Medial view of the Salewa Pro Gaiter with a Petzl Lynx crampon attached. This boot has front and rear toe welts to accept step-in crampons.
The Salewa Pro Gaiter was the second heaviest super-gaiter boot that we tested. While the Pro Gaiter is a very trim boot made from lightweight materials, the adjustable shank in the sole certainly adds weight. We felt that the added efficiency of the walk mode offset the 100 or so grams likely added by the adjustment mechanism. If your objectives typically have long approaches, the benefits of the adjustable sole will compound and be worth the weight.
Rock Climbing Ability
The Salewa Pro Gaiter climbs dry rock well for a mountaineering boot. The Pro Gaiter has a trimmer fit than the other super-gaiter style boots, and feels less clunky on the feet. When locked into climb mode, the sole provides a rock solid edging platform similar to all of the rigid boots in the review. When flipped into walk mode, the sole is able to flex slightly which allows for a small degree of increased sensitivity. We recommend leaving the boot in walk mode not just for the approach, but for any climbing up until you put on crampons.
We found two small faults in the rock climbing ability of the Pro Gaiter. The sole is slightly thicker than most to allow for the climb/walk mode mechanism. This puts your foot slightly farther from the rock, which makes balancing on your feet harder. Also, the lugs are more widely spaced than other boots. While this unique design sheds snow better, it also makes a more uneven platform when standing on small holds or edges.
Ice Climbing Ability
Lock the sole into climb mode and step into your crampons, this boot will climb ice with the best of them. We found that the sole still had a small amount of flex in climb mode, but only by visual inspection, we never noticed the flex while wearing crampons. We tried front pointing with the boot in walk mode. Even with the sole flexing a good amount, we never had a crampon pop off due to the wide toe welt and well shaped sole rocker. We were able to notice the flex under foot so we recommend locking the sole before climbing, but if you forget you may not even immediately notice.
We feel that the Pro Gaiter has a distinct advantage over any other boot in the review in this category. Currently Salewa is the only boot manufacturer using an adjustable sole which converts from rigid to flexible. This patented design is called the Flex System, and uses a cam in the heel to tension a metal shank. The cam is controlled by an allen key on the lateral heel of the boot.
The Salewa Pro Gaiter has a climb/walk mode which is adjusted with an allen key. Though it sounds like a gimmick, this really makes a difference, and allows to boot to be much more flexible and comfortable on approaches.
We initially had a the same question about the Flex System that many are asking: "Is this a gimmick or is it a game changer?" The verdict is that it works. When the boot is in "walk" mode you can distinctly feel the flex underfoot. The sole doesn't get quite as soft as a semi rigid boot like the La Sportiva Trango S Evo - Men's or The North Face Verto S4K but it comes close. Lock the boot into climb mode, and it front points as well as any other rigid boot we tested.
If your climbs frequently involve a large approach with out crampons, then this is your boot. Think approaches like Mt. Whitney, in winter or just about anything in Patagonia where you will walk a long way before putting your crampons on. The ability for you foot to flex slightly on the approach not only eases the discomfort of being locked into a flat position for a long time, but also adds efficiency to your stride by allowing you to push off more naturally. If you typically spend more time with your crampons on then off, then this added feature is probably not worth the added weight and you many want to consider a light but stiff boot like the La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX.
One thing we did find is that the allen socket did frequently become clogged with ice and snow. We were never unable to get the boot converted from walk to climb, but it did require some digging to get the allen key in far enough that we felt like it wouldn't slip and strip. After a couple of outings we filed one end of the included allen key into a point to make a cleaning tool. Since we did that, we simply clear most of the ice out of the hole with the point then flip the key over to change modes. The allen key happens to be the same size as the one Petzl uses for it's tool head bolts, so if you carry one of these you won't have to carry two keys.
We found the Salewa Pro Gaiter to be a very warm boot. The Pro gaiter uses a Thinsulate layer to insulate the boot as well as the outer super-gaiter which adds insulating airspace around the foot. We tested the boot side by side with the La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX and found that the super-gaiter of the Salewa boot gives it extra airspace and therefore is a warmer boot.
Salewa also makes an Insulated Fit version which has a 4mm wider last. The extra width allows for more wiggle room, especially in the toe area, which can mean more blood flow and warmer feet. The Insulated Fit is made from the same materials as the Performance Fit.
For absolute waterproofness it is hard to beat a super-gaiter style boot. The Pro Gaiter does not use GoreTex, but rather uses an unnamed waterproof/breathable membrane. The T-zip which closes the super-gaiter is the same zipper used on some of the best drysuits, which means it's completely waterproof. We never felt outside water getting into this boot.
Super-gaiter boots are typically made from a variety of modern fabrics to maximize warmth, weight, and waterproofness. This doesn't always mean that they will be the toughest fabrics. Leather is hard to beat for full on burliness.
The very first time we wore our Pro Gaiters, the plastic lace lock broke on both boots. We removed the broken piece and tested the boot without being able to isolate upper and lower lacing zones. We didn't feel that we were unable to properly tighten our boots without this piece, but we did come to appreciate the metal lace locks on the La Sportiva Batura 2.0, which are very durable. The Scarpa Phantom Tech also shares an identical weak plastic lace lock as the Pro Gaiter.
Wear-and-tear wise, we had a few minor complaints. The taped seam on the inside of the gaiter began to peel at the edges from rubbing against the inner boot. Also, the upper plastic part of the toe welt on one of our boots began to deform slightly. Crampon fit was not affected. Neither of these things were major issues.
What we were most curious about with this boot was if the adjustable sole system would fail in some way. It did not. We were always careful to make sure the allen wrench was deeply seated into the hole before turning to prevent stripping. This could be a potential failure point, since the allen bolt which turns the cam is made of plastic instead of metal. The bolt turns with a medium amount of force and pops onto place when tensioning the sole into climb mode. When converting the other way from climb to walk, the adjuster has a feeling of release which is also obvious. We were always careful not to turn the key the wrong way or too far.
This boot excels at ice climbing in cold, wet conditions, especially on climbs that have a long approach. The adjustable sole stiffness makes this the go to boot if you often hike a long distance to your objective without crampons, but still need a rigid sole for front pointing once you get on route.
The the price of the Pro Gaiter falls in the middle of the field of super-gaiter boots we reviewed. It is the only super-gaiter style boot with an adjustable sole, which makes it have a slightly wider range of use. If you are contemplating a winter boot and a lighter semi-rigid boot for climbs with long approaches, this boot may be able to bridge the gap for you, saving you from buying two pairs of boots. The Scarpa Phantom Guide is a very similar boot without the adjustable sole, and priced about 5% cheaper than the Pro Gaiter.