Monday, January 30, 2012

'Gronell Annapurna' mountaineering boot review

Finding good mountaineering boots in New Zealand can be like trying to get a table at Christchurch’s Cassells Brewery post earthquake – damn near impossible.
Reputable climbing shops might only have one or two options available. Lack of a large enough climbing market means there’s no money in it. And despite all the bru-ha-ha about getting great bargains online from overseas stores, what are your chances of getting the right size without first trying the particular model on? Boots are one item you can’t afford to get wrong.

When buying new footwear for technical mountaineering, the main things for me are fit (most important), functionality and durability. Price is also a factor but, if the other boxes are ticked, I usually bite the bullet and shell out a small fortune if that’s the only option.
So when a different climbing boot – the Annapurna from Gronell – came onto the local market, I was pretty keen to ponder its particulars. I hadn’t even heard of the brand Gronell. A quick Google search revealed an Italian company that had apparently been making climbing boots since the 1930s. And one thing worth noting was that all the boots are manufactured in Italy rather than Asia.

To the boot itself: the company’s website reckoned the Annapurna weighs around 2.2kgs for a pair of size 8s. That’s a bit heavier than the La Sportiva Karakoram Pros (1.7kgs), which are probably the closest comparison availably locally. But then the Annapurna has a thicker leather upper, much beefier rand, more warmth with its Primaloft lining, and is around $200 cheaper. Both boots take a crampon with either a toe bail or strap.
The fit is pretty similar, although the Annapurna toebox feels a little roomier, hence comfier, but is not quite as sensitive as the Karakoram Pro. So, to field testing where the proof is in the, err, pudding as they say. Starting off with a bit of heavy pack moraine bashing, the Annapurna did the job well. The boot was stable and grippy – two areas where I need all the help I can get. Later, though, I was surprised by the amount of flex in the sole. This is great in terms of walking comfort, but not so when sustained front pointing. The boot lacks a decent stiffener (shank), and so probably isn’t ideal for overly technical cramponing.

If Gronell had made the sole a bit stiffer, to match the solid upper, the Annapurna would be a great all-round alpine boot. Still, a good pass-hopping and entry level mountaineering boot, and at a decent price.

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