Whether it’s a mountain skills course, a scrambling course or an alpine preparation course there’s always chat about what we’ve got on our feet. Personal choice plays a big part in choosing your footwear, fit is always key, but to choose appropriately you must consider what you’re going to use them for.
Do you need them to be light, waterproof, crampon compatible, stiff, soft..?
Approach Shoes, eg. Adidas Terrex Solo. When I can wear approach shoes, I will, they’re light, breathe well and have nice “sticky” soles. Being light means your legs will get less tired and you’ll have a nicer day out! The sticky rubber soles means these shoes are great for scrambling on dry rocky routes such as that found on Tryfan in the summer, however if you’re going to encounter any bogs or much rain, you are going to get wet feet. Whilst some approach shoes are waterproof, the low cut means they’re definitely not bog proof and you’ll lose the breathability. Whilst once upon a time I may have told you they don’t give you any ankle support, there’s a lot of research out there that shows boots don’t either…
Pros – Light, sticky, super comfy
Cons – No stiff edge, not usually waterproof
Bendy Boots, eg. Scarpa R-evolution Pro GTX. Still pretty light but these kind of boots will normally have a waterproof lining so are a better option than approach shoes if you’re expecting some bog trotting or bad weather. This kind of boot will be well suited to general hill use such as exploring the Brecon Beacons for example.
Pros – Waterproof, comfy
Cons – Not so good for kicking your feet into soft ground
B1’s, eg, Scarpa SL Active. Are you after something a bit stiffer that will help you dig a heel into soft turf when descending “off piste”, or something that will occasionally be used with a pair of crampons? Then a B1 type of boot could be the right choice for you. They’ll be waterproof and a bit more sturdy, they’ll also be fine for walking in with a suitable crampon, but not really for mountaineering.
Pros – Will take a crampon, ok for edging on scrambling routes
Cons – Not so good for proper winter mountaineering on graded routes
B2’s, eg, La Sportiva Trango S Evo. For me this is the best sort of boot for all round mountain use, be it a day on the Bochlwyd Horseshoe in July or a day on the CMD Arete on Ben Nevis wearing Crampons in January. I’ve done pretty much everything in B2 boots from backpacking across the hills to low grade ice climbing. These days, B2 boots are so comfortable that they are my go to boots most of the time – if I’m working in the mountains on an ML training, an advanced scrambling course or leading a group over Crib Goch I’m probably wearing B2’s.
Pros – Good for winter mountaineering, great for edging on scrambling or kicking into soft ground
Cons – The stiffness can be tiring for your feet if you’re not used to it
B3’s, eg, Scarpa Phantom Techs. Stiffer than B2’s and often with some level of insulation, these are a specific winter boot. You’ll have warm, dry feet and be able to wear crampons on any grade of winter climbing. They’ll usually be a bit heavier so we won’t use these year round and they take a bit of getting used to walking in if you’ve not worn them before. That said, B3’s get lighter and comfier year on year – my La Sportiva Trango Ice Cubes are mega comfy and very light.
Pros – Warm, dry feet! Take a climbing crampon
Cons – Usually heavier, less feel through the sole, not so comfy for walking in
The B rating relates to the type of crampon they’ll take – C1, flexible walking crampons like the Grivel Monta Rosa, C2, semi rigid like the classic Grivel G12’s or C3, rigid (although modern C3’s aren’t as rigid as they once were), like the Grivel Rambo. A B1 boot will only be compatible with a C1 crampon, a B3 will take C1, C2 or C3 – you get the idea! You’ll have to consider which binding type is appropriate for your boots too, but that’s another blog…
If I could only ever own one boot ever again, it’d be a pair of La Sportiva Trango S Evos, they really are brilliant all rounders – as long as they fit! If they don’t fit, but you like the concept, check out the Scarpa Charmoz which are pretty similar. That said the boundaries are blurring and there are all sorts of specialist boots out there, they all have their strong and weak points.
My top tip is to try on as many boots as you can and visit decent outdoor shops to do this, their staff will have lots of experience fitting boots and will have a good knowledge about the boots suitability for your needs. Take along the socks you’ll use on the hill and go in the afternoon because your feet swell slightly during the day. You want them to fit without any internal movement of your foot, but with enough room for your toes not to hit the end during descents. Remember, footwear is such a personal thing, not only in fit but in terms of preference, just because a boot is perfect for me, doesn’t mean it will be for you…
Hopefully this all makes some sense! If you’re doing a course with us we’re always happy to give kit advice beforehand, and even if you’re not, feel free to get in touch!