La Sportiva Spantik Review
Boots; another very boring and expencive piece of kit. They're not shiny and you can't really play with them but they are maybe the most important piece of kit to get right. The Spantik is no new comer but despite being here for over 4 years it still dominates its boot category. There is a new comer to the market though in the form of the Scarpa 6000. I’ve been able to compare these two boots close hand as my main climbing partner uses the 6000ers so if you’re in the market for an Alpine winter boot or a sub 6000m Greater Ranges boot then read on.
Where to start? Well I received these boots almost exactly a year ago. Since then I’ve tested them on everything and I really do mean everything- WI6, Scottish tech 8, loads of winter alpine routes from hard technical pitches to ‘romping’ terrain, 6 weeks in Alaska, and plenty of skiing. So I think I’ve covered just about everything you can possibly do with a boot. Overall verdict? Brilliant.
New-routing in Alaska, © Will Sim
The Spantik is a double boot meaning that you have an inner and an outer. The advantages of this are two fold. Firstly you have twice the insulation, and secondly they are much quicker to dry which is crucial if you are doing multi day routes and bivying at night. The outer shell is of a 5 layer construction- the key layers being the high density polythene barrier and the thermo-reflective aluminium layer. The design crux here is to create an outer shell with high insulating and waterproof properties but that also has the flexibility of a summer boot and lets your feet breathe.
Drying time in Cogne public toilets, © Ben O'Connor Croft
The sole of the boot is often overlooked by climbers but is actually maybe the most important thing when it comes to insulation. The highest heat loss is actually through the sole. The easy way to combat this is to put on a nice thick layer of insulation underneath- of course the downside of this is that you lose precision and sensitivity through the boot. The thinner the sole the better it will be for technical climbing. The Spantik uses a 4 layer construction including a thin carbon fiber layer topped off with the tried and tested Vibram sole. Incidentally the Spantik uses the more nimble Nepal Evo sole which accounts for some of the shedding of weight on the old Nuptse.
The lacing system on the outer is pretty ingenious. A one lace system with no need for tying any knots- as this is a winter boot it makes sense to have a system where you don’t have to take your gloves off. Its easy to execute but hard to explain so I’ll just leave it as that. The only downside is that the lace supplied is very thin and mine has snapped in the past. I simply replaced it with a thicker one which does the job just as well.
Getting to grips with the inners in Cogne, © Ben O'Connor Croft
The inner boot is maybe the best part of the whole boot. It's incredibly well designed. This is no scrimpy little foam insert here but a well constructed insulated liner. It’s also incredibly comfortable. The inner and outer are meant to work together as a dual insulating boot. Instead of just a foam inner this a almost a completely separate boot- it is constructed to fit the foot snugly with padding just where you need it for support around the ankles. It is a fully insulated boot as well and has an exterior anti abrasion liner which actually works amazingly well. After using these boots for probably over 150 mountain days they still look brand new and feel it as well. The lacing up system is also based on the same ideas as the outer and once ‘set up’ for your foot size is incredibly quick to do up utilising a velcro system instead of tying a knot. The fit is great on the inner and due to the Overlap System on the outer boot, which allows you to effectively open the top of it gaping wide, you can slip the inner in with ease (not always the case with double boots).
There were reported issues with the eyelets snapping on both the outer and inner boot but I cant say that this has happened to me. I believe that this was a teething issue with the first versions of the Spantiks but is an issue that has now been resolved.
On the top of the Grand Pilier D'Angle, © Will Sim
Now to the meat of the test. Out on the hills they were pretty out of this world. Firstly you don’t get cold feet in these boots, you just don’t. I suffer from cold feet quite easily so this was a nice surprise- at the end of the day winter alpinism is miserable, and is made even more so with freezing toes. Their dexterity on waterfall ice was great too- obviously you can opt for a lighter boot still for water ice days but I found that they were no issue on some of the harder ice climbs that I did last year.
On Tequila Stuntman- M6? WI5, Ben O'Connor Croft
Their performance on mixed was great too, again very similar idea to ice but I climbed quite a few Scottish climbs that Bullock et al put up in Argentiere last winter up to Scottish tech 8 and found them to be a great balance between good support and precision. You’ll never have the sensitivity of a lighter single-boot boot and these are way over the top for Scottish winter obviously but they are great for Alpine mixed.
Repeating Bring Home the Bacon VII 8, © Will Sim
As for their overall performance this last year it has been awesome. On big Alpine winter routes they have been a real joy to climb in. For a double boot they are incredibly light at 2.2kg (size 42). Boot weight might not seem like a big deal but according to a scientific study every extra lb on your feet is the equivalent to carrying an extra 6lb on your back- so it's worth being anal about. Until the Scarpa 6000 came out these were the lightest in its class by a long shot. Coupled with a pair of ultra light pair of Darts it makes for a great combo and one that will have you running up north faces in no time.
The Prow on the Moonflower Buttress, © Will Sim
Apart from climbing in the Spantiks I’ve also done a lot of ski days in them- both in my big powder skis and my small approach skis. I first tried skiing in climbing boots two years ago and couldn’t hack it at all in my Phantom Lites- from a far it must have looked hilarious. This winter I decided to really teach myself how to do it and spent a fair portion of it whizzing about the Alps in my Spantiks and 130cm skis. At firtst it’s a bit weird but the support offered by the Spantiks was just right and by the end it was more fun than skiing in my proper set up. Some boots don’t quite offer enough support on the shins which makes skiing very hard and allows for a high ankle snapping potential but the Flex OverLap system on the Spantkis really helps support the front of the boot onto your shins. The boot also fits fine in Fritschi touring bindings without having to do any modifications to the sole.
I got the chance to use these on an expedition which opens up a whole new world of testing. When you have to live in a pair of boots on a glacier you learn to appreciate whether they are comfy or not. The outer boot is a very sturdy shell which means that you can just wear them outside the tent on their own without having to deal with the inners. Obviously you don’t want to walk too far in them as they’ll be a very loose fit but it's great for doing your business outside the tent- that includes collecting snow, digging the tent out etc rather than just the obvious one!
Breakfast Alaskan style, © Will Sim
All said and done though nothing is perfect. The Spantiks whilst being an amazing boot did have its faults as well. One of the biggest ones is that it doesn’t fit all models of crampons and this is pretty important. This is an issue that most boots of this irk face, but if you are dead keen on a specific pair of crampons then it's worth making 100% sure that they fit perectly. The popular Grivel G14s for example do not fit. In addition, whilst the fit of the boot was brilliant from the start I found that my shins got ripped apart when touring with a sled- this is a problem that even uber Alaskan Alpinist Mark Westman found. I didn’t find blisters a problem when actually climbing in them but we had to take a few days off at one point in Alaska to let the shins heal after resuplying ABC.
So overall I am a big fan of the Spantkis as you can tell. They were pretty ground breaking when they were introduced 4 years ago and they are still to be found on the feet of many of the worlds top Alpinists. This year though the new Scarpa 6000 came out onto the scene and became the closest I can think of as a competitor to the Spantiks. I’ve not had a chance to climb in the 6000 but my climbing partner has a pair so we’ve been able to compare quite a bit. The good news is that both these boots are actually very different so you've got a choice depending on your focus.
The Spantkis are a durable double boot that offer a supportive feel but without the excess weight that other boots in its class do. The Scarpa 6000 boots are quite a different affair when you look into it. They are a much narrower and lighter boot whilst still in the same warmth category. The narrowness of the boot and a thinner sole are an obvious advantage in that it will be better for climbing harder technical stuff. The 200gr saving per pair is obviously quite a bonus as well. However it offers less support than the Spantik due to its outershell. The inner is a far more lightweight affair compared to the Spantik inner and will not last anywhere near as long. However you have to remember that this boot was deisgned by Ueli Steck; so it is designed for the light and fast ethic. He told me that they had designed an even lighter version of the 6000 that was amazing but so flimsy that it wasn’t viable commercially as it wouldn’t last. So I guess that the 6000 is the closest they could make right now to a super light boot that wont fall apart after a month. The Spantik is definitely more robust and there is no doubt that it will last far longer than the 6000. It also seems a fair bit warmer than the 6000 but I cannot say 100% for sure. I suspect that the 6000 is going to be a more pleasurable boot for technical ascents and for cold ice climbing areas but for big mountain routes the Spantiks gains the upper edge for warmth and with extra foot support for big ice fields (think about being on your front points for hours on end and you get the idea). This was especially brought home to me on the Colton Macintyre on the Grandes Jorasses last week when my partner's calves and achilles were screaming and mine were fine. This is by no means a complete comparison between the two but merely an overview as this will no doubt be of interest. However the key thing here is that really they aren’t the same boot- if you want something light and technical then the 6000 is the better choice but if you want a more robust boot for the big mountains with a bit more support for romping up ice fields and skiing in then the Spantik would be the winner.