During one of my prep sessions for a recent winter trekking trip to Skuleskogen National Park in Sweden I discovered that my waterproof trekking boots were as waterproof as a cheese grater. Fair enough, in my army years they really took a beating and I guess that was to be expected after five years of heavy use. Nevertheless, wet feet in cold environments can cause so many horrible problems that I really needed to invest in new boots. Because I want to do proper mountain work in the near future I opted to widen my range of outdoor footwear with a slightly heavier pair of boots. Boots I could take on alpine excursions, without being to stiff for difficult treks.
The middle ground between these two would be a good C or light D category boot. These are stiff, crampon compatible boots that still have a little bit of sole flexibility in them, so you can also use them for trekking through difficult terrain, preferably off-trail.
There is a particular boot in this category I have wanted to try for a while, but they seemed to be out of stock – they are due for an update. As luck would have it, my size suddenly popped back up into stock so I seized the opportunity and ordered them.
I’m talking about the Hanwag Friction GTX. Hanwag is a very traditional German boot maker. They are well known for their old-school double-stitched boots (where the sole is literally stitched to the upper using two rows of very heavy stitching, making these models almost indestructible). Hanwag also make very well thought out modern trekking and mountaineering boots though. The Friction GTX is such a boot. On top of being a well-made piece of equipment, I also like the look of this particular version.
C- or D-category boots are usually quite heavy and well made, which can be expected from boots costing upwards of 300 Euros. Construction wise it’s pretty much par for the course here as well, but Hanwag have really gone out of their way to make these as light as possible, without compromising usability in difficult and demanding terrain.
Where a lot of D-category boots consist of suede or rawhide leather, Hanwag has opted to make the Friction’s partially, in less exposed areas, out of Cordura and synthetic materials. Also, they have opted to let D-ring style lace eyelets on the lower part of the shoe go, instead choosing to have the laces go through Cordura eyelets sewn into the material. This has upsides and downsides. An obvious pro is less metal in the boot, saving weight. Another one is less metal rubbing onto either your feet or the Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, enhancing expected lifetime. Normally, boots start to soak through earliest at the metal eyelets. An obvious downside is that Cordura is easier to wear down than metal. However, due to the Click-Clamp lacelock system installed halfway down the laces, wear-and-tear on the Cordura eyelets is reduced to a minimum. Well-done Hanwag!
Stitching is quality throughout, with two rows of stitching on high-wear areas, for example at crampon brace zones. The materials used are beefy as well, with a thick layer of rawhide leather covering most of the boots. This stuff will definitely stand up to abuse!
Like most, if not all, boots in this category the Friction GTX comes with a high rubber brim around the upper, protecting the leather from scree and rock, and moisture. The outsole is beefy, with a Vibram Dolomite profile, providing grip on anything but ice. One annoying thing is that this wears down rather quickly, especially with use on tarmac. This, however, can be expected, as the shoes are so stiff that they don’t flex much during walking. The tarmac is tougher than Vibram rubber compounds so it wins that battle, regretfully. This problem is less noticeable in the Friction’s natural habitat – mountainous, mixed and difficult terrain.
The Friction GTX is equipped with a brace point for crampons on the front and the back, so in theory it should be possible to step into pretty much any model. Do make sure that yours fit before buying a pair though!
Insulation wise they’re far from the warmest boots, but I wouldn’t say that they are suitable for just about any summer outing either. I would say they are good enough for temperate climates, where temperatures can range from anything from -10 Celsius to about 15 to 20 Celsius. Insoles make a lot of difference here, though. I used them with a felt insole we tested for Woolpower. It was nice for winter use, but way too warm for 15 Celsius and above.
I especially like the Click-clamp lace-lock system halfway up the boot. This ensures that you can adjust the forefoot part of the laces to your liking and don’t have to fiddle around with that part of your laces every time you put them on. This saves valuable time and energy, especially in difficult terrain and weather. If you have a high forefoot, like I do, this also ensures that you can create enough space there without compromising on heel lock, because you can still pull the rest of the laces in really tightly.
The Friction’s have a normal, if slightly roomy, fit. This is mostly done to accommodate foot swelling in warm weather and double-socking in cold weather. I have found that these boots are most comfortable while double socking with one thin and one thick sock. This creates an extra cushion, as these shoes are quite stiff and hard without it. This might be an individual issue, but if I only wear one sock I get a sore point at my left big-toe joint. That is quite peculiar, but totally manageable. The fit is also carefully worked through to make sure the boots stay comfortable during long crampon use.
Most of these I have already mentioned, although some are worth going through. The boots are equipped with ventilation holes on the shaft, assisting with dumping excess heat (as much as possible though, these are obviously and understandably still covered by the Gore-Tex liner). They also feature multiple pull-tabs to assist donning and doffing: two on the tongue and one on the back of the shaft. The leather heel cap is protected by highly durable PU-coated leather, so crampon locks will cause less damage in the long run. All of these features make these Hanwag boots very durable and very usable. As for durability: all Hanwag boots feature a cemented construction, enabling resoling and prolonging their lifetime. The Friction GTX is no exception. This really makes them worth investing in and essential to maintain properly.
So far I have used them in difficult terrain in Sweden and tarmac in the Netherlands. I will not put them through much tarmac use anymore as that puts them up for a resoling job way sooner than my wallet would like – that said, for a D/C Category mountaineering boot they’re not half bad on the road.
During a winter trek in Skuleskogen, Sweden they were in their proper element. Scrambling up hills, navigating snowy and icy trails, plodding through bush… They have saved me from nasty falls multiple times. The Vibram Dolomite outsoles are beasts, providing grip on pretty much anything but ice. Wherever the trails were more like ice-covered slip-and-slides (all the time, more or less…), the Friction’s basically just became tanks, making sure I could traverse alternative routes over rock, snow and scree – it was awesome.
In June I will take them with me on a Via Ferrata trip to Germany. I hope they will perform as admirably there as they did in Sweden.
Built to last
Bright red – instantly recognizable
Grippy on anything but ice
Reasonably warm but not ridiculously so
Stiff but comfortable
High protective brim
Click-clamp lace locks ensure custom fit
Vibram wears down quickly on tarmac
Only really comfortable with thick or double socks
So far I really like these boots. For such a stiff boot the Hanwag Friction GTX still feels quite comfortable while walking in flat or slightly angled terrain, but they can handle the rough stuff as well. Thanks to the Click-clamp lacing system the fit is somewhat customizable and it saves the lace eyelets as well. They also play nice with various crampons and gaiters. The outsoles are replaceable and have traction on pretty much anything except icy trails and ice-covered rocks. The look is nice and bright, and the technical details make them stand out. All in all a very well rounded boot suitable for difficult treks and entry-level alpine excursions.
One caveat though: due to the fact that Hanwag is about to release an update this particular version will be difficult to get. The revised version will be slightly different in look, and will feature Hanwag’s Alpine Wide fit, which features a wider toebox to accommodate wider feet and to enable the use of thicker socks. If that’s your thing you might want to wait for a couple of months!