If you’re anything like I am, the search for that perfect set of apparel and gear for any and every situation is an elusive quest. Simply keeping up with the latest innovations in the apparel and footwear world can become a full-time job, and that’s before you try to play catch-up with your friends (seriously, if you want to spend your time green with envy, just hang out with outdoor gear testers for a weekend). In the rat race of incremental adjustments, yearly design retreads, and marketing fluff, a truly powerful innovation tends to either get lost in translation between the designer and the consumer, or transform the marketplace. After spending the last couple of months in a new pair of Arc’teryx Bora2 hiking boots ($320), I can confidently say they fall in that transforming category.
So what exactly is the Bora line of boots and why are they radically different? Quite simply, the Bora and Bora2 are the first truly radical departure from typical hiking boots that we’ve seen in decades. At first look you’ll notice there are no stitched seems at all – construction resembles a light weight version of a double plastic mountaineering boot rather than an old-fashioned leather hiker. Every piece of the outer boot has been thermolaminated together, minimizing material and seams.
The inner boot is also a major difference (and we think a game changer). Rather than a sock liner stitched to the outer material that is the industry standard, the Bora2 has a removable GORE-TEX liner (the Bora is similar in construction, but the liner is fixed). This accomplishes a few things. First, the liner system allows the GORE membrane to run to the very top of that inner liner. Similar boots from competitors usually have a 3/4 length liner that leaves the top of the boot exposed. Second, the liner is not bonded to the outer material, giving breathability a boost; less material between your sweaty feet and the air is always a good thing. Finally, the interchangeability allows for one boot with multiple use cases. We have been using the red GORE liners, but you can also purchase a set of insulated black liners for colder climates.
Performance-wise, a few factors stood out from what I think of as a “normal” hiking boot. With that in mind, we took the Bora2’s out for a couple of weekends’ worth of testing in Salt Lake City’s Wasatch Range as well as the Manti Skyline in Central Utah in search of high alpine rock and spring climbing.
The Bora2 features a proprietary Vibram rubber that Arc’teryx collaborated on over the course of product development. After scrambling up slick waterfalls, wading through a few streams fly fishing, and even a little bit of exposed ridge climbing, I was nothing but impressed. If you want something stickier, you’re going to have to find a dedicated approach shoe. For durability, I couldn’t see any wear besides surface scuffing after over a hundred miles of walking in them; whatever rubber formulation they’re using it is nearly as sticky as the Vibram Megagrip soles of the smaller Acrux FL approach shoes, but much stiffer. The tread pattern is aggressive and especially welcome in mixed terrain. It performed fine in muddy terrain, but really shined when walking up slick granite and limestone. The lugs were just soft enough to spread out under a heavy load while heading up or downhill, giving a little extra surface area. They’re not sticky rubber approach shoes, but gave me much more confidence in alpine terrain than any other boot I’ve worn.
Out of the box the Bora2’s needed very little break in time. I did notice that I tended to get hotspots on both of my feet along the outer lacing portion in the midfoot at first. This was due to the laces pulling a little asymmetrically on the material, and was remedied by carefully applying pressure as I laced them up. The locking eyelet at the pivot point of my ankle was very helpful for this – rather than having to keep tension while lacing the final two speed-lace eyelets, you can pull to comfort and forget it. I also found that the liners stretched out around my feet quickly from their initial tightness. This could be good or bad for you, depending on how they initially fit.
I thought they ran a little narrow, so the stretch and forming to my foot was welcome. It should be noted that the liners can be worn without socks, although I would discourage it. Like any GORE membrane, its ability to stay waterproof and breathe correctly will be progressively degraded by sweat and natural oils from your skin. A good pair of light hiking socks will go a long way in protecting the membrane by trapping some of the oils, and provide an added protection against any blister trouble spots. For care, I simply soaked the liners in a sink with a capful of Nikwax tech wash, and rinsed with running water after a few hikes. This will keep your liners performing like new over their lifetime.
This was my biggest fear while wearing the Bora2’s. My feet tend to sweat in any waterproof liner and no matter what foot powder or wicking sock I have on. As with any GORE boot for me, within about two hours of walking my feet felt a little clammy. It never got to the point of enough wetness to create undue friction or hotspots, but was uncomfortable nonetheless. I got to wondering if the outer boot played any part in the breathability – it does feature a pretty serious rand along the base of the boot – so decided to put it through a little torture test. After a long hike into a high lake, I took my GORE liners out and pulled the boots on over my fly fishing waders. After a couple of hours hooking hungry brook trout, I slid my liners back in to the thoroughly soaked outer boots full expecting the clamminess to return instantly. I was surprised to be proven wrong. The colder stream soaked boots created a temperature and pressure gradient with the liners that literally leached the moisture away from my feet, keeping them dry and happy. Still, the outer boot didn’t quite drain completely on the short hike back to camp (although in retrospect it was much more dry than the typical fishbowl effect of most waterproof boots). Considering I used them as an impromptu wading boot though, I can’t fault them at all. After hiking back to camp I pulled the outer boots off to dry by fire and wore the inner boots around as a camp shoe – completely dry in a matter of minutes.
The outer boot is built more like a dedicated alpine climbing boot than a typical hiker, and it shows. Construction is very stiff and supportive. The high ankle cuff didn’t lace as tight as I initially wanted it to, but the liner actually made up for that. The stiffer outer provided excellent lateral support while the liner gave me a little comfortable wiggle room. The red liners that the Bora2 comes with are a mesh system enclosing the GORE liner. The innersole material stood up to abrasive rocks and dirt around camp just fine. The stretchy mesh material was really what sold me on the boots. After a couple of days in the boots the liners had molded to my feet comfortably and provided a valuable, soft interface with the extremely stiff outer boot.
Are They For You?
We can discuss the benefits of the durable Vibram sole, innovative GORE liners, and comfort ride all day. However, when it comes right down to it, what does this all mean to the user? The Arc’teryx Bora2 is far and away the best trekking boot I’ve tested in years. For mountainous terrain and variable temperatures it is the boot I’ll be reaching for when carrying a heavy load of climbing or hunting gear. However, this design does have it drawbacks. It is not a boot I’d wear around town – why degrade the lifetime of a dedicated mountain boot by slowly killing it on concrete? Likewise, if you’re looking for summer range day footwear, I’d probably look elsewhere. The GORE liner can be overkill in hot weather, especially if you’re prone to overheating feet like I am. If you’re in the market for an indestructible boot that can take heavy abuse from large loads in harsh terrain though, I wouldn’t settle for anything less.
For more information on the Arc’teryx Bora2, or to locate an authorized retailer near you, visit their website.
Photo Credits: Kenzie Parker.