We’re using a mix of boot brands for our Wildsnow Denali ski expedition this spring. What is more, we’re not hesitating to mix different types of thermo liners with different shells. Dynafit, Scarpa, Garmont and perhaps more are all in play. Different feet, different boot shapes; intended result will be good fit for everyone.
This is serious stuff, as boots that work perfectly are essential for a successful trip. For myself, I’m playing around with fitting a pair of Dynafit ZZero for the climb, and I hope, ski descent.
I like the Dynafit ZZero’s combo of lighter weight and ski performance, they fit my feet quite well out of the box, and the tongue style shell makes it easy to get them on and off in awkward situations. But they’re a bit small in the toe area for me, so dealing with toe volume is the crux in getting my best fit.
Goal is enough volume in the forefoot to allow full expansion of a foam thermo liner so it’s as warm as possible, along with room for my thin Gator neoprene VBL socks and a thin Smartwool sock next to the skin. Along with that, I’ll mold in a pocket for a chemical foot warmer and bring a few dozen of those on the trip in case conditions get truly ridiculous.
None of the guys on the trip have any particular problem with cold feet, so the above fitting techniques should keep us all safe and relaxed in whatever model boots we choose.
Problem with this sort of fitting is that a boot size with a large enough toe box for warmth and insulation may fit your mid-foot and ankle like you’re wearing a bucket of bird feathers. Feathers are warm, but as a boot liner they could make for tough skiing.
With ZZero, I’ve gotten my best fit for average backcountry skiing (owned two pair now) by actually downsizing from my usual 28 shell to the next smaller size (length 306 mm). I then punch the toe fairly aggressively, and mold the liner with care not to create too much volume (bare foot, don’t overheat).The resulting fit is heavenly, and having a shorter boot provides a noticeable improvement in comfort while dirt walking, and a bit nicer stride on the planks. But they’re cold due to the compressed and thin liner.
So, for experimentation with boot fit I got a pair of 28 shells (length 316) and a pair of 29 shells (length 326 mm).
The 29s indeed have the perfect fit in the toe. But they have so much volume everywhere else it would take me weeks to fit them, if ever, as I’d end up with so much foam in there they’d still feel like that bucket of feathers. They’re also so long they feel like footwear for a guy dressing up as Frankenstein (note to self, next Halloween?).
So the 28s it is, with another toe punch for safe volume at 20,000 feet. BUT, it appears that even before punching, a bit of room exists in front of the toe of the 28 liner in the 28 shell. Hmmm, might a 29 liner result in a bit more toe room for my feets? This appears to be the case, so I’ll mold a Dynafit 29 liner in there, as well as a Scarpa Universal overlap liner. I’ll test these combos this winter during some nice cold winter camping trips in December and January. A final decision will be made after that, and like I mentioned above, we have other models/brands of boots to choose from if I can’t make the ZZeros function. But I’m optimistic.
A few more details about other boot choices within our team: Scarpa will indeed be well represented, as their lasts have excellent vertical toe volume (up/down room in the toe area), and a boot board that could be replaced with a highly insulated option if necessary. Also, Scarpa is providing us with their Intuition Universal liner so we’ve got that option of stock liners don’t seem to totally fit the bill. Garmont is also a possibility, as the Radium tends to fit long anyway, thus allowing extra insulation in the toe area (though Radium is an overlap construction boot and thus possibly more difficult to get on and off). Some guys might pick other overlap type boots such as Black Diamond’s, though despite some of the comments here we’re of the opinion that the ease of entry with a tongue boot such as Dynafit ZZero or Scarpa Skookum would be super helpful if conditions get extreme.
The glitch in all this is the fourth law of mountaineering, which states: “The more more prepared your are, the less likely the weather will get intense.” Is there a way to fool the cosmos into thinking we’re super prepared, and still cut some corners in secret? Probably not, as Denali sees all — especially what you’ve got on your feet.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.