Boot: 2020-2021 Dynafit Hoji Free
Test Locations: Chugach Range & Alyeska Resort, AK
Days Tested: 8
Stated Flex: 130
Available Sizes: 25–31.5
Stated Width (size 27.5): 102 mm
Stated Range of Motion: 55°
Stated Forward Lean: 17°
Size Tested: 27.5
Stated Boot Sole Length (size 27.5): 310 mm
Blister’s Measured Weight (27.5):
- Shells, no Liners: 1317 & 1332 g
- Liners, no Footbeds: 331 & 325 g
- Shells + Liners = 1648 & 1657 g
- 1 traditional upper buckle (linked to walk mechanism)
- 1 ratchet-style ankle buckle
- 1 reversed toe buckle
Power Strap: 44mm-wide, cam-style (linked to walk mechanism)
- Cuff: Grilamid reinforced w/ glass fibers
- Shoe / Clog: Grilamid
Soles: Pomoca full-rubber, rockered
Tech Fittings: Dynafit Quick Step-in
Reviewer: 6′, 195 lbs
Skis / Bindings Used:
- DPS Alchemist Wailer 106 C2, 189 cm / Tyrolia AAAttack2 13 AT
- Moment Wildcat Tour, 190 cm / Fritschi Tecton 12
- Black Diamond Helio 116 Carbon, 186 cm / Fritschi Xenic 12
- Volkl BMT 122, 186 cm / Marker Alpinist 12
- DPS Spoon, 190 cm / Dynafit Radical FT12
[Note: Our review was conducted on the 19/20 Hoji Free, which returns unchanged for 20/21.]
For the 18/19 season, Dynafit introduced the Hoji series of freeride touring boots that included the Hoji Pro Tour our reviewer David Steele reviewed. He was a fan, though the boot does have its quirks and it isn’t the stiffest option in the category.
Then in November of 2018, there was news of a new boot, the Hoji Free. We actually talked with Eric Hjoreleifson himself about the boot, and that GEAR:30 conversation is worth a listen for more on the background of the boot and its development.
The Hoji Free maintains many of the design elements of the other Hoji boots, but the Hoji Free has a toe welt that makes it compatible with MNC alpine bindings and a wider variety of AT bindings, and Dynafit claimed the Hoji Free would “bring free touring to a new level with a greater stiffness and a tighter fit.”
I’ve been skiing the Hoji Free here in Alaska for several months alongside a number of other boots in this category, so here’s my take on the Hoji Free and where it slots into the competitive market of freeride touring boots.
Dynafit Hoji Free vs. other Dynafit Hoji Boots
As mentioned on our podcast with Hoji, there are several notable differences between the Hoji Free and the rest of the Hoji boot lineup.
Apart from the Hoji Free being the stiffest boot in the lineup, it also features a different lower shell with a slightly narrower stated last width (stated 102 mm vs. 103.5 mm). Dynafit also claims the heel pocket is lower volume on the Hoji Free, and as I’ll get into below, the instep height on the Hoji Free is very low.
The Hoji Free also ditches Dynafit’s “Speed Nose,” which is used on the other Hoji boots. The Speed Nose design lacks a toe welt, which allows for a more natural walking stride by moving the pivot point closer to your toes. But it also means that the other Hoji boots will not work in MNC alpine bindings like the Salomon / Atomic Warden, Tyrolia “AT” bindings, Marker Soler I.D. bindings as well as MNC touring bindings like the Salomon / Atomic Shift, Marker Duke PT, and frame bindings like the Tyrolia AAAdrenalin, Marker Baron, and Salomon Guardian. I.e., the Speed Nose significantly limited the other Hoji boots in terms of which bindings you could use with them.
The Hoji Free features a traditional toe welt and will reportedly work with all of those MNC bindings, and it’ll also work with a wider range of crampons thanks to the toe welt.
The Hoji Free’s stated forward lean is also different, with Dynafit saying the Hoji Free’s forward lean is 17° while the other Hoji boots’ stated forward lean is 11°.
The Hoji Free doesn’t feature any changes when it comes to the “Hoji Lock” walk mechanism or buckle layout, though its power strap is a bit wider and beefier overall than the Hoji Pro Tour’s power strap. Finally, the Hoji Free features a Sidas-branded, heat-moldable liner, while the liners in the other Hoji boots are still heat moldable but are made by Dynafit.
One other thing to note is that, while the Hoji Free returns unchanged for the 20/21 season, Dynafit is adding the Hoji Free 110, which maintains the same design as the Hoji Free but with a softer flex pattern.
While the Hoji Pro Tour is one of the lightest options in the “freeride touring” category, the Hoji Free is significantly heavier; the size 27.5 Hoji Free we weighed is about 266 grams heavier per boot than the size 26.5 Hoji Pro Tour we weighed.
For reference, below are a number of our measured weights for some other notable boots (keep in mind the size differences). Our measured weights show the size of boot, then the weight of each boot + the weight of each liner, then the total weight for shells + liners, listed in grams:
Scarpa Maestrale RS (24.5 / 25.0): 1053 & 1057 + 244 & 245 = 1297 & 1302 g
Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro (26.5): 1099 & 1100 + 210 & 211 = 1309 & 1311 g
Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour (26.5): 1169 & 1174 + 214 & 215 = 1383 & 1389 g
Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130, 19/20 (26.5): 1130 & 1132 + 276 & 282 = 1406 & 1414 g
Salomon MTN Explore (26.5): 1126 & 1135 + 281 & 281 = 1407 & 1416 g
Scarpa Maestrale XT (26.5 / 27.0): 1258 & 1258 + 247 & 252 = 1505 & 1510 g
Head Kore 1 (26.5): 1132 & 1136 + 392 & 393 = 1524 & 1527 g
Salomon S/Lab MTN (26.5): 1257 & 1246 + 288 & 303 = 1545 & 1549 g
Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130, 20/21 (26.5): 1147 & 1150 + 403 & 404 = 1550 & 1554 g
Fischer Ranger Free 130 (26.5): 1204 & 1204 + 348 & 351 = 1552 & 1555 g
Roxa R3 130 T.I. (27.5): 1319 & 1320 + 263 & 263 = 1582 & 1583 g
Dynafit Hoji Free (27.5): 1317 & 1332 + 331 & 325 = 1648 & 1657 g
Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130 (26.5): 1242 & 1249 + 408 & 410 = 1650 & 1659 g
Salomon QST Pro TR 130 (26.5): 1389 & 1391 + 273 & 274 = 1662 & 1665 g
K2 Mindbender 130 (26.5): 1428 & 1427 + 346 & 348 = 1774 & 1775 g
Lange XT3 130 LV (26.5): 1407 & 1410 + 368 & 368 = 1775 & 1778 g
Nordica Strider Pro 130 DYN (27.5): 1445 & 1440 + 363 & 373 = 1808 & 1813
Lange XT Free 130 LV (27.5): 1472 & 1473 + 376 & 376 = 1848 & 1849 g
Dalbello Lupo Pro HD w/o Tongues (26.5): 1589 & 1596 + 266 & 267 = 1855 & 1863 g
Full Tilt Ascendant (27.5): 1613 & 1615 & + 308 & 311 = 1921 & 1926 g
Tecnica Cochise 130 DYN (25.5): 1493 & 1496 + 440 & 441 = 1933 & 1937 g
Dalbello Lupo Pro HD w/ Tongues (26.5): 1747 & 1754 + 266 & 267 = 2013 & 2021 g
This is the part where we tell you to go to your bootfitter to figure out what kind of boots to get. And while we will keep saying that for every boot we review since fit is the most important factor, it’s even more important with the Hoji Free.
The fit of this boot is unlike any boot I’ve ever tried, and at least to me, the fit of the Hoji Free goes well beyond normal variations. For reference, I’ve been told by experienced bootfitters that I have a low-volume heel and ankle, high instep, and medium-width forefoot. My most common problem area is my high instep followed by a frequent need for a 5th metatarsal or “6th toe” punch.
The primary issue I had with the Hoji Free is the extremely low instep height of the boot. I acknowledge that I have a high instep and have had this issue with other boots, but I can’t recall another pair where the problem was so extreme. I have also spoken with multiple other skiers who have had the same issue. The lower shell of the Hoji Free absolutely crushes my instep area, even without buckling the lowest buckle. My usual boot fitting strategy to deal with this is to remove and grind down the boot board, but the rubbery feeling boot board of the Hoji Free is glued firmly into the lower shell and Dynafit does not recommend attempting to remove it.
I contacted Dynafit and it was clear that I am not the only person who has experienced this. They responded saying that their recommended approach is to heat the shell with a heat gun and then insert a large cylinder, such as a wine bottle, into the throat of the boot to expand the instep area. I did this myself but I also have a lot of experience heating and manipulating Grilamid shells and I would highly recommend leaving this kind of project to your local bootfitter for fear of seriously damaging the shells (Dynafit says the shell of the Hoji Free will take punches but is not fully heat moldable like the shells of something like the Atomic Hawx XTD series).
After I’d followed Dynafit’s instructions, my instep pain was tolerable but I still couldn’t use the stock liners, even with some modifications to those liners. I ended up using a very low-volume Intuition liner (from the Scarpa Alien RS) for all of the ski touring I did in the Hoji Free. Doing that, I got them to the point where I could go ski in them for the day but they were never comfortable and I had to tweak the lower shell opening so much that It was possible for small amounts of snow to creep in around the tongue.
The rest of the boot actually feels fairly high volume, even before any mods, with lots of extra room around my heel and ankle and ample space across the toe box. I did not feel the need to create extra space for my fifth metatarsal head, which is something I frequently have to do. With the stock liner, I had decent ankle hold (for the brief skiing I could tolerate due to the instep issue) but the lower-volume liner I had to resort to left the ankle and heel pocket feeling pretty voluminous.
I’ll provide a few fit comparisons in our AT Boot Deep Dive comparisons but, in short, I’d put the overall fit of the Hoji Free somewhere between the very high-volume Scarpa Maestrale series and the slightly slimmer-fitting Tecnica Zero G, with the exception of the Hoji Free’s much lower instep.
Like the other Hoji boots, the Hoji Free features three buckles. There’s a buckle over the forefoot that’s reversed to help avoid accidentally flipping it open while scrambling, a ratchet-style buckle over the instep, and a single buckle on the cuff that, along with the power strap, is actuated in one motion when flipping the walk-mechanism lever (more on that later). All of the buckles on the Hoji Free are micro-adjustable.
The Hoji Free comes stock with a stated forward lean of 17°. The other Hoji boots have a stated forward lean of 11°, and Dynafit says the added 6° of forward lean in the Hoji Free stems from its added “spoiler” that’s attached to the top of the cuff (not the liner). Removing it would mean getting the same 11° forward lean of the other Hoji boots, though the spoiler on our pair is riveted to the cuff, so removal would be tricky. I personally got along quite well with the forward lean on the Hoji Free but potential buyers should be aware that the Hoji Free doesn’t offer super easy forward lean adjustment.
The Hoji Free’s power strap is 44 mm wide and features a cam-style closure and a toggle that makes it easy to open. As I just noted, the power strap can be opened and closed with the walk mechanism of the boot.
The Hoji Free features a Pomoca-branded, full-rubber, rockered sole. The main difference between it and the soles on the other Hoji boots is the toe welt of the Hoji Free, which makes its sole fall into the ISO 9523 category and consequently compatible with MNC bindings.
The Sidas liner that comes with the Hoji Free is quite nice overall. It is heat moldable, has a smooth inner lining that helps when getting the boot on and off, and appears to have nice reinforcement in areas of the liner that will experience frequent friction while touring. It also has a removable tongue and it appears that one can purchase replacement tongues from Sidas. It’s unclear to me but it looks like you could purchase a tongue that would increase the overall stiffness of the boot, though I’m guessing most people wouldn’t need to do so (keep reading).
The included liner is among the heavier liners out there on the touring-specific boots we’ve used. Its weight and design are probably most comparable to Fischer Ranger Free liner which is also quite nice and comfortable with a plastic-reinforced tongue like that on the Hoji Free.
I did heat mold my pair and got some increased contouring around the heel / ankle but unfortunately did not gain an appreciable space around the instep.
The Hoji Lock walk mechanism is the core of this boot’s design and it is a unique and impressive piece of engineering. Essentially, there are multiple parts of the shell that move in coordination with the throw of the single lever on the back of the boot and come together into a very solid connection between the upper and lower shell with redundant contact points. The same flipping of the lever also pulls tight the upper buckle and the very nice, supportive power strap to your preset tightness.
Dynafit put together a nice, quick video showing how the Hoji Lock system works, which is worth a watch below. The boot shown in the video is the Hoji Pro Tour but the functionality of the Hoji Lock system is identical in the Hoji Free.
If you don’t need to adjust the bottom two buckles and you’re happy with the upper buckle and power strap tightness, it really is a one-motion operation to transition the boot between ascent and descent. Flipping the lever does take a bit of effort, especially if the buckles and power strap are set up pretty tight, but it’s not much harder than some other boots with similar one-motion setups like the Dynafit TLT7 or even the Scarpa Alien RS.
It does take some trial and error to figure out where to position the buckles to get the right amount of tightness when switching to the descent mode. I frequently found myself going back and tightening or loosing the top buckle or power strap after I had flipped the Hoji Lock lever into descent mode. I also prefer to leave my lower buckles loose when touring and then tighten them when for descent, which meant I still had to flip those closed during transitions. For my foot and preferences, I think I spent only slightly less time dealing with boot buckles than I would on a touring boot with a more conventional walk mechanism like a Scarpa Maestrale or Tecnica Zero G. Your mileage may vary, depending on your feet and how you tend to buckle your boots on the up and down.
When clipped into descent mode, there is zero perceptible movement / play in the cuff and shell and the whole thing feels very solid. I’ll get more into this below in the downhill performance section. When flipped up into ascent mode, the range of motion (aka, “ROM”) of the Hoji Free is as good as many boots that are much lighter like the new Atomic Backland Carbon that I recently reviewed (again, more on this below).
The Hoji Lock worked quite well with the stock liner but once I swapped out to the more comfortable (for me) Intuition liner, I had issues with certain buckles and the power strap getting caught on the shell and requiring some fidgeting and unbuckling to get the whole thing to come together. So keep that in mind if you often swap to aftermarket liners in your AT boots.
The Hoji Free’s excellent ROM combined with its relatively short BSL yielded very comfortable touring, whether going up steep skin tracks, skinning the flats, or hiking and climbing with my skis off my feet. I had no issues with Hoji Free on the ascent. I’ll dive into specific comparisons with a few similarly stiff boots in our Deep Dive comparisons but the Hoji Free is as good as it gets when it comes to freedom of movement for a boot that is this stiff on the descents.
I’m not sure where else to include it, so I’ll add here that I do always appreciate Dynafit’s Quick Step-In toe inserts and I believe that they do work slightly better than other inserts for getting into any brand of pin / tech bindings. I wish these were more prevalent in other brands’ boots.
Overall, the Hoji Free is a very stiff-flexing touring boot. I’ve skied a lot of boots with walk modes and I would say that the Hoji Free is at the very upper echelon in terms of stiffness and is the stiffest-flexing dedicated touring boot under 1800 grams that I’ve skied. It’s only a little stiffer than it’s competition, but the Hoji Free has a very strong forward flex. As subjective as such things are, I would say that the Hoji Free is an honest “130” flex.
Laterally and in the rearward direction, the Hoji Free is similarly very powerful. As mentioned above, the walk mechanism has no play in descent mode, has redundant contact points, and this is reflected in how the boot feels when skiing. It truly feels like the upper and lower cuff are bolted together once you flip the walk mechanism into ski mode.
Dynafit claims that the Hoji Free has a progressive flex and this feature is much touted in their marketing for the boot. So, is it really a “progressive” 130 flex? In short, yes. Even when just “carpet testing” in the living room with other touring and alpine boots, the Hoji Free has a nice, quick ramp-up in stiffness as the ankle is flexed forward.
Unlike its predecessor and longtime favorite boot of mine, the Dynafit Vulcan, the Hoji Free flexes through the ankle much more like an alpine boot. Whereas the Vulcan ramped up and kind of hit a wall (this was even worse with the Dynafit Mercury that had small tabs in the shell that arrested the fairly moderate flex of the upper cuff), the Hoji Free ramps up smoothly over the first few cm’s of flexion. This not only provides extra confidence when pushing hard and skiing fast but it also provides a bit of pop and push back between turns (this is most notable in firm snow).
I don’t think there’s currently a <1700 gram boot on the market that is stiffer and has a more progressive flex. A strong skier should have no trouble skiing fast on big skis with these boots. For inbounds skiing I still much prefer the even smoother flex and much more damp feel of my dedicated alpine boots (many of which are several hundred grams heavier), but the Hoji Free is plenty powerful / stiff enough for inbounds skiing.
Similar to what I experienced with the Fischer Ranger Free 130, the Hoji Free’s relatively thin, stiff Grilamid lower shell translates a lot of snow texture and feel back to the skier. On the positive side, this can be kind of cool, especially on fairly smooth surfaces where the extra feedback might provide increased control. On the other hand, once things got a bit bumpier I missed the damp feeling of heavier, non-Grlilamid alpine boots. Overall, the Hoji Free would work as an inbounds boot in regard to stiffness, but it’s a harsher ride vs. most heavier alpine boots.
The Hoji Free has a pretty complicated walk mechanism with lots of cables running to the various buckles in the upper cuff. I could see potential for issues with this but I have had no problems myself and have not heard of anyone else having any, either. Like all modern touring boots, the Hoji Free has fairly thin rubber soles compared to some older AT boots but I think they will do just fine for years of touring and scrambling. As always, we’ll update this review if we run into durability issues down the line.
Who’s It For?
The Hoji Free is unlike any other boot on the market in that it offers a combination of class-leading range of motion and a very stiff, but still reasonably progressive flex. That said, the Hoji Free also weighs in at almost 1700 grams for a size 27.5, putting it almost 300 grams heavier than the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, nearly 150 grams heavier than the Scarpa Maestrale XT, and a bit lighter than many of the 4-buckle “50/50” boots we’ve reviewed like the Tecnica Cochise 130 and Lange XT Free 130. Those last three boots are very close to the Hoji Free in terms of all-out stiffness.
The Hoji Free’s walk mechanism is certainly well-engineered and may well represent a new benchmark, but for me, it has still required some fidgeting with my lower buckles and sometimes the upper buckles each time at the top and bottom of my runs. So at least for me, I’m not sure that the single-throw function is worth the added weight and complexity. I could totally imagine eating my words with future iterations of this design, but as of now, I think people who buy this boot should spend some time in the shop playing with it to see if they can comfortably take advantage of the single-motion transition. And that said, even if you can’t get the ideal single-motion transition, it’s not slower to transition than other boots.
Then there’s the fit, with which I really struggled but some others might obviously love. I just suspect this boot may be more polarizing than most due to the low instep and higher-volume fit throughout the rest of the boot.
Given all of that, I would recommend the Hoji Free to strong, aggressive skiers who don’t care too much about having the lightest gear but who prioritize excellent touring range of motion and a very stiff and supportive flex in every direction. I think many people will be fine in some of the softer “130 flex” touring boots on the market, but those seeking the stiffest touring boot that still walks really well should consider the Hoji Free.
The Dynafit Hoji Free is an impressive feat of boot engineering that combines best-in-class touring range of motion with a very powerful and pretty progressive flex. The fit will exclude some skiers and the heavier weight may exclude others. But for those who prioritize range of motion and a powerful flex above all else, this is the boot… as long as it fits your feet.
Deep Dive Comparisons
Become a Blister Member or Deep Dive subscriber to check out our Deep Dive of 130-Flex AT boots where we compare the Hoji Free, Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130, Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130, Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro, Scarpa Maestrale XT, Lange XT3 130, K2 Mindbender 130, Fischer Ranger Free 130, Dalbello Lupo Factory, & Dalbello Lupo Pro HD.