the north face verto S6K extreme: review

9 days/nights, +5c to -16c, snow/mixed, steep approaches, bivvys/tents, 1000m to 2000m

ive hesitated to claim and actual ‘review’ until now; using something sporadically, without the demands of non-stop use, doesnt mean much. in line with TMPs normal applications specifications of uninterrupted use for over a week interfacing with other gear intended for the same use (ie exped clothing and equipment), The North Face’s S6K extremes feel like they have been reasonably evaluated.

over 9 days of mixed climbing – all outside – factors rose to the surface that would be skipped in just a day or two of use. interestingly, they were used along side a pair of Scarpa Phantom6000s. after 3 seasons in La Sportiva Spantiks and Baturas most of my opinions run with those as the counterpoint.

climbing

despite being ‘large’ boots with a design closer to Olympus Mons than Baturas, the S6K Extremes climb well, never having the bulky boot feel sometimes found with Spantiks. even tho they have a larger sole area, the sole is flatter, which interfaces a crampon better after the crampon has been adjusted for it (front points moved in an increment). the soft inner makes no noticeable difference when on monos on desperate placements.

approaching

the key to a good boot is in the walking – get this wrong and you dont get to the steep stuff making how well they climb irrelevant. steep approaches, slogs thru snow, with reasonably sized packs (+/-20kg) and the S6K Extremes felt better than ok. they felt good. due to the flatter sole than a Spantik and less heel articulation than a Batura this was a surprise, and boils down to 2 elements; 1) the softer inner boot allows for better fit, 2) the outer boots lacing works – after being modified*.  the gaiters elastic top edge is tight enough even on (my) skinny calves to keep snow out – tho the gaiter itself is snug enough over the boot to not really accept bulky trouser cuffs.

sleeping

when 1/4 of the day is spent in bivvys the overnight use matters as much as climbability, and impressions are very good. again, the softer inner wins the day, having less dead air space to cool and a lot of primaloft to keep warm and dry. anecdotally, the inners breath better than the foam La Sportive inners – to the degreee there was more moisture in the sleeping bag foot. this would be a problem if the boots werent so warm. details include lacing to low down the inner that allows adequate venting and grippy soles that are safer for midnight ventures than include walking over ice. both these factors are undeveloped in other inners. also the lack of lacing hooks meant no annoying catching of laces from the other inner boot. having an exposed carbon footbed meant the outer retained less moisture to freeze, and having a slick gaiter meant less snow needed to be brushed off, both factors make a noticeable difference over several days use.

functionality

with tweaking* these boots work well, combining the better elements of other +6000m designs. they do take time to soften up, which initially makes getting them on a pain in the ass, with the zip being a notable annoyance. with use the zip gets better, but initially it catches on the straps and lace-jam. the lack of a snap at the top of  the zip means they cant be worn with the zips open (to vent) and is a significant issue.

the outer boots heel strap works well, reducing heel lift significantly by locking things down from above the ankle rather than over the bridge of the foot (which doesnt work). yet again, a softer inner boot helps this, allowing a tighter fit. the absence of hard, bulky hooks on the inner that catch on stuff and press into the shin is an advantage over the La Sportiva inners.

durability

already they are showing signs of superficial wear, that although 9 days straight (plus another week of intermittant use) is no great indicator, is worth noting. no significant issues have arisen with the structural elements, but things like reflective logos have peeled off and or faded, and the white fabric on the gaiter (as expected) shows dirt. the crampon runnels – an element of wear that has shown problems in some other boots – shows no signs of wear.

components

The North Faces Verto S6K Extremes are hi-tech stuff, showcasing several elements of vanguard materials. theres nothing particularly new in any of the design elements (other than how they are combined), but smart use of new materials shows results. YKKs new waterproof zips have been used, competition with the Tizips found on Scarpa and Sportiva.. aside from one incident they worked ok, but really need lubricating, especially until they soften. the SuperFabric slash patches appear to resist crampon teeth, and even better, reject snow more readily than other options (except the silver alien stuff used on Spantiks). the inner is again a focus of development, using Primaloft to insulate the upper and AeroTherm to insulate the sole, which after 9 nights of rarely cold toes is testament to how well it works.

the gaiters function as intended, tho a sacrifice of being close fitting is lack of room when zipping up and for stuff trouser cuffs inside. the (fake?) leather toe piece adds toughness where its needed as well as shedding snow that sits on the toe when walking.

positives

the things are light and warm, and better streamlined than Spantiks (there real competition). due to intentional design, over significant time they dont build up moisture. details are nice and increase function, with serious thought having gone into how a cold-conditions boot is used. interfacing with other elements of specific-use equipment they are mostly good, tho laking in ways detailed below.

problems

most glitches found with other parallel boots have been addressed in the Verto S6K Extremes, but several problems became apparent:

the YKK Water Proof Zip is problematic at first. until softened/lubricated it doesnt slide easily, and until the shell softens it catches on the lacing system. on one occasion the teeth collected ice in them (after admittedly nasty conditions) that left them peeling open. if endemic this would be unnaceptable, but warmth and sports tape solved the issue, with the zip apparently ‘self healing’. a further 4 days of use didnt see  the problem return, nor did it occur on the other boot.

the lacing system needs improvement to really work well*.

overall

the Verto S6K Extremes are a step in the right direction, and a major one at that. they climb, approach and overnight noticeably better than others in the class, but have some middling function issues that need to be (and mostly are*) debuggable. they are  noticeably light for what they are, and some problems with other such boots have been addressed to make them more livable, without compromising tech climbing function.

*lace modifications

essentially the inner and outer lacing needs to be swapped, with the lace-lock thing going on the outer. even better, thread the inners lacing to be single-strand, which makes for easier use (single handed) and greater tightening range. the plastic lever buckle on the shell is, simply, crap. its too wide for the webbing and slips and fails. replace it with a 2mm cord loop.