Photos by Lee Lau unless otherwise noted
Vulcan is part of Dynafit’s “Free Touring Line” which, as far as I can see, is ski-touring the way that I and many others would usually ride in British Columbia, i.e., with gear that is relatively big and oriented to touring for powder. Reading the marketing materials this Free Touring line (including Vulcan, Mercury, and One boots in that line) is in contrast to Dynafit’s generally perceived mission to be an obsessive gram-shaving product company.
Dynafit engaged the services of pro skier Eric Hjorleifson to help design a boot that would combine the incredible free-floating touring performance of last year’s wonderboot, the Dynafit TLT5 Performance, with downhill skiing performance. For those of you who don’t know of him, “Hoji” is a skiing wunderkind. He’s one of those skiers who pop up every generation or so who ski inconceivable lines with such aplomb and finesse that one is first in awe and subsequently intimidated into thoughts of hanging up the snow sticks and taking up lawn bowling.
Did the Dynafit Hoji partnership succeed? Will the Vulcan levitate you to new heights? Will angels sing and scatter powder as you straightline impossible faces? Will you be the most rad-gnar bro-brah on your hill? To summarize, on the uphill I found the Vulcan to be the touring dream it promises. Downhill, this boot is a very good boot but not the ultimate wunderkind that fan boys have anticipated. As often happens with athlete endorsed or designed sport products, the fact that Hoji can ski the lines he can ski says a lot more about Hoji than it says about the Vulcan. Thus, we have an excellent boot from Dynafit that deserves to be hit next season — but something that is not necessarily a game changer.
The branded content video above has been floating around for some time now, but it’s fun to watch and worth noting that not only is the Vulcan boot featured, but so is Trevor Hunt. Trevor has some degree of competence and seemingly much to his surprise has bagged many serious descents.
Despite saying that looks aren’t everything, let’s get it out of the way and say that the Vulcan is one sharp looking shoe. Mostly black with some dark green, this look is a no-nonsense and a refreshing change from Euro-tastic explosions of neon buffoonery. Lou’s already covered most of the features in his WildSnow Dynafit boots preview article so lets just add the data about real-life weights and look at the boot closer with pictures, as well as actual testing.
Weights for the 27.5 boot tested (boot sole length 304mm)
– 1590g actual (with stock liner and tongue, identical to manufacturer claimed weight)
– Stock liner is 308g (I used an Intuition liner in the boot in size 27 – weight 220g)
– Tongue is 73g (I skied with and without the tongue)
I offer a few comparo photos below. Beyond this, given that I’ve tried dozens and dozens of AT boots due to review writing as well as personal shopping, comparison questions are welcome (in the comments) .
I have a traditional Asian foot; which means that my forefoot is wider then most and I have almost no arch. The Vulcan is most decidedly NOT the same last as the TLT5P which had what at least one Dynafit designer called ‘performance’ fit but what most people would call tight. I fit a 27.0/27.5 Vulcan which is the same size as I squeeze into for ZZeus, Titan and ZZero4C. Note that there’s no cuff alignment (cant) adjustment. Vulcan’s boot board is flat so you can play with more padding to get the fit or interior delta you want.
As stated earlier, I used my own Intuition liners with the Vulcan and had no problems. Note that the OE Dynafit liner is deliberately tightly lasted to allow for a thermo-molding so don’t despair if the boot feels uncomfortably tight during in-store carpet testing. The Dynafit liner is a capable inner boot being made of the same material as the TF-X of the Titan UL. This served me well last winter so the Vulcan version should last for quite a while (I squeezed 50 days out of a Dynafit TF-X liner in previous years).
All in all, most people will fit a Vulcan with minimal to no tweaking. I fit the same size 27 Vulcan as other Dynafits and Scarpa boots (for example). In terms of having to remount skis, the Vulcan’s 304mm bsl wasn’t that much different than the Titan and ZZeus’s 313 bsl so, from the point of view of redrilling skis, changing boots will be for fine for anyone who isn’t using an older TLT Speed or similar tech binding without much fore-aft adjustment.
Performance — Touring & Uphill
Vulcan is a terrific touring boot; certainly the best in its class. The free-floating cuff and relatively light weight is really all you need to know about why this is the case. Note that the full benefit of that wonderful stride is obtained when you have the tongue removed although you still do get a fantastically long stride even with tongue inserted in the boot. As with other boots which have such wonderful touring mechanics the most benefit one gets is when you can glide a bit so you’ll really feel the free-floating effortless stride on flats or gentle uphills (hint, mohair skins to enhance this effect). When on steep skin tracks the Vulcan feels like any other light boot with reasonable cuff articulation.
The free-floating upper touring buckle, middle buckle, and lower buckle stay out of the way when boot-packing– nice touch as all I had to do when wearing crampons or boot-packing is to simply pop the skis off and go. There’s no need to worry about buckles flopping around and you will get some ankle articulation when climbing; but of course, don’t confuse these boots with alpine climbing slippers. This attribute (the clean arrangement of the buckles) is a feature that also lends itself to fast transitions as you can tighten the buckles to the tightness you might want for the downhills and simply unbuckle for the uphills or bootpack.
Performance – Downhill
Vulcan is the stiffest boot Dynafit currently makes. It is stiffer than the Titan UL. It only has 3 buckles so those who can’t get around the psychological barrier of 3 buckle boots (wait till I remove a buckle – that will blow minds) might think the Titan UL is stiffer but even a single day of skiing led me to this indisputable conclusion. Indeed, there may well be quite a few skiers out there for whom the Vulcan is _too_ stiff.
With the removable tongues installed, Vulcan is incredibly beefy. I’ve often said I’m not big enough to really drive a boot hard inbounds so here’s some input direct from Toby S. of Whistler (former East-Coast skier, 8 year Whistler full-time resident with family, business etc. who skis 100+ a year and who tears my legs off whenever I do a run with him. He’s big (200lbs or so) and built like a brick house:
“I’ll start by saying I hate AT boots. Most are too soft for my weight/style. I just suffer through long backcountry days on Lange RS 140 plug boots with Intuition plug liners. The Vulcan is as stiff laterally as my Lange plug boot. Not kidding. The forward flex obviously is less, but in a good way. It has a nice predictable flex pattern and I didn’t feel like I was going to fall flat on my face. The relatively high cuff also gave me quite a bit of power in the back for finishing my turns. I felt super quick edge to edge and felt like I was driving the ski, rather than just hanging on. Not something I have ever felt with an AT boot before! I was so stoked on the boots, I decided to get into some rowdy terrain and see how that went. A couple 10-15 ft cornice drops onto steep variable conditions and I was sold. The rear/inside cuff is stiff like a brick wall and pretty high up, so it is extremely supportive. No joke. I landed a 10 footer in the back seat, expecting to blow an ACL, but stood right up and skied out of it no problem.”
Now that’s a ringing endorsement but here’s an interjection from me in the 160lb weight class. I found that the Vulcan was fine with the stiff tongues but I had to drive them really hard in the sense of driving with the forefoot and ankles (very old-school!) to get max performance out of them. I also had to ski very aggressively, deliberately channeling old ski coaches and trying to lay trenches in the spring corn. Conversely when in softer snow, I found the boot with tongues to be so stiff that I had to remove the tongue to get the benefit of that “nice, predictable, flex pattern” that Toby describes above. However, in unpredictable variable snow, I found the boots to be knocked around without tongues and I had to resort to re-inserting the tongues.
To expand on the above, you cannot fault the Vulcan when it comes to lateral performance. When laying this boot on its side it’s as strong as anything I’ve ever skied. Fore-aft I did not feel as much love and found that I needed the support of the tongue when snow conditions got tough. I wish I had the benefit of the slightly stiffer prototype to settle the mind on this oh-so-subjective subject of feel. In this, it’s worth noting there are no hard stops in the Vulcan’s interior. Fore-aft stiffness is entirely an artifact of the boot’s construction (and tongue, if used). With the tongue inserted the Vulcan skis without a lot of progression (i.e., like most other AT boots). Without the tongue Vulcan skis better but then has a tendency to fold forward. To me that means the tongue adds most of the fore-aft stiffness — not the boot. I’d hope the stiffened version of the production boot mitigates this “folding forward” aspect.” Until we test the production version, all is speculation.
To summarize, a big powerful skier gives Vulcan the “game-changer” endorsement. A smaller weaker skier (me) is a bit more reserved but still be pretty stoked about this boot. Consider this: Vulcan will be MSRP $999 (Mercury will be $ 799 and One $639). For that kind of eyepopping price I expect a lot so I’m necessarily picky. The big question will be durability and the actual real-life stiffness and feel of production Vulcan boots. What is interesting is that this line of boots will cannibalize sales of Titan and ZZeus. Consider that for a few hundred dollars more you get a boot that walks better, is a lot lighter and has not many other downsides other than the lack of replaceable soles. Good dilemma for the consumer.
Lee’s personal biases and test conditions
I weigh 165 lbs and ski mainly in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia in the Vancouver/Whistler area. My skiing is usually in fairly high moisture-content snow and I am not a finesse skier. Accordingly, my preference is for bigger skis and boots. I ski about a 100 days a season, 70% of which days involves some backcountry skiing. As of this review I’ve spent 7 days on the Dynafit Vulcan boots with 2 inbound days and the rest touring in spring conditions. My personal skis are G3 Zenoxides, BD Zealots and Atomic TM:ex (to be replaced with G3 Spitfires). My personal boots are the Scarpa Maestrale and the Dynafit ZZeus.
(Guest blogger Lee Lau is an avid skier and outdoorsman embarking on many adventures with his loving, and sometimes concerned wife, Sharon. He has more than fifteen years of experience backcountry skiing and dabbles in mountaineering. In the “off-season” he is occasionally found working in his day job as an intellectual property lawyer when he is not mountain biking. As a resident of Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia, Lee’s playground extends mainly to Western Canada, including South West B.C. and the Selkirks. Lee and Sharon share experiences at www.sharonandlee.net)