Italian-made footwear in the mountains, of course. You won’t find me rocking any Asian stuff. I’ve got standards to maintain and cousins to keep in work back in the mother country!

OK, deep breath and a confession: I’ve had to shelve these elitist ideals after having Tecnica’s latest boot and shoe custom-molded to my feet. Yes, you read that correctly: custom-molded. I take some solace in the fact that Tecnica is an Italian company, but the Plasma shoe and Forge boot are both made in Vietnam. I was skeptical when I learned this. After fitting, though, my skepticism surrendered to bipedal bliss. I’ve spent upwards of 75 days in both the boot and shoe version of Tecnica’s award-winning treads.

The Forge

The Forge (2 lb. 10 oz.; $270; available locally in Boulder at Neptune Mountaineering) is Tecnica’s boot version with “CAS”–or, Custom Adaptive Shape. CAS starts with a medium-volume last, but adds heat-moldable material in the ankle cuff, tongue, and inside of the foot. In addition, the Tecnica Forge and Plasma (the low-cut version of the Forge) come with a moldable, custom footbed. Think of the footbed as more robust than a Superfeet insole, and customizable to your tender feet.

The Forge (2 lb. 10 oz.; $270; available locally in Boulder at Neptune Mountaineering) is Tecnica’s boot version with “CAS”–or, Custom Adaptive Shape. CAS starts with a medium-volume last, but adds heat-moldable material in the ankle cuff, tongue, and inside of the foot. In addition, the Tecnica Forge and Plasma (the low-cut version of the Forge) come with a moldable, custom footbed. Think of the footbed as more robust than a Superfeet insole, and customizable to your tender feet.

I have a relatively low-volume foot with a very high arch. Out of the box, the Forge and Plasma both fit well enough, but were I to hike without molding the footbed, my arch would be unhappy after a couple hours. In less than six minutes, a trained shop technician (thanks Heather, at Neptune!) had my feet happily married to the Tecnica footbeds. After a couple weeks of using the Forges on hikes and approaches to climbs, I began poaching the footbeds out for my approach shoes and even in my Hokas for longer trail runs. They’re way burlier than standard flimsy inserts and at least 50 percent more supportive than Superfeet. They’re also a bit higher volume, so in cycling shoes I found them too high volume, while in a hike/run/approach shoes, I appreciated the increased support.

Believe it or not, this is the Tecnica fit machine that heats footbeds and shoes, then pressurizes these giant overboots (see below) to compress/mold the Forge and Plasma to your feet. Way techy! Without the shell of a ski boot to compress a heated liner around one’s foot, the Tecnica folks devised their own system.

Both the Forge and Plasma use Vibram’s MegaGrip rubber on the sole. It’s one click less sticky than dot rubber, which is to say several clicks stickier than the usual hiking boot stuff. In the rock gym one evening I climbed several pitches of 5.7/5.8 with no stress in the Plasma. I also did a lap on the Third Flatiron last fall in the Forge (with rock shoes in the pack, just in case). Neither the Forge nor the Plasma were intended to be technical climbing shoes, but I can say–the MegaGrip rubber and comfortable last and molding make them awesome for all-day comfort. Performance in the wet is good. I wouldn’t do the Third again in the Forge, but a thousand-foot-high rock climb is the last thing the Tecnica folks designed them for. Rest assured, long hikes and rugged treks will be just fine in the Forge.

Durable laces, well-cushioned sole (dual-density EVA with a protective “TPU” shank, and apparently resistant leather, plus a Gore-Tex membrane make these an excellent choice for extended trekking/backpacking with less-than-40-lb loads.

After maybe 50-plus days in the things, the leather is still good, rands still stuck to the sides, and molded areas still plenty comfortable. Full passing marks for the Forge.

The wrap-around ankle closure and tongue on the Forge is perhaps its best innovation: it’s heat-molded, just like a ski boot, giving you fantastic support, zero hot spots, and epic comfort. Awesome.

The Plasma

After a few weeks in the Forge, I remarked to the boot’s designer–Italian, Federico Sbrissa–that if they’d apply the CAS technology to an approach shoe, I’d consider giving up my beloved Sportiva Gandas. Fede laughed and explained the Plasma (1 lb. 14 oz.; $150) wasn’t an approach shoe by any means, with a roomier last, but he understood my desire: for guiding, the comfort of an approach shoe is absolutely wonderful on longer, easier days rock climbing.

Goofy looking? You betcha. These pressurized overboots compress the heated Plasma onto your feet, rendering a customized fit. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.

While I won’t be guiding rock in the Plasma, any time I can walk in/out of a climb in them, I will be. They are phenomenally comfortable, just like the Forge, with a sole sticky enough to scramble easy sections, dual-density EVA underfoot, with a TPU shank for protection. The Plasma is a totally capable day-hiker, but I have a jacked ankle from soccer as a kid, so I will opt for the Forge on rougher terrain (think: walking into Hallet or Longs). The Plasma, though, is the perfect Flatirons shoe if you’re not relying solely on an approach shoe.

I did the same fitting process at Neptune Mountaineering–15 minutes in the chair and you leave with custom footbeds and customized Plasmas. The closure on the Plasma doesn’t wrap fully around the ankle like the boot-cuff of the Forge, but you still get an overlap tongue and precision lacing.

Of note, the Plasma I tested does not have a Gore-Tex membrane like the Forge (though there is a Gore-Tex version available). For me, this is a huge win in summer, as my feet are usually clammy in any truly waterproof shoe. Winter time, I’m willing to endure that, but come summer, I hate having my feet burn up. The Plasma should prove much cooler come July/August.

The low-cut Plasma uses the same heat-moldable material in the tongue and cuff area, but you don’t get quite the same luxury from a low-top. That said, I find myself reaching for the Plasma for bike rides to take my punks to school, running errands, shorter approaches in Eldo, and long dog-hikes on the rocky trails above town.

My Only Two Gripes

My only gripe with either shoe is the toe box. I’d love just a tiny bit less volume in the toe box, but I totally concede that Tecnica engineered the boot for hikers and trekkers. Man, though, both models are so close to being climbable in mellow terrain!

My only other complaint is the look of the all-black versions of both the Plasma and Forge. I walked into a gathering wearing the all-black Forge and a friend leaned over to my wife and asked, “Did Rob lose a bet or something?” He was referring to the Darth Vader-ish look of the Forge. I begged Tecnica for one of the more colorful versions when they hooked me up with a Plasma, but no dice. I think significant others worldwide would appreciate shelving the all-black models and maybe glam up the other ones.

Overall

Overall, though, these are exceptionally comfortable — and so far durable — kicks. For a summer Alta Via in Europe, the PCT, backpacking with lighter loads, I would strongly recommend either of these shoes. I’ve got three full shoe racks of expensive, Italian-made approach shoes and trekking boots, and these Tecnicas get as much mileage as any of the others. Great footwear!

Rob Coppolillo is an internationally licensed mountain guide and a freelance writer, based in Boulder, Colorado. He owns Vetta Mountain Guides.