Let’s face it, most winter footwear for ice climbing is pretty clunky. You wear a big, insulated pair of boots with some straps and metal spikes attached to them. Tossing a footwear setup like this over your head for a figure-4 is damn near impossible. Just thinking about it might give me a hernia. What if you had lighter footwear, and eliminated the toe bail, heel bail, straps, extender bars, extra spikes and some of the insulation? Well you’d definitely have a lighter boot that might help you send harder.
Over the past couple of weeks I made my own mixed climbing boots (I’m not that fond of calling them fruit boots myself). There are a number of articles and blog posts about how to do this available on the internet. I did a fairly thorough search before I started my own project. It turns out you can use any number of different types of footwear to make mixed climbing boots. Stiff rock climbing shoes, lightweight alpine climbing boots, old cycling shoes, or old figure skates all will work well as a base for your mixed boots.
I won’t lie, the whole process was a bit of a headache, and ended up being quite laborious. It was, however, cheaper than spending $500 and way cooler. Like many other climbers, I’m also a tinkerer; I’m always trying to find ways to modify and improve existing gear. If you’re trying this at home hopefully you can learn from my errors and the process will be easier for you. Before we get started I also want to mention that I got the idea for these boots from Bayard Russell, who made a pair several years ago from an old pair of Trango Alpine/Big Wall boots.
What you need to make mixed climbing boots
- Appropriate footwear – I used old Scarpa Charmoz alpine climbing boots which have the benefit of being light and fairly warm. This site isn’t call “bigfoot” for nothing. These boots are size 48 and they’re still tight. Trim and lightweight foot wear is always relative I guess.
- Crampons – I bought Black Diamond Raptor crampons, which are meant for the Lowa mixed climbing boots. I suppose an old pair of Petzl Dart crampons might work well if you really want to save some dough.
- Attachment hardware – Black Diamond says to use 14 M5 x 20mm socket head cap screws, 14 M5 T-nuts, and 14 M5 washers. The sole on my boots is a wee bit thicker than the Lowa M-boots. I had to get a bit jiggy with things here. I bought several different length screws which ended up being a good idea. An assortment of screws from 20mm-40mm was useful. Metric T-nuts can be hard to find at most local hardware stores. You can use 10/32 T-nuts and socket head cap screws. The 4mm wrench will work in these screws too.
- A good utility knife
- Vise grips – useful for grabbing lugs when removing them
- Power drill and assorted drill bits up to 3/8″
- Lithium grease (optional, to get T-nuts tighter)
- Thread Locking Compound (also optional)
- Dremel tool with fiber cutting discs – to cut the heads off of screws if you accidentally strip a T-nut
- Old crampon extender bar plus 4 more T-nuts and screws – to increase boot stiffness if necessary
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Here we go. Let’s get started. If you try this at home you can probably save yourself some trouble by reading these directions carefully. I’ve italicized some really import stuff about the installation process.
- Place the crampons on the boot and mark where you want them sit. You will need to do this for front and back crampons for each boot. If you do this for all 4 crampon pieces at the same time you’ll save yourself a lot of time – you won’t have to switch drill bits as frequently. I marked a single hole and drilled it as a guide for the other holes. The last thing you want to do is f-up the sole permanently by placing holes in the wrong spots.
- Initially, I used a long screw to attach the crampon to the boot. I also used some grease on the screw and only tightened the T-nut loosely. If you try to tighten a single T-nut tightly you might strip the teeth on the T-nut (this is where the dremel tool came in handy on two occasions for me – I stripped the T-nuts and then had to cut the head off the screw.)
- Now mark the remaining holes for the crampon. You can keep the crampon in place for the smaller guide holes, and then remove the crampon to ream the holes.
- Lightly grease each screw. Using longer screws to start, tighten down the crampons. Tighten all of the screws evenly, tightening each screw only a little bit (a couple of turns) at a time so you don’t strip a T-nut. This process will pull the T-nuts into the soles of the boots.
- Once the T-nuts are flush, or near flush with the sole of the boot you can replace the longer screws with screws that don’t poke at your feet when fully tight. Switch to shorter screws one screw at a time, keeping the others tight.
- Find an insole that fits over the T-nuts to protect the bottoms of your feet.
- Go climbing!
The final product for me was a boot that’s lighter and trimmer than my Nepal EVO’s without crampons! I’m going to try them out tomorrow. I’ll update this post on their climbing performance as soon as I’ve used them. Update: I’ve worn them and they climb awesome. They’re light, tight-fitting and precise. It was worth every penny and ounce of frustration making them!