Before starting any adventure, you must make sure you have everything you might need. Among all these pieces of equipment, footwear is arguably the most important of all. We’ve got you covered with a beginner’s guide to buying mountaineering boots, everything you must know to prepare for your winter trek.
Not having the right alpine boots could ruin the whole trip, especially if you spend a long time outdoors.
On this occasion, we will talk about an important piece of equipment: Mountaineering boots. These gadgets grant the insulation, waterproofing, support, and rigidity you need to cope with the toughest of routes.
So, it pays to know what mountaineering boots are? When should you use them? As well as which boot is the best suited to please your needs and how their construction impacts performance.
So, with no further ado, let’s get laced up!
What Are Mountaineering Boots?
Before talking about anything else, it is crucial to know what a mountaineering boot is. These boots are the ideal footwear for mountain climbing. They have thick soles, stiff heel areas and provide enough support for your feet. The toe section is also sturdy to protect them from any harm.
Another distinctive feature of mountaineering boots is the ability to use crampons with them. They are stiff enough to keep the traction device in place as you make your way through snow or ice.
While mountaineering boots are different from other footwear because of their construction, there are other ways they differ.
Are Hiking Boots and Mountaineering Boots the Same Thing?
No, they are not the same thing. Mountaineering boots have insulation and are taller and stiffer than hiking footwear. Hence, they are not the same in terms of construction and appearance.
The uses are also different. While hiking boots are suitable for even terrains, mountaineering boots are the top choice for steep routes. Using a hiking boot in such a scenario will most likely lead to an injury.
They lack the rigidity and support needed to get in and out of such landscapes.
On the other hand, mountaineering boots are multi-purpose. You can use them for a wide variety of activities, including hiking.
However, you will get tired quicker, especially on long routes, as they are heavier and less flexible.
Why Are Mountaineering Boots So Stiff?
We’ve mentioned that mountaineering boots are very stiff too many times already. But we haven’t said why.
Keep in mind that climbing boots are suitable for steep terrain and ice climbing. Here, being able to support your entire weight solely in your toes is crucial.
Thus, if the boot is not stiff, it cannot handle the weight in just one area. That’s why mountaineering boots are so stiff. Your climbing boots need to support carrying heavy gear.
Mountaineering boots achieve such a level of stiffness thanks to a built-in shank. It keeps the heel and toes aligned and minimizes movement. The shell also adds support, thus, playing an important role as well.
However, you have to know that not all mountaineering boots are equally stiff. So, let’s take some time to talk about the rigidity grading system.
Mountaineering Boots Grading System
All mountaineering boots come with a BX grade. The “X” is a number from 0 to 3. The bigger the number, the stiffer the boot is. Naturally, each boot class is suitable for a set of activities.
Next, we will cover what each BX grade means.
- B0 Boots: These are the softest among mountaineering boots. Thus, they are only suitable for hiking and approaching footwear.
Being so soft is what makes B0 mountaineering boots not compatible with any crampon. Here, microspikes are the only traction devices that you can use.
- B1 Boots: These are stiffer than the previous boots. The rigid sole and stronger leather upper make B1 mountaineering boots compatible with C1 crampons. However, they lack toe and heel grooves, making them unsuited for C2 and C3 crampons.
Some people refer to B1 mountaineering boots as all-rounder footwear. You can use them during any season and for mild climbs. They usually have a waterproof coating and grant some degree of insulation
- B2 Boots: With thicker uppers, B2 mountaineering boots will keep your feet warm during the colder months. Plus, they are water-resistant, making them ideal for hiking through snow and ice.
B2 mountaineering boots come with heel grooves, making them compatible with C2 and C1 winter crampons. Therefore, you can use them for ice climbing as well.
- B3 Boots: These are the stiffest mountaineering boots you can find. Their rigid soles and rigid upper make them suitable for technical alpine climbs. Naturally, B3 boots offer superior insulation and water resistance.
B3 mountaineering boots are compatible with C3, C2, and C1 crampons. However, people commonly pair them with C3 and C2 models only. High altitude double boots and technical ice climbing footwear are examples of this kind of boots.
Mountaineering Boot Insulation
As happens with stiffness, not all boots are equally insulated. Some models feature more layers, thus, keeping your feet warm and dry. Others keep them to a minimum to cut the weight down. Most mountaineering boots are either single or double.
These boots don’t come with an integrated gaiter. Hence, they don’t offer as much protection against cold and water as their double counterparts. However, modern materials allow stacking several layers while keeping the weight manageable.
Lighter boots are a better deal for long hikes and climbs. They are also more comfortable to wear, making them the perfect choice for beginners.
Men's Scarpa Zodiac Tech
Price not available
Men's La Sportiva Nepal Cube GTX
Men's Salewa Vultur Vertical GTX
Women's Mammut Kento Pro High GTX Mountaineering
Women's Scarpa Zodiac Tech GTX
Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite Mid GTX- Womens
Nothing beats a double boot when it comes down to extreme cold and high-altitude ice climbing. The removable liner adds an extra layer of insulation and offers greater thermal capacity than boots without it. Two things that you will solely need under these circumstances.
You can remove the liner at the end of the day and let it dry overnight. Double boots are the preferred footwear to cope with the freezing environment of high-altitude alpine climbs.
Why? Well, high altitudes make our bodies malfunction. It can’t produce as much heat as necessary to keep everything running. That’s why having more layers of cloth is key.
La Sportiva G2
Mammut Norwand 6000
Asolo Eiger XT EVO GV Climbing Boot
Price not available
Double boots, like La Sportiva G2, are also taller than single versions. Sadly, they are also heavier and stiffer. Therefore, people mostly use them for those cold expeditions we mentioned before.
However, this is not black and white.
When to Use Mountaineering Boots?
Mountaineering boots are nothing more but tools. Every tool has its purpose. In that other of ideas, you should know when you should use mountaineering boots. But more importantly, which mountaineering boot to use.
Let’s say, for example, that you are simply planning to start ice climbing. Here, a single B1 or B2 mountaineering boot is the best bet.
It is flexible enough not to be uncomfortable when hiking. Yet, it grants enough support for non-technical ice climbing routes. Besides, these boots sit on the cheaper side, and they are lighter too.
If you’re a hardcore ice climber who spends countless hours in the snow and ice, then a B2 or B3 boot is what you need.
Is high-altitude ice climbing your thing? Then go for a double boot. Otherwise, a single boot is more than enough.
In short, mountaineering boots are the top choice when it comes to ice climbing and freezing temperatures. They grant enough stability and insulation to cope with the harsh environment.
Mountaineering Boot Fit
Choosing the size of your mountaineering boot looks easy enough. However, you will be surprised by the number of people who pick the wrong size the first time. All because of two things: Socks and high altitude.
Ice climbing means freezing temperatures. So, you will need all the insulation you can get. Thus, a good pair of socks are crucial.
However, you need enough room inside to accommodate them. That’s why it is a common practice to get a boot half a size larger or so.
What’s more, you can wear thick socks and still wiggle your toes. If you already have a pair of socks, take them for testing boots. The same goes for aftermarket insoles. It is the only way to ensure a precise fit.
High altitude makes our feet swell. This is something we all have experienced during flights. While it is not permanent, it could potentially ruin your trip if your boot isn’t large enough.
Your toes will start to hurt, and the constant rub between fabric and skin will cause blisters. That’s why it is crucial to go even a size larger.
Darn Tough Mens Merino Wool Socks
Darn Tough Women's Hike/Trek Full Cushion Boot Sock
Wildly Goods Merino Wool Hiking Socks
Beware that sizes are not standard between brands. Some La Sportiva boots might be wider than one from Salewa. That’s why we don’t recommend keeping sizes when switching brands.
Men and Women Mountaineering Boots
While some mountaineering boots are unisex, some brands offer unique boots for women. For example, La Sportiva Aequilibrium LT GTX is a narrow boot more suitable for women’s feet.
But if you can’t find women’s mountaineering boots, then we recommend going for boots that run narrow. But don’t forget always going a size larger or so to leave enough room for socks and swollen feet.
La Sportiva Aequilibrium LT GTX Mountaineering Boot - Men's
Price not available
La Sportiva Aequilibrium LT GTX Mountaineering Boot - Women's
Price not available
Mountaineering Boot Shell Material
Leather and synthetics are the most commonly used materials. Natural leather mountaineering boots are the most durable of all. However, they lack the waterproofing capabilities of synthetics boots. Plus, leather upper boots are commonly heavier.
In contrast, synthetic boots exceed where leather falls at the expense of durability. Most modern mountaineering boots are synthetic or use a mixture of leather and synthetic fabrics.
In the beginning, all mountaineering boots used basic laces. While these are durable, they are difficult to tie, especially while wearing gloves. That’s why some companies offer other lacing systems.
Pull-down cinch laces and boa lacing systems are two top-notch options commonly found on modern mountaineering boots. Both are easy to tie, particularly the latter. Nevertheless, a boa lacing system has one major flaw: It is not as durable as regular laces.
Molding & Breaking in Your Mountaineering Boots
Once you purchase your new pair of boots, it is time to mold them. Brand new mountaineering boots are always stiffer than used ones. Here are our tips on how to breaking in your boots painlessly.
That’s why it is crucial to get them a couple of weeks before your trip. This way you will have enough time to get used to them.
Use your boots as often as you can. Start with short trips like walking in the backyard or around the house. Go slow and flex your feet as much as possible. Next, start adding a couple of miles at a time.
Also, you can break them in when grocery shopping and running errands around time. Eventually, you will feel that the boot has gone soft and no longer hurts.
Remember that your mountaineering boots can make or ruin your trip. Skipping the molding process is a highway to the second option. So, allow enough time to get used to the boot.
Mountaineering Boots Care
Mountaineering boots aren’t exactly cheap. Therefore, it is a wise decision to take good care of boots them. Besides, the process is nothing extraordinary, as you will see shortly.
Most boot cleaners will work with almost any mountaineering boot. Still, make sure that the fabric can handle it. Avoid using any detergents, as the added components could do more harm than good.
Remove the excess dirt is the very first thing to do. A soft nylon brush will do the trick here. Then, apply a mixture of water and boot cleaner and gently scrub the exterior. Finally, rinse with enough clean water to remove everything.
Although it goes against the common practice, do not use any external heat source to speed up the drying process. It will only accelerate the fabric degradation as well as weakening the adhesives. So, let them air dry or stuff them with newspaper to speed things up.
Remove the insole and let it air dry separate from the boots. This will prevent mold formation and unpleasant odors. Besides, it is the only way to guarantee that the boot is fully dry.
Cleaning the outsole will restore traction. Plus, it is the only way not to make a mess when storing the boots. So, brush the outsole vigorously with a brush and running water. Remove any stuck pebbles and use a clean cloth to remove the moisture.
Waterproofing Your Mountaineering Boots
Waterproof coatings wear off with time to the point they no longer repel water. When this happens, it is time to apply a new covering. Just remember to clean them thoroughly first. The boot must be clean and wet for the water repellent mixture to work.
Make sure to purchase the right product for your boot. Read whether or not it is compatible with the fabric and what special cares it needs.
Apart from this, applying a new water repellent coating is as easy as covering the whole exterior with it. Check out our guide on how to waterproof your hiking boots.
Mountaineering Boots: A Must-Have Piece of Equipment
Mountaineering boots are more than simply footwear. They are your best ally for coping with snow, ice, rocks, and slippery vertical climbs. However, choosing them takes some thought as not all models are suitable for all situations.
Therefore, it is crucial to think about what you need.
Do you mostly do technical ice climbing? Then a B3 boot is what you need. Conversely, stay with a simple B1 or B2 model if you are merely starting. You will increase the chances of finding the right pair of boots by simply establishing your needs.
Then, all you need to do is apply the knowledge you’ve found here on your next search.
Remember to take good care of your mountaineering boots. It is the only way to ensure a long-lasting investment and top performance!
Last update on 2021-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API