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.

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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!

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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.

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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/

 

 

 

 

Footwear Frenzy: Salomon Quest 4D Forces Review

Overview

As any other gear junkie I have given up the hope of ever finding that one pair of shoes capable of doing it all. A Jack-of-all-trades does not exist. Your low-cuts will be unable to go into rough or wet terrain; your trekking boots will be unnecessarily heavy and stiff on tarmac or easy trails; and your backpack will become uncomfortably heavy while wearing shoes with too little arch and ankle support. Then there’s the never-ending discussion of waterproof vs. water-repellent – and then I’m not even mentioning mountaineering boots.

I work for an outdoor company and served in the military before that and therefore I have collected my fair share of outdoor footwear throughout the years. I own two pairs of low-cuts, two pairs of mids and two pairs of high-cut trekking boots. None of these are up for anything, and only one pair comes remotely close.

That would be the Salomon Quest 4D Forces. Designed as a full-mission profile boot for military use in warm and dry climates, this boot has a lightweight construction, while still being relatively high-cut and offering enough rigidity and torsional strength for a wide variety of terrain and loads. Its look and build are slightly more aggressive and sporty than many of its German competitors, which has some advantages and disadvantages – but more about that later.

Construction

The main components of the upper are rubber, suede leather and 1000D Cordura. The sole is made from a sandwich of rubber layers, mostly molded EVA and Contagrip outsole material. In the upper, the suede leather and Cordura work together to create a surprisingly water-repellent outer layer. Hiking through very wet terrain in Abisko, Sweden, I was genuinely surprised with the time it took for my feet to get slightly wet. Granted, I was wearing waterproof gaiters at the time but these did not cover the lower front part of my feet. And the lack of Gore-Tex or full leather upper also made sure that my feet could ventilate excess heat and moisture effectively – meaning they were dry relatively fast.

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The sole is sturdy enough to give support and stability on rocky terrain, but flexible enough to be comfortable. The molded EVA and Contagrip outsole give a large amount of suspension without going soft.

Now, there’s one main drawback to how Salomon and many other lightweight bootmakers make their footwear, and that is the lack of cemented construction. This is a very traditional and labor-intensive (and thus expensive) way of constructing boots in such a way that the upper is a completely separate part of the boot. This means that the sole can be replaced, giving the boot longer life and a better fit. With the Quest 4D, this is not possible and that is a true shame. Once the outsole has been used up, it is time to buy new ones and depending on the amount of use that might be quite fast, especially if you happen to be in the military.

Features

There are some important differences between the Forces and regular version of the Quest 4D, as military use often asks for specific details. The lace hooks have been replaced with loops. This ensures no wires, ropes or lines can snag into the boot’s laces – important during fast roping, parachuting or rappelling. The outsole has been slightly altered to make such activities easier. The mesh polyester on the regular version has been replaced with 1000D Cordura, a tougher and more water-resistant nylon variant.

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Other than that it has the same bells and whistles as most other trekking boots. A gusseted tongue, shaft loops to make donning and doffing easier, a rubber toecap to protect the leather against rock and scree, lace locks – and exceptional grip.

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Two features are relatively unique: they’re lightweight and flexible, while being relatively stable. These truly are get-up-and-go and almost as easy to wear in as a pair of running shoes. This is interesting because usually this means that large or heavy backpacks can become uncomfortable and problems with knees and ankles are bound to pop up sooner or later. I’m sure that above a certain weight that will also happen with these boots, but I was surprised at how well they got along with my 15kg backpack in rough Swedish terrain while ascending and descending.

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Fit

These boots have a normal, maybe slightly roomy, fit. My feet are slightly wider than average and with most brands I’m between UK 8 and 9, meaning I usually need an 8,5. I have owned a pair of Salomon boots before, which I got in 8,5. Those turned out slightly too small so I sold them. I got the Quest 4D in a size 9 and so far that seems to be spot on for me. My heels are locked in place and my toes have enough wiggle room without sliding sideways or forward. One thing I will say about the fit: the shaft is very aggressive. After only one day of use I decided to stop using the highest lace loops because I could feel my shins hurting. Skipping them solved that issue. Shin issues aren’t funny and should be avoided at all costs.

Details

Most details have already been mentioned. The most important reason for me to get these was the fact that they are more or less the only full-mission profile boots without Gore-Tex that Salomon makes. Gore-Tex has its drawbacks. It’s waterproof but that often comes at a price, especially in dry and warm weather, as the membrane’s air permeability only allows for so much water vapor to go through. I wanted lightweight and flexible, yet sturdy boots for summer use in the mountains. The fact that these are spacer mesh lined instead of waterproof is great. And when your feet do get wet, they ventilate well enough to quickly walk them dry.

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Usage

So far I have used these on day hikes, training rounds with intermediate-sized packs and a short overnight camping trek in Sweden. They performed well enough on all occasions, although I think they will truly shine during a summer cabin-to-cabin trek in the Alps, which my girlfriend and me will undertake next month. While I was positively surprised with how well they managed wet and rough terrain in Abisko, I would take a heavier boot for a longer trek there. They would offer slightly more stability and durable comfort than these Salomons do, even though they surprised me in the way they were able to handle themselves given the rough and uneven terrain 250 kilometers into the polar circle.

Pros

Lightweight yet sturdy

Flexible

Comfortable

Breathable yet surprisingly water-resistant

Snag-free lace loops

Strong outsole with grip on rough terrain

Ankle support

Cons

Outsoles cannot be replaced

Aggressive cut on the shaft

Lace loops and lacelock system take some time to get used to

Overall

These are a great pair of boots for those looking for shoes strong enough to tackle rough terrain every once in a while, but also like speed and agility. I would not recommend them for full-on mountain trekking but with an intermediate size (say 40-50 liters) pack in summer time or otherwise dry weather these will work great. They offer ankle support, flexibility and ventilation while being reasonably water-resistant and quick drying. A definite recommendation if they suit your needs. They are also available in a Gore-Tex version if you need waterproof boots.

Further reading

http://www.salomon.com/us/product/quest-4d-forces.html?article=381595

http://www.leafgear.com/en/salomon-quest-4d-forces.html

 

My new favorite jacket: Arc’teryx Acto MX Hoodie

Introduction

A little over a year ago one of my coworkers offered to sell one of his jackets to me and, being quite the gearwhore, I almost immediately said yes without giving it much thought. I like dead bird stuff. Don’t we all?

However, there was one not so small thing bugging me about this particular model from the outset: Sleeve length was spot on but the hem width was a little too much (should I do more squats?) Recently though, I bit the bullet and took it to a tailor I knew I could trust. After a bit of an argument – he didn’t particularly like cutting into the taping – he agreed to tailor the hem to my size so I could wear this baby without harsh winds cooling me down. An extra plus is that it looks so much better now!

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So, now that I’ve been wearing this jacket extensively I thought I should give it a proper overview. It’s an old model by now but Arc’teryx offers quite a few jackets which are similar in terms of functionality, fit and style so I thought I’d write one up anyway.

Construction

There are few outdoor brands that rival Arc’teryx in terms of sheer attention to detail and quality control throughout. Flatlocked and taped seams make this jacket look clean on the outside and in, and make it extremely comfortable to wear, with or without pack. The ends on both the sleeves and the bottom of the jacket are finished with a thin line of grey fabric, which seems to be glued on – no stitching visible.

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The face fabric is 100% nylon with a very thin layer of grid fleece on the inside, giving the jacket just a tad of warmth and a high degree of wind resistance and breathability. The fleece’s composition (96% polyester and 4% spandex) gives the jacket its slight stretch. Due to the taped seams it’s tough for chilling winds to creep through – although they don’t make the jacket waterproof or fully windproof. Don’t mistake this for a Gore-Tex jacket! That’s not to say it doesn’t shed water – it’s exceptionally water-resistant. Since picking it up from the tailor I haven’t put on another shell jacket, and I have not been soaked once – and let me tell you that it has seen some rain in that month! This is to be expected: MX stands for Mixed Weather; meaning garments from that range should be able to cope with changing circumstances. Even then, I have never worn a soft-shell more capable of repelling water than this one. And it is still breathable like a fleece!

True to Arc’teryx form, all features and details (more on those later) are carefully designed so they don’t interfere or stand out, making for a clean look and clutter-free jacket.

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Features

This jacket has been designed with climbing and trekking in mind. That means it’s a very clean jacket with only a handful of well-designed features useful for those activities. It’s a short jacket, just barely touching the hips – although it’s slightly longer in the back than at the front. It won’t interfere with a climbing harness or with a rucksack hip-belt, more so due to the fact that it does not have hand pockets. It only has two spacious Napoleon pockets on either side of the main zipper. These will hold your essentials such as maps, compass, GPS devices or gloves and other cold-weather accessories.

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The hood is spacious and adjustable so that it can be made to follow your head movements. The cut is generous enough for a helmet but I’m not a climber myself so I haven’t tried so far. It also has a brim stiff enough to block wind and rain while still providing ample peripheral vision. The drawstrings are minimal, saving weight and clutter.

The zipper pullers are large enough to grab them while wearing thin or waterproof gloves, but I suspect winter gloves and especially mitts might give some problems. Then again, you’d probably be wearing a different coat in such weather conditions.

Fit

The fit can be summarized in one word: generous. Granted, I’m not a big guy but with 1,78m at 70kg the sleeve length is spot on. However, the body size originally was a little… big, hence the trip to the tailor. Now it sits perfectly on my hips with more than enough room to layer up underneath. The shoulder width is still a bit excessive but this also creates freedom of movement and room for layers without becoming annoying in the armpits so I’ll just say it’s a double-edged sword. Luckily, the cut is not annoying while wearing a pack (which I do almost every single day). Sometimes, a generous cut leaves too much excess fabric in the armpits, which bungles up while wearing a backpack or load-bearing equipment. This has not happened so far, which is good.

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Details

As far as functional trekking and outdoor jackets go, this is a very clean and minimalistic one so its details are few but well placed. No Velcro sleeve cuff adjusters here, just a slightly stretchy ending just tight enough to block winds but wide enough for thin gloves when needed. The Napoleon pockets have a mesh inner, so they can double as core ventilation ports when necessary. The main drawstrings of the hood lead to the inside so they don’t clutter the outside of the jacket. Finally, the zipper is designed to allow opening with one hand. That means it doesn’t lock very well in its fully closed position, which is annoying to some but a godsend to others (cyclists and climbers mostly) – don’t be afraid; it doesn’t come down on its own.  

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Usage

Being a shell jacket its primary purpose is to block the elements. It does so very well: it’s extremely resistant to moisture for a non-laminated jacket and it’s a quite capable windblocker. Due to the grid fleece on the inside it is able to give some warmth but don’t expect the world: due to circumstances I have worn this in a stationary position in cold, wet and windy conditions (+/- 5 degrees Celsius, not compensated for wind-chill) with just a tee underneath and it wasn’t pleasant… The upside was that even then I remained dry, meaning it is able to shed water even when worn directly on the skin. I intend to use it quite a bit this year: it has been the only (and I do mean only) shell jacket I’ve worn the last month in extremely varying conditions including quite heavy rain, and it hasn’t let me down once. It positively surprised me on a number of occasions, which is good. Its real test will come later this year, when I intend to go cabin trekking in the Slovenian Alps.

 

Pros

Beautifully simple

Attention to detail

Quite windproof

Extremely water-resistant

Well-placed details

Adjustable and roomy hood

 

Cons

Original fit off for me

No internal drawstring at hem

 

Overall

Overall this is a great jacket with only one major drawback that might not even be an issue for other people – its fit. After a bit of customization it has been greatly improved and now it’s one of my favorite jackets. Even more than my Fjällräven Keb Jacket it’s a jacket suitable for almost any situation and weather condition. Its water-repellent ability is the best I’ve ever seen in a non-waterproof jacket, and due to the taping the seams don’t diminish that. It has a nice clean look, which delivers on the streets as well as in the mountains. Thanks to a minimal amount of very well placed and thought-out details it performs extremely well without a large amount of clutter.

 

Further reading

www.arcteryx.com

http://www.backcountry.com/arcteryx-acto-mx-hooded-fleece-jacket-mens

http://thegemsstock.com/arcteryx-acto-mx-hoody-review