Two-step stomp. — We took to the snow, ice, and rock dance floor with the latest in plastic, leather, and hybrid double boots.
My first few years of winter climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park were filled with moments of nerve-shattering fear and hours of stomping around in plastic double boots. After a few seasons of battling the high winds and cold temps typically encountered in “The Park,” I became proficient at scrambling, and — eventually — climbing steep pitches with my big stompers on.These early experiences made it easy for me to transition into the bigger ranges, where the climbing requires the warmth and support of double boots. Many of today’s newer climbers however have never worn a pair of double boots, wisely opting for light, dexterous leather boots on one-day outings. However, if you’re headed on an expedition to somewhere high and cold like Alaska or the Himalayas, you’d better pack a cozy, warm, and well-fitted pair of double boots. Doubles are also invaluable for frigid days or long ski approaches, and they can’t be beat if your feet are naturally cold. When you’re hunting for double boots, it’s easy to get too concerned with a boot’s technical specs and flashy image. Just remember, no matter how great a particular model is supposed to perform, if it doesn’t fit your foot well, nothing else will matter. Blisters that cover the bottoms of your feet and seeping heel lacerations that fill a boot’s shell with blood make sticky rubber rands and ultra-warm liners pointless. So, grab the socks in which you plan to climb, along with your custom foot-beds (if you own a pair), head down to the local outdoor shop, and try everything on.
When trying on boots, perform a shell fit first. Pull the liners out, put on your socks, and stand in the shells with your toes just brushing the ends of the boot, then see if you can stick two stacked fingers (three fingers for the Koflach Arctis Expe due to its extra-thick liner) between your heel and the shell. If you can, you’re within a half size of the right fit. Now, put the whole boot on and walk around for a few minutes. Are there any pressure points? Does your heel lift when you stand on your toes? Should you go a half size bigger or smaller? Tight boots will cut off your circulation, severely compromising your warmth, while loose-fitting boots will chafe your feet raw. An ideally fitted boot offers good heel retention when you frontpoint or walk uphill, provides light support over the instep, and has plenty of room for your toes. Also, don’t buy boots a size too large with the intention of wearing extra socks for additional warmth. This tactic will seriously impair climbing performance and can cause severe blistering. If you’re worried about cold feet, purchase a full-coverage supergaiter.
If you don’t already have a pair, consider buying after-market insoles, either pre-fabricated or custom-made. Most people find that these improve even the best out-of-the-box fit; for some folks, insoles are so effective that they can make a questionable boot a contender, especially when it comes to heel fit. After-market, pre-fabricated insoles do a great job of positioning the foot in biomechanical neutral. However, if you need corrective alignment, a custom orthotic made by an experienced sports podiatrist is the way to go. A podiatrist will assess your biomechanical alignment and stride, and shape the orthotic to bring your foot back into proper position. Once you know which boot models meld with the shape of your feet, bust out the tech info and match the boots’ construction and performance to your needs. Despite their simple appearance, double boots are surprisingly complex creatures, starting with the shell. The most common shell material is the durable and easily molded polyurethane plastic found on the Asolo AFS Evolvzione, Koflach Arctis Expe and Degre, and the Lowa Civetta Extreme. The Asolo AFS Ottomila and Scarpa Alpha and Inverno use Pebax, a nylon whose flexibility is not affected by temperature changes. Salomon and Boreal use leather, which provides a natural and forgiving flex, but requires periodic waterproofing and is not as durable as synthetics. Vasque’s Ice 9000 has a shell made with Exo-Therm, a new composite of thermoplastic urethane, Kevlar nylon mesh, Mylar film, and Aveo closed-cell foam. Liner material is a significant determiner of a double boot’s warmth. Open-cell foam is an affordable standby that is durable, reasonably warm, and allows the foot to breathe. Closed-cell foam is considerably warmer than open-cell, but doesn’t breathe as well. It’s also more fragile — a liner built exclusively with closed-cell can typically stand up to the abuse of just one long trip or expedition. However, its life span can be increased if it’s used in conjunction with other more durable insulators like open-cell, or Thinsulate, which can also be used as a stand-alone insulator in conjunction with a waterproof membrane like Sympatex or Gore-Tex. The new kid on the insulation block is custom moldable closed-cell, which is outrageously warm, light, and durable, but completely lacking in breathability. A new adjunct to structural insulation is the use of heat-reflective Mylar film. After confirming your size and running the tech-spec gauntlet, be sure to check each boot’s compatibility with your existing
or crampons that you’ll be purchasing. Finally, don’t forget to take your new stompers out before the big trip to see how they hike and climb.To put the boots to the performance test, we hiked until our knees creaked and climbed peaks in Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska, and Canada. When hiking, we considered how forgiving the ankle and tongue of a boot were, as well as whether or not a boot’s rocker, or sole shape, facilitated a comfortable stride. We evaluated ice and steep snow performance in terms of support and security when frontpointing or sidestepping. On rock, we considered an entry’s ability to edge and smear. Durability of the shells turned out to be a non-issue, as they are all indestructible.
The Test Results
Asolo AFS Ottomila, $400 5 pounds, 2 ounces for U.S. size 8 Summary: Asolo’s AFS Ottomila is a light, warm, and supportive boot that is suitable for arctic (single-digit Fahrenheit) temps. The liner’s combination of closed-cell foam, Thinsulate, and heat-reflective Mylar film kept our feet toasty on even the most brutally cold days. The shell’s stiff sole and ankle provided great support when frontpointing on endless slopes. The shell also featured a second lacing system under the tongue for fine-tuning the boot’s tension, with a hinged support tab that holds the tongue out of the way when making lacing adjustments. The Ottomila’s overall stiffness and flat sole made it an awkward hiker, and the rigid one-piece ankle inhibited the boot’s steep ice and rock-climbing performance. Fits medium to medium-narrow feet. Pros: Great ankle support. Light. Cons: Awkward hiker. Ankle feels stiff on vertical terrain. Overall grade: B
Asolo AFS Evolvzione, $300 5 pounds, 8 ounces for U.S. size 8 Summary: The AFS Evolvzione is a more economically priced and softer-flexing version of its big brother the Ottomila, sharing quite a few features like the easily adjustable shell-lacing system and the tongue-support tab. A solid but not outstanding hiker, the Evolvzione performed well anytime moderate frontpointing or steep snow was encountered. It was also an above-average rock climber. The scaled-down liner is constructed mainly of open-cell foam, providing good day-route warmth, but is not toasty enough for expeditions or arctic temps. Fits medium to medium-narrow feet. Pros: Great ankle support. Cons: Not suitable for extreme cold. Overall grade: B
Boreal G1, $395 5 pounds, 13 ounces for U.S. size 9 Summary: The Boreal G1 is a sturdy boot whose leather shell gives it a comfortable flex and natural feel. The front rand of the boot is close to your toes, improving rock and ice sensitivity. Unfortunately, the liner compromises the G1’s overall performance. Insulated with Thinsulate, with a Sympatex membrane for moisture protection, the liner lacked structure and bunched up uncomfortably over our toes. The liner’s limited heelcup padding also caused blisters. The G1 is also on the heavy side. Fits medium to medium-wide feet. Pros: Sensitive on rock and ice. Natural flex. Cons: Uncomfortable liner. Heavy. Overall grade: C+
Koflach Arctis Expe, $3556 pounds for U.S. size 8 Summary: With a substantially insulated liner, made of open- and closed-cell foam, the Arctis Expe was one of the warmest boots in the review. The open-cell foam is positioned next to the foot to increase durability, while the closed-cell foam sits next to the shell. A good rocker under the toes and a soft, hinged shell cuff made the Arctis Expe easy on the feet during long hikes. The forgiving ankle flex also made the boot a decent ice and rock climber, though a tad mushy during long sections of moderate frontpointing. The Arctis Expe features a short rubber rand around the shell and a ball-bearing lacing system that lets you fine-tune the boot’s fit over the instep. Fits medium to medium-narrow feet, good for high insteps. Pros: Warm. Comfortable hiker. Good all-around climber. Cons: Heavy. Overall grade: A-
Koflach Degre, $2555 pounds, 5 ounces for U.S. size 8 Summary: The Koflach Degre is a scaled-down, softer version of the Arctis Expe. The Degre’s light weight, generous ankle and sole flex, and curved rocker boosted its hiking comfort and made it a great choice for one-day outings. The boot’s soft nature also allowed for good ankle dexterity, which came in handy on steep pitches of ice or rock. However, its simple, open-cell liner couldn’t handle severe cold. The Degre also lacked the calf support needed during long stretches of low-angle frontpointing. Fits medium to medium-narrow feet, good for high insteps. Pros: Light. Comfortable hiker. Solid technical climber. Low price. Cons: Below-average warmth and calf support. Overall grade: B
Lowa Civetta Extreme, $385 5 pounds, 7 ounces for U.S. size 9 Summary: The Lowa Civetta Extreme offers an outstanding combination of climbing performance and expedition-worthy warmth, with a liner insulated by Gore-Tex-lined Duratherm. With a bit of rocker, moderate sole flex, and a hinged ankle cuff on the shell, the Civetta Extreme ate up the hiking miles. But the best attribute of the boot was its climbing performance. Its low-profile forefoot and toe — and sticky-rubber rand — provided excellent rock-climbing ability, and the boot was solid on steep ice. The full cuff and heel lockdown also made it a favorite on long sections of nevé. Fits medium width feet and has a low volume. Pros: Excellent on steep terrain. Supportive. Comfortable hiker. Cons: Lacks full rand. Overall grade: A-
Salomon Pro Thermic, $390 5 pounds, 14 ounces for U.S. size 8 Summary: It’s hard to beat the comfort of a leather boot. However, the problem with leather has always been making it warm without degrading fit. Salomon worked around this problem by concentrating on the Pro Thermic’s liner, constructing it with a combination of closed-cell foam, Thinsulate, and heat-reflective mylar film. This combo was so warm we felt confident using the Pro Thermic anywhere we would wear a regular plastic boot. A Salomon dealer can also custom mold them to your feet for even better fit. The Pro Thermic’s leather shell made long hikes a joy and offered just enough support for serious frontpointing. The boot’s even flex, sensitivity, and rubber rand were assets on the rock, but the high ankle cuff limited foot mobility. Fits medium to wide feet. Pros: Comfort and feel of leather, with the warmth of plastic. Cons: Heavy. Ankle limits mobility. Overall grade: A-
Scarpa Alpha,$350 4 pounds, 14 ounces for U.S. size 8 Summary: The Scarpa Alpha is an innovative design that offers a delicate balance of climbing performance and warmth previously unseen in the world of plastic-shelled boots. The Alpha’s low-profile silhouette and light weight provide excellent sensitivity on steep ice and rock, with a rubber rand surrounding the front two-thirds of the boot and further enhancing the boot’s climbing prowess. The Alpha hikes well and feels much like a sturdy leather single boot when marching down the trail, due to the flex in the sole and ankle cuff. The liner is open-cell foam, and because it has been scaled down to fit in the Alpha’s sleek shell, it’s not warm enough for expedition use. Fits medium to narrow feet and has a low volume. Pros: Great on steep terrain. Light. Cons: Not suitable for extreme cold. Overall grade: B+
Scarpa Inverno, $300 6 pounds for U.S. size 8 Summary: The Scarpa Inverno proved worthy of respect despite its plain look and low price. Lots of sole rocker and a hinged ankle cuff made it a stable hiker, though you should loosen the laces before use to prevent the shell’s stiff tongue pounding away on your shins. The Inverno provided good ankle support when climbing long couloirs and low-angle ice. The liner, constructed of open-cell foam with a Cordura nylon outer, kept our feet warm when temps plummeted, and provided outstanding durability. The boxy design and lack of a rubber rand made the Inverno a clunky rock climber and, at six pounds, one of the heaviest boots tested. Fits wide, high volume feet. Pros: Outstanding ankle and calf support on steep snow and moderate ice. Low price. Cons: Heavy. Clunky rock climber. Overall grade: B
Vasque Ice 9000, $4954 pounds, 14 ounces for U.S. size 8 Summary: With the introduction of the Ice 9000, Vasque takes double boots a giant step forward. The Ice 9000’s shell is made with a patented material composed of thermoplastic urethane, Kevlar mesh, Mylar film, and Aveo foam. The result is a construction that is light, flexes like leather, and is even warmer than plastic. The Ice 9000 had one of the most even, comfortable flexes of any boot tested, making it a great hiker and steep-route climber, with just enough support for lengthy sessions of frontpointing. The sole is made with a rubber compound developed by 5.10 (yes, the rock shoe company) and molded by Skywalk, and was noticeably stickier than any other we tested yet still durable. The outrageously warm liner is closed-cell foam that can be custom molded in an oven for increased comfort. Mylar and Areo foam in the bed of the shell also add to the boot’s warmth and comfort. Fits medium feet. Pros: Extremely warm. Excellent on steep terrain. Very light. Cons: Expensive. Overall grade: A
Asolo: 603-448-8827; www.asolo-usa.com
Koflach: 800-258-5020; www.koflachusa.com
Lowa: 203-353-0116; www.lowaboots.com
Scarpa/Black Diamond: 203-353-0116; www.blackdiamondequipment.com
Salomon: 800-654-2668; www.salomonsports.com
Vasque: 800-224-4453; www.vasque.com