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Lowa Alpine Expert GTX boots: Light, comfortable and sensitive
Posted on: March 17, 2020
When it comes to choosing a boot to wear climbing in the mountains, comfort and durability is key. The Lowa Alpine Expert GTX boot is a great choice for ice and mixed climbing, and it provides solid comfort while hiking miles to the base of a climb.
After taking these boots fresh out of the box, I promptly went out for a 10-mile backcountry scramble in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was pleasantly surprised how little break-in time there was and how well they performed on both rock and firm snow. The fit is superb and the "open and closed hooks" allowed me to easily cinch or loosen up the boot depending on my needs. The boot is automatic (step-in) crampon compatible, making it a great choice for a lightweight alpine setup.
Speaking of light, the boot weighs in at 3.21 pounds for the pair, which is comparable to other boots of its class. However, the Alpine Expert GTX is less expensive than its competitors, which makes it a good option for someone who wants a high performance boot but is on a budget. It also comes in both a men's version and a women's specific fit, which is nice, since I have a lower-profile foot than most of my male friends. (Who would have thought!)
Whitney Clark emerges from a couloir on Carson Peak in California. [Photo] Tess Smith
The upper boot of the Alpine Expert GTX is crafted with a mix of mountaineering split leather and microfiber. The sole is made from the burly Vibram Alp Trac Ice. The sole has held up well to the repeated wear and tear of scrambling on granite and hiking on talus. The insoles feature aluminum-coated Insulate Pro and a fleece top sheet was for added warmth and comfort. Usually, I want to rip off my boots as soon as possible, but the fleece top sheet is an added bonus to the coziness of this boot and I rather enjoy wearing them around.
The Fit Wing feature allows for easy ankle articulation giving you the support needed while carrying heavy loads on uneven terrain as well as keeping your heel secure in the boot while climbing delicate mixed terrain. The low-profile DuraPu midsole allows your foot to be in closer contact with the ground for greater control and stability. There is a nice sensitivity with these boots that is hard to find with other brands and models. They are lightweight and have a precise feel, which is important when climbing in difficult terrain. You don't want your feet to feel like wrecking balls when tiptoeing a narrow ridge.
I did run into a few problems with the boot. Although the Alpine Expert GTX have 400 grams of Primaloft Insulation, I took them on an ice-climbing trip up to the Canadian Rockies and found them not well suited for such cold conditions. It was about 20 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit outside, which I think is at the lower end of what I'd be willing to do again, temperature-wise. I think they are better suited to slightly warmer weather. For instance, I spent a few days climbing ice in Lee Vining and the boots were a perfect choice.
The biggest issue I had with these boots is that they have a Gore-Tex lining but my feet got wet. A couple weeks ago, I went out to attempt an ice line on Carson Peak in what I thought was going to be good conditions. Unfortunately, we encountered unconsolidated snow and did quite a bit of postholing up to the base of the ice. We deemed the climb out of condition and began the trek back to the car. After about an hour of punching through deep snow, the leather soaked through and my feet got extremely wet. My partner was wearing different boots and did not experience the same problem. The boots are said to be waterproof but unfortunately they did not do the job. If I were deep in the mountains in cold conditions, this could potentially be a very serious problem. It is possible that some of the wetness was from snow trickling down in from the top of the boot, but to be safe, I would recommend adding an additional waterproof treatment to these boots before embarking on a mountain mission where you anticipate encountering a lot of deep snow.
The boots looking rather wet after hours of postholing. [Photo] Whitney Clark
I saw some other reviews online in which a couple people seemed to have similar experiences of their feet getting wet, so I asked a Lowa representative if they'd encountered this problem. They hadn't. They pointed out there could be a variety of factors at play, such as "ambient air temperature and humidity, type of socks, level of exertion, depth of snow, if the person is wearing gaiters, etc." They noted that "it's possible that with 400g of Primaloft the boots were too warm for that day and foot sweat was significantly increased."
I would not say that was the problem I had. Overall, I think these boots are great for mild alpine and mountaineering adventures as well as technical ice and mixed climbing. If I had more confidence in the waterproofing of these boots, I'd be keener to recommend them for larger objectives, as they are very light and comfortable. If you do take these boots deep into the mountains, add your own waterproof layer and bring extra socks!
Whitney Clark is frequently traveling the globe in search of first ascents. In 2018 she received a Grit & Rock First Ascent Award and an American Alpine Club Cutting Edge Grant to attempt a new route on the west face of Arjuna (6230m), India.
Clark approaching the base of Carson Peak. [Photo] Tess Smith
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