Newer riders are often tempted to use their regular winter boots or a pair of hiking boots for their first few times snowboarding to postpone investing in proper snowboard boots until they commit to the sport.
Likewise, people going on a hiking trip with limited board riding planned might consider using their mountaineering boots with their snowboard.
Using regular snow boots for snowboarding will not provide the required ankle support and binding fit. Compared to true snowboard boots, you will have a lot less heel and toe control in turns and the boot may slip out of the binding. The result is a high risk of foot, ankle, and leg injury.
The consensus among experienced riders is that you should imperatively use snowboard boots because they’re built to provide support and stability when riding and securely and reliably fitting in the bindings.
Bindings are designed to be used only with snowboard boots.
Besides safety, using a pair of comfortable and well-fitting snowboard boots is essential to a good experience on a snowboard, including for a beginner.
Snowboarding with normal winter boots
The main issue associated with using regular boots (e.g. Columbia boots) is their soft and floppy construction.
While it’s possible to find winter boots with a size that fits the bindings, because of their softness, they’re likely to become loose and even slip out of the bindings.
If your foot slips out of the binding, you risk flying down the slope and getting injured.
In contrast, real snowboard boots are bulky enough with a stiff base so as to fit snugly and safely into the bindings.
The stiff nature of snowboard boots also provides the necessary support and control for carving tight turns on the snowboard and riding terrain parks. The boots ensure your ankles stay stiff and secure through extreme moves.
In contrast, regular boots allow for rolling your ankles when boarding at the risk of snapping an ankle.
Ankles have a very delicate bone structure that can be hard to heal, so a snapped ankle is no fun. Using proper snowboard boots is an essential safety element.
With regular boots, you may be able to steer your snowboard at low speed. At higher speed, however, you can easily lose control. The snowboard boots and bindings combination is crucial for control.
Good riding experience
Even if you don’t injure yourself using regular boots, the lack of ankle support will generally create a lot more strain in your feet and ankles compared to snowboard boots, leading to a mediocre riding experience.
Snowboard boots provide a lot of comfort by preventing unnecessary ankle muscle work.
Unlike winter boots, they’re also designed to be buried in snow all day and keep your feet dry and warm.
Some big-footed riders argue that using regular boots instead of snowboard boots avoids the toe drag issue they encounter with size 13 snowboard boots. If that’s your case, you may be better of look into getting a wider snowboard to fit larger snowboard boots and bindings.
Snowboarding with hiking boots
Some riders use hiking, or mountaineering, boots for snowboarding. These boots are generally beefier and more supportive than regular winter boots, and can often be adjusted to fit in snowboard bindings.
They also tend to last a lot longer compared to snowboard boots.
The consensus among those who ride in mountaineering boots is that they mainly do well in soft, powdery conditions. In these conditions, they allow for a more responsive, surfy feel in the pow, which can be super fun.
On harder snow, however, because of the flex in the ankle and upper boot, there is too much range of motion for effective edge to edge carving.
This additional mobility also really taxes your legs, notably over long traverses that are commonly found at ski resorts.
Some riders try adding a booster strap to compensate for the boot flex. Still, most don’t achieve the responsiveness and control they need on packed snow, though.
Highback alignment and lacing issues
As they are not made to work with snowboard bindings, the integration of mountaineering boots with the bindings is generally not great.
The vertical backing plate on your binding, called the highback, is nornally meant to aid you in edging.
Unlike snowboard boots, however, with mountaineering boots, the highback simply gets in the way when edging and misaligns with the boot, even hitting you in the calf, due to the looseness of the foot inside the boot.
You need to consciously keep your calf aligned with the highback – something that occurs naturally in snowboard boots.
What’s more, without sufficient ankle lacing, your heels are inclined to lift frequently, resulting in fatigued muscles and shorter riding days.
Hiking boots have a smaller footprint compared to snowboard boots, so they will be loose in the bindings unless you tighten them.
Since hiking boots are softer, you also need to push the strap into the foot which can make your foot sore.
Tweaking your hiking boots
Hiking boots can be tweaked to make them somewhat better-suited for snowboarding.
For example, the highbacks can be adjusted to match the angle of the boot, with as much forward lean as feasible. They can also be padded with mini-cell foam.
As a result, the hiking boots may feel closer to snowboard boots in terms of responsiveness – although the forward lean will make you squat a bit more.
Snowboarding with pac boots
Pac boots (e.g. LaCross pac boots on Amazon) are a special type of winter boots as they have a thick removable liner for added insulation.
In the 2000s, beginners often used pac boots to give snowboarding a try until they were ready to invest in proper snowboard boots.
Although pac boots are thicker, warmer, and better insulated than regular winter boots, they’re still very soft compared to snowboarding boots and don’t offer nearly the same kind of support and control.
Therefore, the same risks of injury discussed earlier also apply to pac boots.
Final words: get proper snowboard boots
As we’ve seen, real snowboard boots remain the best option for snowboarding. Their stiff construction specially designed for ankle support and binding fit provide the required control, comfort, and safety for riding.
Using winter boots or even hiking boots will likely result in added risks and much less riding comfort – except maybe in certain powder conditions.
You don’t have to break the bank to get decent snowboard boots. local snowboard shops typically sell last year’s boots for 50% of the normal price e.g. around $100.
Cheaper still, you may be able to find older boots in decent condition for as little as $20 online (craigslist.com, the-house.com, etc).
Trying on your boots before buying is important as they will fit differently than regular boots. If you can’t try them on in a store, you always have the option of renting them for a day to see how they fit before taking the plunge.