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It’s what’s on the inside that counts: A Master Bootfitter’s guide to footbeds and liners

We last chatted with Board-certified pedorthist Bob Egeland just before the 2018 Powder Mountain Gear Test Week to hear about the ABCs of bootfitting. In our conversation, he elaborated on the three key steps to a good AT boot fit: A) The proper shell size; B) Stabilizing the foot with some sort of footbed; and C) Dealing with all of the padding, poking, punching and grinding.

Gear Test Week—where Bob joined us to keep our feet cozy and our boots performing at the top of their game—has come and gone, but we had some follow-up questions about how to keep toes from being tortured. So Egeland gave us the lowdown on how to get those footbeds and liners shred ready for next season. Here’s what he had to say.

Bob Egeland doesn’t tiptoe around with bootfitting. [Photo] Matt Kiedaisch

Backcountry Magazine: What drives your passion as a bootfitter?

Bob Egeland: Finding someone who can speak AT and build a good footbed is hard, and my mission in life is to train more people to do that. I have people come to me who have had their toenails surgically removed because of their bootfit. That’s crazy.

BCM: What kind of footbeds do you recommend? 

BE: There are a few ways to build a footbed. You can do a cork footbed where you are sitting up in the air with your feet suspended while you have the footbed molded. That tends to give you an aggressive arch. The other extreme is where the bootfitter has you standing up while molding a footbed. In this situation you tend to lose some of the arch, and it tends to collapse.

BCM: So is there a happy medium?

BE: Personally, I like to build a custom footbed with someone seated in a 90-degree position, because I can control their arch alignment. I am not building it too aggressive, but I am also not losing the distal end of the longitudinal arch. That’s the key fit in a custom footbed for skiing nowadays, because back in the days when I was skiing, a ski that was 207 cm long and 60 mm wide, we used a lot more knees. Now with the wider boards we are riding, we have gone from a flat balance to weighting the ball of the foot, so having that spot right behind the first metatarsal head—that’s the money spot. That’s where your turns are coming from.

In the race world, people tend to fit things very snug and very short, and I am seeing too many people who want their boots stretched, ground and so on. And one of the problems is that the lighter the boot, the less stretchable they are. If you stretch an AT boot that is ultralight, you can warp the sole. I knew someone who had a warped boot to the point where he could step into the tech fittings in the front of his boot, but when it came to clicking his heel down, it was out of alignment.

BCM: Beside footbeds, what are other factors that affect shopping for the right AT boot?

BE: A major part of the bootfitting issue is that there is a serious gram war going on in the industry. Who can make the lightest boot? This is fine if it fits you, but people are buying these ultralight boots, especially the rando racers, and if you breathe on these boots wrong they warp. People come in and ask for boots to be stretched because they are too narrow, and I tell them I can’t do it. And people say, “I just spent $900 on these boots. They told me I could get them fit.” And I tell them I can’t risk warping a $900 boot. The other issue is that the lighter the boot, the thinner the liners, and they are not very warm. Companies sacrifice warmth for weight savings.

BCM: What are your thoughts on custom liners? 

BE: I am personally in between sizes for my boot, the [Dynafit] TLT6. And the TLT6 is not a very warm liner, so if I go up a size to the next shell size, I can put an Intuition ProTour Liner in there. They fit fabulously, they are toasty warm, and I put a Booster strap on the top. I call the combo the Super6.

BCM: A lot of stock liners are short. What are your thoughts on adjusting height and flex with added liners and Booster straps?

BE: One of the key things in a bootfit is matching your ankle range of motion. We do a dorsiflexion test where your heel stays on the ground with your leg at a 90-degree angle toward the table and then we lift the customer’s forefoot up. Most boots have roughly a 15-degree forward lean in them. If someone can only flex 10 degrees, or more than 20, those are the two extremes. People in the middle are fine with stock ramping—no lifts. But if somebody has a limited dorsiflexion due to either really tight calves or an ankle injury, a heel lift does amazing things. Then on the other side is someone like me. I have a 27-degree dorsiflexion. I am so mobile that for me to pressure the tips of my skis, I almost have to put my knee on the tip of the ski to push it down. So that is why I work well with Langes; they are stovepipe straight. But that is more for on piste. For backcountry, you can ski in a slipper if it’s soft.

Then there are two types of aftermarket liners: a tongue version and an overlap version. An overlap version is kind of a pain to mold. You have to get someone who knows what they’re doing to mold them so you don’t get wrinkles, but that is two layers of Intuition in the front of your shin. For someone like me, that is good for helping to pressure the front of the boot. And the other commonly used trick is the butterfly pad for heel slip. It looks like a giant mustache. You don’t want to put it right behind the heel, because it will shorten the boot and shove everything forward. So it goes underneath the anklebones, up over the top of the Achilles, and then back down and under the other anklebone. That’s a normal addition I do.

BCM: How much do you sacrifice when touring in wrap liner versus a tongue liner? 

BE: I don’t think you are sacrificing any performance at all. The only thing is you don’t have that hinge in the back, so the liner will resist the forward flex a little bit. That is the only negative, but if you pop your top buckle and allow that to expand a little, that usually makes that flex better. If you are not taking part in the gram war, you have many more choices. Some of these ultralight boots pack out in 10 days. So it depends on what you want from a boot.

The plastics of the boots are going to outlive the liners, so many boots have great shells and crappy liners. Intuition say 100 days on one of their liners is good. You can re-cook them a few times but you lose a little loft every time you cook them. So what I recommend is that people start out with the thinnest sock they have. Then at 50 to 60 days, if you start to have a little wiggle room, you go to your thicker Darn Tough socks that take up some of that space. Then the third thing you can do is throw a Bontex insole shim under the liner to firm it up a bit more. I have had to do that in my tele boots. That is for a full-thickness Intuition liner. Take that equation and then extrapolate for a thin liner. You may only have 50 days out of them. And for a race AT liner, I have seen people wear holes through them in a four-day race. But those guys have a goal. It is definitely a buyer beware situation. You should buy AT boots from a shop that knows about AT and fits these boots regularly.

BCM: How does the heat generated from skinning affect the liner and liner retrofits?

BE: Intuition foam is remolded at 200°, give or take. The footbeds are molded at 180°. So your foot is not going to generate that heat just from skiing. There is no way. The biggest danger is people going to a hut where they pull their liners out, pull their footbeds out and put them by a stove to dry. I had a guy who went to a 10th Mountain Division Hut, pulled his liners out, took his footbeds out and put the footbeds across the tongue. He hung everything on a nail in the kitchen of this hut by the stove. Somebody stoked the stove and turned his Intuition liner into a ball of goo. So there he is at 10,000 feet, the weather is in the single digits and he has no liners to ski out with. Luckily there was a person there who worked at a ski shop who was able to remold his liners enough by using a pot of boiling water, which opened the liner right back up. But the footbed was beyond repair. Don’t get your stuff too close to a fire.

BCM: What other tips and tricks can you recommend for people?

BE: This doesn’t happen too much in the AT world, but in the alpine world there are boot bags that have heaters built in and you plug them into the cigarette lighter in your car. If you put them on the hottest setting, I have seen them unmold Intuition liners. You never want to use that high setting. If you have a boot dryer, just ambient temperature is fine. The air inside is so dry with the boot dryer that that will do the trick.

BCM: Any other bootfitting words of wisdom?

BE: You marry your boots, you date your skis. You have to get your boots dialed in. Never mount bindings until you have your boots dialed in. It is easy to demo skis. Save those for later.

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