Gear Envy. It happens to the best of us - particular if you’re an outdoor gear junkie like myself. That hankering for that new piece of kit that you are sure is going to help you climb that next mountain, or reach that next hut faster and feeling better than ever. I had this feeling for a year before I gave in and purchased a pair of Salewa Rapace GTX boots - I only wish I had caved earlier!
The Rapace is a lightweight 3-4 season boot with a full rubber rand, 1.8mm Nubuck Leather and a Goretex lining. The boot features a Vibram sole and is suitable for use with strap-on and semi-automatic crampons (more on this later). Marketed as a lightweight mountaineering boot, it would be easy to discount the Rapace as a climbers-only boot and miss out on the features that make this boot my pick as the go-to kiwi tramping boot.
First and foremost the Rapace is light. At 1250g for a pair they are easily a good 400-500g lighter than comparable 3-4 season boots that are popular in NZ (e.g. Lowa Tibets, Vasque, Asolo…) and about the same weight as many less-capable 3 season boots. I know what you’re thinking - being lightweight means they won’t last as long right? And the honest answer to this question is yes, they probably won’t survive quite as long as a heavier, equally well-made 3-4 season boot. However when it comes to durability the biggest contributors will be how often you use your boots, and how well you look after them once you get home! Having used my pair often for more than 2 years now, and having cleaned and conditioned them after each decent outing, I can tell you that mine have minimal wear to the sole unit, the rand is still in good condition and hasn’t started to peel away from the leather, and the lace eyelets and hooks are all still in great nick. Apparently earlier versions of this boot (I think my mates were the 2014 model) had issues with the lace hooks bending, but this has since been rectified and hasn’t been an issue.
So now that we have cleared up the durability issue let's get back to that weight thing. It has been said that carrying 1 kilogram on your feet is equivalent to carrying 5 kilograms on your back. Whilst the science behind such a ratio may be a little dubious it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that it is lot easier walking in your running shoes than in your heavy winter boots. Overseas it has become quite common for hikers to shun boots altogether for this reason, with many through-hikers on major routes advocating the use of trail running shoes. I’m not against this, in fact I recently completed the Five Passes trip in my Salewa Speed Ascent (another magic Salewa shoe). But when I’m heading out into the back country outside of the summer months, carting a large pack, or heading to sub-alpine and alpine areas I reach for the security of a warm, sturdy boot. Even still - wouldn’t it be great to have a lighter boot that is capable of handling the tougher trips, yet save energy with every step? The Rapace gives the best of both worlds - a boot that is lightweight enough to take on a fast smash-and-grab type mission through a great walk, but sturdy enough to take on your mid-winter trip into the southern alps.
Having touched on winter let’s talk about those spiky things some people like to stick on their boots in winter. The Rapace is compatible with strap-on and semi-automatic crampons. That said, I find my pair to have a relatively flexible sole unit when compared with a full-shank boot and wouldn’t plan on doing any extended front-pointing in them (unless you have calves of steel). In practice this means the Rapace is perfect for the average kiwi tramper who wants a boot capable of taking a crampon for the occasional jaunt over an ice field or for a snowy Tongariro crossing trip. Don’t be put off by my talk of crampons. If you are the kind of tramper who sees snow and retreats back to the nearest hut this boot may still work well for you. The rigidity of the sole unit that allows the boot to accept a crampon also makes the boot perfect for sidling through scree or climbing steep snow grass - two common kiwi tramping scenarios!
The Rapace has a Goretex liner which will help to keep your feet dry when walking through dewy fields or breaking a trail through soft snow, but invariably when tramping in New Zealand you end up having to cross a stream or river. As with any boot - once the water reaches the top of boot you will get wet. This is a fact. You can ‘improve your range’ so to speak by investing in a decent gaiter which may give you a few more precious seconds before the water begins to flood in, but eventually you’ll be soaked. My pair seem to drain water okay post-crossings and don’t feel like bricks once they have had a good soak (because they were light to start with!).
That’s all good and well but what about the fit? I have a size 44 euro foot (US 10) and wear a full size larger (45 Euro) Rapace. This gives my feet enough room when wearing a thicker hiking sock and allows for the fact that feet tend to swell a bit during the day. I didn’t bother breaking my pair in. I simply shouldered my pack and went on a trip with a group of mates. I didn’t get any blisters on the first day - and still haven’t ever had one from them 2 years later.
It is worth noting I have a narrow width foot. Apparently a lot of kiwis have quite wide feet. Salewa boots do come with a multi-fit foot bed which allows you to change the insole to accommodate different sized feet - this may help those with wider feet. Make sure you have tried the Rapace on (with your usual hiking socks) sufficiently before buying them to be sure the fit is correct.
Last but not least - the price. These boots usually retail for around the $450 mark. This makes them a considerable investment and one of the biggest purchases the average tramper will make. For $450 this represents a whole (lightweight) lot of boot and is a serious step up from the offerings around the $300 mark. I’m always telling people to never skimp on boots, sleeping bags, and tents. I learnt this the hard way when starting out (think zip-ties on boots to hold the sole on mid-hike).
If you are planning on spending extended periods of time above the snowline, fancy yourself a bit of a Thar hunter, or just like heavier boots check out the review on the Garmont Pinnacle GTX.
It’s hard to find the perfect woman - or so the Speights ad tells us - but when your wife brings you home a brand spanking pair of tramping boots to try out it’s fair to say she had one very happy husband. Within moments I was stomping my way around our little house planning a mission to try these puppies out. Fast forward half a year and I've had a good chance to get to know these boots on a variety of terrain and to get a good few kilometers under my belt.
The Garmont Pinnacle GTX fits nicely into the kiwi four-season boot category with full 2.8mm suede leather construction and a full rubber rand. The boot is semi-automatic crampon compatible and has a beefy vibram sole. Whilst I have found the boot more than comfortable below the bush line, it really comes into its own in the alpine environment.
My first outing was a day long ridge mission out the back of Hanmer Springs with the dog. Having never worn the boots prior to this I expected to get blisters during the day. A couple of hours in after the first decent downhill of the day I did notice a few hot spots on my foot - after stopping to re-tighten the laces I didn’t have any further issues. The boot is somewhat heavier than my normal tramping boot (Salewa Rapace) and I definitely noticed the extra weight by the end of the day.
The next trip was a jaunt up the Otira slide to Low Peak of Rolleston. The boot gripped well on the scree and offered a good amount of protection from the numerous rocks I bashed my foot on during the day. Here the boot really excelled, making me feel much more comfortable than I would have in a lighter boot. I would definitely be grabbing for this boot over my Salewa’s for any mission involving snow or any significant time spent with a pair of crampons strapped on.
Having had these for a while now I see them as a great option for trampers looking to spend a little more time above the snowline where crampons may be needed. The boot is very warm and would easily cope with wintery New Zealand conditions (though i probably wouldn’t go for them if you are planning to climb your first 3000m peak - see the Garmont Mountain Guide Pro….). Whilst they won’t be your first choice for a light and fast overnighter, these will easily become your favourite do-anything, go-anywhere boot.
When it comes to a big investment such as buying boots we often make compromises as there isn’t really a ‘perfect’ boot for all conditions - that said I think the Garmont comes pretty darn close. Sure it’s a bit heavier than the Salewa Rapace, but this gives it added capability above the snowline and I feel that these will last a little longer as well. You can get lighter crampon compatible boots (e.g. La Sportiva Trango S Evo) but the Garmont is both cheaper (almost half the price!) and also seems to be holding up better than the Sportiva’s did for me.
All-in-all I reckon I will get quite a few years out of these boots.
Like any good gear aficionado most of my purchases are well researched, well thought out choices following hours of online comparison and deliberation over weight, construction and how said investment will look on instagram. But every now and again I fall into the impulse buying trap that is "just browsing" at the outlet stores. The latter resulted in my latest acquisition - the Black DIamond Alpine Start Hoody and I feel like it deserves some print space. BD market this piece as an ultra-light softshell for weight conscious climbers providing light weather resistance in a highly packable bundle of awesome (I may have paraphrased). You can read more about the helmet compatible hood and Nanosphere technology on their website but won't you can't read is how magical this jacket feels on.
The fabric is lightweight but not too delicate and has already stood up well to the customary dog claw abrasion quality control in mandatory field tests. It fared well against a small run in with a Matagouri bush but I managed to snag a thread or two on some rose thorns. Just for the record I had no intention of testing the durability so thoroughly but you're welcome anyway. There is a healthy amount of stretch which allows for a close fit and plenty of movement at the same time. I've been running around the Port HIlls in Christchurch all winter in this hoody (layered over a light thermal) and it's super comfortable through the shoulders which is a bonus. The softshell fabric also has fantastic anti-rustle properties which make it easier to ninja around the place - not something you can do in your traditional rain jacket. This is definitely not a replacement for your waterproof, seam sealed deal when heading into the hills on a multi-day excursion but when you're primary need is wind protection it's a great addition to your kit.
The hood gets in the way a little when I have it partially zipped at the front as there is no way of rolling it away but I like the overall no frills approach to the jacket. I've hiked in it a few times and I like that I can barely feel it under my pack but it really cuts the wind on cooler days. Small, lightweight and breathable are big draw cards for light and fast day missions or climbing on clear but cold days. I'm looking forward to having this come spring when we start rock climbing again as it fits neatly under my harness and still lets me use my arms through their full range of motion without pulling up at the back.
FYI - if you like hand pockets this is not the jacket you are looking for.
I've been stomping around in these bad boys for two years now and as with all good boots I'm equal parts emotionally attached to them and repulsed by how bad they smell wet. I've taken them through the jungle in Vietnam, walked on Lake Baikal in Siberia and climbed Vi Ferrata in the Italian Dolomites. Throw in some classic New Zealand scree running and just recently a photo shoot on the Abel Tasman and they've really had to handle a lot of different terrain. From a Kiwi perspective the MTN Trainer Mid's fall into the 3 season category nicely for both warmth and durability. The full rand provides plenty of hard wearing protection for the toes as well as the nubuck suede upper. The rand is definitely my favourite feature as I have a habit of stubbing my toes on all sorts of barely visible sticky outy things and I'm yet to put a hole in it. The 3F lacing system is designed to lock your heel down and prevent the foot slipping forward meaning lots of ankle support as well.
The Gortex lining is still waterproof which I'm impressed with as I haven't looked after the nubuck with a conditioning product - I do clean them with warm water after most trips though. Lastly, the vibram sole has started to wear down in places, especially along the inside edges but there is still visible tread over the whole foot. In terms of what I brought them for (alpine tramping, scree running and rock scrambling) I think the Salewas have performed exceptionally. As they are a bit on the more rugged side for a tramping boot I wouldn't recommend them for anyone sticking to perfectly groomed paths as you don't really need the rand or the heavier sole. The biggest fail was that I went a size too small when purchasing them when I should have known to go a size bigger than I normally wear. I have to tape the tops of my toes when going down steep hills as they just hit the end of the boot. It's turned out to be a frustrating lesson as the boots look like they'll do a couple more years at least and I want to upgrade just to get the fit right.
I paid $449 in 2013 and since then the colours have been updated but the specs and price haven't changed. For more information and where you can find them check out the Macpac website.