Trekking. My eyes narrow and my skeptic-hackles go up: trekking. What do they mean by trekking?
You see, trekking could mean walking across Tibet, or, a nefarious ruse by some enterprising marketing type. Trekking could mean a burly, supportive boot capable of walking for months or a glorified shuffleboard shoe manufactured in some south-Asian sweatshop.
Trekking; Tecnica bills their new “Forge” boot as a fully customizable, heat-moldable trekking boot. I was intrigued, but skeptical, too. What were these Italians up to?
My eyes relaxed from narrowed slits when I heard the Forge was designed by none other than legendary boot designer, Federico Sbrissa.
What? “Fede” Sbrissa designing a trekking book? Interesting. Fede is the genius behind the Dynafit TLT boots, shoes that tectonically transformed the AT market. He also built the Arc’teryx Procline, another innovation that mostly resolved the climb/ski conundrum for alpinists and skiers.
This is all to say, I have my prejudices — and the Tecnica Forge thumbs its nose at them. Indeed, the Forge is a boot capable of trekking great distances, and even climbing a bit along the way. No marketing trickery here; this is a good boot.
Skiers have long known a proper boot fit improves performance, comfort and warmth. You can make a strong argument for efficiency, too, which is a close cousin to fitness/power. The Forge builds upon this heritage, using proprietary materials to offer a moldable insole, ankle area, and tongue/closure. At a participating retailer, a customer can buy a pair and have them customized to his/her feet in less than a half hour. Huh?
A limited number of retailers will offer the complete service in spring 2018. That is, you purchase the boot ($250—spendy for an Asian-made hiker, but read on, it might be worth it for you), then spend 20-30 minutes having it custom fit to your fit. Short of having an Italian artisan fondle your tender feet, this might be your best bet for a custom hiking boot.
Participating retailers will have a Tecnica fitting system made specially for the Forge. They’ll start with the insole, first molding it to a customer’s foot. I have an exceptionally high and long arch and relatively low-volume foot. This necessitates me using an after-market insole in any shoe in which I plan to run, hike, ice-climb, ski, or tour. The Tecnica insole happily accommodated my arch shape and after 40-plus days in the Forge, I can say the insole is superior to a Superfeet product and on par with a custom-made rig I have, too.
Consider, that sort of insole should probably cost at least $75, if not more. Suddenly the $250 price tag ($270 or so for the synthetic, GTX-S model) starts to seem more palatable.
After the insole, the real sorcery begins. The fitter heats up the boot, then you drop in the insole, slip on the boot, and place your feet in these inflatable, Michelin-man booties. The overboots then pressurize to a few psi, molding the boot from the outside onto the your feet.
This looks weird and at the press junket I attended, I was molded at the end of the event, so I’d had a few minutes to watch other journalists go first. Skeptical? Uh, yeah. After my quick fitting, though, I stood up and walked around. The Forge has a wrap-around closure, reminiscent of an Intuition classic wrap ski-boot liner. The ankle offers ample padding, but more important, a dialed, precise feel. More like an approach shoe than a hiking boot. From there, the boot offers moldable padding down towards the foot, but stops halfway to the toes.
My initial impression was, “Huh, this might actually work.”
We left the media event and strolled up to Chautauqua Park, in Boulder. I’m not a huge fan of Gore-Tex liners for footwear, but it’s a hiker and people appreciate the weather protection. I sweat plenty, but accept that most people prefer a liner — useful in spring/fall, when trails get wet, or you schlep the boots into a September 23 ski in Rocky Mountain National Park—more on that in a sec.
Along the hike I got to hit Sbrissa with questions on rubber compounds, lasts, and technologies. The Forge relies on Vibram Megagrip rubber for its stick — it’s one click less sticky than the stuff Vibram uses on approach shoes and after dozens of days testing the Forge, I can say they work very, very well for a trekking boot. I even did a pitch of the Third Flatiron (5.3) in them, just to see. They work — and work well!
Despite my sweaty protestations, the Gore-Tex liner functions well enough to thwart several hours of walking in the snow. Late September this year we had our first good storm up high, so an ambitious buddy suggested we go ski the Lambslide in Rocky Mountain National Park. Early missions like these require mostly walking, with a bit of skiing. They’re novelty outings, really, just to get some turns and start building ski fitness. Stats on the day were 12 miles of walking, 2,500 feet of vert, with a full backcountry ski pack, and skis and boots on my back. The morning of, I thought, “Ah, great chance to push the Forge way beyond its bandwidth! Let’s see what happens!”
Totally capable boot—after a long day, with 30ish pounds on my back, walking on bare trail, then slush-and-snow covered trail, then heinous snow-covered talus, the Forge was comfortable, dry, and stable. Having intentionally used the Forge way outside its intended scope, I can confidently say you will be psyched on this boot trekking, backpacking, and mellow rockaneering. Sbrissa and Tecnica killed it; the Forge is awesome.
First, the customizable heel pocket, ankle wrap, and insole will accommodate a tremendous variety of foot shapes, but don’t expect this to be a 360-degree moldable boot. The last is generally middle-of-the-road, meaning it starts from a relatively “average” place, then customizes the heel, ankle, and footbed. This should work for almost everybody out there.
I have a “sixth toe,” or bunionette (a little bump on the outside of the foot, rather than the big-toe disaster of a true bunion), and the Forge completely accommodated it. I have my ice boots and ski boots fitted to work with this little glitch, and the Forge did it with its proprietary process. Complimenti, Sbrissa!
Another thing to keep in mind—the boot is a trekking model. It’s not meant for climbing, heavily laden backpacking (40-plus pounds), and certainly not for any serious cramponing. I pushed it out of its comfort zone and it did very well, but this is fit and lasted as a trekking/hiker. (Man, if Tecnica applied this technology to an approach shoe—I’d kill for the thing!) The toe box is wide enough to wiggle your toes and avoid toe-bang on the descent.
I used the all-black leather version (1.8mm Nubuck; 595g per boot weight), which my wife doesn’t exactly, er, appreciate the look of. So be it. The synthetic models look cooler, I have to say.
If you’re considering a light-to-medium duty trekking boot, consider the Forge. It’s more comfortable than a European-made model I also own, appears to be plenty durable after 40-plus days in it, and provides a stable, no-break-in fit, and epic comfort.
Where We Took It: Red Rock, Eldorado Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rob Coppolillo is an internationally licensed mountain guide based in Boulder, Colorado. He co-owns Vetta Mountain Guides and is the co-author of The Mountain Guide Manual.