Footwear Frenzy PT 2: Hanwag Friction GTX

Overview

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.

 

Construction

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!

Hanwag Friction GTX Click-Clamp.JPG

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!

Features

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.

Hanwag Friction GTX Vibram Dolomite.jpg

Hanwag Friction GTX Rubber Brim.jpg

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!

Hanwag Friction GTX Crampon Front.JPG

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.

 Hanwag Friction GTX Crampon Back.jpg

Fit

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.

Details

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.

Usage

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.

Pros

Built to last

Bright red – instantly recognizable

Grippy on anything but ice

Reasonably warm but not ridiculously so

Stiff but comfortable

High protective brim

Resolable

Click-clamp lace locks ensure custom fit

Cons

Vibram wears down quickly on tarmac

Only really comfortable with thick or double socks

Overall

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.

Hanwag Friction GTX Overview.jpg

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!

Further reading

http://www.hanwag.com/friction-gtxr

http://scottishmountaineer.com/hanwag-friction-gtx-boot-review/

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Book review: The Power of a Cautionary Tale

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

During our recent hiking trip though the Julian Alps I was amazed by the sheer beauty of rock. I have been an avid hiker and trekker as well as an occasional scrambler for about five years now, but walking on small ledges, climbing short rock routes and the very sense of accomplishment reaching a high vantage point gave me, has kindled my interest in alpine mountaineering. I think it has to do with the fact that climbing in such a way is very much a thinking man’s game: while hiking up a steep hill can be tough work, it takes nothing more than perseverance and stamina. Technical climbing is slower, yes, but that has to do with the fact that every step has to take into account the next one.

9781447200185.jpg

So since we came back from Slovenia I have done a few things: first, I have started gearing up for a Via Ferrata trip. It’s obviously not the most technically demanding form of climbing but I figured that would be the most logical next step. Also, as we saw in Slovenia, it adds just a bit of safety to otherwise very exposed sections of some trails. I have some experience using this type of gear and the rope work it demands so I think this should be my entry into the vertical world.

Second, I like to read, so I acquired a copy of Jon Krakauer’s mountaineering classic Into Thin Air.

Krakauer likes to go into detail – supposedly he is still obsessed with the exact cause of death of Christopher McCandless, the main subject of his other bestseller Into The Wild. That same amount of rigor is applied here.

Into Thin Air chronicles the writer’s own experience while taking part in a guided expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1996. That year was a particularly unlucky one for Everest climbers.

As the highest mountain on earth, Everest was first officially summited in 1953 by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. Its peak is at 8848 meters above sea level. While there are more technically demanding mountains, the fact that it is the world’s highest point attracts many climbers – experts and relative novices alike. Especially since the advent of commercial guided expeditions and the invention of supplementary (bottled) oxygen, the technical capabilities of the climber in question have become less important to success.

Indeed, according to Krakauer, climbing mountains in that way has become exceedingly controversial in the professional mountaineering world due to the fact that to many purists, it takes the sport out of it. That may be a subjective feeling but the fact is that it has become much easier, and a lot more popular, to get into mountain sports in general. One of the negative effects is that this also attracts a fair amount of underprepared individuals – in the high alpine as well as your local hills.

At its core, Into Thin Air is a gripping personal account of a complicated disaster chronicling the terribly bad luck befalling the 1996 Everest Expedition organized by Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall. The writer was present for Outside Magazine, commissioned to report on the growing commercialization of high altitude mountaineering. During the expedition, extremely bad weather, slipping time frames, a number of underprepared or overzealous climbers, a short climbing season leading to a lot of traffic, some regretful decisions, and extreme altitude created a situation in which something, at some point, had to go wrong. At such great heights, even the smallest mistake may lead to complete catastrophe.

Even though the reader will have a rough idea how the book ends – it chronicles a disaster after all – Krakauer’s writing style and attention to detail grabs one’s attention and doesn’t let go. That year, Everest was inhabited by a group of colorful and often very different personalities. One of the book’s strong suits is that it doesn’t play the blame game – while some individuals made strange or bad decisions, this is always presented in the context of the extreme environments they were made in. Most importantly, Krakauer is not above second-guessing his own actions – were they slightly different, maybe the events would have been less disastrous.

While the book is not exactly new, it was an interesting read for me personally. To me, it read as a cautionary tale. Mountaineering at any height is an inherently risky pursuit. A 40-meter drop has the same effect at 4000 meters, as it has at 1000 meters. But at extreme altitude weather gets worse, temperatures drop and most importantly, a human’s mental faculties go down due to oxygen depletion and ailments caused by extreme altitude. This all played a huge part in the events laid out in the book.

Climbing is an inherently crazy pursuit. But the main lesson of this book, for me, would be to pick your battles carefully. If you want to go vertical, be sure that you have the necessary skill and experience for the task at hand. This may sound like a no-brainer but history is full of people neglecting this simple truth.

Stay safe.