Monday, January 26, 2015

Notes on snowboard boots setup/tie (32 Lashed)

Anyone who snowboards understands how important boots are to your over all riding experience. I would go as far as to say they are the most important piece of the kit trumping everything else, including board, bindings, base layers, or outerwear.  The more experienced I get, the more I realize that subtle fine grain movements of the foot ranging from ankle flexion to pedaling are key to success.  All this places incredible hellish strain on the feet and increase the importance of boot set up. The problem is most don't consider the technicalities of something as taken for granted as tying boots, or sock selection or how tight is tight enough for the ankle harness. I analyze everything and think about these things a lot and have only now come to some realizations.  This post will discuss some thoughts and strategies I have on boots and is skewed towards the 32 Lashed boot which is indicative of many traditional laced boots.  While speed lacing systems are popular and BOA is growing, the majority of boots are still laced.

The first thing to consider is ditching the sock liner that comes with the boot. In almost all cases, the sock liner is nothing but a piece of cheap cardboard or foam that does nothing.  I suffer from fallen arches which makes snowboarding even more aggravating on my feet and completely unbearable with stock sock liners.  I finally ended up getting some custom inserts made by a ski boot fitter. At the very least a good aftermarket insert like Superfeet or Sole is recommended.

The next thing to consider before we get to lacing is socks and thinking about moisture management. I've realized that one of the key contributors to getting cold feet is perspiration. No matter what I've tried my feet perspire, leading to damp socks and very cold feet.  I also have other issues like chilblains which are all interrelated back to the core concept that snowboarding is hell on the feet.  I've recently been experimenting with the concept of vapor barriers. The concept is to not try and mitigate the perspiration through a wicking liner sock.  But rather, to accept it and trap it with a non-breathable membrane and keep the moisture at the feet minimizing the sock or boot insides getting damp. 

They make things caller vapor barrier socks, but I have been experimenting with good old saran wrap. I wrap some around the upper part of my feet/toes and put my thin snowboard sock over it. The problem with the whole concept of vapor barriers is that your force your foot towards trench foot. But I realized that my feet are going to sweat no matter what and lead to trench foot anyway. I used to have to change socks every 2-3 hours.  One trick to help keep the moisture from being force directly next to skin, is to first put a very thin liner sock on, then the vapor barrier, then your regular sock.  The only problem with this is that it begins to push into too thick.  I much prefer one thin wool sock as opposed to multiple layers or thicker socks. So far, I have been able to extend riding to 3-4 hours without any sock issues and my toes stay warmer.  The rest of foot does sweat and cool down though.

This approach isn't for everyone, and it can just feel bad on the feet.  I do this with my hands too and wear nitrile gloves sometimes.  I again extends the time before my hands get cold, but it really tears my hands apart and they are sensitive. Regardless, consider carrying extra socks to change into every few hours.

Ok, so now that we have a good insole in, and have considered moisture management, now we move to putting the boot on and the inner harness. Put your foot into the liner, and liner into the boot if it isn't already in the outer boot. I find that my sock gets pushed around a lot when I put my foot into the liner that is already in the boot, Ideally, I'd put my foot into the liner then liner in the boot. The problem is that it is pretty difficult to get the liner into the boot and sometimes takes more effort then I want.  Regardless, with foot in boot, slam your heel on the ground, stomp your foot. This helps seat your heel in the liner and seat the liner in the boot. Note that the liner is on the higher end, I believe an can be heat molded. There are recipes on the internet for DIY, but a good fitter can help you. They can put some toe caps on your feet to help get a few mm space in there which can help a ton with keeping toes warm by giving enough room for you to wiggle them.

Now the inner ankle harness.  The Lashed is on the higher end of a laced boot and has an inner ankle harness that is part of the outer boot as opposed to part of the liner.  This seems more secure and I've realized also makes it easy to tighten the ankle harness too much.  Early on, I was a zealot for the no heel lift mantra.  I used to wrench as tight a I could inner harnesses.  The problem, is that there are many nerves and blood vessels that run near the ankle. The blood vessels feed your toes.  Cold feet means that you've constricted blood flow to your toes.  The other downside of a wrenched down inner harness is ankle flexibility.

I've only recently understood how important ankle flexion is to snowboarding.  You often here the 'bend your knees' mantra.  But really, it should be flex your ankle.  I vividly remember on day riding at Winterplace, where my ankles were just on fire. I finally couldn't stand it anymore and had to loosen my boot.  I then had a few of the better toe side turns I've ever had.  It still took me years since that day to understand that there is a sweet spot to tightening your inner harness to that strikes a balance between stiffness and responsiveness and ankle flexibility.

One suggestion for the Lashed is to snug down the inner harness, then walk around or do other things with your gear to let the laces stabilize a bit and even out tension, then re-tension the pull and lock it down.  The lace locks on these things never totally last long, so you may have to recheck it later. Again, learn to find that sweet spot, and don't automatically wrench it unless you know that this works for you.

Now to lacing. One thing I try and do, is tie my boots on inside. Once my hand get cold I sometimes never recover. It takes me a long time to tie my boots, so I'd freeze trying to do it outside.  It can be difficult to get laces tight, especially down at the lower laces.  Some people like to keep them a little loose to minimize pressure on the foot and still keep responsiveness by keeping the boot tighter elsewhere. It can be painful on the fingers to get the laces tight on the lower foot. I use a hockey lace puller that I got from a local sporting goods shop. It makes it easy to get it as tight as I need to.
Next, we get into the real issue that has been eating at me for awhile. And that is lacing/tying the boot.  There are two main issues here.  One is tying the boot tight in the places you want it tight and the second is tying it so it stays tight and doesn't work its way loose every run.  Recall the flex your ankle soap Box from earlier?  Well every toe side turn you are pressing into the tongue and pressing against your shoelace.  So it is no wonder that you can work your boot loose.  I find this vague feeling and delayed reaction in turning edge-to edge when my boot tops are even the slightest loose
So there are entire web pages devoted to shoe lacing. This guy is amazing, but we'll get to his shoe lace knot in a minute. We still need a few more tricks for tightening.  When lacing and tying the upper part of the boot, it can be hard to pull hard enough, and you want to keep them from loosening.  This you tube video shows a trick for helping with that.  One thing that isn't highlighted in it though is that incredible leverage that doing it this way gives you for pulling the lace tight.  You basically create a mini pulley.  Right at 1:19 you can see that he's clipped one lace on a loop and is getting ready to do the other lace. There is that twist in the lace that he is pulling against. You can pull really tight here and wrench down and it's much easier to get it tight then if you didn't do this.  I do this twit thing all the way up the boot.
There is also another technique in this article about strategies to help keep the boot from loosening.
Ok, now the part I have struggled with and am still not sure I've completely mastered. Tying a shoelace that doesn't come loose.  I tried regular shoe lace knots, and double shoelace knots to no success.  I tried this surgeon's shoe lace knot, and could get the knot tied ok, but had trouble keeping tension onto the lace around my shin. So while the knot would stay tight, there was already some slack from not keeping the lace tight on the shin when the knot was made.
Right now I am experimenting with this Ian's Secure knot. It seems to be the best one for being able to keep tension on the lace against the shin and then creating a knot that does not come loose and is easy to undo. 
Oh, I also like to do a wrap all the way around my shin before doing the knot, but am not sure I've got enough to do this knot with and do that.  I really need new laces, I've got two different ones on there, and neither are very good.  I think there are some better aftermarket laces out there that I would benefit from trying.
So, the goal I am striving for is keeping my feet drier, setting the foot correctly in the boot, getting the ankle harness JUST right, tiring the boot tight, and keeping it tight.  I struggle with all of these components, and constantly had been re-tying the boot, or loosening or tightening he ankle strap. I am annoying to ride with because I always have to make Minor adjustments. I am not there yet, but am hopeful that this new Ian's secure knot will help me get to where I want to be.
Of course, I think about a triple BOA boot all the time. But they are very expensive. I have broken plenty of parts on the mountain before from laces to bindings, know that it is not impossible to have problems. I think a triple is the only BOA I would get to ensure that the ankle tightness is completely independent from the upper or lower. But until then, with hope these strategies here will help my riding and maintain consistency through the day.