Guide to Buying Snowboard Boots

Newsroom Gear Guide to Buying Snowboard Boots

Choosing the right pair of snowboard boots is equally as important as choosing the right snowboard. Your boots are the connective tissue between your body and your board—command over your snowboard entirely depends on the movement generated in your body and communicated through your boots. So how do you choose the right pair of snowboard boots? This guide to buying snowboard boots will break down everything you need to know before heading into a ski shop and trying on snowboard boots.

After you’ve read our guide to buying snowboard boots, head over to our men’s and women’s snowboard boot round-ups.

Guide To Buying Snowboard Boots

Fit

Step one is making sure your snowboard boots have the right fit. Your snowboard boots should be snug, but not uncomfortable. You want your toes to be touching the end, but not curled up and contorted. A nice tight fit will ensure responsiveness from your boots, but an uncomfortable fit will guarantee an unpleasant and painful day on the mountain. 

If your snowboard boots are too loose around the ankle, your heel will rise off the footbed when leaning forward, making toe-side turns imprecise and hard to control. If your boots are too spacious in the toe-box, you will lose control of the micromovements necessary for seamless command over your board. The right fit is imperative when buying snowboard boots.

Another important consideration is that your boots will take some time to break in—somewhere around five to ten sessions on the mountain until your snowboard boots are packed out to their final size. Many riders will choose to wear their snowboard boots around the house for a few hours before taking them on the ski hill to start the break-in process.

Sizing

Snowboard boots are sized in standard US sizes, but many riders will choose to size down a half- or full-size from their street shoes to ensure a snug fit. Remember that boot sizes will vary depending on the manufacturer; a size 9 to one boot manufacturer may feel like a size 10 to another, so it is important that you try on the boots before you buy. 

Additionally, the size of your snowboard boot will also inform the width of the snowboard you should be riding. If the outsoles of your snowboard boots are longer than your snowboard is wide, then you’ll experience toe-drag while carving on your toe-side, which does not make for fun riding.

Flex

Flex is another important factor when shopping for snowboard boots. “Flex” refers to the stiffness or softness of a boot and is ranked on a scale of 1 to 10; 1 being the softest and 10 being the stiffest. The height and weight of the rider will impact a boot’s flex—taller and heavy riders will have an easier time flexing a stiffer boot than those who are shorter and lighter. 

More importantly than the size of the rider, however, is the style of the rider. Beginners will want a softer boot as it will be more forgiving and easier to control. Additionally, freestyle riders who spend their time in the terrain park will generally prefer a softer boot, as that flex provides a more playful feel and the forgiving nature of the boots make it easier to land tricks. Conversely, stiff boots are geared toward experienced all-mountain and backcountry snowboarders. Stiffer boots perform better at high speeds, facilitating aggressive and powerful riding. Stiffer boots tend to cost more, but also last longer than soft boots due to their sturdy construction.

Vail Resorts Snowboarders.
©Vail Resorts

Lacing Systems

There are three main types of lacing systems in snowboard boots: Traditional, Zone, and Boa. Each system has its pros and cons, and choosing the right system ultimately comes down to your personal preference.

Close-up of a snowboard on a groomed trail

Traditional

The Traditional lacing system is exactly what it sounds like: just your standard shoe laces (but a bit burlier). Many riders prefer the traditional system because you can customize snugness throughout the boot. Starting down at the toe-box, you can really cinch them down every inch of the way right up to the top of the tongue. Another benefit of the Traditional system is that if you bust a lace it is super easy and inexpensive to replace; just buy a new lace and thread it through. The setbacks, however, are that they take much longer to lace up than Zone or Boa systems, and they have a tendency to loosen up throughout the day, meaning you’ll likely have to stop, take your gloves off, and re-lace. 

Zone

Zone lacing systems typically have laces connected to small handles that you can pull tight and tuck away into the boot. Snowboarders say that Zones ride similar to Traditionals, but are easier to put on and quicker to adjust. They generally have two zones, a lower zone over the top of the foot and an upper zone around the shin and ankle. Complaints toward the Zone system are that they also tend to loosen up throughout the day—often even more frequently than Traditional lacing—and if you break one of the laces they are much more difficult to replace.

Boa

Boa lacing systems have a series of cables running throughout the boot connected to a ratcheting dial. Boas are available in Boa Coiler (single Boa), Double Boa, or Triple Boa. A huge benefit of Boas are their easy-on and -off, and their ability to make quick adjustments—a simple turn of the dial can be done with gloves still on and will tighten up the boot. They are also much better at staying tight throughout a day of riding. A drawback of the Boas, however, is that customized snugness can be difficult. For Boa Coilers, the dial is located on the tongue of the boot and can tighten up the shin area while leaving the toe box too loose. This can be remedied with Double or Triple Boas though, that have additional dials for specific zonal adjustments, but are generally more expensive. Another drawback to the Boa lacing system is that if you break one of the cables they are very difficult to replace and will likely need to be done professionally.

Now that you’ve learned the fundamental information on how to choose a snowboard boot, it’s time to shop. We always recommend heading to a brick and mortar ski shop and trying on the boots in person to make sure that they have that perfect fit and all the features you’re looking for in a snowboard boot.

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