Gear Review: Salewa Pro Vertical

Overview

I am using the Salewa Pro Vertical as my ice climbing and technical winter mountaineering boot. I need to put in more miles before I can come to a definitive opinion about the boot. But with the winter upon us, I decided to post some preliminary findings based on a few ice climbing forays into the Sierra.

First, on their website, Salewa has this to say about the boot:

Lightweight pro boot for winter mountaineering and icefalls. A SuperFabric Perwanger suede leather upper with a 360° rubber rand offers reliable protection against rain and cold weather. The boot also features a tough Vibram sole with maximum grip and the ability to stiffen the sole when needed – perfect for use with crampons. A waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex membrane, together with an added aluminium layer, ensures that feet stay dry and warm. Includes a 3D lacing system for individual, three-section lacing and the 3F System for optimum ankle and heel support. The ‘wide’ version features a wider fit around the front of the foot.

Sizing and Fit

I cruxed out on this one. Salewa has two different lasts for this boot: medium and wide. The wide is harder to come by, but if you are like me and need a wide toe box, you will be incredibly thankful for this last.

Side note: if you are also looking at the Salewa Pro Guide, as I was, then you will be happy to know that they are built on the same last. I talked to someone at Salewa, and he informed me of this fact. So, if you are an 11 wide in the Pro Guide, then you will be an 11 wide in the Pro Vertical. Thank you for making it easy Salewa.

The sizing seems to run standard. I am an 11 in the Pro Vertical and an 11 in my Five Ten Guide Tennies.

All of Salewa’s footwear comes with a blister-free guarantee—if you get a blister in one of their shoes, you can return it to them for a refund. Pretty cool.

Salewa Pro Vertical
The wide toe box.
With the Petzl Lynx. Notice how offset the Lynx is.
With the Petzl Lynx. Notice how offset the Lynx is.

Fit for Warmth

I fit my boots with a single mid-weight Smart Wool ski sock. For those of us mentored by climbers of the older generations, or climbers of those generations, the axiom was: two layers of thick socks crammed into a boot equals warmth. Well, as it turns out, you can wear a single sock inside of a comfortable boot (i.e. the boot does not cut off your circulation and you can easily wiggle your toes) and have warm toes. This translates to better footwork on those technical routes.

My feet tend to run cold. The other morning, before I started breaking trail up the talus toward the ice at Lee Vining, the thermometer on my car read -3° F at one point. Hmm, why am I out here? Anyway, I failed to pre-warm my boots before the hike in. Even with the vigorous hike, my toes started on the downward cycle of getting colder and colder. Then, while scrambling on some easy but low-quality ice and rock, my right toes went completely numb. After much stomping and shaking, the warmth flooded back into my toes (Oh, the pain!) and stayed there the rest of the day. The moral is, no matter what boots I had on, my toes were going to get cold, but once they rewarmed the Pro Vertical kept the warmth inside.

Adjustable Shank

Is it a gimmick? Or is it for real? It’s for real, and it works (with one caveat)!

Do you want to walk? Or do you want to climb? Do you like walking in a full-shank boot? Do you like climbing in 3/4-shank boot?

Salewa’s answer: Why not do all the above in one boot!

The Pro Vertical and the Pro Guide come with a small hex wrench that allows you to quickly retract or extend the boot shank. This means you can have a 3/4-shank boot for walking and a full-shank boot for climbing with rigid crampons.

It is a great idea and works very well. Except that the bolt is made of a soft metal and easily strips if you over-torque the hex wrench, or if ice is packed into the bolt and you torque on a shallowly placed hex. That said, I am willing to deal with it in return for the extra comfort when walking. A key piece of beta: bring a small point stick, like a tooth-pick, or a paper-clip with you to dig ice out of the bolt so that you can adjust the shank. Also, don’t lose the hex key!

This is the most innovative feature of the boot and the feature that needs the most improvement. Can Salewa create a design that doesn’t require a hex key? And why doesn’t Salewa use a stronger, strip-proof metal?

Adjustable shank.
Adjustable shank.
The bolt hole is packed with snow and ice.
The bolt hole is packed with snow and ice.

Lacing

The Pro Vertical and the Pro Guide have Salewa’s 3D lacing system. Essentially, one set of eyelets has a camming device built into them, allowing you to create different tensions in the laces at the toes versus the laces mid foot and at the ankle. They work. Though you can also accomplish “3D lacing” on boots without this gadget—so its kind of gimicky, but also works.

The burly bright yellow laces on the boots are easy to tie and untie with gloved hands. They are also very long.

3D Lacing system.
3D Lacing system.

The Sole

Featuring big, fat, grippy lugs! The Pro Vertical has excellent grip on compacted snow, granite covered in snow, and all of those other wonderful forms of frozen water.

The sole.
The sole.
With the Petzl Lynx.
With the Petzl Lynx.

The Snow Cuff

At the top of the boot is a cuff of fabric with an adjustable drawstring. If you pull the drawstring tight, the cuff snaps to your shin, giving you an extra layer of protection against that cold, white fluffy stuff getting inside your boot and melting. My impression after going gaiter-less for a day of thigh-high post-holing: sweet, it works.

The gaiter.
The gaiter.

Conclusion

So far I really like what Salewa is producing. They recognize that not every foot fits conveniently into a one-model-fits-all approach. Yet, they also recognize that no one these days is having boots custom built to their feet (Imagine that!). So Salewa has found a middle ground—two lasts for the same boot. Further, they are actually trying to innovate. Albeit, they are sort of copy and pasting from AT boots, which have a “walk” and “ski” mode. But why haven’t the climbing boot manufacturers (especially La Sportiva, who makes AT boots) gone down this path? Hmm …

So far I like the boot, and I recommend it.

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