I am writing this article because at around this time last year I spent a lot of time looking for the right boots.
Most of what I’d done previously was hiking in warm conditions, for which my beloved Keen are the best. For my first Mount Rainier climb I rented double plastics from the guiding company, because I thought that I wouldn’t use them again, and rightly so. However, the mountaineering bug hit me and I decided to take a basic climbing class.
Since boot-renting is not economically scalable, I needed to invest in technical boots that would be suitable for most conditions in my Pacific Northwest spring to autumn climbs. Leaving double plastics out of the equation (too much for my year-round needs) I was faced with two general choices:
- Light single boots like La Sportiva’s Trango S EVO GTX and Asolo’s Ascender GV
- Heavy duty single leather boots like La Sportiva’s Nepal EVO GTX and Scarpa’s Mont Blanc GTX
My class partners were divided between the two, so half the class bought light and the other half bought heavy-duty. I ended up investing in La Sportiva’s Nepal model. They were great on Shuksan, Rainier, Baker and the Mexican volcanoes. However, one year later I find myself actually needing that intermediate boot. Climbs like Eldorado in the North Cascades and the Enchantments (in the spring) have glaciers that get approach shoes soaked (trust me, the blister situation afterwards is not one I’d recommend); and at the same time the heavy duty singles are too rigid for a steep approach without snow. Here’s how I went about analyzing the criteria:
This is the first trait I considered. I planned to use my first boots for the highest peaks in Washington State, so they had to be considerably warm but not made of double plastic. Going for the heavy-duty leather kind gave me the advantage to have a pair of boots that I could break in and trust for more challenging climbs. Later on I was going on lower peaks with glaciers, so I had to pick one in the light single boot category.
This is the most important factor of all. There were only two contenders for me in the heavy-duty category, La Sportiva’s Nepal and Scarpa’s Mont Blanc. I went to the closest REI to try them on. I wore the same socks I’d wear on the climbs and went about kicking around and ascending some faux-rock structures to feel their fit on my feet. Both had similar fit, but I felt that the Nepal ones snugged my feet a little better.
With regards to the light boots, I sticked with LaSportiva. REI did not carry the Trango S model anymore, but I tried a similar model and then ordered online.
Heavy-duty boots are expensive, so if one has already selected that category, price should not be a decision driver… except if they’re on an amazing sale and their fit is equal.
When I walked out with my shiny new boots I still wasn’t sure that I had made the right choice. Perhaps they were going to be too-warm or too-heavy? The answer is always it depends.
They were neither too warm nor too heavy for climbs that have snow most of the way. With a good tape on my heel I’ve had no major blisters. I’ve taken them to the top of Mt Baker, Mt Adams and Mt Rainier in the spring, as well as to the Cascades backcountry. They are incredibly warm when walking or standing on the snow for long periods of time, even with lightweight socks. No need for foot warmers. The only issue I found after the second climb was that my right foot is bigger than the left foot. And it is a very painful issue. Going uphill feels like a breeze, but once I start stomping down on steep snowless terrain my right toe starts feeling the pressure. After a few hours the pain starts becoming unbearable. This is why I bought the Trango boots. They are less rigid than the Nepal model, and are more trail friendly. Now unless I go on 8,000 m peaks I have all the boots I need.
Lesson learned for boot fitting at the store: make sure that you kick hard at the wall and that your toes do not touch the front of the boot when doing so. Out there the constant climb down will really test how much attention you paid during this process.
International Mountain Guides has a good FAQ on single boot qualification for Mount Rainier climbs.