Why Do Ski Boots Hurt My Feet? Practical Solutions
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 from the fun you have on the mountain.
Ski boots may hurt due to improper fit, being too tight, too loose, or having uneven pressure. To alleviate pain, ensure correct sizing, adjust buckles, and consider custom footbeds or heat-moldable liners. Consult a professional boot fitter if problems persist, and invest in well-fitted boots for optimal comfort and skiing performance.
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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 leading causes of foot pain in ski boots:
- Ski boots are 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 - your 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. Here are some common areas that may experience the most discomfort:
The front of the foot, or the metatarsalagia usually gets the brunt of most ski boot pain because it is a 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 reduce your circulation, make your feet cold, and cause cramps and significant 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 cause 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 foot 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.
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 is 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 correctly by reducing the tightness around your calf. (Release the power strap tightness and/or remove boot spoilers behind the calf). If you have a low calf, as is common with most women, I'd recommend trying 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
In my experience, most new skiers wear ski boots that are too big for their feet. Partly this has to do with rental ski boots being oversized (more on that below) and partly because new skies expect 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. For that reason, 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 too loose boots 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).
What are the different types of ski boots available?
When it comes to ski boots, it's important to know that there are various types to choose from, each designed for specific skiing styles and preferences. The main types of ski boots include:
Alpine Ski Boots
Alpine ski boots are the most common type and are designed for downhill skiing at ski resorts. They offer a stiff and supportive fit, providing excellent power transfer and control over your skis. Alpine boots typically have a high flex rating, making them ideal for aggressive skiers who need precision and responsiveness on groomed runs and varied terrain.
Freeride Ski Boots
Freeride ski boots are a versatile option for skiers who enjoy exploring off-piste terrain, but still want the performance of an alpine boot. They offer a balance between stiffness for control and a more forgiving flex for maneuverability in softer snow and challenging conditions. Freeride boots often feature a walk mode, allowing for more comfortable hiking or walking when needed.
Touring Ski Boots
Touring ski boots are designed for those who venture into the backcountry and prioritize uphill mobility. These boots are typically lighter than alpine and freeride boots and feature a walk mode with a large range of motion for efficient uphill travel. While touring boots sacrifice some downhill performance compared to alpine boots, they still provide adequate support and control for descent.
How does foot anatomy affect ski boot fit?
Understanding your foot's unique anatomy can play a crucial role in finding the right ski boot. Here are some common foot features and how they can impact your boot fit:
If you have high arches, you may experience pressure on the top of your foot (instep) and require a higher volume boot or one with a taller instep area. Custom footbeds or insoles can also help distribute pressure more evenly and provide additional support.
Flat-footed skiers may require additional arch support to prevent overpronation and ensure proper alignment within the boot. A custom footbed can be especially helpful in this case, as it will provide tailored support for your specific foot shape.
Those with narrow heels may struggle to find a secure fit in some ski boots, which can lead to heel lift and discomfort. In this case, look for boots with a narrower heel pocket or consider adding heel inserts to improve the fit.
What are some boot adjustment and customization techniques?
To achieve the perfect fit, you may need to make some adjustments or customize your ski boots. Here are some techniques to consider:
Heat Molding Shells
Some ski boots feature heat-moldable shells, which can be softened and molded to your foot's unique shape for a more precise fit. Visit a boot fitter or follow manufacturer guidelines for DIY heat molding.
Boot-fitting foam can be injected into the liner to create a custom fit around your foot. This process should be done by a professional boot fitter to ensure the best results.
Adjusting Buckles and Straps
Don't overlook the importance of properly adjusting your boot's buckles and straps. Experiment with different tightness levels to find the right balance between support and comfort, and remember that the lower buckles typically don't need to be as tight as the upper ones.
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.
Upgrade Your 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.
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. If you're suffering from foot discomfort, try using custom insoles before you list your new boots for resale.
Renting vs. Buying Ski Boots
Ski rental boots are different from 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.
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.
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 it's 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.
- Read 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 form the shell into a different shape. Learn more here.
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.
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 fit your foot's shape.
The ski boot is the 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, a boot fitter is the best place to go. If your feet are really sore, then rest or seek medical attention immediately.