If you are finicky about a boot’s range of motion, you’ve got plenty of options out there. Here’s a look at some of the information collected from our range of motion survey.
Range of Motion (ROM) matters for backcountry ski boots. Think of it as the ability of the ankle to move (relatively) unimpeded when secured in a ski boot set in walk/touring mode. Setting some ground rules first, we’ll assume we come to the sport with expectations, needs, and desires regarding gear. But this much is true: if you are staying true to the human-powdered concept of backcountry skiing, much of your time, maybe 90% of it, is spent working uphill on skins, booting, cramponing, and maybe practicing the art of vertical snowshoeing.
Ninety percent of a minute, an hour, a day, that’s a lot of time: best to find a comfortable boot meeting your needs.
Digging into the “Range” of the ROM
What got me thinking about ROM and how manufacturers quantify a boot’s ROM began with the Dynafit TLT X last spring. Here’s what I wrote in a first look:
“The Dynafit TLT X is relatively minimal in weight and has a pivot at the ankle that feels frictionless. Other boots claim a larger range of motion (ROM), Travers Carbons (80 degrees), S-Lab MTN Summit (75 degrees), Tecnica Zero G Peak (75 degrees), and Scarpa F1LT (72 degrees). At 60m degrees for the TLT X, I’m not noticing any deficiencies in ROM. If 60 degrees is the new 70 degrees or 75 for that matter, then so be it. I have a tough time discerning the ROM difference between the S-Lab MTN Summits and TLT Xs.”
I’ll call the difference between 75 degrees and 72, when it comes to a ski boot’s ROM, as near identical: we’re not talking about the mirror on the Hubble Telescope or landing a Mars probe too hard on the red planet’s surface. It’s a ski touring boot.
But the difference between, say, 60 degrees in the TLT X and 75 in the S-Lab MTN Summit should be discernible. Both boots skin/walk great, and their ROM lies somewhere between the claimed 60 and 75, respectively.
On a recent hut trip, I brought a 183cm Atomic Backland 107 and a 184cm DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP for the expected soft snow powder conditions. With these larger skis, I like a slightly bigger boot. I don’t need super stiff, just more support: I opted for the Fischer Transalp Pro. This boot is an in-between-er. In other words, it provides more support than a 1kg class boot but falls off in stiffness compared to boots like the Tecnica ZG Tour Pro and Scarpa Quattro SL (two four-buckle boots I have been experimenting with lately).
The ROM of the Transalp Pro is stellar. But, it is not the claimed 80 degrees. I wrote this last season:
“Although the Transalp Pro is aspirational, the cuff rotation, understandably with a stiffer boot, is reduced. The Fischer promo video on their site claims 80 degrees for a range of motion, while some other websites restate the 80 degree ROM claim. Cripple Creek BC states 65 degrees – and I’d agree with that.”
During those recent six days in the Transalp Pro, striding in the best-ever set skin tracks I’ve been on, I used a low riser sparingly and made good use of the boot’s ample ROM while in flat mode. The super fit skier from Colorado who was often ahead of me on the skinner was in a ZG Tour Pro (claimed ROM 55 degrees) and slotted into his low riser using a Marker Alpinist binding much, if not all, of the time. (I attribute my flat mode preference to boot choice.)
We all likely expect less ROM in a stiff freeride oriented boot and more in a lighter speed-touring boot. And the survey says, according to the ROM respondents, that claimed ROM is most often accurate.
A note, we did not ask survey takers about their specific liner. We assume some skiers have replaced stock liners with an aftermarket choice. (I use stock liners in all but one boot, which is not discussed here.) Additionally, we did not ask about ankle ROM — we understand that some backcountry skiers experience limited ROM due to something biomechanical.
And, as the pie chart illustrates below, of those who find an inaccuracy in the claimed ROM, most perceive the ROM to be less than claimed.
Of those who claimed inaccurate and less than claimed, all but six skiers were on stiffer freeride-oriented boots.
But, as you can imagine, many skiers in these stiffer free-ridey boots thought the claimed ROM was accurate. We’ve got nine skiers saying the Tecnica ZG Tour Pro’s (including one skier in the Scout and one in the Tour) 55 degrees is less than claimed. Sixteen skiers in this same boot say “accurate” as claimed (this includes a Scout W). Let democracy flourish: we can agree to disagree. Perceived ROM is up to the individual.
Whenever risers are passingly mentioned in a WildSnow piece, I get semi-nervous about the ensuing onslaught of comments. Risers and riser use seem to matter… a lot. Maybe even more than a lot to some.
I take the road of use risers if you want. And if the skintrack is so steep it demands riser use, and still, you refuse, I suppose setting a new skintrack is an option.
That said, nearly 64 percent of the kind folks who responded said they seldom use high risers. That could mean a lot of things, but it likely means, as a community, less than steep skintracks are the norm, or that lighter high ROM boots are widely used. (Norms likely deviate zone to zone and region to region.)
Twenty-two skiers opted for “often” use a high riser. Almost universally, these folks are in four-buckle boots.
Closing it out
We’ll leave the discussion of what may impede a particular boot’s ROM for another time. But, when asked to describe the limiting factors to a boot’s ROM, we had wide-ranging responses. There was “slightly squeezing my ankles,” on a Hoji Tour, to “Cuff/lower interference, liner stiffness,” on a claimed 80 degree ROM boot the respondent stated was an accurate claim.
The info presented only captures a tiny portion of the backcountry skiers out there. But, the survey makes this clear: a combination of uphill efficacy and downhill proficiency is in demand.
More on the ROM and limiting factors later on — have a good weekend.
As always, chime in. If risers matter, which they evidently do, then ROM also has a place in the conversation.
Jason Albert comes to WildSnow from Bend, Oregon. After growing up on the East Coast, he migrated from Montana to Colorado and settled in Oregon. Simple pleasures are quiet and long days touring. His gray hair might stem from his first Grand Traverse in 2000 when rented leather boots and 210cm skis were not the speed weapons he had hoped for. Jason survived the transition from free-heel kool-aid drinker to faster and lighter (think AT), and safer, are better.
Here’s my real problem with boots (loosely related to ROM)… Every sizing advice, including at Cripple Creek, follows the same logic as alpine boots i.e. 1-2 fingers behind your heel with just the shell. Well, that’s all fine and great in downhill mode with your weight forward and your heel pushed all the way back. But simply stand up or attempt to walk and use the ROM with that boot size and my toes get slammed to the front. As you say, 90% of the time we’re not really skiing so why/how do people suffer with their toes squished into the front of the boot? If I attempt to buckle down more to prevent my foot from moving too much longitudinally, any boot becomes unbearable to wear for very long.
Hey there, thanks for the observations. I’m familiar with how Doug at least trains folks for sizing (I think he has a solid video posted on the subject too.) That said, I’m flip-flopping between several boots this season: some for reviews, some simply to better familiarize myself with a specific boot model. I wear a 27 in the TLT X/Blacklight and a 27.5 in the Transalp Pro, Zero G Tour Pro, and Salomon S/LAB MTN Summit. They all fit me pretty much the same, which means well. I’ve got more the two-fingers-behind-the-heel fit (with the shell only) and do not experience toes touching the front of the boot when I’m skinning. Having your toes slam to the front is a huge bummer. On each of these boots I do either fasten the lowest buckle (semi-tight) or secure the BOA to prevent heel lift of foot movement while walking/skinning/cramponing. (With these boots I use a stock liner with either a SOLE or Blue Superfeet for insoles.) Curious, what boots are you having these issues with? All the boots noted are comfy and I can remain in the boot for hours. For reference, I’m a 9 to 9.5 US size and have never bumped up to a 28 shell or liner: I’m always in a 27 or 27.5. I hope you end up finding a solution.
I’m a 10.5-11 size, ~28cm range so obviously every boot fitter wants to put me into a 28, maybe 28.5. I ski in 29.
I also have a wide foot so very few boots fit anyway. There seems to be a narrow last trend (maestrale completely blew a once great boot for me). Last I tried in the shop (just browsing while waiting for something else) were K2 Dispatch which seemed relatively OK width wise. I was told they’re among the widest available. But again was being pushed towards 28s and that just didn’t work for me in anything but a forward leaning skiing position.
27 and 27.5 are the same shell size. Half sizes don’t exist in ski boots. The thickness of the footbed is changed to make the the 27.5 feel bigger. The shells come out of the same mold.
Scarpa breaks on the half size. So a 27.5 is a 28.
Hi Nick, I’ll have to look again. My old Travers Carbons and and Transalp Pros are a 27.5 shell. Been a bit since I looked, but no 27.0/shell that I’m aware of. So in that case, the 28.5 (Transalp Pro) was way way too big for me. Hope that clarifies. And for the Scarpa Alien 1.0s I use occasionally, pretty certain it is a strict 27 or 28, no 1/2 sizes for liners. I tried the 28, again, way too big. If they had a 27.5 liner (stock) that would probably be perfect for me.
J, I wonder if this might be an issue with having too much forward lean and/or trying to stand up straight in a boot in ski mode? I will say as a guy who dropped 900 bucks on a boot that turned out to be a shell size too big, it is better to have a shorter fit and do some liner/shell work. These oversize boots provided an almost unskiable experience.
“Shell work” is all very well if your boots are PU, but IME Pebax shells cannot be reliably modified. There are two problems: 1) they have memory and will return to the original shape, and 2) it’s depressingly easy to split the shells, even for experienced fitters. Grillamid is said (on this site) to be capable of being modded, but it seems like it’s touchier than PU so I expect the chance of heavy-handed alpine boot fitters (the only sort in some places) destroying the shells is much higher.
As someone with long, narrow, highly arched feet and thin ankles, I can say that where the shell sizes break can be crucial to fit; starting out with boots that are too short is not a viable option.
Re boot sizing: This can be problematic – especially with Pebax shells which IME cannot be modified reliably. The length, overall shape and where the shell break sits are all important, particularly if you have a “non-standard” foot shape, and these things all interact to determine fit. Then there’s the liners, some of which (i e., Palau) are very thin, cannot expand, and pack out quickly. Feet can also change over time, flattening and/or lengthening, which further complicates things. Plus, some people’s feet are less mobile/more stable than others…
Just a comment: I don’t believe riser-use can be easily correlated to boot ROM. In my experience, preference for risers can be more heavily impacted by individual flexibility and gait idiosyncrasies: I would argue these are likely to overprint whatever relationship there may be with boot ROM.
This observation has been borne out in my experience skiing with people in a range of different boot/binding styles and finding that some people just like to use risers, or find it hard to ascend without them, whereas others (like myself) find risers incredibly uncomfortable no matter what boot I’m in. With my current (ATK/Voyagers and F1 LTs) and previous (G3 ION and La Sportiva Spectres – quite a high-ROM boot for the time) setups, I have never encountered a skin track too steep to get up without engaging any risers. Now, my old no-walk-mode Lange’s+OG Duke setup did require rare riser usage, so there is an element of ROM for sure.
FYI the population size of this informal study numbers less than 12 so it is 100% anecdotal.
I notice huge differences in ROM from the liner I use in my Zero G pros. My observation of various ski touring partners is that they choose a path of most resistance, putting heavy liners in, not transitioning the walk mode and or choosing boots with low ROM like 50/50 boots. I usually take the brunt of that as I have a Med ROM paired with a Race binding and they are quick to flick the high risers.
Some day I think there will be a 130 flex freeride boot with the tongueless build of the TransAlp Pro/race boots with an overlap liner that has bikini cut outs so the ROM is infinite like the Arc’teryx Procline. We are close.
Measured/claimed ROM, once past 45 deg or so, is virtually irrelevant. It is the friction within that ROM that matters, in my experience and opinion. And that friction depends on boot construction, liner choice, and buckle tension. Friction matters so much that, I think, ROM is inconsequential…
I agree. I have always paid attention to the friction during motion.
But, I think, perhaps when I said boots did not have ‘enough range’ of motion for me, maybe what I was really experiencing was that the resistance became so high that I discounted that part of the range of motion, even though technically they would move that far.
The other part I care about is ‘useability’ with full range of motion. For example, with Zero G Tours, I had to open all the buckles all the way to get the free flexing range of motion I like. But then my foot was flopping around in the boot, unsupported, and transitions took very long.
This will depend heavily on your foot shape, as well as the boot.
I have the same exact experience with the Zero G Pro Tours – the cuff buckles have to be open to get the full ROM. I’ve found that I can keep the instep buckle closed, helps with heel retention and less flopping around. The biggest issue with me with these boots is the transitions – have to fiddle with the powerstrap, all buckles, etc.
I have flat, narrow, long feet, with tiny calves – i almost always have the buckles maxed out.
Even if just based on survey results, this is really interesting information. This is why we come to Wildsnow, to get into this sport beyond what you can get from just reading rehashes marketing copy. Thanks!
Although, for obvious reasons, weight and cuff ROM seem to be directly correlated for most boots, I am curious about which trait actually has the bigger impact on efficiency. Thoughts?
I must confess: when I filled out the boot ROM form, I never measured it.So when I checked ‘as listed’ or ‘less than listed’, I simply sorted the claimed numbers into categories:
Claimed less than 50: ‘poor, noticeable restriction’
Claimed 50-60 : ‘moderate, noticeable restriction in long strides’
Claimed more than 60: ‘great, full range of motion’
Did others do this too, or did you actually measure your range in the boot? I think I will now, just for fun.