Q&A: The Do it all Boot?
I’m sure you get loads of emails looking for your advice on different topics so I’ll keep this one short.
I’m going on a trip to Kyrgyzstan this Summer, with the intent of the group going for a 6000m+ top, with a number of days being above the snowline. I’m not sure on what boots to go for as I would also like to be able to use them in Scottish winters.
I have been offered the use of a pair of Scarpa Omegas with the newer inner boot but I’m a bit concerned if they’ll be warm enough first of all, and then the weight of them too. I’ve a bit of looking into other boots and came across the La Sportiva Batura and the G2 SM. My concerns are with these that the Batura might not be warm enough for Kyrgyzstan and the G2 SM might be a bit overkill for Scotland.
High altitude stuff is definitely something I want to do more of in years to come but the majority of use will be from Scottish winters. Ideally I’d like to buy just the one pair - the student loan is good, but not that good.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, it means a lot.
This is probably one of the more common questions I get, namely how can I get the cheapest boots to do the job, and can I use them in Scotland as well?
Unfortunately, boots are one of the few bits of kit where you just cannot scrimp. For clothing, you could get an outfit from Decathlon or Trespass, use a caravan camping sleeping bag or the duvet off your bed, have a rucksack made from an Ikea carrier bag, but as for your boots, well they need to be right.
In the good old days, you only had one real choice when it came to boots, namely plastics, the go-to boot when I started probably the Scarpa Vega. These came with either a standard open cell foam inner (absorbed sweat) or a closed-cell high altitude inner (which did not). For me non were that warm, and using them on long winter alpine routes (like the NE spur of the Droites) was always a struggle, fine when moving, but cold when static. Most people managed but it was not unusual for mates to get frostbite or frost nipped toes. The introduction of leather boots by Scarpa, Sportiva and Salamon muddied the water a bit, with cold injuries increasing, but with a pay off they gave the impression of being better climbing boots and being lighter. The salespeople stressed how they were more ‘sensitive’ and ‘better on technical ground’, giving more ‘feel’, but I think it was mostly spin. These boots did fit better, and they were sometimes (but not always) lighter, but they required more care, got waterlogged over days, and were not that very warm if it was really cold, and no use on multi-day climbs. As for the whole sensitive thing, I’d say that having a solid boot like plastic is way better on most climbs than a softer lighter leather boot. Such a boot provides a better platform when standing on your front points or on a tiny edge. It will also keep you warmer for longer, can be split on bivvys or to aid drying, and are just tough. Leather boots are much better on the hardest climbs, but then people like Nick Bullock climbed in ski touring boots on grade VIII’s. If you’re doing gymnastic moves on a limestone roof yes you don’t want a pair of Spantiks on, but if you’re moving up slowly and carefully on some Ben Nevis grade VI then you may well find them better. The bottom line for me is that you tend to climb as well as you can as long as the boots are half decent, then it comes down to all the other details.
As for warmth on bigger climbs and longer trips, the introduction of the proper double insulated boots (foam inner and outer) demonstrated by the One Sport Everest was a game-changer. Since then there’s been a raft of such high altitude or cold weather climbing boots, from Sportiva, Millet, Scarpa, Boreal, The North Face and others. The boon for climbers was that this technology then filtered down into boots that could work at both high and low altitudes, the greater ranges as well as the alps and Scotland.
Now this isn’t a review of what’s out there, and I need to stress I get free boots from Sportiva (I used a proto pair of Olympus Mons boots on the Dru in 2002), so what I say is skewed. But for me the benchmark climbing boot for ‘do it all’ would be the Spantik (little review I did here, as I’ve used mine from Antarctic grade VII walls, climbing in the Ruth Gorge in Winter, Patagonia, Winter alps, grade 6 ice and Scottish VII. There are other boots out there but for me they often suffer from being ‘pro specific’, designed to be a lightweight as possible to the detriment of longevity (pros get them for free anyway). This can most usually be seen in the price, with carbon fibre and space-age materials pushing the price up to £500 or £600 which is too much to pay (often these prices are inflated so as to still give a good margin when they are discounted). These boots are not perfect of course, the laces can be a pain at times (always carry spares!!!!), and can get trashed due to uppers being softer than hard plastic (repair rands), and you need good gaitors. I think at the moment you can find these boots for under £400.
I’ve yet to try the G2 SM’s but imagine looking at the specs that they’re very good, but maybe not so good if you’re on a budget, plus they look a little less warm than the Spantiks (remember that the Spantiks were state of the art when they came out, and the G2’s are just another step). As for the Batura’s, fantastic for Scotland or ice climbing but no good for expeditions.
As for borrowing boots? Well, they need to fit and be in good condition, and many a climb (and a few toes) has been lost due to thinking tight boots would be OK. My partner last month is still struggling with toes twenty-five years after trying to climb in borrowed boots. You may get away with Alpha’s (Steve House did on Nanga Parbat), but then you’re not Steve House and need to know your feet. Yes, even a pair of approach shoes will work in sub-zero temperatures for a while (I’ve used single leather boots down to -32 degrees C), but only when you’re moving. Stop for just a little while and you’re feet will freeze, stop any longer or get stuck out for the night and it’ll be your toes or worse.
A good pair of boots should cost you a weeks wages, and if you want to go cold and high then double that. It’s an investment worth making as irrespective of cold injuries, having to turn round or freezing all the time (and the stress that brings) ruins climbs. Get down the charity shop for your threads and use the money you save on your boots.