Lightweight, backcountry specific ski boots are all the rage for those who power themselves up the hills. Backcountry specific? Yeah. Think excellent ankle articulation, tech binding inserts, a minimal number of buckles which open and close quickly, and rubber soles suitable for clambering around on rock and ice.
In the non-carbon, might-last-longer-than-a-season-without-breaking variety, there are several models available for consideration – the Scarpa Alien, the Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain, and the Garmont Masterlite come readily to mind. Haven’t used the Aliens yet, but I‘ve got enough time in on the other two to make a meaningful comparison of the pros and cons of each.
Can’t decide which boot is for you? Let’s jump in, by category:
Being able to walk freely with excellent ankle movement adds much ease, and some speed, to a ski outing. Both boots articulate well, allowing deep forward movement and solid rearward travel out of one’s ski boot encased leg.
The Dynafit TLT’s heel cup is molded in such a way that it curves inwards at the top, essentially onto the Achille’s tendon. The liner takes some of the sting out, but the effect is not all that subtle. These boots pinch a bit when rearward articulation is in play (essentially when pointing the toes).
The Garmont comfortably hits the mid-calf area when the same movement is done. However, when the skier takes a bigger than usual stride, or heads down a steep roller on the skin track, the sole cuff buckle pops up over the plastic shell. This is more than a minor irritation – the skier must then reach down and fiddle to release the captured buckle. To prevent this from occurring regularly, I try to be conscious on each step to not over-extend my legs. That works, but I’m often concentrating on my boots when my mind should be elsewhere.
The TLT 5 Mountain boots offer a single throw buckle lever that performs double duty as the walk or ski mode selector. It’s straightforward to use, as with one motion, the boot is switched between modes. If you like to run your buckles tight while skiing, you’ll find it challenging to close the lever from the open, walk mode position. Sometimes the lever sticks a bit when in ski mode, making it harder than usual to pop the lever for walk mode. Leaning forward or back seems to shift pressure on the nub, allowing it to flip. On occasion I’ve also had trouble getting the buckle notch to insert in the retaining slot.
Garmont came up with a clever, two way buckle on their boot cuffs. For maximum walking or skinning stride, open both. To ski, close one, then the other. It’s smooth and effective. No issues with sticking.
Both boots offer a simple to use, no frills instep buckle. Unfortunately, the Masterlite instep buckles suffer from a durability issue. The original version of the boot came with somewhat smaller diameter buckle straps. I’ve broken two of these. Garmont sent out replacements that are beefier; these are included on the newer version of the boots. Unfortunately, I’ve already broken one of these as well, so even the beefier redesign isn’t sufficient.
Walk and Ski Mode
As mentioned above, the TLT 5 Mountain boots drop into ski mode with the flip of the cuff buckle. Clever design, and it hasn’t ever popped out of ski mode on me while making turns (or any other time). I like that. Walk mode strides easily with little noticeable friction.
The Garmont Masterlite offers up a separate mechanism to switch between walk and ski modes. Walk mode is noticeably stiff – one is required to seriously thrust their foot forward to maximize the full range of articulation. Simply flip the small lever up to engage ski mode, flip it down to release it.
(User tip – close the upper cuff buckle, throw the lever, flex your leg forward, and the mechanism pops into place in ski mode. Throwing the lever the other way and flexing forward is the handy way to release it as well.)
As with the above-mentioned Garmont instep buckle, the original design was insufficient. I broke the original locking groove that the mechanism latches into after only a few days of skiing. Garmont initially sent out a replacement of the same design. This also broke a few days later. Upon examination of the then as-yet-unreplaced, identical part in the other boot, I found major stress cracks and metal warping. Seeing that the tab would break easily with just another outing or two, I stopped using the boots temporarily.
Garmont sent out two redesigned, much beefier locking tabs. I’ve had no issues with the new parts, and I suspect they now come standard on any new Masterlite, although I haven’t checked personally.
Both boots incorporate sole curvature which enables easier walking.
Dynafit added ‘guiding wings’ to their tech binding inserts (molded into the toe of ski boots) some time ago. These wings capture the tech binding toe pins and make it substantially easier for the boot to enter the bindings. This was a good idea; anyone who has used tech bindings knows that stepping in is part art, part skill, and part practice.
The Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain steps easily into Dynafit Speed bindings, Dynafit Race TI binders, La Sportiva RT bindings, and even Ski Trab tech bindings. It releases smoothly from each of the above bindings as well. I’ve had no problems that weren’t user error.
I don’t know if it’s the height of the sole or some other design aspect, but getting the Garmont Masterlite to engage in the La Sportiva RT or Dynafit Race TI (an older model) binding takes some time and effort. Once in, I’ve never had an inadvertent release. However, taking the boot out of these same bindings has taken some serious work. For some reason, the boots simply stick to the binding, even as one is pressing heartily on the toe release mechanism. I end up staggering around, trying to lever my booted toes skyward while leaned over, depressing the release lever. This has provided plenty of awkward moments, especially on steep, exposed terrain when I’ve needed to remove my skis. Picture it. (Pity I don’t have a video: it would be both grim and funny)
This issue is specific to the actual boots. I’ve used other Dynafit boots, as well as the Garmont Mega Ride boots with some of these assorted bindings in the past. All slip in and out of the toe pieces easily. None have demonstrated this sticky eject issue.
Fit and Feel
The Dynafit boots have plenty of room in the toe box, my heel is cupped nicely, the foot doesn’t slide around, and the upper cuff fits my leg well. Chafe has been kept to a complete minimum on ski outings.
The Garmont boots have a lower, flatter toe box. It’s snug on the foot; I would say it fits very well up front. My heels rub incessantly on the back of the boot however, and as a result I’ve had a lengthy medley of blisters, callouses, raw skin, blood, and hard scab form on a substantial patch of my heel. Depends on one’s individually shaped foot, naturally. I expect this has largely been due to the shape of my ankles. It’s up to the buyer to try a pair of any prospective boots on to see how they fit before buying.
The Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain ski boots have a solitary forward lean setting of 15° for ski descents. If you’ve come from a downhill skiing background, you know that that’s not a very aggressive position. More aggressive skiers generally prefer a steeper forward boot lean angle. And that lack of aggressive positioning is noticeable: I sometimes find myself really driving my shins into the TLT 5’s when skiing, wishing I could power the skis a bit better. They also flex substantially when locked down, which creates a more spongy feel.
The Garmont Masterlite has a solitary forward lean setting of 24°, a strong selling point for those seeking performance lean angles. Perhaps due to their unique spiderweb design reinforcement (like mini I-beams crisscrossing the shell), there’s appreciably less forward flex when these boots are clamped down as compared to the TLT’s.
Both boots go for around $750 full retail at your average online gear shops. Sales and ‘you look good today’ discounts are up to the buyer.
I ski both boots in slightly modified fashion. I never attached the available power strap to the Masterlites, as it arrives separate from the boots. On the TLT 5’s, I drilled the rivet that holds the power booster strap in place to remove it. I did this before I ever skied the boot, so both have been skied the same way.
The removable tongue on the Dynafit was also immediately removed. It adds a bit of stiffness in ski mode, but also some while in tour mode. Thus, I’ve traded some boot stiffness for better touring characteristics, never having skied with the removable tongue in place.
As thus set up, both boots weigh within 50 grams of one another.
Garmont Masterlite complete boot: 1172 grams
liner 191 grams
Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain complete boot: 1222 grams
liner 306 grams
Clamped down to ski, while making turns – all other things being equal – I prefer the feel of the Garmont Masterlite to the Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain.
In almost every other respect, I prefer the Dynafit ski boots. I’ve now broken 5.5 parts on the Masterlites (.5 for one that was about to break, I just happened to look at it and stop skiing it before it broke.) That’s BY FAR a record on any backcountry or downhill gear that I’ve used throughout my entire ski career. Gear that breaks doesn’t lend itself to mental confidence, a necessary ingredient when skiing challenging terrain. Now I know that even the beefier, second generation instep buckles are susceptible to breakage. That’s confidence eroding.
No parts have broken on the Dynafit boots so far. I’ve skied them for less days than the Masterlites, but consider that those boots started breaking within days of taking them out of the box.
The Dynafits tour better with easier ankle and lower leg movement. Their ski/walk mode adjustment being built into the cuff buckle eliminates a step, making each transition that much faster. Admittedly, I prefer the lever action on the Masterlite cuff buckle – it’s easier to lock and unlock the buckles. When unlocked however, the buckles are messy. They sometimes disengage from the boot shell at the size adjustment point. They hang up on the plastic shell.
Oh, and I might be the one person who prefers the unique glacier blue color of the Masterlites. Kinda sexy in a glacier travel sorta way. But color isn’t the deciding factor in ski gear. Fit, function, and durability are the prime considerations.