Comfortable snowboard boots are arguably the most important gear a rider should own. Brand new snowboarding boots should fit very tightly without constricting the blood flow in your feet. Buying boots a size smaller than your street wear size is customary and finding the balance between too tight and not tight enough is essential.
You can expect your boots to stretch after the first few sessions. They won’t stay as tight as when you first try them on because your liner will pack out and flatten around your foot as you break them in. Tight boots can be further stretched out using heat molding or shaving the liner with a knife.
Let’s take a closer look at how tight your boots should actually be and how to stretch them out without destroying them – or make them more comfortable.
Breaking in snowboard boots
Properly breaking in your snowboarding boots is important to ensure you ride comfortably and safely.
Depending on the brand and model of boot you buy, snowboarding boots purchased off-the-shelf take at least 15 hours of wear before they break in and pack out to half a size bigger.
Breaking in boots is all about the inner liner. While the outer shell might deteriorate over time, it will hold its shape well. On the other hand, the liner will be able to mold to the shape of your foot.
Many upper-cut boot brands offer heat mold-able inner liners in their newer boot models. This is a great technology and can save you considerable time and discomfort breaking in your boots manually.
Heat molding is a technology which uses hot air to soften the malleable boot liner foam. Most snowboard shops offer this service in store when you buy a product.
The process includes heating up the boots for 15 minutes with the liner inside the outer shell and then stepping inside the boots and working your feet into a snowboarding position, letting the boot cool down and mold around the shape of your foot.
Alternatively, breaking in boots manually will require you to spend as much time as possible wearing them, whether at home, at work or on the mountain.
The body heat and weight of your foot from constant wear will naturally stretch the liner to pack out into the shape of your foot. Some riders recommend consciously pushing out your toes to create extra space for them.
How tight should snowboard boots be
Many newbies complain that their boots feel too tight. Without professional advice, it may be hard to decide whether a boot fits correctly or is too tight.
Your boots should be tight around the foot so that your toe lightly brushes the front panel, however they should not be so tight that your blood flow is constricted. If your feet go numb after half an hour of wearing a boot, they are probably too small for you.
Boots which are too tight can limit your circulation and give you horrible bruises and blisters which can be a cause for injury on the mountain.
If your boots feel unbearably tight, remove the inner lining and place your foot inside the shell. If the top of your foot touches the shell ceiling, your boots are definitely too small.
Another way to test this is to push your foot further in so that your toes touch the toe edge of the shell, and check if you can fit a finger behind your heel. If you can’t, you should consider trying a half-size bigger.
Another good test is to put your boots on and kick your heels against the ground so that your heels press up against the back panel of the liner. It’s ok if your toes are touching the edge when standing up straight, as long as your toes are not curling back in discomfort.
In the perfect fit, you should be able to bend your knees in an active stance without your heels moving out of place. Your toes should move backwards and not be constricted by the edge of the boot.
Very importantly, your heel should not have enough space to slide up and out of position. Having a loose heel means having less control over your board and can cause a rider to catch an edge and fall.
How to make snowboard boots more comfortable
If your boots feel either too tight or too loose, there are some steps you can take to make them more comfortable:
Making space inside your snowboard boots
- The first thing to do is to naturally mold the boot to the shape of your feet. Make sure your boots are room temperature or even warmer and spend some time flexing and bending like you would when on a snowboard.
Keep in mind that unless you use step ins, your bindings will provide you with extra support and will push your feet into the right position inside the boot.
- Wear a single pair of thin socks for the first few days while you are breaking the boots in. Often, two pairs of socks will bunch up and cause blisters and bruises. Avoid cotton fabrics and wear synthetic + wool socks, best for both warmth and flexibility.
- As mentioned, heat molding is a good way to quickly break in your liners and get them molded to the shape of your foot. To help with this process, most riders suggest wearing one pair of socks longer than the height of your boot.
It is best not to tighten the boots completely to avoid overstretching the inner. There is no way to undo a heat mold!
- If your feet ever start going numb from too much pressure, consider removing the stock insoles of the boot and replacing them with some customs. The thickness of your insoles can completely change the feel and fit of your boots.
Superfeet or Masterfit custom insoles can be molded to the cast of the sole of your foot just like a heat mold can.
- If there is a specific spot in your boot which is causing you a lot of discomfort, e.g. painful navicular bones, ankle and outer leg muscles, you can use a heat gun or a simple hairdryer to target any problem areas.
Use a heat gun to soften up the foam liner so that it is manipulatable, and then work a smooth ended stick around the problem area. This should give you some extra space.
Riders with really big calves can consider rolling back the back of the inner liner to stretch it out, relieving your calves from excessive pressure.
- Your last resort could be to use a box knife cutter and shave off some of the liner at the toe area.
Filling up unwanted space in your boots
If, on the other hand, your heel feels loose and comes out of place when you put weight on your toe edge, you can get yourself a heel lift / fit aid. This is a small foam device which is placed in between your outer shell and inner liner just above the heel and helps push your foot forward to keep it in place.
These can also be great for older boots which have packed out too much over a couple of seasons.
Should you buy snowboard boots a size bigger?
You should never buy snowboarding boots which are bigger than your street wear shoe size. Riders tend to buy boots which run about half a size smaller than one’s feet because the boot will naturally expand to fit the shape and form of your foot.
Each brand has its own sizing chart which can be an issue for those of us who buy boots online. Even within brands, different models might fit differently on your feet and should be tried on first if at all possible.
It is always best to buy boots in person where a professional boot fitter can help assess the size of your foot. Trying on a range of different brands and models is an added benefit and can help you point out differences and issues with specific boots.
So to recap, while you can’t really stretch a snowboard boot’s hard shell, you can take actions to speed up the natural stretching of the liner boot. Packing out can earn you at least an extra half size in a tight boot.
Breaking in the boot through normal mountain wear and/or home use typically takes quite a few days. Heat molding the liners can result in instant added space. Choosing the right socks, using good custom soles, and even shaving off some of the liner toe, are all additional things you can do to make your snowboard boots more comfortable.
That being said, make sure you choose a tight fitting size for your snowboard boots, typically at least a half size below your street size (depending on brand and model). While in a tight boot the liners will pack out, there’s not much you can do on a boot that’s too big.