Having now used and reviewed many pairs of Aku footwear, I have come to be very fond of this family owned Italian company. They produce innovative footwear with an Italian design flair and top quality materials and construction methods.
Infact, I haven’t tested any of their products that have been less than excellent. However, one gap in my knowledge of their products has been their insulated mountaineering models and so I decided to put that right. Here is my review of the Aku Montagnard GTX boots….
I always enjoy opening the box of a pair of Aku footwear because they are a treat for the eye. Impeccable construction quality and great design features make them stand out from the crowd. The Montagnard’s are no exception.
As Aku describe the Montagnard as a boot ‘designed for classic mountaineering on glaciers and icefalls’, they are certainly a substantial and high ankled boot, but having said that, at 1020 grams they they certainly aren’t heavy for a boot in this category.
The boots feature a 3mm orange coloured Perwanger leather upper with deep protective PU rand. They are lined with Goretex’s Insulated Comfort liner which is a 5 layer fabric incorporating protective liners, insulation and a waterproof liner. I hadn’t used a boot featuring this before and I was keen to see how they performed.
The lacing system of the Montagnard is substantial. There are 5 metal eyelets in the lower portion of the boot and then a locking hook. After that, a fabric loop is designed to pull the foot into the heel cup and finally a trio of hooks allows fine adjustment of the ankle. It is a fairly traditional and yet well thought out and efficient set up that allows the fine tuning needed for a boot of this type.
Inside the Montagnard is a lasting board combining 6-4mm nylon, 30% carbon fibre and die cut EVA. This is teamed with a double density PU exoskeleton, a custom fit pro alum footbed and a Vibram Nepal outsole.
Other things to mention are the elasticated ankle cuff and reinforcement around the ankle, the heel cup and the toe. It is a very comprehensive package.
The Montagnard will allow use of a C3 crampon (a C3 is a clip in binding) and, although fully stiffened, Aku have incorporated a pronounced toe rocker to help when walking in the boots.
The Montagnard retails for £340.
The key to any boot, of course, is fit. A well fitting boot will become a trusted friend, but a poor fitting boot on the other hand, will soon make your day hell. This is arguably especially important for fully stiffened boots where any issues with fit will soon be noticed. I can’t say that the Montagnard will fit you (this needs a proper fitting to decide), but they certainly fit me. I would describe them as a medium width fit and the lacing system allows both fine tuning and a secure fit. I also really appreciate that the lacing extends very much to the end of the toe box and this helps tune the fit.
Although the boot has the high ankle needed for support when front pointing and climbing steeper terrain, they still feel nimble. I think this is helped by the elasticated ankle cuff and also the concertina section of the tongue unit that allows flex at the ankle.
Aku have always focussed heavily on the last of their footwear as they know this is the heart of a boot or shoe. For the Montagnard the combination of nylon and carbon fibre certainly seems to work well – the boot is light enough to make it comfortable and yet has the stiffness to allow use of crampons and offers the support needed when climbing steep ice.
The other key feature to offer the support and lateral stability needed is the addition of a double density PU exoskeleton. Having used this on a number of Aku models, I can say straight away that I really rate this. Exoskeleton technology means that the midsole is composed of an outer skeleton in light polyurethane which goes up at the rear to surround and protects the heel. The idea being that this provides support and stability while walking.
I would say, as innovative as this is, that I did find it harder to notice any difference this made on the Montagnard’s compared to some of the more flexible boots Aku make. I think this may be because a stiffer boot like this is naturally going to provide more support. Anyway, that is simply my observation and there is no doubt that it doesn’t do any harm. Infact, I love it when manufacturers develop such innovations to offer better performance.
Any winter boot of this type has to be built to take a beating – mixed winter terrain, using crampons, getting scratched by your ice axe and the general wear and tear will all take their toll. The Montagnard is built from full 3mm Perwanger leather and this stuff has some history.
Perwanger is a family owned Italian tannery that’s been making top quality leather products since 1780 (over that length of time in business you are sure to learn your trade!). Their products are all made from leather sourced from animals wandering the Alpine pastures of Italy and they are considered to be at the top of the game in the industry.
Their products offer great water resistance, breathability, scratch resistance and, providing it is cared for (as any leather should be), it lasts extremely well. That is all important because, for many people, they want to invest in a pair of winter boots that will perform well and, over many seasons, become a trusted and valued partner on great winter days. This is especially important when you are spending a chunk of your heard earned on them.
In use I’ve found the Perwanger lives up to expectations. So far it has shrugged off any encounters with crampon points or rocks and it seems to offer great weather protection. It also looks great….and obviously that’s important too! I also can’t help liking the fact that an Italian footwear company focused on producing top quality products is using leather provided by an Italian company focussed on producing top quality products. There is certainly some happy symbiosis there.
As mentioned earlier, inside the Montagnard there is Goretex’s Insulated Comfort liner which is a 5 layer fabric incorporating protective liners, insulation and a waterproof liner. I’ve used a lot of Goretex boot liners over the years and yet this was a new one for me. In use, I can certainly say that the boot kept my feet warm up to 5600 metres and there was minimal moisture build up inside. The claims that the insert insulates well and breathes well seems to hold very true.
It has been harder, to date, to comment too much on how it benefits the waterproofness of the boot. There has certainly been no water getting inside the boot, but the reality is that I’ve predominantly been using them in sub zero temperatures where little moisture has been around to leak into them anyway. I will comment more after trigging into some Scottish climbs in the classic slush and bog we often enjoy in a UK winter. Having said that, I have no reason to doubt that they will cope admirably.
So, the Montagnard is a fully featured, insulated and beautifully crafted winter and mountaineering boot that follows the traditions of top quality Italian boot manufacture Aku pride themselves on.
I have loved using them so far and will love using them for many winters to come – some boots just feel like they will become a trusted mountain ally and these are no exception. The use of an insulated liner is a great addition and, although there is plenty of scope for the use of synthetic fabrics in outdoor footwear, sometimes you just can’t beat a top quality leather upper.
For me, this is another resounding winner from Aku and, given the quality of materials, design and manufacture, I think these are also a really great value boot too.
Posted by Paul