowboard Boot Liners

As you’ve probably guessed, the liner lines the inside of your snowboard boot. A well-fitted liner cradles your foot, providing stability and comfort. 

But not all liners are created equal.

You’ve got the stock liners that come with the boots, which are now pretty good. Some even mold to your foot over time, giving you a custom fit.

SNOWBOARD BOOT LINER

Then you have heat-moldable liners, the shape-shifters of the boot world. They use your body heat or an external heat source to achieve a perfect mold of your foot. These are your top-tier liners, offering unparalleled comfort and performance.

Finally, there are thermoformable liners, which conform to your foot shape through normal use and body heat over time.

Each liner type has its own perks. The choice often boils down to personal preference, performance needs, and budget. But one thing’s for sure – the right liner can take your ride from good to great.

10. The Internal Harness

Internal lacing systems (or an internal harness) involves extra laces or a harness inside the boot to secure the liner within the shell. This prevents your feet from moving, ensuring better control and power transfer. The key benefits are:

  1. Increased Support and Stability: Minimizes heel lift for improved control.
  2. Improved Fit: Makes for a snug fit, enhancing comfort and warmth.
  3. Better Power Transfer: Ensures efficient energy transfer from rider to board.

Entry-level models may have laces on the liner, but they often don’t link up to the outer shell. This doesn’t stop your foot or heel from moving! Avoid these where possible. 

11. Insoles (or Footbeds)

The unsung heroes of the snowboard boot world!

Insoles play a pivotal role in achieving the perfect fit. These footbeds are designed to provide arch support and improve the alignment of your feet, ankles, and knees. This can alleviate fatigue and prevent potential injuries.

Sadly, even the most premium snowboard boots are fitted with relatively primitive insoles. One of the best things you can do to upgrade your boots is picking up an after-market insole. My ankles are certainly grateful!

>> Upgrade Your Snowboarding Insoles!  

12. Snowboard Socks

Don’t underestimate your socks either!

They’re your secret weapon for snug-fitting boots.

Plus, materials like merino wool work like magic to wick away moisture, keeping your feet happy and dry. And let’s not forget those cushioned spots for your shins and feet.

So don’t skimp on the socks! They’re an essential ingredient for a smooth, and comfortable ride.

13. Common Snowboard Boot Fitting Mistakes

Getting the perfect boot fit is crucial. Unfortunately, riders often make the same rookie mistakes:

  1. Buying boots that are too big. It’s easy to be drawn to the immediate comfort of a larger boot, but remember that liners pack out and mold to your feet. A snug fit initially will offer better support and control down the line.
  2. Not considering your sock thickness. Your boots should be always be tested with the same socks you’ll use while snowboarding!
  3. Spending your whole budget on a board! Your boots are just as important (probably more so). Get them first!

14. Tips For Getting The Perfect Fit

Here’s a few tips to help you nail the perfect snowboard boot fit:

  1. Start with the right socks: Always wear your snowboarding socks when trying on boots. The thickness of your socks can significantly affect the fit.
  2. Room at the end: When standing, your toes should just touch the end of the boot. When you bend your knees and lean over slightly (like when you’re snowboarding), your toes should pull back slightly from the front.
  3. Heel hold: Your heel should stay firmly in place when you bend your knees and lean forward. Excess lift leads to lack of control (and blisters).
  4. Overall snugness: Your boots should feel snug all around your foot. You want them tight enough for support, but not so tight that they cause pain or cut off circulation.
  5. Heat molding: If available, take advantage of heat molding options for liners to get a custom fit.

Final Thoughts

Thinking about how to choose snowboard boots can be a little overwhelming!

To simplify matters, first consider your snowboarding ability level and riding style. This will give you an indication of the right snowboard boot flex.

Next consider your preferred lacing system and any bonus features you’d like. Now you’re ready to choose some boots1

Remember, everyone’s feet are different, so take the time to try different models and sizes.

Snowboard boots should be comfortable from day one, so don’t settle for an uncomfortable fit expecting them to break in over time. Your feet will thank you!

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