When Arcteryx decide to make a new type of product, they never seem content to follow the well trodden path. Their new footwear range follows very much in that vogue both in terms of being designed for getting far off the beaten track and in eschewing leather – still probably the most popular choice of material for hiking footwear – in favour of purely synthetic materials. This might gladden vegan hikers, and worry those who fear we have reached peak oil, but for the purpose of this review I will leave aside such considerations and concern myself solely with how the boots function in the hills.
Having used the Bora2 for a few months now, one conclusion is they arrived for testing at the wrong time of year. The Bora are lightweight hiking boots best described as "3-season", in as much as not being designed for use with crampons. As people are fitting modern, flexi walking crampons to trail shoes and the like I am sure you could do similar with the Bora², but that is not what they are designed for and they are too soft for what I would consider to be a standard British winter walking boot. So why then is summer the wrong time to test such a boot? The answer lies in the novel double boots contruction method that Arcteryx has used which makes the Bora² a very warm boot.
Across the summer I have worn them hiking on days where normally a pair of approach shoes or even lighter trainers would have been fine and as a result have had very warm and sweaty feet. This hasn't been much of an issue hiking in them in wetter and cooler conditions in more exposed country, but this leaves me wondering whether the ecological niche the Bora occupies (cold, wet conditions but not anywhere where you might need to use crampons) is big enough to support this type of boot? British winter climbing has moved almost completely away from the double plastic boots of my mountaineering youth, most climbers finding that single layer, often leather, boots are warm enough, even for standing around in deep snow belaying for hours. Hence introducing a double boot aimed at hikers not going above the snowline seems an interesting idea.
The construction is worth trying to explain: the Bora's consist of an outer boot and an inner "bootie". The inner bootie is completely separable and has a toughened base obviously so that it can be used as a hut slipper or similar. The outer boot is impressively light, made with lightweight synthetic material bonded directly to the midsole and lightweight version of the classic Vibram mountain sole. The outer boot has no tongue at all meaning there is a wide slit from ankle height going down to a bit above the toes, over which the laces go. There is some stretch mesh over the lower bit that will keep out bigger stones, but simply put, if you stand in water that goes higher than toe height on the boots, the outer boots will fill with water.
Clearly then, a central role of the inner boots is to keep the wearer's feet dry. They do this by using Goretex as an inner layer, then an interesting 3D spacer material before using an outer layer of scrim mesh. In use I have found the Goretex keeps my feet dry even in pretty grim conditions. In cooler weather, the Goretex also breathes plenty well enough to stop my feet getting any sweatier inside then they would in any other hiking boots, although in drier warmer weather this wasn't true and my feet were getting hotter than I would expect. Nevertheless, the feeling of having water sloshing around inside the outer boot even if it does not penetrate the inner boot, was odd – rather like using Sealskinz socks inside fell or MTB bike shoes on very wet days: your foot remains dry due to the membrane, but it is cool and you are conscious of the squishy wet feeling just millimeters from your dry foot. As I said, odd.
The outer boots only have some holes on the side panels relatively high, so once water has got in over the toes it is only coming out by the pump action of your foot compressing various parts of your boot and, I suppose, capillary action up the inner boot. Related to this is that the space between outer boot and inner bootie collects sand and grit – this washes out very easily (indeed the outer boots are a breeze to clean – being completely synthetic you just rinse them clean under a tap and leave them to dry, which takes next to no time as the only thing absorbent on them are the laces) but I found myself worrying that the grit and sand that gets into the boots would be rubbing and abrading the inner boots and that all important Goretex membrane.
Having worked in an outdoor shop in the early days of Goretex lined footwear I remember the classic way for the membrane to fail was a bit of grit getting into the boots and wearing a hole through the membrane from the inside. Although there is the scrim netting and then the 3D spacer material in the inner bootie before the membrane, this seems something of a risk as debris build up between the inner and outer over a day's hiking. I need to stress with my review boots, I have had no problems with membrane at all, but then you wouldn't expect there to be on what still only adds up to days of hard use, not months, let alone years.
On more traditional questions of fit, I tried on two different pairs and the ones that were better on length were too narrow for my feet, meaning I went with the bigger size. I have wide feet so will say no more than Arcteryx's fit must be for at least average, if not actually narrow feet. I found that where the boot flexes over the top of your toes as you bend your foot in the step you can feel a bit of pinching. Interestingly this never turned out to be a big issue – I don't know if it is possible to 'break in' the material the Bora² are made from or whether just because of the soft, padded effect of having the inner boot, I have had no problems with blisters.
Indeed when the boots were new I put them on and wore them for perhaps a 20 km hike around the edge of the Kinder plateau in the rain with no problems with blisters or even hot spots – not bad for new boots. The soft nature of the inner boot seems to make up rather well for the boots not being necessarily the best fit for my feet.
Overall quality seems high, as I have come to expect from Arcteryx. Things like the lace clips appear to be made out of steel and look unlikely to ever break. I do though find getting the inner boots on a bit of struggle – my wide feet again. The inner is elasticated around the top to keep muck out and have a front and back pull tabs to help get your foot past the elastic, but I live in fear of these ripping off as I wrestle the inner boot onto my foot (bear in mind that this is the bigger of two sizes I tried and once on gives a roomy fit). Indeed the stitching around the top of the inner bootie does look like a potential weak spot.
Sadly, a radical new approach to making boots with novel materials and technologies is not cheap and the Bora² has a recommended retail price of £275. This seems a lot for hiking boots. And although many of us over the last decade have got our heads around the idea of wearing fell shoes or trainers for mountain walks – accepting your feet get wet and then dry out again – I'm not sure how accepting the Great British hiking public will be of these boots both at that price and due to the Bora² making no pretence to keeping water out of the outer boot.
They are not by any means bad boots – they were comfy straight from the box and feel secure on rocky, loose terrain, but I think the approach of having a removable inner boot makes them less suitable for warmer, drier hikes. Conversely, while using them for hiking in bad conditions, having the waterproofing in the inner boots leads quickly to the outer boot taking on water and, perhaps worse, sand mud and fine gravel. Time will tell if the Goretex of the inners is vulnerable to abrasion from whatever gets between it and the outer boot.
Arcteryx has also already announced new footwear models to come, building on the ideas used in the Bora², some of which might be a better fit to British hill walking, but whilst there is much to praise about the Bora² I'm not yet convinced that they would be my first choice for the hills, moors and dales of this green and muddy land.
What Arc'teryx say:
Versatile technical hiking footwear with interchangeable Arc'teryx Adaptive Fit liners, a seamless thermolaminated upper and the versatility for extended trips across varied terrain in shifting conditions. Includes 1 pair of GORE-TEX® MID-LINERS.
MORE INFO: Arc'teryx Website