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It’s an all too common occurrence; discomfort or pain in a skier’s feet because ski boots are rubbing or pressing against skin and muscle. Wearing the wrong pair of ill-fitting boots (or not putting them on correctly) can quickly drain away the fun you have on the mountain.
The most common reason for skiers foot pain is wearing ski boots that are the wrong size or shape (boot geometry) and the second reason is either doing up the buckles too tight or too loose.
In this article, I’m laying out the most important aspects of getting the right fit so you can do your best to banish the pain away. But let me be clear if you’re buying new boots the best thing you can do is work with a professional boot fitter.
The main causes of foot pain in ski boots:
- Ski boots too tight (too much pressure)
- Ski boots too loose (internal movement, rubbing and blisters)
- Ski boots are the wrong shape (pressure).
How should ski boots feel?
The truth is, although ski boots are rigid and clunky, the right fitting boots should not hurt your feet. Ski boots are meant to be worn tight, but not uncomfortably so. When you take off your boots after 8 hours of skiing, the release into normal shoes will feel amazing -- that’s normal -- you’re feet have been boxed up and put under pressure for the whole day. What’s not normal is feeling pain or discomfort throughout the day that distracts you from skiing.
Areas that experience the most discomfort 🦶
The front of the foot or the metatarsalagia usually gets the brunt of most ski boot pain, because it is the part of the foot with the least resistance to compression from the top, front and sides of the boot. It also has lots of muscles, nerves and blood vessels that are more sensitive to pressure.
The ball of the foot
Uneven pressure from above (arch) or below (footbed) can force the foot down into the base of the boot, causing excessive load. This is most commonly felt at the ball of the foot as a burning sensation.
Reasons ski boots cause pain
Here are the main causes of boot pain for most skiers and the possible solutions to get you skiing pain-free.
#1: Too Tight 👎
Ski boots are meant to be worn snug, but not overly tight. If a ski boot is too tight, it will not only reduce your circulation and make your feet cold, but it can cause cramp and major discomfort.
Typically sensations attributed to boots that are too tight:
- ❌Burning sensation around the entire forefoot area
- ❌Aches and pains across the foot.
- ❌Toes bent and squashed by the front of the boot.
Try the shell test
One way to check if your ski boot is too tight is to take out the liner, put your foot into the empty shell and push it forward so the toes are touching the front of the boot.
With a slight forward bend reach down and put your finger into the back of the boot; measure how many fingers fit between the back of your foot and the back wall of the shell.
If your finger just fits or there is not even room for it, then your ski boots are likely too small for you.
Bear in mind this is a general fit test to determine your shell size. Your boot may be the right size but the wrong width & volume (known as the boot last) which is causing the tightness (more on that later).
The first thing you want to try is to release the lower buckles as they may be too tight and causing your toes to squash together. These buckles only protect the snow from getting to your foot and do not need to be done up tight (unlike the heel buckle which locks in your foot).
If this doesn’t solve the problem, consider installing a custom footbed that will support your foot and stop your feets arches from collapsing and getting wider and longer or seeking the services of a boot fitter to bend and shape the boot (not possible with all boots).
If your boot is too tight, here are a few things that you can do in order of effectiveness.
- ✅Release the lower buckles completely or to the last notch
- ✅If you’re renting boots: ask to try a larger size.
- ✅If you own the boots: install a supportive footbed;
- ✅Wait for the boot to break in (4-5 days of skiing)
- ✅Find a boot fitter to stretch the shell around specific areas.
- ✅Buy a new ski boot that more closely matches your foot length and width.
#2: Uneven Pressure 👎
If you feel a burning sensation under the ball of your foot (can be within 5-10 minutes or more) when you’re wearing your ski boots then you’re likely suffering the symptoms of an uneven pressure distribution within your boot. This can be more thoroughly identified using a podoscope or thermic measure at a ski shop with a technical department (source).
Common reasons for uneven pressure:
- ❌High arch meeting the top of the boot and pressing the foot down.
- ❌Foot width too wide for the boot last (boot width).
- ❌Power strap/boot cuff too tight around calf which limits ankle flex.
- ❌Unique foot shape/proportions (i.e bunions)
Because there are quite a few reasons and areas for uneven pressure to occur it can be more difficult to determine the exact cause and a solution.
If you feel a burning sensation on the balls of your feet then here are the most common solutions:
- Allow your ankle to flex properly by reducing the tightness around your calf. (Release the power straps tightness and/or remove boot spoilers behind the calf). If you have a low calf as is common with most women, then look for a women specific boot.
If you can feel pressure on the top of your foot (instep) being squashed by your boot then you can:
- Release the buckle pressure.
- Install a more supportive footbed to spread the load and lower the arch.
- Change to a different boot last.
- Seek the services of a boot fitter.
#3: Too loose
Most new skiers wear ski boots that are too big for their feet. Partly this has to do with rental ski boots being over-sized (more on that below) and partly because new skies expect to the fit to be similar to a hiking boot.
The less internal space you have, the more of your energy will transfer into the boot and the ski, making your parallel turns and hockey stops faster and more responsive. It’s for that reason that ski racers tend to have incredibly tight fits and custom molded boots that are as closely contoured to the skier’s shape as possible.
Wearing boots that are too loose makes it more difficult to lock in the ankle and stop it from rising or falling as you ski. The more your foot moves internally the more likely you are to rub, cause blisters and develop sores.
- ✅Tighten the heel buckle more. (more on getting the right boot fit here)
- ✅Change your boots for a smaller fit; a shorter mondopoint and possibly narrower boot last (width).
Renting vs buying ski boots
Ski rental boots are different to boots you can buy off the shelf. They’re typically all in a wide fit, which is fine for some people, but can be too loose for those with narrower or smaller volume feet.
For those skiers, the looser rental ski boot can make skiing much more difficult as less energy and power is transferred into the skis but ends up as internal movement within the boot (further reading).
When you buy your own ski boots, you can get a new boot that more closely matches your foot and also breaks-in to your foot from new, which will always give you a superior fit.
Upgrade the footbed
Footbeds are an important part of any ski boot as they support the weight of your entire body. Ski boots out of the box tend to have very minimal footbeds (stock insoles) that are designed to work with the ‘average’ fit and so will not be very supportive.
A custom footbed helps to stabilize the foot and improve your alignment, thus helping your foot to fit better throughout the whole boot (further reading).
A more comfortable footbed, not only makes your feet sit better within the boot, but will reduce fatigue -- so you can spend more time skiing.
The Superfeet insoles on Amazon (check price) have a high arch for maximum support and will help to relieve pressure.
If you’re suffering from foot discomfort, try using custom insoles before you put your new boots on ebay.
Heat-moldable boot liners
Some ski boot liners can be heat molded to fit better around your the first time you wear them rather than waiting for them to break-in.
Check first that your liners are mouldable and watch the video below to see how to mold your liners at home.
How long does it take to break in ski boots?
If you’ve bought new ski boots and their feeling a bit tighter, be aware that it takes a few days for your feet to compact the liner and for it to bed itself into the contours of the shell. It takes 5-6 full ski days to fully break in a ski boot.
What’s the difference between ski and snowboard boots?
If you’ve ever been around snowboarders you might have heard them gloat at out comfortable they boots are -- well they’re right -- snowboard boots are more comfortable than ski boots! Snowboard boots are less rigid and more like oversized hiking boots with big fluffy liners.
I explain the reasons for this over on my full-length piece: Ski vs Snowboard Boots.
What do I need to look for when buying new ski boots?
When picking the right ski boot, focus on fit rather than how cool it looks. Each boot manufacturer has a unique foot that may more closely match up with your foot size If you think your feet fall outside the ‘average’ proportion then its worth trying on as many types of boots as you can.
These are the most important aspects that you need to look for when buying a new ski boot:
- The boots flex matches up with your weight and level of skiing.
- The boots size matches your Mondopoint (foot length in CM).
- The boots last (width & volume) most closely match your foot shape.
- The cuff height and shape won’t put pressure on your calf.
I cover all this and more in my free ski boot buyers guide.
Can I stretch my boots?
Once you’ve bought your ski boots you can work with a boot fitter to make minor adjustments to relieve pressure in specific areas. Bootfitters use boot punches and other tools to precisely bash the shell into a different shape. Find out if you’re ski boots can be stretched and how much it costs over here: Will My Ski Boots Stretch?.
Don’t suffer through the pain. If you’re renting ski boots, ask to change them for a new pair and keep trying on as many pairs as they have in the shop in your size to get a better fit. Otherwise, it’s time to invest in a pair of ski boots that match your foot profile more closely and can bed into the shape of your foot.
The ski boot is the single most important part of your skiing equipment and getting the right fit is more important to your skiing than the type of ski you use. Get the boot right and you’ll develop faster as a skier and have much more fun on the mountain.
If you need expert advice, the best place to go is a boot fitter. If your feet are really sore them seek medical attention immediately.
If you enjoyed this article or know someone who might benefit from it, please give it a share.
Bonus: How to keep feet warm 🌡
Many skiers suffer from cold feet on the slopes and there are a few things you can do to fix it.
- Wear dry & thin socks: thin socks are actually warmer!
- Don’t clench your feet: restricts blood flow.
- Unbuckle the bottom buckles to the last notch: too tight and it will restrict circulation.
- Store ski boots at room temperature.
- Take out boot liners every evening to dry.
- Read my full article here.