Proper fitting of snowboard boots

What should you keep in mind while looking for snowboard boots? Kevin Ryan (keep reading to find out who he is) offers some tips to Grays on Trays. (Thanks, Kevin!)


Hello, my name is Kevin Ryan and I have been asked to write an article about snowboard boots. Here it is and it’s getting me in shape for the second edition of my book, The Illustrated Guide to Snowboarding. It has been a while since I have done this and am reminded that I enjoy writing. I hope this is good for you too.

Boots are the most important gear in snowboarding

Of the boot, binding, board hardware system that snowboards need, your boots are the most important. If your snowboard boots do not fit well, it is time for pain. When getting a new setup, this is where you want to spend your time, and even if you have to spend some extra money, to get the right fit. If you are on a budget I would recommend that you get the boots that fit you the best and spend less on your bindings and your board.

Get fit for heel, toes, and ankles

There are three considerations for fitting your feet within your snowboard boots.

Consideration #1: The boot should feel like a firm handshake around your foot and lower leg.

Keep in mind that your boots need a good 4 to 10 days of riding (not walking around your living room) for them to pack out properly. The boot will pack out from 1/4 to 3/4 of a size depending on the manufacturer and what materials are used in the liner. Understand that the boot should feel snug, not painful, but snug, even a little tight. I like to think of being comfortably immobilized when I am in my boots.

When you put the boots on you will need to walk around the shop for at least 5-10 minutes to feel how the boot holds your foot. Immediate pain is a bad sign. However, slight pinching may not be as noticeable after a few minutes. It also depends on, as time goes on, where you are feeling the pinching from your boot. Make sure that you do not start to lose circulation or get that tingling feeling in your toes that say “We need blood!” I’ll get back to this again later.

Consideration #2: Your toes should gently touch the end of the boot.

This is the part of the bootfitting process that most people are not used to. Your toes should touch the end of the boot, but not curl. If your toes do not touch the end of the boot, my concern is that your feet will slide around. If your toenails get banged into the end of the boot all day long you will get the black nail. Black toenails are painful, keep you from walking and sleeping and take the better part of a year to fully grow back. Take my word on this–it’s no fun. Oh yes, you should also be able to wiggle around inside the boot’s toebox for your foot’s circulation.

Snowboard boots have forward lean built into them and are not made for standing upright. Many times a boot will feel small when you first put your foot inside it. Tying the boot’s laces down will help to implement the boot’s design and pull your heel back into the heelcup of the boot. This will pull your toes away from the end of the boot as well. When you walk around the shop, do so with your ankles meeting the boot’s forward lean.

Consideration #3: The boot should hold your heel down inside the boot.

Your heel should be held by the boot when you drive your knee forward. Just like you move when you are making a toeside turn. A snowboard boot is not designed to hold your foot when you stand on your toes. If you are standing on your toes when you ride this is a sign that your boots are not doing their job. This makes your riding and toeside turns much more difficult they should be.

If you feel your heels slide or rub against the inside of the boot, this is a signal the boot is not holding you down. This abrasion will give you blisters. If this isn’t bad enough, you can also get bone spurs from a boot like this. Remember the boot will pack out after you have been riding it for a while. It is not going to get any smaller as it gets older. The boots will only get bigger. If this is an issue a good bootfitter can help you hold your heel down better than the boots would right out of the box.

Certain areas of your boots may feel tighter than they normally would compared to a comfortable street shoe. An area that manufacturers will focus on is the fit of the boot around the ankle and Achilles tendon. The boot liners are meant to hold the heel down inside the boot. Pinching in these areas is by design and often becomes less noticeable after walking around in the shop and it is rarely an issue after the boots have packed out.

Buy orthotics if you have problems with your feet

Potential problem areas that should be of concern are at the top of the foot, especially where a bump can project from the top of your foot (the Navicular bone). This little bump can make you very unhappy. It happens to reside just under your ankle strap. If you have this situation I would recommend a boot with a heat moldable liner. Your fitter can “push” out this area without compromising the performance of your fit.

If you have a wide foot, you will need to get a wider boot. If your foot feels like it is curling along its width, you definitely need a wider boot. An orthotic support underneath your foot will also help to keep your foot from spreading out any wider when it supports your weight. There are many types of orthotics available to you. Your bootfitter should be able to help you out with your decision on this. There are off-the-shelf orthotics, custom-molded cork footbeds, and acrylic supports. If you get an acrylic orthotic, make sure that you get a 3/4 footbed, not a full-length orthotic. The full-length acrylics will crack underneath the ball of your foot. Each type of orthotic differs in shape, stiffness and support. Talk to the pros and find out what is best for you.

If you are concerned with your toes going numb there are a few things that you need to pay attention to. There are two major arteries that serve the foot.

The first runs along the top of the boot by the tendons that are connected to the toes. Pressure at this point or over the instep of the foot will constrict blood flow to the top of the foot and the toes.

The second artery runs behind the ankle bone on the outside of the foot. This pathway serves the outside and the bottom of the foot. When the blood flow is restricted here, the foot may cramp up underfoot and may make placing any weight upon it a painful event. Talk to your bootfitter this issue. If this becomes a problem, a heat moldable boot liner is often the best way to deal with it.

Don’t buy too big

One of the oldest problems found when fitting boots has to do with people who fit their snowboard boots too big. When their boots fail to hold their feet down, they do the obvious thing to solve the problem. They crank down their ankle strap.

The trouble with this is that their blood supply is now being cut off by the excessive pressure placed upon its pathways. The rider once again makes the obvious assumption: “My boots are too small, they are cutting off the circulation to my feet!”

Consequently they make another obvious and expensive choice. They buy a larger pair of boots! With this in mind, take your time with your boot choice and understand that your boots will get a little bigger with use. If you have specific health problems with your feet that need specialized services, talk to your bootfitter and podiatrist and see what information and services they can offer you.

Try a demo program if you can

When shopping for boots, your sales person should be able to show you many different boots from different manufactures. Different brands have different volumes inside of them. Your sales person should be able to give you a choice of at least 2 different boots to try and feel in the shop. If your toes feel cramped, that can be taken care of easily with either a half size larger boot or a heel lift inside the boot, between the last and the liner. What you are more concerned with is a boot that feels like it holds you well. Choose the boot that fits your foot and lower leg the best.

Some shops have a rental fleet or even better, a demo program that uses the boots you are interested in. This program lets you take the price of the demo and put it towards your eventual purchase with the shop. Check with your local shop to see who can offer you the best service for your business.

Wear thin, non-cotton socks

Socks are much more important than most people would think. There are a few simple guidelines that can make a big difference in how warm or cold your feet will be. The first thing you want to do is make sure that you do not wear cotton. Your hands and feet sweat more than any other part of your body. Cotton will soak up perspiration and hold it next to your body. This will definitely make you cold. Socks made of nylon, acrylic, neoprene will do a much better job of pulling moisture away from your body. Wool is another good material, but man-made socks from man-made materials keep your feet drier. Keeping your feet dry is one of the best things you can do to keep your feet warm.

Socks should be thin, not thick. Most people believe that thick socks will help to keep you warm. This is true. However, thick socks will also add space between your great-fitting boot and your foot. This will give your foot more of a “floating” fit within your boot. If you have to wear three pairs of thick wool socks to keep warm, you need new boots or at least a bootfitter to work with you. Going this route can be expensive, it is worth every penny. Trust me on this one. Your boots will keep you warm by fitting you well.

Boot warmers can help with medical problems

If you suffer from bad circulation or other medical conditions that keep you from having warm feet no matter what you have tried, consider boot warmers. There are a number of solutions out there. If you ride less than 20 days a season, consider the packets that can be placed underneath the ball of your foot. Heating packets like this cost between $2-5 per set. These seem to work best when placed between the footbed and the liner of the boot. There are rechargeable electronic solutions as well. These cost at least $100, and work very well. You have to have them installed inside the boot for them to work properly, and once they are there, they are a permanent addition to your boots.

Take care when drying your boots

Drying out your boots is a simple matter. Remove your liners from your boots and leave the boots and the outer last of the boots near a heater. Not over the heater. Near the heater. Direct, intense heat can wreck your boots quickly, so don’t do it. If you happen to have heat-moldable liners, keep them at least a foot away so you do not “un-mold” your custom-fitted boots. If you put your liners and outer last near a heater at the end of the day, they should be warm and dry by the morning.

If your boots are leather, you will need to use a leather treatment or a mink oil to keep them waterproof. Most manufacturers today use synthetic materials on their boots for better performance and lower production costs. Different materials require different treatments. For the most part, as long as you keep your boots dry and out of direct sunlight, you should be able to get between 100 to 150 days of solid riding out of them.

Protecting the toe of the trailing boot from the heelside edge when traveling up the chairlift is a something that I do when I first get a pair of new boots. I get a piece of hard plastic and attach it through the laces of the trailing boot to keep the sharp metal edges from tearing up my boots. Many boot companies now will put a plastic/ pleather guard on the boot, but I personally like to add something extra to make sure that my boots work the way they should.

Keep receipts for any warranty work

When your boot starts to fall apart you have a few options. If it is within the product’s warranty period you can try to send it back to the manufacturer. I would recommend that you do this through the shop you bought the boot at. (Note: This does not cover wear and tear or your dog’s chewing habits. This covers manufacturer defects.) The most common manufacturing defect happens in the form of boot materials separating from each other.

Make sure you keep your receipts. If you have to find another shop, make sure that they have an account with your manufacturer. Companies have a much greater interest in taking care of accounts that purchase many boots as compared to single users. You increase your chances of getting a positive response through a shop.

If the boot is out of warranty you can try to use a product like ShoeGoo on the outside to seal cracks or bind your sole to the rest of the boot. This is a patchwork solution though, and it only delays the inevitable. If you need just a few more days to get through the end of the season, it may be just what does the trick.

If the liner is coming apart you can try to replace it with a moldable liner or another boot liner. The trouble with this is that many liners cost nearly as much as new boots. New technology coming out every year makes buying new boots even more attractive as well. If you love your boots and want to keep them around as long as possible, talk to your local bootfitter and see what can be done.

Downsizing works for a few people

Downsizing your boots is not usually an option for most people. The riders that I have seen doing it are performance oriented and are used to a tight fit. People who participate in other sports that require a tight fitting shoe or boot are also more likely to consider this kind of fit as well. I personally like to downsize between 1 to 1 1/2 sizes when I buy new boots. This is a choice between comfort and performance. I am not in pain, but I am not completely at ease until I start making turns. Then when I push down on my toes in the slightest, my board reacts instantly. When you downsize your boots, take into account that your packing out period will be less comfortable, and will probably take a few more days to complete.

Fitting hard boots is almost the same as fitting soft snowboard boots. The fitting criteria are nearly the same, with the difference being that the foot has to reside in a plastic shell that stiffens up as the temperature drops. Your boots will also pack out more, 1/2 to 3/4 of a size. In a lot of ways fitting and adjusting a hard boot is easier because of the stiffer plastic shell against the liner and your foot. A softer shell pushes and pulls around quite a bit and will often require more material and playing around.

Buying larger for children

Kids and snowboard boots need to be taken care of with special attention. Kids should be fit more for comfort than for performance. If junior is not comfortable and happy in his boots, the whole family is not going to be on the snow for the day. Kids have a different mindset than adults do and this needs to be kept in mind. Snowboarding has to be fun for them or they will lose all interest in the sport. Maybe more adults could use an infusion of this attitude as well. Imagine that, snowboarding because it is fun.

Growing through the wonder years (ages 11 to 15) can be difficult enough without having to buy boots every few months. I usually do not recommend purposely buying boots that are too large, but this is an exception. Find out how big the men/ women are in your family in relation to how much the young man/ woman will probably grow. This will help to figure out how much growing might take place. Granted this is an estimation, as there is no way to predict how and when someone is going to grow. But it’s the best clue what is probably going to happen to this young person. Other than that we are rolling the dice.

What can help in getting the right boots is to go to a shop that has a youth / trade in program and see if they can help you out. This does not always work, as the person who is growing is probably going to grow into an adult-sized boot. If you get into a boot that is between 1 / 2 to a full size too big, this should be able to help you with some growing room. A heel lift should give you another 1/4 to 1/2 size to grow into when the toes start to press into the end of the boot.

Well that’s it for now. I hope that this information has helped. Thank you for your time.

When in doubt, go faster.

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