A new start, a new phase of life must begin. Even trying to walk somewhere, when he was old, when he was back home waiting for me was hard. If it wasn’t the solitude, it was the overbearing sense that what I did was incomplete, that there was something missing. It was also mixed with the guilt that he wasn’t here, I was trying to live a life without him. When he was gone it was worse. There was no one to return home to, to greet me. For me to look after. The changing routines of more than a third of my life had gone. I couldn’t even fill the void, because whatever I did, he wasn’t with me, to make it complete. The solitary mad man walking into town talking to himself. For the equivalent of 3 times around the world, if he wasn’t in front where I could see him, he was behind. So if I couldn’t see him it was natural to call his name, to hurry him up and away from whatever was taking his interest. Some habits die hard.
But this is a big country and I have this life and have to go to the heights and remote places. So what to wear on my feet. Getting footwear is the first step in having another dog. No point in getting a dog if you’re not going to explore together. And you can’t go exploring the mountains without the right footwear. Dogs don’t bother they come equipped already.
The boot selection lined one wall of the shop. From technical ice climbing boots on the left to low level walking shoes and sandals on the right. What did I want in a boot? One that did everything. But there was always one deep down, unspoken consideration for choice.
Some of the fancy material boots looked nice, but with so many panels and changes of material, was so much stitching really a practical choice. These were weak points for letting in water. At times the places I would go will be wet and there is always the odd stream to cross. Waterproofing is the next consideration. Gortex or not Gortex. Now I have never had a a Gortex lined boot. I have had other similar semi-permeable-no water in, but water vapour out-lined boots, such as SympaTex on lower down the performance range Hi Tech boots. Then I was buying a boot for the cash I had in my pocket £30-40. Now I was buying for what I wanted it to do.
Having experienced the dejected feeling of sudden cold water entering a boot, which only meant one thing, the membrane had gone. I wanted to try the alternative. A non membrane high quality leather boot. A boot I would prefer to keep weather proof by looking after it. The 4 season boots with the capability of taking a grade C3 crampon were considered too stiff in the sole for general walking. Another consideration was the comfort temperature range. A boot capable of permanent action above the winter snow line could get too hot for summer work.
Next in the range stood something of beauty. The Scarpa Nepal. A 3 season boot capable of taking a lightweight crampon if necessary. Unlined and in nearly black, but called Anthracite, Nubuck leather, with minimal extra panels, in grey between the bracing for the top lace hooks. Minimal stitching high on the boot. Against this was the Meindhl range. Traditional looking brown leather boots. The Nepal winning on practicality for me with it’s high rubber rand from the joining of the sole and running over one inch higher round the boot and completely covering the toe. Extra insurance from low level damp and wet, and protection from scree and those sharp rocks that scratch vulnerable areas of the unprotected leather. Legend had it it was Trail magazines 3 season boot of the year.
Having tried on the boot this was my choice. The snow capabilities of the boot were a vital safety consideration. Here we are in the truest use of the phrase quite literally on the edge of the Highlands. It is only a mile’s walk from here and you start climbing the first official hill of the Grampian mountains. It is quite common through the winter to go out and from our valley see the appearance of a snow line on the surrounding hills. In winter a casual 5 miles Sunday afternoon walk, could turn into a drama. The boots had to be part of a self contained survival system.
The shop staff assured me these boots had a reputation for snow shedding from the cleats or tread. Bearded Collie owners can now tip their dog on their backs and inspect the dog’s paws. “Oh he’s got fur between his pads and toes to keep him warm”, was an often cooing I heard about my dog. Not quite true. Dense hair between the pads of an animal is more of an adaption to snow than cold. Dogs without dense hair, sometimes oily in nature, between the pads when walking on snow can go lame.
The hair reduces the packing of snow. The snow sheds from between the pads and the dog is able to function in snow conditions. They are simply an evolutionary adaption carried in the genes for survival in the snow of the northern latitudes or high places.
Snow packing in the tread of a boot reducing it’s grip may provide an amusing clip for 10 o’clock news of someone slipping on their backside down steps, but on the hills in winter it could be the difference between getting home and dying.
Without a specific objective in mind the boots were just used for walking to the local shop and back over few evenings, after a liberal dose of Nikwax Nubuck and Suede Proof. Just to start breaking them in.Then, Yabba, DabbaDo. Snow had fallen. First was the mile into town. This proved no problem as in the evenings the pavements had been turning icy despite gritting. Then out of the town towards the higher ground. The lane becoming increasingly more snow covered with the decrease in traffic use. The weather now helping with the test as increasing wind started driving the falling snow horizontal. Then the track off the road. With even less traffic this was a mixture of complete covering snow conditions.
The few cars that had used the track had compressed the snow into a hard smooth sub surface. On to this a thin layer of moving blown snow. Unnerving at first, the initial heel strike was followed by a sensation of a slight slide of about half an inch. Then with the continued roll onto the full sole contact the grip was solid and abrupt. I noticed that the water was running in the ditch at the side of the track. Still climbing different snow conditions gave different test opportunities. Six inches of fresh powder snow gave a satisfying rolling rumble as the boots bit.
Exposed to my right from the valley, falling away and down, the snow blew in. Though the history of the Bearded Collie covers the introduction of the Polish Lowland Nizinny from around 1514 and before that of the Komondor from the Magyar people in the 1200s. My own view is that these were not great leaps, rather an assimilation into a bloodline that goes much further back. Man did not run round shouting at sheep and cattle until these dogs appeared. There had been a history, before the Romans and before the Celts of herding dogs going back to certainly the Bronze Age or even to the first human colonisation after the last Ice Age.
I had taken a camera with me for a picture of the hills ahead, hills I believed were also part of the Bearded Collie story, an older episode than we covered in the droving dogs from 1200 onwards in Magic Boxes, Horns, Thieves and Warriors.The area I was interested in was roughly north west of Blairgowrie and north east of Dunkeld. The hills rise higher, but here are the remains of settlements that go back to the Iron Age. So who were these people that lived here? Who warned them of the wild wolves?. Did they have sheep or cattle. Who herded and protected their valuable and essential livestock? Was it an earlier part of the bloodline that moved cattle along the Cateran Trail and more than a thousand years before?
Ah the camera. I had some naive vision of a picture of a place I would one day walk to. An alpine clear view of snow lying on Scottish hills and behind them the tantalising draw of white mountains. Snow stung my face and squinted my eyes. Even the nearest hill just the other side of the valley was struggling to make itself seen. Perhaps another day.
In my world away of boots in snow, dogs of the Iron Age and my attention on the changing direction of the dancing flakes I hadn’t noticed the small stream in the ditch. Now all but gone. It’s surface iced over, due to the drop in temperature with altitude. The snow had found another place to lodge. Now in a blizzard of 20-30 mile an hour winds, below freezing and a wind chill on top, the walk to the hills was for another day. I turned off the track for the path to take me back to town on another route. Flumff. Snow had gently settled in the hollow. 18 inches deep, another unexpected boot test.
One of the specifications of a boot is weight. Sturdier and stiffer the heavier. The going through the snow was easier than I thought. The weight of the boots was negligible, making the high knee lift required easy. So who makes the subjective comments on weight. A lady in an office who normally wears flat court shoes, or a manager used to Gucci like slip ons. Having worked in construction for 7 years, heavy duty safety boots or steel toe capped riggers made these feel light as slippers.
Then it was the test of absence. Something I hadn’t noticed, but now looking down as I dragged me feet up and through the white obstacle I realised. For more than 2 hours I had been in the slush of the town in the valley, on and through the snow, walked on ice and now enveloped in the deep stuff. My toes and feet still had the same sensation of warmth as when I put the boots on in a centrally heated house. The boots were operating well within their comfort range. Or was it the Merino SmartWool socks that had been thrown in on the deal.
The descent was down what would have been another rough track, now smooth white. The wind driving snow at me from another direction, straight into me. My front acquiring a thickening white coating. Occasional slips occurred under my right foot as the boot landed on the unseen contour from the centre to the ruts of the track beneath, but the boot gripped and supported my ankle before body raised concern.
Through the oncoming grey and white a sign appeared. Here I was in central Scotland coming down from the edge of Highland Perthshire. From snow covered hills where the bloodline of the Beardie had worked for thousands of years. The sign was as stark an intrusion into my isolated thoughts, at one with the history of the land, as it was against the snow.
The track made a few more turns on it’s descent into the town, finally to a road and pavement. Snow already starting to win the battle against the clearing and grit. As the heel struck the down sloping pavement, into the freezing mush, again that half inch of slide before the full sole savagely gripped. Prints behind me showing the tread pattern cutting through the freezing goo.
A first snow test. Are they comfortable. Well I still have them on and feel slightly resentful in having to take them off for a picture for the review. The tread and the boot should be optimised for life below the snowline, but on the first day they performed in the snow. Whatever type was shed from the tread and the boot always gripped, though sometimes with a slightly unnerving slide before the full intensity of grip violently manifest. Once I realised they would slide but always grip, confidence grew.
But violently? Yes. The next day I went to Perth and took the bus as I had done a 100 times before, wearing the boots to give them another day of breaking in. The routine and rhythm, second nature and sub-conscious. Pay the driver, start walking to the stairs to go up as always. The timing always the same, as I grab the hand rail prior to my first step, the bus jolts as it pulls away, timed with my step up to the left.
Not this time. The floor of the bus was wet. As the bus jolted, I had started to turn. Unfortunately simultaneously both soles had full contact with the wet deck, viciously gripping with not a millimetre of give. The jarring finding the weak point of my left knee, it had expected a fluid pivoting from the boots. It got instead total rigidity. These things bite. But they were designed for wet rock on a 4000ft mountain, not the number 57. Two days later my knee still reminds me.
With such a limited test I never expected them to leak or be damp and they weren’t. Other reviews range from being perfectly watertight to, do let in some water after a day of boggy walking in the rain and stream fording. The secret seems to be in the treatment. Scarpa use the HS12 tanning process with this Nubuck as with their other high end leathers, this involves deep silicone penetration of the material. For other leather the Scarpa HS12 silicone cream is recommended for waterproofing and leather care. With the ‘sanded’ matt finish of the Nepal this can slightly change the surface appearance. A brushing when dry after application can help restore. It may be if you don’t mind a small deviation from the original appearance the HS12 cream will put the waterproofing up there with any other leather boot.
With the breathability of leather, and in my opinion relatively light weight, the boot may perform at it’s optimum in the summer months on strenuous rock walking of the mountains. The inclusion of the rand for extra protection, may be a hint that this was the designers intention. One thing that must be done is to run the laces through the hook on the tongue to lift it tight.
The downside of the boot must be sizing. These are boots made in continental sizes. I am a size 10 dead, no less no more. For which there is no equivalent. 45 is roughly 10 1/4, which is what I got and felt fine, until I started using it. There is a slight movement of the heel within the boot on the uplift. Toes and top of the foot fit fine, wiggle room for the toes without any hint of sliding deeper into the boot so far. As these are performance boots close tolerance is everything. Some other reviewers consider this slight heel movement may be due to the design and accuracy of the last the boot is built on. The regional genetic differences show up as a slightly narrower heel for white British, allowing the slight slide, while the rest of the boot is a near perfect fit. With such a rigid sole the slight movement of the heel shows itself.
There is a view that the Scarpa lasts are also made slightly on the generous size. Perhaps for myself it may have been better to have tried a continental 44 and hoped the last would have given me a tight but acceptable fit. At present I could put another on a thin liner sock, but would I stretch the boot. As it’s only been used in cold weather, perhaps as it breaks in and gets softer the boot at the back might tighten up more on the laces. Or in summer half way through a hot days trekking would the natural swelling of the foot fit the boot better. Some reviewers think the boot is so sexy they bought two. One for walking and one for best. Perhaps one boot for winter with an extra sock and another for summer?
All I can suggest is completely forget about British sizes. Get measured and know your correct continental size. Then get the best boot fit. These boots depend for maximum performance on a close tolerance fit. When your edging on wet rock or tired on uneven stone or scree, you need boots moulded to the feet. I may have made a mistake of 1/8 inch, but I am writing a review so you don’t.
Again due to foot differences the Nepal is made in a separate women’s range. In nice colours especially for the ladies, though not sure whether you get the drop dead gorgeous Anthracite. One excuse for reversing climate change and giving us colder snowier winters is so we can wear these boots more often. A great present for style conscious teenagers. If told they can’t go out “in this weather”, it gives them the riposte “If it gets too bad I can always put on the crampons as well”.
Joking aside it is not an everyday boot, the sole is for the rough ground of the mountains not the routine of the urban footpath. A bit like a Beardie really. A Beardie boot matching the dog. Capable above the snowline, but not extremely adapted. Happy in the wet but at home on the hills and mountains of summer. Where a Beardie is this boot will go, even complimenting it in stylish black and grey.
Perhaps one day they will get used for a walk. A 10 week old puppy scampering behind amongst the rocks and plants. And when he gets tired carry him as the path gets steeper. Steeper towards a remote summit, where on a clear day the Atlantic and North Sea can both be seen and on other horizons mountains merge with the sky. There I can hold him overhead with extended arms, turning 360 degrees so he can see the panorama stretching out around. Then tell him this is his land, that we have been together for thousands of years. That he is of this land, that he is part of the land. That the land made him, that he made the land. That he is the dog that made Scotland.
Price £110-200 (shop around)
Update 8 February 2009:The review contained a reference to sizing and ‘heel slip’. After checking on the net in various forums the answers seemed to range from extra liner sock, footbed inserts to lift the foot and push the heel into the narrowed contour and basically there is a problem.
With so much snow on the pavements, I wondered what the affect the salt would have on them, so I cleaned the boots with Nikwax Gel, after having first removed the laces. I also washed the thick SmartWool socks that I got with the boots. The next night I wanted to walk to the shop. So I re-laced the boots, making the laces slightly tighter in the first rows of eyes, before the hooks for easier fitting.
As I had thin socks on and it was only half a mile, I laced the boots up slightly tighter and holding the back of the boot to form around the heel area of my foot. Even with thinner socks no heel slip. With thinner socks there is less ‘bounce’ and relaxation of the boot when fastening than with the thick wool hiking socks. It is possible to ‘train’ the new boot closer to the foot.
The intention is to now use the boot for local short walks to finish breaking it in, using thin sock. When I need it for proper use with thick socks, the boot should fit snugly. With the knowledge that on those hot long days in the mountains with a full pack, there will be enough give in the boot to cope with naturally swelling feet.
Boot too big? Be counter intuitive, use thinner socks to break them in and try and gently form the boot to the foot. Let’s see how it works.
Update 10 February 2009: First thanks to everyone who has read the review so far, hope it has been some help. To the problem of ‘heel slip’ within the boot I can only advise you do not follow the the recommendations given in other reviews and forums eg thicker socks, extra liner socks or sole inserts. The laces also need breaking in, when lacing the boot up as new they are still spongy and elastic and do not slide through the boot’s eyes and hooks. It is not a question of putting them on and going for a long walk. It is the number of times you put the boot on. After a short while the laces smooth out and flow easier through the boot’s hardware, each time forming the boot better to the whole foot. Training the heel and ankle of the boot is more complicated than just a straight pull around the top of the foot section. I have continued to use very thin socks. Another addition I made was to lace the boots up when I wasn’t wearing them. Slightly closer then my foot would have opened the boot out. I have been wearing the boots to walk into town etc with thin socks and no ‘heel slip’ within the boot. The boot has formed around my foot with very thin socks, plenty of wiggle room around the toe box. I believe now I could walk anywhere for any distance even with thin socks and have perfectly fitting boots and no blisters. These are a high spec boot and need to be formed around your foot for perfection.
I can only advise if the boot fits everywhere apart from ‘heel slip’ you do not follow any advice with regard to extra or thicker socks. Go the other way use thinner socks and form the boot around your natural foot shape. When you go for the hills and put on the thick socks these boots should be perfectly formed around your foot. When the the weather is hot, the pack is heavy and the moutain is steep and it is late in the day you will also know these boots will accommodate those swelling feet. If you have have read other reviews and been told these are the best, they are better than that. You just need to understand them to reach perfection. These boots don’t only grip the ground, they grip your foot like a second skin once you know how to handle them.
Boots Supplied by
Mountain Supplies 133 South Street Perth Perthshire Scotland PH2 8PA 01738 632368
The author is a former metallurgist and materials scientist, involved in both R&D and quality control. He is a member of the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Research Network. In 2007 he contributed to two Nobel Prizes.
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