The term "mountaineering" is multifaceted. It can refer to ice climbing up a frozen waterfall high above tree line, kicking steps up a long moderate snow slope, carefully walking across a crevassed glacier, digging a snow cave on day six of a high-altitude climb, or all of the above. Solid mountaineering boots are obviously one of the most important pieces of climbing gear for the aspiring mountaineer.
Why Use Mountaineering Boots?
As great as your hiking boots are, they don’t stand a chance under prolonged exposure in the alpine zone. You want a pair of boots that are able to keep your feet warm, dry, and stable, and you’ll find just that with mountaineering boots.
What Are the Features of Mountaineering Boots?
Mountaineering boots are insulated, are waterproof, and have rigid soles. The amount of insulation can vary from boot to boot. Single boots with a bit of synthetic insulation are suitable for mountaineering in the lower 48 states. For extreme cold like that found at altitude and on a winter Presidential Traverse, a bulkier plastic boot with a removable liner will be well worth the extra weight for the warmth. All mountaineering boots should be crampon compatible, which is something your regular winter hiking boots might lack.
Lightweight Single Boots
One style of mountaineering boot is the single boot. These can be made of leather, synthetics, or a mix of the two. They’re lighter than plastic double mountaineering boots, but not as warm. They also require more care and tend to be more expensive. They’re best suited for day trips since they’re harder to dry out on multinight adventures than boots with removable liners, or when you desire a more technical fit (waterfall ice climbing). Our favorite lightweight single boots include the La Sportiva Nepal Evo and Scarpa Mont Blanc for their waterproof breathability and natural gait, respectively.
Plastic Double Boots
Koflach Degre boots are a perfect example of plastic double mountaineering boots with insulating layers and dual-density polyurethane. For many aspiring alpinists, a pair of plastic double boots are a good choice. Completely waterproof without requiring any maintenance, the biggest advantage of these affordable long-lasting boots is the removable liner. On overnight trips, the liner can dry completely in your sleeping bag. If you’re planning on owning only one style of mountaineering boot, this is the style to shop for.
This category of boot is designed to excel at high altitude. Superwarm, yet comfortable to walk in, these boots are at home on 6000 m peaks around the world. They may be too much boot for lower-elevation jaunts, so they’re not a common first purchase for a climber (unless that climber suffers from cold feet in regular mountaineering boots).
You should also be sure to talk to an Eastern Mountain Sports Foot Guru about the exact trip you’re going on so they can find the best pair for you. You might end up needing two pairs of boots: one lightweight synthetic pair for training and a pair of doubles for the day of your expedition.
How Do You Fit Mountaineering Boots?
Mountaineering boots should fit the same way backpacking boots do—in such a way that the shoe holds your foot in place and doesn’t let it slide to the front when going downhill, or slide to the back when going uphill. You don’t want these boots to be too tight, as they have the potential to cut off your circulation and rob you of even more heat.
When to Use Crampons
You’ll need crampons on any slope where footing without them is tricky and a slip could have consequences. When to “crampon up” is an experienced-based skill. Consider taking a mountaineering course with our renowned Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School to learn the fundamentals of proper crampon and ice axe use to give your summit attempt the best chance of success!
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