The first step in buying a ski boot you’ll love is knowing how and where you want to ski. Here’s our review to help you pick the best ski boots of 2021.
Alpine boots, touring boots, and hybrid boots all bring different features and benefits to the table. So before you walk into your local ski shop, determine if you’ll want to stick to lift-served skiing, if you’ll also explore the backcountry or side-country, or if you’re only going off piste.
Buying new ski boots is best done in person or with a customer service representative who knows the category well. A good shop will measure your feet, and then they can help you hone in on what brands and models naturally fit you, your experience, and your aspirations.
We took this season’s newest boots up and down the lifts for hundreds of inbounds runs, then skinned up and hiked for our turns — in six mountain ranges, three states, and two countries.
More boots are offering skiers the ability to resort ski and hike for turns in a single boot. But a hybrid boot isn’t the best option for every skier. Read on for more information on our favorite 2021 ski boots, and advice from a master boot-fitter on how to make sure you buy the best boot for you.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Alpine Ski Boot
- Best Alpine Boot for Expert Female Skiers
- Best Hybrid Boot
- Best Touring Boot
- Best Downhill Boot
- Best Lightweight Touring Boot
- Best Ultralight Uphill Touring Boot
- Best Balanced Boot
- Best Ultralight Boot for Ski Mountaineering
The Best Ski Boots of 2021
Best Alpine Ski Boot: Tecnica Mach 1 MV 120
Possibly the most comfortable, easy-driving full-alpine boot I’ve ever worn, Tecnica’s Mach 1 MV ($650) is a powerful boot that kept my feet warm even on the coldest days.
To give this all-mountain, high-performance boot maximum lateral stiffness and forward drive, Tecnica used a carbon spine to connect the cuff to the shell. The spine regulated the boot’s flex so I could ski with more power and precision in all snow, temperatures, and terrain.
The Mach 1 is designed to be thermo-molded, and the shell, liner, footboard, and tongue can be customized through heat-molding as well as punching and grinding. Tecnica simplifies the process for ski techs by molding dimples into the shell that reduce surface tension and clearly indicate modification-friendly zones. The boot board also has dimples to guide techs in the fitting process.
The Mach 1 shell’s anatomical shape matched my foot for best-in-class fit straight out of the box — an achievement that I’ve rarely experienced. That the boot closely matched my foot right out of the box even before I molded it.
The Mach 1 MV’s liner was also anatomically shaped for out-of-box comfort and secure heel hold both before and after the liners were molded. The dual-density micro-cell liner was easy to fit, and even after 4 months of skiing, it hasn’t packed out.
On snow, the Mach 1 MV was stiff and powerful. It was also warm, efficient, and easy-skiing, so I could charge longer with less fatigue. The boot was quick edge to edge. I felt connected, in control, and confident even when I was pushing the limits of my comfort zone.
According to Tecnica, its T-Drive Technology, a carbon spine that runs from the calf to ankle, gave these boots smooth, progressive, and consistent flex while increasing my ability to steer precisely and powerfully.
Tecnica says the T-Drive boots require 15% less forward pressure and 15% less edge angle to make the same turn shape as a traditional boot. The roomy toebox helped my feet stay warm. So did the Celliant and wool-insulated liner.
Celliant uses heat-reactive minerals to turn body heat into infrared energy that it claims penetrates the body’s tissues to increase circulation, oxygen, and blood flow for enhanced performance, thermal regulation, and faster recovery.
It sounds like a bunch of hippie mumbo jumbo, but with Celliant, cozy wool, and the roomy toebox, I was able to ski longer and harder in this boot — even in temperatures that would have previously had me heading for the base lodge.
- Last: 100mm
- Flex: 110, 120, 130 flex men’s
- Weight: 2,060 g (4.6 lbs.)
- Sizes: 24.5-30.5
- Takes less energy to drive this boot
- T-Drive is available in MV (mid-volume) men’s only
- Low- and high-volume and women’s boots don’t get T-Drive
Best Alpine Boot for Expert Female Skiers: K2 Anthem Pro Women’s
Proving that a boot doesn’t need to be heavyweight to be a heavy hitter, K2s 120-flex Anthem Pro ($700) is stiff, responsive, and gives badass female skiers all the benefits of K2’s top technology.
Designed for aggressive female skiers, K2’s Anthem Pro Women’s is a liner and shell-moldable boot designed around a women’s-specific 98mm last. The boot uses four different stiffnesses of TPU and variable-thickness walls to give hard-charging women skiers a responsive, relatively light alpine boot for bell-to-bell laps in every kind of snow.
The custom-fit liner is thicker and denser than the liners K2 previously used in its top-of-the-line women’s boots. The PowerFit Pro liner, which is also used in K2’s Anthem 110, is strong against the shin, with a form-fitting foot that women felt gave this boot better control. The boot is easily cantable for most stance angles. And the cuff adjusted so that I could find a forward lean that felt good to me.
In the Anthem Pro, K2 incorporates a Y-shaped spine for maximum lateral stiffness, a feature usually found only in men’s boots. That spine also stabilizes the boot’s fore and aft flex, which upped my ability to control my ski regardless of which ski I was driving. The rivet-free design connects cuff to shell. K2 said that puts less stress for smoother, more progressive flex while skiing.
The boot is one of the lightest alpine freeride boots on the market. It skied with the power and drive of heavier boots, and it was easy to slide on for the first chair and slip off at the end of the day.
- Last: 98mm
- Flex: 120
- Weight: 1650 g (3.64 lbs.) (in 24.5)
- Sizes: 22.5-27.5
- Carbon-reinforced spine for precision and control
- The high-density liner didn’t pack out
- Liner felt too comfortable to be high-performance, though it wasn’t
Best Hybrid Boot: Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130 Tech GW
A boot that skis like an alpine boot inbounds but clicks into full tour mode for hiking for turns, the fully customizable Atomic Hawx Prime XTD ($800) is a one-boot quiver.
For many hybrid boots, the touring mode seems more of an afterthought than an integral part of the boot’s performance. The Hawx Prime, however, skis uphill as well as it skis downhill. The cuff has an impressive 54 degrees of cuff flex in tour mode, with tech inserts for pin bindings and upper buckles that locked open when I was skiing uphill.
It’s not the lightest boot on the market, but it was so comfortable to tour in and so solid on downhills that I packed it for a trip to Italy, where I used it as my do-it-all boot for all-day tours in the Alps that ended on piste. I took it on a trip to Colorado for bell-to-bell skiing at Vail and Telluride resorts. And at home in Vermont, I wore it to explore new backcountry zones.
When I ended my day inbounds, the Gripwalk sole gave me traction on snow and ice on the walk across an icy parking lot back to my car. It also prevented wipeouts on the dance floor when the ski day transitioned straight to apres, while also having maximum binding compatibility. So I could safely ski these boots with both touring bindings and Gripwalk-compatible alpine bindings.
The key to the Hawx Prime’s perfect fit is its highly moldable liner inside a heat-moldable shell. The shell plastic is thicker and stronger where the boot may need to be worked, like ankle and forefoot, and slimmer everywhere else. That kept weight manageable without compromising this boot’s power transfer and downhill performance. Atomic enhanced the boot’s lateral stability and skier-to-ski power transfer by adding a carbon spine.
Atomic’s thermo-moldable liner looked comfortable even before I had it molded to my foot. It’s pre-shaped with an obvious ankle pocket and a narrow Achilles.
The tongue and liner collar are the same plastic as the shell and also moldable. Thinsulate insulation in the toebox made this one of the warmer boots I’ve skied. But I had to keep tightening the buckles on warm days, as the heat from my foot caused the liner to pack out.
- Last: 100mm
- Flex: 120 and 130 men’s; 95, 115 women’s
- Weight: 1,852 g (4.1 lbs.)
- Sizes: 24.5-32.5
- Warm and infinitely moldable
- It packs out, so don’t get too aggro with molding before you’ve skied it several times
- On the heavy side
Best Touring Boot for Big Days and Big Lines: Scott Freeguide Carbon
If you’re used to alpine boots but you want to search for fresh off-piste powder or tackle big-mountain lines, this boot can drive a big ski, but it won’t bog you down on the way to the summit. A freeride-inspired hybrid touring boot, Scott’s Freeguide Carbon ($900) will feel familiar and good to alpine skiers who want to get off piste and into the backcountry.
The Freeguide Carbon uses a Cabrio hybrid three-piece shell. The top of the two-piece tongue tilts forward and out of the way to make getting the boot on and off pain-free. With the buckles engaged, the two-piece tongue locks down to provide the critical resistance a skier needs from their boot for descents.
The shell overlaps the liner on both sides, which gave it power and progressive flex skiing without restricting movement in walk mode. When I was skinning, the flexible tongue moved comfortably with my foot and ankle.
The Freeguide Carbon’s thermo-moldable liner closed with a BOA dial that also let me quickly fine-tune the boot fit and support when I switched from skinning to skiing and back.
With the boot buckled down in ski mode, it had a 15-degree forward lean, which gave it the feel of an aggressive alpine boot. In tour mode, it claims 60 degrees of rotation.
Lining up a touring boot’s tech fittings with a binding’s pins can be a frustrating process. The Freeguide has indicators on the toe to streamline that process.
Efficient transitioning from ski mode to tour mode and back is key to getting in as many runs as possible. The Freeguide’s 180-degree auto-lock buckles stayed open and out of the way in tour mode, speeding the transition process. Then they clipped closed in a flash. But I did have to fully undo the top buckle to get the full range of motion for uphill walking or skiing.
- Last: 101.5
- Flex: 130
- Weight: 1,455 g (03.2 lbs.)
- Sizes: 25-29.5
- Indicators help skier line up boot with binding pins
- BOA liner gives a great fit
- Top buckle has to be released for touring
The Best Downhill Boot That Also Tours: Salomon SHIFT PRO 130 AT
For the expert skier who wants a single pair of boots for both inbounds and out of bounds, Salomon’s SHIFT PRO ($800) is an alpine boot with a functional tour mode. Best for hard-charging resort skiers unwilling to sacrifice downhill performance when they dabble in side-country and backcountry adventures, the SHIFT PRO AT is made to pair with Salomon’s SHIFT binding and a powerful all-mountain or big-mountain ski.
The SHIFT PRO 130 AT boot uses a seamless race liner that Salomon says is warmer than other race-focused liners, and that won’t cause pressure points because it’s seamless. The heat-moldable liner and shell were highly customizable and an excellent choice for skiers who usually get their boots ground or punched.
The 100mm last worked well for medium-width and medium-volume feet without heat-molding the shell. The shell is thin and sensitive to help skiers feel their ski and the snow beneath it while also putting the skier’s foot in as close contact as possible with the binding for best-in-class power transmission.
The SHIFT PRO AT’s Surelock walk mode was easy to operate and had a good range of motion for skinning. Salomon added a Core-Frame element under the midfoot of the boot to stiffen the shell where the foot pressures the ski for best edge engagement and power transfer. A polyamide cuff spine added lateral stability and forward drive. The boot was easy to get in and out of, but it was ready to charge once buckled down.
Because the SHIFT PRO’s Gripwalk soles were highly compatible, I wore this boot as my resort-focused alpine boot. But when the side-country filled in, the snow was stable, and the gates opened, I didn’t have to go back to the car or my house to change boots before I booted or skinned out of bounds.
Whether I was on a rocky ascent spine or back in the resort parking lot, the slightly rockered, snow- and ice-gripping soles always made walking a slip-free event.
- Last: 100-106 with shell-molding
- Flex: 100, 120, 130 in men’s; 90 and 110 in women’s
- Weight: 1,631 g (3.6 lbs.)
- Sizes: 22.5-31.5
- Heat-moldable shell
- No-compromises downhill performance
- Not as much range as most touring boots
Best Lightweight Touring Boot for Downhill Performance: Dynafit Hoji Free 110
Many dedicated touring boots claim to have alpine-level downhill performance, but they fall short. This boot lives up to its claims. It skis powerfully on descents while weighing in significantly lighter than a hybrid boot with comparable performance.
When it first launched, Dynafit’s Hoji boot set a new standard for lightweight touring boots that descend aggressively. But the various iterations of the Hoji boot have been 130 flex only, which is too stiff for most skiers. The original boots also weren’t compatible with frame or hybrid bindings.
The Hoji Free 110 ($750) makes the Hoji boot accessible to a broader audience of dual-plan snow sliders who prefer a slightly softer flex in a boot that’s compatible with all touring, frame, and hybrid bindings.
The Hoji Free 110 uses a glass fiber-reinforced Grilamid shell with three micro-adjustable buckles and a powerful top strap to wrap my foot and hold it in place and to give the boot progressive flex for maximum power transfer. In downhill mode, the Hoji Free locked into an aggressive 15-degree forward lean. By removing the back spoiler, I reduced the lean to a more comfortable 11 degrees.
When I climbed in the Hoji Free, the V-shaped tongue and 55 degrees of cuff rotation made striding comfortable and easy. So did this boot’s modest weight.
The Hoji Free uses a new thermo-moldable Sidas liner that was comfortable and supportive and didn’t pack out as fast as some other liners.
When I’m perched on a blustery mountaintop or barely edged into an icy slope and it’s time to transition, anything that can make getting my skis back on quickly and easily is a win. The Hoji Free has “quick step-in” toe settings that took the stress out of getting my skis back on. And the boot’s Pomoca rubber soles gave me confidence hiking to my objective in technical rocks and ice.
The Hoji Free is compatible with all pin, hybrid, and frame-touring bindings. And a toe lug made this boot compatible with fully automatic crampons too.
- Last: 102
- Flex: 110
- Weight: 1,550 g (1.2 lbs.)
- Sizes: 24-31.5
- More welcoming than other Hoji boots due to softer flex
- Compatible with hybrid and frame bindings
- Tongue pulls out easily
- The frame can be painful on entry
Best Ultralight Uphill Touring Boot: Dalbello Quantum Asolo Factory Alpine Touring
In designing the first uphill-focused touring boot, Dalbello decided to focus on making the boot ($900) light, which is standard for the category, and comfortable, which is not.
The brand wanted the boot to follow the natural shape of a skier’s foot and ankle. So it devised a process to mold the boot in lengthwise dual-injected polyamide composite shell halves that are infrared-welded together. This gave the boot shell an anatomical shape that can’t be achieved with a standard boot-molding process.
To save weight, Dalbello also eliminated buckles, adding a proprietary BOA-like twist-to-adjust lacing system with a hidden 45-degree ankle lace to lock the skier’s heel in place. A locking length of Dyneema SK78+ Black Technora Rope at the cuff replaces the top buckle and power strap.
Not only did subbing lacing for buckles save weight, but it gave me the ability to dial in a precise fit I could easily adjust as my feet swelled, or as liners warmed and compressed. Under the lacing, a heavy-duty gaiter with anti-abrasion pads kept out snow.
Dalbello added a full-length boot board to the Quantum Asolo Factory’s lower shell, which increased the boot’s warmth as well as its custom-fitting capability. It also gave me more support edging and scored strong marks for stability.
Skinning, the Quantum Asolo’s dual-link cuff was unrestrictive. The boot claims an impressive 65-degree range of motion. On downhills, it was laterally stiff, which boosted my confidence edging and helped me stick to my chosen line. Carbon fiber in the cuff gave the boot a progressive feel and made it more capable in technical terrain than other boots in this weight class.
Dalbello didn’t skimp on the liner to make this boot light. The Quantum Asolo’s liner is fully customizable, so skiers can fine-tune their fit inside the already contoured shell.
The Quantum’s Vibram dual-density sole gave me grip on scary rocky traverses, and the DIN sole was compatible with frame and hybrid bindings, not just pin bindings.
This boot had one of the best weight-to-performance ratios for touring boots. It was also a favorite hard boot for snowboarders.
- Last: 99
- Flex: Medium
- Weight: 950 g (2.1 lbs.)
- Sizes: 22.5-30.5
- Easy adjustments
- No buckles
- Not frontside-compatible
Best Balanced Boot for Uphill, Downhill Freeride Performance: Fischer Ranger 130 Walk DYN
Comfortable, user-friendly, and ready to tackle any ski day, Fischer’s Ranger 130 Walk DYN ($850) is a mid-volume, one-boot quiver that required no compromises uphill or downhill. It’s narrower than previous Ranger boots, with a 99mm last, and designed to drive a big ski in deep conditions.
Fischer distinguishes itself with this boot with the sleek walk mode, a pull-activated lever positioned under the top buckle. It’s not a lever I needed to muscle to engage and disengage like in some other boots. And while it seems fragile compared to other ski/walk-mode levers, I’ve never had a problem with this clever, integrated system Fischer has been using for years.
The Ranger 130 EWalk is not an alpine binding masquerading as a touring boot. In tour mode, it has 55 degrees of motion as you stride uphill. And when my skis were on my back, the rockered Vibram Gripwalk soles gave me solid footing. Locked and loaded for descending, the carbon-reinforced Grilamid shell gave me the stability, flex, and support I’d expect from an alpine boot. And I felt secure at any speed.
In the past, my Fischer liners have noticeably packed out during the course of a ski day. These liners use a denser material, so there was less space between the shell and my foot, which has a more supportive-feeling and less variable fit, especially where the boot is pre-contoured in the instep and heel.
The cam buckle top strap wasn’t the easiest to operate with gloves on, but it had a powerful hold, and the sewn end prevented it from sliding out of the buckle skiing or transitioning. The strap is long enough that it never interfered with rotation when walking.
Buy this boot for on or off piste, or a combination of the two. It defies categories, and if it fits your foot, you’ll have a single boot that can tackle all terrain and conditions. The boot pairs with any Gripwalk-compatible binding as well as pin bindings.
- Last: 99mm
- Flex: 130
- Weight: 1,600 g (3.5 lbs.)
- Sizes: 24.5-30.5
- Stealth walk more lever
- No compromises uphill or downhill
- True one-boot quiver
- The thin liner gave this boot a race-like fit that felt too aggressive for some testers
Best Ultralight Boot for Ski Mountaineering: SCARPA F1 LT
If uphill speed is your top priority, this lightweight touring boot will help you fly up the mountain, but it won’t kill your stoke when it’s time to ski down.
At just over 2 pounds per boot and 100 flex, SCARPA’s F1 LT ($800) felt more like a hiking boot than a ski boot while climbing. But once I locked it down, it could still drive a ski. The boot uses a lighter iteration of SCARPA’s tried-and-true Alien ski-mountaineering race boot clog paired with a stiff backcountry upper for enhanced performance and fun on descents.
The F1LT is a light and powerful boot. Its Carbon Grilamid LFT shell is stiffened up with power-enhancing carbon fiber that boosts performance and supports the boot’s progressive flex. In the cuff, SCARPA incorporated its 3D Lambda Torsion Frame, which has an in-molded reinforced I-beam and raised ribs for lateral stability. That bolsters the boot’s downhill performance.
The design lets SCARPA maintain performance without having to add more material and weight. A floating BOA closure on the lower boot, which also has an integrated gaiter, gave the boot a pressure-point-free fit.
Paired with a fast-buckle closure and power strap on the cuff, transitioning between runs was lightning fast. I had enough resistance on the way down that I could carve and edge. And the gaiter kept my feet warm and kept melting snow out.
The narrow-fitting F1LT has a thin shell and less material to be molded. It’s not a boot that will fit every skier, though its full-length boot board allowed for some customization. And this boot maneuvered a ski better — both in perfect creamy conditions and more challenging variable snow — than other lightweight boots in this class that I’ve tried.
SCARPA’s friction-free ski/walk mechanism had an exceptional 72-degree range of motion. Three forward lean positions let me dial this boot in to suit my stance. And though I hope to never need them, the boots have integrated RECCO reflectors to help patrollers and emergency personnel find me in an emergency.
- Last: 100mm
- Flex: 100
- Weight: 990 g (2.18 lbs.)
- Sizes: 24-31
- Extremely lightweight but high-performance
- Narrow-fitting and not workable due to the ultra-thin shell
How to Buy Ski Boots
“You boot is the most important part of your skiing setup,” said Dan Weis, master boot-fitter and Snowsports Department manager at Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vt.
Weis, who has fit at least 2,000 pairs of boots over the past 9 years, said, “Your boot is where your day starts and ends. It needs to be properly sized for all parts of your foot so that you can be comfortable without compromising performance.”
Getting the Right Boot
“The first step in buying ski boots is knowing if you want an alpine boot, a touring boot, or a hybrid boot,” said Weis. An alpine or downhill boot will be the heaviest-weight, the heaviest-duty, and for lift-serve skiing only.
Downhill boots are compatible with downhill bindings, so they will have a bill at the toe and a DIN-compatible sole, which means they’ll release when they need to. Some downhill boots come with a cuff release to make it easier to walk to your car from the slopes. But Weis warns not to confuse a “cocktail clip” with a proper touring mode.
A touring or backcountry boot is usually lighter than a downhill boot. A backcountry boot’s cuff will rotate so that you can walk uphill. Backcountry boots typically use pintech inserts in the toe, small metal divets on either side of the toe that accept pins from compatible bindings.
Some also have a bill that’s compatible with a hybrid binding. Many backcountry-specific boots are lightweight. Some are geared toward quick ascents with a superlight ski, not technical terrain, deep powder, fat skis, or freeriding.
A hybrid boot will have a tour mode, like a touring boot, but it will usually ski more like an alpine boot on descents. The downside to hybrid boots is that they’re usually heavier than touring boots, with somewhat less forward and aft rotation when you’re skiing uphill.
Buy a boot to match your priorities (uphill, downhill, or both) and the ski you’ll wear it with. While a touring boot can be skied at the resort, most aggressive downhill skiers prefer a hybrid boot if they’ll ski resort and backcountry equally.
Choose Your Flex
Then, it’s time to figure out your flex. Flex describes a boot’s stiffness, and the right flex is determined by a skier’s experience level and strength. Weis said a new skier should be looking at boots with flex from 70 to 90, intermediate skiers should focus on flex from 100 to 110, and expert skiers should buy boots with flex from 110 to 130.
A lower flex number is easier to engage; a higher flex number indicates the boot will have more resistance. “When a skier is engaging a boot, or flexing it forward,” said Weis, “the boot needs to have resistance to transfer energy to the ski. If it’s too soft, the skier won’t be able to control their ski. If it’s too stiff, a skier won’t be able to flex the ski to carve — there won’t be any energy transfer.”
Last, consider the sole. Not all ski boot soles are compatible with all bindings. Check with your ski shop to confirm that the boots you’re considering will work with the bindings you own or plan to buy.
To get the best boot for your foot, Weis recommends scheduling a fitting with your local shop. At that fitting, a ski tech will measure the length and width of both of your feet. Once they have those numbers, they should be able to advise you on which boots from which brands will match your physiology and best help you meet your goals.
Be Aware of the Fit
Buying new ski boots can be one of winter’s biggest challenges because how a boot feels when you first slip your foot into it in the shop can be a far cry from how it feels once you have had it heat-molded and fit by a reputable boot-fitter.
Most boots have thermo-moldable liners, which should be heated at a ski shop and molded to your foot, a process that takes 30 minutes to an hour. Weis warns that it can take up to three visits to get new boots perfectly fit.
But the time investment is worth it. During the boot fit process, the tech will heat your liners, adding padding at pressure points to compress the liner and create more space. In some cases, a boot-fitter may also grind, punch, or heat-mold a shell to accommodate prominent ankle bones or bunions.
“Go with the mindset you’re buying the tightest piece of footwear you own,” said Weis. “And pick the boot that most feels like you could ski it out of the box.”
It’s easier to make a boot bigger than smaller, and if a skier has one or two small issues, including pressure points or pain points, a boot should be workable. “If your foot isn’t happy in the boot in the shop,” Weis advises, “try something else.”
Don’t Forget About the Insoles
Don’t think you’re just being upsold if the ski tech recommends custom insoles. Weis said skiers with a soft or collapsed arch will especially benefit from aftermarket or custom insoles. By supporting the arch, an insole keeps your foot from over-splaying inside your boot.
“You want to make sure the natural shape of your arch is matched to the insole of your boot,” said Weis. “When your foot sits in the correct spot in your boots, it’s less likely to become fatigued.”
Whether you’re buying an alpine, hybrid, or touring boot, the same rules apply. Get your boot fit, consider aftermarket insoles, and be sure that the boot you’re planning to buy matches your foot and binding.