At less than 500g, these new Salomon S-LAB X ALP CARBON GTXs are the lightest mountaineering boots ever. That means they're uninsulated, lack ankle support and aren't compatible with traditional crampons. Can you still climb a mountain in them? We summited Rainier to find out.
A carbon plate in the mid-sole with tailored flexibility makes the X Alps stiff in the right places (for climbing) and flexible elsewhere (for hiking). Constructed like a trail runner, a Gore-Tex gaiter complete with waterproof zipper conceals a sneaker-like body that doesn't even cover, much less support your ankles. But that is a real gaiter that really will seal out rain, snow and debris.
Let's get right to the point, the Salomon's S-Lab X Alp Carbon GTX Men's Mountaineering Boot is different and that's why they are great. It's the reason you'll want to buy this boot. It's also the reason you might not want to buy this boot. Here are the details that set it apart from anything else in the mountaineering world:
- Light, like really light.
- No ankle support.
- Relatively disposable.
- Nimble, not trail runners, but not the "ski-boot" most people wear.
Flexible crampons only, no automatics.
Now, to set the stage and context. I'm no mountaineer. I don't spend days-on-end sleeping in my car in hopes of a first ascent once the weather clears. I don't own any ice screws. I know what a prusik is, but have no idea how the hell I would ever use it to save my life. And finally, my ice axe is 30 years old and feels like a 3-pound sledge. That ice-ax is the antithesis of this boot.
The Salomon S-Lab X Alp Carbon is meant for speed and comfort. In reality it is a very stiff-soled and lugged trail runner with a Gore-Tex gaiter and speed lacing system built-in. For my mountaineering and outdoor pursuits this is a pretty sweet addition and ideal for 1-3 day mountaineering trips in mild weather.
I'm not a fan of heavy boots and frankly I would ask the question: Who is? But, from what I can tell, everyone climbing Mt Rainier two weeks ago was. Those climbers also really like ankle support. This boot has none of that, and I appreciate the lack of motion-restriction quite a lot.
For me, moving fast means being agile and that means having full range of motion in all of my joints -- especially the ones I'm relying on with every step. If you are someone who backpacks in trailrunners (or flip-flops), these are the boot you will want to strap crampons to on your next glacier trip or aggressive off-trail summit attempt.
As with any piece of footwear without ankle support, foot placement is critical. The lightness of these boots makes that easy. Overall, careful steps in a light boot add up to a lot of saved energy. Watch someone in 2-pound-plus mountaineering boots as they labour to get their foot where they want it after ascending 10,000 feet of elevation, then do the maths. Salomon's boots weigh half of that (17.64 oz) -- over the course of a day you'll save yourself the burden of picking up tens of thousands of pounds, literally. Saving weight on your feet is without question the most important place for a hiker or runner when it comes to conserving energy.
This weight savings does come at a cost. These boots just aren't very durable. On the way up Rainier I ran into a fast hiker wearing a pair and the gaiter was on its way to a better place, bless its soul. We chatted briefly and he said he had put a bunch of miles on them, but they were less than a season old.
The lack of durability is a real bummer because the gaiters combined with the Gore-Tex membrane do an amazing job of keeping your feet dry, while letting them breath. The first two times I wore these boots was in heavy late spring snows and included crossing saturated meadows. My feet were never wet.
I experienced conditions that laid bare the weaknesses of this boot as we descended to Muir camp at 10,200 feet through a very steep and loose scree field. Gravel, sand, and rock was sliding over my entire foot with every step. Sharp rocks. Heavy rocks. I was lucky enough to avoid a rock to the ankle, but I am sure that repeating this time and again, would eventually end in injury. Or, at the very least, torn up gaiters.
Finally, these boots have no insulation so to speak of. That is, of course, by design. No insulation helps keep this boot light and if you are moving fast with good socks, as they were intended, you really won't need insulation. It was 17-degrees at the top of Rainer when we summited and my feet felt great in some thick wool socks. The day before, however, when not wearing crampons and hiking in snow for 5 hours, they got very cold.
Buy this boot if:
- You want to go light and fast and are fit and experienced.
- These won't be your only boots for all occasions and situations.
- You don't mind sending them in on warranty when the gaiters wear out (24 month warranty).
- Price is not a concern.
- You will be in wet snow or rain a lot.
Don't buy this boot if:
- You are new to mountaineering or backpacking unless you're sure ankle support/protection is not for you.
- You plan to spend a majority of time off-trail in rocky conditions.
- It will be very cold during your planned use.
- You are on a budget.