When you’re looking for a new pair of ski boots, or just buckling them up first thing in the morning, figuring out how tight they should be around the toes and across each of the buckles can be challenging. As a ski instructor, I’d say it’s pretty rare for skiers, even advanced skiers, to show up for a lesson with their boots buckled correctly from the get-go.
So just how tight should your ski boots be? Your toes should brush against the very end of the boot, and your foot should fit snugly inside the liner with no extra space or room to move around. Don’t buckle too tight, as it can cut off your circulation. The boot should be snug around your foot and calf, with no more space than you could fit one or two fingers into at the calf.
Many skiers, and in particular beginner skiers, buy boots that are too large and leave them buckled too loosely in an attempt to get those hard plastic boots to feel a little more comfortable around the foot. But not only is that a surefire way to get blisters, if your boots are too loose, you also sacrifice ski performance since the boot doesn’t react as quickly or as easily to your movements.
Even advanced skiers sometimes have their boots too loose, especially if they’re used to buckling their boot to a certain spot, forgetting that their liners will pack out over time.
How Tight Should Ski Boots Be
There’s a very fine line between cutting off the circulation by over-tightening your boot and having it too loose. Not only is a loose boot a surefire way to get blisters, but if your boots are too loose, you sacrifice ski performance.
A properly-tightened boot should leave you plenty of space to wiggle your toes around, but it shouldn’t feel loose anywhere else. If you can wiggle your foot back and forth from side to side or lift up your heel, your boots aren’t fitting snugly. If your toes aren’t touching the end of your boot, your boot might even be too large for you.
On the flip side, if you lose feeling in your toes as you ride up the lift (or after just a run or two), or if you feel like your calf or other parts of your leg or foot are being pinched, your boot is probably buckled too tightly.
If your toenails end up bruised after a day of skiing or your toes feel crunched at the end of your boot, your boots might be too tight. This isn’t uncommon for racers, who don’t want to sacrifice performance for the sake of comfort, but for the general skier, this level of discomfort is a little extreme.
How You Can Be Sacrificing Performance With Too-Large Ski Boots
Hang on, you might be saying – what’s all this jargon about sacrificing performance? To not get too technical, I look at negative space as a gap that you have to cross in order to get the boot to react to your foot and your ski to react to what you’re doing with the boot.
That might only mean a little extra energy exertion and a millisecond slower response from your skis, but magnify that over the course of a whole day of skiing and you’ll notice the difference in the effort that you’ve spent. Not only that, but you’ll likely feel like you’re less in control of your turns.
Ski boots are designed to enhance your turning and make things easier on you. This goes all the way up to that Velcro strap on the top of your boots: the tighter you keep that and the buckles, the more your lower leg is forced to conform to the canting of the boot, keeping you from drifting into the backseat as you ski.
If you’ve ever taken a ski lesson before, you’ve probably been told to get more forward over your skis. Decades of ski boot developments have actually been made specifically for that purpose: to help guide you into the right position over your skis, so that you get maximum performance through your turns.
How Tight Should Ski Boot Buckles Be
Especially if you’re in rental boots, getting those buckles to tighten down snugly might feel like a bit of a challenge. One clip feels too loose, but the next one feels too tight. If you’re struggling and struggling to get that buckle to close, it probably means that it’s too tight, even if the next option feels too loose.
Fortunately, most buckles on modern boots are adjustable. Twisting that buckle in one direction will shorten the buckle length; twist it in the other direction to loosen it. The more you can fine-tune your boots to fit you, the more comfort you’ll be able to get out of them without sacrificing performance.
Just remember that you may have to reassess the tightness and re-buckle your boots as the day goes on. Your boot liners can pack out incrementally over the course of the day, and as your feet heat up the shells of your boots (or as frigid temperatures freeze the shells), you may experience some changes in the tightness as well.
That’s not to mention the fact that as your feet are buckled in the boots, they can swell with heat or shrink with loss of circulation too. Just because you had the perfect fit first thing in the morning, it doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way all day!
How to Choose the Right Ski Boot Size
If you’re just renting boots, you may not have much say in which boots you get, but buying boots is another story. If you start out with ill-fitting ski boots, unfortunately, there’s not all that much that you can do to fix things. So picking the right boots for you is pretty crucial.
Everyone’s feet are different, and it comes down to more than just the length of them. Fortunately, boots come in different widths to accommodate this. The average foot has a width somewhere between 100-104 mm. If you have wide feet, look for boots in the 102-106 mm range; if you have narrow feet, a sub-100 mm width will probably work better for you.
When you’re trying on ski boots with the intent to buy them, you should first do what’s called a shell fitting. This means, you take the liner out of the boot, slide your foot in until your toes are against the front, and see how much space there is between your heel and the back of the boot. This should be no more than ½ to ¾ of an inch of space.
Next, try on the liner separately from the shell. Are your toes against the end of the boot? Is your foot pushing the liner out in any weird ways or does the shape of your foot fit with the shape of the liner? If you’re ticking all the boxes with the shell fitting and the liner fitting, this is probably the boot for you. Otherwise, keep looking!
How to Break In Ski Boots
So you’ve found the perfect pair of boots for you, and now it’s time to get skiing in them, right? Not so fast! Just like with any other pair of footwear, if the first day you spend in your new boots is a long, full day on your feet, you could be in for a world of discomfort.
Even the most perfectly fitting boot can cause blisters if you’re not careful. Especially because many boots these days come with liners that are meant to be custom-molded to fit your foot and your foot alone.
It starts with wearing those boots around the house, just like you would with any other pair of new boots (although I’d try to stay off your hardwood floors with these ones!). Watch a movie or check your e-mails. Then, once you have an idea of how those boots are fitting you, go talk to your local bootfitter.
Now, if you’ve shelled out a lot of money on your boots, probably the last thing you want to do is dump more money into them through custom-molding the liners and shells.
But again, this is how you make that boot really snug around your foot so that you can enhance your ski performance and increase your general comfort on the slopes. A bootfitter can hot-mold your liners to fit you, punch out parts of the shell to make it wider say around your toes, and so on.
Should You Rent Ski Boots or Buy Them?
Especially for people who only ski once or twice a year, justifying the cost of buying ski gear can be tricky. The lower price range for a new pair of boots is usually around $350 a pair, and you’ll be paying more for a higher-quality boot with better performance on the mountain.
That said, your ski boots are arguably the most crucial bit of ski gear out there. This is the direct connection between your body and your ski, and if you sacrifice quality or sizing here, you’re going to feel it later with every turn you make.
The problem with rental boots is that they’re generally pretty limited in sizing, which can be especially tricky if you have wider or narrower than average feet, but more than that, they’re generally softer boots with a ton of ski days on them before you ever put them on your feet.
What this means is that the liners are packed out, and even if they feel like they’re the right size boot, your foot is probably going to wiggle around more than you’d like. Again, this is less than ideal in terms of performance, not to mention likely to cause blisters especially if you’re not used to ski boots and are suddenly planning on spending every day for a week in them.
Put it this way, if you’re already shelling out thousands of dollars on a ski vacation for you and your family, isn’t it worth the cost of the boots if it means you can ski that extra hour, or even just make every hour more enjoyable?
Does Ski Boot Fit Change Over Time?
Yes – unfortunately, the more you wear your ski boots, the more the liners will pack out. What once felt like the perfect fit will start to feel looser and looser, and you’ll likely notice a change in performance.
You can always tighten the buckles more than you used to, but there comes a certain point, usually no more than 150-200 days in, when you should at least replace your liners, if not the whole ski boot.
Are Ski Boots Supposed to Hurt?
Check to make sure that your buckles aren’t too tightly done. If you’re still having problems with pain, it could be what’s inside the boot.
Even if it’s freezing, you shouldn’t wear more than one layer of socks under your boots or else your feet are likely to go numb from lack of circulation just as quickly as the cold. You also shouldn’t have pants or anything else shoved down in there with your socks as extra layers can bunch and cause pinching too.
Can I Use Custom Footbeds in My Ski Boots?
Let’s say your boots fit perfectly to your feet but after a run or two, you start to feel a burning sensation under the arches of your foot. Probably what this means is that the footbeds in your boots aren’t giving you enough arch support.
As with other space in our ski boots, space under the arches isn’t desirable and will affect performance as well as general comfort. Custom footbeds will ensure that you can ski a little longer in a day, with more comfort, and they can usually be installed in any ski boot, no matter how perfectly snug the fit is.