Dave tests out the top notch winter mountain boot from Italian company Salewa
A classic upper design, with an indestructible 3mm Perwanger leather and a GORE-TEX® Insulated performance lining combined with the most innovative technologies, such as the only adjustable sole system and the anatomical last with climbing toe profile.
Mountain boots are a very subjective item to buy, they can certainly make or break a winter climb and there have been many occasions when I’ve been virtually crippled, hobbling back to the car in foot agony.
When we were offered a pair of the Salewa Pro Guide boots for test I was a little uncertain as they require some in depth wear and can take some time to test properly. But I’m pleased to say I haven’t been disappointed as the boots have performed exceptionally well straight out the box.
Firstly, the boots are burly. They are built to last years, these aren’t some lightweight, disco dancing boots that are going to last a season or two. They will last for ages, made from 3mm Perwanger leather – a great leather, locally sourced and steeped in Alpine tradition since 1780! A nice touch in these globally sourced manufacturing days. At just over a kilo per boot they are, however, a little on the heavy side. Especially if you are used to the ‘disco dancing’ lightweight boot. For a full leather boot though they feel light and I never noticed them to be overly heavy on any day I have worn them. I felt the extra few grams were well worth the extra protection the Salewa Pro Guides offered over lighter boots I’ve worn in the past.
They come in two fits so it is important to try on both before you buy: a medium/performance fit for technical ice and mixed climbing and the wide/insulated fit for comfort and warmth. The difference is 4mm and I tested the wide fit. I don’t have particularly wide feet and found the wide fit very comfortable and didn’t notice any movement inside the boot when I was climbing in them.
The boot was further reinforced with plastic 3F inserts which we mentioned in our Firetail GTX review last year. This provided some extra tightening around the ankle area as well as protection against knocks. The 3D EVO tightening system had some features that are worth mentioning: all the eyelets were made from stainless steel and riveted to the boots. There were two eyelets with pulleys to help get the correct fit and a locking eyelet that had a tiny locking cam to keep the toe area. There were further locking points at the ankle and the top of the book. This gave some flexibility with the fit but I had to be careful and I soon learned that I needed two different fits for walking and climbing (this is standard stuff for most boots though).
I had a tough, early season day on Ben Nevis and found the boots really painful on the descent, once I had stopped and readjusted the tightening system the boots were fine. The problem was that the locking cam was full of snow and ice and was difficult to release with gloves on. I found the following systems worked best for me:
Approach – loose fitting with laces tightened around the ankle area. I could walk all day in the boots with this system, it was very comfortable. I was careful not to over tighten the toe area to keep my feet nice and warm.
Climbing – tighten up the toe area (but not too tight as to cut the circulation) and cinch tight around the ankle and shin area. I use the Andy Kirkpatrick reef know method of lacing. Although the to clamp style eyelets worked well at keeping the laces in place when I was tying knots and bows.
Descent – as for climbing for technical descents and loosen off for gully descents.
Walk out – as for approach.
So a flexible system works best.
The boots are insulated with Duratherm and were warm, there wasn’t one day this season when my feet felt cold, even on long belay sessions. The footbed insert was also insulated and easy to remove for drying out and replacement.
So how were the boots for climbing in? In short – great, I couldn’t fault them. The Salewa Pro Guide boots have yet another feature the Flex system: a system that stiffens to the boot for steep icefall or mixed climbing. The problem here is that it needs to be adjusted using an allen key, something else you’ve got to carry and remember to use. I’ve been using the boots all season and to be honest haven’t felt the need to use it for any route I’ve done in the UK. The boots have worked perfectly well up to technical mixed grade 6 and I felt that they would perform perfectly well on all mixed climbing. On the occasion I did use it the system felt fine for climbing in but I forgot to re-adjust on the descent and that made the boots more uncomfortable for walking in as I did really notice the difference after a while. There is a nice video here from Salewa showing how the system works:
I can see some benefits to this flexible system and I think the system I will adopt is to leave them in walk mode for UK winter climbing and change them to climb mode when I take an ice climbing trip or when I’m going to do a long ice route. It’s a new and novel concept that I can see real benefits to, Salewa designers and climbers have come up with a system that tries solves a real problem for climbers, but I just can’t help thinking that it’s an added complication on what can be a long and tiring day. For ice climbing with short walk-ins though sitting down for a few seconds and adjusting the boots will make a difference to the performance.
The toe box was very tough, this is an area that has let me down in the past and I like mine tough. I could happily kick steps and kick front points into ice for long periods without my big toe throbbing in agony. There is a full rand around the boot and the GoreTex lining helped keep the water and snow out.
The sole unit was asymmetrical in design and made using a Vibram unit. The unit is fully resoleable should you need to have one fitted. The front and heel bale lips worked well and were made from tough polyeurothane plastic, I did like the way the front lip didn’t protrude at all and kept the front clean for rock climbing moves. What I really liked though were the lugs, these were very deep and offered great security when on steep snow, the fibreglass insole also helped when side stepping across a slope, this a great feature that helps differentiate the boots.
So, in conclusion the Salewa Guide Pro boots have been great to wear: comfortable straight out the box, good to climb in, They are really warm, the tightening system offers flexibility and they should last for years (if you look after them). On the down side they can feel little heavy and you have to remember to leave the house with the allen key if you are going to use the Flex System. A nice boot though and Salewa have done a great job of trying to overcome a common problem for winter climbers. I suspect we’ll see more of them in the mountains in future.
The boots also come in a gaiter version- the Salewa Pro Gaiter and the sizing is UK 6 to 12 in half sizes. Don’t forget that they come in two fits; performance and wide so do try them on in a specialist shop – I have seen them in the shops so you should be able to have them fitted professionally.
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Nice review, but aren’t Salewa German?
Yes they are – but their history is Italian.