Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Painful Lessons on Thermo-Molding and The Game of Boot Roulette

Bid on the Garmont Radiums..... MAO!

I finally suffered a setback with boot roulette.  After a number of successful boot purchases over Ebay, my luck finally ran out.

It was a good run while it lasted.  I've had great luck with purchasing footwear over the internet. First, I bought a pair of plastic mountaineering boots, sight unseen, that fit my feet perfectly.  I moved onto ski boots where I started with a pair of Scarpa Titans, then found a un-named pair of ridiculously orange Garmonts.  They all fit perfectly, and were all comfortable on long tours.
The Radium: Whoever picked "aubergine"
as the stock color needs to be questioned.

I stayed with Garmont for my next purchase and found my absolute favorite pair of ski boots: the Garmont Megaride.  The comfort on these boots is unbelievable, and for their size they have amazing control.

However, I was still feeling like I needed a stiffer pair of boots for on-piste skiing and to give me more control on the steepest lines.  After researching the options and comparing prices, I pressed my luck on a new pair of Garmont Radiums.   

In addition to price and performance, a large factor in my decision was the fact that I had already owned two pairs of very comfortable Garmonts.  I figured the odds were with me that a boot from Garmont would have a similar fit.

The pair of Radiums that I found on Ebay had liners a size smaller (26.0) than I usually wear, but I found the right sized liners from another seller (26.5) for relatively cheap ($30).  Given that the size 26 shell for the Radium accepts both the 26 and 26.5 liners, I had a large margin of error on fitting the boots. 

Worth the money.
This was important, as I found out that there is a design difference between the sole of the Radium and the Megaride.  This design difference results in a size difference of 5mm (larger) on the sole of the Radium:  just enough to make it necessary to re-adjust your bindings every time you change boots. 

So imagine my surprise when neither liner seemed to give me the right fit.  They were both tight in the toes, and when I walked I could feel pressure on my instep ankle bone.  After walking around for more than a few minutes, this pressure became searing pain.  This is not a good sign for a boot I needed to carry me a few miles into the wilderness.

After much consternation, I decided to throw in the towel and visit the ski shop at EMS.  The tech who had successfully mounted several of my bindings fixed my forward toe pressure problem with a set of heel lifts.  (I still can’t figure out the physics on this but somehow more equals less when it comes to toe space in boots.)  He also sold me a pair of  "superfeet" footbeds.  The biggest advantage of the footbeds is the heat reflecting material on the bottom.  My other Garmonts featured a pair of these, and so far I've never had an issue with cold toes.  

Your ski boot should not make you feel like this.
When I asked about heating the liners for thermo-molding, he told me that I could simply wear them and they would mold to my feet.  So I took the boots to Bretton Woods for a few days of skiing.  However, by the end of day one I was in agony.  I decided to gut it out and see if Mr. EMS ski guy was right and give it a few more days.  By day three, I was ready to gnaw my leg off to stop the pain.  It was so bad that as I was skiing,  I purposefully avoided hitting any icy chop, for fear that the vibrations would make me pass out.  It was brutal. 

The answer was clear.  Mr. EMS ski guy definitely had it wrong.  You can't throw on your thermo-moldable liners and expect them to mold to your feet on the mountain after a few days.  Yessiree, it was total bullshit.

Surprisingly, thermo-moldable liners need to be thermo-molded.  Who would have guessed it? 

And so, with no reputable boot fitters nearby, I decided to heat-mold my own liners.  I followed the instructions for convection cooking that I found here:   How to Heat Mold Your Liners

(Note that some people also swear by the rice method found here:  The Rice Method)  I haven't tried the rice method yet, but will be sure to let you know what I find when I do.  In the meantime, I can honestly say that I've only eaten rice and not used it as a tool.

Both of these methods require similar work after the liner has been heated.  Specifically, you will need to build a toe cap, cover problem areas, and learn the Canadian National Anthem.

Avoid doing this to the boots.
Having researched the issue before, I knew that to build a toe cap you simply cut the ends off a bunch of pairs of socks and then place them over your toes to create room while molding your liners.  You should also place some cotton balls between your big and little toes to create a little extra space.  This takes about ten minutes, including the time needed to hem-and-haw over which socks you have doomed to the scrap pile.

To help with my ankle problem, I cut a number of layers of moleskin to place over my ankle bulge while molding the liners.  The more layers, the larger the space given to move.  Theoretically you could tape half a softball there.... theoretically.

Once you get the toecap set, and your ankle bone taped up, you place the footbed against your foot and carefully work it into a thin sock. (Panty-hose would do as well... if you have that lying around for special occasions.)  The thin sock will work to hold the footbed, toecap, and other materials in place for the fitting.  It also protects you from the hot liner.
Garmont kills one of these majestic creatures
for every 100 pairs of liners

You then put your foot into the heated liner, which should have puffed up like it was made of marshmallows.  Of course it is not filled with marshmallows....is it?  Has anybody researched this?  

If your liners have laces you should tie them at this point and then shove the liner (and your foot) into the boot.  All the guides emphasize the fact that you should make sure your heel is all the way to the back of the boot by hitting on the floor it a few times, and then placing an object beneath your toe while you stand for the next ten minutes.  Singing the Canadian National Anthem during the waiting period is optional, but does enhance the beer drinking experience.

Note that it is not necessary to fit both feet at the same time.  You can halve the sock-slaughter and moleskin allocation by fitting one boot at a time.  This will, however, double the number of times you will sing the Canadian National Anthem, which I'm told is enjoyable only once a day.

As a side note, for those who wonder what to do when a stock liner can't be found for a boot you purchased on Ebay, most reputable sources suggest purchasing Intuition Liners.  It is possible to purchase the Garmont G-Fit liners directly from Garmont at about half the cost of a new boot, but even their customer service folks will tell you that it is a rip-off.  Intuition Liners, on the other hand, retail for less than $200.

An evil torture device.
Replacing the stock liners with Intuitions has also been suggested as a solution for those whose toes don't fit into the Garmont Radium's tight toe box.  Apparently, the tight fit is a function of the non-expandble seams on the liner itself, as opposed to the physical limits of the toe box on the boot shell.
An Intuition liner.

After thermo-molding my liners the difference was clear. There is no more pressure on my ankles and I feel like I could run a marathon in what used to be an evil torture device.  I do however, feel like an idiot for not thermo-molding the liners sooner.

So if anybody tells you that you can mold your liners by simply skiing them out, I want you to look them in the eye, spit on the ground and tell them, "That is some bullshit, right there."

I'm going to give myself some more time before I write my full review of the Radium.  To be fair, I have yet to see what the boot is truly capable of doing. At present, I have a new found appreciation for the benefits of a thermo-moldable liner.  With more time in the boots, I should get a better picture of their comfort, and hopefully the memories of my painful lesson about thermo-molding will fade away.


  1. Properly sized thermoliners should be painful if you try them on without molding them. Conversely if they feel comfortable before they have been molded, they are too big. You can mold thermoliners with use, but it's painful and unnecessary. If you have to pay retail to get boots properly molded, it's probably worth it. Nothing more important than properly fitting boots.

  2. I tend to avoid things that are "painful and unnecessary"... Our resident tri-athlete Gered on the other hand...

  3. UPDATE: I've skied two days in the Radiums after thermo-molding, including one day of extended climbing and skinning. Both days featured plenty of mogul runs.

    The verdict: Wow! I am an idiot for not getting these thermo-molded right away.

    Given the difference, I can't agree that these are moldable with use. The difference is too stark. You must get these thermo-molded for them to work correctly.

  4. i put rocks in my boots because it makes me tougher and more awesome. and because my tele boots are just too damned comfortable.

  5. I got the same bullshit advice from a retailer about 'wearing them in' rather than thermo-moulding them. It didn't work for me either....

  6. Tell me more about the megarides. Sounds like they fit without the need to mold them.