I have probably spent more time in plastic double boots that any other style of mountain boots. Two decades to be exact. I was climbing in leather single boots before that for the most part with the occasional foray into leather double boots. But the older and better double leather boots were heavy. Really heavy even compared to a good single boot and a Super Gator.
So what I ended up with was a very good pair of leather single boots (Haderer) and a custom pair of Carmen/Chouinard Super Gaters that were modified by adding more insulation (synthetic pile) and a zipper down the front that was backed with flaps and Velcro.
Once I got into a pair of Kolfach Ultras (shown above) I never looked back. Even if that did require a few layers of mole skin every week during the first winter season climbing and guiding in them.
So 30 years later you might ask how did those original plastic boots compare to what we have now? A recent conversation on a Internet forum made me ask the same question myself. But this time I wanted a more complete answer. Some times we get caught up in the newest, lighter, better, warmer and eventually more expensive product and loose sight at what we once had. It is called institutional memory. This blog is one way I have tried to keep our climbing history and its institutional memory alive.
Sometimes it is not better to reinvent the wheel every few years. It might actually be better to build a better tire for that wheel and take advantage of the best technology first.
If you look at the original idea behind double boots the biggest advantage is to keep your boots (inner boot at least) unfrozen and if required dry on multi day outings. You can put the inner boot in your sleeping bag and dry it out over night or at least keep it from freezing if needed.
The disadvantage of double boots is that they add volume to your feet. Volume means extra warmth everything else being equal. But as we all know nothing is ever "equal".
So if we have a huge volume boot you have warm feet. A Sorel or other double layer cold weather boots are a good example.
Warm but severely lacking on most technical ground.
So what is really required is a certain level of warmth but at the same time the real key is to keep the over all volume of the boot as compact as possible so it is easier to climb technical ground in.
Big volume for warmth.
A multitude of materials to make a boot from these days. Plastics, fabrics and the old stand by, leather. And all have advantages and disadvantages.
So first I think to have the best boot you need to look at the last. The last describes how the boot interior is shaped. Currently we have literally bath tube shaped lasts (some plastics) and very ergonomic shaped lasts that match the foot almost perfectly (again some plastics). And boot lasts that are every where in between.
In the old days a cobbler or boot maker would have literally hundreds of hand carved lasts. Once measured and your foot matched to a specific last the boot fit could well be phenomenal. With the ability of good leather to mold to your feet the fit just got better with use.
With a boot built to your foot the amount of insulation added to the best double boots simply made the warmer. With a generic boot last the boot just got heavier than required and may or may not have gotten warmer for your foot.
The answer for that was "give them a bath tub" and let the inner boot take up the slop. That would give you a warm boot if the inner boot and bath tub last actually fit your foot. But it was also heavier than required if the last had been done correctly to fit your foot.
It is not happen stance that the best lasts on good leather double boots like a Haderer double or a plastic boot like the Dynafit TLT look like your foot.
I have heard a great many comments on how cold the TLT Series of boots is compared to other down hill ski boots. I'll challenge those comments. You really need to look at the amount of insulation before you start to make comparisons for warmth.
How do you make a boot warmer the easy way? Add volume. This is the answer from Kolfach with two different boots, both the same marked shoe size. In this case a 11.5 US.
So let me back up a bit here.
I have summited Denali a couple of times in Koflach Ultras with foam inner boots and simple nylon knee high gaiters. I have also turned around at 17K on Denali in really cold temps with the same boots and had really cold feet. But the issue wasn't that I didn't have warm enough boots. I did. The reality was the temps were too cold for me to be climbing. (no one else summited that week either btw) My feet getting cold were just the first sign of that cold. That and a thermometer that bottomed out during the night at 17K.
So when it comes to double boots I think there is a distinct disconnect between what the manufactures make us and what we really need.
La Sportiva Spantiks seem to be the most common boot for winter climbing in Chamonix by a huge margin.
Some type of double boot and generally a insulated over boot seems to be required (or at least suggested) for Denali. More likely a Olympus Mons can be used above 14K on Denali in early spring and over kill later in the season. And a Spantik won't be enough boot for Everest or K2 or winter climbing in the Himalaya. There are and should be options for volume and sensitivity.
Current Koflach "Guardian"
But actually the last gen Ultra shell, which was/is an excellent boot.
If a 30 year old Kolflach Ultra will get you to the top of any Alaskan peak, and keep your foot warm and dry how much more warmth do you need? My answer would be none. If I need a warmer boot I can use a Spantik or a Scarpa 6000 which both have a bigger volume. The Spantik slightly larger than the 6000 by what I can tell. And just a tiny bit warmer as well form my experience. But when you start getting cold feet in either of these boots isn't going to be a boot issue but your hydration and food intake is my guess. The Olympus Mons and its close mates made by other brands are the next and final step up for cold feet btu the boots are huge!
So what I think is missing is a totally different boot.
One with the volume or something similar to a old Koflach Ultra or better yet the newest TLT 5s.
Modern material, fabrics, plastic, leathers,open and closed cell foam all make great materials to work with. San Marco made a single boot in the '80s that had a plastic lower and a leather upper. It would be easy enough to come up with something similar now. Think of a Nepal Evo with an anatomically cut plastic lower and leather upper and a thin, easily heat formable foam inner boot?
It is a boot that would easily replace the Spantik everywhere but Denali and the greater ranges. But perfect in the rest of Alaska or Mt Blanc most of the year. I suspect it would be the boot of choice for everyone from the Canadian Rockies to Chamonix if done right. Basically a boot that we all really need but that no one has even thought about making. Might be because simply no one asked until now.
These days I don't care how good the outer boot is or how good the anatomical shape of the last is. If your inner boot isn't easily heat moldable you are behind the curve. The liner needs to be air permeable as well. We can do better than a VBL. But the inner can not retain any moisture. It is possible. But it is frustrating to see all this technology out there and no one taking advantage of it. I think it is too easy for the boot designers and manufactures to get tunnel vision. instead of going back to the basics and requirements at the drawing board level
A short design list for the new double boot I want made:
Less over all volume, more akin to a high quality technical single boot.
Double boot so you can dry the inner or keep the inner from freezing
simple inner boot lace system for fit
Lace system for the outer shell so it is one handed and most importantly reliable (no Velcro it wears out)
Anatomical last on both inner and outer so you use what insulation you do have to best effect
Plastics and synthetics for the lower boot for water resistance.
Upper of fabric or leather for a close and flexible ankle fit
Split the insulation between the inner and outer boot so the fit can be optimised in the inner but the outer offers good insulation above and below the sole
Use the smallest sole lugs and stickiest rubber technical climbing soles possible.
Honey comb carbon mid sole for rigidity long term and most importantly warmth through the sole
As much as I really like the "super gater" boots they are a design dead end. All of them. Simple reason. The newest pant fabrics allow the pants to be easily used as a breathable gaiter now. Adding a gaiter, no matter the material, slows the moisture coming out of the boot and slows the evaporation. So the attached gaiter is not a help in design as you might first think,
Our climbing clothing, from boots to hats are really now more than ever a system. Attached hoods on the base layer, help us eliminate one additional layer. Mid layers with attached hoods allow us to use a lighter mid layer for warmth.
Boots and the gaiters we use are a part of that system as well. As are gloves and the gauntlets on the gloves and seals on the jacket sleeves.
Gaiters on the boots aren't required and in fact lower the performance of the boots. Remember the basics..."you must stay warm to stay dry". Adding a feature that keeps you from staying dry or that slows the drying is a feature you don't need.
double click this one to see them all
Any of the current boot makers have all the technology to make the boot I describe and market it for $700 or less than the current price tag requires on some of the boots today.
These are the two lightest true mountaineering boots available that I know of.
La Sportiva Trango Evo Extreme GTX 2#3oz 992g
Scarpa Phantom Ultra new 2010 model 2#3.5oz 1006g
1000g or less in a size 45 four season mtn boot is a magic number.
Here is the list and pictures of the current double boots that I can lay my hand on easily.
And a few odd ball combinations that I have used. Check out the over all weights and the inner boot weights.
I know it is possible to build a light weight technical double boot in my size (12 US/45/5 Euro) that would come in under 1000g per boot. And be the warmest and best climbing technical boot currently available. But I am shocked no one is doing it yet.
Euro size 45.5
La Sportiva Spantik 1370g
La Sportiva Spantik with a Baruntse liner 1290g
La Sportiva Baruntse 3#2.5oz / 1503g
Euro size 46
Scarpa Phantom 6000 new model 1230g
Scarpa Phantom 6000 Baruntse liner 1200g
US size 11.5
Scarpa Omega 1110
Scarpa Inverno 1450
Koflach Arctis Exp 1440
Koflach Degre 1160
Koflach Ultra (1980 vintage, white) 2# 10oz or 1190g total
Kastinger foam liner 234g
Dynafit TLT 5 Performance size 45.3-29.5 mono, (no tongue) 1210g
TF liner 232g
TLT 5 Mountain TF 1200g (no tongue)
TF liner 232g
All the current double boots are within ounces of each other. 1110 being the lightest..the Scarpa Omega. And the Kolfach Arctis the heaviest and likely the biggest boot by volume @ 1440g. Volume wise the Arctis compares to the Spantik. And is bigger imo than the 6000. I am still impressed by the original Ultra now called the "Guardian" by Koflach. Sadly it seems to be sold over sized with the Arctis' liner. That shell, properly sized, with an Intuition liner would still be one of the best climbing boots available and around the 1100g or less instead of the 1258g Koflach lists.
More here on the Kolflachs:
More on Scarpa's plastic boots here:
Bottom line here? Some really good cold weather boots available today and all of them climb well on ice. The price point of the plastic boots make them a reasonable alternative if the $700+ is a little hard to swallow on the most popular models.
I have been turned around with cold feet but I have never been turned around on technical ground because of wearing plastic boots. The temps that did stop me would still do so in a Spantik or a 6000 today. I found it easier to climb 5.10 rock in a pair of the old Ultras than I do in the bigger volume Spantiks. The reason is simple..less volume means a better climbing and easier to climb in boot. Plastic boots make sense on hard technical rock or vertical ice in cold conditions if you can get a decent fit in them. If I could get my hands on a pair of the current production Koflach Guardian's easily, I'd be climbing in them this winter instead of my 6000s or Spantiks.
That doesn't say a lot for the current state of the art in double boots imo when a 30 year old boot technology and 1/2 the retail price of the upper end "state of the art models" available is the better option most days out today.
I'm lucky enough to have almost any double boot available to me. But if I had to choose just one pair of mtn boots for every condition, any season and mtn range...it would be a rather old school pair of white plastics from the current Koflach production run.
If the idea of a ultra modern, super light weight and low volume double boot interests you, make sure to add your own comment to this blog post. More on the idea here: