Fitwell Backcountry – Snowboard Mountaineering Boots – Review


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Fitwell Backcountry boots add stability and security in higher consequence terrain. Traversing a steep slope in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Fitwell Backcountry boots add stability and security in higher consequence terrain. Traversing a steep slope in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

To many, the idea of a snowboard boot for splitboard mountaineering causes a sputtering short circuit in the brain. A splitboard mountaineering boot that is not a modified ski boot? Seems like a far fetched idea, let alone an effective piece of equipment when it really matters.

I have been climbing and riding on Fitwell Backcountry snowboard boots for over a year now, in everything from Alaska powder to steep alpine ice and rock in Washington. These boots offer security and stability when the terrain necessitates a more technical footwear where a traditional snowboard boot does not suffice.

Full shank Vibram mountaineering sole is a key feature of Fitwell Backcountry.

A full shank Vibram mountaineering sole is a key feature of the Fitwell boot.

The Fitwell Backcountry boot is designed as a traditional snowboard boot with a technical Vibram sole complete with a full shank for stiffness and stability. I was initially apprehensive as to how the stiff sole would feel while riding but have been pleasantly surprised with its performance. The benefit of having a stiff sole for climbing steep snow and ice far outweighs any of the potential loss of “comfort” (which I don’t think is sacrificed at all). When the terrain dictates, I have been using the boots with Grivel G12 semi-automatic crampons. The heel welt on the sole is crucial for providing a secure and stable fit with crampons. I have found these boots climb technical terrain incredibly effectively. Fitwell has a long history in the mountaineering boot market, and have transferred that expertise to their Backcountry boot with success.

Semi-automatic crampons fit well to the Vibram sole.

Semi-automatic crampons fit well to the Vibram sole.

Heel welt and crampon attachment. This system is far more effective than a strap-on crampon.

Heel welt and crampon attachment. This system is far more effective than a strap-on crampon.

The boots feature a traditional lace up system, which I have mixed feelings about. In many ways the simplicity is ideal for potential field repairs and ease of use. On the other hand it feels a bit archaic and definitely struggles to stay tight and snug while touring (I often have to retie my boots throughout the day). I’m not sure if a BOA system would be better on this boot or not; a lot of that comes down to personal preference.

Due to the traditional lace system I have found there to be a significant amount of upper boot flex (which depending on your preference is either a good thing or not). I personally would prefer a tighter, and stiffer fit in the upper boot. Fitwell has recently sewed in a power strap across the upper boot which will help with the stiffness (as well as continual adjustability between touring and riding). I have not tested the power strap, but will update this when the time comes.

Another concern I have about the Fitwell boots is the stock liners. The shell of the boot has a slightly lower profile and shorter upper boot than most traditional snowboard boots. The stock liner fits that, and due to the low height of the liner cuff I found it to put an uncomfortable pressure point on my shin. Additionally, the liner is on the softer side, which did not work for me. I ended up swapping out the stock liner for an Intuition Luxury liner which provided extra height and stiffness (except the lace lock system is useless). The boots feel much better, but I would still like more stiffness in the upper section. Your mileage may vary on this, as making the boot too stiff could compromise performance for climbing. Perhaps it’s best that Fitwell continues to sell a boot that’s softer in stock form, expecting liner swaps from users who want more beef.

Fitwell Backcountry.

Fitwell boots.

Another question many people have is how Fitwell fits into splitboard bindings. I have been riding Karakoram Carbon SL’s and the boot fits solidly. A potential problem that could arise with a thick mountaineering sole is that the boot sits too high and potentially rotates laterally in the binding. The sole on the Fitwell is low profile enough that there is no problem with the boot sitting too far off the base. Additionally, with the lack of a toe welt, I had no problem with toe hang off the front. They seat well in the bindings and offer good boot to board transfer while riding.

Overall, these boots perform incredibly well in technical terrain compared to traditional snowboard boots. The stiff sole and semi-automatic crampon compatibility are a game changer for mountaineering objectives. The overall low-profile allows them to maneuver well without feeling like clunky clown boots. I have tested them on steep alpine ice and moderate low 5th class rock and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for added security and performance in this type of terrain.

Each boot weighs in at 1270 grams with the stock liner. Sizing seems to be spot on. I wear a 10 — 10.5 street shoe and have been using a shell size 295.

Comments

6 Responses to “Fitwell Backcountry – Snowboard Mountaineering Boots – Review”

  1. David April 23rd, 2014 11:18 am

    Nice review. From my own observations, these are clearly a well made boot. I agree with you about laces. They are not perfect but neither is the alternative.

    A couple questions: Any thoughts on touring performance compared to AT boots? What was your experience on very long days and multi day tours with regards to foot comfort?

  2. Coop April 23rd, 2014 4:27 pm

    David,

    Unfortunately I have not spent much time in AT boots on a Splitboard. I would say the weak link in snowboard boots as far as touring is lack of lateral stiffness.

    As far as boot comfort on long days and multi day tours, my experience has been positive and have found it very comfortable to spend extended periods of time in these boots.

    Let me know if you have more questions!

  3. Poach Ninja April 24th, 2014 10:07 am

    Are they any good at toe-pointing kicksteps in harder snow? Does it accept a hard crampon? Is this what you want on your feet when scurrying around on exposed terrain?
    I think it’s a great idea, but can’t help thinking that a plastic lower like a mountaineering boot would be the ticket.

  4. Coop April 24th, 2014 11:32 am

    Poach Ninja,

    Great questions. Kicking steps in hard snow is where these boots perform well on a daily basis in comparison to traditional snowboard boots. The rubber rand that covers the toe has held up after a year of abuse. The boots do not take a fully auto crampon because there is no toe welt.

  5. John Baldwin April 24th, 2014 6:34 pm

    I’m not a snowboarder, but wondering if it might be useful if they put Dynafit inserts in the toe of the boot so that they could be used with a Dynafit toe for uphill touring on a splitboard. I’ve seen people doing this with a ski boot (on a splitboard) but why not on a proper snowboard boot?

  6. Flo April 25th, 2014 1:36 am

    Thanks for the review, my experiences with the boot are pretty similar.

    Stiffness: I’ve got the 2014 model with power strap, and found it to be the stiffest soft boot on the market. Noticeably stiffer than a Burton Driver X or Flow Talon for example.
    After breaking in, they ride great.

    Lacing: Fully agree and would prefer Boa lacing as well. Just so quick and easy to modify tension, even without taking up the pants.

    Liner: also exchanged the liner for an older Flow thermo liner. The stock liners weren’t comfortable for my feet — pain on the back side of the heel. The Flow liners are lighter as well.

    Weight: not good here. With stock liners 1550g in size 300. A Driver X would weigh in at 1200g. For sure related to the robust construction.

    Rigid sole and toe box: this is where the boot really shines. Kicking steps, climbing couloirs, or even ice — works really well.
    Did a test an a waterfall this winter, worked really fine: http://fstatic0.mtb-news.de/f/nt/gm/ntgmrgy6ibsv/original_P1340414c01_s_resize.jpg
    (although with a crampon with baskets front and rear)

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