The ‘Everest’ Millet Boot

they look the part but how do they perform?

Everest millet boot 1
Everest Millet Boots – the latest in warm footwear for 8,000ers (and Ama Dablam in winter)

I am sure that you are well acquainted with the concept of layering – creating air pockets and trapping layers of warm air between garments – whether that be the upper body, legs, head or hands. By removing or adding thin or thick layers one can regulate ones temperature according to whether you are working hard, standing still at a belay, resting for lunch or whether the weather has changed and it is getting warmer or cooler. It doesn’t take long to whip a layer off or pop a layer on and can make the difference between comfort and misery particularly if pre-empted.

With boots, however, this isn’t really an option. Apart from perhaps adding a gaiter (and even that would generally be on or off for the whole day) what you put on your feet at the start of your day is what you will probably be wearing at the end. So it is vitally important to make sure that a) you have the right sock combination and b) that the boots are suitable for the day’s activity.

In UK summer, Scottish winter or The Alps it is not uncommon for people to have 3, 4 or even 5 pairs of boots that can be swapped and changed according to the weather conditions, the activity being undertaken and the length of day. On Everest (and other ultra-high altitude mountains) however, this flexible approach is not really an option. Yes there is a trekking phase where trainers / approach shoes / light hiking boots might be used, and an acclimatisation phase where plastics might be worn, but for the summit phase nothing but the warmest boots will suffice.

When it comes to the arena of ultra-high altitude the choice of boots is quite limited but that doesn’t mean that you should settle for any less than the best. The main protagonists are La Sportiva (Olympus Mons), Scarpa (8,000ers) and Millet (Everest). It’s quite difficult to compare like for like as they partly depend on the shape of the foot for the individual.

One of the difficulties with high altitude boots has always been a trade-off between warmth and volume. Yes you want to have a warm boot but you don’t want a boot that is too voluminous. Conversely a slim boot will possibly be a bit light on the temperature ratings. Equally the boot has got to be up to the job in hand, be rugged and totally bomb proof. And lastly it’s got to be easy to put on and take off even in the coldest of conditions where one might be wearing big thick mitts where operations are compromised by lack of dexterity.

So please step forward the most recent version of the very successful Everest Millet. Personally I was never a great fan of the original Everest Millet boot as the gaiter was pretty baggy (great for getting over down covered legs but as they were baggier still there was a lot of potential for snagging crampons with careless footwork) and the boots were pretty floppy compared with the Scarpas and the La Sportivas. But the most recent version has a nice slim look to it and this has been accomplished by using some pretty high tech materials and innovations.

The old style boots had a double zipper up the front of the integral gaiter which meant that there were two things that could go wrong. Equally the Scarpa 8,000er has only a single waterproof zipper which is very stiff and gives a distinct feeling of vulnerability. With either of these boots if the zipper pops there is no plan B. Even abandoning the summit attempt and retreating down the mountain will be a difficult task with a boot that has a front open to the elements and snow.

The La Sportiva Olympus Mons has a Velcro fastening protecting the zipper behind but the Millet Everest has gone one step further with some industrial strength Velcro complete with pull tabs that protect a deep seated zipper that opens way down to the front of the boot. This makes opening and removing the boots a cinch. It also really helps when popping the boots on especially with the handy over sized pull loops that are on the inner boot (on the sides) and the outer boot (fore and aft).

The gaiter is nicely slimline and very hard wearing (similar to the Scarpa 8,000ers), is a massive improvement on the previous version and better that the Olympus Mons gaiter. I guess there will always be a debate about whether the gaiter on any of these boots should go under or over the down. If it goes over and is too slimline then it may well compress the down and create a cold lower leg which, in turn, will cause less warmth to flow to the foot. Conversely if the gaiter goes under then that precious down will come spilling out the moment a crampon comes in contact with it. I’ve experimented with both and I am generally in favour of the gaiter going over the trouser and this is still achievable even with the slimmer lower volume Everest Millet.

And no two ways about it this boot is warm. There are some really great materials that have been used sensibly to create warmth where necessary but still keeping the volume down by not having the boot too over speced. There’s silver this, laminated that and insulated the other that all work together to create a boot that will almost undoubtedly cope with the worst that will be thrown at it in the ultra-high altitude environment.

Having said that the boots can only be warm if they are supplied with a heat source so, as with all double boots, it is well worth keeping the inners in your sleeping bag during the night (a cold boot will make your foot cold before your foot can make the boot warm) and if you have poor circulation (which will be doubly compromised by the lack of O2 at altitude) then a warm up sachet or electric foot bed would still be advised.

There are a few downsides though. The first problem I encountered was that the gaiter doesn’t quite open enough to enable the outer boots to be laced fully and invariably they therefore felt floppier than they ought to have. Yes you can peel the gaiter right down but in time this is only going to damage the tough materials that are there to protect the boot and retain warmth. The second observation about the laces is that they aren’t laces . but pieces of red string! They don’t tie well and they loosen off easily (on that note always replicate the conditions that you are going to use your gear in when trying on. So don’t just be content in the shop where things are easy to do – have a go with mitts or thick gloves on if you don’t believe me). The outer ‘laces’ would really benefit from having the same speed lacing system that comes with the inner booties.

Everest millet boot 2
The laces are shocking for a boot of this expense. They slip when under tension which makes tying them an unnecessary faff and loosen off far too easily for my comfort during the course of the day. These boots would be greatly improved with a speed lacing system that a lot of boots feature now. The other aspect is that the velcro tab can be a bit awkward to get in to the metal buckle. With both of these aspects the gaiter needs to be peeled down the boot further than you ought to have to do … which means that in time (and not much of it) the gaiter is going to become creased and damaged. This is where high tech materials get worn too easily and compromise the warmth of the boot.

The next issue is that they haven’t quite got the dimensions right for the rear crampon clip. The recess where the heel clip engages is slightly too far forward (or the back of the boot where the heel of the foot lives is slightly too far back) – but either which way it is difficult to get a really comprehensive ‘kerthunk’ when putting your crampons on. It’s more of a ‘kerphht’. When using crampons that have a plastic ‘y’ cup at the toe it is highly unlikely that the boot would ever become dislodged from the crampon but even so I’d prefer a better boot / crampon suitability – and I experimented with 7 different models of crampon so don’t blame me, or the crampons, because I can get them all to fit nicely and snuggly with my Scarpas (8,000ers & Vegas) and La Sportivas (Baturas and Nepal Top Extremes).

Everest Millet Boot footbed
For whatever reason the inner creased the first time it was used. It was the right size for the boot (as my foot) so realistically this shouldn’t have happened. And it happened in both boots so it can’t just be a one off issue with one insole. I would not only try these boots on in the shop to make sure that you have the right size but endeavour to get out and about in them quite a few times before having to use them in anger becasue this is a problem that could easily lead to blisters or, worse, frostbite due to compromising the circulation in the toes.

My last niggle is that the super high tech footbed in the inner boot creased towards the front of the foot the first time that I used them for going downhill. They are perfectly the right size and are a super fit so it’s not my foot that’s to blame. I guess I’ll have to strengthen them somehow (or replace them) but they definitely seem to move around when in use which is a real shame.