A four season tramping or alpine boot needs to perform in a range of challenging conditions while still remaining comfortable. Fit is the most critical aspect in achieving this, but there are several other features to consider.
This is dictated by the upper and insulation of the boot. A fully waterproof membrane (along with high quality gaiters and socks) is critical in dealing with prolonged periods in snow.
Some boots have one-piece leather uppers but there are also multi-panel synthetic/leather options which work just as well. Consider the thickness of the upper – it should be at least 2mm but ideally closer to 3mm.
Cold and constricted toes can lead to frostnip so ensure decent wiggle room, while still ensuring a snug heel. Be aware of any pressure points when trying the boot on as these will not go away with use.
The shank is commonly made from nylon, fibreglass or Kevlar. Little or no flex over both the length and width of the boot means it is more stable in rugged terrain, reducing the risk of injury and performing better while climbing. Conversely, the stiffer the sole the less comfortable the boot will be on flat terrain.
A good quality winter boot allows for a heel-clip/toe-strap crampon. If the boot flexes lengthways or sideways, a flexible crampon with straps front and back should be used. Technical boots sometimes have a welt at the front for crampons with front and back clips.
A full rand, at least 2cm high, running around the base of the upper helps protect the boot from scree and moraine.
A number of factors contribute to the lifespan of the boot, and these should be considered when deciding between a cheaper or more expensive option. Often there are less obvious but still important costs, such as sole type and quality of the upper. For example, look at the sole; is it moulded or glued? A glued sole, that can often be replaced, tends to be higher quality. Also, a seemingly stiff boot in the store may soften quickly if a poor quality shank has been used.
Now you know what to look, it’s time to choose a boot.