Monday, 09 September 2019 11:50

Zamberlan Virtex GTX tested and reviewed

Written by Wim Stevenson

Over the years it's become accepted that UK user have slightly different requirements from their kit than both our European neighbours and the US user. While "UK specific" is commonplace in the clothing sectors it's now joined by Zamberlan's new Virtex - a UK specific boot. 

The Virtex offers a stiffer boot than average, combined with good ankle support and a classic vibram sole. It looks like a classic brown leather hillwalking boot, but how does it perform in the real world? 

Zamberlan Virtex 10

What Zamberlan say:

“Suitable boot for hill and countryside. The Hydrobloc Full Grain Leather provides excellent control of the inner micro-climate especially in wet weather conditions, while the GORE-TEX Perfomance Comfort guarantees waterproofness and breathability. Toe rubber protection on the front part to avoid scratches and damages. Flexibility, stability and grip ensured by the Vibram Schwarzwald outsole. The softer FLEX –SYSTEM junction on the ankle zone helps the foot rolling while hiking.”

Features:

Lining:                  GORE-TEX Performance Comfort

Outsole:               Vibram Schwarzwald

Insole/Shank:     Z-Flex GT

Construction:     GTX Bootee

Upper:                  Full Grain Leather 2.2/2.4mm

Footbed:              Z-Comfort Fit

Toe:                      Thermoplastic

Heel:                     Thermoplastic

Waterproof:       Yes

 

Zamberlan Virtex on test:

I don’t think I’ve owned a pair of B1 boots for about 20 years and, being brutally honest, I didn’t see the point. I had hung up my previous – and only – pair after the usual DofE misery of my teens in favour of a more personally appropriate approach, which I have held true to to this day. The way I like to move around the mountains means that my go-to footwear were either trail running trainers, or more aggressive B2 or B3’s. Typically, if there was somewhere I wanted to go, the quickest or most direct routes were the way I wanted to take, and I wanted to get there quickly.

 

This inevitably meant I have spent a lot of time in the space between these two spheres of the Venn diagram; either running through far too much mud or snow, or clomping about in super stiff, ultra technical boots that were far too much boot for the conditions.

For the most part, I didn’t mind. Through both the ‘Folly of Youth’ and my inherent lack of organisation, I am a firm believer in there always being more than one tool for the job.

I found the unwillingness to compromise my ethos to be reassuring. Especially recently. With the likes of Brexit throwing everything up in the air, having a constant ethical compass to be grounding. Being true to oneself is, after all, somewhat of a finite resource in the morally bankrupt geo-political landscape we find ourselves in nowadays, someone has to take the high ground.

Besides, adversity is part of the challenge, and the challenge is the reward, right?

However, there was a clear exception to my otherwise watertight ethical framework; the hostile no-mans-land of the outdoors: Via Ferrata.

Zamberlan Virtex 2

I’ve always wanted to do some Via Ferrata. It looked like good, clean fun, with the illusion of impending doom hung in front of a backdrop of heavy steel cable and bombproof safety features. The amount of scrambling about requires something fairly tough, but the volume of walking required also demands something with suppleness yet supportive.

My trip was to Zugspitse, the highest mountain in Germany. Perched on the edge of Bavaria and within almost spitting distance to the Alps, in many ways it is a geographical allegory for my predicament, stuck in the no-mans-land between hill and mountain, trail and rock. I’d been fairly captivated by this mountain for a while; standing at 9,718ft (2962m), it stands proudly over its lush Bavarian surroundings, yet is easily overshadowed by its Alpine brothers and sisters. Yet it is an Oasis of alpine features. To reach its summit you have the option to walk through alpine forest, stay at an immensely accommodating alpine hut, cross a mini glacier, climb, scramble, and overcome some surprising amounts of exposure. The views are also heartbreakingly beautiful.

Despite its alpine credentials, I was also going to be ascending in July, in the midst of a ferocious heatwave that was terrorising Europe. My original idea of sucking it up in my B2’s was thrown right out the window at the thought of clomping about in 35+ degrees, and the thought of using trainers in such conditions was also not going to work.

Zamberlan Virtex 9

So, it was time to begrudgingly welcome some B1’s back into my life. It felt like getting back together with an old girlfriend, with whom I had nothing but bad memories.

First impressions of the Virtex’s were good – I’ve had a pair of their Fitzroy B2’s before and loved them, so was pleased to see the same quality and attention-to-detail you would expect from a brand of such pedigree.

However, due to the aforementioned lack of organisation, there wasn’t much time to get to know them before I was off on my mini expedition. In fact, with the exception of a few 15-minute dog walks, the first time I wore them in anger was in the airport catching my flight (I didn’t want to wear them out, after all!) Also, much to the chagrin of my wife – and other passengers on the way home – I like to travel light, so they were the only footwear I took with me.

So they transitioned from airport to airplane, then city to trail, all in the course of about 8 hours. Throughout this ‘low altitude’ stage I was pleasantly surprised. Their suppleness allows a natural gait, yet the ankle is supported enough to step with confidence on uneven ground – a feeling that is reinforced by the good and consistent grip one would expect from such a Vibram sole. I got the feeling they were very forgiving. Not just of the surroundings, but also of me personally. Of course they weren’t ideal for walking about in cities or navigating airports, but they got on with it fine, and didn’t punish me for it when we reached more appropriate ground. They have been intentionally constructed to encourage a natural gait and foot placement, and their ‘Hydrobloc’ leather upper reinforce this, giving them an intuitive feel.

However, they truly came into their own once we reached more vertical climes. With altitude came Triassic Wetterstein limestone, and searing heat, with it being comfortably in the high 30’s once I left the glacier. Again, the Virtex’s were immensely forgiving; the reinforced rubber toe passively accepting my flurried jabs into the mountains uncompromising face, and their surprisingly light weight meant I could move efficiently (well, for me) throughout what was a very big day.

Zamberlan Virtex 1

This surprising light weight transferred into great breathability too. The durability of the leather and Gore-Tex lining initially screamed ‘UK Lake District trudge-fest’, but the boot competently handled the exotic temperature too. The softer ‘FLEX SYSTEM’ around the ankle definitely contributes to day-long comfort, retaining stability whilst encouraging the boot to flex in appropriate planes of movement only.

It was only once I reached the summit, cooking merrily in 42degrees heat having scrambled and scraped my way up to the highest point in Germany, that I realised I hadn’t bothered to tie up my laces properly since I’d retired them on the flight so many hours ago. This is indicative these boots; I put the minimal amount of effort into the planning of this mini expedition, and it could be argued even less effort into preparing a good and fair review, and yet they still delivered the goods. At no point did I feel uncomfortable, unsupported, or even the telltale heat of blisters forming, and think this is indicative of the Virtex’s quality. They are durable, but not at the sacrifice of all-day human useablity. We are soft, imperfect animals that rarely do everything perfectly, after all. I think this reassuring aspect of these boots is down to their pedigree.

Zamberlan Virtex 4

Zamberlan have been owned by multiple generations of the same family that founded the company, and that shows in this boot. They are caring, with a competency that forgives folly and organisation, yet is poised to patiently support you when ambition outstrips preparation. Safe to say, in a world of moral bankruptcy and uncertainty, I have found forgiveness not only to be a virtue, a core tenet of all-round strength.

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