How Should Mountaineering Boots Fit?
A man wearing a blue jacket and brown mountaineering boots.

If you’re a beginner mountaineer, there’s a good chance you’re not really introduced to the fact that mountaineering boots make all the difference. What we meant to say is: there ain’t a more delicate piece of your mountaineering equipment. That’s basically how we figured out our theme for today.

Here’s another assumption. You’re wondering how well should mountaineering boots fit, aren’t you? The fact you’re reading these words tells a lot. Anyway, you’ll find the information you’re looking for in the article below.

A well-fitting mountaineering boot shouldn’t be too tight nor too loose. It’s best you buy mountaineering boots that are 1/2 size to one full size larger than your casual street shoes. Just so you’re able to wear thick mountaineering socks without feeling unpleasant. Also, give your boots a good ol’ thorough test run inside your home.

Now, that was just a simplified version which certainly ain’t enough to get into the subject. In other words: we strongly suggest you read the whole thing!

Mountaineering boots 101

Here we’ll show you some basic info concerning this crucial piece of equipment. Mountaineering boots (sometimes called expedition or high-altitude boots) are a type of footwear carefully designed to support mountaineering endeavors (often synonymous with moving over harsh terrain). One shouldn’t confuse them with hiking boots, since the two types don’t have so much in common. The thing is: mountaineering boots are typically taller, stiffer, and well-insulated.

If you’re interested in finding out more about why mountaineers have to wear special footwear, click right here.

Different types of mountaineering boots

Okay, so let’s go through the four most common types of mountaineering boots.

Single insulation mountaineering boots

The most common categorization dichotomy you’ll find out there is the single/double boots one. The first type is basically a mountaineering boot that has only one layer of insulation that’s permanently attached to the interior of the boot. Who would’ve guessed that one, right?

Double insulation mountaineering boots

On the other hand, a so-called double boot is made out of two parts:

  • a hard, waterproof exterior shell. 
  • an interior insulating liner. 

Needless to say, every single pair of double boots is the warmer option when compared to any pair of single mountaineering boots. They’re perfect for overnight trips in colder climates since you’ll be able to bring the interior insulation liner inside the tent in order to keep it warm and dry while you rest.

Full shank mountaineering boots

First things first, let’s explain what’s a shank. A shank represents a stiff piece of metal, kevlar, plastic, or fiberglass that’s meant to provide the boot with that extra stiffness by being placed inside it. They’re kinda crucial to any type of mountaineering boots since they make climbing a lot easier. Also, without them, it wouldn’t be possible to use the kind of crampons you necessarily need for technical ice climbing.

A full shank mountaineering boot has a shank that runs the whole length of it, ensuring the maximum level of stiffness. This type of boots are crucial when we’re talking about technical alpine climbing, but can be somewhat uncomfy for walking over rocky terrain.

Speaking of alpine climbing, follow this link for an interesting article.

3/4 shank mountaineering boots

These boots possess only a partial shank. In other words: they allow more flexibility underfoot. This type of shank you’ll easily find in many so-called summer weight mountaineering boots since it provides the person wearing 3/4 shank boots a bit more comfort while walking on trails. Keep in mind that this type of boot isn’t really compatible with automatic cramps and can only strive for semi-auto crampons instead.

What are mountaineering boots good for?

For everything that’s related to mountaineering, of course! We’re just kidding. Here’s a more honest answer: because of their stiffness, they help support the mountain climbers in steep terrain where flexible footwear would cause unsure footing and might result in an accident. Their extra stiffness is most commonly achieved via the use of a full steel shank, although some mountaineering equipment producers have lately begun to use carbon fiber.

Are they any good for other purposes?

As a matter of fact, they are! For instance, they’re great for ice climbing, mixed climbing (rock & ice), and crevasse traverse & rescue. You’ll also want to know that they’re not as stiff as ski boots since they do require some degree of flexibility for certain activities like hiking or snowshoeing, for instance.

Not to mention the fact their durability and adaptability to harsh weather conditions made them popular with snow-plow and snowcat drivers, cable-car operators, rescue paramedics, and so on. They’ve found their way into the hearts of many folks working in extreme weather conditions. They’re warm and provide extra comfiness right where it is most needed. Lastly, you might want to know that they’re not recommended for backpacking on established trails as they’re considered to be too stiff for it.

Okay, so that’s about it for this what’s-the-deal-with-mountaineering-boots introductory section! Shall we dive deeper into our main subject matter for today? We’re about to tell you just how well should a pair of mountaineering boots fit!

A mountaineering group climbing a steep slope.

How should mountaineering boots fit?

Since you’re probably a first-timer, it’s no wonder you’re curious about how should a pair of mountaineering boots fit. How well the boots fit is the only thing you’ll want to consider when shopping for the right pair. All the obviously less important factors such as cost, color, or other cosmetics don’t really play a role here. In other words: they won’t matter much once you hit the slopes.

A pro tip before we start: if you’re out shopping for mountaineering boots, make sure the thick socks you’re planning to wear are somewhere in your backpack. That way, you’ll get to experience how well the boots really fit. Also, try as many pairs as you can. Without further ado, let’s begin!

The main thing is: mountaineering boots should neither fit too tight nor too loose. They should comfortably fit at the heel (without any heel lift) and there should be enough space in the toe section to repeatedly kick a stair riser without hurting your toes (how’s that for a suggestion?). As we’ve already said, it’s very important you try the pair while wearing thick mountaineering socks. Keep in mind that if you were to feel any toe bang while in the store, the whole experience will only get much worse later on (in case you choose the ignore the signs, of course).

Keep in mind you can always return the shoes you’re not satisfied with during the test run inside your home.

Should you buy boots a size bigger than your casual street shoes?

We’re probably implied this earlier, but it might be best to buy boots that are 1/2 size to one full size larger than your casual street shoes. Your brand new mountaineering boots should be spacey enough that once you take a step, your heel can go slightly upwards without uncomfortably rubbing against the back of your boot. Lastly, with a spacier fit, you will avoid jamming your toes painfully into the front section of your boots during extended descents.

Are blisters usual?

One thing’s for sure: you probably won’t get away without enjoying a few blisters thanks to your new mountaineering boots. However, it’s nothing you should worry about. To prevent them from ruining your climbing adventures, make sure you always have some moleskin, band-aids, and duct tape handy.

What about heel lift?

You’ll want to know that heel lift shouldn’t go above a quarter of an inch (0.6 cm) in new mountaineering boots. If you, by any chance, experience over-the-quarter-of-an-inch-barrier heel lift, feel free to return the boots to the store.

Do you have to break in mountaineering boots?

Newer mountaineering boot models aren’t as easy to break in as your old-school leather-style boot. Even though it may take time, it’s still way better to find mountaineering boots that fit you best without thinking: okay, I’ll break in them soon enough and they’ll feel a lot better. Still, this doesn’t negate the fact you’ll have to spend a lot of time in your mountaineering boots at home before you set your foot on any mountainous trail.

The time you’ve spent in boots is crucial to any mountaineering trip. This also goes for starting out the season or if, because of this or that reason, you haven’t used your boots for a longer period of time. Always provide your feet with an opportunity to reacquaint themselves to the mountaineering boots if you haven’t worn them for some time.

Avoid using any shortcuts such as leather softener or various heat treatments or wetting the boots to walk ’em dry. All of these will only reduce the durability of your brand-new mountaineering boots.

Final words

That’s about it, fellow (soon-to-be) mountaineering enthusiasts! This was a quick guide on how should mountaineering boots fit. Hopefully, you’ve learned something new, yet very useful today. Obtaining a pair of well-fitting mountaineering boots is a necessity and know we’re sure you know why that’s so!

For more tips and useful info on mountain climbing, make sure you visit this page.

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