Zamberlan is an Italian bootmaker with an excellent reputation for making heavy-duty hiking and mountaineering boots. Last year, they introduced a new boot called the Fitz Roy which straddles the technical hiking and mountaineering boot categories. I received a pair late last winter, too late to really put them to the test for winter hiking, but I’ve been hiking in them regularly this year in late autumn, and now winter conditions, and can finally evaluate them for you.
Zamberlan classifies the Fitz Roy as an alpine boot suitable for technical backpacking and carrying heavy loads in frigid climates. Having used this boot now in some challenging winter conditions with a heavy overnight backpack, I agree that it is excellent for hiking on ankle twisting mixed rock and ice routes that demand precision foot placement with and without crampons.
But while Zamberlan classifies the Fitz Roy as a mountaineering boot, I believe it is much more of a hiking boot than a boot that you’d want to wear for multi-day mountaineering trips. There are two reasons for this:
First: the Fitz Roy is a single boot with a water-resistant microfiber upper boot and a heavy rubber rand. It isn’t insulated however, which isn’t an issue if you’re always hiking, as in moving, while wearing it in cold weather. The problem is when you stop, and if you have to stand around in camp while you melt snow for drinking water, your feet are going to get cold while wearing these boots. In addition, single boots are less desirable for overnight hikes because it means you have to sleep with your boots inside your sleeping bag at night, so the foot sweat that’s accumulated in them doesn’t freeze. With double boots, boots with removable liners, you can simply sleep with the liners in your bag which is much more comfortable.
Second: the Fitz Roy has a heel welt but no toe welt, so you need to use a semi-automatic or strap-on crampon with them, instead of a step-in crampon. This might just be my personal bias, but I vastly prefer step-in crampons for mountaineering and technical hikes over other crampon types because they are far less likely to pop off or get misaligned.
The merits of the Fitz Roy become much more obvious once you stop thinking of it as a full-on mountaineering boot and more as a cold weather capable hiker. It’s best feature in my opinion is its rockered sole which makes it ideal for long approach hikes where being able to walk naturally is more comfortable and less tiring. Highly rockered soles have a curved shape like the legs of rocking chairs making it easy to roll your foot forward when walking on flat ground or roads. That coupled with the ankle flexibility of the Fitz Roy makes it a very comfortable boot to walk in, rather than a traditional mountaineering boot which has little to no ankle flex and feels like you’re walking in cement shoes.
While the ankle of the Fitz Roy is more flexible than on many mountaineering boots, it is still quite stiff when compared to lighter weight or even leather hiking boots. The stiffness is largely a function of the rubber rand which surrounds the bottom half of the boot and does not soften up with use. The rand provides fantastic protection against rocks and debris, as well as an extra level of waterproofing – the boots have inner gore-tex booties.
To reduce weight (a pair of Fitz Roy’s weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces in size 10.5 US), the sides of the boot are made with a material called Superfabric, which is a heavy-duty cordura with round ceramic bumps on its surface. Superfabric provides excellent protection against misplaced crampon strikes which glance off it, instead of puncturing the boot and your foot (Superfabric is also used by mountaineering gaiter manufacturers for the same reason).
Winter hikers have a lot of options when it comes to choosing cold weather hiking boots, but if you like the way hiking boots fit for three season hiking, then the Fitz Roy might be a good boot for you to try for winter use. It’s quite comfortable for hiking and technical enough than it can be fitted with different traction aids such as microspikes, semi-automatic, and strap-on crampons. While not heavily insulated, the heavy-duty fabrics and gore-tex booties do provide adequate cold weather protection provided you wear a wool sock and don’t try to use it for overnight trips.
- Rockered sole makes walking easy
- Leather upper softens over time and provides good ankle flexibility
- Wraparound rubber rand provides excellent front protection
- Superfabric side panels are lightweight but repel crampon punctures
- Lighter weight than double boots
- Runs about a full size small
- Not enough insulation for overnight or very cold conditions
- No front welt so you need semi-automatic or strap-on crampon.
Disclosure: Zamberlan provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a sample pair of Fitz Roy mountaineering boots for this review.
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