How to choose winter mountaineering boots
Updated: Mar 10
How to choose winter mountaineering boots
Buying winter boots is a big investment and whilst in an ideal world we would have one of each type, this isn't very realistic economically. Different types of boots have slightly different characteristics and therefore different roles, so it's important to consider what you plan on using them for and what you might want to progress onto in the future. Below I’ve outlined the different categories the boots might be used for, but these are only there as a guide, often boots get used for all sorts of things. I personally use B3 boots for all my winter walking, climbing and mountaineering as I know they will be suitable for any ground that I might cover. They also tend to be the warmest category (other than high altitude) and are able to fit any type of crampon, however if you only ever intend on walking then they would be unsuitable for your purposes.
Walking boots are categorised by using a scale of B ratings from B0-3, with B0 being the least rigid and B3 being the stiffest with almost no flexibility. This system is useful for deciding which type of boots are the most suitable for the terrain you might encounter and also for deciding which pair of crampons to match your boots to (Crampons have a C1-3 rating system). Stiffer boots are better for steep terrain, where techniques like kicking steps might be employed.. When matching boots to crampons the thing to avoid is having a flexible boot with a rigid crampon as this can lead to the metal being stressed incorrectly, I’ve outlined below compatibility.
Winter walking boots should be comfortable and warm, whilst still being able to fit a crampon. If you aren’t going onto any steep terrain, then a boot with a semi rigid sole is most suitable, walking in more rigid soles can be tiring for the feet and takes a bit of getting used to. The most important features to look for are good quality construction and materials, with synthetic and leather boots having slight different qualities. Winter walking boots should only be worn with flexible C1 crampons, using stiff crampons with a flexible boot can lead to metal fatigue and eventually crampon failure.
Walking boots are usually B0-1 rated, examples of them are the Scarpa Marmolada Pro and La Sportiva’s Trango Trk.
Mountaineering boots fit in between walking and winter climbing boots and the choice of boot very much depends on what you intend to use it for. If you are planning on mostly walking and climbing the occasional snow gully a B2 boot would probably be suitable. Examples of B2 boots are the Scarpa Charmoz or the La Sportiva Trango Tech .If you are planning on climbing lots of gullies and ridges, possibly straying onto the occasional winter climb then B2-B3 boots would be best. The extra rigidity of the sole gives more security on steep ground, with improved ability to kick steps into the snow. Examples of this are the Scarpa Manta Pro and the La Sportiva Trango Ice Cube.
Winter climbing often involves standing on crampon front points for extended periods of time, so it’s essential to have a rigid or near ridged sole to stop terminal calf pump. This means a B2 or more likely a B3 boot would be the most appropriate option. B3 boots have a rigid or near ridged sole, often this is created by a stiff plastic midsole, but in some boots this might be a metal rod or even a high tech carbon fibre structure (great because it has very low heat transfer).
There are two types of boots in this category to choose from, traditional leather or synthetic gaitered boots. Traditional leather boots are very hard wearing, are naturally waterproof and tend to be slightly cheaper- a great option when starting out winter climbing as they will last many seasons. Classic examples of this type of boot are the La Sportiva Nepal and Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro. Synthetic gaitered boots are usually slightly lighter and warmer than leather boots, but this can sometimes be at the expense of durability. Examples of gaitered boots are La Sportiva G5 Evo or the Scarpa Phantom Tech.
Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro
Modern specialist high altitude boots these days are all made of a synthetic construction like the gaitered winter climbing boots, but have a smaller removable inner boot and more insulation. They also tend to have a softer, more lightweight sole because they are almost always worn with crampons on snow so the rubber doesn’t need to be durable to cope with rocky terrain. Examples are the La Sportiva G7 or Olympus Mons and the Scarpa Phantom 6000 and 8000.
Inner and outer boots of a pair of Scarpa Phantom 6000's
To summarise, it's important to choose a pair of boots that is suitable for what they will be used for. Boots that are warm enough or stiff enough can lead to accidents and injuries, so it's essential that we get it right. A key thing I haven't mentioned yet is fit, if you have a boot that meets all your needs but doesn't fit correctly will cause problems - if its too tight you will have cold feet due to reduced circulation and too big often means that your foot slips around inside, which can cause hot spots and blisters. Ideally your toes shouldn't be touching the end when kicking step and there should be enough space inside for a high quality pair of winter weight socks.