In a world devoid of trade shows with supply chain issues plaguing the entire outdoor industry, it has been hard for the gear tester to get a grasp on innovation for the 2021-2022 season. Specifically, the ski touring boot story is setting up to be a year of the status quo. Next year, most manufacturers will release 2021-22 lines with updates to colors and plastics, but with designs that stay relatively in-line to where they’ve been for the last two years.
That was, until the La Sportiva Vanguard emerged from the laboratory deep within Italy’s Val di Fiemme valley.
We’ve been waiting a while for this boot. Back in 2020, the WildSnow crew rolled into the Denver Convention Center excited to get a glimpse, but when we arrived at the La Sportiva booth we were informed the new boot was not ready for unveiling and wouldn’t even be put into production that year. Although disappointing at the time, it seemed to be the more responsible road less taken as many manufacturers — LaSpo notwithstanding — had previously opted for rushing to production and missing important fall deadlines.
Instead of producing the much anticipated ski touring shoe, the engineers retreated to Italy and to sure up plans for the new design. Later that year, on a night we can only assume was filled with lightning strikes and thunderclaps, the La Sportiva Vanguard was born. Although the diode bolts were chopped at the cuff pivots before the pre-production run was released, you can definitely see what took so long in development. A brand new overlap design is being employed, different from the traditional cabrio or any overlap design of the past.
Excited to finally get my hands on the new La Sportiva Vanguard, I tore the liner out of the boot and splayed the cuff apart to see how it worked. The boot blossomed in part like a Grilamid flower and in part like Frankenstein’s monster. As the six-piece shell stared back at me, the boot fitter, retailer and warranty department in me cringed at the complexity. At the same time, the gear reviewer and wanna be hard charging skier grinned with excitement. Finally, I thought, a boot for the upcoming season that steps out of the box. But how will it hold up to testing?
New overlap design and range of motion
At 1515 grams (27.5) this boot steps firmly into the freeride touring category by weight, but is part of a bigger industry trend of making burly boots that tour. The range of motion — 63 degrees — is impressive and makes up for the extra grams. I pulled up my pant leg and was almost incredulous at the multitude of overlaps working in congruity for a natural stride akin to many of the sub 1300 gram boots I have tried. More impressive is how these same components stiffen and reinforce each other when the boot is thrown into ski mode and the buckles are cinched down for skiing security.
From a comfort standpoint the boots were a notable improvement on any La Sportiva to date and any other cabrio touring model I have recently slid my foot into. The classic tongue overlap design and subsequent searing pain of my malleoli getting squeezed as the buckles are thrown home was non-existent. The roomy instep height coupled with the layers of tongue helped to disperse the pressure evenly across the top of the foot and pulled the ankle home instead of invoking my normal whimpers of trying on a not yet custom fitted boot.
Custom molded liner and general fit
The liner and its prodigious use of seams is enough to make any Victor or even Gene Wilder proud, with stiff and thick foam around the cuff and multiple reinforced patterns on the way down. At 315 grams for the liner alone, it comes in roughly 20% heavier than other liners in its class. After a quick heat mold, it does have a conforming heel pocket, while using a perforated toe patch to keep the material thin when you need it most. It is rare to see a liner with some much thought to design and and use, but how the stitching will hold up over a 100 hard days of touring is yet to be determined. The foam in the heel is quite stiff, but I have it on good authority that they will be softening this up before sending into a production run.
The boot is listed as a 98 last but, I found it to be roomy in the fore foot and the toe box.
La Sportiva is never shy to use cables in place of buckles. The ubiquitous z-buckle can no longer be considered an innovation, but LaSpo doubled down again on wires yet again on the Vanguard. The instep buckle connects to a cable that loops around the ankle, closing the large instep space more uniformly. After paying close attention to this buckling feature when throwing the mechanism closed, I could feel a very slight pressure increase to the ankle. However, the sheer volume of the boot makes it tough to judge whether this cable will have any perceivable difference in changing the fit or ski performance of the boot. I have a bit of shell shock from previous cable-routed boots, although this was from a notable La Sportiva competitor with the acronym TLT involved.
Downhill and uphill performance
I received this boot toward the end of the resort season and sadly missed the golden opportunity to use it on piste. From the short tours I took it on, the boot performed well when paired with my lighter weight spring skis. The many-layered cuff flexed more evenly forward and was stiff and solid when I was occasionally rocked into the back seat in spring chunder. The torsional stiffness of the boot is noticeable and I look forward to pairing them with bigger skis when we are in the heart of winter again.
As for touring, it was fascinating how little resistance there was on the cuff articulation for such a large boot with so much going on. Loosening the strap and top buckle gets you noticeably more range of motion than just throwing the back lever alone. The range is stated at 63 degrees and the more boots I test the more I realize this is a highly subjective number. However, I never felt the stop on this boot either forward or laterally when taking a natural skinning stride. Because of the beefy liner and amount of layers of plastic in the shell there is some notable resistance of this range of motion as compared to much lighter boots, but at least there is no obvious terminal point in your stride.
The Vanguard places itself firmly into the freeride touring boot category by weight, but with a new cuff design like nothing we have seen recently. It steps out of the conformity of other touring boots that have gone away from a cabrio design to more of an Alpine overlap. But, sticking to the multilayered cabrio design allowed me to take very natural strides akin to a 1000 gram boot albeit with more resistance. In my basic spring ski testing, I would award this as La Sportiva’s best skiing boot yet, although further testing will have to wait to how it fully stacks up against other boots in its weight class.
I tip my dorky ski mountaineering helmet to the mad scientist at La Sportiva who are applying their innovation to boots at the opposite end of the spectrum than their notoriously light Stratos race shoes. I will await patiently to see when these boots deliver this fall and how they hold up after a full season of more rigorous testing.
Mass: 1515g (27.5) confirmed
Last width: 98mm
ROM: 63 degrees
Forward Lean: 13 (Default), but can be adjusted to 15
Sole: Tech Gripwalk Pads
Buckles: 3-buckle (1 z-buckle), power strap
Binding Compatibility: Gripwalk compatible alpine bindings, tech bindings and other AT bindings
Available in Fall 2021.
Doug Stenclik is an avid skimo racer and ski mountaineer who lives for sharing the amazing sports of ski touring and splitboarding. Since his first time on skins he was hooked and the obsession has taken him all over the United States and the world pursuing the human powered ski turn. He founded Cripple Creek Backcountry in 2012 and took over the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Race Cup in 2014 to spread knowledge and the love of the sport. In 2019 he took a step back from the ski shop and race promoter life to become a publishing partner with WildSnow.