When it comes to footwear, I’m a bigot. A hard headed, close minded, Italophile bigot. Sure, my buddies have climbed in Chinese-made knockoffs, Swiss Raichles, and even a Lowa or two, but I always “felt” for them. Why weren’t they in Italian boots? Should I hold a bake sale for them?
Well, I’ve eaten my words and had to begrudgingly admit, at least when it comes to the Germans up at Lowa, these folks know their kicks.
Now, I’ll say right off the bat, I do take some satisfaction in pointing out Lowa manufactures some of its footwear down in Italy, but I must also admit that it’s a Lowa facility, run by Lowa people, with Lowa artisans at the helm. Let’s call it international detente and get down to gushing about the Lowa Vertical GTX, an insulated, lightweight (902g/1 lb. 15 oz. per boot; $495), BEAUTIFUL boot made for steep ice, mixed routes, and alpine terrain.
I scored a pair late 2012, in a size 41.5, so be warned–I’m nearly a 43 in LaSportiva and generally a 42 or so in SCARPA…the Vertical is definitely a different fit. The boots are straight-lasted (a bit more on this in a sec), which draws a line down the foot with the center being through your second toe, meaning half of your foot’s volume falls to each side of your second toe (this explained to me by a pedorthist and professional boot fitter). For many people this is spot on, while for others their foot’s center line is more towards the middle toe. If you’re not sure, find a good bootfitter and ask him or her to check out your feet.
Truth be told, I’m more of the latter, with my foot split pretty much down the middle of my middle toe. Despite that being the case the Lowas fit nearly perfectly out of the box. I’d only climbed water ice in my tried-and-true (not to mention beloved) LaSportiva Nepal Extremes (1132g per boot) and the Lowas were 230g lighter per boot, as well as quite a bit more nimble. It’s not entirely a fair comparison between the two (Lowa makes a boot called the Weisshorn, 1160g, which is more analogous to the Nepal), but it’s what I was accustomed to.
The Nepal has a roomier toe box, while the Vertical GTX features a much more climb-friendly fit and feel. I climbed some 5.9 in the gym, just to check them out, some M5/6 in the mountains and up to WI 4+ in them over the course of 20 or so days during the 2012/13 season. Long approaches in them were plenty fine. They have a bit of rocker, but nothing exaggerated, so I’d call them “middle of the road.” The toe is quite a bit lower profile and narrower than other boots, so I had to fiddle a bit with my Black Diamond Cyborgs to get a secure, positive fit on the front bail. This sounds pretty standard these days in similar boots.
At the back end, the Verticals have the best range of motion in the ankle of any boot I’ve used (Trango Evos, SCARPA hiking and backpacking boots, Nepals). The materials changes to a synthetic and is quite a bit softer than the leather used elsewhere. I particularly noticed this when descending a slope, facing out while flat-footing. This might be the highlight of the boot, its lateral stability, but incredible flexion towards the rear. For a boot that climbs technical stuff this well, it also flat foots like it was made for it. If you’re considering a pair, make sure you check them out on a steep incline…really impressive.
The Verticals use Gore Duratherm insulation (as well as a Gore-tex liner for waterproofing), and despite having a relatively snug fit, I wore them into single-digit temps in New Hampshire, staying warm and comfortable the entire time.
A small gaiter (hook-and-loop closure around the front of the ankle) seals out snow. Laces falls on top of the gaiter, somewhat similarly to the SCARPA Rebel Ultra, but unlike the Phantom Guide whose laces are internal, beneath the gaiter. I honestly didn’t find the Lowa system a hassle at all, and actually appreciated being able to adjust the lace tension without opening the gaiter. Were the laces on the inside, though, I think I’d like the boot just as much as I do with them on the outside.
My only gripe with the Verticals isn’t a fair gripe at all–it has to do with my “bunionettes,” or the little bumps that protrude at the bases of my pinky toes. When traversing long section of flat-footing terrain, I ended up with sore spots at both areas. My bootfitter explained straight-lasted boots can do this to feet like mine, but 20 minutes later he’d pushed out the area on each of the boots and I was restoked again.
Why? Because these things are crazy warm, super light, and climb really, really well. I feel like I’m cheating on my reliable old Nepals, but the truth is, I’m loving these German rigs. I’m sorry to say ice season is over, but I’ll have these out again this fall, and I’ll certainly take them to my final AMGA course, my advanced alpine/aspirant exam in the Cascades, in September. The Verticals walk well enough you can survive a long slog into one of Washington’s picturesque climbing spots like Boston Basin or Eldorado Peak. Once there you can kick steps, climb rock, relax on vertical ice, and enjoy warm, happy feet. Sure, five bills is a bunch of money…but to forget about my feet, I’ll happily pay the tab.
Workmanship is stellar. Zero wear thus far. The gaiter has been fine, the sole bomber (it’s Vibram’s “Mulaz,” with a smooth “climbing zone” underneath the toe), and all stitches tight, even, and beautifully done.
I’m looking forward to hammering these things over the coming seasons. My main feedback on my AMGA ice course was simply getting better, stronger, and more fluid on waterfall ice…and these will be the perfect companions.
Here’s to Lowa for opening my eyes to quality, hand-made boots with German provenance and Italian craftsmanship. You know, to really get the full effect, though, I’d need to spend a few months in the Weisshorns…hint, hint.
In all seriousness, this is about as good a boot as you can imagine for mixed and ice. It’s responsive, comfortable, warm, and I assume dry (I didn’t test it in wet conditions–it was too cold most of the season!). Great job, Lowa. Give these things a look if you’re considering an insulated boot, but don’t want any extra tonnage, or a loss in sensitivity. Thanks, Lowa!