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The Best Backcountry and AT Ski Boots of 2019

The quieter moments of backcountry skiing are only enhanced by gear that supports what you want while otherwise staying out of your way. Ski boots are among the most influential pieces of equipment in your eventual experience.
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday March 21, 2019
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On the hunt for the best pair of backcountry ski boots? We researched over 75 models before purchasing the best 10 to put through our strenuous head to head testing in 2019. Virtually all of our testing is in real backcountry skiing and is done by a team whose experience spans every bit of the field's broad range. Sorting our impressions, measurements, and opinions into discrete metrics will help you with your eventual purchase. You need to know how they tour, how they go downhill, how much they weigh, how they insulate and their relative ease of use. Our scoring and review below reflect these needs.


Top 10 Product Ratings

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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $899.95 at Backcountry
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$359.95 at Backcountry
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$631.95 at Amazon
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$529.95 at Amazon
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$519.99 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Excellent downhill performance, light weight, proven styleLight, excellent freedom of motion, easy to use, skis downhill as well as any average touring bootExcellent downhill performance, lightweight, innovativeGreat downhill performance, progressive forward flex, reliable buckles and ski/walk modeExcellent skiing, serviceable touring performance
Cons Moderate insulation, hard to get in and out ofLimited crampon compatibility, not as warm as the warmest boots availableClaimed easy transitions leave you in a tour mode that is significantly compromised., binding and crampon compatibility limited.High friction in range of motion, smooth soleNarrow fit requires work for most feet
Bottom Line Whether a newcomer adjusting from the resort or a seasoned expert looking for work-horse shoes for 100+ backcountry days a season, the Tour Pro is a top of the line contender.The TLT 7 is the result of decades of refinement and the performance shows; the proven attributes are welcome, and the innovative refinements work well enough.Unique, innovative boots that really push the envelope way ahead in terms of downhill performance (at this weight point) but have some design and branding inconsistencies for actual backcountry and uphill use.This is a ski touring boot that skis downhill almost as well as a resort boot.An excellent, modern AT ski boot for the masses.
Rating Categories Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro Dynafit TLT7 Performance Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120 Salomon S/Lab MTN
Rating Categories Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro Dynafit TLT7 Performance Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120 Salomon S/Lab MTN
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Specs Tecnica Zero G... Dynafit TLT7... Dynafit Hoji Pro... Atomic Hawx Ultra... Salomon S/Lab MTN
Weight size 26.5, pair 6 lbs 0 oz 4 lbs 8 oz 6 lbs 2 oz 7 lbs 5 oz 6 lbs 14 oz
Range of Motion; degrees 55 55 55 36 41
Binding Compatibility? Tech only, or Tech and DIN AT standard, or Tech, DIN AT and DIN Alpine/WTR WTR, Tech, and DIN AT Tech only Tech only WTR, Tech, and DIN AT Tech and DIN AT
Stated Flex Index 130 Not reported Not reported 120 120
Stated Last width 99mm 102mm 103.5mm 98mm 98mm
Alpine wrap or Tongue Alpine Wrap Tongue Tongue Alpine Wrap Tongue
Shell material Grilamid Grilamid lower shell, Titantex Fiber cuff Grilamid Grilamid Pebax shell, Grilamid spine

Best Overall Backcountry Ski Boots- Downhill optimized


Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro


Editors' Choice Award

$899.95
at Backcountry
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Uphill Performance - 20% 7
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Downhill performance - 30% 8
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 8
  • Warmth - 10% 6
  • Ease of Use - 5% 8
Weight: 6.0 lbs | Binding Compatibility: WTR, Tech, and DIN AT
Light
Neutral fit
Proven overlap construction downhill performance
Traditional, involved transitions
Limited insulation value

Our newest Editors Choice winner enters the fray from long-time alpine boot manufacturer Tecnica. Their previous touring boots were basically alpine boots with tech fittings and a walk mode. The Zero G Tour Pro, though, is a full, ground-up touring boot. It is remarkable in many ways. Mainly, the weight-to-downhill performance ratio is amazing. It is lighter than many options of just a few years ago and skis downhill better than most AT boots available at any weight. Further, the cuff range and low-friction enable near effortless touring and walking. That the Zero Tour does this in a gimmick-free, long-proven, familiar "alpine overlap" four buckle configuration is the amazing part. You immediately trust these boots for their familiarity and the performance won't let you down.

All AT boots present inherent trade-offs. Right off the bat, uphill and downhill performance are inherently conflicting. Boots get better and better at optimizing both, but you can't have it all. There are definitely other boots that tour better than the Tecnica and there are a few that ski downhill better. Further, to minimize weight and maximize performance (uphill and down), warmth is sacrificed. The *ecnica Zero G Tour Pro is noticeably less insulating than average touring boots.

Read review: Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro

Best Overall AT Ski Boots- Uphill Optimized


Dynafit TLT7 Performance


Dynafit TLT7 Performance
Editors' Choice Award

$359.95
(60% off)
at Backcountry
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Uphill Performance - 20% 9
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Downhill performance - 30% 6
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 7
  • Warmth - 10% 4
  • Ease of Use - 5% 7
Weight: 4.5 lbs | Binding Compatibility: Tech only
Light
Excellent freedom of movement
Easy to use
Limited crampon capability
Vulnerable cable actuated closures
Cold

The Dynafit TLT 7 Performance wins our second OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice for best alpine touring boot. It combines nearly the best uphill performance with downhill performance that exceeds expectations. The TLT 7's 55 degrees of cuff touring mode range of motion, low weight, and low friction cuff articulation helped make it one of our favorite touring boots. Combine that with ski performance that will get most skiers through most terrain in most conditions, means it's worth everyone's consideration. The TLT 7 excels at ease of transitions. One can switch from tour to ski mode in one move.

In a rare move, we granted two Editors' Choice awards. As we compared boots and agonized over the scoring metrics, it became clear that two boots would share the highest scores, well ahead of the rest of the pack. Interestingly, these two boots are fairly different from one another. As you compare the TLT 7 to the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, consider your apprehensions about your backcountry boot purchase. Are you concerned about the uphill performance, primarily? If so, the TLT 7 is your call. The TLT 7 tours almost as well as a Randonnée race boot and skis downhill as well as your average, "typical" backcountry ski boot. That is high praise and a testament to how far BC ski gear has come.

Read review: Dynafit TLT 7 Performance

Best Bang for the Buck


La Sportiva Spectre 2.0


Best Buy Award

$399.95
(41% off)
at Amazon
See It

57
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Uphill Performance - 20% 6
  • Weight - 20% 7
  • Downhill performance - 30% 5
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 5
  • Warmth - 10% 5
  • Ease of Use - 5% 6
Weight: 6.3 lbs | Binding Compatibility: Tech, Ski Trab TR2, and DIN AT
Inexpensive
Long track record
Balanced performance
Finicky walk mode switch
Difficult fit for some

Of the ten boots we tested for 2019, the La Sportiva Spectre 2.0 is the least expensive. With most contemporary AT boots performing well and with the available magic of professional boot fitting, value hunting is simply a matter of finding the cheapest thing in our list. The Spectre 2.0 has been on the market for years now, with past versions often deeply discounted. They are light, tour well, and ski well enough for casual backcountry skiing. Get excellent help in fitting them to your feet, and you will be well served for a long time.

When they debuted years ago, the La Sportiva Spectre was the "world's lightest four buckle backcountry ski boot". The benefits of low weight are obvious. The "four buckle" qualifier is a sort of proxy for downhill performance. More buckles equals greater performance, to some degree. However, this claim has since been surpassed and some products have gotten much better and lighter. Four buckle boots are now even lighter (see the Editors' Choice Tecnica) and boots with fewer buckles ski really well (see the Dynafit Editors Choice. And the Dynafit Hoji. And the Scarpa Maestrale RS.) In any case, the Spectre is a little out of date. Others ski and tour better and are lighter. At the price, though, you shouldn't be disappointed with the performance of the Spectre 2.0.

Read review: La Sportiva Spectre 2.0

Best AT Boot for Ski Mountaineering and High-Speed Touring


Scarpa Alien RS


Top Pick Award

$652.46
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

62
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Uphill Performance - 20% 10
  • Weight - 20% 10
  • Downhill performance - 30% 3
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 5
  • Warmth - 10% 2
  • Ease of Use - 5% 6
Weight: 4.3 lbs | Binding Compatibility: Tech only
Light
Excellent touring mode
Fast and easy transitions
Thin materials are cold
Require balanced skiing skills

The best boot for huge days and ski mountaineering objectives. The Scarpa Alien RS is a slipper among backcountry ski boots. It feels improbably light and nimble with more range of motion than most folks have flexibility for. The cuff of the Alien hinges more than your ankle can! The Alien RS is, in some respects, similar to the Editors' Choice Dynafit TLT 7 Performance. When looking at our entire test roster, they both fall into the ultralight category. The TLT 7 skis downhill better and will be more durable. The Scarpa, though, has a lower-friction uphill mode, is lighter, and can be used with standard step-in automatic crampons.

For these reasons, it steps away from its close competitor when the objectives are more in the ski mountaineering realm. Lastly, the transition requirements of the Alien RS are by far the easiest of any boot we tested. Any transition, whether from ski to tour or vice versa, doesn't require lifting your pant cuff. For specialized and high-speed missions, the Scarpa Alien RS is just right. For higher energy downhill skiing, other choices are better. For super cold conditions, look elsewhere. The thin construction doesn't insulate well. Finally, be aware of the durability concerns associated with any sort of lightweight gear. To trim the ounces the Alien RS uses light parts and thin cords and cables. We've had the sorts of failures you might expect in our full year (plus) of testing all around the world.

Read review: Scarpa Alien RS

Top Pick for Hard Charging Downhill Performance


Lange XT Freetour 130


Lange XT Freetour 130
Top Pick Award

$699.95
at Amazon
See It

62
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Uphill Performance - 20% 3
  • Weight - 20% 1
  • Downhill performance - 30% 10
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 9
  • Warmth - 10% 8
  • Ease of Use - 5% 5
Weight: 7.8 lbs | Binding Compatibility: WTR, Tech, and DIN AT
Excellent downhill skiing
Durable
Warm
Reliable
Limited uphill and foot-travel performance

The Lange XT FreeTour 130 was our Top Pick for best downhill-optimized AT boot. For someone who spends most of their time riding chairs or other mechanized access, it is a more comfortable boot for short tours, boot packs and sidecountry touring. It is one of a few boots available that will work with tech style touring bindings AND with resort alpine bindings (the resort bindings must be WTR compatible). Even human-powered users should consider Lange. Our lead test editor and full-time backcountry ski guide contemplated them for day-to-day guiding, where comfort, downhill performance, and warmth have great value.

The weight and lack of touring mobility will narrow the appeal of these boots. They don't tour nearly as well as any other option we assess.

Read review: Lange XT FreeTour 130


Why You Should Trust Us


Our AT ski boot testing team was led by longtime tester and all-around mountain athlete Jed Porter. As an IFMGA certified guide, Jed spends a huge amount of time on skis for both work and play. Furthermore, these professional and personal ski pursuits take him deep into the backcountry in a multitude of locales, providing a unique opportunity to put gear to the test over a variety of real-world conditions. In addition to Jed's wealth of knowledge and experience, we sought out input from avalanche safety professionals, seasoned ski mountaineers, and other guides to round out our evaluation of these ski boots.

We used our quiver of backcountry ski boots in locations all over the world. From the western United States to Canada, Alaska, Peru, and Europe, our testers encountered every type of snow and terrain conditions. We took these boots up just as much as down and found whatever limitations, quirks, or impressive qualities each pair brought to the table. In addition to testing out in the wild, we measured, weighed, and flexed each boot in our lab to gain empirical data and see how manufacturer claims held up to our measurements.

Related: How We Tested Backcountry Ski Boots

They look and ski like alpine boots  and tour like your average touring boot. Win win.
A skier in the flat light of Zermatt's flat-light  glaciated skiing at the end of Europe's Haute Route  all in the light and mobile Atomic Backland.
Walking is a joy in such light and freely-articulating kicks.

Analysis and Test Results


We tested all of these boots over the past couple years and garnered a wide range of feedback from outdoor professionals, local ski shops, mountain guides, patrollers, ski instructors and more. We compared them both side-by-side as well as individually out in the field while using them. We use them how we expect you'd use them and reported our findings below. We compared and scored them in six categories. Our focus is on human-powered skiing, but we understand resort riding and mechanized access backcountry. Our scoring metrics reflect the demands of your typical human-powered backcountry ski experience. We make occasional references to ski mountaineering on one side and resort side-country on the other.

Related: Buying Advice for Backcountry Ski Boots

Boot testing and backcountry skiing.
Boot testing and backcountry skiing.

Our AT ski boot test team has had hours of conversations with people, just like you, seeking advice, assessment, and comparisons between the ever-expanding list of options on the market. It is thoroughly mystifying, even if you are well-versed. We've got your back. With many decades of experience backcountry skiing, dozens of years spent in ski gear consulting, and thousands of days of touring, ski mountaineering, and human-powered ski guiding under the belt of our test team, we can make authoritative and relatable recommendations. We've distilled deep and broad information, critiquing hundreds, using dozens, and publishing here reviews on the ten best backcountry ski boots on the market.

Through much of the winter of 2019 we tested three new-to-us boots while comparing them to a few of our favorite prior award winners. Our testing is led and coordinate by IFMGA Mountain Guide Jed Porter. Jed personally puts in at least a week in each pair of boots and coordinates the sharing of these boots among his colleagues, clients, and Teton region friends. Through 2016, '17, and '18 we watched all-around ski boots get lighter and lighter until we were psyched to have multiple sub-5-pound options for all-season and all-purpose skiing. While we stayed excited about those little sending slippers, the boot manufacturers continued to push other major categories. For 2019 we are excited to observe, test, and love the 6-pound hard-charging boots. All three of our 2019 newly tested boots are around six pounds a pair and each skis downhill better than anything we might have loved at eight pounds just a couple of years ago. The business is going in the right direction, and fast. Our new Editors Choice submission snuck up on all of us, coming from alpine boot manufacturer Tecnica. The Zero G Tour Pro is nearly miraculous in how it marries traditional, proven construction and performance in an ultralight end product. Dynafit's lauded Hoji Pro Tour lives up to the hype and brings innovations that should only refine with more iterations and time. The Scarpa Maestrale RS model has been a perennial favorite (Scarpa claims it is the worlds most popular ski touring boot). The latest version is everything that so many have loved, plus stiffer downhill performance and lighter overall construction. Winning all around.

Value


So you've already dished out for a pair of touring skis and some sweet AT bindings to go with them, and looking at the now four-figure price tag of your backcountry ski setup has you really prioritizing value as you shop for a pair of boots to round things out. Worry not! We rounded up all the specs for the boots in our review and mapped them out specifically in terms of value. The Best Buy award winning La Sportiva Spectre 2.0 and one-time Editor's Choice Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120 represent what we believe to be a great value.

For value and adequate performance  up and down  the Spectre 2.0 is a good choice.
For value and adequate performance, up and down, the Spectre 2.0 is a good choice.


Uphill Touring Performance


Range of Motion

The range of motion of the boots we tested range from more than you need (72 degrees) to a minimal 22 degrees, with most boots being in the 40-55 degree range. To be clear, we are talking about the forward and rearward hinging of the boot cuff, relative to the lower boot shell, all while the boot is in its touring mode. We measured this cuff range ourselves, using a standardized, repeatable method. We chiefly found the manufacturers reference to be close to accurate. Five years ago most boots had around 30 degrees range of motion but with design improvements, the range of motion has increased dramatically.


With that said, there are diminishing returns on additional cuff range of motion. For example, most people don't need more than 50-60 degrees; you just aren't striding that far and your ankles don't have that much range naturally. We do think that 40 degrees of motion is WAY BETTER than 30 degrees and users will instantly notice this critical difference. You'll see the difference going from 40 to 60 degrees and it feels better, but it isn't a deal breaker. Backcountry ski boots with around 20 degrees of range or lower like the Top Pick Lange have an excellent walk mode for an alpine boot, but a weak walk mode for a randonnee option. They perform comparatively poor for all-day ski touring.

AT ski boots have difficult  conflicting jobs to perform. The best boots are carefully balanced.
AT ski boots have difficult, conflicting jobs to perform. The best boots are carefully balanced.

The best touring mode ranges in our test were found on the Dynafit TLT7 Performance, Scarpa Alien RS Atomic Backland Carbon and La Sportiva Spectre. For an alpine boot, the 22 degrees range of motion in the Lange XT FreeTour isn't bad. Further, the 55 degrees of articulation of the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro is admirable, for an "overlap" constructed shoe. Only when skinning on flats and in scrambling terrain did we notice the limited range of motion of any of the backcountry ski boots tested here.

For uphill travel  whether on skins or booting  weight is something to look at. Even more important is the cuff mobility. Range of motion and friction within that range affect your climbing comfort and efficiency.
For uphill travel, whether on skins or booting, weight is something to look at. Even more important is the cuff mobility. Range of motion and friction within that range affect your climbing comfort and efficiency.

Cuff Friction

The range of motion is easily quantified and, once past that 35-degree threshold, makes a huge difference in one's touring efficiency. The trickier part, and arguably more important, is the friction within that range. Plastic flexion, liner binding, interference from ski/walk mode hardware and cuff rivet tension all inform the ease with which a boot's cuff hinges through its range of motion. The best backcountry ski boots approach zero interference within the range of motion. It is difficult to describe what creates friction, but it seems to be a combination of plastic thickness, ski/walk mode construction (pin-in-bar systems have more friction. Bar-less systems have less), and liner stiffness, especially in the ankle flexion zone.

The ultralight backcountry ski boots we tested have the least friction. The TLT 7, Scarpa Alien, and Atomic Backland Carbon are all in a class of their own. Among those, the TLT 7 has more friction than the other three. At the other end of the spectrum are also the heaviest boots. The Lange, Atomic Hawx, and Salomon have significant friction. Both the La Sportiva Spectre and Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour feature cuff ranges (basically 50 degrees for each) that rival those of the ultralight boots, but have considerably more friction within that range. It is cuff friction in the Hoji Pro Tour that sets it apart from the Editors Choice Tecnica. The Hoji boot features an innovative buckle and lever system that theoretically allows for one-move transitions between up and down. However, when used as intended, the cuff friction in tour mode is significant. If you lift your pant cuffs and individually disengage the relevant buckles you get much lower cuff friction.

The Best Buy La Sportiva Spectre on a mini-expedition in the Tetons.
The Best Buy La Sportiva Spectre on a mini-expedition in the Tetons.

We tested the cuff range and friction with each of the boot cuffs unbuckled. All AT boots tour better with the cuff buckles and Velcro straps undone. This makes a good fit even more crucial. If you need the upper buckles secured for a comfortable fit (or, in the case of the Hoji Pro Tour, for easy transitions), you will be significantly compromising the touring efficiency.

Downhill Performance


We tested and compared all these boots mainly while ski touring but also scored some mileage on chairlifts. Downhill performance is how well the boot helped us ski down, and as a whole, stiffer boots performed better in our testing.


Overall Flex and Stiffness

Generally speaking, everyone wants, or at least thinks they want, stiffer boots. That being said, depending on your skiing ability, personal body weight and skiing style: ski boots can easily be too stiff and will work against you instead of helping you while skiing down.

Regardless of ski conditions  for high-energy  high-speed skiing  stiff supportive boots are best. Skier: Jediah Porter
Regardless of ski conditions, for high-energy, high-speed skiing, stiff supportive boots are best. Skier: Jediah Porter

For example, most 120 lb people won't benefit from a "130 flex" boot, they won't be able to absorb bumps as effectively as someone who has just a little more mass behind their ankle flexion. On the other side, a 225 lbs 6'3" user will need a stiffer boot even at an intermediate ability because they just have more weight and leverage to flex the boot.

A Note on Flex Numbers

First, let's be clear regarding alpine touring boots and traditional downhill/alpine boots and flex ratings: there is no official standard for flex. It varies across manufacturers. This comes as a surprise to many, who thought those numbers (the flex index) was a standardized scale, but this is not the case. Individual companies test boots and rate their models relative to one another. Therefore, comparing different flex ratings within one manufacturer's range makes sense and will give you an accurate comparison of their relative stiffness. However, comparing flex index numbers between different companies is a different story and isn't fair to yourself or the boots.

For example, one 130 flex AT boot might be stiffer than a 120 from another company but it also could be softer. Use these numbers as just a rough guideline to helping you choose boots. Don't get too hung up on the numbers themselves. Even within the shop while trying boots on, the stiffness can feel different. How tight you buckle, liner type, and overall fit could be enough to make up for small differences in manufacturer flex ratings.

Our testers flex tested the stiffness of all the boots in our review, side-by-side indoors, and also did our best to test them one at a time while skiing multiple laps in varied terrain. In order to reduce variables we made sure to make at least a few direct comparisons using the exact same skis and bindings. However, testing realities dictate that we can't use every boot with the same exact ski and binding set up. Our testers agreed the stiffest boots were the Lange XT FreeTour. Just below these are the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120. The next category holds the Salomon S/Lab MTN, Dynafit Hoji and Editors Choice Tecnica Zero G.

Our test team unanimously loves the Tecnica Zero G Tour. The cuff mobility in touring is amazing  and everything else is well balanced too.
Our test team unanimously loves the Tecnica Zero G Tour. The cuff mobility in touring is amazing, and everything else is well balanced too.

After that, the next stiffest boots down were the Scarpa Maestrale RS. We'd say that the Maestrale represents the middle of the pack, as well as presenting a downhill performance that virtually no one will complain of. Just slightly softer than the Maestrale, in a class of boot that technically proficient skiers should be able to use in any terrain and conditions, are the Dynafit TLT 7 and the La Sportiva Spectre 2.0. The Scarpa Alien RS and Atomic Backland Carbon share roughly comparable, and relatively minimal, stiffness quotient. However, each brings other attributes that balance things out for them.

Forward Flex Pattern.

In actual ski use, absolute stiffness is only part of the equation. For the most part, all else equal, stiff boots ski better. However, when comparing similarly stiff boots, we further differentiate by examining the subjective sense the skier gets from the forward flex pattern. Fully rigid boots, especially when pressing shins forward, are impossible to ski. One needs some degree of forward motion. The best boots flex easily at first, maybe in just the first degree of travel, and steadily meet greater and greater resistance. This resistance should ramp up steadily and smoothly, in what we call a "progressive flex."

Lightweight, stiff materials, especially carbon fiber and other types of fiberglass, constructed into "three-piece" style boots (lower shell, upper cuff, and tongue) offer less progressive flex than "overlap," two-piece boots (lower shell and upper cuff. No tongue on the shell). The best flexing boots we tested, generally, are those overlap boots at the hefty and less-touring friendly end of the spectrum. Special mention must be made here of the Dynafit Hoji. The Hoji is a tongue style boot that flexes as well or better than an overlap boot. The cuff and ski/walk mode are an entirely different, tensioned design that better locks the parts in downhill mode and dramatically improves the initial feel and at least somewhat enhances the ultimate performance of the boots.

As evidenced by the Hoji, tongue boots can be made to offer a modicum of progression in their forward flex. It is this attribute that the Salomon S/Lab MTN also stands out. It isn't a ton stiffer than the bulk of the pack, but that forward flex has a progressive quality that closely simulates that achieved with an overlap shell. Tongue boots are lighter and tour better, so the pursuit of progressive flex in a tongue boot is many boot manufacturers goal. Notable is the way that Atomic has built their overlap Hawx boot to be only a little heavier than the Salomon, with even better progressive flex that skis better than the former Editors' Choice S/Lab MTN. The Tecnica Zero G is lighter than, and tours better than the Salomon with a flex pattern that is equal to or even slightly better.

On the left  a two-piece "overlap" boot. On the right  a three-piece "tongue" style boot.
On the left, a two-piece "overlap" boot. On the right, a three-piece "tongue" style boot.

Forward Lean Adjustments

Some of the boots we tested feature at least two forward lean positions and some of the boots in our review had the option to tweak that forward lean forward or backward depending on personal preference. As a whole and theoretically, backcountry skiers don't need as much forward lean as resort skiers. Folks in the backcountry are typically skiing a little slower, turning more, skiing more variable snow and have a backpack on. Fixed (or only slightly adjustable), moderate amounts of forward lean are usually adequate in touring boots.

Weight


There is a pretty big range in boot weight among Alpine Touring boots on the market. The heaviest boots we tested were the Lange XT at a stout 7 lbs 12 ounces, the lightest was the Scarpa Alien RS at a scant 4 lb 4 oz. There was a time when we were testing AT boots weighing over 10 pounds and sub-five-pounds was reserved for rando race boots and nordic skiing. For the ski performance they deliver, the Langes are amazingly light. The Dynafit TLT7 brings average downhill performance at nearly the lightest weight we've ever reviewed.


For durability and all around use, provided you do not need class-leading downhill performance, you should be able to keep your pair of boots near 6 pounds. The fact that Tecnica, with their Zero G Tour Pro gets alpine-like performance into size 26.5 boots that weigh 6 pounds is a benchmark to celebrate. Seven pounders had better ski much better than the Tecnica to stand out. The Atomic Hawx fits this description. Right around the six pound mark is also the Dynafit Hoji and the Scarpa Maestrale RS.

Ultralight boots are under five pounds. The Atomic Backland Carbon, Scarpa Alien RS, and Editors Choice Dynafit TLT7 are solidly in the ultralight category. You'll fly uphill, but have cold feet and limited durability. Downhill performance, after an adjustment period, won't suffer as much as you might fear.

Ease of Use


We compared the "fiddle factor" of each boot in normal use. We identified how easy it was to buckle, how easy it was to switch to touring mode and ski mode as well as ease of entering and exiting the boot. In the ease-of-use category we also assessed durability. A broken boot in the backcountry is not easy to use. Some are more likely to break than others, and on some the consequences of a failed part are greater than on others.


Entering and Exiting:

Generally speaking, boots with tongues, or three-piece boots, are easier to get into than two-piece boots, or boots that feature an "alpine wrap." Among the three-piece boots, we found the low-cuffed, super flexible ultralight boots easiest to get on and off. The La Sportiva Spectre 2.0 opens wide. The Lange, Atomic Hawx, and Tecnica, predictably, are hardest to get in and out of. We would be reluctant choose these boots for expedition or multi-day use — where you'll be getting in and out of the boot while in a tent. With the overlap touring boots, remember though that you can activate the walk-mode for greater ease in getting them on and off. Overlap touring boots are easier to get on and off than overlap resort boots, because of the walk mode.

Buckles

We compared how easily each buckle was to operate as well as how durable they are. Our favorite buckles were on the Salomon S/Lab MTN, Atomic Hawx and Tecnica Zero G because they were super easy to use, even with gloves, and durable. We were initially skeptical of the super-simplified buckle system on the TLT 7. All functions, from lower boot tightening to ski/walk mode, are accomplished with a single upper cuff buckle. It takes some getting used to, but it is streamlined, fast and stays out of the way of damaging rocks while walking. The buckles of the Best Buy La Sportiva Spectre are rather unorthodox, presumably to save weight. They also feature a learning curve, but are fine. There is something very satisfying about the positive snap of the very standard buckles on the overlap cuffed Atomic, Tecnica and Lange boots.

The closure system of the Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS is the most elaborate of any we assessed. The lower boot closes with the proprietary BOA closure. BOA is a knob and cable system that tightens down on your instep. The upper cuff of the Alien closes with one lever actuating cords. This same lever locks the cuff to the lower boot. Locking the upper cuff requires two cords and this long lever. The lightweight construction of these components leaves them a little vulnerable to damage. Notably, one tester had repeated issues with breaking the cords of the Alien upper lever. When any one part of this upper closure fails, the boot will ski downhill very very poorly. Carrying extra string and having the energy and wherewithal to make a field repair is crucial to using the Alien RS.

The upper cuff closure of the Dynafit Hoji is about as complicated as on the Alien RS. The whole cuff is designed with two major goals in mind; the cuff locks together super securely, and the user can switch between tour and ski mode with just one lever. The result, though, is a system that is more complicated than other options and more vulnerable (theoretically… we didn't have any actual problems) to failure. Once you are accustomed to the "Hoji Lock" you can indeed make transitions with just one move. However, the tour mode, when used this way, involves more cuff friction than anyone wants. The "pants down always" transitions that Dynafit claims are novel, but not a useful reality when undoing the buckles completely results in much better touring ease.

The most innovative attribute of the Dynafit Hoji is the one-move "Hoji Lock". It works as advertised  but the tour mode it enables is still quite limiting. You do better to fully undo the buckles.
The most innovative attribute of the Dynafit Hoji is the one-move "Hoji Lock". It works as advertised, but the tour mode it enables is still quite limiting. You do better to fully undo the buckles.

Transitions

Most of your backcountry ski day will be spent going uphill. Another good portion is downhill. Many people love these things, and love of one or both of these things is what draws people to backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. Another large chunk of your day is spent in transitioning between the two. That isn't nearly as fun. No one loves that. Therefore, it is nice when equipment makes it easy to get through the transitions without much drama. Your boots will have two distinctly different modes, and switching those modes involves buckles and adjustments. The best transitioning boots make this process easy.

The Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS is the fastest boot to transition. All that is required to switch modes is one lever accessible without moving your pant cuffs. The Dynafit Hoji should be as simple, but the walking articulation in "fast change mode" is significantly limited. Next is the Editors' Choice Dynafit TLT 7 With the Dynafit, once you have buckled into tour mode, there is one lever and one optional, fast power strap move to tackle. The one lever tightens the boot around your cuff and locks cuff to lower boot. The strap is a cam-lock style that cinches tight and pulls loose with a single tug. No other product in our test matches the transition ease of these three. The next closest competitor is the Salomon S/Lab MTN. It has two main buckles, a ski/walk mode lever, and a similar cam-locked power strap. To go from walk to ski mode (and vice versa), the user manipulates the cuff buckle, the ski/walk lever and the power strap.

Ski boot testing isn't always this rowdy  but we make sure to put 'em through the paces.
Ski boot testing isn't always this rowdy, but we make sure to put 'em through the paces.

Contrast these with these others that complicate transitions in two very different ways. The Atomic Backland Carbon features a total of three buckles and a power strap and an interchangeable tongue. To go from uphill to downhill mode the stored tongues must be removed from one's pack, inserted into fully loosened boots, and then all buckles and straps must be re-secured. The Top Pick Lange XT FreeTour 130 and Editors Choice Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro both have four buckles, a rear ski/walk mode lever, and a power strap, all of which usually require adjustment between up and downhill mode. The Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120 has the same configuration as the Lange and Tecnica, requiring all the same steps. One major advantage of the Atomic Hawx and Tecnica over the Lange is that the Atomic and Tecnica have a fully external ski/walk mode lever. While the mode changing levers of the Lange sometimes gave us trouble, the Hawx and Zero G go easily every single time.

A sampling of our recently tested ski boots. The Editors Choice Tecnica sits on the left  looking largely "normal".
A sampling of our recently tested ski boots. The Editors Choice Tecnica sits on the left, looking largely "normal".

The La Sportiva Spectre 2.0 and Scarpa Maestrale RS have buckle and transition setups much like the Lange and Hawx. These two are discerned from one another by the Scarpa's "instep" buckle. Many users really like this buckle configuration (the Hoji boot also has it) that pulls and holds the skier's heel down and back.

Comfort and Fit


Comfort is a little relative as each person has a different foot shape, width, and size, but we did our best to compare boots for touring and downhill comfort as well as how each liner affected fit. Our test team represents a variety of foot shapes, all in size 26.5. In years of comparisons now, it seems that our lead test editor has feet that are right in the middle of the road. They aren't super wide, nor super narrow. It is comparative, qualitative assessment, largely based on the experience of our lead testers, that we report. With length fixed at 26.5, for test and comparison purposes (in some cases, given the different shapes and volumes of different models, we might opt to size up or down for our use), we compared rough estimates of the boot's volume and additionally noted toe box, overall volume, and heel pocket retention/volume. We also commented on general impression of width, though volume is a better metric.


The Salomon S/Lab MTN fit on the narrow, low volume end of the spectrum. The Lange XT FreeTour, Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro and Dynafit TLT7 and Dynafit Hoji are neutral in fit. The Scarpa Maestrale RS, Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS and the Atomic Backland Carbon seem to be higher volume than the others. Special mention must be made of the Atomic Hawx. These start with a pretty neutral fit, but are made of special plastic that is far more readily adjusted than the plastic used in the other boots. They can be easily "heat molded" to accommodate a wide range of foot shapes and issues.

Fast  slow  steep  flat  deep  icy... We chase all the conditions into all the corners of what you can call backcountry skiing. The result is authoritative commentary on your options in AT ski boots.
Fast, slow, steep, flat, deep, icy... We chase all the conditions into all the corners of what you can call backcountry skiing. The result is authoritative commentary on your options in AT ski boots.

After the fit, there are comfort concerns. Fit is king, but there is one major non-fit-related comfort criteria we looked at. For some boots to get lighter, materials in both shell and liner have gotten thinner. Thinning the liner serves two major purposes. First, it is less material. Therefore it is lighter. Additionally, and less obvious, but the thin shell materials offer better support when they fit closer to your foot. Any shell material offers better support when it is close to your foot, but thin shell materials need that performance bump more. In the end, some liners are thinner than others. For bony feet, no matter how well you fit the boots, thin liner boots are more prone to cause pressure points. The ultralight La Sportiva Spectre 2.0 and Atomic Backland Carbon seemed especially prone to this, causing bruising on the ankle bones of two testers each.

Backcountry ski boots have a nearly impossible job to do  supporting and enabling two very different tasks. To skin uphill and ski down  boots must perform and fit very well. When chosen carefully  modern equipment can make the most amazing mountains readily accessible.
Backcountry ski boots have a nearly impossible job to do, supporting and enabling two very different tasks. To skin uphill and ski down, boots must perform and fit very well. When chosen carefully, modern equipment can make the most amazing mountains readily accessible.

Warmth


We find it surprising how seldom the insulation value of ski boots is mentioned in other online reviews. Skiing regularly takes place in cold conditions. Your boots should accommodate that. With a wide range of construction styles and materials, we found variation in the warmth of the boots we selected for review. Thicker liners and thicker shells make for warmer boots. More material between your warm foot and the cold outside slows the transfer of heat. What this means is that there is a pretty clear correlation between the weight of the boots and the insulation value. Of course, fit matters, but that can be adjusted. The other thing that matters is the "density" of the liners. Softer foam in the liners seems to feel warmer.


The ultra-light boots are the least insulating, while the beefy boots are the warmest. A notable exception is the Scarpa Maestrale RS. It is among the lighter four-buckle boost in the test but the liner is thick and fluffy. Scarpa works with Intuition Brand for their liners and Intuition liners are proven and highly functional. Many will replace stock liners with Intuition liners for performance, warmth, and comfort.

Conclusion


After determining the kind of days you plan to be spending in these boots, and where, other factors will also need to be considered. Fit, material, and performance are just a few important factors making this purchase a hard decision to make. Using this review, we hope to give you a clear idea of what boots will best suit your needs.

Testing ski boots in the mega classic Teton "Apocalypse Couloir". February 2019.
Testing ski boots in the mega classic Teton "Apocalypse Couloir". February 2019.


Jediah Porter