The most important equipment purchase you will make, ski boots demand your time, consideration, and maybe a little bit of pain. But it's worth it to find the right boot. To help your quest, we asked five skiers to test the year's new crop of boots over the course of the winter to determine the best touring boots of the year.
Erme Catino: Based in the Wasatch, Catino appreciates a snug alpine boot that can turn on a dime, but with a progressive flex that responds through varied terrain. Narrow lasted boots work best, and his touring boots need to be able to walk for miles without hesitation on the down.
Ryan Rubino: With a medium wide foot and slightly higher instep, Rubino, who skis Vermont's Green Mountains, prefers a 98-100mm last, tight heel hold, and room for pesky sixth toes.
Matt Hansen: Out of his Jackson, Wyoming, home, Hansen's medium to narrow feet and high instep need boots that hike and skin, drive aggressively through variable snow, and can run for the bus.
Crystal Sagan: Based in Boulder, Colorado, Sagan, who alternates between resort and backcountry, has a low volume, narrow-ish foot and often throws an extra shim under the footbed to take up a bit of space.
Kenzie Morris: From Tahoe City, California, Morris prefers a 98mm last and enough space to fit a medium to high instep with narrow ankles. With a background in racing, she'll happily take performance over comfort.
The Little Machine. It was a term that pro-skier Eric Hjorleifson and Fritz Barthel coined while developing the Hoji Pro Tour. Barthel, who invented the low tech binding (which became Dynafit) and Hjorleifson (known as Hoji) machined and tested various prototypes over the past four years in Barthel's home workshop in Austria.
The result was a patented new technology called the Hoji-Lock System, a personal invention by Hoji himself.
The Hoji-Lock System transitions the interface of the cuff and lower shell via a slider, allowing the boot to be completely locked together while skiing (with a more alpine-like-boot flex) and disengaged for free ankle mobility while touring.
It's different than other touring boots, where the flex relies on a metal pinhole slot. This 'slot' has been the traditional walk-mode on the market and the culprit of a loose feel or abrupt end to the flex you typically find in touring boots.
The lever for the lock system also adjusts the power strap and upper buckle tension, so you never have to adjust your boot at the top of a cold and windy ridge. Simply snap it down and ski (I found starting the day buckled up like I'm going to ski then disengaging the lever is best to allow skinning up the mountain).
At 1450 grams, the Hoji Pro Tour is lightweight and has the most progressive flex of any true touring boot I've tested. Its heel hold and feel off the ankle provided a solid and smooth roll into turns without the feeling of a dead spot in the flex.
The instep latch is also near perfect, and when combined with the snug breakpoint (where the ankle flexes the cuff from the lower shell), the boot felt effortless as it navigated conditions from powder to mixed snow.
But nothing is perfect. The Hoji Pro Tour is softer and substantially wider in the forefoot than the Vulcan. And with its Speed Nose, which removes the DIN-designed 'toe' seen in almost all other boots, the boot is only compatible with tech bindings. Though that shouldn't deter many folks, especially since this boot is made for the general ski touring audience that value comfort, performance, and ease. If you can make the wider last work, it's a no-brainer--the flex and lock system meet the hype.
Lighter, stronger, and more anatomical. The new Zero G Tour Pro isn't just lipstick on an old model. The Grilamid lower shell combined with a carbon cuff provided an impressive amount of lateral power. Its flex was smooth and predictable as I navigated down chutes and it railed on the lower mountain with precision.
However, the shell materials are only part of the story. To eliminate play in the flex, Tecnica reinforced the cuff with what they're calling the Double Blocking Mobility Cuff System, which has a latch on top of the walk mode lever that reinforces the cuff from forward and twisting moves.
I initially thought the Double Blocking was marketing hype since a carbon cuff and a proper spine latch walk-mode provides substantial support. Though I was quickly mistaken--the way the boot powered through turns and transitions, including torqueing it on a bench back home, I think the system provided the extra bit of power missing in some touring boots.
At 1320 grams and with 55 degrees of motion in tour mode, it was as quick on the uptrack as a pair of hiking boots--transitioning to ski mode in a matter of seconds as I jumped into a chute during a sunny break of clouds and graupel.
The fit was more anatomical than the previous Zero G boot, but the heel and flex point had some roomy sections to accommodate a wide range of feet. Though those shortcomings quickly disappeared when I swapped the liner with an Intuition--creating one of the lighter and more competent touring boot kits on the market.
The Solar weighs a feathery 1050 grams and walks/runs with a silky smooth 68 degrees of touring motion. It's geared toward those who may enter some ski-mo races, yet its design lends itself to everyday ski touring for those whose gear is on a constant diet.
The lower shell had an anatomical feel and the 102 last felt surprisingly snug, especially along the arch and instep. The shell also allowed for three different forward lean positions, ranging from 12-14-16.
The boot's swing lock closure flips horizontally upward, allowing the cuff to move freely and locked down easily with no accidental walk-mode switches. While the cable buckle--which latches the forefoot and toe with two levels of tightness--was finicky at first, I thought it did a much better job of staying secure when compared to other cable toe systems.
What impressed me with the Solar was that I wasn't terrified on the descent, and I took this thing deep into the backcountry on a couple exploratory missions. Perhaps throwing myself into the gauntlet, but whatever...
Yes, this is a softer and lighter boot than some of La Sportiva's other offerings, but if you're looking for a super light boot for touring or uphill fitness than this may be your slipper of choice.
The brainchild of big-mountain skier Eric "Hoji" Hjorleifson and Fritz Barthel, inventor of the Low Tech Binding, the Hoji boot takes all of your wildest (touring) boot dreams and delivers them in one precise, 1450 gram package.
The business in the front (a stiff 120 flex), party in the back (tour mode) philosophy comes alive when pushed hard and delivers big time on Hoji-inspired adventures. A Grilamid shell, cuff, and spoiler keep the Hoji light but stiff for an impressive downhill performance and efficient energy transfer, with the perks of a better snow feel and more skier confidence.
On the uphill, a V-shaped spoiler and 55-degree range of motion allow for a more natural walking motion and plenty of agility on climbs, helping conserve energy for long days.
The transition between walk/ski modes with the flip of one singular (patented) switch that saves time and general hassle. Boasting a roomy 102 last, the Hoji is comfy on the climb but you'll more than likely need to crank down on the adjustable buckles in ski mode.
The Hoji is compatible with tech bindings only, as the design swaps out the traditional toe for a 'Shark Nose.' The concept puts direct pressure to the ski where you need it (underfoot) but places an obvious limit on your binding options. Getting into spicy terrain?
Check out the new fully integrated Salewa crampons that attach directly to the boot via hooks and inserts on the sole for precise, stable fit (sold separately).