I learned the hard way last spring that going with the “good deal” boot is a bad deal in the long run. Substantial boot work got them to feel ok, but by  2 weeks, 10 volcanoes, and almost 50k ft into my off season I’d sprained my plantar plate and could barely walk. This year, I decided to actually seek out a boot that fit, and I ended up with the Atomic Backland Carbon.*

Ooooh, aaaaaah. Just wait until you pick one up.

They fit pretty well out of the box, but my first run on them hurt something fierce. No matter. Enter Atomic’s Memory Fit technology: pop the boot – shell and all – into an oven, pop your foot into the boot like Shrederella, buckle, and let the warm plastic meld to your foot’s shape like they were meant to be together. (Note: for best results, get a professional boot fitter like Joe H. at Crystal Mountain to do this for you.) Such was my elation that I was inspired to compose poetry:

The tears rose to my eyes

When I slipped my foot inside

Your foam lined shell

For it fit quite well

And on the day you entered the oven

You fit my foot like a glove’n

And I’ll ascend for hours again

With no pauses to stop the pain

Because I finally found a boot

That happily works on my foot

Ok, maybe I’ll stick to prose… A month in, and I’m quite happy with my new boots. But because nothing is perfect, I have one major grumble and one minor grumble. The rest is praise and joy.

Minor grumble: the flap meant to keep snow out of your boot (mostly for) when you’re touring without tongues. It basically attaches the shell to the liner, and it ripped within 24 hours of me owning the boots. Boo.

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Rippage in the keep-snow-out flap.

Major grumble: when touring without tongues, the forefoot cable makes a pressure point on the top of the foot. Touring with tongues in eliminates the pressure point, but you lose the insane range of motion that you get with the tongue-less experience.

With and without tongues.

Atomic makes a soft tongue for touring. Because sometimes hard tongues just don’t feel good. While that doubles the tongues you have to keep track of, I’d say it’s worth the hassle. Plus, if you’re not skiing an intense objective, you could get away with both the up and down using the softer tongue.

Praise and joy:

Light as a feather, stiff as a board. (It’s middle school all over again, but way more fun.)

This boot is insanely light, but that doesn’t compromise the downhill performance. It certainly doesn’t compare to an alpine boot, but for a lightweight touring boot: two thumbs up. I’ve skied them with and without the tongues. Even without, I can make perfectly good easy turns. If I’m skiing more aggressively, the tongues go in.

SWEET MOTHER OF WALK MODE, BATMAN

With the tongues out, you might as well be wearing a hiking boot. But you’re not hiking (unless it’s September), you’re skinning. The range of motion is mind blowing. It might even make you want to dance a jig, as demonstrated below.

How to dance a jig – or play sub alpine hacky sack – while sporting your Atomic Backland Carbons.

Buckles and walk/ski transition

The two buckle system is almost perfectly thought out (see major grumble above). The cable system on your forefoot essentially turns one actual buckle into the sensation of two, and the cuff buckle locks down the tongue for a secure hold. Plus, you have an almost fiddle free transition from tour to ski mode. [Caution: tighten screws after getting these boots heat molded. They will fall out, maybe even 11 miles into a 30 mile traverse. But your team is prepared for that, so a combination of zip ties and ski straps will save the day. But you could also just save yourself the trouble by tightening your screws.]

The spring loaded carbon spine/ski-mode-arm is easy to engage and adds stiffness for the downhill. The only drawback is that being in downhill mode and wearing crampons requires some careful situating of the crampon bail and the walk mode lever.

*Disclaimer: Atomic didn’t give these to me to review, but they’re pretty great and I thought people should know.

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