The chances are good that you already know how a great pair of shoes can be the difference between an awesome day and one that is just ok (or even miserable!). This especially holds true when your adventures take you far off the beaten track and deep into the high mountains. While we are big fans of regular hiking boots, trail running shoes, and even hiking sandals for general adventuring, when it comes to trekking up big mountains, traipsing across glaciers or climbing vertical ice, only a pair of true mountaineering boots will do. Mountaineering boots are comfortable, warm, and burly enough to help you conquer your biggest adventures.
When investing in such a vital (and expensive!) piece of technical gear it’s important to choose wisely and with a wide variety of excellent options on the market, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the process. But have no fear; we’re here to help! In this article we’re going to help you decide if mountaineering boots are right for you, give you some things to consider when making your selection, and then tell you about some of our favorites. So without further ado, let’s get to it!
Hiking boots vs. mountaineering boots: What’s the difference?
If you’re wondering whether you truly need mountaineering boots or if regular old hiking boots will do, you’re in good company. Regular hiking boots and shoes meet the needs of most day hikers and backpackers really well. Hiking boots are perfect for adventures ranging from mellow strolls through the woods to hikes up to the top of some really high, but mostly dry, mountains but if your plans call for ice, deep snow, and extremely cold temperatures, you’re going to want something more rugged. And that’s where mountaineering boots come in. These boots are designed to keep your feet warm, dry, and protected a variety of tough, super technical terrain.
So what things should you consider when picking a pair of mountaineering boots?
Almost all mountaineering boots will be mostly waterproof but just how much water and weather proofing you’ll need will depend largely on how, where, and when you plan to use your boots. While all mountaineering boots are designed to handle snow and ice, some are intended for colder temperatures than others. Unless you plan to be in the most extreme of environments (think: Mt Everest), you should look for three-season (or “summer”) boots. Don’t be fooled by the “summer” moniker – these boots are still designed to handle ice and snow. They just do it without all the added insulation.
If your plans do have you schlepping up into really cold, really high altitude, you’ll want to look for warm boots with lots of insulation. Mountaineering boots designed for these extreme climates will further protect your toes from the cold by adding features like synthetic insulation, thicker uppers, and attached gaiters. While cold, wet feet on a warm, low altitude hike may be just a minor annoyance, up at higher elevations being cold and wet can be downright deadly. If your adventures will be taking you to the climatological extreme, you’ll want to protect those piggies with a solid, super warm pair of boots.
If the pointy parts on the bottom of your shoes are more likely to resemble crampons than stiletto heels, you’re going to want to look for boots with heel and toe welts to accommodate a pair of automatic crampons. Being able to use automatic crampons with your mountaineering boots will prevent the pain and frustration of fumbling with frozen fingers to get your spikes attached to your feet. If you don’t see yourself ever using crampons with your boots, your options are wide open!
Your super bendy ballerina slippers may be comfortable for bumming around town but when it comes to mountaineering boots, stiffer is almost always better. Stiff soles will help protect your feet from rocks and make kicking steps into the snow a whole lot easier. A stiff pair of boots may not feel very comfortable when you first put them on but as the miles (both vertical and horizontal) go by, you’ll appreciate the added support for your feet.
This is not the time to try to squeeze your feet into boots that are too small. Maintaining circulation is one of the keys to keeping your toes from getting uncomfortably cold. While you want your heels to be nice and snug in the back of the boots, your toes should be free to wiggle around and keep the blood flowing. Consider buying your boots in a size larger than what you’d typically wear to make sure your toes have lots of room to move, especially if you plant to be wearing big, thick socks with them.
So with all this in mind, which mountaineering boots do we love the most? Read on to find out!
Best Mountaineering Boots for Women
If you’re looking for solid, affordable mountaineering boots that will keep your feet comfortable in all but the most extreme of conditions, look no further than the Triolet Pro GTX by Scarpa. Scarpa designed these boots to perfectly balance the technical demands of mountaineering with the comfort of a hiking boot. These three-season boots won’t do the trick if you’re planning on hoofing it up K2, but for rugged three-season adventures on rock, snow, and ice, the Triolet Pro can’t be beat. The 2.8mm water-resistant suede uppers are lined with Gore-Tex to keep your feet dry and comfortable and the Vibram Mulax rubber outsoles will help your feet stick to the trail like glue. While these boots do not accommodate automatic crampons, they can be easily used with semi-automatic crampons, so they still give you lots of options. These boots may not be the warmest on our list, but they’re not supposed to be! For high-altitude, three-season adventures on rock, snow and ice, these babies are pretty much perfect.
The La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX are some seriously burly boots built for taking on some seriously burly adventures. From hiking up rocks to climbing vertical ice and everything in between, these boots can do it all. With super stiff soles, toe and heel welts for automatic crampons, and a highly customizable lacing system, these boots are ready for whatever technical challenges you throw their way. And while these boots are not cheap, they are a great value and here is why: these puppies will last you a long, long time. With leather uppers and metal eyelets for the laces, these boots are extremely durable and long lasting. So while they may be a big investment, they are a big investment that will last you for many years (and adventures) to come! If you are looking for a mountaineering boot that is more than capable of tackling anything it may encounter above tree line and beyond, look no further than the Nepal Evo GTX!
Salewa designed the Rapace GTX to be light and fast on all types of technical terrain. From big climbs in the high mountains to long and technical hikes through the woods, these boots are perfect for those who like to go big … and do it fast. While these boots don’t have the built in welts for automatic crampons, they will easily take a pair of semi-automatic spikes … and they’re one of the lightest boots on the market that will do it! The Rapace’s uppers are designed to keep your feet comfortable no matter what conditions the trail throws your way. With a synthetic Nubux upper, a rubber rand that goes all the way around the shoe, and a layer of Gore-Tex to keep the water out, your feet will be protected and comfortable over the long haul, no matter how wet and rocky the trail may be. If you are looking for super warm boots to get you comfortably through the coldest of climates you may want to keep looking but if your adventure plans call for anything but the most extreme of weather, you should definitely give the Rapaces a go!
The Trango S Evo GTX by La Sportiva is one of the lightest and most nimble mountaineering boots on the market. These three-season boots will get you through all but the coldest winter conditions. The Vibram Mulaz outsole provides sticky traction on rocks and scree and the hinged ankles allow for natural movement and loads of maneuverability when you need it the most. If the ability to take an automatic crampon is high on your list of desired features in a mountaineering boot you may want to look at some of our other options but the rest of us can rest assured that these boots will work just fine with semi-automatic crampons strapped to the bottom. These boots are waterproof, breathable, and ready to do just about anything you ask of them … as long as what you’re asking your boots to do isn’t keep your feet warm at 14,000 feet in the dead of winter!
We hope that this article has helped you find the perfect pair of mountaineering boots for all your high altitude adventures!