La Sportiva Trango Tower Extreme GTX Review

With a lightweight upper and an excellent balance of support and nimble-footedness, the Trango Tower Extreme GTX are superb technical mountain boots, says Toby Archer. So it's a shame the soles seem to wear so quickly.


With the Trango Tower Extreme GTX La Sportiva are maintaining their commitment to sentence-long product names guaranteed to cause confusion as you compare your boots with your mates:

"Yeah, I'm really impressed with just how warm my Trangos are for such a light boot."

"Really? I've had chilly feet in mine in winter."

"That is odd - but hang on which Trangos do you have?"

"Errr, Trango GTX I think they're called…"

"But Trango Ice Cube GTX? Or Trango Tower Extreme GTX? Or just Trango Tower GTX? Or Trango Alp Evo GTX?"

"Argghhhh….! I don't know! The ones with yellow bits on them."

"...I think they've all got yellow bits on them."

I had toasty toes on a chilly early season Ben Nevis  © Toby Archer
I had toasty toes on a chilly early season Ben Nevis
© Toby Archer

So what sets the Trango Tower Extreme GTX (or TTEG from now on) apart from their rather similar sounding siblings? Firstly they are what is now commonly referred to as B3 boots. Actually, they are not fully rigid, with a smidgen of flex making them more comfy to walk in - but they have a toe lip along with a heel lip meaning they can be used with full step-in crampons (confusingly again, step-in crampons are now sometimes called C3, although modern step-in designs tend not to be fully rigid like the C3 crampons of a decade ago!). There isn't that much "old-school" about the TTEGs, except their laces. In a world where top end boots are increasingly using alternative closure systems like BOA and integrated gaiters, there is something attractive about bog standard laces that you do up with a bow - I can even clip my own, separate, not attached to my trousers gaiters to them!

The Trango Ice Cube GTX is the other B3 boot in the Trango range - even lighter but considerably more expensive than the TTEG. Everything about the Ice Cubes screams light weight, and while the TTEGs are no heavy weights, at 1537g in my size 42s, I think Sportiva wanted to offer a Trango model designed specifically for winter climbers but with a bit more warmth and 'oomppff' to them than offered by the Ice Cubes. UKC's own gear editor Dan Bailey reviewed the Ice Cubes a couple of years ago and reported that within reason, they were warm enough for Scottish winter use, but I suspect the TTEGs with their "Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort lining" might have the edge on the Ice Cubes in terms of warmth [me too - Ed.]. Overall I've found them quite warm for UK winter climbing, regardless of whether that has been days of walking up through squelching bogs to thick wet snow, or days at about -7 and dry fluffy snow (wet conditions often make your feet feel colder because the wet snow conducts heat away more efficiently than dry snow).

They perform very well on technical mixed ground   © Toby Archer
They perform very well on technical mixed ground
© Toby Archer

photo
I've found them warm in a variety of conditions
© Toby Archer

Fit

I've had four pairs of Sportiva boots over the last 20 years, including two different Trango models, and have always gone for size 42. My feet are wide, whilst Sportiva have a reputation for using relatively narrow lasts. This sounds like a bad combination but all but one of those pairs of boots have been specifically bought for winter climbing - especially pure ice climbing. Buying boots that are wide enough for my feet guarantees space around the toes, not great if you are trying to rock climb in them, but perfect to allow your toes wriggle-room to keep them warm in winter and to stop toe-strike when front pointing.

They were comfy out of the box for big days on your feet  © Toby Archer
They were comfy out of the box for big days on your feet
© Toby Archer

The TTEGs in 42 actually felt slightly bigger in terms of internal volume than I expected and I considered swapping them for 41.5s, but put sole-to-sole with my 2006 Trango Extremes, the TTEGs were exactly the same length. It must be that newer materials in their construction are thinner, meaning more internal space. I've replaced the disposable inner soles with my Superfeet and splashed out on a couple of pairs of Aldi's finest super thick thermal loop-stitch hiking socks (seriously, if you need thick warm socks, it is the best £3.99 you'll ever spend!), and the result has been warm comfortable feet and no blisters, even the first time I wore the boots outside - a 12 hour day up and down Ben Nevis, perhaps not really the most sensible of 'breaking in' trips.

The laces have the standard looking eyelets so that you can tighten and loosen specific parts of the boot depending on whether you are hiking or climbing in them. I don't find the tongue as comfortable as on my old Trango Extremes, but when tightening them around the ankle ready to climb in them, I seem to have over-tightened the boots which has led to rubbing and a blister at the point where the ankle meets the top of your foot. With more careful lacing on subsequent days I've avoided repeating this, but it feels a very fine balance between too tight and rubbing, and not tight enough and a bit sloppy feeling when climbing.

Both men's and women's versions are available.

Walking performance

Overall their hiking performance has been very good - both in terms of comfort and grip. The boot uses the "La Sportiva Cube Vibram sole", and on rocks, grass and snow seems to grip perfectly well. The tread is not nearly as deep on my 2000 vintage Nepal Extremes, but Vibram still make soles that grip well, and the heel brake is deep enough for downhill traction.

The boots have a full Gore-Tex liner and are made of synthetic materials that do not absorb water, so the boots are completely unbothered by stream crossings, mud and wet snow, and your feet stay dry. The synthetic uppers, a mix of high tenacity nylon with added areas of reinforcement, seem up to the rough treatment they'll inevitably get in the winter mountains.

I can see their front pointing performance on ice being excellent  © Toby Archer
I can see their front pointing performance on ice being excellent
© Toby Archer

Climbing performance

With a deep thaw ongoing at the time of writing, I thought I should get my thoughts down on the TTEGs now based on the usage that the boots have had so far. That's only about a week of winter climbing, so I accept the following needs to be considered preliminary findings at most, and my views might change with time. Firstly the positive, and then the negative. In terms of climbing performance the Trango Tower Extreme GTX are superb: light, precise, supportive when necessary but with good ankle mobility for weirder mixed moves. This comment is preliminary in the sense that I haven't had opportunity to climb pure, steep ice in them - exactly the type of climbing that my old Trango Extremes were used for mainly when I lived in Finland. I have climbed ice in the TTEGs but it was easier angled - the boots worked great, and I expect they would work just as well as my old pair on steeper stuff, but I can't yet say for certain.

I've used them up to tech 6, but they will of course do you for much harder...  © Toby Archer
I've used them up to tech 6, but they will of course do you for much harder...
© Toby Archer

What I can say is they work great on hard (for me) mixed, up to tech 6. I have been using them predominantly with a pair of full step-in Black Diamond Snaggletooth crampons, and they feel precise and stable even on mono placements on rock. Their great climbing performance allied to being warm enough when belaying, and comfy even out of the box for two hour plus walk-ins, means the TTEGs seem pretty close to the perfect British winter climbing boot, particularly for anyone interested in pushing their grade.

How durable is the sole?

But now the problem, or at least a serious concern: sole wear. Rumours abound of rapid sole wear with the Cube Vibram soles that this model uses. Perhaps it makes some sense that if consumers are pushing for ever-lighter boots, then manufacturers will use a thinner and lighter sole to achieve this. With these boots, underfoot the sole is actually fine; all the wear so far is at the toe. This actually says on it "climbing zone" so I don't know if the rubber is different, but from the first day milimetres of the rubber were crumbling and breaking off. Of course we expect to see 'rounding off' happening to edge of the sole at the toe - but the TTEGs look nearly as worn there now after a week's use as my 13 year old Trango Extremes do - boots that I used to ice climb in once or twice a week from November to April when I lived in Finland (admittedly little hiking, and normally on snow), and have done a good number of UK winter routes in since I moved back here four years ago.

The front of the sole soon wears down!  © Toby Archer
The front of the sole soon wears down!
© Toby Archer

Perhaps once all the edge has worn away the rate of wear on the TTEG's soles will slow - but if not then I think they will need resoling very soon, before the wear reaches the part of the midsole that forms the crampon lip. This could potentially be after just days of use - not weeks, let alone months. I have not yet needed to resole either my 19 year old Nepal Extremes. Even if it added 100 grams to each boot, I think I'd happily take a thicker and more durable sole unit over needing to pay for a resole or potentially losing the ability to use the boots with step-in crampons. Nothing else on the boots shows any sign of excessive wear - the problem seems solely (!) to do with the rubber.

Summary

Overall the Trango Tower Extreme GTX are great winter climbing boots carrying on the fine tradition of earlier Trango Extreme models. And while the RRP of £345 is hardly cheap, few other B3 boots cost less. At least within their class, the TTEGs are not expensive. They climb very well, in part due to their lightness - but have we possibly put too much emphasis on light weight and forgotten about durability? It's a bit sad to admit, but I love my old pair of Trango Extremes - in part because they've been on so many little adventures with me; mile after mile, day after day, winter after winter. They weigh 250 grams more than the TTEGs - but surely that is acceptable in order to get a decade of use out of a pair of boots? The Trango Tower Extreme GTX are very good boots, and perhaps after a resole they will be the perfect British winter climbing boot.

La Sportiva say:

Trango Tower Extreme GTX is the fully crampon compatible mountaineering boot designed for technical use in the mountains on ice and mixed terrain. The uppers use an exclusive high tenacity fabric with mono-bavacon reinforcements differentiated with Honey-Comb Guard™ in abrasion zones. Featuring the aesthetics of the Trango line, weight is kept in check thanks also to the exclusive low volume, La Sportiva Cube Vibram sole. The Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort lining guarantees thermal insulation and breathability, the 3D-Flex System allows for better control on holds. The differentiated lacing system guarantees perfect regulation of volumes for optimal comfort.

  • Sizes: 38-48 (men) 36-43 (women), inc half sizes
  • Upper: High tenacity, waterproof, Nylon 6.6 with Honey-Comb Guard™ and FlexTec 3
  • Inserts: Microfibre + TPU THIN LAYER
  • Lining: Insulated Performance Comfort
  • Footbed: Ibi-Thermo insulating 9mm
  • Sole: La Sportiva Cube by Vibram® with differentiated lugs and Impact Brake System on the heel and climbing-zone at the toe

Trango Tower Extreme prod shot

For more info see lasportiva.com

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19 Apr

I am done with La Sportiva. Having owned many pairs over the years I have to agree with the article and bemoan the fast wearing soles AND rands. A few pairs of the otherwise excellent Trango Cubes wore out in very quick time. Both at the sole and the rand at the toe. A few extra grams and some durability are really needed.

19 Apr

I think this might be the same with a few brands.

Quite a few years ago I remember speaking to a tent manufacturer about how crap their light wight peg's were, they agreed but told me that the first thing people look at is weight and that effects sales, so they put light pegs in, even though they know they aren't very good.

If brands sales are linked to weight they will go light even if it effects the product.

19 Apr

The soles on my Ice Cubes were destroyed after a few summer alpine routes. Lyon, the UK distributor, said I can’t complain as it’s meant to be an ice climbing boot. Perhaps fair enough going by the Ice Cube name but that’s a rubbish argument if they’ve got the same sole on the other Trango variations. It’s simply not worth buying boots with this sole unless you always wear them with crampons, including the walk in. I suppose it’s ok it the walk in is on soft snow. So basically fine for ice climbing and Alpine approaches on snow off the lift.

Scarpa had the same issue with the new Phantom Techs which came out a few years ago. I wore out the sole on mine after about 10 days of Scottish winter. To be fair to them, the distributor got the sole replaced with a tougher one at no cost and it seems to be holding out better. Not surprisingly, the latest model hitting the shops later this year has that tougher sole.

I weighed the Phantom Techs before and after that resole. They ended up being 120g heavier. As Toby says, a price worth paying for durability on what is already a lightweight boot.

22 Apr

I bought a pair of these and I thought they were brilliant, specially in Scotland, the warm to weight ratio is fantastic. But I agree, they are roomier, more like a Scarpa fit, meaning that my usual boot size is too big for me, argh!