How do you choose a pair of mountain boots for mountaineering?
There are three main criteria in the field of technical mountain footwear: performance, protection and safety. A fourth essential aspect is comfort.
Comfort is of the utmost importance, as it determines our enjoyment of sporting activities. Indeed, putting on shoes that cause pain and blisters can compromise our safety. The pain we feel when placing our foot on the ground will make us less attentive, reducing the quality of our support and potentially leading to an accident.
When we talk about comfort, we're referring to the feeling of well-being that each type of shoe can provide. It's important to note that each pair of shoes offers a different level of comfort. For example, low hiking boots are generally more comfortable for most people than high technical mountain boots, which often require a period of adaptation.
Once we've decided on the type of footwear we need, whether rigid, semi-rigid or hiking boots, it's crucial to make the right choice to guarantee our safety during the sport.
Last but not least, safety is an essential factor not to be neglected, especially in the context of modern mountaineering, where the emphasis is often on lightness and speed of ascent. However, it is crucial to choose your equipment wisely. Safety must always come first. Not everyone can tackle a 4,000-meter summit in a pair of trail running shoes. Whatever your choice, it's essential to keep safety in mind at all times.
WHICH STIFFNESS FOR A PAIR OF MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS: SEMI-RIGID OR RIGID?
Opt for a pair of semi-rigid boots if you plan to venture into the mountains during all three seasons of the year (spring, summer and autumn). These shoes are distinguished by their semi-rigid soles, offering a slight suppleness that sets them apart from conventional hiking or trekking boots. This makes for comfortable walking, while providing solid stability during technical passages such as ridge climbing, scree traversing or walking on névé. The rigidity of the sole guarantees excellent balance and optimum protection.
Most of these shoes are also equipped with a sole compatible with semi-automatic crampons, making them suitable for winter use on icy terrain (with the exception of ice climbing).
Rigid-soled shoes: these shoes are generally associated with the winter season, ideal for ice climbing, high-mountain couloirs and snowy ascents. Their sturdy sole allows automatic crampons to be attached, offering added safety for winter mountaineering.
However, these rigid boots are specifically designed for certain activities and are not as versatile as semi-rigid boots. They guarantee superior safety when climbing icefalls or difficult terrain. The major drawback is their discomfort on approach walks. Fortunately, in recent years, considerable progress has been made in terms of materials and upper flexibility to increase comfort.
In the category of rigid shoes, you'll need to consider the following points:
SINGLE OR DOUBLE BOOTS: WHAT CHOICE SHOULD YOU MAKE?
Single mountaineering boots
Single boots are currently the most popular choice. They are distinguished by the absence of a detachable inner liner.
Modern single boots offer excellent protection while keeping weight and volume to a minimum. This lightness stems from the use of specific materials in their manufacture, while their seamless design helps to reduce overall weight. Advances in research and development have made it possible to achieve high levels of protection while minimizing fatigue thanks to their light weight. What's more, they improve agility thanks to their less bulky design, making them more suitable for a variety of activities.
Some models in this category also provide thermal insulation thanks to their various internal layers, using the latest technologies, while maintaining a very low weight/heat/volume ratio. What's more, these shoes often feature an integrated gaiter for added protection. In recent years, several models have become particularly popular in mountaineering, such as La Sportiva G5, Scarpa Phantom Tech.
These boots are ideal for very cold conditions or winter ascents on the north face.
Modern mountaineering is advancing rapidly, and access to the mountains is becoming ever easier. This development has prompted us to opt for "car to car" excursions (from the car to the summit and back). As these excursions take place over a single day, the use of rigid boots has become commonplace, whether for climbing icefalls, progressing through couloirs or on technical routes. Certain models, such as the Nepal Evo GTX, the Nepal EVO GTX Woman, or the Nepal Cube GTX, are very popular thanks to their thermal insulation and light weight.
All these advantages, such as technical performance, thermal insulation and light weight, are undeniable. However, a drawback arises when we need to wear these shoes on multi-day outings, such as mountain expeditions.
In such situations, a pair of double boots offers an undeniable advantage.
Dual mountaineering boots: thermal versatility for mountaineering
Double boots, which feature a removable inner liner, were once the only option for mountaineers seeking to climb technical peaks at high altitude. Their main advantage lay in their ability to provide excellent thermal insulation. However, their major drawback was their considerable bulk and weight, ill-suited to technical mountaineering.
The evolution of single boots has led double boots to specialize in high-altitude expeditions, such as the Andes and Himalayas, or in situations where maximum thermal insulation is crucial.
What are the advantages of this type of footwear? Apart from their undeniable contribution to thermal insulation, the main advantage lies in the multi-day outings typical of mountain expeditions. Indeed, when you spend several days in the mountains and sleep in tents or outside refuges, drying a pair of single boots can become complicated. A pair of double boots, on the other hand, allows the inner liner to be inserted into the sleeping bag to dry, ensuring optimum comfort the following day. This contrasts with single boots, which can remain frozen or damp depending on night-time mountain conditions.
CRAMPON COMPATIBILITY: AUTOMATIC AND SEMI-AUTOMATIC
Most rigid boots are designed to be compatible with the use of automatic crampons, while the majority of semi-rigid boots can accommodate semi-automatic crampons. However, there are exceptions to this rule, where the use of strap crampons will be necessary.
The choice of crampon type will depend primarily on the type of boots you own, as well as the activity you intend to practice. However, new crampon models, such as Edelrid's Shark and Petzl's new models, offer versatile fastening systems that can be used with straps, in semi-automatic or automatic mode.
Mountaineering boots have undergone a major evolution in recent years, thanks to the use of new materials that reduce the volume and weight of boots. Your choice of footwear should be carefully considered, as your safety as you progress will largely depend on it. When making your selection, consider the activity you're planning, the terrain you'll be working on, the level of difficulty, your own skill level and experience. And don't forget to choose a half-size or a full size larger than your usual shoe size to avoid compressing your toes at the front of the shoe and risking black toenails.
We wish you the best of luck in your choice and happy mountain excursions.