Ah, gear reviews. Such a suspicion-worthy beast. Read them at your own peril. But read them you will since you're about to drop some serious coin on gear of some sort. We all do it and we often go to the same places in search of information to guide our decisions. Frequency builds trust, whether truly warranted or not. I'm guilty of doing the same and have made purchases based on the information. Ultimately, I don't always agree with the review and this has created a fair amount of sketicisim of late.
My cynical nature is born from the realization that there are very few truly objective reviews of gear unless one digs down beyond the first page of a Google hit list. I'm not sure most consumers realize this. But open your eyes and it becomes apparent. There are several factors that contaminate the process of evaluation. First, if you read a review from a company that actually sells the product, well, duh, they're unlikely to tell you if it sucks. They need to move inventory...period. Next, sites like TGR receive advertising dollars from companies that make products reviewed in their pages. Can't bite the hand that feeds, right? And lastly, individuals who perhaps blog like me but receive gear for free or significantly discounted (Wildsnow, for instance) may temper their comments to keep everyone happy. I don't necessarily blame them. They've got a good thing going but the stock I place in the review is tempered with healthy skepticism. I still use the information but I often need to read between the lines to get what I seek.
I'm about to throw down my own review of these sexy new boots from Arc'teryx and you should bring the appropriate amount of wariness to what I offer. First of all, I'm just one dude who loves to ski, does so with a certain skill level, prefers a certain type of skiing and fancies a genre of ski gear most of the time. Full disclosure from me reveals that I paid for these myself. Interestingly, I wrote the company last summer after finding my likeness being used in one of their sales presentations. I think they simply downloaded it off the internet. But I thought it could be my in for some swag. Not so much. Didn't even hear back. As a result, I won't be pulling any punches here. Before you dig into my take on these boots, you need to define the characteristics of the reviewer (me) so you understand from where I come. I've rarely seen this offered in other reviews so maybe you'll find it helpful.
I'm a 55 year old, pathetically immature, life-long skier who spent far too much time telemark skiing when I should've been dialing in my real skiing technique. I feel like I missed some great opportunities to develop what I lack now. My Alpine skiing technique is mostly self-taught and primarily accomplished in the backcountry. This has created a functional but not particularly pretty style of descent. No alpine racing pedigree for this dude. That said, I can get down most things and favor steep and technical skiing that scares me. Coming from a telemark background and then getting involved in skimo racing makes me tolerant of soft boots. About the time when tele boots got impossibly stiff, I locked my heel down and never looked back.
For my age, I'm physically capable and work hard maintaining fitness. I don't suffer an off-season, per say. I'm six feet tall and 170 pounds. My ski partners are usually 20 years my junior so I need to keep up. While I love skiing down, I tend to enjoy the whole experience of ski alpinism more. In other words, getting there is at least half the fun. To that end, I'll nearly always employ gear that is lightweight for the up and durable for the down. I don't ski backwards and my skis rarely leave the snow more than a few inches. And while I love to watch the antics of skiing sevants like Candide Thovex, any attempt by me to develop even a fraction of the sorcery he employs would be nothing short of foolish and perhaps career ending. With these qualifications at hand, here is my take on the boots.
My previous boots are relevant to this review. My first AT boot was a montrous Raichle affair that weighed 10 pounds. The early 90's was not a good time to be shopping for touring boots in the US if you didn't free-heel. After that, I had a fairly light pair of Garmonts that I can't remember the name of. When I moved to Jackson, I got the Garmont Mega Ride which was very popular at the time. I started skimo racing and began doing most of my skiing on race-style boots like the Scarpa F1 followed by the game changer, the Dynafit TLT 5. After that, I mixed things up with the Dynafit DyNA carbon race, Scarpa Alien 1.0, Dynafit TLT 6 and the Dynafit PDG. I actually own the Dynafit Vulcan which is a pretty beefy free ride option but have only skied it a couple of times due to it's weight. Aside from the Vulcan, none of these boots are super stiff. I never used the removable tongues in the TLT's and often left off the Powerstrap. Hopefully, that sets the table.
Arc'teryx Proline Carbon
At the beginning of this season it was clear that I'd need to replace my 3-season old Dynafit DLT 6. Rivets were failing and the sole was pitted. After some research, I made a trip to Skimo Co to fondle my options and get them on my feet. It was also a good chance to hold Jason's attention for a while as I made up my mind. I tried the new Fischer, Sportiva Spitfire 2.0, Dynafit TLT 7 and the Procline. Clearly, there was some deserved hype about the Arc'teryx boot and I ended up going there. The TLT 7 lacks a toe welt which creates crampon issues. Dynafit also changed the last to accomodate wider feet and that put me in between shell sizes. Decision make there. The Sportiva boot fit great and I nearly pulled the trigger there but decided to go with some new innovation.
At nearly $1000, the Procline was the most expensive choice. But the 3 years of R and D that went into it are obvious in the lines and features. It's asthetic in many ways. But I was also wary since some of the reviews I'd read suggested that it was pretty soft and more of a "climbing boot that you can ski in...". But I'm used to soft boots so I was not swayed.
My first impression was that my skinny calves did not fill out the top half of the fit. The standard liner, which comes in a "light" version and "support" version seemed anorexic compared to my go-to Intuition Pro Tour. A few times when getting forward suddenly on my skis, I felt like I might actually pull my foot, "support" liner and all, right out of the shell. Not ideal. So, I stepped up for some Intuitions and things improved.
Although some reviewers will claim that there is no "progressive" flex to the Proclines, I wonder if these guys are 125 pounds or something. Because I can definitely flex these forward with the concominant deformation of the carbon stays about the cuff pivot. I pulled all my boots out and did some comparison carpet testing on alternate feet. The Proclines are soft but certainly "tighten up" as I flex forward. There's significant resistance at the end. Compared to my PDG, a near race weight boot, they're stiffer at the end point but actually feel similar at the mid flex. Interesting. I tend to spend more time in my light boots in the spring when snow is firmer and I'm traveling farther for it. The Dynafit Vulcan, on the other hand, is way stiffer in all configurations, tongue or no. It's also heavier. Sadly, I don't have my TLT 6's anymore so I can't make that potentially meaningful side to side now.
With innovation sometimes comes fiddle. Designers often try to be clever in order to separate from the herd. I get that. It's a competitive market out there. Arc'teryx is no different. You look at the Procline and you know you have something unique in your hands. If you've searched around the web for info you will have covered most of the ground already. I'll simply note some features that catch my attention, some good, some bad.
The cuff lock, while solid, is finicky. Sometimes it fails to snap in and I'm not sure why. It may have something to do with snow filling up the area around the hinge at the heel. But it's frustrating. I flip the lever back and forth, rock back and forth and finally, it snaps in with a reassuring click. The lever is a little more difficult to grab with gloved fingers compared to the Dynafit lever. The vertical orientation makes in easier to operate.
The power strap is velcro free which is a nice touch. I added some cord to it since there is very little tail left now that I've added the additional bulk of the Inuition liner. The middle buckle which cinches the cuff around your ankle is easy to throw but it can also advance latch postions while in walk mode. This a annoying as sometimes I can neither throw the lever because it's too tight nor free it from the catch because the cuff won't compress enough. There is also a keeper spring that holds the catch in place which popped off randomly at a transition once. Luckily I saw it in the snow before I stomped into a black hole. It was easily reinstalled.
The real selling point of the boot is the cuff articulation and how well it walks. Very smooth with nearly no resistance at any point. It's a feeling one only gets with lighter race boots. Kudos for that. On the other hand, I've been plagued with spectacular squeeking along the way which is quite vexing. Silicon spray seems to help.
There've been far too many words written about the alleged side-to-side articulation of the cuff. I find this to be unnoticeable and frankly, unnecessary. Nothing more to add there. It's a gimmick, IMO.
I have no insight into the politics and economics involved with Dynfit tech fittings. The best they offer are a cut above all others when it comes to stepping into tech bindings. But some companies don't have them in their boots and the performance difference when getting clicked in is noticeable. Arc'teryx is guilty of this. I'm not sure why a company would invest so much energy into a boot design and then skimp on this critical detail. I had a Sportiva boot years ago with the same issue. I'm still not a fan.
One of the big hypes about the boot was/is the climbing nature of it. Certainly, it walks great so that's real. The rubber rand on the front is sexy but I don't really have any issues with plastic boots getting too beat up. As for wedging my feet into cracks to take advantage of said rubber...well...I don't do it. Front points of crampons do that heavy lifting for me. The rubber also complicates any after-purchase heat molding you may need to do on the boot. Boot fitters are understandably fearful of causing glue failure under the rubber. It's worth noting that Salomon, the maker of these boots, is releasing their own version of it next season and there'll be no rubber rand. Problem solved.
One of my favorite features of the Procline is the built in gaiter. Very useful feature. I sense a potential zipper failure looming on mine but so far they've held. The weak point of this feature is the lower boot plastic/soft upper material interface.
There's the typical Arc'teryx seam welding here but the carbon cuff struts rub on the area and mine have worn through. It's a real problem. I've added some Seam Grip to the area but it doesn't stop the process.
The other area of obvious wear is the power strap. It seems to be failing in the rear which likely takes place during skiing down.
The Arc'teryx Procline Carbon will take me through to the end of the 2016-17 season. Some things I really like, some things I don't. But ultimately, I want a boot that skis down better. Hard to believe I'm writing this. Must be getting old. It could be a function of my skinny calves or more likely, my fattening quiver but I just don't feel like my leg is held in such a way that I have good ski control in funky conditions. I expect more from a full-feature boot. Onward.