The Great Winter Boot Dilemma

There’s a slightly surreal feeling as you find yourself surveying a winter boot collection accumulated over a number of years.  At one end of the range (left) I have the boots that I loathe – the Scarpa Vega may, on other people’s feet, have scaled every 8000m peak in the world, but that doesn’t mean that anyone ever took any pleasure from walking in them. They are like blocks of wood, only less sensitive. I remember grimly struggling with these boots on the approach to the glacier on Cayambe in Ecuador. I also remember being laughed at in the Alps as being the only person in the entirety of France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy combined to be wearing double plastic boots. Oh yes, each and every last person in the Alps that summer was wearing the trendy La Sportiva Nepal Evo (second boot from left): solid, dependable, with thick leather to keep you warm and, like the Vega, graded at B3. These are the boots that I am presently taking on short jaunts to find out just how much damage they might do to my feet on an epic day.  I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised: I’ve been expecting a similar agonising experience to the Vegas, which they haven’t  yet delivered (yay!)…  but they are decidedly weighty. They seem a bit of overkill for a Scottish winter (unless climbing higher grades) when compared to the gold standard Scarpa Manta (old model, centre, graded B2). Whether intentionally or not, this boot seems to have been designed with the Scottish winter in mind, able to cope with approaches through the bog, wet snow, scrambling over slippery lichen-covered rocks and the ubiquitous heather bashing as well as the more typical demands made of a winter boot. But perhaps the ultimate ‘all-rounder’ boot for Scotland, versatile enough to be used in summer conditions, but also a stalwart doyen for most winter conditions is the Scarpa SL (second from right). This is my year round go-to boot. My many pairs have seem umpteen Munro expeditions (summer and winter), have taken me up Shasta and Rainier in the Cascades and peak bagging in the US Rockies and trekking around all manner of terrains in New Zealand.  In my opinion this boot is top of the B1 grade. I’ve spent entire days with crampons attached to this boot and they cope admirably. It is one of the few all-leather boots remaining on the market, and I’m hoping that Scarpa don’t make too many changes to this iconic model. At the lower end of the B1 grade is the La Sportiva Trango (right). It’s amazingly light and comfortable, but I’m not convinced that it will stand up to many months of traversing sharp scree or scraggly heather. And that’s why I avoid taking them over too much of this.  Obviously it’s a matter of opinion but personally I don’t find that these offer sufficient ankle support to permit more than occasional use of crampons.

….and finally the Scarpa Omega in the background, which insisted on photo-bombing my collection:   I was looking for pair of these (rumoured to be warm and very lightweight for a double plastic boot-  and ideal for Scottish winter conditions) … and what happens? My husband finds a pair in his size in the sales ….like he needed another pair of boots…. but that’s another story.

(Note: To be fair to the Scarpa Vegas they do come into their own on icy terrain. They are warm – which is an absolute necessity at high altitude, unless you’re wanting frostbitten toes –  and they are, above all, bombproof. I’ve spent numerous mountaineering trips trying to destroy them and haven’t yet succeeded).

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