Alpine touring (AT) boots are different from alpine ski boots. AT boots are designed for both downhill skiing and ascension using climbing skins, while alpine boots are primarily downhill-oriented. AT boots have a supportive ski mode for skiing downhill, plus a flexible unlocked or "walk" mode that lets your ankle and lower leg flex forward and back for skinning and bootpacking uphill. AT boots usually have a curved (rockered) and lugged rubber sole like a hiking boot that gives improved grip on slippery surfaces and lets you walk more naturally. They also focus on lightness and are increasingly made with lightweight materials like Pebax®, Grilamid, and carbon fiber to save weight without sacrificing performance.
The AT and backcountry market is expanding at a tremendous pace, with dozens of alpine touring boot designs available in a wide range of uphill and downhill capabilities. Do some research before you buy and figure out what your needs are.
Some new AT boot designs come close to or surpass alpine boots in stiffness and downhill performance while adding a walking hinge and lugged sole. These boots are suitable for strong and experienced skiers who intend to charge hard in the backcountry and plan to include air and speed in their touring. With advances in touring boot technology, these boots can be much lighter than similarly stiff alpine models and have excellent cuff mobility for touring. Here are some examples of burly AT boots with near-alpine performance:
Lightweight AT boots, on the other hand, are a dream to skin uphill with but may sacrifice some downhill performance. How much performance you’re willing to give up is highly personal and depends on ability level, skiing style, and fitness. Here are some examples of light-and-fast alpine touring boots:
If you plan to use an AT boot for all of your skiing, both lift-served and touring, it helps to make an honest assessment of how much of each you’ll be doing and choose your boot with this in mind.
The AT market has been dominated by a small number of manufacturers with decades of experience, but most alpine boot makers are now producing boots that allow the skier to use one boot for both lift skiing and touring. These "crossover" boots continue to evolve, and a number of manufacturers are starting to offer very powerful boots with serviceable walk modes in the 1,500 to 2,000 gram range, which is reasonably light and suitable for day touring.
Comfort with AT boots is critical - you can't go down to the lodge and take your boots off when you're miles away from the trailhead. Many people skin with their top buckles loosened (causing more fore/aft movement of the foot), so experienced backcountry skiers may fit their AT boots a little more generously than alpine boots in length.
Last and width for AT boots is typically more generous than performance alpine boots. Forefoot widths in the 100-103 mm range are most common, but bear in mind you won't find the range of fit options you typically find in alpine boots.
Many AT boots include a thermo-formable liner, which makes for a warmer and more accurate fit. Deal with fit issues before you head out on a trip - aching feet and blisters can be more than just an inconvenience in the backcountry.
Remember that not every AT boot will work with every alpine touring binding.
Dynafit boot with molded-in fittings to use with tech bindings
The question of how much boot you'll need to confidently ski all terrain and conditions can be more complicated than you think and depends on the individual and the day. Even the experts are constantly adjusting their idea of what boot works best for them, so don't feel bad if you aren’t able to figure it out right away. If in doubt, choosing a slightly heavier, more supportive option is probably safer. While this may seem inconvenient on the way up, the added security of a sturdier boot can make all the difference on the way down.
**You should carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe when travelling in avalanche terrain and know how to use them. Backcountry travel requires an acceptance of the risks involved (avalanches are not the only danger) and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them. We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or the equivalent, and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners.
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