No piece of equipment is more important for summiting high peaks than footwear. A great ice climbing boot must perform a variety of functions, including providing support while carrying heavy loads, confidently gripping slick rock and snow, keeping your feet warm when the temperature drops, and allowing the attachment of crampons and skis. Above all, it must instill trust and confidence.
The question arises – what kind of boots do you use for ice climbing? Mountaineering boots are required for ice climbing. Hiking boots or ordinary winter boots will not sufficient. Crampons (sharpened steel spikes attached to your foot) are used to help you gain traction, These boots are specially designed for ice climbing.
The crampons must be able to securely integrate with your boot, allowing the two pieces of equipment to move as one unit. Mountaineering boots have grooves in the rubber soles that the crampon straps fit into, allowing the crampons to stay in place. Other types of boots, such as hiking boots or ski boots, lack these rubber grooves and are thus unsuitable for climbing.
Mountaineering boots are full-ankle boots made out of leather, plastic, or synthetic material that provide a stiff fit and lots of support. The boots often feature a full steel or carbon-fiber shank in the sole, which makes them rigid and inflexible.
As mentioned above, mountaineering boots have specifically designed grooves in the soles that allow the crampons to clip into place. This gives an ice climber the ability to kick with their crampon and gain traction in the ice, an essential skill to have.
However, mountaineering boots have way more enlisted features that make them ideal for ice climbing like:
To go ice climbing, the temperatures need to be at or around 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) to keep the ice ideal for skating sport. But spending an entire day out in that type of weather condition can make your feet very cold and sore, especially if you spend a significant time in the blithering ice.
Ice climbing boots are designed to combat this specific status. They have a thermal lining, which helps to keep the warmth inside the boot. They are also designed to hold multiple pairs of socks, allowing you to layer up on particularly cold days. Finally, many pairs of boots include an extra lining that can be worn outside to help retain heat.
The first time you try to wear mountaineering shoes, you may find it difficult to walk. This is because the shoe has very tough rubber along the bottom and sides that keep your foot nearly flat, preventing any bending along the sole. They are not quite as stiff as a ski boot, but they are much less flexible than an average hiking shoe.
These tough soles allow ice climbers to stand comfortably while on a wall. While climbing the ice, remember that – the only part of your foot that is touching the wall is the spasm, which will be pushed into the depths of the ice. For this reason, you need to use your calves to keep your feet level. The stiff mountaineering sole allows for better weight transfer along the bottom of your foot, which prevents you from relying entirely on your toes for acquiring balance hold.
Likewise, the stiff soles keep you in place and prevent any sideways movement. This is important when a skater is trying to balance and find a comfortable surface on the ice.
A lot of people think that mountaineering and hiking boots are similar to one another. They are made of similar materials, have a similar structure.
For starters, hiking boots do not have a full shank in the sole, so they are much more flexible than a traditional mountaineering boot. This is advantageous if you intend to use them for hiking or walking because the flex is more comfortable for your foot. Furthermore, hiking boots will be much lighter and more breathable. This keeps your feet cool while also allowing you to conserve energy and enables you to put extra weight on your foot depletes your strength faster than almost anything else.
Another difference is the features of the boot – Hiking boots do not have rubber grooves for holding traditional ice climbing crampons. However, this does not conclude that you can’t use these with other types of crampons. Tractions devices, trail crampons, and flexible-binding crampons(like those pictured above) will be compatible with your hiking shoes.
Even though you can fit certain types of crampons over them, hiking boots cannot be used for ice climbing. The reason is as follows
- The crampons compatible with hiking boots do not feature ice-climbing specific front points (the part of a crampon that you kick into the ice to gain traction).
- This means that, while the crampons will be excellent for glacier travel, snowy approaches, or shoulder-season hiking, they cannot be taken on ice climbs.
Mountaineering boots cost a lot of money and are a significant investment to make. Because of that, you might want to use them for other activities besides ice climbing. In the following section, learn more about what you can expect from your boots for a variety of mountain-related activities.
With obvious expectations, these boots excel in alpine objectives. The high ankle keeps snow out, the soles provide excellent traction and crampon compatibility aids in steeper sections. There are no other types of footwear that can be worn in alpine environments.
Scrambling is a hybrid activity that combines hiking with low-level rock climbing and is typically done without the use of ropes.
When scrambling, some people prefer to wear mountaineering boots. The heavy-duty design aids in approach bushwhacking, while the stiff soles and firm toes can make your foot placements feel more solid than they would in a pair of hiking boots.
However, the feature of lack of flexibility in these boots can sometimes turn into your worst enemy if you’re on a slab route. Because of the same reason, it’s extremely difficult to make a mountaineering boot stick to a smooth piece of rock. If you’re on class 3-4 scramble and you know you’ll need to traverse some slabby sections, it might be a fair idea to leave the mountaineering boots at home.
Mountaineering boots will work for hiking in the same way that a Panzer tank will work for getting your kids to school: it does the job, but it’s completely overkilling—and it’ll kill your gas mileage.
If you find yourself climbing in the high alpine but don’t have a pair of hiking boots, your mountaineering boots will technically suffice.
They have ankle support, good soles, and are strong enough to withstand wear and tear. However, your feet will be extremely hot, every step will be clunky, a lot of energy will be expended, and you might cause significant damage to the trail.
Mountaineering boots are made to accommodate crampons but not much else. They lack the necessary elements to bind with a pair of skis or a snowboard and thus are ineffective for these activities.
The title of the best mountaineering boot is difficult to assign. A lot of it comes down to personal preference, foot shape, and what you want to do with your boots. Companies are constantly releasing new models, updating old ones, and coming up with new ways to improve their boots. As a result, determining the ‘best’ boot is extremely difficult.
The best boot, in my opinion, is the one that fits the best. Nothing ruins a long day in the mountains like sore or cold feet, so making sure you have comfortable boots can go a long way toward helping you enjoy your ice climbing experience.
There are also various boot styles to consider depending on the activity and climate in which you intend to use them. Lightweight or single boots may be preferable for difficult mixed climbing in temperate climates, whereas double boots are likely to be preferable for people who must endure cold and harsh conditions.
So there you have it! The unexplored answer to the question of what boot you should wear for ice climbing. All of the information in this guide is intended to inform rather than instructing or recommending any techniques. Before venturing into the wilderness, do your research and seek professional advice if you have any concerns or doubts.