Black Diamond has released their most advanced approach shoes yet this past Spring, the Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes. I’ve been testing a pair for the last few weeks and am ready to share my take on their comfort and performance. First lets look at the manufacturer claims and specifications.
Engineered for days when the word “approach” actually involves full-on climbing, the Fuel is our most technical performance shoe. The Fuel’s upper combines breathable EnduroKnit, a durable stretch woven lateral panel, and welded TPU film overlays for maximum durability and precision fit. The internally overlapping tongue allows for fewer seams and a sleek comfortable fit with minimal bulk, while the lace-to-toe construction features webbing and scalloped eyelets for variable, adjustable fit and tensioning to suit different conditions. A climbing-specific forefoot construction allows for exceptional edge control and our BlackLabel Mountain rubber is ultra-sticky for superior grip on rock. Finally, a tag-loop on the heel and tongue gives you the option to clip the Fuels to your harness once you rope up.
Capable of easy 5th class climbing with confidence and comfort.
Upper construction of Black Diamond developed knit and woven textiles with welded TPU film overlays for adaptable fit and maximum durability
Low profile molded collar padding and lining
Protected lateral laces and smooth upper construction
Overlap tongue means fewer internal seams for precision fit
Lace to toe with webbing and scalloped eyelets for adjustable fit and tension depending on conditions Functional climbing forefoot construction for edging control and durability
Tuned dual density EVA midsole with stiffness and comfort
Black Diamond BlackLabel Mountain is a high performance sticky rubber
Rubber toe protection
Multiple webbing loops for tagging options
MaterialsPolyester Enduro Knit, EVA Midsole, BD BlackLabel-Mountain Rubber
Size RangeM’s US 6-14 1/2 sizes
WeightEACH: 312 g (11 oz)
Out of the box the first thing I noticed was the lightweight feel. My US Size 9 pair weighs 1 pound 5 ounces (600 grams) which is slightly lighter than the manufacturer claimed weight an about an ounce heavier than my LaSportiva TX 2’s. A fair comparison in terms of weight and support would be closer made to the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes.
The second most notable feature was the welded “TPU film overlays” especially on the upper around the heel. I’ve seen this technology used in high end waterproof jackets and using it on an approach shoe not only gives the shoe a very high tech look but also inspires confidence in the long term durability of the shoe.
I went with a US Men’s size 9, EUR 42, and the fit was pretty spot on for my medium width regular arch foot. I probably could have sized down a half size but with a full length lacing system I was able to snug these up sufficiently for low 5th class climbing. I did notice some heel lift while wearing them around the house on Day one of testing but interestingly when hiking around Rumney NH I didn’t notice the heel lift. The heel cup could definitely be a little deeper. The wrap style tongue and padding was quite comfortable while testing with and without socks… something to consider in hot weather these actually felt pretty comfortable without socks. The EVA midsole provided plenty of under foot support and had noticeably more cushioning in the heel than other approach shoes in this category.
In class 2, 3, and 4 terrain these perform well as approach shoes. They definitely had adequate grip and comfort over 4-5 mile trips in New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains. To test them in fifth class terrain I climbed a half dozen routes at Rumney, NH ranging from 5.3 to 5.7. They felt more secure while edging vs. smearing which I think may be in part to the rubber used in the outsole. The “BlackLabel Mountain rubber” feels a little stiffer than the compounds used in competing brands which makes these feel like the soles will have longevity with a small reduction in the coefficient of friction. As I’ve found with most approach shoes I’ve tested the friction can improve as the soles break in a bit. I usually have maximum confidence in my smear-ability once the “dots” on the soles have been worn down and the bottom of the approach shoe looks more like the bottom of a climbing shoe. Perhaps after a full season of use I’ll feel these smear a bit better.
It’s not easy to speak to much on durability when my testing window is only a few weeks long. That said a close look at the construction of these inspires confidence you will not wear through a pair of these in a couple seasons. They would certainly outlast some similar models with the futuristic welded seams and significant toe rand.
The Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes are a welcome addition to the growing list of approach shoes. The price and features puts them up against shoes like the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes and they certainly can compete. A slightly deeper heel cup would be nice and a softening and smoothing of the outsole over time will likely increase the security while heading up slabby terrain. I also think it is great that Black Diamond is producing a women’s version since options for women’s approach shoes haven’t always been there. If you are in need of some new approach shoes this is a model to consider, especially if you’ve worn Black Diamond climbing shoes before and know their sizing fits your feet!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. Thank you.
Hoka One One (pronounced Hoka oh-nay oh-nay) released their new multi-use hiking shoe, the Sky Arkali, back in March of 2019. Over the last few months I’ve hiked a few dozen miles in the White Mountains with them and I’m ready to share the results!
First here is the manufacturer’s description of the shoe:
The Arkali continues to challenge what’s possible in a hiking shoe. There’s off-road, offtrail and then there’s off the map. HOKA ONE ONE® has just gone vertical with the Arkali. A combination of running shoe innovation (light and comfortable), climbing shoe technology (exceptional grip and traction) and hiking boot engineering (rugged and protective), the Arkali looks ready for anything. And with a MATRYX® upper, high-abrasion toe cap and adjustable heel and ankle straps, it is. It features a PROFLY™ midsole, which has a softer heel and more responsive toe-off, plus 5mm multidirectional Vibram® Megagrip rubber lugs. The Arkali is waiting to take you to the top of the world.
MATRYX® upper featuring high-tensile synthetic fiber strands across the midfoot for unparalleled strength and durability at minimal weight
High-abrasion rubber toe cap extends to the midfoot for increased protection
Ankle and heel straps offer structural and proprioceptive support on uneventerrain
PROFLY™ midsole for a cushioned landing and propulsive toe-off
EVA top midsole for running shoe cushion at an incredibly light weight
Rangi™ bottom foam offers durable cushioning and a responsive feel
Vibram® Megagrip hi-traction outsole with 5mm lugs
Multidirectional lugs for supreme grip
Now let’s get into how they performed!
Out of the box the first thing I noticed was these are much more of a shoe then the ultra-light approach type shoes I typically review. I had heard a lot about the comfort of Hoka One One shoes and was looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about. The most obvious characteristic of the brand is the noticeable amount of “cushion” these shoes employ. From out-sole to insole I measure a full 1.75 inches of cushion. This is easily double the amount of cushioning in all other brands of hiking and approach shoes I have reviewed and a brand trait that has made Hoka One One quite popular in the running world.
Despite the bulk of the shoe I was impressed to see that Hoka was able to keep the weight down to just shy of a pound per shoe. I will mention that Hoka does not specify on their website that they are not listing the “per pair” weight, but actually listing “per shoe” weight. That’s a little odd in my opinion as almost all shoe manufacturers list weight “per pair”. Regardless, the shoe is noticeably lighter than many hiking boots on the market especially when considering the amount of comfort and support I will get into in more detail below. But first let’s go over fit and sizing…
Fit and Sizing
I wear between a US men’s size 8.5 and size 9 depending on the brand and for these I went with the 8.5. I have a medium width foot with a slight Morton’s tow and average arch. These fit my feet quite well with plenty of width if my foot was a little on the wider side. The approach shoe style lacing made it easy to snug them up for a semi-technical descent and I had plenty of wiggle room on the spacious toe box. The lacing and Velcro system easily held my feet in place while descending so I had no issue with “toe bang” while moving fast downhill. To help with sizing Hoka has collected this feedback from purchaser’s:
While the fit was great the true test came on a rugged and heavily rooted trail on Mount Chocorua. After each mile I became aware of how well the extra padding in these shoes was keeping the bottom of my feet for getting the least bit tender. When I test thinner approach style shoes I often search for smoother surfaces while hiking to avoid late day foot soreness but these hiking shoes are so protective under foot that I stopped looking for the ideal foot placements and just cruised along.
They are not waterproof, which doesn’t bother me at all as I prefer breath-ability over waterproof for all my non-winter adventuring. That said they did feel a little on the warm side, which was perfect for the crisp Fall hikes I’ve been using them on but they did feel like they might be a little warm for hot weather trips.
The Hoka One One Sky Arkali boosts one of the most aggressive soles I’ve tested in this category. 5mm Vibram® Megagrip rubber lugs tore up and down multiple wooded trails and performed well on low angle wet and dry slab. I would not push these into low 5th class terrain like some truly dedicated approach shoes as the amount of space between your foot and the footholds, along with the style of out-sole, do not inspire confidence in technical terrain. For 95% off the White Mountain trail system these have more than enough traction!
My first test run of a Hoka One One shoe went quite well. I can see how adding a bit more cushioning might remove some of the sensitivity of the shoe but it goes a long way at keeping your feet happy after pounding down a dozen miles of rough trail. So who are these for? They are a bit bulky for rock climbers to use as an approach shoe. I think these are a great choice for day hiking, fast hiking, and trail running if your prefer more padding over saving a few ounces. Long distance ultra-light backpackers will find this a solid choice as well. Ultimately anyone who has ever had sore feet after a long hike might benefit from trying the Hoka One One brand, and the Sky Arkali is a great place to start!
Thanks to my friends at Friendly Foot every footwear review I do this year will include a chance to win a two bottles of the best damn foot deodorizer on the planet! I seriously use this stuff daily and my wife reminds me if I forget (my feet used to stink really bad). There are multiple ways to earn entries so just click the Rafflecopter link below and good luck!
A few months ago I received a pair of Mammut Saentis Low Hiking Shoes to review. I’ve since logged over 100 miles of White Mountain mileage in them and am ready to share my thoughts in a review. Let’s start with the manufacture claims then get into how they faired on the trail!
Extremely light and flexible: the Saentis Low Men is a reliable multipurpose shoe for a range of applications. It performs excellently on fast-paced narrow forest trails but will also be an essential favorite lightweight shoe for the mountains. Its Michelin® sole gives it excellent grip and an optimum sure-footed step on uneven terrain. The outer material impresses with an extremely breathable mesh as well as robust properties for pleasant comfort and durability. From ascent to descent – the Saentis Low Men will take every situation in its stride and prove its great versatility.
Last index: mtrTech
Flex index: A4
Hybrid Shell: Blend of supple inner and tough outer materials for enhanced comfort and good adaptability.
Pre-shaped tongue construction
TPU toe cap
Cushioning Strobel construction
Michelin® rubber compound
Weight (UK 8.5) [g]340 <- my home scale put a pair of size UK 8 at 694 grams
I went with a men’s US 9, EUR 42, UK 8. This size fit my feet perfectly with more room in the toe box than I am accustomed to since I most often wear more technical approach shoes. The heel cup and forefoot width felt perfect with plenty of stretch to accommodate a wider foot. These might not be ideal for someone with a very narrow foot.
Breathability– The feature I most noticed during testing was the extreme breathability of these shoes. I wore them on multiple hot and humid hikes through July and August and my typically hot feet stayed much cooler than some other shoes I’ve tested in this category recently. While the vent mesh is super breathable this is not a water resistant shoe so you should hop over those puddles rather than plow through! If you do get them wet they dry quite quickly!
Traction– The Michelin® sole on these performed extremely well on dirt, mud, sand, and typical forest duff. On wet rock traction performance was a bit diminished over some softer approach shoe soles but still better than the types of soles found on most hiking boots.
Comfort– As I mentioned earlier these fit my feet quite perfectly. The stretch mesh lining would easily accommodate a wider foot but my medium width feet stayed secure while traversing low angle slopes and the lacing system was very sufficient at keeping my feet from sliding forward during descents. The midsoles have plenty of cushioning for long days on the trail and the excellent breath-ability made wearing them a pleasure on multiple warm/hot hikes!
Durability– While I can’t comment too much on durability after just 100 or so miles I can attest that the appear to be holding up quite well. Close inspection of the stitching and junctions of the outer materials reveals these are crafted with the attention to detail Mammut is well known for! I have no doubt these could last for 800-1000 miles!
These are a great choice for trail running, hiking, and ultra-light backpacking. At $129 MRSP they offer an excellent value in a high quality hiking shoe. If you put a high priority on breath-ability, low weight, and comfort you should take a look at these!
Thanks to my friends at Friendly Foot I’ll be giving away two bottles of the best foot deodorizer ever made! I’m not kidding my wife notices right away if I haven’t been using my Friendly Foot powder! See for yourself how you and your loved ones need not suffer smelly feet by entering to win a bottle of the powder and the spray at the RaffleCopter link below!
I’m up early but it looks like my guiding day might get rained out so I decided to scour the web for some of the better deals on outdoor gear and clothing as most companies end their Labor Day sales today. Below is a curated list of what is not only on sale but something I have personally owned and tested or is on my wish list!
REI is running some sweet deals like 20% off Thule and Yakima racks and roof boxes! 25-30% off most REI, Big Agnes, and Nemo tents and sleeping pads! They also made it easy to find the items that are actually 50% off by grouping them under their “Peak Deals“. Expect limited quantity and sizes in there!
Eastern Mountain Sports is going big with quite a bit of inventory 70% off! 20% off all Black Diamond, 20% off La Sportiva Footwear, and a current coupon for an extra 20% off a full or sale priced item! COUPON CODE: “LABORDAY19“. There is a fairly long list of excluded brands though… you can see the list here. Finally they have summer clearance items listed at 70% here!
Patagonia is running some great web specials like 40% off the Micro Puff and Nano Puff jackets and hoodies visible here.
Just about every retailer is running sales today and since it looks like a wash-out here in the Northeast I think I’ll spend some time today organizing my gear closet and seeing if I’m all set for the rapidly approaching Fall!
Coming soon… I’ve got reviews in the works for the new Wild Country Revo Belay Device. The “Take20Summer” coupon code does work on this item by the way! I also finally got my hands on both the Mammut Smart 2.0 and the Mammut Alpine Smart and testing has begun! Expecting to have reviews on all of these done in time for Rocktober!
Climbing trip to Camden ME in two weeks! I’ve been to Camden twice for some family camping but this trip it’s just me and my buddy Bob heading out to sample the climbing there. Have you been? Must do routes? Let me know in the comments below!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
P.S. The above links are affiliate links. Making a purchase through one of them sends a small commission my way which helps keep content coming. Thank you!
Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip reports located at these links:
A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!
This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!
I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!
This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.
For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!
My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!
Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!
The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.
I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.
Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.
The new Reactik+ is awesome! Up to 15 hours of burn time from an easy to recharge via USB battery with 300 lumens and able to throw light 360 feet! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans. (Updated this to the newest model which is high on my wish list!)
A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. You can see some of the footage about a minute into my Forbidden Peak video! (updated 2019 link to the amazing new GoPro 7 for the great onboard stabilization! <- currently reviewing)
I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!
This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope
Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below!
The new Salewa Wildfire Edge approach shoes arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve since logged a dozen or so days hiking and climbing in them. The obvious feature that intrigued me is the so called “Switchfit” system that promises a select-able performance orientated “climbing mode” and a comfortable casual “hiking mode”. I’ll go into how this “tech” lives up in reality but first let’s cover some of the less “edgy” features of this higher end approach shoe.
Out of the box these felt great. I went with a US men’s size 8 after Salewa recommended downsizing a bit. In a US Men’s Shoe I typically bounce between a 8.5-9 and since I wanted to be able to take full advantage of the “climbing mode” downsizing felt appropriate. The size 8 was the right call and the width was perfect for my medium width feet. The toe box is sufficiently snug without being too snug. This might not be the right choice if you have a very wide forefoot. The heel cup is also the right proportion for my foot and feels quite secure without having to lace them up excessively tight. An interesting feature of the removable foot bed is that they can be customized to adapt to different volume feet. I left them assembled for a “medium” fit and they feel great!
The outsole and midsole offer a fair amount of torsional rigidity and underfoot support. Forefoot flex is on the stiffer side for approach shoes which is advantageous for reduced foot fatigue on long rocky treks, security while edging in technical terrain, and a bit negative for smearing on slab.
Salewa uses a Pomoca sole which has one of the nicest tread patterns I’ve seen on a trail shoe. I found traction to be excellent in dirt, mud, and forest duff. The diamond shaped lugs are about 3 mm raised in the forefoot which make for great traction while fast-hiking up dirt trails during our “mud season”. On the heel 5 mm raised lugs made descending dirt/mud trails feel quite secure if I needed to pump the brakes.
Under the big toe the lugs have been suppressed to create a climbing zone, or “EdgePlate” which is becoming popular in this specialized shoe category. The idea here is to provide more surface area for technical rock climbing. These felt somewhat secure on dry 5th class rock that was edgy. They were definitely adequate for 5.5 featured face climbing, but 5.6 slab quickly felt in-secure. The rubber compound used is noticeably denser than something like 5.10 Stealth rubber. The advantage is I feel this sole will easily outlast a softer higher friction sole, at the cost of friction on slabby dry rock. On one test hike I encountered a very low angle wet section of granite bed-rock where I found the soles to really struggle with decent traction. This was a very un-traveled spot and my suspicion is I was walking on some Spring thin lichen that will pretty much make any shoe slip but friends who had joined my fared a bit better on this short section with their softer sole compounds.
For the most part these shoes provided excellent traction for what we encounter hiking and scrambling in the White Mountains, handled featured low fifth class rock well as long as it wasn’t too slabby, crushed muddy steep trail runs both up and down, and only came up short on wet “licheny” slab.
Time to talk about the elephant in the room! What is SwitchFit? Salewa says these shoes have a “hiking mode” and a “climbing mode”. At first look it might appear that the difference between these two “modes” is simply lacing the shoes tighter to activate “climbing mode”, and that’s not too far off from reality. However it you look a little closer there is some actual effective design in this system that changes how these shoes feel when you crank them tight. The last eyelet the laces run through functions like a 2:1 pulley attached to a Spectra type cord that runs around the heel. When you snug up the laces for technical climbing and pull the laces forward the snugger heel pushes your foot forward in the shoe. In this mode my foot felt completely stable while edging on 5.5-5.6 face climbs. To switch to “hiking mode” you simply loosen the lacing which opens the toe box up and makes for more comfortable hiking. It’s a pretty simple system but it does what it claims to do!
While I’ve only put a month or two of mileage on them I’m confident they will be be one of the longest lasting approach shoes I’ve tested. I base this on the thickness and relatively denser POMOCO outsole and the way Salewa wraps a substantial rubber rand up and over the big toe on the toe box. Close inspection of seams and eyelets reveals every point of potential stress has been appropriately re-enforced.
The Salewa Wildfire Edge is a well built durable approach shoe suitable for rugged trail runs, 4th and low-5th class scrambling, and fast & light backpacking. While the “SwitchFit” system might seem a bit gimmicky at the end of the day it does exactly what it claims. Durable and comfortable this is one of the best approach shoes I’ve tested. Nice work Salewa!
Every footwear review I run this summer will be an opportunity to win some of the best damn foot deodorizer ever! I’m been a die-hard fan of this stuff for at least 5 years now. My wife takes notice if my stock is getting low as it is the only thing that works on my funky feet! Climbing shoes, ski boots, approach shoes… it doesn’t matter! A sprinkle of this in my socks and my feet smell great after any full day adventure. Enter for a chance to win a bottle by clicking the Rafflecopter link below!
I’ve been a huge fan of Arc’teryx for quite a few years now and Backcountry is running an awesome sale on all Arc’teryx including footwear and gear! Below you’ll find my top ten picks from the sale, some of which I have linked to my in-depth reviews.
Other models I’ve climbed in over the years include the casual Rogue VCS and the more performance minded Anasazi Pro. I’ve never been disappointed with a Five Ten which also carries a whole line of mountain bike shoes!
I feel fortunate to have gotten my first few days of rock climbing in for the season this week before I start my WEMT course next week and have my head in the books for a bit! A day at Cathedral Ledge, another at the recently re-opened to access Band M Ledge, and White Ledge in Albany all with great weather and even better friends was the perfect start to my season.
Finishing up a few pitches on Cathedral Ledge on the exposed last pitch of Goofer’s
Benny sending Bandit, old school 5.9, out at the recently re-opened to access Band M Ledge
Alex getting her first leads of the season in on “Trail of Tears”, 5.9 White Ledge, Albany NH
This will be my third winter skiing and climbing in my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots and I should have shared this review much sooner! The good news is since they are not new-this-season you can score a pair at amazing savings (like 45% off!). That’s basically pro-deal price available for everyone! But you still probably want to know if it’s a good boot for you right? So let me share my experience with them to help you decide!
I got these at the start of the 2016/17 winter as part of a back-country setup optimized for uphill efficiency but that could still slay on the downhill.
How I tested
I’ve since skied over 50 days in them including two week long ski trips to Iceland. This includes skinning at least twice a week while teaching avalanche courses every weekend from mid-December until April. I ice climbed in them a half dozen times up to leading grade 4 waterfall ice. I’ve skied them on powder days and more typical east coast crud days. I’ve worn them all over Mount Washington and on groomers at local ski mountains. Suffice it to say I’ve put enough time, miles, and elevation on them to form some opinions!
Let’s start with…
I went with a Mondo size 27.5 for my US Men’s size 9 feet (slight Morton’s toe, medium arch/width). I wear my favorite Darn Tough ski socks with them. They fit like comfy cozy slippers for walking and skinning. They are comfortable “enough” for vertical ice climbing… but I’ll get into that more under climbing performance. When cranked tight for downhill performance they are as comfy as any ski boot I’ve ever worn, but I’ll go into a little more detail on that under ski performance.
When I say they are the most comfortable ski boots I have ever ice climbed in you must take it with a grain of salt. Why would someone climb vertical ice in ski boots? Well if it involves a ski approach/descent having a one boot system is a pretty sweet option. With out a doubt I’d say these climb better than any dedicated climbing boot skis. Simply put climbing boots do not ski well as they have virtually no “forward lean”. I learned this lesson the hard way skiing out of Chimney Pond in Koflach Vertical mountaineering boots many years ago. Long story short dedicated mountaineering boots might be great at hiking & climbing, but they will always come up short for real downhill skiing.
Enter the Arcteryx Procline. In touring mode this boot is definitely comfortable enough for a 12 mile approach even if it includes quite a bit of walking. However it is to stiff laterally for classic “French Technique”. You will find yourself switching to front pointing as soon as the angle is too steep for simple heel to toe walking. While leading waterfall ice up to grade 3 it performs quite well and I even led Grade 4 in them.
A modern dedicated ice climbing boots like my Arcteryx Acrux AR are noticeably more comfortable (and warmer) for real technical rock and ice climbing… they also are terrible for downhill skiing. Perhaps the best way to explain it is route and condition dependent. While everyone reading this might not be familiar with my local terrain I think these examples should work.
Early season or low snow years ascent of Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington (Grade 3) which involves a 2000 foot 2.5 mile approach. I’d stick with a comfy mountaineering boot and leave the skis at home.
Mid-late season or great skiing conditions ascent of Pinnacle Gully, this would be a perfect boot!
My next Katahdin trip.
Finally you should know these are not the warmest boot out there. I have some freakishly warm feet so I tend to get by with less insulation than some of my climbing partners but there was one sub-zero day in Tuckerman Ravine where I got pretty cold toes while teaching an avalanche course. Standing around in them in arctic conditions is not the best idea. I still think they are plenty warm for fast & light adventures or summer trips to the Cascades.
The Arc’teryx Procline boots are only compatible with tech bindings like the Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings (my setup) or the G3 Ion 12 Bindings. I’ve been using them to drive the DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 Skis (168cm). I assembled this set up to focus on uphill efficiency. Total weight for skis, boots, bindings is only 6.5 pounds per ski! Thanks to the 360 degree rotating cuff these are incredibly comfortable to walk and skin in. The carbon plate to switch from walk to ski mode has an easy to operate lever. In practice if you are not leaning forward enough while switching to ski mode the plate might not align perfectly with some raised nubs that really lock the plate in place. It’s quite easy to lean forward during this process and after a little practice you’ll get the plate to lock completely with little fuss.
Once switched into ski mode you can crank the two buckles down and the “power-strap” adds even more control. The boots definitely feel laterally stiff enough to ski fairly aggressively. Edge to edge control is sufficient enough for any black diamond in-bounds runs and I find the boots supportive enough to drive the skis in spring corn and mid-winter powder. When conditions are icy New England crud you’ll find me skiing these in a fairly conservative manner.
The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots are the most comfortable boot I have ever skinned uphill in. They also are the only ski boot I’ve climbed technical ice in. They perform so well on the downhill that I ski them on in-bound groomers but really appreciate the all day comfort during long back-country days. They are not the warmest boots out there, but I have others for days when it’s really really cold out there. If you are in the market for a boot that is as efficient for uphill travel as it is for downhill travel you should take a close look at these! I’m really excited for my third winter season in these!
So what’s changed with the new model this season? Check out this video from ISPO 2018 to learn about the upgrades the new version of this boot has! (Thanks to Ron B. for sharing this with me through Facebook!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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Likely one of the most important choices a climber makes involves their footwear. Happy feet are so crucial for happy climbing and my feet have been quite happy the last few winters while I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Before I break into the details here is how they have been tested:
Mountaineering: (paired with Petzl Vasak Leverlock crampons)
Two full winters guiding in the Northeast with 4 winter ascents of Mount Washington with the lowest ambient air temperature around -20f and wind-chills around -50f. Some alpine climbing in the Cascades with ascents of Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Rainier.
Waterfall Ice Climbing: (paired with Petzl Vasak Crampons, Black Diamond Cyborg’s, and CAMP/Cassin Blade Runner’s)
30+ pitches of waterfall ice climbing including Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), The Black Dike (WI4+) Drool of the Beast (WI5-) and Repentance (WI5).
I mention specifically what crampons I tested these with as this is a very important consideration when selecting a climbing boot, especially in this case and I will get into that further in the review. But first lets take a look at some of the details of this design.
I’ll start with some preliminary info from when I first received these boots back in October 2016.
“A pinnacle of design for mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing, the Acrux AR is the lightest, most durable, and lowest profile insulated double boot available.”- Arcteryx.com
That is a strong statement, and it happens to be true. Let’s compare some of the other lightweight double boots on the market:
La Sportiva Spantik (88.96 oz/pair)
La Sportiva Baruntse (82.96 oz/pair)
La Sportiva G2 SM (72.22 oz/pair)
Scarpa Phantom 6000 (70 oz/pair)
Arc’teryx Acrux AR (69.1 oz/pair)
This is actually less than an ounce difference than my La Sportiva Batura 2.0’s that I reviewed last winter here.
The obvious difference between these and my Batura’s is that these have a removable liner.
These liners “feel high-tech” in hand. I wore them around the house and they feel like a comfy slipper designed for astronauts. From arcteryx.com:
“Arc’teryx Adaptive Fit technology uses a removable bootie that employs stretch textiles and minimal seams to create an instant custom fit with no pressure. With protection extended beyond the cuff of the boot and the highest level of breathability in this category, the bootie’s GORE-TEX® membrane optimizes climate control and waterproof benefit. The perforated PE foam’s quick dry properties improve comfort, and a rubberized sole allows the bootie to be used as a camp shoe.”
Arc’teryx partnered with Vibram® and created the AR outsole using Vibram® Mont rubber which keeps its frictional properties in sub-zero temps.
“The specially developed Vibram® AR outsole is designed for support and sure footedness. The tread and construction feature a semi-blocked toe, with anti-slip grooves, a medial climbing support zone, and heel created to provide braking on steep descents. The Vibram® Mont rubber compound maintains its performance in sub-zero conditions.”
Now that I have had sufficient time in the field to test them let’s get into the question on everyone’s mind. How do these perform?
On the approach
Honestly these have been the most comfortable mountaineering boots I have yet to wear. They feel like they were custom made for my feet. For reference I am a US men’s size 9, EUR 42, medium width forefoot with a slight Morton’s toe. Unlike my previous double boots (Koflach Degre, Vertical, and Arctis Expe) it is easier to put this boot on by first putting the slim fitting liner on then sliding into the outer boot. When the liner is already in the boot it is a little more tricky to slide on but not impossible.
The lacing system is probably the only thing I could imagine being improved upon. There is no traction/tension grabber that is becoming common in a lot of boots in this category. For a boot at the high end of the category I would LOVE to see Arcteryx take it a step further and add a ratcheting lacing system like Boa.
As it stands I’ve adapted my lacing strategy. For general mountaineering and easy ice climbing I lace them at home and leave them all day. For harder ice climbing (WI4 and up) I’ll lace them at home, approach, then take the time at the base of the route to snug them up for better performance on the vertical. It doesn’t take long and leaving them loosely laced on steep ice can lead to some insecurity.
For comfort on the approach and descent these score very high. They are super light and warm enough for my feet in all the conditions I’ve tested them in. I do have “warm” feet though so if you suffer from cold feet I would suggest some solid test runs before going to significant altitude. The long term comfort is so significant that I’ve returned home after 14 hour days and left them on while stocking the wood stove and cooking dinner. No joke I have not felt the need to pull my feet out of these as soon as I get home even after significant slogs.
One of the reasons they might be so comfortable on the approach and descent is the small amount of flexibility within the shank/out-sole, a trait some who have tried them are concerned about, but one that I feel is easily remedied. I will elaborate more on that in the next section.
On the climb
The slim looking low profile Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots are the Lamborghini of the climbing boot world. Ok, that might be going a bit overboard but seriously I find these perform extremely well on steep water ice when paired with the right crampon. Why is the crampon pairing so important? Two reasons.
These are super light boots. For hard ice climbs a heavier crampon might actually reduce your energy expenditure by giving your boot/crampon a better balance for efficient kicks. Before you call me crazy consider this is the same theory that explains the practice of adding pick weights to your ice axes. I find the heavier Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners to add a nice amount of weight allowing me to “kick lighter” and let the boot/crampon do the work. So super light boots are a plus for the approach and descent, but it’s nice to add a little mass for the kicking portion of your climb!
These boots have some flex. That small amount of forefoot flex feels great on that 8 mile approach, but when you are front-pointing on near vertical ice having a secure platform takes precedence. I noticed the flex first when leading a 3+ route wearing my well worn Petzl Vasak Crampons. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was noticeable. I’ve since lead multiple grade 5 ice routes using the Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners and in all cases the inclusion of the stiff heavier crampon virtually eliminated all noticeable flexibility while front-pointing on both steep rock and ice.
Five months of some of the best Northeastern ice climbing I’ve had in years have left me with a super positive impression of the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Slipper like comfort, 3-season like weight (yet still plenty warm for my feet), and high end performance when it matters most all add up to a fantastic new edition to the growing assortment of lightweight double boots. You should try a pair on!
Two years later and I’m still in love with these boots! I climbed Mount Shuksan, Forbidden Peak, and Rainier in them the following summer! You can see those trip reports here.
Thanks for reading! Take it one step further and comment below! Have you tried them? What did you think? What’s your current boot crampon/setup?
Disclaimer: Arc’Teyrx provided a pair of these boots for the purposes of review but all opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!