Our team of mountaineering specialists will give you all the information you need about the construction of mountaineering boots, to help you make an informed decision when choosing your future pair. Get ready to conquer the highest peaks!
Mountaineering is a sport as exhilarating as it is difficult and dangerous. It should not be taken lightly, and careful preparation is essential. For successful mountain excursions, expeditions or ascents, the role of your footwear is crucial. If you're thinking of stepping out of your comfort zone, or need advice on how to take your mountaineering footwear to the next level, this article will provide you with all the essentials for choosing the right boots.
MOUNTAINEERING BOOT CONSTRUCTION:
To fully understand the importance of choosing your mountaineering boots, it's essential to understand their construction.
Although mountaineering boots often resemble hiking boots, there are fundamental differences, particularly when it comes to protection. Mountaineering involves high altitudes, with cold, ice, snow and climbing conditions. Your boots are your allies in helping you achieve your goals in the best possible conditions.
Like hiking boots, mountaineering shoes feature a high to very high upper, an insulating liner with a stone guard, a sole with a midsole for cushioning, and laces with self-locking hooks.
The sole of a mountaineering boot is one of the most important elements in your practice. It insulates you from the cold of the ground and supports your foot on climbs and glacier treks. The soles are generally made with Vibram technology, renowned for its grip and resistance to wear. These notched soles offer maximum grip, while the thicker cushioning under the heel protects your back. The rigidity of the sole determines the technical nature of your shoe and the types of terrain it can tackle, whether rigid or semi-rigid.
The liner and upper are often very high in mountaineering, and play a crucial role in insulating your boot. They protect your feet from the cold, especially your toes, which are the most exposed. The Gore-Tex membrane is frequently used to guarantee waterproofing and keep your feet dry. The level of insulation and thermicity will determine which environments you can venture into. Some mountaineering boots are single-breasted, while others are double-breasted.
On the outside, a stone guard surrounds the liner to protect your feet from impact. Mountaineering boots also feature overhangs to secure crampons, which are necessary when working on icy and/or vertical terrain. These can be located at the front, rear or both ends of the boot. As for lacing, mountaineering boots are equipped with self-locking laces that stay in place even during ascent.
So understand that mountaineering boots can be quite heavy because of all these elements. It's crucial to strike a balance based on your level, your style of practice and your needs in terms of insulation, weight and rigidity. Your level of mountaineering experience will also determine which type of boot is right for you, depending on the terrain and difficulty of the routes you choose.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS:
Now that you have a better understanding of the construction of mountaineering boots, let's take a closer look at the differences between boot models. You'll discover the distinctions between rigid and semi-rigid, single and double boots.
SEMI-RIGID AND RIGID BOOTS:
As mentioned above, boot rigidity is closely linked to terrain difficulty. On the mountaineering boot market, there are two types of sole: rigid and semi-rigid.
Semi-rigid soles, as their name suggests, are more flexible and are more suitable for beginners or easy-to-intermediate outings. They offer a degree of flexibility, thanks to a less rigid midsole called "cambrion". These shoes are lighter and more comfortable, while being adapted to difficult terrain such as scree, névés or rocky ridges. However, they are not ideal for glacier climbing, as they lack the rigidity to offer sufficient stability. In general, semi-rigid boots are designed for three-season outings and are often compatible with strap or semi-automatic crampons.
Rigid boots, on the other hand, are heavier, have a rigid sole due to a full camber, and offer more basic comfort. They are larger than semi-rigid shoes, but guarantee maximum stability on uneven terrain. Rigid shoes are best suited to experienced mountaineers working in extreme conditions, at very high altitudes and practicing glacier climbing. They are also the only mountaineering boots compatible with automatic crampons, thanks to their front and rear overhangs.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SINGLE AND DOUBLE MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS:
When choosing mountaineering boots, the second essential aspect to consider is the construction of the boot, including the liner and upper. There are two main categories: single and double boots. Your choice will depend on your level of experience and the environment in which you plan to operate.
Single shoes are made in a single piece, resembling hiking boots. This design makes them more comfortable and considerably reduces their weight, giving mountaineers greater freedom of movement. Equipped with the sole of your choice, they are suitable for a variety of terrains, from the easiest to the most rugged, while maintaining a certain level of walking comfort. This reduces fatigue and energy expenditure. However, simple shoes have their limits when it comes to expeditions and climbs in extreme conditions. The non-removable liner means it takes a long time to dry. The addition of gaiters can help reinforce waterproofing, but they are not sufficient at high altitudes.
Double shoes, on the other hand, consist of two distinct parts: the outer shoe and a removable inner liner. The main difference lies in insulation. The independent liner offers better protection against the cold, as it is not in direct contact with the outside, and is easier to dry. However, double boots are heavier due to their rigid sole and imposing size, which can make moving around and climbing more difficult. They therefore limit freedom of movement compared with single boots.
CHOOSING MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS ACCORDING TO YOUR LEVEL:
If you're a beginner, it's important to start with simpler experiences. Avoid venturing into extremely difficult expeditions, as this could lead to frustration. Take the time to learn how to tackle the mountain, to get used to difficult conditions, different types of terrain and positive elevation changes. At the outset, opt for light, supple and comfortable mountaineering boots, although not as comfortable as your usual hiking boots. Simple, semi-rigid boots offer lightness and flexibility, while guaranteeing good grip. This is also an opportunity to familiarize yourself with strap-on or semi-automatic crampons. Put comfort first!
For year-round ascents, once you've gained experience and the desire to go further, it's advisable to switch from shoes with semi-rigid soles to simple shoes with rigid soles. This will give you greater stability for safety, better insulation and the possibility of using automatic crampons for longer expeditions.
Finally, if you're an experienced mountaineer, rigid-soled double boots are essential for tackling the highest peaks, icefalls and extreme expeditions. You'll have to sacrifice flexibility and lightness to guarantee a stable, waterproof and thermally efficient shoe.
In short, it's crucial to assess your skill level, not to try to cut corners, and to determine the terrain and conditions in which you plan to venture. Finding the right balance between weight, rigidity and insulation is essential.