3 Questions You Should Ask Yourself When Choosing Your Boots

by: Anna Szlavi

Category: ,

How should I choose my climbing boots?

Probably this is the most frequently asked question we get. And it is indeed a question you should ask.

Too many times have we found our beginner climbers showing up in inappropriate boots. And it’s just too annoying if you fail to summit the Peak of Your Dreams because you arrived in the wrong footwear.

The most important part of your climbing gear is without question: your boots.

So how can you know which boots are appropriate and be sure you are not wasting your money? We have decided to collect the main features of the ideal boots for an alpine climb, to help you save time and make the right decision.

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We aim to provide you with an easy-to-follow, practical guide that gives you a general idea on what to pay attention to, along with tips on specific models and brands as well.

You will also learn how to avoid the most typical mistakes climbers make.

In essence, we are now giving you the expertise we have gained by climbing tens of thousands of vertical meters (and feet) for more than a decade. So it’ll help you too.

Top 3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing

The success of your trip will depend first and foremost on your footwear.

You can have the stamina of an iron(wo)man, enjoy the best possible weather, and wear the most modern softshell jacket, but you may still fail if your boots are too big, too small, too heavy, or too light.

So this is not the item you should save money on or make spontaneous decisions about.

You can borrow the jacket from your friends, a backpack likewise. You can have simpler base layers. But boots are something that you need to have for yourself and you need them good. This is the first item on your climbing gear list you need to check.

But how should you choose? There are just too many types. And they are not pocket money. So you need to make an informed decision.

Essentially, there are 3 main features a good pair of boots will have to have.

Do they fit my feet?

Remember, boots are not items you can buy online. You need to try them and walk for at least 20 minutes in them, before you can have a sensible idea if they fit you.

How should you choose the size? Usually it is better to try models which are 0.5-1 size bigger than your average shoe size. But never choose just by numbers. Try them on, really!

Wear thick climbing socks and place your foot into the boots, pushing your toes to the front. If the size is OK, you need to have a little space left (say, about your finger’s width) behind your heel.

This way, your boots will not be too large, nor too small. If you neglect to consider this, you may end up having horrible blisters, wounds, and even nails torn off. Not sexy; what’s more, it’s bloody painful.

You can imagine (or not) how easily it will deter you from completing your climb.

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Are they comfortable to be in?

Like we said above, it is essential you try your boots on. In fact, you need to try a dozen (at least) before you can get realistic about what’s “boot-comfort”.

It takes time and efforts to find your match, you know that from life — it’s (almost) the same with boots. Explore what fits you and what brings the most out of you.

Walk in them, try to climb in them (if the store has small artificial rock formations — which they usually do), just get used to them. It will (have to) take time. But don’t be frugal with it.

Don’t forget: you will need to wear these boots for 6-8 hours a day. Half an hour in the store should not be too much time before making this commitment.

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Do they have the right rigidity?

If you are aiming to climb alpine peaks like Mont Blanc, Grossglockner or Matterhorn, you need to consider that you will be fixing crampons on them. For that it is essential that you choose boots which have fully rigid (“D”) or semi rigid soles (“C”).

Boots which have a fully rigid sole are supported by a full length shank and a toe welt, while boots that have a semi rigid sole are supported by ¾ length shank and no toe welt.

Rigid boots are more robust, heavier and warmer. They are ideal for technical climbs, not so much for long treks. It is for you once you are planning to climb alpine 4000ers or higher (like Kazbek or Elbrus), or winter climbs.

Semi rigid boots are somewhat softer, yet they are rigid enough to make it comfortable to climb on rocks or in the snow. These boots are ideal for summer climbs up to 3000-4000m, as well as for via ferratas. They will keep you warm and dry.

You might notice that boots are labelled with letters (from A to D). A-B boots are not rigid; you can bend them. They are designed for walking and trekking, not climbing. C boots are semi rigid, which means you will be able to bend them a little bit. D boots are rigid; they won’t bend.

For alpine climbs or via ferratas, pick C or D, C being more universal and more ideal for beginners.

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Now that you got an idea of how to choose your climbing boots, you may need a complete equipment checklist for your alpine climb – just download and print.

Mont Blanc Climb Equipment Checklist

But let’s get a little more specific about the ideal climbing boots.

Top 3 Features Your Climbing Boots Will Have

  • No 1: Protective Rubber Rim

Without this, your boots won’t last long in an alpine environment, full of rocks and edgy surfaces.

  • No 2: Toe and/or Heel Welt

Without (at least a heel) welt, you won’t be able to fix your crampons on, essential on the alpine terrain.

  • No 3: Water-proof, Rigid Sole, Full or ¾ Length Shank

Otherwise, they are just not suitable for alpine climbs.

Some brands and models that fit the above criteria:

La Sportiva, Zamberlan, Scarpa, Meindl, Hanwag, Asolo, The North Face, Mammut, Millet, Garmont, Salewa

Top 3 Mistakes Climbers Make But You Won’t

  • No.1: Brand fanaticism

Many climbers are fooled by the brand of the boots. Just because it is something (you think) you are familiar with, it doesn’t mean you should trust it blindly. No matter what the brand is / who said they are good boots / what you read in a sponsored ad (or what models we recommend here), you still need to go and try those boots!

It is essential that they are good for you.

And that they are good for alpine climbing. The model below is not.

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  • No 2: Trekking Boots

It may happen that you found a very nice pair of boots with a great brand name. But they are NOT designed for what you are buying them for. If you are interested in alpine climbs, light-weight trekking boots will be a wrong choice.

Remember, you need these boots for a specific reason. Keep that in mind and make the choice accordingly.

So you will not choose these boots below.

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  • No 3: Vintage Boots

It has been an unfortunate trend that some beginner climbers started to buy used, plastic duplex boots on the internet, because they looked professional and cost a fraction of genuine boots.

You need to avoid this. Their quality is questionable, to say the least. We saw some soles tearing off, or the boot itself breaking into parts.

If you don’t have enough duct tape, it will be very awkward that you are left without footwear in the middle of the glacier. Don’t risk it. (You find this photo funny, right? Well, the climber didn’t.)

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So once again, what are the key questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Do they fit me?
  2. Are they comfortable for me?
  3. Is the sole rigid enough for the kinds of trip you are interested in?

If you keep these not so complicated questions in mind, you can make the right decision when choosing your climbing boots.

If you are still unsure, just leave a comment below.

And now that you understand how to choose the most important item of your climbing gear, you may be interested in getting clear on the rest.

We have a complete equipment checklist for your Mont Blanc climb or any 3-4000er. Just download and print.

Mont Blanc Climb Equipment Checklist