How to Buy Mountaineering Boots Without Losing It (Even If You Live in Hawaii)

 In Gear, Skills
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We’ve had a lot of questions in the Facebook group lately about mountaineering boots. Do I need double mountaineering boots? Should I rent or buy mountaineering boots for Mt. Rainier? Why aren’t there more women’s mountaineering boots? And where do I buy them if my local REI doesn’t carry them?

So I decided to cover this topic for our weekly Facebook live. Watch the video above. Or if you’re more of a words kind of person, check out the transcript below.

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Boots at 20,000 ft., left to right: Scarpa Phantom 8000, La Sprotiva G2, single boot with Forty Below overboot.

How to Buy Mountaineering Boots

Hey, guys. It’s Sarah, and as promised, I’m here to talk to you about buying mountaineering boots.

I know in our Facebook group that it’s been a big topic of discussion. A lot of you are headed out on trips. A couple of you are going to Mt. Rainier, and you need a boot or something to attach your crampons to.

Of course, we know you can’t just put crampons on any hiking boot. You need something super stiff, super thick, and that usually means … well, that almost always means a mountaineering boot.

I totally feel your pain when it comes to shopping for these things.

Finding the right mountaineering boot can be such a pain in the ass. They are wicked uncomfortable. There aren’t, unfortunately, a lot of options. Finding stores that carry a good selection can just be impossible.

And then on top of that, they cost so much money. Even when you find the perfect one, you’re like, “Oh, I can’t afford it. No way. I’m just going to climb with no crampons or something.”

So yeah, I’m going to just give you a couple of tips that have helped me find the right boot (twice).

First I’ll tell you my story.

I’ve bought two pairs of mountaineering boots in the past few years. My first one was just for climbing here in Colorado. I got the La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX, which is a very, very common single boot.

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Half the people I know that have mountaineering single boots have this particular boot. It’s just a leather boot, little bit of insulation inside, lace up. It’s very nice.

I actually climbed Mt. Rainier in my Nepal EVOs.

I’ll get to that in a minute, whether I really think singles or doubles are better for Rainier. But in a pinch, mine did go up Rainier, and I still do have all of my toes.

Then the second pair I bought … I really struggled when I was going to Bolivia. I didn’t want to spend $700 on double mountaineering boots.

I actually tried to buy overboots for my single boots, thinking that might be warm enough. And that might be an option for some people. But in my case, they didn’t really work with my crampons and my mountaineering boots. The crampons just kept falling off.

So I ended up buying La Sportiva G2, which is a really awesome boot.

I was able to get a significant discount on it, and it’s actually been super comfortable, super awesome.

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I actually wear my G2s all the time, more than I thought I would. They’re a little bit more comfortable even than my single boots.

So I totally feel your pain if you’re trying to buy boots.

Let me give you a couple of tips that I learned through this whole process to make it a little bit easier.

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Single or Double Mountaineering Boots?

Mountaineering boots are really expensive. You’re probably thinking, “I just want to buy one pair of them.” So … singles or doubles?

And the truth is, if you do a lot of mountaineering, you’ll probably end up with both — especially if you are going to do high altitude or even do things where there’s a potential to get very, very cold, like Mt. Rainier.

Now if you’re only going to be climbing in places like Colorado, California, maybe some easy one-day stuff in the Pacific Northwest, you’re probably going to be fine with a single.

Single mountaineering boots are also great for ice climbing. If you just want to go out to the local ice climbing crag and get a few runs in, you don’t need anything too fancy.

Single boots are also great for couloir climbs, when you’re just going to be out for one day for a few hours. Like I said, that’s mostly what I use in Colorado.

But when you’re going to be out for multiple days, start thinking about double boots.

For example, let’s say you’re climbing Mt. Rainier. You might be out there for 3–5 days, depending on your weather window.

Double boots are also important for anything that goes up to really high altitude. People climb Kilimanjaro in hiking boots, but if you’re going to be doing technical snow in places like South America, Asia, places where you’re going to be above like 15,000–16,000 feet, definitely think about buying doubles boots.

Doubles are also great if you suffer from really cold feet. I have a good friend who has Raynaud’s syndrome, and she wears doubles even here in Colorado. She pretty much wears them for everything.

By double boot, I mean there’s actually an extra boot that goes inside a plastic shell. Doubles used to look like ski boots. Now, they look more like regular boots. But if you feel them, there’s a hard shell, and then inside there’s a soft, insulated boot that really keeps your foot extra warm.

Should I Wear Single or Double Mountaineering Boots for Mt. Rainier?

As I mentioned above, I did my Mt. Rainier climb in my singles, but I think I got lucky. We summited on a warm day and it can get very, very cold up there, especially when the top of the mountain’s covered in clouds.

Even on a warm day, I was cold when we got up to climb in the middle of the night.

So double boots for Mt. Rainier, if you can possibly swing it.

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Should I Buy or Rent Mountaineering Boots?

If you’re in a situation where you’re going to climb with an outfitter, sometimes you have the option to rent boots. And sometimes, especially if you’re just going to do maybe one big mountaineering trip a year, renting is a good option.

Hey, even the cheap singles cost like $300. So it’s a significant investment. And you’re probably like me: we like to spend our money on traveling and climbing and not on one pair of boots that costs as much as a plane ticket.

So it kind of depends on your future plans.

Are you going to be doing a lot of climbing? Do you think you’ll use these things? Do you think you’ll go on to bigger and better trips? If so, it might be cost efficient to actually buy your own mountaineering boots.

Your own boots are going to tend to be more comfortable, you’ll have some time to really dial them in, see what socks work with them, see if you have needs with insoles or inserts.

A word on inserts: I think that’s another really good case for buying your own boots.

If you have any kind of just fit issues that you might need to work out (bunions, flat feet, etc.), you’re going to be so much more comfortable if you just have your own boots for a month or two and some time to dial in the fit.

Also, training in your boots is a good idea. It’s really hard to break in mountaineering boots. Some people say they break in after 50 miles or so. I think they never break in.

But what you can do is kind of break your feet in. If you hike in your mountaineering boots, then you’ll get calluses on the parts of your feet that might be a little bit more sensitive or rubbing just a little.

Then you won’t have to deal with that on the mountain. So you’ll probably be a bit more comfortable.

Where to Buy Mountaineering Boots

It’s so hard to find mountaineering boots in stores outside of some of the mountain states.

Even here in Colorado, if it makes you feel better, our REI in Denver only carries two models. (REI is honestly not the best gauge of anything with mountaineering. They tend to be very basic with their gear.)

So like you, we have to go to a specialty mountaineering store.

There are really only two or three that are really good in the Denver-Boulder area.

If you are in the east, it might be worth having a look at stores that sell ice climbing gear. People do ice climb quite a bit in the northeast.

Even if you’re in the southern states or the Midwest, definitely have a look and see if you can find a store. There are a couple reasons I’ll go into it in a minute why it really makes sense to try these things on in person if you possibly can.

There are probably some places (like Hawaii) where there genuinely might not be a retailer selling mountaineering boots.

In that case, if you’re possibly going on vacation, and you’re going to be in a state like Colorado or California, it might be worth planning a day to go and try on boots at a local store. Make notes of the models that fit, the sizes that fit. Then, even if you do end up ordering them online, you’ll know exactly what to order.

If that’s absolutely not an option, you can now get mountaineering boots from a number of online retailers.

I would look very closely before you start ordering at the return policy. Make sure you can order a couple of pairs and then return the ones that you don’t want without a lot of hassle or cost.

I haven’t ordered boots, but I’ve had good luck with, and I think there are a few others out there.

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How to Choose Mountaineering Boots

So to finish up, let me give you some shopping tips.

First of all, most boot models are going to be unisex. I think La Sportiva makes a couple women’s models. But especially once you start getting into doubles, there’s really no different between men’s and women’s boots.

Another note, most mountaineering boots come in European sizes.

European sizes have smaller increments than American sizes. So try on a couple of sizes in each model so that you can dial in which is going to be best for you.

Whenever you’re trying on mountaineering boots, it’s really important that you don’t feel pressure or places where the boot is pushing on your foot. That’s going to impede circulation. It’s going to make your foot cold.

It’s also really important that you try mountaineering boots on with the socks you’re going to be wearing with them.

In most cases, that’s going to be a mountaineering-weight wool sock. So really, really thick.

Look online, Google ’em if you’re not sure what that is. There’s actually a sock that is even thicker than a normal hiking sock that you typically wear with mountaineering boots.

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That means that your mountaineering boot size is going to be bigger. Like my size, a women’s 8.5 US, is actually a 39-40 European. But my boots are 41. They’re one size bigger than you would expect to make room for that big, fat sock.

If you are really prone to cold, you might want to try to put a toe warmer inside as well. Just make sure that it fits well and that it’s not squeezing your toe. It’ll actually make your toe colder if there’s not enough room for it to fit in there comfortably.

So try on a couple different sizes and boot models. Walk around. If you have the option to do stairs or treadmills or a little incline, try it. Then, make your pick.

Test Your Boots Indoors

One more tip, and I think this is really important: before you actually take your boots outside and get to the point where you can’t return them, play with them on the treadmill for a while.

Put the treadmill on an incline, and walk in your boots and your mountaineering socks. It’s okay for them to be a little uncomfortable. Your feet will adjust. But make sure you’re not getting any crazy blisters or rubs or potential fit problems that are really going to be painful for you on the mountains.

So those are my tips for buying mountaineering boots and finding the right one for you.

I hope they were helpful. If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments or ask in the Facebook group.

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