I've long been a fan of Boa Technology hiking boots, since I first read about Dean Karnazes (the ultra marathon man) in Wired. I started with the original varient of the North Face Plasma GTX XCR Boa which worked fantastically for a couple of years. As these boots began to wear down last year I went on a search for a new set of hiking boots. I found that North Face had introduced a v2 of the GTX XCR Boa, and a new vendor to me Vasque had created a pair of more substantial boots - the Zephyr Tech (which they've since discontinued). I decided to try to get hold of both - one for summer light hiking, and the other for more serious trekking or winter use.
Due to the lack of distribution in EMEA, I had to purchase both from the US through my brother - who happens to have settled in the US. When they arrived, I was initially impressed, even though the Vasque boots were seriously permeable. You can read more about my initial impressions on a previous post.
I subsequently used the Vasque boots on the TMB that summer, and whilst they performed satisfactorily, I did have issues with my achilles tendons and blisters on my little toe. To some degree this was due to the boots being a little small for the double-sock treatment, however I think it was also due to the way the Boa system tightens and secures the boots. Unlike a traditional lace, you can't adjust the tightness over the top of the foot vs the ankle. You only have one control, which tightens the steel cable across whole of the boot.
In the Vasque boot the routing of the cable meant that as I tightned the system with single socks, I found that it was closing too tightly around the top, but didn't secure it well enough across the top of my foot. If I added a second sock, then I ran in to issues because the body of the boot was a touch too tight.
The second generation of North Face Plasma GTX Boa boots were also not without issues. In this case the v2 were a little narrower than the first versions - leading to blisters on my little toe. With a little stretching and some more wearing in, I think this has resolved itself, but I haven't been for any long walks in these boots since last summer.
What I've learned from these experiences is two-fold
- Hiking boots need to be up to 2 (EU) sizes bigger than shoe sizes. One doesn't cut it if you're looking for double-socking to reduce friction. There's a great boot fitting guide at the great outdoors.
- The design for the routing of the Boa cable is critical to ensuring a good fit, and some boots aren't especially well designed.
They look make a series of boots designed specifically for hunters (although not exclusive to hunting) using the Boa system. Looking at the design of their Boxer Boa, I noticed that they had included a loop at the top of the boot that was set a little further down the boot than most other boots, which appeared to allowed the lace to close the top of the boot over the ankle, rather than simply tightening over the bottom of the leg.
The boot is constructed from a combination of Napa and Nubuck leather, with a waterproof GoreTex lining and Vibram hunting sole.
Thinking that this would likely provide a better fit I bought a pair of these boots, and so far, they've been good, but I need to work with them some more before giving them a full review. It took some searching to find a pair close to me in France - as none of the usual hiking shops in Grenoble carried the Chiruca brand. I eventually found it in a hunting shop called the Armurerie Bernard Peyron in La Côte-Saint-André around about an hours drive NW of Grenoble. As it was early January, just after the hunting season had finished, I think they were happy to sell a pair - and gave me a good discount.