You’ve decided to start mountaineering. First thing’s first, you need to purchase your climbing mountaineering boots. We’ll explain just what to look for.

Mountaineering involves travel over rock, snow and ice to reach your destination. It can involve using a rope to climb with depending on the the technical difficulty and exposure. You’ll need boots that can handle every situation the weather and terrain can throw your way.

Mountaineering Boot Types

Before you begin trying on your boot, you need to know which kind to get. There are three kinds: plastic, synthetic and leather. Plastic boots have a hard outer shell and a removable synthetic inner boot. These are great for alpine climbs, expeditions and multi-day pursuits because the inner boot can be removed and dried overnight. They’re also the warmest footwear you can purchase.

Synthetic boots are lighter and more comfortable than plastic boots and break in and dry faster than leather boots. However, synthetic materials can be less supportive on steep ice and less durable. Leather boots, on the other hand, have stood up to the test of time, from Everest to Denali. They’re tough, stiff and solid enough to withstand harsh conditions.

Note: No matter which you buy, you must test your crampons on your boots before you buy them. There’s nothing worse than buying a boot that isn’t compatible.

Mountaineering Boot Fit

Your boots should be snug all over, tight nowhere and have plenty of room to move your toes around. Start your search at the end of the day, when your feet are swollen, and bring along the socks you plan to wear (including liners, if they’re something you use), as well as any orthotics. These will all impact the fit of your boot.

First figure out your size. Stores often can measure your foot’s length, width and arch. You can double-check the length after the store employee gets the boots that are in your size by taking out the insoles and standing on them. You should have a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the edge of the insole.

In-Store Trial

Next spend some time walking around in the boots. Stroll through the store. Walk up (and down) the stairs. Use an inclined surface to see how your feet slide around in the boot.

Talk with your footwear specialist about any fit issues you have. If you’re feeling bumps or seams, pinching or your toes hit the top of the boot on an incline, the boot is the wrong one for you. However, before you kick them to the curb, know that the boots should be laced firmly.

Online Shopping

While we recommend shopping in a store, to make sure you have the right fit, if that’s not possible for you, consider brands you’ve worn before if you’re shopping online. Most boot companies use the same foot model over time, so the fit of your boot will likely be similar.

After You Buy

The work isn’t done once you buy your shoes. Next up is breaking them in and retrofitting, if necessary.

We suggest you consider aftermarket insoles. The can be created for comfort, support or fit (or all three). To make sure the fit is right, stand on the insole out of the shoe. Balance on one foot (and then the other) to see how stable you feel, what pressure you feel and how your heel is cupped. You should feel great!

Next try the insole in the shoe (removing the stock insole first). Figure out if the fit, feel and support is right for you. Also make sure the insole takes up the right volume, not too little or too much.

Finally, remember that mountaineering boots are very stiff so will feel very different to other boots you have used before. Use them on the correct terrain otherwise they won't be doing what you need them to do.