Prior to starting this blog, just to clear the air; we have not been given any free footwear. Most folks that follow us know that we do get sponsorships, trial sets of gear and equipment and pro-deals on many items. Footwear is something we have not received freebies of - yet (always open to it though LOL). Everything we are discussing in this blog - we bought. Also, feet and what you put your feet in are a hugely personal choice. These are just some thoughts.
Ronin staff have been active in the rescue field since when tie-dye was cool (was it ever really cool - well the early 90s then). Footwear and foot comfort/protection options have changed greatly since then. During this time our teams have worn running shoes, Vans, approach shoes, approach boots, light hikers, fire service footwear and arborist footwear. We as a company, have competed in 14 or 15 GRIMP Days as well as perform rescue training & services and rope access training & services weekly.
Over all these years however, our lead instructors and GRIMP team members have a tendency towards two types of footwear; approach shoes and arborist boots. The favourites over the years seem to be the La Sportiva brand (Boulder X, TX2, 3 and 4, Trango Tech Leather GTX, Ganda Guide) and the ArbPro brand (EVO2, Clip N Step). So why these shoes/boots? For the most part, these types of footwear allow you to feel the surface under your feet. The lighter approach shoes let you feel the most but everything on this list is decent. There is a “happy medium” depending on personal preference of the light shoe that provides the most feeling underfoot but has limited ankle support and protection to the boots that have the highest ankle support and protection but are not as supple on the rock or iron as an approach shoe. For our folks, it seems to come down to their backgrounds. The team members that came out of the rock-climbing world tend to still wear the approach shoe. Sometimes they beef it up a bit and go for an approach “boot” in order to protect their ankles (especially when using foot ascenders). The team members coming from the fire rescue world seem to lean towards the ArbPro style footwear. Preferring the protection and support over the lighter approach shoe. Of note, in the years prior to “finding” Arb boots, these folks also were in approach shoes or boots. They made the switch once they found the Arb style footwear. To give some perspective, all but two of the members on the senior (read old, not tenure but I guess there is that too) wear ArbPro boots. With the median age of this team close to 50 however, perhaps this is just a support issue….
The ArbPro EVO2s (left) are a team favourite for their comfort, weight, and the built-in loop attachment point.
So, the $10 question; how do they perform. Both the La Sportiva brands and the ArbPro brands have performed amazingly well for the abuse given to them. For instance, the members of the senior GRIMP team have ArbPro EVO2 (4) or Clip N Step (3) and have used these boots since 2017. The use includes GRIMPS in Taiwan (twice), China (twice, including a few river crossings), Japan, Europe (four times), North America (1) as well these members use the boots to teach, cut their lawn, ride motorbikes, dance, pub hop, dinner attire, SAR Searches, etc. The first team member to replace his EVO2’s occurred this year (2022 - 5 years of service). These boots are stiff enough to climb in, have the extra webbing at the tongue for a knee ascender attachment, yet are light enough to wear all day. These boots provide support (ankle high), as well as protection from a foot ascender, yet have a curved protected toe for climbing and ground work (working on your knees, rubbing your toes).
On another note, two of our ladies are wearing the women’s Arc'Teryx Acrux TR GTX Boot (left). They were both issued this boot in the summer of 2021 prior to GRIMP Namur. They wore the boots through Namur as well as on other jobs such as helicoptering into a clifftop, rappelling down and climbing/hiking their way out. Both ladies speak highly of the fit and comfort of this boot. The boot has also shown no real excessive wear or damage during this first year of use.
And now for the folks who are yelling, but I have to wear steel toes (CSA, ANSI, ASTM, EN, etc). Oh well - it sucks. Seriously, the fire service has never issued me a shoe or boot that was even close to being useful for rope/c space rescue. They are too loose, steel/composite shanked so you cannot feel anything underfoot, steel-toed so they freeze in the cold and heavy. It hurts my back wearing them around a fire hall, let alone doing work in them. If you have to wear toes - and sometimes we do - my suggestion is the Meindl Bergschuh S3 GTX (right). Two of us at Ronin use these for “those sites”. They are basically steel-toed hiking boots. They have a Kevlar insole so stay slightly warmer and are “light” so comfortable to climb in.
You have now looked up all these boots and are screaming at your screen - but these are all bloody expensive! Yes, they are. With footwear, you get what you pay for. The footwear mentioned above, for us at least, has performed and endured. Worth every penny.