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A Guide To Buying Snowboard Boots

Having a well-fitting, comfortable pair of snowboard boots makes all the difference when honing your skills on the slopes. Snowboard boots differ from regular winter footwear by being much stiffer, to better transfer energy from rider to board for control. Unlike skis that lock feet in place, snowboard boots allow some flex to enable balancing and turning.  


Various closure systems, liners and outsole techs feature across available products, which is important to consider when choosing your perfect pair. Follow our guide covering different snowboard boot types, key features to compare, sizing/fitting advice and usage/maintenance pointers to help you find the right footwear.


Types of Snowboard Boots 

Snowboard boots broadly split into two main categories: hard boots and soft boots. Each delivers advantages depending on riding style and user preference.


Hard Boots  

As you might imagine, hard boots feature a tough, rigid exterior shell normally made of plastic polymer with firm padding inside for a snug fit. Burly and protective, they safeguard against knocks while their ultra-stiffness offers very responsive board control.  


Serious carving enthusiasts and alpine riders who demand performance similar to ski boots tend to favour them. However, hard snowboarding boots sacrifice comfort versus soft alternatives and need breaking-in to loosen up. Walking any distance off-piste in them can also become tiring.


Beginners rarely start with hard boots due to their unforgiving inflexibility, requiring competent technique. Those focused on speed and razor-sharp turns down demanding terrain get the most from properly fitted stiff boots.


Soft Boots

Most recreational snowboarders opt for the cushioned comfort and flex of softshell boots. Their external fabric build strikes a balance between board feel and shock absorbing flexibility for all-mountain versatility. Softer boots work well across groomed pistes, gentle off-piste and freestyle sessions, benefitting progressing intermediates up to advanced riders. 


Manufactured primarily using synthetic leathers, punched or embossed plastics and flexible rubbers, soft snowboard boots deliver warmth, protection and support minus the break-in discomfort and Iimitations of hard shells. However, outright response when aggressively carving or bombing downhill runs cannot match rigid alternatives. 


Thankfully various closure systems, supportive inner linings and sole rigidity levels now exist fine-tuning flex. These let snowboarders dial-in soft boots to match their evolving technique and preferred terrain as skills develop. 


Snowboard Boot Closure Systems, Liners & Soles

Beyond categorisation as hard or soft types, comparing other snowboard boot features affects choices. Differences in lacing designs, inner supports and outsole tech merit consideration depending on individual needs and preferences.  


Closure Systems

The method for tightening/loosening boots drives differences in convenience, security and pressure adjustability. Major options include: 


Traditional Laces – Many riders still favour straightforward tied laces for their simple all-round adjustability. Allowing tightening different zones in boots to varying tensions works for dialing-in an optimum fit. However, repeated bending to loosen/tighten during a session proves tiresome for some. Exposed laces also potentially catch on bindings risking injury if not tucked away.


Quick Pull Laces – Speed lacing systems from brands like Boa use strong cables tightened via twisting dials. Letting you swiftly crank boots into a locked and centered position or slacken again when desired, they save effort and reduce pressure point irritation. Their smooth low profile with no loose flap protrusions benefits ease too. However pulling dials can still come loose or potentially ice up in extreme cold. Relying on cable replacement if damaged is a slight drawback as well. 


Straps & Buckles – Utilising rugged straps crossing the foot anchored by buckles gives another snug fastening choice. Allowing sectional tightening similar to laces whilst quicker to operate, their ruggedness withstands repeated winter use. Strap systems evenly distribute pressure well across the boot minimising hotspots. The potential for hardware failure if buckles break over time is a reliability downside though.


Boot Liners

What lies inside boots merits consideration too for cushioning and fit. Linings provide next-to-foot comfort, wicking moisture away that may otherwise chill feet. Integrated support assist performance. Light, budget open cell foam linings offer basic warmth and cushioning but pack down with use. More rigid, durable and supportive closed cell foams maintain protective sturdiness across years of usage. Thermoform liners are unique heat-mouldable liners custom-shaped to your feet. While expensive, their bespoke fit provides unmatched comfort. Strategic gel padding around ankles and heels absorb vibration and dampen impacts, protecting joints.


Outsoles & Soles   

When selecting snowboard boots, the traction, grip, and shock absorption qualities can vary considerably depending on the sole material. Rubber soles with deep cleated tread patterns bite securely into snow, resisting slippage when moving across slopes or landing awkwardly off-balance. Rubber also flexes naturally for walking comfort and absorbs vibration well.  


However, the lack of rigidity compromises ollie power for freestyle tricks. Dense EVA plastic soles provide both traction and shock proofing while adding rigidity. The increased firmness boosts jumping capability in the terrain park but causes some loss of natural walking flexibility. Very lightweight yet ultra-rigid full carbon fiber soles optimise power transfer and high-speed stability when aggressively carving downhill. However, their extreme hardness comes at the cost of off-piste compliance and walking ability, making carbon soles best suited to a narrow niche of riders.  


For most recreational snowboarders, rubber or EVA soles offer the best all-around compromise for varied mountain use. Consider your preferences regarding rigidity versus compliance, board control versus walking comfort, and type of terrain when reviewing sole specifications.  


Sizing Snowboard Boots

With so many designs and technologies to consider, correctly sizing boots according to your individual foot shape and sporting requirements is equally key. Poorly fitted boots will hamper progress through poor control, discomfort or internal slippage problems. Avoid disappointment by carefully measuring your feet and determining the optimal size range for your needs prior to purchase.  


Use winter snowboard socks when measuring feet to factor in the added bulk and thickness of what you will actually wear riding. Overly thin socks will overestimate true size. Measure feet length and width across the broad metatarsal area in the late afternoon or evening when your feet are most naturally expanded after a day of activity. Feet shrink when resting, which would undersize your boots. Stand upright, evenly distributing body weight when measuring to replicate riding stance since varying pressure can alter foot shape. For boot length, aim at the higher end of a size's tolerance to minimise excess room while still retaining sufficient comfort wiggle space. Select width sizes accommodating the metatarsal ball and toe box shape without excess pinching or pressure points.  


Once you've determined the recommended size range from brand sizing charts, try on candidate boots to assess feel. Initially walk boots around at home to begin gently breaking them in and confirm adequate overall fit with no rubbing or excess play indicating poor support or control. Finding the right boot often takes patient trial and error. Be prepared to invest time at snowboard shops walking in different boots with your riding socks to properly evaluate comfort and function before deciding what to purchase. Proper boots make all the difference, so don't cut corners - take the time needed to get the sizing right.


Snowboard Boot Usage & Care Tips

Investing in quality snowboard boots built for purpose beats compromising too much on budget to avoid premature breakdowns ruining your riding seasons. Treat your footwear properly and boots will support many winters of enjoyable activity on the slopes. Follow this expert guidance to maximise lifespan. 


Correctly break-in new boots at home, subtly reshaping liners around your feet before subjecting them to full on-snow use. Tighten and loosen during short initial sessions to incrementally stretch materials without over-stressing them. Apply protective sprays to coat leather and fabric components, shielding them from salt and chemical deterioration common at busy resorts. Consider heat moldable liner models to truly customise fit if struggling to eliminate pressure points or hot spots with standard boots.  


Use snowboard-specific thicker sock layers to cushion feet, wick perspiration, and insulate warmth better than regular socks. Always ensure socks match the thickness used when originally measuring for boots or sizing may be off. Pack spare socks to change into if your riding pair gets wet to avoid chilling feet.  


Carefully tighten boot laces, straps or ratchets to create all-around support without excessive tightness at vulnerable points like toes or ankles. Focus tension mostly around the ankles and lower shins to firmly secure heels seated into the boots' rear cup. Start gently and incrementally tweak snugness over each session until dialing in the optimum tight fit.   


When storing or transporting boots, fill interiors with newspaper or towels hold their shape and prevent creasing which can damage fabrics over time. Keep stored somewhere cool and dry, away from direct heat accelerating glue or tape breakdown. Ensure boots stay protected in carry bags or sleeves during transit, preventing scuffs or contamination from car trunks and luggage compartments. 


Rinse away accumulations of mud, road salt or snow chemical fluids at the end of each session before thoroughly drying, as prolonged exposure will degrade boot components. Frequently remove insoles to air out, preventing fungal build-up inside. Use leather conditioners to nurture flexibility and water repellency across the season. Avoid aggressively ramming feet to full depth when donning boots as this can overly compress liners before they adjust to your feet. Similarly, unclip all top ratchets before pulling boots on to avoid breakage. 


Replace compacted footbeds and insoles as their shock absorbing capacity and comfort cushioning wears down from prolonged use. Consider getting liners reheated and remolded if boots start to permanently pack out unevenly, compromising snug fit. Use colour-matched paint sticks to touch-up scuffs affecting appearance or waterproof seals. Monitor fraying lace ends and proactively re-lace boots with quality round profile replacement sets matching original specs to avoid pressure points or loose support.


Despite best efforts maintaining boots, know when declining performance means it's time to replace them. Retire boots once flex points excessively soften and boards cease griping them tightly enough for responsive hard carves. Similarly replace footwear if internal lining fabrics or foam degrade substantially, allowing moisture inside. Persisting in battered boots past their service lifetime hampers snowboarding performance and risks injury as control suffers. While variables affect longevity, expect around 100-150 days of aggressive riding to be about the average lifespan target before considering new boots.


Following these in-depth pointers will help you select optimal snowboard boots for ability level and style of winter sport pursued. Take time determining adequate sizing and features best matching your needs for minimising discomfort, cold and control challenges ruining slope enjoyment. Investing wisely into quality equipment aligned with careful usage and maintenance practices then retains cosy dry feet with responsive board control to progress techniques across future seasons on the mountain.

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