Montrail Lotus GTX Boots, Khumbu Crampons, and I.C.E. 9 Gaiters
By Cori Jones
Typical of the technically innovative company that they are, Montrail saw an unmet need in the grey area between the lightweight approach boots and heavy duty Mountaineering boots. Until now you would have to carefully weigh out your exact needs and choose the heaviest boot that was needed even if that meant hiking many low angle approach miles in mountaineering boots in order to have them for the steeper, alpine terrain.
So Montrail set out to make a boot that will bridge that gap. The boot needed to be flexible, breathable, lightweight, and comfortable for the low angle approaches. It also needed to be rigid, supportive, waterproof, and stable for the technical alpine and ice terrain.
What they came up with is an entire system they call the I.C.E. (Integrated Climbing Equipment) system. The I.C.E. system involves the boot, crampon, and gaiter.
Lotus GTX Boot
The most complicated part of the system is, of course, the boot. The boot I tested is the Lotus GTX. This boot looks and feels like a lightweight hiker with a few extra features. The Lotus GTX is built with a nylon upper that is padded and reinforced for support and protection, but allows for excellent foot and ankle mobility. The sole is a made up of layers of carbon fiber, nylon, and Vibram which all work together to create a stable platform with just enough flex to make it comfortable. The soles also have a set of stainless steel cleats in the center of the arch that I will go into more detail about below.
I pulled these boots right out of the box, put them on, and started hiking up the trail. I expected to take some normal abuse that comes from not breaking in a pair of boots but found that these boots fit great right out of the box and never gave me any discomfort. As strictly a light hiker these boots are a bit heavy; even so they felt very nimble and responsive. I hiked on pavement, rock, snow and ice and found the boots to be very stable in all conditions. They were comfortable going up and coming down. The boots are made with GORE-TEX XCR, the lightest most breathable GORE-TEX available, which worked well in all but one day of warm weather hiking in slushy snow conditions. When I took my boots off there was some moisture inside which wouldn't be a problem except on more extreme multi day expeditions in cold weather conditions. Without the ability to take out an inner liner I would be afraid of the moisture building up and leading to cold feet.
Not only do the boots have built in attachment cleats and the standard toe and heal groves for the crampon compatibility, they also have the built in attachment on the sides of the ankles for the I.C.E. 9 gaiters. These features are key to the over all I.C.E. system, but they do add a slight bit of weight to the boot.
The Khumbu crampons are made for all around mountaineering. By design when the crampons are attached to the boot they match the camber, which gives them a slight rocker. This rocker makes for an easy walk over flat or inclined ground. These are not ideal crampons for ice climbing because the front points are in a more horizontal position. The I.C.E. 9 crampon is more specifically designed for ice climbing.
The great thing about these crampons is how they fit into the over all I.C.E. system. They attach to the boots in three areas, the traditional toe and heal bails on the rand, and the patented third point of contact, the coupler. The coupler is an aluminum bar that slides into the two stainless steel cleats on the sole of the boot. This achieves at least two goals. First the rigid forefoot on the crampon isolates and stiffens the flexible region of the boot (the ball of the foot), converting a flexible boot into a rigid climbing tool. Second it makes it virtually impossible for the crampon to fall off. Over all the system results in a super tight fit between the crampons and the boot which aids to the over all stability and stiffness.
I.C.E. 9 Gaiter
The I.C.E 9 Gaiter is fairly simple. Like any other gaiter they fasten snugly just bellow the knee and extend down past the top of the boot, the purpose of which is to keep debris (dust, rocks, snow) out of your boot. At only 3 ounces, the I.C.E. 9 gaiters are a few ounces lighter than other gaiters and they have a snug fit because they are made with Schoeller WB formula stretch fabric, a super tough waterproof material. The innovative feature of these gaiters is that they attach directly to the sides of the boot, which eliminates some excess material and the vulnerable strap around the arch of the boot. The result is a lightweight gaiter that fits super well and will not get in the way of crampons or wear out from stepping on rocks. The gaiters are actually made by Outdoor Research exclusively for Montrail.
I found the gaiters to be easy to put on and they repelled snow and other debris quite well. The pair I tested may have been just a bit too small for me because I did find the snugness to cause my lower legs to feel a bit constricted which seemed to make them feel warmer than normal. Other than that I was very please and on days when the gaiters are in the pack it is nice to know they are a few ounces lighter than most other gaiters out there.
Summary: The Lotus GTX boots have a MSRP of $220, The Crampons come in at $135, and the Gaiters are $85. This brings this version of the I.C.E. system to a reasonable $440. If you go for the top end I.C.E. 9 system including the I.C.E. 9 boots and crampons it will run you $620. This is a lot of cash but it may just become your footwear gear of choice for a majority of future trips. Meeting a wide variety of demands with one adaptable system.
The I.C.E. system could very well be a sign of things to come in how all boots, crampons, and gaiters will eventually work together. You should give the I.C.E. system a serious look for any trip that will take you on mixed rock, ice, snow terrain that isn't a full-on alpine expedition. Each element works very well for its designed purpose. Together they complete a system that can tackle a wide variety of mountain conditions and terrains.
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Walt is the climbing editor/managing editor/webmaster/grounds crew/janitor at GearReview.com
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