The Best Mountaineering Boot for Men Review
We tested eight of the best mountaineering boots ever made, including some of the latest and greatest, and some tried and true performers. We wore these boots to climb ice, snow, rock, and choss from the Sierra to the San Juans, from Patagonia to the Ruth Gorge. We discovered the best boots for multi-week Alaska expeditions and for red pointing single day mixed test-pieces, for climbing single pitch WI6 horror shows to multi week alpine sufferfests. We measured weight, warmth, waterproofness, durability, and the ability to climb ice and rock. We also considered how well a boot will handle the approach whether it be a ten minute boot pack or a two-day ski.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Before we get into this review, let us note that we broke some of the mysteries about what category of boots they need achieve their goals in the mountains in our Buying Advice article.
An old adage says that the weight of your foot is equal to many times that much weight out of your pack. Regardless of what multiplication factor you use to calculate the gains, it is undeniable that the weight of your gear is a factor when mountaineering. Lighter is better, all other factors being the same. Lighter gear is opening up new possibilities, not just for the elite alpinists but for average climbers too.
We weighed all of our boots in comparable sizes using a digital scale and ranked them against each other. Our lightest test boot was The North Face Verto S4K, which is a great boot for warm weather mountaineering. We were most impressed with the La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX which is super-gaiter boot weighing less than many single boots, but offers much more warmth and protection.
Rock Climbing Ability
Underneath all of that ice and snow in the mountains is rock. While most of the boots we reviewed are designed with crampon climbing as a primary focus, we considered how well a boot will climb rock without crampons. We found that the major factor in climbing rock in boots is the amount of ankle flexibility the boot allows. Other factors were sole rocker, toe profile, and thickness of the sole. For pure rock climbing, we prefer boots with a moderate amount of sole rocker, a narrow toe profile, and a thin sole. The less ankle support the better, for either fourth class or easy fifth, which is what we found ourselves climbing in the mountains without rock shoes.
Mountaineering boots typically edge very well due to the stiff platform of the rigid or semi rigid sole. Where most boots lack in rock climbing ability is smearing and sensitivity. Experienced mountaineers develop ways to climb and move over rock in rigid soled boots that are different from how they would in rock or approach shoes. For instance, pockets or cracks that you may use in rock shoes may be worthless to mountaineering boots, but tiny calf burning edges will feel solid underfoot in stiff boots.
The North Face Verto S4K was the lightest boot in our review, and we found that it climbed rock the most efficiently. This is due to a combination of the flexible lightweight upper and the flexible sole which allowed for a higher degree of sensitivity underfoot. We also found the Best in Class winning La Sportiva Batura 2.0 to climb dry rock extremely well do to it's thin carbon fiber sole, which allowed the foot to be closer to the rock for better balance.
Ice Climbing Ability
Ice climbing ability is a measurement of a boot's ability to climb ice and mixed with crampons on. The factors we considered were: if a boot had a fully rigid sole, how much the upper supported the ankle while frontpointing, if it accepted step in crampons, and how well those crampons fit the boot. Our test crampons were either Petzl M10s or the newer Petzl Lynx. All of the boots were tested using wire toe and heel bails except for The North Face Verto S4K. The Verto was tested using the Lynx with the included strap toe bail since the Verto will not accept a wire toe bail.
We favored boots with a fully rigid sole over boots with flexible soles because they make for a solid, supportive platform while front-pointing in vertical ice. We also favored boots that had both front and rear welts to accept step-in crampons, because we have found that wire toe and heel bails provide for more security and precision than strap attachments.
Our two favorite boots for pure ice climbing were the La Sportiva Trango Prime and the Batura 2.0. While these boots vary greatly in warmth and levels of protection, they both have fully rigid soles, toe and heel welts, and the perfect amount of ankle support for standing on front-points. The worst boot in the review for pure ice was The North Face Verto S4K, which lacks both a front toe welt or a rigid sole. The lack of toe welt meant that the boot had to be fitted with a toe strap crampon, which we find to be less secure or precise than wire toe bails. We also found the Verto to sag greatly under body weight when standing on front points, which tired our feet and calfs quickly. The Verto is much better suited for less than vertical snow or neve than pure ice or steep mixed.
Alpine climbing and mountaineering usually involves a good amount of approaching before the real climbing begins. We wore these boots on both long and short approaches, and considered sole flexibility, ankle support versus restriction, and weight to measure how well they handled the approach. We tested these boots over approaches that varied from roadside ice in Colorado to full day hikes in Patagonia.
We found that the lightweight The North Face Verto S4K and the La Sportiva Trango S Evo - Men's handled approaches the best due to their non-rigid insoles and flexible uppers. We would recommend these boot for moderate snow and neve climbs in the Sierra, where the approaches can be longer than the actual climb.
Since it has the innovative feature of a convertible walk/climb mode, we were surprised at how well the Salewa Pro Gaiter hiked when in walk mode, and then became completely rigid in climb mode. We think that the Pro Gaiter would be a great boot in the Canadian Rockies or Patagonia where the approaches are longer and the climbing is hard and steep, requiring a fully rigid boot.
For many, warmth is the number one concern when selecting the perfect product. We wore all of our boots extensively in temps ranging from 60 above to 20 below, and evaluated how warm our feet were. We often wore two different boots at the same time to objectively compare them. (This earned us some funny looks.) One day while climbing ice in Lake City, Colorado with a La Sportiva Nepal on one foot and a Salewa Pro Gaiter on the other foot, we were stopped and questioned by other climbers. On this day we found that the foot in the Pro Gaiter was noticeably warmer than the foot in the Nepal.
We also found that a factor in a boot's overall warmth is related to fit. We recommend a healthy amount of wiggle room in front of your toes. Certainly upsizing too much will sacrifice performance, but if you cram your feet into too small a size, your blood flow will be restricted, your feet will get cold, and you won't send. See our Buying Advice to learn how to achieve a proper fit.
To test the waterproofness we hiked and climbed though wet snow, slush, and dripping ice. It goes without saying that staying dry is the best way to stay warm, so we closely monitored when our feet got wet.
Many of the boots in the review use the industry standard waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex lining, which we found to keep our feet dry flawlessly. We highly recommend Gore-Tex as a waterproof boot liner. A few of the other boots use other waterproof/breathable membranes such as OutDry, which we also found to be completely waterproof. The only boot that claimed to have a waterproof membrane and readily let in water was the La Sportiva Trango Prime. The absolute driest boot in the review was the La Sportiva Batura 2.0 which uses two layers of GoreTex, a waterproof zipper with storm flap, and has an extra high cuff.
Mountaineering boots aren't cheap, so everybody wants to get the most from their investment. We used and abused all of the boots, and then inspected them for signs of wear. We also noted where they failed or appeared that they may fail in the future. None of the boots in our review had any total failures which made them unclimbable.
Our Best Buy award winner the La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX was our most durable boot in the review. The Nepal is constructed of thick Perwanger leather and uses metal lace hardwear which should last for years and years. The most disappointing failure was the from the La Sportiva Trango Prime which has fabric/leather lace loops that broke and forced us to modify the lacing pattern in the field. It should be said that we likely climbed more pitches in the Prime than any other boot in the review, which subjected it to more abuse than the others.
We think that spending as much money as you can the first time around is important. Cold feet or getting a boot not designed for your objective will both shut you down. We think that spending the extra money on the boot that truly fits your needs is the best way to get the most from your money.
The boots in this review differ in weight, support, and function making it difficult to sort through the options. When choosing the best pair of mountaineering boots to buy, you first need to take into account what type of boot will best fit your mountaineering goals. We hope that the tests and observations written about in this review has helped you to sort through the different features to find the perfect pair for your feet. Our Buying Advice article offers even more advice on what to keep in mind when making your decision.
— Luke Lydiard
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