How we test snowboard boots
Each boot included in this guide went through testing over a full season of riding in all conditions, from packed groomers to bottomless powder. I rode them at ski resorts, in the Teton backcountry, and in the sidecountry (the out-of-bounds slopes easily accessed via ski resorts). I even took some of the boots on a few splitboarding trips.
Over the course of testing, I looked for performance in several key areas: flex, lacing system, boot liner, and outsole. Here’s how each of those factored into which boots ultimately made this guide:
The flex of a boot is how easily it moves in the ankle and foot. Companies rate boot flex from soft to stiff with many using a scale that goes from 1 being the softest to 10 being the stiffest. Mainly, this changes how much pressure your boot needs to turn toe-to-heel. It also can be a decent guide to how long it will last.
If a boot has a stiffer flex out of the box (roughly 7+ on most scales), it’s able to handle more hours riding, hiking, and skinning before it becomes too floppy to turn effectively. Usually, a stiffer boot lasts far beyond the average lifetime of 100 to 200 days. However, the catch is that such a boot takes longer to break in and tends to be more uncomfortable to ride the first few times out.
If you only ride a few days a year, you’ll get a better response out-of-the-box with a softer flex (generally, from 2 to 5). Advanced riders often opt for a medium flex of anywhere from a 5 to a 7. These boots become much roomier faster than a stiffer flex, but you won’t have to waste one big snowboard trip just to break them in.
Despite the tendencies listed above, flex is a personal preference. If you have strong legs and ride with more power, a stiffer boot works better; if your riding style is based more on balance and a surf-style flow, then a less-stiff boot would serve you better.
Another thing to keep in mind is that sturdier construction unofficially increases a flex rating. If a medium flex boot has a thicker outer, it will feel stiffer and perform better for a longer period of time than other medium flex boots.
Ski boots have buckles to lock the boot tighter onto your leg and foot but with snowboard boots, that tightness comes from your laces. The advantage of this is that you rarely get the sensation that your foot is in a vise grip like skiers endure. However, laces are more prone to loosening over a ride and therefore require more attention and fuss throughout the day.
There are two main options for lacing systems: Traditional laces, which act like the laces on any traditional shoe and usually go up the full body of a snowboard boot. Meanwhile, BOA lacing systems are made of a dial connected to a metal cable that snakes through certain insertion points on the boot. You turn the dial and the cable tightens or loosens.
The BOA system is far more convenient because it tightens and loosens quickly and easily, and can even be done while wearing gloves. However, it’s harder to get the tightness distributed equally through the system, whereas you can pull traditional laces tighter over certain parts of your foot.
Keep in mind that BOA cables sometimes malfunction. While this is rare, there’s no way to fix it if something happens in the middle of a ride. Because of this, backcountry riders will want to avoid boots that are exclusively BOA lacing, if possible.
The liner is the soft material that encases your foot and provides a layer between your skin and the hard, outer shell of a boot. They have three purposes: They lock your foot within the outer shell of a boot, they add support for the muscles and tendons of your foot within the boot, and they keep your foot more comfortable throughout the day.
Though all boots come with liners, some are of higher quality than others, offering more support for your foot and responsiveness to your ankle’s movements off the bat. Others need inserts, which are usually added to the shin or ankle area, to stiffen them up. This helps make them more responsive, though it also requires more force to move them.
Most high-end liners are heat-moldable (known as thermomoldable liners) which allow them to form around the shape of your lower leg and foot — it’s best to get professional help with these and have them molded at a gear shop.
The other important aspect of your boot’s liner is how it locks in your heel. If your heel lifts while you ride, you lose performance. What’s more, if it pulls out too much when going heel-to-toe and back, you risk injuries like lost toenails or your shin slamming against the front of the boot.
The outsole (sometimes referred to as the sole) is where your boots hit the snow when you’re walking or the board when you’re riding.
Because of that direct contact, this is the strongest conductor of energy from the rider to the board. If your outsole is thin, you have greater energy dispersion but no shock absorption. That can result in hard landings if you like jumping. On the other hand, if your soles are too cushy, they may better absorb the shock of flat landings but you’ll have less feel for the board when riding and maneuvering.
As for the treads, all boots give you enough grip to at least walk around the base area and parking lot of a resort without slipping. If you plan on venturing into the backcountry, however, you’ll need an outsole with larger lugs to grip snow, ice, and snowy rock like a hiking boot — traction like this does cost you some responsiveness in riding mode. Also, if you’ll be in terrain that requires crampons, you’ll want a boot with a heel welt on the outsole.