I know what you’re thinking: These look like proper old school big boots. You thought that I spent a lot of time wittering on about lightweight footwear revolutionising your outdoor experience, so why am I now going on about big boots?
Well, three reasons. Firstly because I’m a fickle bugger. Secondly because my view is you should avoid getting into ruts wherever you can. Narrow mindedness can lead to bad things, so I like to keep an open view and with that I’m always willing to revisit past decisions to see if anything has changed. Thirdly, we’re here to have fun and they look like Darth Vader’s climbing boots with orange laces.
Here we have the Hanwag Friction GTX.
In terms of specification, this is designed to be an alpine boot. We have a leather and cordura upper on a Vibram dolomit sole unit. There’s a Gore membrane, as suggested by the name, along with Duratherm insulation. We also have a high rand, and a heel welt for crampons. So is this overspecced for the British isles? In my experience, Scottish winters can still be pretty testing when compared to the Alps, so it’s fair game for the winter mountaineer I reckon.
After my feet got over the shock of being in big boots I discovered that the fit is decent, with plenty room in the toe box but with no slippage on descent. Having my ankles immobilised was a bit of a shock, but I remembered what to do and after a while I no longer resembled a cross between the tin man and Robocop.
The insulation is good, I stood around a few camps in the snow in these for hours and my feet stayed warm. Fine for long belays too. The sole unit is grippy and very good on snow and ice, even before the crampons come out to play. There’s a smoother section on the toe to help with climbing and that works well along with the slight taper in toe to make them relatively precise on the rock. Small edges are fine and despite the clumpiness, they are surprising delicate when it comes to footwork in mixed conditions.
Once the crampons come out, you’ll realise that there’s no front welt for a toe-bail, so it’s strap-on’s ahoy (insert your own joke here) although there is a good rear welt for ‘semi-automatic crampons’, but if I use the correct terminology I don’t get to use the strap-on line and you know I can’t resist a cheap laugh. The limitation is once you get on to steeper ice, you may prefer the security of a fully-auto crampon. Horses for courses there.
The materials are tough as old nails, so longevity looks very good so far. The supplied insole is actually pretty decent too, but I’ve done my usual and swapped in my own.
In terms of downsides, I’m going to assume you’re fine with big boots, so I won’t harp on about the obvious restrictions. The only real issue I have is the weight. My pair of size 11’s weighs in at 2270g, which is a fair chunk of weight to be swinging around on the end of your legs all day. Lightweight aficionados had best steer clear. Many people prefer to feel the weight of a sturdy boot in the winter, so if that’s you, you’ll be happy with these.
So what we have with the Friction is a solid and warm 4 season boot, that’s great for general winter mountaineering. It performs very well on mixed ground and easier ice routes and it’ll happily take you on your first Alpine forays too. If you can live with the weight and you want warm feet while you tackle some more technical ground, these make for a fine choice.