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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, November 28, 2014

Skimo boot comparison, Scarpa Alien 1, Dynafit PDG and TLT 6 P.

One likely has to ask.."why start with this photo?" 
I have thought long and hard on how to do this review.    For some rappelling on skis is going to seem pretty extreme.  For others?  They would be skiing here unfazed, where I was really happy to have a rope for a pitch or two.

The point I want to make with the following pictures is that I use my skis and boots (may be poorly use them at that) in a lot of different environments.  And clearly not always in the ways that the original designers intended.

And I am OK with that...both the good and the bad.  It is also why I have a few pairs of boots and a quiver of skis. 

I ski, climb technical ground, tour (short and long), teach kids, clinic and spend time with my wife (a beginner on skis)  and friends (some of who are world class skiers) on skis and in boots.  All this on our little local hill in the Cascades or the big terrain of the Alps, Canada, SA or Alaska.

And I have been doing it that way for a while now.  So the caveat?

As a PSIA Instructor I teach in a TLT6 P boot and Speed Superlights

The reason for the photos and a disclaimer?  I get questions all the time that add up to, "Dane?  What ski/binding/boot is right for me?"

I had a friend who spends like 5 times more days on snow than I do assume I am in good ski shape  and some kind of aerobic animal.  Trust me, I aint.  Like everyone else that leads a normal life by April or May I'll be skiing better and hopefully given the time, more fit.

I use skis as tools.  I like the appropriate tool for the job at hand.  Like everyone else I guess at what actually is the "best for me".  Some times it works out.  Some times I am surprised (good and bad) and things don't go so well.   But what ever happens I try to enjoy the gear I am on.  Learn from the experience and try to avoid making the same mistakes twice.

If you use gear like I use gear, this review may give you some insight into why I made the choices I have.  If you don't use gear as I do, are bigger, smaller, more talented or just have more courage and intelligence, all I can say is, I hope ya got what ya paid for here :-)

OK, on to the boots.

First off I am using a tech boot of some sort for 99% of my skiing.  Yes I have a new pair of Lange 120xt in the gear room with skis and bindings to match.  But I just can't bear to use them.  Too heavy, too clunky and frankly IMO, out dated.  I'll try a again this winter with dedicated skis for specific projects.  But I have little hope of seeing that "light" ever again.

And I am thinking. "good riddance", to old and obsolete technology now matter last Spring's financial investment in new Alpine gear.

This transition really started for me with the Dynafit TLT5 boot.  A boot that would ski extremely well,  climb ice and mixed ground as well as the old Koflachs, literally changed my world.  Which is to say the TLT5 would climb pretty much any piece of climbable ice in the world.

That year (Spring 2011) I had a real change in attitude about ski gear.  Being able to ski and climb in the same gear with speed, security and safety really changed how I looked at the mountains. 

Since then I have proven the choices right for me on every occasion.

I had skied in all sorts of AT boots prior going back 35 years.  For better or worse.  Mostly worse.   I was never impressed with any AT boots.  Nothing I had used up to 2011 was much of a actual ski boot or much of an "all terrain" boot.  I was willing to give up a lot just to have a decent ski boot.

Including the ability to walk very far in comfort.  Forget about actually being able to climb in them. 

Thankfully times have changed drastically in a few short years.  But, now sadly  stalemated, and not gone all that far forward in the last 5 years.

The definitive review IMO for this sort of comparison:

There are other reviews,  And all are worth reading.  But it is what is not said that becomes really important to me.

Make sure the review you make your buying decisions on (if you do) is a review that relates to how you plan on using the boots.

In most cases I know something personally of the online reviewers that do ski-mo gear reviews.    So I pick and choose the opinions/experience that relate most closely with mine.  I say it over and over on the blog..make sure it "fits" it boot, clothing or how you plan to use a specific piece of kit.  It really is all about the "fit".

Specifically, if you are looking for a boot/gear to lift ski with and huck cliffs, this is likely not the blog you should be reading.   I do ski lifts more than half my days on snow but I don't intentionally huck anything.  And I want to get the most bang from my gear and $.  So I will press anything into service for my own needs.  And then see if it breaks.

Up is important to me.  I want a "real" ski boot that climbs technical ice and alpine terrain well.

Two of these boots will do that easily.  Although admittedly the PDG is pressing the definition of a "real" ski boot IMO.  The third has some limitations...but few for skiing,  I had never seen voiced.  Each has advantages and disadvantages in a side by side comparison.

TLT6 is the warmest boot here and most water/weather proof and the "best REAL ski boot".

PDG likely the best technical climbing boot and for me any way the easiest (because of the pronounced rocker) to walk/hike in.  Not that the other two are bad for walking mind you.  Marginal at best as a "real" ski boot.  But for mobility and as an alpine "tool" they are a great boot.  Just realize by comparison to the other two boots here the skiing support is some what limited in the PDG.

Alien 1 is a ton of REAL ski boot for the weight, could use more rocker in the sole for better walking IMO and could be more weather resistant.

Weights, per a single boot?
This is how I ski the boots so keep that in mind on the weights as yours might vary an once or two.

TLT6 P, size 28 shell, lwt buckle switch, 28 Spectra liner and a 29 green tongue cut to fit, no power strap :
2# 12.5 oz with tongue, 1270g
2# 9.5oz w/o tongue. 1190g
BSL 307mm
$1000. @ retail

PDG, size 29 shell, . stock race liner,  no power strap :
2# even, 910g
BSL 309mm
$850. @ retail

Alien 1, size 29 shell with lycra gaiter (use reguired IMO):
1# 15.1oz, 882g 
BSL 305mm
$1799.00 @ retail

Pricing?  By far the Alien 1 is the most difficult boot to get a discount on.  No one in their right mind would pay retail for any of these boots!  Easy to find on sale generally.  But not always easy to find in your size.
One might well ponder, when you can literally buy two pairs of amazing boots for the price of one....

Jason was pretty clear in his review linked above.   Of the current light weights, the Alien 1 skis exceptionally well.  The PDG/EVO not as well.  The TLT6 in any version will ski better than either.

All are really good boots paired to the right ski and mission.  All have limitations.

I have used the TLT 6P for everything from the Haute Route to the steepest skiing I do.  I love this boot.  Enough so I have a new pair stashed away unused.  That happened after being unable to fit myself in any of the newest new, similar use boots out this year.  Which just makes a few less reviews to write..which is good :)   I have nothing negative to say about the TLT6.  It climbs most anything I am capable of climbing  with ease, short of hard mixed.  But they are pretty sweet on pure ice.  And with the right liner, just warm enough for belays in Canada or the Alps during the winter.  Crampons are easy.  I use a Grivel G20.  G20s fit like they were designed as a unit.  They weren't. I asked.  But the fit is that good.   As few other crampons work as well.  I have used this boot on alpine WI3/4 a lot.

The PDG?   With a lwt ski (Nanga Parbat, short Cho or a race skis) I really like this boot.   Easiest boot I own to hike and climb in without the hassle of a specific add on gaiter.  Most pant gaiters work fine.   Also much easier in and out of them than the sock liner of the Alien 1.   Which is important to me when I get cold feet or even at the end of a long day in the mtns.   PDG is not the best fit I have ever had.  Still working on that in mine.  Bearable but could easily be better.  (So far it aint easy getting a better fit.  Still a work in progress)      Crampons?  Again, it is easy.  G20s fit exceptionally well.  And I have tried most of the crampons available for fit on all three of these boots.  I have friends that have climbed WI6 and M7 in this boot.  And they have been up and down the Ginat many times then skiing back into Chamonix the same day.

On thing I missed..but needs to be noted.  After a year of use I have not detected any unusual sole wear on my PDG.  I know it had been a problem on some EVO and PDG boots the prior couple of seasons.  My first pair of PDGs fell victim to the ridiculously soft sole rubber.  Which in turn likely killed a lot of sales for both  boots.  But so far with my current extreme wear issues. (bought last Fall)   Same wear patterns as my TLT6P, which is negligible.  YMMV but that is mine.

Alien 1 ?
This boot is without question an amazing ski boot for the weight.  Literally twice the ski boot for me compared to the PDG and more comfortable, once they are on.   Getting the boot on and off is a hassle how ever.   I like the sock liner in use.  It is needed even with the lycra gaiter to keep your feet warm and "dry".   The Alien 1's sock liner is neoprene for the most part and because of that, a VBL liner, with all that it implies.  You will have wet feet at the end (beginning) of the day.  Keeping them warm is another story altogether.  But the VBL helps keep your feet warm as does the lycra gaiter, by keeping snow from direct contact with inner boot.  Ski boot? check!  Light weight?  Check!  Mobility?  Check!  Crampon fit?  Nada/nothing..or at least nothing normal I want to actually "climb" in.   (as in "ice climb")

Jason said, April 29, 2013 at 8:45 PM
  1. I'm using the petzl dartwin with a BD toe bail and it seems to fit well. I've spent a few day climbing ice in them and haven't had any problems. The CAMP 290's also seem to fit pretty well  although I haven't used them yet. 
I have not tried Jason's combo.  It is worth looking @ new bails and/or heel pieces to see if what you have will work.   If you have found a rock sold technical crampon combo that does work on the Alien 1 please let me/us know.

Take a look at the various race crampons with a different heel attachment to find something that will work.   Toe shape isn't much better.  The Alien 1 toe lip is pretty small   I need the Grivel ski-mo specific wire toe bail to be comfortable with this boot's sole shape.  The Alien 1 will keep a heel lever crampon from working on the back of the boot.   My Grivel RACE?  They actually do work front and back.  The RACE is the only crampon I own that will work on the Alien 1.   Camp XLC 390 is another contender but I'd have to work with it some before  being comfortable with the heel lever position.  3 of these are also aluminum "ski-mo crampons".    They were never intended as technical climbing crampons.

Race boots, race crampons and likely race bindings?   It is a very deeeeeeeep rabbit hole.   Take that as a warning..... ;-)

Durability?  Likely TLT6 is the most durable.  The PDG the least.  No surprise I guess by even a simple visual/tactile comparison.

So how do you choose?

$?  Depth of your pockets can solve the choice right here.  It has mine several seasons in a row for  these boots.

Weight alone can be deceptive.  But the Alien 1 wins that one.  By either 13.4 oz (26.8oz for the pair) or .9oz (1.8oz for the pair)  So not by much how ever.

Skiing alone?  Hands down the TLT6.

You want a ski boot, to climb in?  TLT6.

You want a very specialized, lwt climbing boot you can get around in with crampons and not always feel as if you might die skiing?  PDG is a good bet.  (but it could be warmer)

Local Chamonix Guide on the Midi with a client, 4/14.
They had done the Ginat a few days earlier in the same gear
PDG, G20 and race bindings.

You want a skimo (true ski mountaineering) boot?   Alien 1 (but by design and crampon fit it is sorely limited on ice and cold conditions IMO)

Me?  I am back to working on my fit in the PDG.  And may be adding a voile strap for the down, to improve how it skis.

As I said early on.  Know your reviewer and how they use their gear.  Decide what your priorities really are.  Then choose wisely.


Unknown said...

I've yet to use them in anger but the fit of my old (1990?) Grivel 12 point crampons looks good.

This model

The front bail looks solid, the foot pattern close to that of the sole of my Scarpa Alien (I presume the Alien and Alien 1 are the same). Crampons used for ice climbing 20 years ago and were secure on my Asolo AFS boots.

Don't think anything like this is still made, they collect snow very easily. I weatherproofed my Aliens by cutting a neoprene liner sock and stretching it over the boot. Works OK though I'll probably use a smaller sock next time.

Peter said...

Dane - you are the joint!
It's a rare blog where you can go from stylin' the top end of the cosmique to your four pint size "clients" at the local hill - you got it covered.

thks for boot info - been wrestling w transition from lasers (!!) and freedrides to tech setup (tired of taking up the rear of the bus with my tongue hanging out on the uptrack) gonna go w sixes, assuming they fit

thks again


Anonymous said...

Just realized that crusted snow sometimes cuts the inner boot of the pdg, although the pant gaiter covers the boot well. In harsh conditions i would rather enjoy a sturdy tongue. But then the shoe is so incredibly light and comfortable. Its definitely my go-to boot for everything.

Anonymous said...

Hah. Me too. I love my TLT6 P - for me it's the best boot ever made. you can actually run, jump and dance in them and yet they ski incredibly well. and they are *so* light. Maybe the best bit is the range of the cuff (which substantially contributes to the above run, jump, dance part)

Dane said...

Some good boots out now. But for my own use the TLT6 is still the "best boot" :)