Buying dirt bike boots is a lot like buying a helmet–you can either buy good ones the first time, or you can waste your money until you finally get something of quality that will last you for years.
This post is pretty thorough with lots of information, but here’s the short version of my recommendation on dirt bike boots: It’s worth spending a little more on boots. While riders who push hard or want to spend the big bucks will see nice benefits in the $500 boots, you can really get a good pair for around $200. My recommendation for a good quality dirt bike boot for a reasonable price is the Fox Racing Instinct boots (click here to see them on Amazon). Those are the boots that I wear and I’ve been extremely happy with the value and quality of those boots.
I’m not trying to convince you to spend more money. I’m trying to SAVE you money because if you get a decent pair, you’ll be happy with them and they’ll last for years–no need to buy another pair in 6 months. Also, no pair of cheap boots I’ve ever tested have had anywhere near the amount of protection that I see standard in boots that are just slightly more expensive.
Why I Chose the Fox Instinct Boots
For me, the Fox Instinct boots are the Goldilocks option. They aren’t too expensive, but they aren’t too cheap. They maybe don’t have all the flashy features of the $500+ boots, but they feel dramatically better than the cheapo entry-level boots. They have exceptional ankle and crush protection, but they still allow me to walk around comfortably and feel the bike. This one is juuuuust right. The boots aren’t perfect, but they are a perfect fit for most weekend warriors.
Comparing the Fox to the cheaper entry-level boots, there are some obvious differences. The first thing you’ll notice is that they look much more high end, and once you put them on you’ll feel how much more solid they are. The toe box and sole are extremely rigid. In fact, the toe box may be even a bit too rigid for my liking. I do feel like my toes are just a little more cramped than I would prefer, but I realize this is also a safety feature to keep the footprint of the front of the boot narrow and less likely to get trapped between the ground and the footpeg.
I love the way Fox went about ankle protection on this boot. On cheap boots, they feel like they protect your ankle in the store when the boots are new, but as they wear in, the ankle is not as well protected. They essentially rely on stiff leather to protect the ankle. Not so on the Fox. They have a rigid thermoplastic heel cup that keeps the foot straight, and the protection slowly tapers between the ankle and the bottom of the calf to allow for good flexibility when walking.
I also like the feel of these boots on the bike. They have a suede inside panel to protect you from heat and also to allow you to grip the bike. Some other boots have a slicker plasticy material in this spot and it makes it difficult to maintain a good grip on the bike. While the suede is good, I would have preferred something even grippier like a rubberized material.
These boots are not perfect, however. I don’t like the buckle design since they sometimes come undone while riding. I have heard other riders complaining about this as well. This is a common issue with many dirt bike boots and not just the Fox, but I feel like some other boots do better with their buckle designs.
I considered several other boots when I bought, but I like that the Fox has aluminum buckles instead of plastic like almost every other boot in this price range.
I found the Fox Instinct boots to perfectly match my normal shoe size, but they do run SLIGHTLY small for some people. So if you normally wear a half size like 10.5, then get an 11. If you normally wear an even size (10, 11, 12, etc), then just get your normal size. For me, I usually wear a 10.5 so I got an 11 and it’s perfect. The sizing isn’t weird, so I felt comfortable buying these boots on Amazon, and the price was the exact same as all the stores I went to.
Safety and Dirt Bike Boots
There is only one reason to wear dirt bike boots–they are safer. They protect your ankle when you are driving at speed and your foot gets caught between the ground and the foot peg. They protect your calf from touching the hot engine parts and getting burned. They protect your shins from impact when you crash. After a helmet, the most important piece of dirt bike protective gear is the boots.
On average, 35% of all broken bones from dirt biking occur below the knee. I have not found any good studies on what percentage of those bone breaks were while wearing boots, but my personal guess is that a very significant portion of those breaks are because the rider was not wearing an adequate boot. When I go ride at some of my favorite dirt bike tracks near Boise, I see tons of people wearing hiking boots rather than a real motocross boot.
The video below shows a rider who simply falls over at VERY low speed and breaks his leg in three places–all because he was not wearing full-length high-quality dirt bike boot. In a good boot, he would have simply hopped up and kept riding with no pain or injury.
Many of the less expensive dirt bike boots have poor ankle support. Most of the cheap boots just have thick canvas and only a slight amount of sewn in plastic to create an ankle cup. I don’t think that’s sufficiently protective. They feel solid when you try the boots on in the store and that you can’t easily twist your ankle. However, once the leather wears in after a few rides, the protection is gone and they are only slightly more protective than a leather hiking boot.
The next important factor is crush protection. Some boots provide little to no crush protection. That’s one of the problems with the disaster broken leg in the video above. The boot protects the toe and some small amount of protection on the ankle, but the upper portion of the leg has almost no protection at all. The floppy leather does nothing to protect the shin bone. A good dirt bike boot should have thermoplastic TPU material covering the shin bone all the way to the top of the boot. Shin bones are one of the most common breaks in dirt biking, so don’t skimp on this protection.
Unfortunately, even with proper protection you’re not guaranteed you won’t be injured, however, your chances of being able to walk away on both feet will be greatly improved. My brother knows all about it.. He was testing a new jump on a motocross track they had just built. He over-jumped, missed the down-ramp and compressed hard on landing. He wound up in the hospital with plates and pins in his left ankle after it blew out – even with boots on. No riding for Limpy for 6 months! If you ride without quality boot protection though, these types of injuries can occur from minor mishaps. Seriously, it ain’t worth the risk!
When it comes to buying a new pair of dirt bike boots, make sure they fit your feet correctly and they are comfortable. There are a whole heap of different styles and brands out there. Many have all the ‘bells and whistles’ but if you have feet like a hobbit and the best looking boots on the rack give you nothing but pain and discomfort.. don’t buy them! You may have to try on a number of different styles before you find the right dirt bike boots for you, but taking the time to do this will reward you with pain-free riding.
It can be uncomfortable to wear all of the dirt bike protective gear on a hot summer day of riding dirt bikes. If you don’t get comfortable gear, you’ll find yourself not wearing all of it and putting yourself at risk. In my opinion, the boots have more to do with your comfort when riding more than any other piece of gear.
A key part of boot comfort is flexibility in the ankle, which does more than just keeping you comfortable–it allows you to use the brake and gear shifter. On boots without good ankle flexation, it can be difficult to feel the gear shifter because they are so stiff that you can’t feel the click at the top of the shifter’s movement. Also, boots that are too wide tend to get caught on things when you’re reaching forward with your right foot for the little foot brake. Comfort is important not only to keep you happy, but to make you a better rider.
All of the boot manufacturers advertise the ventilation of their boots and the airflow, which frankly I find a little funny. Let’s just all admit that NONE of these boots will allow air to flow into your boot while riding. They are skin tight and have no external air vents that allow air to pass through. They are all hot, so I wouldn’t worry about “ventilation” or “airflow” claims by the marketing people.
What About the High-End Boots?
If you are looking for the best boots money can buy, then I’d buy the Gaerne SG-12 boots (click to check them out on Amazon). Many pro riders have chosen these boots and they get almost exclusively 5-star reviews everywhere they are sold. The two features that set these boots apart are (1) the memory foam ankle support which is very comfortable, and (2) the exceptional buckle design which is easy to latch but never seems to come undone accidentally. They definitely provide a more protective boot, but that’s also the chief complaint against these boots–they are more rigid than most people are used to.
Another solid choice for high-end boots is the Fox Instinct boots (click to view on Amazon). They are not as rigid (and probably slightly less protective) than the Gaerne boots, but they are far more comfortable than the Gaerne. These boots have what Fox calls a Dynamic Core Stabilizer with pivots and joints that control the ankle movement. This makes them easy to break in and wear comfortably while still providing good quality protection.
Another good option is the tried-and-true AlpineStars Tech 10 boots (click to view on Amazon). These are probably the most popular of the high-end boots, but for me personally I think I’d go with the Gaerne SG-12 boots if I were dropping this much money on a boot. One nice feature of these boots is that they often include a removable inner boot. However, this is not a feature on all high-end boots, and some people don’t like the removable inserts as they feel they make the inside of the boot feel floppy.
Features To Look For in Dirt Bike Boots
- Comfortable interior ankle padding.
- Reinforced leather plates running along the back of the boot.
- Full leather uppers.
- Aluminum quick-release buckles.
- Curved plastic or composite shin plates.
- High grip rubber outside soles with steel inner plates.
- Inners/linings that prevent water entry.
- Plate guards for the inner and outer toe-box area.
As with my recommendations on buying a motocross helmet – When purchasing from the internet see if you can try on the exact pair of boots first to get the right fit. Not every boot is cut the same and therefore some will provide more comfort than others. Riding for hours in boots that cut into your feet and cause blisters sucks and will have you whining like a British schoolgirl, so make sure you buy the right ones!
Maintaining & Getting The Most Out Of Your Dirt Bike Boots
Here are a few tricks to help stretch the time between purchasing new boots.
- Clean ’em after each ride and dry them out (in the hot water cylinder cupboard if necessary). Leaving them in the back of your shed wet and covered in mud will prematurely weaken the integrity of the boot. And once boots become loose and flimsy they offer about as much protection as a Chihuahua guarding an ice cream truck against a horde of 8-year-olds on a spanking hot day.
- When not in use clip the buckles in place to prevent them from getting damaged while bouncing around in the back of your truck.
- Avoid leaving them in the sun during summer. Extended periods of direct sunlight will crispy that leather up like bacon strips in a frying pan.
- Don’t let your big-footed mates use ’em. Tell them you have a terrible fungal foot infection that just won’t go away.