Stiff vs. Soft Snowboard Boots: How To Make the Choice


The right snowboard boot stiffness is a matter of preference. Some prefer a soft boot, where others have the best experience in a stiff boot. How can you make the right choice for you?

To make the choice between stiff and soft snowboard boots, consider whether you will be doing more racing or freestyling. Stiff snowboard boots are best for avoiding injury and maintaining stability at high speeds, whereas soft snowboard boots offer more flexibility for spins, jumps, and tricks. 

If you are new to snowboarding, or if you need to get a new pair of boots, you might not be sure of how to make the right choice. Let’s get started, so you can be ready for the fresh snow this winter!

Do You Need Stiff or Soft Snowboard Boots?

Snowboarding boots come in varying levels of stiffness versus softness, and each pair is useful for different riders doing different activities. 

To determine what kinds of boots you should buy (i.e., stiff vs. soft), first learn about the differences between the two and then consider what kind of riding you’ll be doing. If you’re a beginner, you should probably start with soft snowboard boots. 

Are Soft Snowboard Boots Better?

Soft snowboard boots are better for beginners because they’re more comfortable and make maneuvering easier. They’re also the best for park riders, except for big air and half-pipe tricks. 

Generally, the maneuverability of soft boots is better for tricks, while stiffer boots are better when you need more shock absorption.

Benefits of Soft Snowboard Boots

The benefits of soft snowboard boots include:

  • Increased maneuverability
  • Lower cost, budget-friendly
  • Greater comfort and flexibility
  • Short break-in period, if any
  • Good for landing jumps
  • Easier to balance weight distribution
  • Good for pressing, grabs, and tweaking
  • Good for smaller, lighter riders
  • Best choice for riding that requires a hike
  • Good for freestyling

Drawbacks of Soft Snowboard Boots

The drawbacks of soft snowboard boots include: 

  • Difficulty snowboarding at high speeds
  • Less ankle support
  • Increased risk of sprain and rotational injury
  • Feet are more likely to get tired quickly

Product Recommendations

The Vans Hi-Standard OG Snowboarding Boots available on Amazon.com have a flex rating of six and traditional lacing for a flexible, comfortable fit. These boots have a V1 UltraCush liner and a V1 POPCUSH footbed that absorb vibrations while providing support. 

These boots are a great choice for beginners and have great freestyle performance.

The DC Phase Snowboarding Boots from Amazon.com is a durable, budget-friendly pair of boots that provide good control for freestyle riders. 

They have a fleece liner with EVA memory foam for maximum cushioning and a flex rating of four for good flexibility and responsiveness. The lacing system is traditional for a good, customizable fit.

The Adidas Superstar ADV Snowboarding Boots, available on Back Country, have a flex rating of four and traditional laces for a solid fit and good flexibility. They are comfortable and have great shock absorption. 

The Adidas Superstar ADV Snowboarding Boots also have a reduced footprint so that you can use them with a narrow snowboard. 

The Thirty Two STW Snowboarding Boots, found on Amazon.com, have a flex rating of three and internal Boa lacing for adaptable, soft comfort. They have a foam outsole and a 3D molded tongue for a cushioned, customizable fit and an intuition foam, heat-moldable liner with a harness for stability and responsiveness. These boots are great for beginners and experienced freestylers alike.

The Burton Moto Snowboarding Boots available on Amazon.com have a flex rating of three and Boa Speed Zone lacing for fast, controlled customizability in both upper and lower zones. These are lightweight and warm, with a soft flex tongue and a broken-in feel. 

The lower zone of the boot is sealed for snow protection, and every part of the boots is durable, including the laces.

​​Are Stiff Snowboard Boots Better?

Stiff snowboard boots are better for experienced riders who want to go fast because they offer more security and stability. They’re also the best choice for big air or half-pipe riders because they offer more shock absorption.

Benefits of Stiff Snowboard Boots

The benefits of stiff snowboard boots include:

  • Reinforced tongues and spines for more stability
  • Allows you to carve deep into the snow
  • More shock absorption
  • Lower risk of injury
  • Good for taller, bigger riders
  • Greater precision
  • Better edge control
  • Good for carving
  • Solid ankle support
  • Easy transfer of energy into the board
  • Good for backcountry freeriding without groomed trails

Drawbacks of Stiff Snowboard Boots

The drawbacks of stiff snowboard boots include:

  • Most expensive of all snowboard boots
  • Harder to press and freestyle
  • Less comfortable
  • Harder to balance for beginners

Product Recommendations

The Ride Deadbolt Snowboard Boots from Amazon.com are stiff boots with a seven flex rating and double boa laces. 

They have great heel hold, good shock absorption, and high levels of response and adjustability. These boots have a dense foam liner with bamboo charcoal that absorbs odors and moisture. Internal J bars offer ankle and heel support.

The Burton Ion Boa Snowboarding Boots available on Amazon.com are expensive but worth it, with great traction, comfort, heel hold, response, and adjustability. 

Their shock absorption is less than competitors’, but the overall performance is great, and you can make up for the lack of shock absorption with appropriate Burton bindings. These have a flex rating of seven.

The Vans Infuse Snowboarding Boots, from Evo, come with removable tongue stiffeners so that you can adjust the stiffness. 

The stiffness can be set to a six, seven, or eight, depending on how many of the tongue stiffeners you add. These have mostly traditional lacing with a Boa dial around the ankle section of the boots.

The Thirty Two 3XD Snowboarding Boots available on Amazon.com are new as of the 2019-2020 season, built by Thirty Two to be more responsive, comfortable, and adjustable than any boots on the market. 

They come with a heel hold kit and an arch support kit so that you can fit the boots to your needs. They have traditional lacing and a stiff 6.5 flex rating.

The Adidas Tactical ADV Snowboarding Boots have a flex rating of six and a reduced footprint, meaning that you can fit a bigger boot on a narrower board with these boots. They’re among the best boots available in shock absorption due to their “boost” technology, and they’re both comfortable and responsive. 

Understanding Flex Ratings

Snowboarding boots come with flex ratings between one and ten, but each manufacturer’s rating differs. There’s no industry standard for flex ratings. Generally speaking, the higher the flex rating, the stiffer the boot is. 

Boots with a flex rating between one and two are best for beginners, and boots with a flex rating of nine or ten are best for experienced racers.

See this table of flex ratings and the stiffness they relate to:

Flex RatingFeel
1 – 2Soft
3 – 5 Medium
6 – 8 Stiff
9 – 10Very Stiff

Keep in mind that boots will change over time, becoming softer and less stiff, which is especially true of lower-quality boots.

Does Snowboard Boot Stiffness Have To Match Board Stiffness?

Snowboard boot stiffness doesn’t have to match board stiffness. You can mix and match and find a unique combination that suits your boarding style. However, you’ll see similarities in the recommendations for snowboard flex and snow boot flex.

Freestyle park riders will most likely want a board with plenty of flex, whereas speedy racers prefer a stiffer board.

You can measure board flex in two ways: 

  • Longitudinal flex
  • Torsional flex

Longitudinal Flex

Longitudinal flex refers to the flexibility of the board long ways, from front to back. This is the most common flex rating you’ll see described. 

Longitudinal flex can be continuous, meaning that the flex is constant along with all parts of the board, or it can be progressive, meaning that the flex changes along with the nose, center, and tail. 

Torsional Flex

Torsional flex refers to the amount of give a board has edge to edge or width ways. This flex rating isn’t usually reported by manufacturers or considered by consumers. Still, some experts in the field argue that torsional flex should be given more consideration, as it helps with sharp turns and spins.

What Kind of Bindings Do You Need for Soft vs. Stiff Boots?

Although you’re free to mix and match bindings and boot stiffness, you’re likely to have better results if you pair compatible boot varieties. In general, softer boots go better with short, flexible highbacks, and stiffer boots go better with a tall, stiff highback. 

Above all, the bindings should feel comfortable and fit your feet snugly without pinching.

Bindings come in several different materials, each with its specific level of give. See the following table of baseplate materials and the associated amount of flex.

MaterialFlex
UrethaneSoft, tweakable
PolycarbonateSoft, forgiving
Glass-reinforced nylonVaried; higher fiberglass percentage means higher stiffness
AluminumStiff, light
CarbonStiff, light, and responsive; expensive

Other Snowboard Boot Features To Consider

There are many other factors to consider before buying snowboarding boots, including the size, lacing style, and liner. Each of these contributes to the overall feel and performance of the boot.

Sizing

Although snowboard boots use traditional U.S. shoe sizing, the exact fit of your boot will vary based on the manufacturer. You should always try on your boots before making a purchase to make sure that they are comfortable. 

The size of your boots should correlate with the size of your snowboard. See the following table for the best pairings.

Boot Size (in U.S. men sizes)Snowboard Width
7 or smallerNarrow
8 – 10Regular
10 – 11.5Mid-Wide
11.5 or largerWide

Lacing

Each lacing offers a unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Here are three kinds of lacing systems to choose from: 

  • Traditional
  • Quick-Pull
  • Boa

Traditional

Traditional lacing is best for most riders, as they’re easy to use and are very customizable, Plus, it’s easy to loosen them as much as you need to throughout the day. Traditional laces allow you to shape your boots to the size of your feet with more precision, and they make it simple to replace the laces as necessary.

Quick-Pull

Quick-pull lacing is easiest to use while wearing gloves, tightening with just the pull of a cord. These boots often have zonal lacing that allows you to customize the tightness along the foot separately from the ankle or boot, similar to how you can customize lace tightness in traditionally laced boots. 

Boa

Boa lacing systems use a ratcheting dial to tighten the laces, which you can use with your gloves. These are also usable with just one hand. 

There are three kinds of Boa lacing systems for snowboard boots:

  • Boa coiler: Central Boa lacing on the tongue
  • Double boa: Side Boa lacing for upper and lower zones
  • Triple boa: Upper and lower zones with a third reel for adjusting the liner

Liner

Snowboarding boot liners are the inner boots inside a snowboard boot, usually made from ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). This cushioning layer is lightweight and offers insulation and stability for the feet. 

Snowboarding boot liners vary according to how moldable they are, from non-moldable stock liners to custom moldable liners that shape when you apply heat. The pressure of your body weight should influence the shape of your boot liner. 

However, liners that mold either with the heat from your feet or an artificial heat source will break in faster. 

How To Differentiate Styles of Snowboarding

Before you purchase your snowboarding gear, you should consider what kind of snowboarding you’re looking to do: 

  • Freeriding
  • Freestyling
  • Groomers
  • Powder
  • All-mountain

Each kind of snowboarding has its benefits and drawbacks; the best style for you depends on your goals and what’s available near you.

Freeriding

Freeriding, also called “big mountain” riding, refers to riding in untracked backcountry terrain. Freeriders usually go for increased speed and precision, riding on untracked mountainsides where there’s room to explore and push the limits. 

Freeriding tends to be more aggressive than other kinds of snowboarding, involving hard curves, steep slopes, and plenty of powder. 

Freeriding snowboards need to be stiff, float well in powder, and have a camber for stability and edge-hold. They should also have a tapered shape for improved precision and a sintered base for better speed.

Freestyling

Freestyle snowboarding is the most popular kind of snowboarding, allowing riders the chance to perform tricks on the ground and in-air. These tricks include jumps, rail-slides, half-pipe rides, and switch riding. 

The most common kinds of competitive freestyling are the half-pipe, quarter-pipe, slopestyle, and big air. Participants have the opportunity to perform flips, grabs, and spins in the air, as well as grinds, bonks, and spins on the ground. 

Freestyling requires heavy-duty protective equipment, as injuries are common. This equipment includes helmets and goggles in addition to appropriate boots, bindings, and snowboards. 

Major freestyling competitions include the FIS World Championships, the Winter X Games, and the FIX World Cup. 

Groomers

Groomers are what you’ll find at ski resorts and snowboarding hills, where the snow has been groomed for riders. These areas are smooth and don’t have small particles of ice or snow en route. However, these tracks can often freeze over, in which case they can be rougher and force you to carve your way down the mountain more aggressively.

Powder

Powder is fresh, light snow. Here, you don’t need sharp metal edges on your board, as you won’t be carving through any ice or packed snow. Instead, you surf the powder as if it were water. Early snowboards were built exclusively for powder. It was only in recent history that the metal edges have been added to boards.

All-Mountain

All-mountain snowboarders ride on rough terrain and smooth terrain and are equally comfortable on manicured tracks and untouched backcountry slopes. You can be an all-mountain freestyler or an all-mountain freerider, depending on whether you’re in it for tricks or speed. Either way, it’s the versatility that defines the all-mountain snowboarder.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a good idea of what to look for in a snowboard boot, you can confidently go to the store to buy the best pair of boots for you. Remember to keep in mind your riding preference, if you want to do tricks, or what kind of snow you like to ride on. These factors will influence your choice of soft or stiff boots.

Also, remember to get the type of boots that will work with your board, as you want to have complete control over your ride.

Sources:

Ryan Conner

Outdoor enthusiast with several years of snowboarding experience in the winters and watersports activities all summer. Living within 3 hours of 4 well-known ski resorts, I get plenty of board time from Nov-March every season.

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