Planning for an expedition in the Alps this year? Find out how to get the right boots for your next adventure.
Alpine climbing boots
If you're planning on doing some serious mountain climbing this season, you'll need to decide what kind of mountaineering boots to take. There are several factors to consider when choosing boots of this kind. Thinking about how technical the climb is as well as the terrain, altitude and climate before purchasing a boot will all help you achieve the right balance between protection, safety, and performance.
Comfort is also an important factor when choosing a mountaineering boot. Discomfort leads to pain, blisters and a greater risk of accident. A semi-rigid or rigid sole and more durable upper take some getting used to, and they will certainly not provide as much comfort as a flexible boot or shoe. However, these features are there for a reason, so don't risk replacing them for flexible boots or trekking shoes just because these are more comfortable as these would not offer the same level of performance during activity.
Whatever footwear is you decide to choose, safety should always be the most important factor behind your choice.
SEMI-RIGID OR RIGID BOOTS?
One of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to choose a fully rigid or semi-rigid boot. This will depend on how technical your activity is going to be.
Semi-rigid boots (also categorized as B2) are the best choice for three-season mountaineering. These are the most popular and are perfect for non-technical ascents in winter (e.g. 3,000m Pyrenean peaks). The semi-rigid sole has less flex than a hiking or trekking shoe or boot, but enough for comfort when walking. This kind of sole gives enough support in complicated areas, on crests, scree slopes or patches of snow and gives good protection and balance when carrying heavy loads.
La Sportiva Trango Cube GTX, a good example of a semi-rigid boot
The sole is usually (but not always) compatible with semi-automatic crampons and it is limited to non-technical areas in winter conditions, such as glacier walking.
Rigid boots (B3)
The best kept secret of a technical mountaineering boot
The mid-sole of a boot has a hidden element that plays an essential role: the shank. This insert gives the right amount of stiffness to a sole.
The shank in a rigid mountaineering boot is full-length and non-deformable, for guaranteed performance.
And here lies one of the greatest advancements in footwear materials of the past ten years. Shanks used to be made of steel, which made them stiff but also heavy.
Nowadays, boot shanks are made from PU (polyurethane), fibreglass or even, in the most advanced boots, carbon, which provides total rigidity with minimum weight.
This is one of the secrets that has allowed manufacturers to reduce the weight of a boot by up to 400 grams, resulting in reduced fatigue and increased safety in the mountains.
Top: full-length rigid shank (5); Bottom: semi-rigid shank (3-4)
The flexibility of a shank is usually classified from 1 (most flexible) to 5 (most rigid). Rigid boots have a No.5 shank, while semi-rigid boots have a No. 3-4. As you can see above, greater flexibility is usually achieved by reducing material.
Boots with a rigid sole are necessary for technical winter mountaineering, ice-climbing and couloir ascents. They are usually compatible with automatic crampons and the completely rigid sole offers the performance required on technical mountain climbs.
Only rigid boots can be used with crampons for ice climbing and couloir ascents. When digging in the front crampon points on an ice climb, your entire weight is on those two points, which means your soles need to act as a platform and be as stiff as possible.
A totally rigid sole is essential for alpine climbing.
The main problem with rigid-sole boots is discomfort on approaches and hikes. However, it should be said that nowadays, rigid boots are not nearly as uncomfortable as some years ago due to the designs, materials or cuff flex.
The category of rigid boots is divided into two sub-categories:
SINGLE VS. DOUBLE BOOTS
These are the most popular nowadays and what makes them different from double boots is that they don't have a removable liner. Single boots in the past were bulky and heavy, but years of R+D have led to lighter materials and modern, low-profile designs. Today single boots offer greater protection, are lighter and less bulky. Lighter boots reduce fatigue and therefore enhance safety, while reduced volume increases agility. Other features, such as modern, more comfortable last designs and reduced seams provide a level of comfort that was unimaginable in the recent past.
Some single boots offer exceptional warmth-to-weight ratios, thanks to the inner layers made of the latest thermal materials. The most popular models with technical designs and an integrated gaiter, include the Boreal Stetind
, The North Face Verto S6K Extreme
or La Sportiva Batura 2.0.
These kinds of boots are highly recommended for climbing north face walls and in cold climates. In fact, they perform extremely well and have replaced double boots in many situations.
Boreal Stetind, a good example of a single boot with integrated gaiter
The progress of modern mountaineering and access to the mountains are becoming easier, which means that nowadays C2C (Car to Car)
activities are extremely popular. This has led to a surge in sales of single boots for ice-climbing, corridors and technical routes. The following models are highly appreciated for their low weight and thermal capacity: Bestard Fitz Roy
, Nepal Evo GTX
, Nepal EVO GTX Woman
, Boreal Kangri Bi-Flex
, or Nepal Cube GTX.
Bestard Fitz Roy
Single boots offer the optimum combination of technical features, comfort, agility and thermal protection.
However, there are still occasions when a single boot just isn't enough, such as expeditions, extreme climates, or multi-day activities. In these cases, double boots are essential.
Unlike single boots, double boots have a removable liner that offers even greater thermal capacity. This extra warmth is essential for high-altitude mountaineering
, not just because you experience extremely low temperatures, but because