How To Choose Mountaineering Boots
Mountaineering is a gear-heavy activity. It’s imperative to be prepared with the appropriate equipment and the knowledge of how to use it because, while it can take you to some of the most incredible places on Earth, you can rapidly find yourself in a dangerous situation.
One of the most important pieces of kit you will buy for mountaineering is your boots; the foundation of your kit and what you will be relying on with every step. Getting the right mountaineering boots can be a lengthy process, but with a little research and forward thinking you’ll find a pair that you can trust.
We have put together this guide to outline the differences between mountaineering boots and highlight key points that you should be looking for in them. Once you've sorted your boots you can then look into getting the right crampons.
Key things to consider when buying mountaineering boots:
- What boot rating you need: B ratings are a widely recognised indication of a boot's suitability for different winter mountain forays. They rank from B0 (not for use with crampons) to B3 - the stiffest mountaineering boots with crampon welts at the heel and toe.
- What boot style you need: There are different styles of mountaineering boots that offer different levels of insulation and protection depending on the type of conditions you anticipate climbing in.
- Personal aspirations, abilities and limitations that could make an impact on your plans.
- Developments in technology that require you to re-consider your expectations of boot ratings and boot styles.
B0 boots are more flexible in the soles and uppers, making them comfortable straight from the box and great for general hillwalking below the snow line. Even with modern flexible linking bars, crampons will not be able to flex as much as these boots. This flexing disparity places undue pressure through the binding and can cause a crampon to pull loose with potentially disastrous results. You may also find that crampon straps dig in through the softer upper fabrics leading to significant discomfort. So for reasons of comfort and safety, using B0 rated boots should be avoided if there is potential for the use of crampons to be necessary.
Boots rated B1 are all-round four season walking boots, robustly constructed for long mountain days and scrambles and with cross-over potential for those looking to do less technical winter hill walking. The midsole is stiffened, while uppers may be leather or fabric, often supported by a generous rubber rand or synthetic leather reinforcements. Combine only with C1 strap-on crampons which offer the best flex. A B1/C1 combination will be adequate for many UK winter fell walks and gentle snow plods.
The best bet for regular winter hill walkers tackling long days in snowy conditions. Both midsoles and uppers will be stiff and supportive, but with just enough flex to sustain a regular walking action. Thicker uppers lend slightly more warmth. B2 boots feature a heel ledge to allow fitting of a C2 crampon for the most secure fit and versatile performance. Suitable for the winter Munro bagger, the low or mid-grade Scottish Winter climber and the summer Alpinist.
Designed for full-on mountaineering, mixed and ice climbing. B3 boots have the stiffest soles and uppers available, giving solid lateral and medial support for front pointing, step-kicking and traversing on steep terrain. This category includes high altitude double boots as well as lighter technical climbing models. Heel and toe welts allow fitting of C3 crampons to take advantage of the easy step-in attachment system of heel clip and toe bar.
Single Mountaineering Boots
Single mountaineering boots, as the name would suggest, consist of a single boot as opposed to having a removable liner boot like a double boot would have.
They have a tendency to be lighter in weight and have a lower profile than other styles of mountaineering boots. This sleek design often gives more agility making them suitable for the approach walk as well as alpine style mountaineering but this comes at the cost of some insulation.
As they are a single boot they can take longer to dry out so they aren’t well suited to multi-day trips in particularly wet conditions where you can’t properly dry them out at the end of the day.
Double Mountaineering Boots
Double mountaineering boots, feature a structured outer boot combined with an insulating liner boot that can be removed.
They are generally slightly heavier than single boots and are bulkier, but they do offer compromise by being warmer. They can also be easier to dry in more remote locations; put the inner booties in the body of your sleeping bag while you sleep to keep them warm. Even if they are not completely dry they’ll be infinitely more inviting and effective at keeping your feet warm than frozen single boots.
The weight and bulk of double boots reduces the agility making them too cumbersome for approaches below the snowline.
Hybrid/Integrated Gaiter Mountaineering Boots
Sitting between a single boot and a double boot the hybrid mountaineering boot is becoming increasingly popular. Perhaps more similar to a single boot with the addition of an integrated gaiter for extra warmth and snow protection, this also helps to keep them drier than a single boot but if they do become wet you can’t dry them as easily as you can a double boot.
What Are Your Aspirations?
When choosing your mountaineering boots have a think about what kind of altitudes you might be reaching and where. Consider the weather and underfoot conditions you might encounter too.
It’s also important to consider how long your approach walks might be; will these be above or below the snowline? Once above the snowline do you plan on spending multiple nights in the mountains or will they be done-in-a-day adventures where you can dry your boots out properly before you put them on again?
Personal Abilities & Limitations
While it can be tricky to recognise your strengths and weaknesses, it is worth taking a bit of time to think about. If you know you struggle with cold temperatures then you’ll want to prioritise warmth and insulation. Equally, if you have a lingering issue from a historical injury then maybe support and comfort in that particular area is a deciding factor for you. Whilst trying on different boots, be sure to try with different socks and footbeds too; the wrong sock can cause hot spots and irritation in places while other socks might be just right.
Approach the decision pragmatically; if your plans change after a few years or a few trips you can and should reassess your boots accordingly. An impulsive or unrealistic decision could put you off future trips whereas the right boots can safely help you summit some of the world’s most incredible peaks.
Development In Technology
With technology ever-evolving, there are new levels of nuance that have come into mountaineering boots in the last few years. The B/C system is still the easiest way to think about crampon compatibility, but the reality is that many new models of B1 and B2 boots are slightly more bendy.
B2 boots new to the market, still have a heel welt but flex like an old-school B1 boot, and B1 boots new to the market flex like a stiff B0. This reflects the fact that some crampons now come with very flexible centre bars, so will flex with the stride more easily. These new lightweight B2s are more nimble for walking and scrambling, and again you can get away with a C2/C1 crampon provided there’s enough flex in the centre bar.
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