The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear.
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Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear. on 12/27/2011 12:32:40 MST Print View

Hi friends,

First an update: Feelmax Kuuva have been redesigned for 2012 in black leather uppers.
http://nopoles.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/feelmax_2012_mallisto.pdf

Second, I have a question. Is there anything out there in the same class as Kuuva ie thin soles and warm uppers?

I donot consider KSO treks, merrells, or minimus as having thin soles. It must be thin enough to allow me to feel the ground like barefoot. By warm I mean wind and water resistant uppers.

Third, I want to share my thoughts on minimalist alpine footwear.

I have been hiking/ running / walking / rock climbing / living barefeet since last 3 years. I did my first mountaineering expedition in june this year. It was a 3 week trip in himalayas to 18000 feet. I trekked till the basecamp at 11500 barefeet through snow and boulders. After that we wore double plastic boots. We would start early when snow was hard and stop by afternoon when the snow is too soft for ascending (but great for descending). I hated the plastic boots in the mountaineering course (october 2010) and this expedition made me hate them more. I probably will never wear them again. But I love climbing mountains.

Main issue with minimalist boot is cramponing: no crampon can fit a minimalist shoe like kuuva. we carried crampons and used them once on roped steep pitch. Could that pitch have been done without crampons? I dont know yet.
BUT, this problem reminds me of my experience in rock climbing. Most climber prefer a stiff shoe "that focus the toe power to the edge". I just use my toes as an edge. could they climb barefeet? It could be painful but I see this as a matter of conditioning. But I am a very poor climber if I wear boots. Its miserable because you cannot feel the holds. (But very exceptional climbers can climb in anything.)

I see climbing in steep mountain the same way. The mountain boot are so thick that you cant feel anything. But If you can feel the terrain then there is no need to pound on the hard snow. It is then a matter of using the natural features of the terrain to ascend efficiently.

Crampon are certainly necessary for ice falls, goulottes, modern mixed, dry tooling and competition. But mountaineering is more then that. I am particularly interested in minimalist foot wear in classical and technical alpine terrain. ie. where the rope comes out but ice axe is used only for self arrest.

I think the conditions I experienced would be suitable for Kuuva when combined with thick wool socks and waterproof gaiters when foot muscles are working hard. (This is a important point because inside a plastic boot your foot muscle are not doing any work.) Once you stop you will need to slip in to warm booties. I am not thinking of doing any winter climbing in them but I think they can allow me the pleasures of alpine climbing in Himalayas in fall/spring.

Please do chime in and share your thoughts if this interests you.
Regards,
Huzefa




Interesting reads:
Feelmax in winter
Test of footwear in slippery conditions
Feelmax Kuuva Review
Becoming the Iceman

Edited by huzefa on 12/27/2011 19:24:22 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
level on 12/27/2011 13:38:21 MST Print View

people have done "alpine" routes in approach shoes and light footwear .. in good conditions youll get away with it, probably anyways ... however should conditions turn for the worse, the question may become one of how many toes do you want to lose, or how important are yr feet for getting down ... theres been cases even above freezing where people have been incapacitated with poor footwear

when you consider that one of the worst things you can do on a mountain is fall (accidents in NA mountaineering bear this out) ... you have to ask yourself how important is it to go light on the footwear vs. an increase chance of falling/slipping ... most people will tell you that crampons must fit ... period ... a loose or ill fitting crampon is a danger

also keep in mind that unless you are soloing, its not just yr decision, but also yr partners ... for should something happen and you require a rescue, you are both at risk

if plastics are not for you, then consider single or double leather or goretex mountaineering boots ...

to put it simply ... mountain guides are generally better climbers than you, me or likely most people on this board ... and most of them use mountain boots (some may use approach shoes on routes that are mostly rock in moderate conditions, or carry rock shoes in addition to their boots) ... they are also the ones that climb all the time and because when yr feet dont work properly, youre dead

for a good discussion on the pro and cons of footwear ... alpine climbing by cooley and houston ... highly recommend the book if you dont already have it ...

http://books.google.ca/books?id=i6H0ESHr3n8C&pg=PA88&dq=cosley+houston+alpine+climbing+boots&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

Edited by bearbreeder on 12/27/2011 13:50:16 MST.

Brian Austin
(footeab) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear. on 12/30/2011 22:57:49 MST Print View

Uh, fit, fit, fit. If they don't fit, don't wear them period go with someone else. Even I with wide, stubby, thick feet can get a "fit". Not great, but doable.

You state that no crampon can fit a shoe like... 'x'

That is wrong. All crampons tied on with straps will. I have been doing so for many many years on many different people. Said crampons haven't broken yet even though the manufacturers say not to.

Doing so might eventually break the crampon sooner, but they will last long enough. I own or my brother/farther have owned 3 sets of crampons and they are all still fine. I have never had a crampon break on me even when tieing said crampons to tennis style shoes or basketball style shoes on multiple people over the years.

I note you have a mistaken impression that you can place your feet on snowy terrain like on rock. This is not true in the slightest unless it is sheer ice.

Having said that, I would personally never even contemplate taking a tennis shoe/crampon up steep icy terrain except for very limited short stretches. No edging ability = no ability to traverse = VERY slow movement. Slow movement in mountaineering = accidents because you are tiring yourself out more than you should. No edging ability means you slip. Slipping breaks the number one rule of mountaineering. DO NOT SLIP!

Twight has it right. Speed is your friend in mountaineering. In this case extra weight in footwear means faster travel means safer travel. No you will NOT "feel" the snow underfoot in a heavy boot, you will stay alive though as you won't be slipping and sliding. Feeling the snow doesn't gain you anything IMO. It either gives under foot in which case you want a stiff plank of a boot to even out your weight or it holds in which case you need edging power as snow is Very slick and a flexible boot will slide instead of edging sending you a$$ over teakettle down the hill.

Anyone walking flat miles in plastic boots needs to have themselves shot first for sheer stupidity.(Been there done that) Mountaineering boots are good for one thing only. Going up/down steep slopes. On flat ground they chew on your feet/ankles for breakfast/lunch/dinner and a bedtime snack. Bring lots of duct tape and you will be fine IF and ONLY if you apply it first or have broken your feet into the boot in the form of large calluses.

Late Spring/Summer snow tennis shoes are fine. Fall icy conditions up high, not so swift. Not sure what area of the world you are contemplating but snow is snow, time of year changes though. Though I have run into a few folks who believe "THEIR" snow is special.

Edited by footeab on 12/30/2011 23:13:02 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear. on 12/30/2011 23:45:01 MST Print View

Microspikes will work over anything, even my vivobarefoots so they should work fine with the kuuvas. I don't have any mountaineering experience, so i'm not sure how adequate those are.

Wool socks are known to be pretty grippy on snow, grippier than a plain rubber sole without cramps.

Frostbite should never be an issue if you have good insulation and waterproofness, this can be achieved with any number of wool sock layers and a waterproof sock. In really dry snow, I know people who have worn wool socks and been successful.

I am in the same dillema as you, here is a thread I made: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=55138

Edited by justin_baker on 12/30/2011 23:49:43 MST.

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: Re: The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear. on 01/01/2012 04:16:20 MST Print View

Nice to hear from more people.

>I note you have a mistaken impression that you can place your feet on snowy terrain like on rock. This is not true in the slightest unless it is sheer ice.

I tried to explain the climbing condition in my first post. It is normally hard icy terrain in the early morning. If the slope is steep then you either need crampons or exceptional ground feel. For not too steep but slippery condition either microspikes, vibram sole or exceptional ground feel is required.  As the day progresses, the snow softens and it's easy to walk.  I am describing summer Himalayan conditions where ice axe is used only for self arrest. Under such conditions I believe that expectional grounded feel would allow me to cover a wide range of conditions with minimalist footwear.

I will list below some possible systems that can work:
1) RBH VaprThrm Hi-Rise Insulated Sock, feelmax kuuva, and Mld tall snowgaiters.
2) RBH VaprThrm Hi-Rise Insulated Sock, custom made 40below light energy boots.
3) new intuition dreamliners - low volume. This model has 4mm sole and doesnot require heat molding. Plus Mld tall snowgaiters.

I like Option 3 the most. It is warmer, lighter and waterproof.

For my next expedition I am thinking of going barefeet till base camp or high as conditions allow then wear, then use option 3, then adding a steel or CF insole + toasty feet + crampons for steeper terrain in colder conditions where front pointing is necessary. Then slip into insulated booties as soon as I stop.

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
A suicidal approach? on 01/01/2012 17:55:41 MST Print View

Huzefa, I hope we don't read about you dying after a 1,000 meter slip and slide down an icy slope. I'm no expert, but I would guess that relying on "exceptional ground feel" will lead to your untimely death. Reinhold Messner did not rely on any such thing on icy slopes, nor did Steve House or Colin Haley. Walking around on ice slopes in RBH VBL socks and that sort of thing is creative, but if you think you are going to pass the giants of moutaineering with new equipment ideas, you are deluding yourself, IMAO (in my arrogant opionion).

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: A suicidal approach? on 01/01/2012 20:40:17 MST Print View

Hi Robert, nice to see you again.

Let me ask you, have you ever rock climbed and ran barefoot? (If not, Try it.) If you are not a barefooter then clearly you are not convinced of the rational behind going barefoot. If so then you will not be convinced of a minimalist approach to alpine. Only by running and climbing barefoot, you will see the advantage of exceptional ground feel.

Quote from Extreme Alpinism "On the other hand, thick warm boots are clunky. There is no right answer, only compromise. After years of supremacy, plastic boots now face competition from a new breed of leather boots. Some leather boots weigh less than plastic models but many dont. Then new leather boots climb better in some situation then their plastic counterpart." -End of quote

Why does he call plastic clunky? Why is the flexible sole of leather better? You know what is to be gained by reducing underfoot insulation? FEEL. This feel give you the really security in the mountains not spikes or crampons.

The challenge I see ahead for me personally is not just making use of state of art material to create a system which is warm yet has exceptional ground feel, but also better condition myself to cold through training barefeet in cold weather.

becomingtheiceman.com

Edited by huzefa on 01/01/2012 20:53:56 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Re: A suicidal approach? on 01/01/2012 23:34:25 MST Print View

i wont comment on running ... but i will on rock climbing

i have personally tried climbing up to 5.10s barefoot ... honestly its good for strengthening your feet but quite poor IMO for actual sending at your limit ...

it is also HIGHLY route and rock dependent ... for example doing so on easier climbs, cracks where you can jam yr feet, and bouldery climbs where you can use yr hands more can be done more easily barefoot than climbs with very tiny edges, or slabs where the sweat from yr feet reduces the friction

while there are some people who can climb very hard barefooted, almost everyone will be able to climb much harder with actual climbing shoes ... whether you want a soft or stiff soled shoe is up to you, but there is nothing which says a softer shoe is "better" or vice versa ... it depends greatly on the climb

the introduction of rock shows with sticky rubber i believe is credited with the great explosion in climbing grades from the 80s onwards ...

there IS a very definite advantage to actual climbing shoes ... the evidence simply lies in that the hardest routes, whether they be trad, sport, alpine (rock), etc ... are all done with climbing footwear

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: A suicidal approach? on 01/01/2012 23:37:15 MST Print View

"but quite poor IMO for actual sending at your limit"

What does that mean?

--B.G.--

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: A suicidal approach? on 01/01/2012 23:54:06 MST Print View

it means bob that most people need rockshoe to climb the hardest they can climb ...

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A suicidal approach? on 01/02/2012 00:40:10 MST Print View

I'd have to agree with you Eric. It also falls in line with the general theory of training for high performance. The idea is train for 25% harder than what you expect to endure, that way when have to perform at peak, it's comparatively "easy."

Strengthening the feet by going barefoot is wonderful for training and day to day life, but if you want to push the envelope, using a shoe provides that technological boost to maximize performance.

Going to the climbing example, you can train for climbing by never using chalk. You'll learn amazing technique for maximizing friction and not over-gripping holds, but when you're holding onto the tiniest of polished nubs on a hard project route, using chalk will give you that edge to send. Of course philosophical questions of purity and cheating arise by introducing technology, but that's what consensus and categorization are for. Are we to discount all of Lance Armstrong's achievements simply because he didn't run those tour de frances but instead used a bicycle?

You can be a bare-foot purist, but any philosophical grounds open up the discussion of where do you draw the line? If you don't go full bore and say only a nudist approach is legitimate because the warming/cooling effects of clothing are a technological development and not indicative of ones natural abilities, then any line you draw is, by necessity, arbitrary.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear. on 01/02/2012 01:07:08 MST Print View

Huzefa, are you saying you actually walk over snow and ice barefoot? I don't understand how that is humanly possible to do without getting numb or possibly frozen feet. I cant even walk on concrete when it's colder than 50 degrees (fahrenheit) without getting cold and painful feet. But I don't normally walk around barefoot.
Unless you are talking about using barefoot shoes and not just barefoot?

Khader Ahmad
(337guanacos) - F

Locale: Pirineos, Sierra de la Demanda
Re: Re: A suicidal approach? on 01/02/2012 01:53:09 MST Print View

"Quote from Extreme Alpinism "On the other hand, thick warm boots are clunky. There is no right answer, only compromise. After years of supremacy, plastic boots now face competition from a new breed of leather boots. Some leather boots weigh less than plastic models but many dont. Then new leather boots climb better in some situation then their plastic counterpart." -End of quote

Why does he call plastic clunky? Why is the flexible sole of leather better? You know what is to be gained by reducing underfoot insulation? FEEL. This feel give you the really security in the mountains not spikes or crampons."


He calls plastic clunky just by comparison with the then new generation of leather rigid boots. Before The Nepal Top (or maybe other, that's the older I remember), everything was clunky, in fact the plastic boots aren't clunky if you compare them with the previous leather options, like leather TRIPLE boots, those felt like a fallout shelther on each foot. There's no advantage in "feeling" the ice, you need more input than the tactile to know where to place your points, no substitute for that, not even the new vibram sole (the one with wool inserts).

Also there's no flexible sole on the leather/soft Alpinism boots, he is talking about the ankle. And that's the main difference with the plastic boots, you can place the front point easily and faster and with less energy use. You can use semi-rigid boots for front pointing, but those boots have a limit.

Of course, this is applied to alpine climbing, not ascending trekking peaks in Nepal (I think you're talking about that). For a trekking peak you don't need stiff boots, the trekking company uses them (probably scarpa inferno or old style koflachs) because a leather boot has a more critical fit so you need more pairs of several
models. On a trekking peak you just need a semirigid ligthly insulated boot. Even if you are extremely cold resistant, with any boot there's a reduction in blood flow, more if it's stiff (look at the mukluks) that means increased chance of frostbite.

So, as I see it, it's really suicidal, at least you should have "fly wings" or "butterflies" on your very thin sole, just like the old pre-Vittorio soles.

Disclosure: I'm a year round sandal user (ask in Chamonix, I'm sure someone remembers)I keep all my toes in a semioptimal shape and sometimes hike barefoot. Also an ex-alpinist.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Some confusion here on 01/02/2012 02:48:19 MST Print View

> people have done "alpine" routes in approach shoes and light footwear .. in good
> conditions youll get away with it, probably anyways ... however should conditions
> turn for the worse, the question may become one of how many toes do you want to lose,
> or how important are yr feet for getting down ... theres been cases even above
> freezing where people have been incapacitated with poor footwear

With respect Eric, you are confusing several issues here. Let's try to separate them out. Doing so requires that you start by rejecting a lot of marketing spin from the big boot companies, plus a lot of blind faith from 'experts who know better'.

First, warmth.
A moments independent thought should tell you that what matters here is insulation (or rather, good blood flow). Not plastic or leather or anything else, but insulation and blood flow. Many of us have experienced the pain and suffering from big plastic boots which were so tight they cut off (or at least limited) the blood supply. Somewhat fewer perhaps have actually tested this out by wearing over-sized joggers with extra socks and maybe a VBL layer in cold snow. I have, others I know have, and none of us have had any problems with cold.

Next, waterproofing.
This is a funny one. Taken to an extreme, I have worn Dunlop KT-26s this way in the snow. If you don't know them, think 'tennis shoes'. But the secret here was that I kept my socks dry. Now, conventional VBL theory has the waterproof layer next to the skin. That's fine for down sleeping gear: you don't want your body sweat getting into the down. But with footwear in the snow you need to change the system: put the VBL layer outside the socks to keep them from getting soaked. After all, soaking wet socks are not good insulators. Which is why I do keep some over-sized GTX joggers in the cupboard: they are good for snow shoes.

Finally, sole stiffness.
Well, this one is a bit variable. If you are wearing microspikes under tennis shoes things could be tricky. Not advised, at least for step terrain: there's too much flex there. But if you are wearing rigid crampons under your GTX joggers, the crampons can provide all the stiffness you need. Mont Blanc has been climbed like this, along with many other snow&ice peaks.

There are other factors as well, but perhaps less relevant here.

So why do so many preach 'big boots'?
The boot manufacturers have an obvious vested interest (their profit).
The retailers have an obvious vested interest (more profit).
People who have just bought big boots have a vested interest (their ego).
Some older climbers just don't want to change (they don't have to).

Bottom line:
Those of us who have woken up and questioned the big boot myth have found it is just that - a myth ... provided you do keep thinking about the conditions. Just don't expect tennis shoes and thin socks to be real great in deep wet crusty snow ...

Cheers
PS: I and several well-known others have experienced some retaliation from the big boot companies for saying all this out aloud. Figures.

Edited by rcaffin on 01/02/2012 02:50:28 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
technical on 01/02/2012 04:30:42 MST Print View

roger

while im sure people have done some climbs with such flexible footwear ...the OP has indicated the desire to go barefoot or close to such in alpine conditions if im reading it right ... that IMO may not be the best idea

as i stated prior ... climbs have been done with approach shoes, and other such ... but IMO it is VERY condition and route dependent ... ive used my inovs on 3rd/4th and low 5th class in good conditions, but i still have boots and rock shoes ... which one i take depends on the conditions and what gives me the least chance of falling ...

just because someone has "done it" doesnt mean you or i can, or its advisable for someone fairly new

heres an example of what i mean ... here is sonnie trotter soloing his way out of a new 5.9 route he put up in dirty sneakers ... it is not something the average climber should do ... if they did try it they could easily fall and die ... mr trotter however is one of the best trad climbers in the world, and to him its a walk in the park



i have done the route myself half a dozen times last season and theres no way im soloing it in sneakers, even though the climb is well below my level

there are however very strong or crazy climbers who do solo it, though not usually in sneakers

as you can see a solo fall from that pitch is certain death ... heres me belaying a partner up the same climb ...



ill just finish off by quoting cosley and houston ... they are highly respected UIAGM guides who have between them half a century of guiding experience on multiple continents ... they are also an exponent of fast and light, and give scenarios for the climber to judge when to take light approach shoe, and when to take proper boots ... and, no offense to anyone here, but i would rather ask people who do the climbs all the time what their take is on it rather than someone off the internet

what the OP decides to use is up to him, just so long as his partner (if any) is aware of any risks ...





they give an example ...










go to the link for a the full text and recommendations on alpine footwear ...

http://books.google.ca/books?id=i6H0ESHr3n8C&pg=PA88&dq=cosley+houston+alpine+climbing+boots&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

Edited by bearbreeder on 01/02/2012 05:50:03 MST.

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Minimalist alpine footwear. on 01/02/2012 06:51:31 MST Print View

Justin, I wrote "I trekked till the basecamp at 11500 barefeet through snow and boulders." Not ice. The conditions were summer glacial with melting snow and sunny weather. In short, pretty good. There are other factor to consider. I would take very cold water baths everyday and where minimal clothing to condition myself to cold. Breathing exercises help.

>I don't understand how that is humanly possible to do without getting numb or possibly frozen feet. I cant even walk on concrete when it's colder than 50 degrees (fahrenheit) without getting cold and painful feet. But I don't normally walk around barefoot.

Meet the iceman @ http://www.innerfire.nl/en-home


Eric, with due respect to you and cosley/houston, I will never wear boots on boulders and summer glacial condition. I have done the same route I describe above (Beas Kund, 11500ft) in double plastic boots, tennis shoes and barefeet. Plastic boot are uncomfortable, tennis shoes are slippery on snow even with modified rubber sole. Barefeet? Amazing.

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Minimalist alpine footwear. on 01/02/2012 07:34:01 MST Print View

I would like to redirect the attention to my second post above. The purpose of this discussion was to design a system that is warm, light and allows climbing with crampons if the route demands.

The idea is to apply ultralight principle to designing alpine footwear system to remove unnecessary or duplicating features and fabrics to get most performance per weight.

1)Intuition Dreamliners
Available in 3 thickness, the low volume model has a 4mm sole and doesnot require heat molding. This will require addition of laces or some modification to get a secure fit. I plan to do climb rocks in barefeet but there is still a question of durability. This is the warmest and the lightest insulation I know of, used in high altitudes and cold.
2) Snow gaiters (or may be integrate some gaiters in the above mod.)
3) Custom made 40below light energy boots.
4) Toasty feet insoles
5) Steel or CF insole
6) Crampons - can someone convince CAMP to make XLC nanotech with strap bindings. I contacted them 2 years back but no updates yet.

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
"The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear." on 01/02/2012 07:55:07 MST Print View

Go for it Huzefa.
This is BPL, NOT a traditional backpacking site, even though some folk seem to think it is. :)

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: "The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear." on 01/02/2012 12:51:16 MST Print View

Huzefa, I know I have been contradictory to others with similar goals as you, however that said I'm not opposed to the idea. My concern with icy conditions is that crampons still need a rigid attachment point for a secure fit, not necessarily for performance or anything.

That said, if you could find someway to create a rigid platform suitable for crampons, without the weight of tradition footwear you should be ok as a whole, although your leg/foot muscles may prefer something more supportive on long routes.

I too have considered the viability of using 40 belows over more ltwt footgear to achieve similar results. In particular I've mused over the viability of using lightweight leather mountain boots with minimal insulation for most of lower elevation climbing, and then maybe using 40 belows to provide warmth for the summit bid...mind you all thought experiments for way down the road experimentation.

I do encourage trying to find a better system (system being key here, not "piece of gear") that will provide the necessary secure footing and warmth but also not be a simple brute force approach like even the most advanced boot tech is. Just be careful!

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: Re: "The state of market of minimalist alpine footwear." on 01/04/2012 07:05:15 MST Print View

"My concern with icy conditions is that crampons still need a rigid attachment point for a secure fit, not necessarily for performance or anything."


I have been thinking about this. I did some research on crampon options and the steel crampon that will fit the most flexible footwear is kahtoola kts steel crampon. Click here for a good review.

Kahtoola steel crampons
Intuition dreamliners
40below overboots
Toastyfeet insoles

That's the lightest system available. Only thing left is to find sponsors.