I still have to pinch myself when I keyboard phrases such as “Arcteryx ski boot.” I guess it was inevitable, seeming as ski touring has become so big — and even when less popular was still one of the core mountain sports. But still. It feels strange. One wonders at the next brand to enter the mad fray.
I’ve just spent two days skiing and fiddling with the Arcteryx Procline boots and Voltair airbag rucksack. Nice opportunity for more than simply looking at new products. How about a review of the Procline?
As mentioned in my first look, a Procline design philosophy sprouts from the needs of alpinists who both climb and ski. Root of this is the old “why can’t they make a climbing boot with some tech fittings?”
Turns out sticking tech fittings in a climbing boot is tough. Mostly, doing so requires a toe that is simply too wide. More, the boot has to have a modicum of resistance to twisting. While most climbing boots are quite stiff in the sole they’re nothing like a ski touring boot.
Thus, the Arcteryx boot designers applied the time honored principle of reverse thinking: If you can’t make a climbing boot that’s a ski boot, how about a ski boot that is a climbing boot?
To accomplish this alchemist mix of oil and water, Procline begins with an articulated cuff with max fore-aft movement. Add a super short lower shell length (BSL), minimal boot delta and a thick rubber sole. All that has been done before — but appears to be done quite nicely here. Next level is achieved by adding a vertical split to the rear of the cuff. When the cuff is unlocked in “walk” mode, the two sides of the cuff flex left/right independent of each other. This “universal” flex makes the boot much easier to balance in while wearing crampons or simply hiking.
Genius with the split cuff is it still provides plenty of left-right support, and the stiffness can be regulated by how tight you buckle or power-strap while in walk mode. I’ve seen prototypes of ski boots with loosey-goosey cuffs in walk mode, and they’re too loose. You need some support, while you can feel the slight side-to-side movement of the Procline cuff, it is there for you as well.
I spent quite a bit of time in Procline walk mode, both tromping around and skin climbing. The short rockered sole adds pleasant ergonomics. More, the split cuff provides a subtle but real ankle roll that enhances uphill travel with skis and climbing skins, and most certainly would make stumbling around on crampons less of a “tottering on stilts” experience. Of course, the ultimate idea here is you can do alpine climbing with Procline to a higher level than with normal ski touring boots. What level that actually is will probably depend on your needs and basic skill level, but this is most certainly real. This is a ski boot that actually is a climbing boot.
As for skiing, while my demo boots were not tuned to my needs, and fit slightly too big, I was surprised at how much support they offered when buckled down. On top of that, the designers built in a small amount of progressive flex by making the rear spoiler from somewhat flexible plastic rather than rigid carbon composite. As a result, Procline does have a sort of faux progressive flex as compared to lightweight ski boots that feel somewhat like your ankle is in a steel collar someone dragged out of a dungeon in medieval Europe.
Switching modes with Procline is probably where I’d give them average to mediocre marks. Due to the split cuff and its locking system, working the lock lever is quite sensitive to how much forward or rear pressure you’re applying with your leg. Additionally, the lock lever is difficult to manipulate with gloved hands.
Since we’re on the subject of cons: While in theory I like the “ribbon” webbing liner lace system, I found it difficult to work with in real life as the built-in gaiter blocks access to your final wrap and Velcro attachment of the lace.
Adding to their climbing chops, Procline has a slick looking built-in gaiter with the usual Arcteryx water tight zipper. The gaiter completely surrounds your leg and foot, and is bonded to the lower shell. Idea here is a totally snow and water-tight seal existing under the boot cuff. You can release the boot cuff as far as you want, get snow in there, and you end up with little to no moisture inside the actual boot shell. I like the gaiter, but it would work better in my opinion if it was constructed from a waterproof-breathable textile rather than an impermeable. It’s bad enough having impermeable boot shell lowers and breathing some moist air up around your leg helps ventilate. Shut that venting off with the Procline gaiter, compensate with waterproof-breathable.
As is often the case with technical gear, much of the Procline genius is in hidden details. Examples of that are the footboard (removable insole under the liner), but more importantly the plastic bushing molded into the pivot hinge on the carbon cuff of the Carbon model. As some of you well know, a problem with carbon ski boot cuffs is they grind away at the lower boot’s pivot plastic, often resulting in excessive slop in the cuff pivots. You spend $1,000 on a ski boot, and after a season, it’s behaving like an eight year old (clean up your room!). Well, with Procline Carbon, no more mess. A nice little plastic ring is co-molded into the cuff, riding as a bushing on a small plastic boss on the lower shell (all held together with the cuff rivet, so invisible).
About the cuffs of both models. Both include carbon. Carbon model cuff is 5 layers of carbon fiber that’s over-molded with Grilamid. The “Men’s and Women’s” version cuffs are made with “carbon infused” Grilamid. The difference doesn’t save any weight, instead, the carbon fiber version is ostensibly stiffer. Real world, unless you’re an aggressive skier on big skis, either version cuff is probably fine. Naturally, I’ll be using the more expensive one if for no other reason than to look down and twitch a reserved but obvious smile from my frost enhanced lips — while stroking the Arcteryx logo on my chest and thinking prehistoric thoughts.
I did give the Procline gaiter system a torture test. When returning from one of our forays into the wolverine and bear filled wilderness near Whistler BC, we found our way back to the beer kegs blocked by a fairly large river. With no available snow bridge we did some wading. In particular, I tried to stand in the water and chop a tunnel in an overhanging 8 foot high wall of creekside snow. The boots did amazingly well until the water reached the top of the gaiter.
With a Grilamid lower shell “scaffo,” fairly large volume, interior boot board and thermo liner, Procline should be easy to fit. With my low volume feet, I found the size 28 ended up heat molding without enough liner thickness to completely form to my feet (a common syndrome). The 27.5 felt better but was too short. My personal testers will thus be the 27.5 with a length punch and perhaps some added liner thickeners.
Note that Procline will have two available liners. The Lite is a classic superlight 100% thermo moldable liner that is probably the best “uphill agility” rig for crossover between skiing and climbing, as well as providing the lightest weight configuration of the boot. A slightly beefier stroble constructed “Support” liner is said to add a bit of stiffness and ski better, at a weight penalty of 70 grams. Both liners have a clever (optional) lacing system using webbing tape and small metal anchors. I used the lacing and liked how it performed, but found it fiddly to get it tightened up and anchored to a small velcro area under the built-in gaiter. It appears the Support liner has some kind of provision for breath-ability in the upper cuff, of unknown efficacy. Considering the non breath-able gaiter, any breathing in the liner is somewhat of a non issue.
Since we’re on the subject of weight, it should be mentioned that most certainly Procline is not the lightest ski touring boot out there, but at 1,190 grams (with Lite liner) it’s easily on the lighter side of the equation. In my view, if you balance Procline’s mass with features such as the gaiter, rubber toe rand and full-on climbing sole, the weight/performance equation adds up perfectly. Bear in mind that Procline is already stripped down, it has no removable tongue and only two buckles. You could drop a few grams by trimming some rubber off the sole and ditching the power strap, but that’s about it for mods.
Another small but important detail. Note the use of older style tech fittings. Ones without the “Quick Step In” feature patented by Dynafit. The fittings are still certified by Dynafit (they come with the red plastic clip/seal which indicates such), but by being old school they’re thinner vertically thus allowing for thicker sole rubber at the toe. This is a huge issue for people who really climb, sans skis, in their ski boots. I’ve seen guys wear out boot soles in one trip when they get to cleating their way on boulders and scree. Procline will last longer, though you’re still not sporting a full-on thick alpine climbing boot sole.
In summary I was surprised at how skiable the Procline is, considering how natural and comfy the walk-climb mode is. They were warm, transitions were average, and the weight of 1190 grams (27.5 with “Lite” liner) is acceptable for a boot with this many features. Provided I could create a tuned fit, I could see these becoming a ski touring go-to for myself, or perhaps the boot I’d use for days when working around our cabin (or ice climbing?) were equal in priority to skiing up and down the mountain above us.
Procline Carbon Lite & Carbon Support: 730 euro, 1,000 usd
Procline Men’s and Women’s (non carbon): 530 euro, 750 usd
Weights (from catalog)
Procline Carbon Lite 1190 gr, size 27.5
Procline Carbon Support 1260 gr, size 27.5 (Exact same shell, liner with more ski performance.)
Procline Men’s Lite 1190 gr, size 27.5 (Carbon infused cuff plastic, no fiber.)
Procline Men’s Support 1260 gr, size 27.5 (Infused cuff, liner with more ski performance.)
Procline Women Lite 1060 gr, size 25.5 (Carbon infused cuff plastic, no fiber, sizes from 23 to 27.5, exact same shell as “men’s” with a liner shaped for differences in women’s leg shapes.)
Procline Women Support, 1120 gr size 25.5 (Same as above with ski support liner.)