Once upon a time I thought there was only one sort of boot: 'walking' boots. How naive of me. I knew I'd got something wrong when I asked Baz the ice climber in the pub: "Will crampons fit these?", and he nearly died after inhaling a mouthful of beer. My little world of soft Gore-tex and leather was enlarged by the technicality of winter boots – and as I learnt you can't get much more complex than boots – B1, B2, B3, Alpine, expedition, Scottish winter and the absurdly named 'cold winter boots'. So what do Zamberlan Alpine mountaineering boots offer the likes of me: an aspirant winter mountaineer with the beginnings of a crush on ice climbing but mostly at large in the UK?
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First impressions were good – as you'd expect a true Alpine boot to be, they're rigid, (C2 compatible) and have a full rubber rand and reinforced toe. Thankfully they're a distinct aesthetic improvement on my old brown breeze blocks. I was worried my chunky Brit feet wouldn't slide easily into the slim fitting Italian ladies design but, just like Cinderella, my usual shoe size (39) went on without a fight. And amazingly I could walk almost normally – none of that Frankenstein stomp - because they're fantastically light. I was so inspired I walked to work in them in the first snowfall of winter and didn't have to rip them off my feet after a couple of hours. In fact I kept them on all day. Great ... but the comfort of urban stalking isn't what they're designed for.
"...I worried my chunky Brit feet wouldn't slide into the slim fitting Italian design but, like Cinderella, my usual shoe size went on without a fight..."
The crampons were dusted off shortly after for a visit to a Welsh winter-wonderland, and the real test began. Once I'd mastered the clever lacing system, the fit was fine (the ability to adjust foot and ankle tightness independently is a first for me). I could feel my toes wiggle and my heel was clamped in like an oyster. And incredibly I had no 'new boot' blisters after a 10 hour epic day of stomping uphill through deep fresh snow, kicking the shit out of frozen waterfalls (a questionable pastime) and an interminably long walk off.
One small shortcoming was that the laces were irritatingly thin and short to handle for someone with cold hands who'd prefer not to take their gloves off – a problem solved by the purchase of different laces.
As rigid boots go, they're not bad for a long trek. The ankle cuffs are soft enough and high enough to give both good support and movement and I didn't feel my feet had been welded into concrete. These are B2 boots and I had no trouble getting a close fit with C2 crampons. There's a good heel welt and the sole is stiff enough to stop them straying anywhere (The boots have a good 'edge' to the toes and make climbing without crampons very possible). Playing ice maiden with them on was great - no excruciating toe pain (I got that in the face from the flailing end of an ice axe instead), and good stability.
"...So how would they cope with an Alpine winter?"
Warmth: to me this is part and parcel of the comfort of a boot, and initially I'd spurned the macho sport of ice climbing because all I could envisage was the purgatory of frozen toes. Using the right socks helped change my mind - and I went for a single pair with the Torres rather than two to avoid cramped toes. This was fine until I found the cold creeping in unpleasantly on a blue-sky minus 8 snowy day in Cwm Idwal and also during a tromp through the icy bogs skirting Ben Nevis – which was when the concept of 'cold winter boots' suddenly became less insane. These are Alpine boots: they're lightweight (a good thing), but it means they're limited in the amount of warmth they'll provide (a bad thing) in the depths of a UK winter. So how would they cope with an Alpine winter?
Zamberlan GT RR Torre Women's Boots
The boots had their ultimate test on a trip to the frozen Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps – and they came good. Waterproofness was trialled thoroughly when I proved my hesitant words: 'The ice looks thin here', true by going for a quick icy paddle. And the Vibram sole's deep tread kept me from falling on my arse on well-trodden snow tracks. I'd taken precautions against chilblains in the continuous sub-zero temperatures and stuck a pair of Yeti gaiters over them. These, and one pair of wool socks, kept my feet happy. Hard kicking in a desperate panic to stay attached to a grade 4 route of 90 degree ice didn't have any ill effects on them either.
Effectively 3 season boots but given an extension to 4 if encased by gaiters.
Available from Specialist Alpine Shops. Contact email@example.com, 0161 432 0319 for stockist details.
About Sarah Flint (aka fishinwater)
Sarah writes a bit, climbs a lot and prefers to be outside rather than in some office staring at a computer. She got bored with her previous obsession, gardening, a few years ago, and found the strength and fitness developed in the 13 years she had been head gardener, suited climbing perfectly. Since then she's been greedy to cram as much climbing experience into her life as possible.
Where before she wrote about vegetables, she now likes to write about all things climbing and is keen to share the learning curve of her new addiction. She's based in the south west which is ideal for popping out to a crag before lunch and whenever the addiction calls.
She has a blog on climber.co.uk called 'Off the Wall', which is mostly about how not to climb.
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