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.
The best kept secret of a technical mountaineering bootThe 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.
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.
The category of rigid boots is divided into two sub-categories:
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 La Sportiva G5, Scarpa Phantom Tech, or Boreal Stetind
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.
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, Salewa Vultur Vertical GTX, or Nepal Cube GTX.
The advantage of being able to remove the boot liner means you can let it dry out over night. A typical mountaineering trick is to put the liner in your sleeping bag with you for the night, so that by morning it is warm and dry. This is perfect for multi-day activities where the liner becomes damp from perspiration at the end of each day. If the liner is not dried out each night, it remains damp and uncomfortable the following day. In fact, it is not uncommon for this humidity to freeze during the night, which increases discomfort and can even lead to frostbite.
The drawback of double boots is that the liner requires a bigger shell, which is why they tend to be heavier and bulkier than single boots. This is a handicap for technical alpine climbing, which benefits from a low-volume boot that can fit into cracks and give greater precision on holds.
The new generation of single boots means that double boots are now mainly used for expeditions at high altitudes (Andes, Himalayas) and for when greater thermal protection is required. However, this distinction is not all black and white, and there is some cross-over. Some double boots, such as Bestard Top Extreme Lite." class=enlacey rel=nofollow>Bestard Top Extreme Lite, offer slightly less thermal capacity and have a lower profile, so they perform well on technical activities in cold temperatures at lower altitudes, where a single alpine boot would otherwise be used.
The Arc'teryx Acrux AR GTX and La Sportiva G2 SM do not have the same thermal capacity and are not designed for the same use, but they are both extraordinary examples of how research into new materials and designs can completely revolutionize mountain footwear.
The Upper: a Piece of ArmourAn alpine climbing boot has to offer total protection, not just from the cold, but also from impact against stones or falling rocks or ice. So it has to be tough and durable and usually has a rubber reinforcement on the sides and toes for increased protection.
In the past, boots were reinforced with durable materials, such as thick leather or stiff plastic. Both materials were bulky and heavy. But just like the shank, these materials have evolved. PU, Kevlar and other materials, have achieved lighter, more low-profile designs without sacrificing durability and protection.
Of course, all of these boots must also offer maximum protection against the elements. To do so, they incorporate a waterproof, breathable membrane â in most cases a Gore-Tex membrane specially designed for footwear.
However, although these boots excel on the vertical, they tend to lack support and stability when walking on rough terrain and snow. Walking across a steep slope is the best example of this. The lateral reinforcements give some amount of support, but not as much as that provided by a boot with a stiffer cuff. Other rigid boots with a more classic design, such as the Bestard Fitz Roy or La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX, also have a certain amount of ankle flex and are more comfortable than earlier models, but provide enough support in this delicate area to give mountaineers a sense of security when walking on snow or across steep slopes.
Anyone who hasn't tried rigid boots with ankle flex will be pleasantly surprised by the level of comfort and more natural foot movement. Veteran Spanish climber and mountaineer Juan Corcuera, confirmed this when he tested the Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro for us:
âFor those of us used to wearing heavy, stiff boots, apart from the obvious differences, at times the Scarpa Mont Blanc Pro feels more like a shoe than a boot.
âI must say that although the ankle support is better than you'd expect, it is less than usual in a snow boot and this becomes more apparent when you're feeling particularly tired. After a long day descending the couloirs on Telera Peak in the Pyrenees, for example, you reach a point where you have to start walking down and I would have preferred greater support at that point.â
So choosing the right gear begins with deciding which kind of boot you require. The kind of boot chosen will determine the kind of crampons. Remember that some crampons, such as the Edelrid Shark, are compatible with all three binding systems: straps, semi-automatic and automatic.
Barrabes has over forty-five years of experience in mountain footwear and equipment. Our wide selection of mountaineering boots from top brands has been chosen with care and precision, to help make sure our you get the right boot for your next mountain adventure.