Doctor Gear III - Intensive Surgery

Andy Kirkpatrick is Doctor Gear

Doctor's Announcement: I've noticed that my surgery's been filling up, so I thought I'd try get the queues down a bit by answering a few of the questions in one sitting:

(Ask Andy a question on this Premier Post:

Boots for multi-day Alpine winter climbs?

I have used Sportiva Nepal Tops and Scarpa Vegas for Scotland, Alpine icefalls and Winter Alpine day routes. But I want to explore the one-stop-shop solutions.

I found normal Scarpa Vegas had too much heel lift, as did Spantiks. Vasque Ice 9000 didn't seem sturdy enough (the inner too flimsy?) Not convinced Sportiva Baturas or equivalent are warm enough and maybe more importantly having no double boot limits multi-day effectiveness? Scarpa Phantoms and other 'new skool' double boots are hellish expensive.

Never tried climbing in Ski Mtn boots and although they obviously make the ski in and out easier I wondered if a big plastic with a power strap would be better (I am a good skier) . Most of all I wonder if you can get a thermofit (or alveolite?) liner into a plastic shell to give warmth, fit, extra skiing support?

Any thoughts or advice gratefully received.



I am just getting back into climbing and in particular some Alpine and ice with a view to climbing Mont Blanc, Eiger etc. In the next year or so I want to go back to Nepal again and work up to an 8000m peak. Last time there I led a party up Pisang 6096m, nothing technical but it was a good insight., things have changed since I wore some [15years] I like the look of the La Sportiva Nepal Extreme and really like the Millet Everest. Obviously there is a huge price difference but I am thinking long term useage. I spent many years in Norway and have had cold feet in the past and do not want to repeat that.

Will both of these boots cope with basic Alpine, snow and ice, and high altitude?

Any advice would be welcome....where to buy would be good as well.


OK James and Russ, please lie down on the bed, and I'll see what I can do!

First off, no boot will do everything, doubly so (mind the pun) when you want to push an Alpine/Scottish winter boot in to cold winter climbing and expeditions, triply so if you include skiing as well!

If you can afford it then you really need to either buy two pairs of boots, one leather/synthetic pair (Nepal Top style) and one double (Alpha, Spantik etc). This may seem extravagant to some, but if you can afford it, you're really only buying two pairs of boots that will last 10 years, rather than one boot that will only last five! If you do this you will find that your leather boots get used about 70% more than your doubles. This would mean in any other instance that your should have just gone for leather boots, but unfortunately if you are doing cold trips, not having the right boots on your feet for that 30% could mean you end up with boots that have no toes in them... or no feet whatsoever!

It's a no brainer then that if you can only afford to buy one pair - that pair must be double boots, although this does assume you ARE going cold winter climbing, not that you WANT to or MAY go. If you are buying boots for assumed future climbs it may well be better just buying what works well for what you do now. This is the reason why I don't have roller skates attached to my climbing boots - sure I may want to do some roller skating one day, but if I do I'll just buy a pair of bloody roller skating boots (note: I'd just like to point out, before people start imagining me spinning around the Foundry in flares and an afro on a pair of rainbow coloured skates that I don't actually intend to ever go roller skating, it was just a way to prove a point).

So if you're an Alpine climber who does lots of winter stuff then go for a leather style boot. Scapra Phantom Lights and Sportiva Baturas are really still in this category, and in my experience only offer minimal extra insulation and can be no way considered a deep winter boot (they do keep your feet dryer though and are great Scottish winter boots).

On the double boot front and good link between the two camps is the Scapa Omega, which feels, weighs and climbs just like a leather boot. It's not as warm or robust as a Vega but feels a damn site better on your feet. For colder climbs and extended technical trips I like the Spantik, as it climbs really well, and is almost as warm as the Olympus Mons. The Vasque Ice 9000 is a great boot, being warm and light, and although early models suffered from some problems new models should be good. I'm not really in the trade anymore so there may well be other boots.

One word about fit and heel lift. Unless it's really extreme, don't get too bogged down in how it feels when using them in the shop. They should fit well, with lots of toe room (kick the hell out of something but not someone, your toes can touch the end once you kick hard, but they mustn't strike the end) and a firm 'holding' fit that will allow you to walk without blisters. Play around with custom fittings if you find that you have big problems in this department. Once they work see how they are for climbing. Buy at a shop with a climbing wall and have a boulder around. You WILL get some heel lift, but in my experience once you're on the sharp end you won't notice it. Remember that a mountain boot is not a rock boot, it is a walking boot you can climb in. This is even more true when it comes to expedition boots, especially for 7000 metre + mountains. In this case go for the biggest boots that fit well, rather than the reverse.

As for using ski boots, some people swear by ski mountaineering boots like the Scarpa Spirit or Laser, but these people are generally guides or Nick Bullock - need I say more. Yes I do...Nick is not a normal human being and could probably climb with wheely bins on his feet, and guides just want to get home to cash their cheques before they bounce, and for most climbers, especially those that need to ask, ski boots will probably feel a bit too clunky. Again buy a pair of Scarpa to add to your collection of boots if that's your thing. It'll keep our great boot companies in business (have you ever imagined what would happen if Scarpa and Sportiva and Vasque stopped making high end boots and just did trekking shoes and sandals for Nordic walking instead?), and you'll get the best out of both you and your boots.

Mountain Boot Selection

Load going on to Rope Loop - then nicely on to anchor
© Jack Geldard

I would love to know more about self belaying techniques when soloing. I was told there is a US made device for that, which is forbidden in Europe. Could Andy give some tips?

I would point anyone looking for a roped soloing solution (sounds fancy, but really that's what you want, as in not one that might work) to the Wren Silent Partner. This device works like a seat-belt locking mechanism, as it allows the rope to move through it, but will lock tight in a fall. People make a big deal that it's expensive ($200), but come on, how many frikkin solo belay devices can this company sell? Also the majority of people who need these things are professional people who can't get anyone to go climbing with them. There are other things out there like the Grigri (modified or not), the Soloist and aid gadgets like the Soloaid and the good old fashioned clove hitch, but really the silent partner is really the only one I feel 100% sure will work every time.

As for techniques and advice on the black art of roped soloing, then I'm afraid that finding out for yourself is part of learning the magic!


I was wondering where you get your 7mm Perlon that you use instead of a sling/cordallete?

You buy this from any decent climbing shop off the reel. Ideally I'd go for a soft handling 7mm so that it hangs nicely on your harness.


So Andy, do you tie in with a fig 8 or a bowline? This being an eternal favourite on this forum. Also the whole belay loop / abseil loop versus rope loop debate.

Have always tied in with a fig 8 and always will. Generally clip in via my belay loop when cragging, and my rope when multi pitch climbing, but wouldn't loose sleep about either.

Read the UKC Article explaining the differences HERE


Belaying from the Harness Belay Loop
© Jack Geldard

What do you think about buying second hand cams? How should you check them?

I would. Just make sure they are Wild Country, DMM , BD etc (not Ukranian) and look in OK condition (check tapes, wobbly axles or severe lob impact points). Also make sure they aren't stolen.


Here is my proposal for a piece of climbing gear. It's based on the principles involved with a Trangia handle.

Basically a strong spring loaded handle which will clamp on to horizontal slivers of rock and have an extender coming off it for the krab.

Where should I patent it?

Might be too late! If not (and for any designers out there), I would consider talking to Fred Hall at DMM first. He's a good guy and I'd trust him, both for his advice on the design and on its commercial value. Generally great ideas just aren't comercial, or are just plain stupid. (Ahem...!) As for your invention, does it also double as a pan grip? If not I'm out.

Ask Andy a question on this Premier Post:

About Andy Kirkpatrick:

Andy Kirkpatrick
© Mick Ryan
Andy Kirkpatrick is the third best climber ever to come out of Hull (John Redhead and Joe Tasker pipping him at the post), and is as well known for his nerdy knowledge of gear, as his ability to climb slowly up hard routes. His knowledge of the finer points of climbing gear comes from ten years in the trade (running the rock room in Outside Hathersage), as gear editor for magazines such as Climb, Climber and High, and twenty years of climbing, often on routes where only the right gear would see you home safe (gear that very often he'd neglected to bring...or dropped!).

Having spent two years in the wilderness writing his first book, Psychovertical (published by Hutchinson in September), Andy is returning to climbing gear writing here at with Doctor Gear, an irregular surgery for all gear and strange technique questions. If you would like to book an appointment, then please submit any questions to the associated Premier Post (please note Andy will not treat your questions confidentially in any way!).

Andy Kirkpatrick is sponsored by Berghaus and Lyon Equipment.

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