This is a follow up to the Boot Fitting 101 article I wrote about the basics of sizing. In this article, I’m going to discuss one aspect of measuring the foot that when overlooked or measured incorrectly, can cause great discomfort. I’m also going to try to put to rest one of the most common myths of boot fitting.
Measuring the Foot: Length AND Volume
It’s easy to put a foot on a brannock-style measuring device and come up with the allegedly “correct” size. But there is more to it than that.
The problem here is that all this tells you is the length and width of the foot. What it doesn’t tell you is the volume of the foot.
So for instance, you have two people, both measure 26.5 on the measuring device. One is a D width and the other is an A width. Are these two people going to be in the same length boot? More often than not, they will be.
But lets add another bit of information: one person has a very high instep and arch, while the other has a very low instep, and little to no arch. Are both people still going to wear the same measured size?
One sure fire way to find out is to sell the person with the huge instep / arch his or her measured (Brannock) size, and … wait for that person to come back wanting to kill you.
Or you could take an easy, extra step: while you have the foot on the brannock device, take a metric tape measure and place one end on one corner of the heel cup, and pull the tape over the instep to the opposite corner of the heelcup.
This instep measurement should correspond to the length measurement of a “normal” foot. In the rare instance when it does not correspond, you will have saved yourself and your customer a whole lotta grief.
A guy came into The BootDoctors early this season after buying a pair of Salomon X Pro 100’s. He was in great pain. He told me he bought the boots in the summer. When he took off his shoes and I saw his foot, I knew immediately that his foot was way out of proportion.
I helped him put the boot on, and the lower of the boot would not even close over his foot.
Clue #1 folks: if the shoe won’t close, there’s a good chance that it’s not the right size.
So I measured his foot: 25.5. Then I looked at the size of the boot: 25.5. Then I measured his heel / instep volume as described above. Low and behold, he measured a 29.
I wound up trading the 25.5 for a 28. (Salomon’s run long, so I normally have people drop down a size in them.)
This is probably the worst case scenario for the high volume foot, but in such cases, it is best to follow the Volume measurement than the Length measurement.
What do you do if the H/I (heel/instep) volume is smaller than the measured length?
Fortunately, if you miss this, you aren’t going to cause as much pain as you will if you misjudge or don’t measure a high instep foot; you will just wind up stuffing a whole bunch of fit aids into the boot to secure the foot.
The first clue to identifying a low-volume foot is the customer begins to crank the buckles down to the point where there is no more buckling to be had. If the bootfitter did her measurements and found that the heel/instep measurement is lower volume relative to length, she will want to suggest trying on a smaller size boot.
The fitter may have to do some work in the toe box to add a little length, but more often than not, the customer will be happier with the smaller size.
Remember, a good boot fitter should always let you make the choice. He will spell out all the options, then let you make the choice. Never, ever let a bootfitter force you into a smaller boot if you don’t want to go down that road. A good fitter will tell you all the pros and cons of downsizing; it’s not for everyone.
The Myth of the “Lange” (or Salomon, or Nordica, etc.) Foot
I often have customers come in and say, “I have a (insert brand name) foot.”
The idea that there was such a thing as a Lange foot-type (or Salomon foot-type, etc.) was certainly true about five years ago, when Lange’s RL-11 (Banshee) shell was still in existence. It no longer holds true today.
Every company makes 3-4 different lasts, from 93mm-106mm, and different models with completely different shapes.
And there are heat moldable shells. With this new technology, a person’s foot shape is almost irrelevant.
Local guy comes into the BootDoctors wanting to replace his old boots. The boots are Salomon, and he tells me how he has always skied Salomon because, “I guess I have a Salomon foot.”
My boss, Bob Remiger, happens to be good friends with this customer, so he briefed me earlier. He tells me that ‘Joe’ is coming in for boots, and these are the boots I would like you to try on him. He gives me a short list. I know this customer, he’s been skiing Taos for 30+ years, and he is pretty particular when it comes to his boots. So I oblige. I bring out a Salomon, Atomic, Tecnica and a Nordica with the idea that he will default to the Salomon but at least he has options.
He actually settled on the Atomic. He then asks me if there is anything else to try. I think about it a bit, not wanting confuse the issue with yet another boot. But I decide to put a Lange on his foot if for no other reason than to sell the Atomic. To my surprise, he wound up liking the Lange the most, and has only been back once for refitting.
This scenario happens a few times a season, and usually manifests itself in the form of “Hey, are you a bootfitter? I want to try on a Nordica Patron Pro (or some other brand/model). It sounds like the boot for me.”
Instead of arguing with the customer, it is best to just get the person’s measurements, then ask questions to qualify the customer.
By now we hopefully have the size we want the customer to try. What boot models are going to be the correct ones for this person? For this we will have to get some more information. Some of the questions I like to ask to qualify the customer are:
1) How long have you been skiing?
2) How many days a year do you ski?
3) Have you skied Taos before? If the answer is Yes, then:
What part of the mountain do you like to ski?
Which chair do you ride the most?
If the answer to the question #3 is No, then,
1) Where do you normally ski?
2) What kind of terrain do you like to ski? i.e. bumps, groomers, steeps, hike-to terrain, etc.
3) What boots have you been skiing in?
4) What kind of skis do you ski on?
5) Do you participate in any other athletic activities?
I try to garner as much information as I can so I am able to get a picture of what type of skier I am dealing with. Is this person aggressive, or cautious? Technically skilled, or a beginner?
Some other clues to help guide the way are in plain sight. How tall is the skier? How is his or her dorsiflexion? These two points, especially dorsiflexion, will give you a good idea where to start as far as flex goes.
The boot fitter ought to get the requested boot, as well as the one he thinks is right. Then he should put the requested boot on one foot, and the alternate boot on the other. In my experience, most of the time, the customer will walk out with the option that the knowledgeable bootfitter selected.
So much for the “Lange” foot.
Final Thoughts, For Now
It is misguided or arrogant to assume that all skiers—from lifelong recreational skiers to current comp skiers—require the same fit. People skI for different reasons, and with different objectives. Understanding those objectives is hugely important.
The skier who only skis on groomed runs on sunny days at slower speeds will want an entirely different fit than the skier who is hiking the ridge and skiing aggressively down narrow chutes and steep bumps.
I have sold boots to skiers who simply wanted a boot that was easy to put on. To insist that this person “should” be in a downsized 120-130 flex boot is… well… let’s just say that there is no room for ego at the bootfit bench.
Understanding the needs of the customer is the priority here, and always should be.