Having worked in the outdoor industry for several years it takes something special to really grab my attention these days. Every once in awhile though, I encounter something truly unique and this year that was the Dolomite Veloce GTX.
So what is the Veloce GTX? To label this product as an approach shoe, trail shoe or boot would almost fail to do it justice. The Veloce in my opinion represents its own category of technical mountain footwear. It’s a new concept that combines the features of a performance approach shoe, with a modern mountain boot. Essentially it’s the lightest piece of footwear I have ever come across that you can put a real crampon on. It’s important to clarify here that i’m not referring to some cheap ice spikes aimed at dog walkers for an icy cold winter morning, the Veloce GTX is a shoe that can take a serious C2 rated crampon. Despite this ability to take a crampon, it is important to remember that the Veloce is not a insulated mountain boot, so one has to bear this in mind for use in cold climates or at altitude.
For most people the next question would logically be what it is for and who needs actually needs a crampon compatible shoe? The answer is that while the Veloce GTX is a great choice of footwear for a number of activities like hiking, climbing and scrambling, for summer Alpine rock climbing there is simply nothing else that compares. In situations where going light is essential and some limited crampon use is required, like crossing a glacier to get to the base of a climb, the Dolomite Veloce GTX is the perfect footwear choice.
In this circumstance, crampon capability gives you the security you need on snow and ice with minimal added weight. Once you bring out your rock shoes and clip the Veloce to the back of your harness or pop them in your pack, you will really feel the benefits of this unique mountain shoe. As a person with quite large feet (size 12), I feel like I am constantly subjected to a footwear weight penalty. This is more significant than you might think as extra weight on your feet has an amplified effect how much energy is required to move, compared with weight in your pack. As you can’t make your feet any smaller, this variable is generally something I have little or no control over which can be somewhat frustrating.
Even in size 12 the Veloce GTX weighs in at a mere 708g per shoe. Going by the manufacturers specs a more typical size 8.5 weighs 540g per shoe which is very impressive for footwear with its capabilities. The fact that they are so much lighter than a traditional mountain boot is fantastic for long approaches, making them noticeably easier and less tiring. Ultimately this saves your energy for the climb when you need it most!
As I mentioned above, when I first saw the Veloce GTX in the flesh, it immediately grabbed my attention. I was instantly fascinated by the concept behind the design and I knew I had to get my hands on a pair to see if they would live up my high expectations. Fortunately, the guys at Dolomite were kind enough to provide me with a pair to put through their paces in the mountains. At the time I had just arranged to spend a month climbing Patagonia with my friend Carlos Suarez. This seemed like the ultimate arena for this innovative footwear concept so I was keen to put them to the test…
Unfortunately though, as is often the case in Patagonia, the weather not was not cooperative with our plans. After one failed attempt on the Fitzroy’s Supercanaleta, we had planned to return and attempt the peak by a different route. The idea was to climb the super classic Casarotto on Fitzroy’s north pillar. The Veloce was to be the cornerstone of our strategy, because the route requires some crampon use for both the glacier approach and final snow slopes to the summit. While crampons are necessary, the bulk of the climbing takes you up over 1000 metres of near vertical granite, so rock shoes are obviously the weapon of choice. In Alpine climbing every variable can effect your overall chance of success and not having two kilos of mountain boots in your pack while climbing is a huge advantage!
This time though, luck was not on our side and an unexpected heavy snowfall forced us to change plans at the last minute. So in the end, I never got to test the Veloce GTX in the environment for which they seem most ideally suited. I am really looking forward to testing the Veloce more extensively in a variety of terrain including summer Alpine climbing, multi pitch climbing in the UK and some climb and fly adventures as well. I will be sure to report back as to how the Veloce performs in these different situations.
Despite not having the chance to test them fully, the long approaches in Patagonia did mean I have now walked over 100 km in the shoes, often with heavy loads on a variety of terrain. This has given me some insight into the shoe’s performance and user experience. Ultimately more testing will still be required to really put the Veloce through their paces, but at this point I honestly can’t foresee being disappointed.
For now though, I feel it’s worth discussing a few critical features of the shoes based on my experience so far. As with any footwear the most important consideration is always the fit. Having spent several years fitting boots for a living, I would maintain there are almost no exceptions to this rule. Almost…
The first time I tried on the Veloce GTX I have to say I thought the fit was not quite right for me. For my shape of foot I felt there was too much volume around the heel which would allow the shoe to slip up and down, potentially causing blisters or other problems. While alarm bells were initially ringing, I was so fascinated by the design and feature set of the Veloce GTX I figured in this case it was still worth a try.
What I discovered in the end was that for me the heels did slip. This was ultimately the result of a combination of factors. In addition to the shape of the heel cup not being perfect for my feet, the shoe is very stiff. This stiffness is what gives it the ability to take a C2 crampon and has other real performance benefits, so I view it as a good thing even though it did exacerbate the slipping at the heels. In addition, the fact that it is a shoe, as opposed to a boot with an ankle cuff which can help prevent this type of heel slipping, certainly also has it’s part to play. Like the shoe’s stiffness though, I view this a benefit, because this is what makes the Veloce so unique.
While this all might sound problematic, after extensive testing what I discovered is that it’s not really an issue. The neoprene liner / gaiter (if you can call it that) is incredibly comfortable. As a result, even though my heel did move a bit, it was never even remotely uncomfortable. I had no blisters or any problems wearing the Veloce. While I would certainly love to have the ‘perfect foot’ for this shoe and many customers will, but even if you don’t the Veloce is still extremely comfortable and performs very well.
On a side note I have always been strangely interested to know if you could really climb steep ice or mixed terrain in a shoe. Not sure why, these are just he weird things I think about! I felt like the Veloce would finally answer this question for me, but for the moment I haven’t really had the right opportunity to actually test it. Having used the Veloce now I suspect that for my feet, the heel movement would hinder any serious climbing in the shoes with a crampon. However, if you are lucky enough to get the perfect fit in the Veloce, I would imagine there is a huge amount of potential to use this shoe on very technical ground. Only testing can really answer this one, but suspect a lot is possible for those lucky enough to have a perfect fit.
Moving back to the features and function of the Veloce, one of the first things you notice is the Perspair woven upper. The shoe’s outer material is basically made from one solid piece of computer woven kevlar. With no real external seams, this construction makes the shoe extremely durable while allowing moisture to escape through the fibres giving you maximum breathability. Inside this space-age outer is a Gore-Tex liner to make the shoe completely waterproof, while retaining enough breathability to keep your feet dry. Inside the shoe your foot is gently hugged by the sock-like neoprene liner. While this may sound a bit unusual, I assure you it is very comfortable. The liner provides the ideal balance between precision and comfort you need for a very technical shoe like this. It gives the shoe the performance you want and the comfort you need to be able to wear them all day long. As mentioned previously I feel this feature is the key to the comfort of the Veloce, especially where the fit is less than perfect for your feet.
Finally it would seem wrong discuss the features of the Veloce without any further comment on the Veloce’s most unique feature, crampon compatibility. As mentioned above the Veloce can take a C2 or ‘semi-automatic’ crampon. It has a very stiff sole and a real welt in the heel to accommodate the crampons lever mechanism. I say ‘real’ because there is a lot of footwear out there that seems to have a stylised faux heel welt. These seem to exist mostly for marketing purposes, to give potential buyers the impression that the shoe is perhaps more technically capable than it really is. But don’t be fooled, on the Veloce the heel welt is the real deal and this shoe is definitely intended to take a crampon. I have tried a few different crampons that I had to hand and I am convinced that this shoe is up to the task and deserves it’s B2 crampon compatibility rating (though perhaps it should be S2 as it’s a shoe!).
So what is the ideal crampon for the Veloce? Well that depends on the mission at hand of course! One thing I will say is given that we are talking about a shoe, and a lightweight one at that, the weight of the crampon is worth considering. Something along the lines of a Petzl Vasak or Grivel Air Tech would probably make the ideal crampon companion for this innovative shoe. A crampon that is too heavy would undermine the weight saving benefits of the Veloce and have a slightly imbalanced feel to it.
Having touched on the ideal uses for the Veloce GTX and some of its key features I feel it’s worth a quick look at how it stacks up against the competition. Now as I have mentioned repeatedly the Veloce GTX is extremely unique and therefore has little in the way of direct competition. But if you were looking for something similar you would likely find yourself comparing it to the Scarpa Ribelle Mountain Tech OD and or the Mammut Nordwand Light Mid GTX. These two boots are incredibly lightweight and certainly represent the cutting edge of light mountain boot technology. While they have some features the Veloce does not, mainly more significant integrated gaiters and a toe welt on the Nordwand Light Mid giving it a B3 rating, in my mind the Veloce remains the top choice.
The reason for this is simple pretty simple, weight. The main reason to get a boot or shoe like this in the first place is it’s lightweight and the Veloce is noticeably lighter than the competition. Going by the the manufacturers weight specs (usually for a European size 42, per boot) the Veloce tips the scales at just 540g while the Ribelle weights in at 620g and the Nordwand at 645g. I am sure some critics out there will be quick to point out that while the Ribelle and Nordwand do weigh more, they offer more of a substantial ‘boot’ experience to the user.
While I can see merit in this argument, I feel that most of this is a placebo effect created by the presence of the integrated gaiter. In reality underneath the gaiter of both the Ribelle and the Nordwand, what you find is about the same low cut shoe construction as the Veloce. The gaiter may offer a bit of weather protection and stop snow giving you wet socks, but in terms of how your foot is held in place they are really all just shoes at the end of the day. So for me it’s a case of if your going to do it, do it properly. If you want serious weight savings in your mountain footwear that has the ability to use a crampon, look no further than the Dolomite Veloce GTX.