THE NORTH FACE S6K EXTREME: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

well they sent me the wrong size. out by 1 increment, partly because i gave the option based on my sizing in other brands. but no huge loss as im bound to other stuff for the week it will take to get the right ones sent out. anyway, impressions from the living room:

The North Face have pushed cold climbing boots another stage of evolution. they dont always have a good record with footwear, but this time its working out.

having worn 8000m boots and 6000m boots, these seem more like little 8000mers rather than beefed out 6000mers. the feel of a Batura/Phantom 6000 is there – they are still in the same category afterall – but the trickle down from 8000m boots is very apparent.

the S6k Extremes have a softer inner boot and more integrity in the outer. softer than the foam inner scarpa is using and much softer than la sportivas spantik/olympus mons, they feel a lot like the inner from a Millet Everest. these feel like independant insulated boots and less like part of the structure than other options. how this will translate is yet to be seen in the cold, but less dead air space due to rigidity springs to mind. 200g/m2 of Primaloft is not to be sniffed at – thats a serious belay jacket level of insulation and far better than the thinsulate some boots are insulated with. the outer boot too is well insulated, especially the tongue which feels significantly plusher than the competition. hopefully this will compress well and not lead to a mushy feeling boot. experiments mixing with a stiffer la sportiva inner will be interesting.

the north face S6K extreme double inner boot primaloft

the outer boot feels to have far more integrity than a Phantom 6000 but not nearly a Spantik. it wont make them ski-able, but it should answer those who feel integrated-gaiter boots are too lacking in structure. this is part of the trickle down from 8000mers, and perhaps nowhere more apparent than the exposed carbon fibre foot bed that eliminates all those nasty foot bed issues that occur over prolonged use as the boot is affected by  moisture.

the north face S6K extreme double boot carbon foot bed

where this boot really shines (and takes most from the 8000m designs) is in the gaiter. having lost interest in integrated gaiters over the last few years, this wins me back. compared to the Batura and Phantom, the S6K simply feels tougher, warmer and more a part of the boots function than a simple gaiter to keep out snow. the S6K‘s gaiter is a triumvate of slash-proof ballistic stuff, alien Hydro-seal weather resistant white stuff and SuperFabric – the same stuff used in high wear areas on some gloves and knee sections. the whole lot stretches, and by comparison the competition feels thin and unsophisticated, almost a superficial add-on. like an Olympus mons, the S6K‘s gaiter feels to be a significant part of the boots warmth.

the north face S6K extreme boot gaiter summit series Super Fabric

the rubber element feels sophisticated and new, with a transitional fabric betwen it and the gaiter that bridges the flex of the gaiter with the durability of the rand. it looks at first to be vinyl-ish, but im seriously hoping it performs much better than the vinyl ive had on boots before. the rand itself is precisely cut and well formed, like a rock shoe and a big step up from most winter boots. in some ways its formed like the rand of a Spantik, with minimal seams. the sole is the standard winter multi-layered affair from vibram common to most 6000m boots, tho somewhere in the middle is some stuff called Aerogel thats meant to help with insulation.

details i like – again from 8000m territory – are a large hand loop for yanking the boot on, simple lacing and a generous cuff on the gaiter. The North Face are not treating these as an inch up from regular boots, stripped down for weekend ice cragging – these are given the same attention as other genuine expedition boots. i dont like the stock laces simply because they dont feel like other mountain boot laces, but $5 will change that. the waterprroof zip isnt as easy as a Phantom 6000 but is easier than some others like the Boreal Siula.

im excited about wearing these things. i like the direction-of-flow TNF has instituted thats half stripped down 8000mer and half refined 6000m boot. it really feels like a minimal amount has been copied, and that as much as can be has been developed. the Spantiks willl still be the boot of choice when altitude plays a serious factor – theres still a big gap between the two – but for all the lower-end-of-the-spectrum stuff where Spantiks were almost overkill, and Baturas not enough (ie multi-day trips with tech alpine in real cold but not body choking altitude) im hoping these fill the void. plenty of that coming up oover the next few months, but for another week its back in the box.