Tying your shoes the mountain way
09 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
The classic shoelace knot is fine for casual footwear, but when it comes to mountain boots and approach shoes, where stresses on the laces will be much greater, and the lace will often be wet, you need a lot more security. This is especially so if you’re climbing or scrambling in stiff boots, as it is the lace that holds the foot solidly within the boot, and a slack lace will make edging with the toes far less certain and secure. This is even more crucial when climbing in crampons.
There are dozens of alternative knots (just search the web), but the one I prefer, and the one I find by far the most secure – in fact it’s impossible to undo unless you want it undone – is the simple reef knot.
In order to get this climbing knot to work effectively, you have to be using round laces, which apart from being far easier to hold, are much tougher than flat laces, as a flat lace is just around lace with the core removed.
To tie your shoelaces in this fashion simply tie them together with a reef knot, pulling it tight once tied.
The compactness of this knot means you can cut down your laces (hey that’s 0.001 grams saved of your boots!) so you don’t have any annoying tail ends trailing, or alternatively you can just finish it off with a traditional bow.
To untie, simply pull one of the lace tails from side to side to loosen the knot, then just pull the knot apart.
I guarantee that this knot will not come undone.
Many people make the mistake of yarding hard and clamping their feet into their boots like a vice, believing doing so will stop heel lift, but then so will parking a car on top of them.
The top of the foot is very sensitive and delicate, and if you strain or compress your tendons the damage can last for months. Another problem is that tight lacing will slow blood flow to your feet, leading to all sorts of problems especially if it’s cold.
What’s called for is a fine-tuning of the laces, putting the right amount of tension where it’s needed, and perhaps giving a bit more room where it is not.
To do this employ the reef knot again, tying it where you wish to make a change is a tension. For example, the first knot could be close to the toe, reducing the pressure over the front of the foot, with the second at the point where the foot meets the ankle, allowing you to have a moderately firm lacing over the upper, but with increased tension at the ankle.
This technique is extremely useful with new boots, allowing you to fine-tune the fit before they break in and no longer require it.