By Alex Buecking

In the world of ski boots, one walk mode may shine on long alpine approaches while another is best suited for leaning against the bar. Subtle differences certainly exist, and most walk modes can be pigeonholed into one of three categories.

Hidden Mechanism—For the bi-curious skier
This kind of walk mode uses a small, often spring-loaded lever where the inside of the upper cuff meets the outside of the lower shell. It's often found in beefy crossover boots because it's lightweight, provides a solid internal connection in "ski," and can allow for generous (up to 45 degrees) cuff articulation in "hike."

Spoiler Style—The artificial hoof
The spoiler style often provides the best range of cuff motion, but it can also contribute to a marginally stable skiing experience. It's often found in lightweight boots, which makes this hike mode ideal for longer tours even if it means sacrificing a little bit of downhill performance.

Exposed Metal—Send it!
This is the heaviest type of walk mode. Ideal for big guys and resort bangers, it stands up to consistent abuse better than the rest and doesn't sacrifice much downhill performance. On the downside, it doesn't usually provide a range of motion that's optimal for longer tours. It's also clunky and often engaged by a cumbersome lever that can get hung up or accidentally switched between functions.

Browse the best ski boots of the year—with and without walk mode—in Gear Locker.

PHOTO: David Reddick