Best Cross-Country Ski Boots For Beginners & Intermediate XC Skiers (2021)

xc ski boots

Performance in any sport, including cross-country skiing, starts with the fundamentals. Balance and coordinated movement moves from the ground up.  

Your ability to conquer mile after mile on cross-country skis is boosted by healthy, happy feet.

Unfrozen wiggling toes, blister-free heels and supported, yet pliable ankles will allow you to get the most out of the cross-country skis that pair with your perfect boots.

It might be suitable to rent boots when you first start skiing.

However, when you catch the ski bug, sliding your foot into the dark depths of a shared damp ski boot might start making you wonder if it’s just ski fever you’re catching! 

Ski shops are clean…but still – shared athletic shoes? The movement you’re able to coax from the borrowed boot might start to feel as stale as that rental boot smells.

Leaving aside olfactory preference, many skiers agree that choosing a great fitting, functional boot should be the first step when purchasing your own equipment.

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Give Bad Boots the Boot

Poorly fitting cross-country ski boots can wreck a ski trip. Numb toes from inefficient lining can prevent you from being able to roll properly through your foot and stymie your ability to get a good kick.

Aching ankles from inadequate support can distract you from being able to find focus and flow in your movement.

Foot pain can make generating power feel impossible and reduce your ability to stop on a dime. It distracts from performance and pleasure.

What’s worse is that the pain caused by improper footwear while in the backcountry might not flee when you get home.

Painful blisters, repetitive use injuries that stem from improper foot mechanics, associated muscle strains and joint pain that arise from overcompensating for sore feet can continue to haunt you long after a ski trip is done.

The good news is, there is a fit out there for you. Cross-country ski boots feature different elements to appeal to a variety of foot types and skiing styles.

Many manufacturers even include liners that will not only keep your feet warm and cushioned, they can be custom molded with heat.

This attention to detail can make all the difference when it comes to both comfort and being able to focus on endurance so you can stay out in the snow without feeling left out in the cold!

What Makes Cross-Country Boots So Special?

Maybe a friend has upgraded their equipment and has offered to give you their boots.

Before you accept their offer and risk adding their used equipment to your already overflowing graveyard-closet of ill-fitting free sporting stuff, it’s important to understand how cross-country ski boots work.

It’s likely you’ll end up wanting to buy your own to fit your functional style.

With cross-country ski boots, your toe/forefoot is clipped to the ski, but the rest of your foot will be free. Downhill ski boots, in contrast, lock your whole foot – heel to toe – in place.

This is because when you cross-country ski in the classic style, for example, you roll through your foot as you would when jogging or walking.

 So, the boot of a cross-country ski should be flexible enough to provide comfort to allow your foot some natural motion during kick/push-off.  Cross-country ski boots should, simultaneously, be rigid enough to provide support for heels and ankles.

Classic cross-country boots are made to enable a diagonal running like stride.

If you hope to do cross country skate ski in your boots, they make “combi” boots that are an effort to bridge the differences between classic and skate ski boots.

Backcountry skiing involves a combination of skills and techniques and should accommodate the gamut of movements.

What Makes A Good XC Ski Boot?

Those just starting to delve into cross-country skiing will benefit from a supportive boot with a thick, warm lining without worrying about boot weight.

Warmth and cushioning is important when you’re out on a long cross-country course with nary a toasty lodge in sight to strip off boots and massage cold tootsies.

More experienced cross country skiers who move more efficiently will benefit from a lighter boot with a thinner lining.

As your cross-country ski skills improve, you might switch to a boot with a thinner lining in addition to a stiffer heel counter. A more rigid heel counter can enable more experienced skiers generate more power in push-off (kick).

When it comes to sizing, ski boots are generally known to run true to shoe sizing.

You do want to make sure you have enough room to wiggle your toes around, but not so much room that for forefoot feels unsupported.

Things to Look For:

  • Warmth Numb toes can inhibit proper foot mechanics.
  • Size. Make sure boots run true to shoe size if you are ordering without trying them on. 
  • Ankle Support. There should be both padding and structural support. 
  • Heel Counter.  The more experienced you are, the stiffer the heel counter you might like.
  • Durability.  Look for materials that are meant to last, and that respond to movement and conditions.
  • Liners. Look for boots that are compatible with liners that are moldable and can be easily replaced if worn out.

Three Backcountry Cross-Country Ski Boots to Consider

Here’s a quick look at our favorite options when it comes to the best cross country ski boots for the money. 

Check out our recommendations and see if one of these boots meets your XC ski needs this winter.

1. Alpina Alaska BC Cross-Country Boots

The Alpina Alaska BC Cross-Country Boot is a smart looking leather boot. It is versatile as it features a medium amount of flexion and is unisex.

Alpina Alaska BC Cross-Country Ski Boots

The boot’s foot bed is anatomically correct and provides insulation. You can add Thinsulate liners for extra protection from the cold.

These boots are built to provide warmth all day long on off-trail excursions.

Also available at REI.

Pros

  • Compatible with Insertable/removable/replaceable liners.
  • Medium flexion means it is suitable for variety of ski styles and varied terrain.
  • Padded collar means increased ankle comfort.
  • Leather construction holds up to the elements and conforms to one’s foot.
  • Unisex.

Cons                   

  • Ankle collar might be high on smaller legs.
  • Sizing and width might be tricky. Try some on before you buy if possible.
  • Medium flexion might not be stiff enough for more experienced skiers seeking precision.

Takeaway

The 4 pound Alpina Alaska BC Cross-Country Boot is a versatile, comfortable option for backcountry skiers. The boot looks a lot like a hiking boot and offers the flexion you need when responding to varied terrain. Padding is placed where it needs to be. Leather construction allows for movement and durability.

2. Rossignol BC X5 FW Cross-Country Ski Boots-Women’s

Rossignol BC X5 FW Cross-Country Boots are made of Cordura. Cordura is synthetic, waterproof and extremely durable.

Rossignol BC X5 FW Cross-Country Ski Boots - Women's

It’s a good choice of material to be used in footwear that needs to stand-up to the elements, rough conditions and time. Additionally, it is pliable which allows for flexibility.

These cross-country ski boots can be used with Thinsulate thermal liners that are moldable.  Designed for mid-width touring skis, they provide a blend of lightweight touring mobility and off-trail performance.

Pros

  • Lightweight.
  • Durable Cordura material.
  • Hinged cuff increases stability.
  • Budget friendly.

Cons

  • Traditionalists might prefer leather.
  • Plastic hinge near ankle might be uncomfortable for some.

Takeaway

Costing around 200 bucks, yet promising years of use Rossignol BC X5FW Cross-Country Boots appear to be a good value. Removable, moldable linings increase comfort and help customize fit. However, buyers might want to try them on first to determine if the ankle hinge suits them.

3. Rossignol X-6 SC Cross-Country Ski Boots

If you hope to showcase both your mad skate and classic cross-country ski styles, the Rossignol X-6 SC Cross-Country Ski Boot can serve you well.

Rossignol X-6 SC Cross-Country Ski Boots

This combi boot is made of synthetic materials: PVC boot with moldable, thermal polyester liner. Zip-up lace covers not only seal out snow, they make for a sleek looking unisex boot.

From the heel cup that locks-in your foot to responsive soles, attention is paid to details that make these boots appropriate for different cross-country techniques that propel you on all terrain.

Also available at REI.

Pros

  • Heel cup locks in foot to enhance kick.
  • Lace cover keeps snow out.
  • Moldable liners for customized fit.
  • Lightweight.
  • Tech Grip on sports soles enable natural gait and control.
  • Sleek styling.

Cons

  • Synthetic materials might not appeal to all.
  • Plastic around ankle might bother some individuals.

Takeaway

With Rossignol X-6 SC Cross-Country Ski Boots you can slide your foot into functional footwear without paying a shocking price. Coming in at under 200-bucks, the cost of the boots is as lightweight as the boots themselves.

Synthetic materials and careful construction make for boots that weigh less than 3 pounds, yet provide a hefty punch when it comes to enabling responsive movement in a variety of snow covered scenarios.

Final Word

The cross-country ski boots you ultimately choose will determine both the bindings and skis you buy.

From traditional leather ski boots that resemble hiking boots, to streamlined footwear made with state-of-the-art synthetic materials, there is a perfect fit out there for you.

Choosing a boot is like finding your soul mate. Don’t base your decision on looks alone. Instead consider function, fit, warmth, and stability over popularity.

You need your boots to be in it for the long haul. They need to mesh with your ski style and to be there to support you in all sorts of conditions.

top image: Deposit Photos

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