What Type of Boots Do I Need for Climbing?

how to choose your boots

By Dani Osman

Getting your mountaineering kit dialed in can be a complicated, strenuous process – So many options! So many opinions! – and rarely is the process more stressful than when it comes to boots. As literally and figuratively the base of the whole operation, getting your boots right can make or break your expedition, so it’s key to get them right. While that can cause a lot of stress in the decision-making process, fret not – it’s not as complicated as it seems! Below, we’ll break down the different types of boots, when you’ll need them, and how you can make the most of the options you choose.

Types of Boots
For mountaineering purposes, there are five basic types.

Starting with the basics, we have the ¾ Shank Single Boot (sometimes known as a Technical Mountaineering Boot or 3 Season Mountaineering Boot). This is a step up from your classic hiking boot, but a pretty comfortable ride and an easy transition nevertheless. (The ‘shank’ in question refers to the flexibility or lack thereof in the sole of the boot – a ¾ shank boot is inflexible for ¾ of the sole, while the remaining quarter can move. The rest of the boots on this list are full shank, so entirely inflexible soles.) ¾ shank single boots are great for alpine climbing that involves a variety of terrain – the semi-flexible sole allows for more precise footwork on rock, snow and ice. They’re more comfortable for approaches, and lighter weight in general. Because of their flexibility, however, they don’t connect as securely with crampons as full-shank boots do.

  • Pros: lightweight, flexible, comfortable
  • Cons: less secure with crampons, lightly insulated, require use of a gaiter
  • Examples: La Sportiva Trango or Aequilibrium, Scarpa Charmoz
  • Which trips: Shuksan Fisher Chimneys, Forbidden Peak, Cascades Intermediate Course, Alpine Rock Course, Matterhorn, Eiger, Glacier Peak, Olympus, Haute Route Trek

Next up is our standard Single Boot. This boot is a mountaineering staple, and what a lot of folks think of when they think of a mountaineering boot. Generally with a leather outer layer, the single boot is sturdy and somewhat insulated, with a full shank sole and excellent crampon capabilities. While the overall stiffness of the boots makes them uncomfortable in non-snow environments, it is exactly this feature that makes them excellent for walking on glaciers or sidehilling up steep slopes in your crampons.

  • Pros: more insulation, secure connection with crampons, not too heavy
  • Cons: not fully waterproof, hard to dry, require use of a gaiter
  • Examples: La Sportiva Nepal (AAI rental boots)/G5/Batura, Scarpa Phantom Tech/Mont Blanc, Boreal Stetino, Lowa Alpine Expert
  • Which trips: Late season Baker/3 Day Muir/Emmons, Little Tahoma, Shuksan Sulfide, Mont Blanc, Glacier Peak, Olympus, Adams

For colder, wetter climbs, we move up to Standard Double Boots. The double in the name refers to the structure of the boot – they consist of an outer waterproof layer and an inner insulation layer. The layers come apart, enabling the boot to be disassembled and dried out overnight. This is vital on longer trips and in colder environments where keeping things dry can make or break your climb.

  • Pros: Warm, dry, sturdy, relatively affordable
  • Cons: Heavier, can be clunky, require use of a gaiter
  • Examples: La Sportiva Spantik/Baruntse, Scarpa Inverno
  • Which trips: Rainier, Cascades courses, Denali, Aconcagua, Vinson, Ecuador, Mexico, Adams, Alaska courses, Peru, Bolivia

A slight step up from Standard Double Boots are Double Boots with a built-in gaiter. These are a more modern approach to double boots, and have all the benefits of a double boot while being lighter, more streamlined, and with a built-in gaiter. They tend to run a bit narrower, and come with a price increase, but the upsides are often worth it.

  • Pros: light, warm, don’t need an additional gaiter
  • Cons: narrower fit, price point
  • Examples: La Sportiva G2, Scarpa 6000, Mammut Norwand High
  • Which trips: Rainier, Cascades courses, Denali, Aconcagua, Vinson, Ecuador, Mexico, Adams, Alaska courses, Peru, Bolivia

The last boot type we’ll deal with here is a Triple or All-in-One Boot. These are the powerhouses of the boot world, meant for the highest and coldest climbs, and get their name from an additional overboot that makes them extremely warm. They are not advised for use in warmer temperatures because they’ll cause excessive sweating and lead to blisters, but for the most extreme environments, these are the gold standard.

  • Pros: Extremely warm, waterproof, sturdy
  • Cons: Bulky, heavy, only works with certain crampon sizes and styles
  • Examples: La Sportiva Olympus Mons, Scarpa 8000, Millet Everest Summit, Boreal G1 Expe
  • Which trips: Everest, Denali, Vinson, Cho Oyu, Alaska courses

What to Use When

So now we know all about the types of boot! But which is best for you? When buying new boots, there are two main considerations to keep in mind: sizing and fit for the boot itself, and your mountaineering plans and goals for the type of boot.

Sizing and Fit: Certainly the first and foremost consideration. Mountaineering boots should fit on the larger side, with room for your toes to move around, and without your toes being pressed to the front of the boot. It’s ok for your heel to move a bit, as long as you’re not totally swimming in the boot. If you feel that you’re in between sizes, go with the larger one, and remember that feet tend to swell at altitude. When lacing the boot to try on, firmly lace the foot part of the boot, while leaving a bit more room to move around in the calf.

Climbers with wide feet may have a slightly harder time finding the right fit, but it is certainly doable. In general, La Sportiva boots tend to run narrower, while traditional double boots without the built-in gaiter tend to be a bit broader and more forgiving for those with a wider foot.

For women or those with smaller feet, Millet is known as a good option for smaller sizes, and both La Sportiva and Scarpa make women-focused single boots.

A huge bonus to any mountaineering boot can be the addition of insoles! Many boots come either without insoles or with insoles that leave something to be desired. Superfeet, or a similar insole that is specific to the climber’s foot, can greatly improve your boot experience, and can be a great way to dial in the fit. If you plan to use them, it is a good idea to try on the boots with them in. The same goes for the socks you’ll be wearing on your trip!

Future Goals: In an ideal world, every mountaineer would have a full set of boots to serve all their climbing objectives, but that may not be realistic for everyone. When it comes time to consider purchasing boots, finding the pair (or pairs) of boots that will best meet your climbing needs is paramount.

If you plan to frequently climb single-boot-worthy mountains, investing in a pair of single boots is likely to serve you best, and you can rent a pair of double boots as needed. If your main objectives are less frequent, but larger climbs, it might make sense to rent singles and jump straight to purchasing a pair of double boots, since you’ll get more use out of them. If the Seven Summits are on your agenda, you’ll need both double and triple boots (doubles will work on six of the seven, but triple boots are needed on Everest and advised on Denali and Vinson), and given the amount of training and climbing leading up to that goal, purchasing both will be in your best interest.

If you have trips planned that call for a certain type of boot, but bigger goals in mind for the future, it can be a great idea to consider renting boots! While buying can be nice in terms of breaking in the boots, especially with the more heavy duty boots on this list, they’re solid enough that the breaking-in that can be done is pretty marginal. Especially if you’re in the early stages of mountaineering, renting can be a great way to get a sense of various boot types before going all in on a purchase.

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