By Joe Grant.
In the trail running off-season this winter, I’ve been riding my fat-bike a lot on dirt and snow. One of the challenges I’ve found with winter riding is keep my feet warm. Compared to running, my feet get very little stimulation on the bike so it’s hard to generate much heat to keep them from going numb. While there are a few clipless riding boots suitable for extreme cold temperatures, they are both expensive and have limited (specialized) use. While great for riding, clipless boots don’t allow for the versatility of a standard shoe, where I can ride to the trailhead, head up the mountain on foot and return home all while using the same pair of shoes and minimizing changes in gear. I found it near impossible to keep my feet at a manageable temperature without getting off the bike and running to warm them or opting for a full insulated boot (like a bulky pair of Sorels).
When running in the winter, I can usually get away with a Gore-Tex shoe since as long as I’m moving my feet stay warm. I’ve found this to be true even in extreme temperatures of -35F. However, on slightly more technical routes (that do not demand an actual climbing boot) I move slower, making it more difficult to keep my feet warm.
A route such as Kiener’s on Longs Peak in Colorado has a long approach from the trailhead, isn’t very technical, but is slow going in winter conditions. I don’t want to bring two pairs of shoes, one for the approach and one for the climb, so I get by in my Gore-Tex running shoes and cold feet. I knew there had to be a better solution to address both my needs for winter riding in extreme cold and run/climbing non-technical winter routes.
I first heard of a company called Forty Below, based in Washington state, while preparing for the Iditarod Trail Invitational a few years ago. They came recommended to me from runners and bikers who had done the race before. Forty Below makes highly insulated, neoprene, waterproof overboots designed to tackle extreme cold temperatures. Their primary focus is on mountaineering and arctic expeditions while also providing solutions for winter bikers and ski tourers. The main issue I had with the offerings on their site was that the overboots cover the entire shoe, including the sole, rendering the shoe tractionless unless used with crampons or other removable traction devices. This would not work for me for two reasons: in bad conditions with a lot of snow, I would be on and off the bike a lot alternating between pushing and riding, so I would need grip to hike and it also made the overboots useful only for riding if I were to use them on clipless riding shoes. I wanted something more versatile, so Joel at Forty Below proposed I get SuperGaiters to glue on to my shoes and build a shoe more specific to my demands. This turned out to be the ideal solution for me as I could combine the runability of my winter running shoes, with a warm, waterproof, insulated upper.
To build the insulated boot, I chose to use the Inov-8 Oroc 340 shoe for its aggressive, spiked outsole and warm, plush upper. I’ve run many winter miles in this shoe and knew it would be the ideal candidate for this type of project. In choosing a shoe, I would suggest picking one with aggressive traction for good purchase in snow and possibly with metal dobs such as the Inov-8 Oroc models, Icebug shoes or Salomon Spike and SnowCross. Alternatively, you could add screws to the sole of your shoe, but since this shoe will become a dedicated winter boot, I find it best to go with a spiked option. In most conditions, the metal studded shoes make microspikes unnecessary, therefore eliminating the need for extra gear.
I size up a half-size (sometimes even a full size depending on the model) for winter footwear to accommodate thicker socks and allow for better blood circulation.
The gluing process is fairly straight forward and well explained on the Forty Below website. After trimming the gaiter to fit the edges of the shoe exactly, I used the recommended Barge Cement glue to attach it to the shoe. This process is a bit tedious, applying and reapplying the glue over several days, giving it adequate time to dry.
After the gaiter is glued on, the next step is applying Plasti Dip around the exposed edges of the neoprene that come into contact with the sole of the shoe to create a rubberized rand to help with wear and tear. I had never used Plasti Dip before and while it’s nasty stuff, using it to repair or reinforce weak points on shoes was a minor revelation. Rocks or snowshoe straps will often create abrasion on my shoes that I can now easily fix using a layer of Plasti Dip and reapply as needed. It also gives the gaiter as nice finish and bond to the sole of the shoe.
The finished product might look a little bulky, but the shoe maintains all of it’s running properties, while benefiting from waterproofness and insulation. The added thickness of the neoprene on top of the foot makes the use of crampons more comfortable on a flexible shoe. The SuperGaiter greatly expands the applications of a standard running shoe for high altitude running (such as Russian Skyrunning races) and on non-technical winter peaks.
So far, it hasn’t been cold enough in Colorado for me to really give feedback on the temperature ranges I can stay comfortable in with the boot, but they have withstood a few hikes at -10F without trouble.
The down side to the Forty Below SuperGaiter is that it is not cheap, so I would only suggest getting a pair if, like me, you have a lot of use for this type of shoe. Other options to consider are using Forty Below’s cheaper gaiters (such as the Light Energy Shorty Overboots or the Simple Slipper Overboots) and cutting the sole out before gluing. Winter surf or fly fishing booties could also be cut up and customized to fit on shoes, but wouldn’t have the benefits of the wide velcro opening to get in and out of the shoe easily.
To sum up, if you’re looking for an option to weatherize your running footwear for extremely cold environments, consider giving the Forty Below SuperGaiter a try.
By Joe Grant: http://alpine-works.com