2011 Gear Guide: Boots


MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS
New tech footwear from approach to summit Versatility. That’s what all the summer mountaineering boots and approach shoes in this review have in common. To find this season’s best treads, numerous testers for Climbing and Backpacker hammered more than 25 pairs of kicks for six months, from Vermont to Colorado to the Himalayas. After more than 150 cumulative days in the mountains, on rock climbs, scree fields, and step-kicking to the tops of snowy peaks, here are their favorite choices for climbers.

Burly Dude
ZAMBERLAN VAJOLET GT RR
$350, 3 lbs. 11 oz.
zamberlan.com

“Plush and burly boots that can carry as much weight as you can throw at them,” reported one tester after hauling a full 50-liter pack. “But even with an alpinesized load, and despite their nearly rigid sole, they make you feel like you’re walking on air.” The Vajolet is semi-automatic crampon compatible. Underfoot, the dual-density polyurethane (PU) midsole has a full-length shock-absorbing layer that won’t compress or get ripped up by rocks, sandwiched over a more supportive layer. An aggressive Vibram sole with pronounced toe traction and heel brakes gave testers exceptional grip on all surfaces. Up top, the microfiber and split-leather upper are wrapped from toe to arch with an ample rubber rand that kept rocks at bay. The upper has a roomy toe box, and testers said the boot had exceptional arch, ankle, and heel support, and good forward flex. Lacing slid easily for forefoot adjusting, then locked at the arch and ankle, making it easy to fine-tune fit. More than one tester said they felt like these Italian-made boots were custom-sized. A Gore-Tex lining, combined with Zamberlan’s highly water-resistant leather, kept testers’ feet dry, even after one waded across a stream. “They’re comfortable out of the box,” one said, ”and they get even better with time.”

Approach Support
SCARPA DHARMA PRO
$169, 1 lb.
scarpa.com

A mid-cut approach shoe, the Dharma Pro was testers’ go-to when they needed the ankle support for carrying a loaded pack in a shoe that could still smear, jam, and edge. “It looks like a goofy wrestling shoe, so I’d never wear it around town, but it had exceptional support and cushion on approaches,” reported one Colorado tester, “and was sensitive enough to climb 5.9 rock.” Sticky rubber wraps over the toe, while the low-profile, grippy dot rubber underfoot is ascent-ready. In the heel, the sole switches to more traditional hiking lugs, with an ample, dual-density EVA midsole for maximum shock absorption. After 10 hours in the Dharma Pros while high-angle rescue training on loose gravel, low-angled slabs, and boulders, as well as rappelling and climbing, one tester said, “These are awesome approach shoes— they handled everything with ease.” Bummer: the exposed part of the midsole got nicked and dinged by scree. Runs narrow to medium.

 


Transition Zone
FIVE TEN WARHAWK
$100, 1 lb. 4 oz.
fiveten.com

Tom Cruise wore this shoe to climb the world’s tallest building, in Abu Dhabi, for next winter’s Mission Impossible IV. Whether you think that’s cool, this beefed-up climbing (or stripped-down approach) shoe is legitimately super-sticky and comfortable for fourth- or fifth-class climbs, as well as scrambles that have a long approach or extended walk-off. The smooth Stealth MI6 rubber—a new formula that sticks to polished rock, metal, and glass—on the toe smeared securely, and an EVA midsole between the dot-rubber heel and the water-resistant Nubuck climbing shoe–like upper gave plenty of walking support. No one reported bruised-feeling feet, even after a mile-long walk off. “I didn’t want to be messing around switching shoes when I moved from a pitch of climbing to a loose gully to a ledge traverse to a rappel to a downclimb,” reported one Wyoming tester. “The Warhawk solved the problem.” The shoe has a pronounced heel cup and heel sling for extra support and stability, and a quickdry mesh lining kept testers’ feet dry and blister-free. Fit them slightly tighter than a hiking boot, but looser than a climbing shoe. Though they’re best for class-four scrambles, one tester climbed a New Hampshire 5.12 in them!

Editors' Choice
SALEWA RAPACE GTX
$259, 3 lbs. 11 oz.
salewa.com

One tester’s comments sum it up: “This is the lightest, most comfortable crampon-compatible boot I’ve ever worn.” That’s because it combines the comfort of a hiker with the technical features of a mountaineer. The supple Nubuck and Cordura upper is reinforced with a burly rubber rand, protecting it from abuse even when testers toe-jammed in wide cracks. To-the-toe lacing has an ankle lock that, combined with Salewa’s Y-shaped arch-to-heel wire system on the boot’s exterior, eliminated pressure points and break-in, and kept testers’ heels firmly grounded. A mid-stiff nylon layer above the midsole provided protection from pokey rocks, and the triple-density rubber midsole didn’t break down even after months of use. The boots’ Vibram Mulaz soles have a smooth-toe climbing zone that was sticky and edged well on technical scrambles. “The Rapace excelled for glacier travel and soft snow crossings,” said one tester. “It had impressive grip even walking downhill with a 50-pound pack, but it’s too flexible for vertical ice.” Gore-Tex makes the Rapace waterproof, and the heel welt accepts semi-automatic crampons. Bonuses: a removable second insole lets you tweak fit toward performance or comfort, and Salewa offers a blister-free guarantee.

Sneak Peek
MAMMUT REDBURN GTX
$139 ($119 for non-GTX), 1 lb. 14 oz. (m’s 9.5)
mammut.ch

Mammut’s latest approach shoe will be hitting the shelves at your local retailer a you’re reading this review. Though we haven’t yet had the opportunity to put in enough miles in this shoe for a full review, we’ve examined the Redburn closely, and it should not only hike well, but also climb fourth- and even some fifth-class climbs with ease. The split-leather, slip-lasted upper laces to the toe and snugs around the foot, and the gasket cuff will keep debris out but isn’t hard to get in and out of. Laces thread through sliding webbing that Mammut says will transfer power from the lacing area to the soles for secure fit and improved grip. The sole is made from Mammut’s proprietary dual-density rubber; it’s stickiest in the toe while the rest of the sole is still grippy enough that it won’t slip on approaches or descents, especially with braking lugs on the heel for control on steep downs. Mammut uses a softer compression-molded EVA midsole in the heel on the outside to facilitate a natural heel strike. A thin layer of TPU plastic in the midsole will add side-to-side stability that shouldn’t interfere with sensitivity. And it’s waterproof. Want a shoe for hot and dry conditions? Opt for the non-GTX version (both versions have a wicking liner).

 

CARE & FEEDING
The DWR (durable water repellent) treatment—the stuff that makes water bead up on fabric—is the first thing to wear out on new boots. Repeated rock scraping and puddle sloshing eventually lets the outer “wet out.” Then the Gore-Tex membrane inside can’t breathe, and your feet get wet from sweat on the inside. Solution: clean the gunk off your boots with a brush and some water or a footwear-specific cleaner, then apply waterproofing. For GTX boots, whether they’re fabric or leather, we like Nikwax Fabric and Leatherproof. It’s free of environment-harming chemicals, and it nourishes leather so your boots last longer. No GTX membrane? Leather has its own water repellency. Refresh it with Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather. It won’t oversoften the leather and break it down like some other waxes, but will help keep your feet dry. nikwax.com

 

 


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