Hiking shoes and boots are great but sometimes only the very burliest of footwear will do. If your adventures are taking you far off the beaten path and up some of the tallest, snowiest, iciest mountains in the world, regular old hiking shoes just aren’t going to cut it. You’re going to need something stronger, sturdier, and a whole lot warmer. That is where mountaineering boots come in. These shoes are engineered to be exceptionally tough, incredibly warm, and supportive enough to get you across the most rugged of terrain. And while they are designed with mountaineers in mind, many hardworking outdoors folks find that the things that make mountaineering boots so great for long treks in the high mountains also make them excellent options for outdoor work boots.
Mountaineering boots may be some of the sturdiest boots you can buy but they often have one significant downside: the price. Because these babies don’t come cheap it’s extra important to pick the very best boots to fit your needs. We’re going to give you some food for thought in picking your boots and then tell you about some of our very favorites!
To crampon or not to crampon? That is the question.
One thing to consider when choosing a pair of mountaineering boots is how and where you plan to use them. If you think that your boots are not likely to ever set foot on a glacier or vertical wall of ice, mountaineering boots with almost any type of sole will do but if you are planning to use your boots for climbing on snow and ice you will want to look for a pair that accepts an automatic crampon. Not having to fumble with the straps on your spikes will make life a lot easier when you’re way up high with numb fingers and not a lot of oxygen!
Water and weatherproofing.
The higher you get the better the chance that you’ll run into cold temperatures and lots of snow. While having cold, damp feet at lower altitudes may simply be a minor annoyance, once you get way above tree line it can be the difference between a happy climb and losing your toes to frostbite. If you plan to use your mountaineering boots in the actual mountains, you may want to look for boots with Gore-Tex liners, built in gaiters, and layers of insulation to keep those digits extra warm. If your outdoor pursuits won’t be throwing you into the very coldest of conditions, a pair of three-season (or “summer”) mountaineering boots will do the trick.
When you’re scrambling up boulders or over sharp talus, the stiffer the sole of your shoe, the better. While flexible shoes may seem like a better option from a comfort perspective, after many hours (or days or weeks!) in the backcountry, your feet will begin to take a beating. Look for mountaineering boots with super stiff soles to minimize foot fatigue, make kicking steps into the snow easier, and keep your feet pain free for the duration of your trip.
Allow for some wiggle room.
While the general consensus is that tighter is better when it comes to climbing shoes, the same does not hold true for mountaineering boots. You want to be sure to purchase your boots in a size that allows for your toes to wiggle around a bit inside the boot. This will help encourage circulation to your lower extremities and help prevent them from getting cold! When purchasing your boots, consider going a half size up from your normal shoe size. As long as the boot feels nice and secure around your ankle, it doesn’t really matter if your toes have lots of room to roam! Don’t be tempted to wear too tight of boots in an attempt to gain a little more security!
So with all that being said, what boots do we recommend? Read on to find out!
Best Mountaineering Boots for Men
If you are looking for a great all around mountaineering boot designed for long alpine adventures, you should take a serious look at the La Sportiva Makalu. With their leather uppers and super stiff steel shanked soles, these boots are the perfect companions for long treks in the mountains and all but completely vertical ice climbs. These boots will help you stick like glue to rocks, snow, ice, and anything else Mother Nature throws your way. Depressions on the front and back of the shoe accommodate automatic crampons easily and the thick, aggressive lugs will give you lots of traction when spikes aren’t needed. These shoes feature Vibram rubber rands for increased toe protection to keep those digits extra comfortable. And while price shouldn’t be the first thing you consider when choosing a pair of mountaineering boots, it’s worth noting that the Makalu comes in at a very reasonable price point!
Scarpa designed the Mont Blanc GTX to be jack-of-all-trades mountaineering boots. These babies excel in just about any conditions that the mountains can throw their way. From chilly snowshoe excursions to steep, vertical ice climbs, these shoes will get you to where you need to go safely and comfortably. The super stiff soles are balanced by cushy inserts and a rocker to propel you down the trail. These boots feature welts in the front and back for automatic crampons, Gore-Tex liners for waterproofing, and lacing that goes all the way to the toe for a customized fit. In other words, these babies have all the special features that make mountaineering shoes great! And they’re plenty warm too. The 3mm thick outers are backed by a layer of synthetic insulation that will help keep your feet warm down to 0 degrees … and that’s 0 degrees Fahrenheit! If you are looking for a true mountaineering boot with all the bells and whistles to keep your feet comfortable on your next alpine adventure, look no further than the Mont Blanc!
One of the first things you’ll notice about these boots is that they look different. Very different. That’s because La Sportiva outfitted them with a built in gaiter for extra weatherproofing and protection from debris. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what La Sportiva has done to make these boots warm and comfortable. The honeycomb insole provides plenty of support for the foot while also creating an air pocket for extra insulation while a second layer of Gore-Tex in the uppers help to keep your feet extra dry. These lightweight, extremely comfortable boots excel on rock, ice, and snow and still feel great after many hours on (and off) the trail. We are not going to tiptoe around the fact that these boots are expensive – they are! But sometimes you have to pony up if you want the best of the best … and that’s exactly what the Butara is.
Salewa brings the beauty of German engineering to the high mountains with the Rapace GTX. The Rapace GTX is an all-purpose boot designed for light mountaineering on technical terrain. If you need mountaineering boots that will hike and scramble exceptionally well but also accept automatic crampons, the Rapace GTX is exactly what you’re looking for. Salewa outfitted these shoes with toe-to-toe lacing and their legendary MMF Multi-Fit footbed for a truly customizable fit. These boots are super stiff, waterproof, breathable, and ready to tackle just about anything that the mountains may throw at them. And did we mention just how comfortable these puppies are? They may perform like a technical mountaineering boot but when you slip them on they’ll remind you more of your favorite pair of sneakers.
All mountaineering boots are built to be tough but if you need something that can take you way, way off the beaten path for extended periods of time, then you’re going to want a pair of Wrangell GTXs on your feet. Scarpa designed these boots for off the beaten path explorers and the folks who make their livings working in some of the toughest environments on earth. If you need your boots to take you deep into the wilderness for months at a time or help keep your feet warm and protected at a logging camp, these are the boots for you. With uppers made from 2.8mm thick Gore-Tex-lined Italian leather, these shoes are comfortable, breathable, and waterproof. These boots have very stiff soles and are damn near impossible to bend – which is exactly what you want when your adventures take you this far from civilization! Tall and sturdy ankle cuffs round out this boot’s super supportive features. For many hikers and backpackers, these boots may be overkill but for those whose adventures truly take them to the ends of the earth, they are the perfect hiking companions.
Picking the right pair of mountaineering boots can be a daunting task but with a little knowledge you are well on your way to picking the perfect footwear for your alpine adventures. We hope we helped make your decision just a little bit easier! Happy trails!