Gear Envy. It happens to the best of us - particular if you’re an outdoor gear junkie like myself. That hankering for that new piece of kit that you are sure is going to help you climb that next mountain, or reach that next hut faster and feeling better than ever. I had this feeling for a year before I gave in and purchased a pair of Salewa Rapace GTX boots - I only wish I had caved earlier!
The Rapace is a lightweight 3-4 season boot with a full rubber rand, 1.8mm Nubuck Leather and a Goretex lining. The boot features a Vibram sole and is suitable for use with strap-on and semi-automatic crampons (more on this later). Marketed as a lightweight mountaineering boot, it would be easy to discount the Rapace as a climbers-only boot and miss out on the features that make this boot my pick as the go-to kiwi tramping boot.
First and foremost the Rapace is light. At 1250g for a pair they are easily a good 400-500g lighter than comparable 3-4 season boots that are popular in NZ (e.g. Lowa Tibets, Vasque, Asolo…) and about the same weight as many less-capable 3 season boots. I know what you’re thinking - being lightweight means they won’t last as long right? And the honest answer to this question is yes, they probably won’t survive quite as long as a heavier, equally well-made 3-4 season boot. However when it comes to durability the biggest contributors will be how often you use your boots, and how well you look after them once you get home! Having used my pair often for more than 2 years now, and having cleaned and conditioned them after each decent outing, I can tell you that mine have minimal wear to the sole unit, the rand is still in good condition and hasn’t started to peel away from the leather, and the lace eyelets and hooks are all still in great nick. Apparently earlier versions of this boot (I think my mates were the 2014 model) had issues with the lace hooks bending, but this has since been rectified and hasn’t been an issue.
So now that we have cleared up the durability issue let's get back to that weight thing. It has been said that carrying 1 kilogram on your feet is equivalent to carrying 5 kilograms on your back. Whilst the science behind such a ratio may be a little dubious it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that it is lot easier walking in your running shoes than in your heavy winter boots. Overseas it has become quite common for hikers to shun boots altogether for this reason, with many through-hikers on major routes advocating the use of trail running shoes. I’m not against this, in fact I recently completed the Five Passes trip in my Salewa Speed Ascent (another magic Salewa shoe). But when I’m heading out into the back country outside of the summer months, carting a large pack, or heading to sub-alpine and alpine areas I reach for the security of a warm, sturdy boot. Even still - wouldn’t it be great to have a lighter boot that is capable of handling the tougher trips, yet save energy with every step? The Rapace gives the best of both worlds - a boot that is lightweight enough to take on a fast smash-and-grab type mission through a great walk, but sturdy enough to take on your mid-winter trip into the southern alps.
Having touched on winter let’s talk about those spiky things some people like to stick on their boots in winter. The Rapace is compatible with strap-on and semi-automatic crampons. That said, I find my pair to have a relatively flexible sole unit when compared with a full-shank boot and wouldn’t plan on doing any extended front-pointing in them (unless you have calves of steel). In practice this means the Rapace is perfect for the average kiwi tramper who wants a boot capable of taking a crampon for the occasional jaunt over an ice field or for a snowy Tongariro crossing trip. Don’t be put off by my talk of crampons. If you are the kind of tramper who sees snow and retreats back to the nearest hut this boot may still work well for you. The rigidity of the sole unit that allows the boot to accept a crampon also makes the boot perfect for sidling through scree or climbing steep snow grass - two common kiwi tramping scenarios!
The Rapace has a Goretex liner which will help to keep your feet dry when walking through dewy fields or breaking a trail through soft snow, but invariably when tramping in New Zealand you end up having to cross a stream or river. As with any boot - once the water reaches the top of boot you will get wet. This is a fact. You can ‘improve your range’ so to speak by investing in a decent gaiter which may give you a few more precious seconds before the water begins to flood in, but eventually you’ll be soaked. My pair seem to drain water okay post-crossings and don’t feel like bricks once they have had a good soak (because they were light to start with!).
That’s all good and well but what about the fit? I have a size 44 euro foot (US 10) and wear a full size larger (45 Euro) Rapace. This gives my feet enough room when wearing a thicker hiking sock and allows for the fact that feet tend to swell a bit during the day. I didn’t bother breaking my pair in. I simply shouldered my pack and went on a trip with a group of mates. I didn’t get any blisters on the first day - and still haven’t ever had one from them 2 years later.
It is worth noting I have a narrow width foot. Apparently a lot of kiwis have quite wide feet. Salewa boots do come with a multi-fit foot bed which allows you to change the insole to accommodate different sized feet - this may help those with wider feet. Make sure you have tried the Rapace on (with your usual hiking socks) sufficiently before buying them to be sure the fit is correct.
Last but not least - the price. These boots usually retail for around the $450 mark. This makes them a considerable investment and one of the biggest purchases the average tramper will make. For $450 this represents a whole (lightweight) lot of boot and is a serious step up from the offerings around the $300 mark. I’m always telling people to never skimp on boots, sleeping bags, and tents. I learnt this the hard way when starting out (think zip-ties on boots to hold the sole on mid-hike).
If you are planning on spending extended periods of time above the snowline, fancy yourself a bit of a Thar hunter, or just like heavier boots check out the review on the Garmont Pinnacle GTX.