In early October, I spent two incredible days hiking the remote Tantalus Range in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. The excuse for the trip was a chance to check out a new development in Gore-Tex footwear that La Sportiva is bringing to market in Spring 2015. (Full disclosure: La Sportiva, Gore-Tex, and the public relations firm Backbone Media paid for the trip and provided the prototype gear.)
We based our adventures out of the Tantalus Hut, a rustic cabin perched on the shore of Lake Lovely Water. The cabin offers jaw-dropping views 8,540-foot Mount Tantalus and other nearby peaks. It’s located about 64 km northwest of Vancouver in Tantalus Provincial Park. The Lake Lovely Water Trail leads hikers to Tantalus Hut but our group took the luxury route and flew by helicopter, courtesy of Omega Aviation and Black Tusk Helicopters. After a spectacular, 5-minute flight, the chopper touched down on a rocky knoll just steps from the cabin door. The damp, steep terrain surrounding us was an ideal environment to put some fresh new waterproof gear to the test.
La Sportiva and Gore-Tex teamed up to launch a Spring 2015 series of hiking footwear featuring Gore-Tex’s Surround technology, which increases the breathability of footwear featuring Gore-Tex.
The La Sportiva product series includes a low-cut shoe, thePrimer ($175), the mid-cut Synthesis ($175), and the high-cut Core ($200). La Sportiva borrows features from both running and hiking footwear, so the feel is perceptively more responsive and comfortable than traditional light hikers. These shoes are designed to shine in wet, steep and uneven terrain when carrying minimal pack weight.
The shoes all feature the new Gore-Tex Surround. Gore-Tex and La Sportiva designed a ventilation system that features a breathable spacer below the waterproof bootie that allows vapor to escape down and out the sides of the shoe. This design aims to solve the classic sweaty-foot problem of conventional waterproof boots. Other brands that have used Gore-Tex Surround have designed them to allow steam to escape directly down and out the midsole through holes in the midsole and outsole, but La Sportiva’s design allows for a solid, unbroken outsole. This helps boost the shoe’s traction while eliminating the chance customers will think water can penetrate up into the shoe. To further boost ventilation and foot support, La Sportiva incorporated a webbing exoskeleton around the mesh upper dubbed “Nano Cells.”
The Tantalus Hut is an ideal home base for a slew of incredibly scenic dayhikes that range from easy ambling trails to 5th class ridges and everything in between. We were fortunate to have the expertise of three incredibly nice guides from Altus Mountain Guides—Ross Berg, Paul McSorely and Kinley Aitken. Most of us chose to hike the steep, rough, super-fun scramble route up the west ridge of Alpha Mountain. A couple hours of light bushwhacking led us up to a saddle just below the summit of Alpha that offered stunning views as we ate Kinley’s gourmet turkey sandwiches above the clouds.
Although we were fortunate with the weather and enjoyed a relatively sunny hike, I was glad to have waterproof footwear and layers since the ground and bushes in the Tantalus Range are perpetually damp and we encountered a few stream crossings. Supportive but agile boots with a fairly aggressive outsole are best for this terrain, due to the slippery rocks and muddy scrambling.
After nearly eight hours of hiking, scrambling, and bushwhacking (and more than a little slipping and falling), we came back to a warm wood fire, a stockpile of lake-chilled IPA, a lively game of trivial pursuit, and Kinley’s homemade carne asada burritos. If any of this sounds like a good time to you, shoot a note to Altus Mountain Guides and Ross and his crew will set you up with your own customized adventure.
The La Sportiva Synthesis boot proved an ideal footwear for the day, providing just enough support without compromising foot control. A full review will be offered here next spring.
I also had a chance to check out the waterproof La Sportiva Aura Pant. In dry weather, the Aura was overkill, but its durable waterproof softshell fabric would be perfect in wet weather— I would have been glad to have them if a downpour was in the forecast—and the full side zips provide as much ventilation as you could possibly need. There is also a detachable inner gaiter for maximum weatherproofing and leg scuff guards for protection against loose rock. The free movement and customizable ventilation allowed by the pant would even make this a great choice for ski touring.
An essential piece in my gear arsenal was Smartwool’s PhD SmartLoft Divide Hoody Sport Jacket. I used this for insulation at the beginning of the hike and when we stopped for breaks, although it was too warm to wear while cranking uphill. The lightweight jacket features a combo of SmartLoft (wool) insulation, merino, and breathable stretch fabric. A DWR finish and wind resistant materials allow this jacket to be exposed to the elements, but I mostly used it as a layering piece for extra warmth. I appreciated the slim silhouette that made it great for wearing under a waterproof layer, and I made ample use of the hood when I didn’t want to dig around to find my hat.
For protection up top, I had La Sportiva’s lightweight Storm Fighter Gore-Tex jacket, which is a great all-purpose rain shell. It’s a super lightweight (11.1 oz) windproof, waterproof storm shell that compresses down to the size of a grapefruit. I appreciated the minimalism at the same time the Storm Fighter was ready for full weather protection. It was lightweight and breathable enough to wear on top of my base layer for most of the hike and for protection against the dense, wet brush we were hiking through. An additional plus is the flattering feminine cut.
To carry it all, I used Gregory’s new Amber 44 pack. The 44-liter Amber has a super comfy curved shoulder harnesses and nicely (and easily) customizable hipbelt—the pads can slide out over the hipbones of a large gal, or retract for petite sizes. That’s a big-pack feature that’s nice to see in a weekend pack. I loved how lightweight it was overall, and the weight distribution was notably balanced: there was no hipbone bruising or shoulder chaffing, even with a full pack load. The side, bottom, and top straps were great for compressing bulky loads. The Amber is available in 70, 64, 44, and 34-liter models. I found the 44-liter size perfect for a blustery day hike to carry extra layers, a warm hat and gloves, a liter of water, lunch, and snacks, although we were packing more for comfort than for speed.