Hi-Tec Alpha Trail Mid WP boot review

Hi-Tec is a brand Indian trekkers are unfamiliar with. Founded in 1974, Hi-Tec is a privately held company based in the Netherlands with a presence in over 85 countries. They make shoes and boots for many sports disciplines including squash, golf, trekking and mountaineering.

Hi-Tec India markets the Alpha Trail Mid WP as a multi-sport boot. These boots are imported in India by Extreme Adventure Sport . This is a mid-weight, three-season, mid-cut boot with a leather upper. It’s Unique Selling Point (USP) is that it is the only boot in India with a Vibram sole that retails for under Rs. 5000. Vibram is not a material, it is a brand. In other words, Vibram is a company that has been making boot soles for mountaineers since 1937.

Up until the 1930s, mountain climbers had to put up with primitive hobnail climbing boots. The leather soles on these things were mighty slippery, so they pounded some hobnails into them or attached cleats, and that’s what gave them grip on slick terrain. In 1935, the deaths of six of Vitali Bramani mountaineering friends in the Italian Alps was partly blamed on inadequate footwear. The tragedy drove Bramani to develop a new climbing sole. Two years later, he patented his invention and launched the first rubber lug soles on the market with a tread design called the “Carrarmato” (“tank tread”), with the financial backing of Leopoldo Pirelli of Pirelli tires. The sole was designed to provide excellent traction on the widest range of surfaces, have a high degree of abrasion resistance and was made using the latest vulcanised rubber of the time. In 1954, the first successful ascent to the summit of K2 was made by an Italian expedition wearing Vibram rubber on their soles. The word ‘Vibram’ comes from the ‘Vi’ of Vitali’s first name, and the ‘Bram’ of his last name.

Specifications

Features

  • Waterproof leather suede and mesh upper
  • Dri-Tec® waterproof, breathable membrane
  • OrthoLite® sock liner delivers superior cushioning and has anti-odour and anti-microbial properties
  • Moulded EVA midsole for cushioning
  • Vibram® rubber outsole delivers outstanding grip, comfort and durability

Out of the box

I ordered my pair of boots from Amazon India for Rs 4450. A first look reveals a well-made boot with reasonable yet not exceptional levels of finish. Out of the box, these boots have no frayed stitching or scuffs. Nevertheless, the glue that holds the outsole to the shoe upper is smeared along the shoe upper. It may be a cosmetic niggle yet, Decathlon’s Forclaz 500 (2016 model) which retail for about the same price is finished better.

These boots also exhibit a supple leather upper and far greater outsole flex than Forclaz 500 or the [Forclaz 100 that I reviewed recently]({% post_url 2015-10-30-Decathlon-Quechua-Forclaz-500-Boot-Review %}). Using a supple upper is a good move as makes the boot less prone to crimping. The high flex I suspect will cause discomfort over extremely rocky trails like those found in the Dhauldhars. Other notable aspects:

  • A closed leather-encased toe box (no mesh upper panel)
  • Synthetic protection on the back
  • A roomy toe box
  • A well-padded yet flexible tongue that stays flush against the ankle joint. I dislike an overly padded tongue that creates a gap between the ankle and the boot.
  • Subtle branding
  • Part rubber, part hard leather toe protection
  • Removable insole/sockliner. A removable insole/sockliner is better as it helps the boot dry faster after being submerged in water
  • Combo lacing system

Optimal use

The Alpha Trail is suitable for trekkers hikers who want:

  • A neutral (no pronation/supination) mid-cut boot for multi-day spring to autumn treks
  • Supple yet tough leather upper that does not need a break-in period
  • Aggressive dry traction for steeper slopes, soft dirt, grass and leaves.

The Alpha Trail is not a good choice if you want a generously cushioned or a protective shoe over hard and rocky surfaces or if you need a supportive or corrective build. The boot’s utility is limited on a hot summer day as the Dri-Tec membrane in conjunction with a closed toe box and small mesh panels don’t vent perspiration well.

Personally, the Alpha Trail has found a place in my shoe drawer for short, one to three-day mountain treks especially when the trails are soft or slushy. Yet for more technical trails or on longer multi-day backpacking trips, I generally prefer boots with less flex, and more midsole cushion.

Comparison

Among other shoes that I own, the Alpha Trail resembles Decathlon’s Quechua Forclaz 100 the most. Both boots are geared for a similar role and share a similar profile.

Advantages – Hi-Tec Alpha Trail Mid WP

  • A softer rubber compound with more aggressive grip
  • A self-cleaning tread design
  • Closed-toe box offers better waterproofing
  • A better shoe tongue that prevents debris ingress
  • A better lacing system keeps foot snug

Advantages – Decathlon Quechua Forclaz 100 High

  • Cheaper
  • Bigger lugs, more effective in mud
  • Better breathability
  • Better availability online and through Decathlon stores across India
  • More robust and metal hooks for shoelaces

Field impressions

I tested Alpha Trails in the Dhauladhars during May in dry weather on packed mud, leaf-covered and rocky trails. I covered over 150 kilometres in these boots on elevation ranging between 1800 and 3200 metres. In my quest to find the [best viewpoints in Mcleodganj]({% post_url 2016-05-20-The-Best-Viewpoint-In-Mcleodganj %}), these boots impressed us with their excellent traction and grip over dry surfaces.

However, on Guna temple trek and Kareri lake exploration I was hampered by a lack of breathability that left my feet wet and clammy. This poor breathability may be caused by a closed toe box design coupled with small mesh panels and Dri-Tec membrane and I need to explore this in more detail.

The leather upper is extremely robust and resists abrasion well. After 150 kilometres, over rocks, the leather and synthetic upper is good as new. The Vibram outsole is a softer rubber compound than what I find on most Indian trekking shoes. Softer rubber makes it grip well but the effect of using a softer compound on longevity remains to be seen. I haven’t been able to test the nature of their proprietary waterproof Dri-Tec coating yet. Nonetheless, I will take these boots out on treks in the monsoons to see how well they cope in a Himalayan downpour.