In my last post I wrote all about Gore-Tex SURROUND – a new technology for Gore-Tex Footwear to improve breathability and comfort in hiking shoes, whilst keeping your feet completely dry.
Whilst in Italy for the International Mountain Summit, myself and Shaun visited Gore-Tex for a presentation to learn about SURROUND and were given the exciting opportunity to try this new technology out for ourselves, the following day during the IMS Walk Day on Plose Mountain.
After a full day (actually almost a full week) of wearing my Brasher Supalites, the Meindl X-SO 30 Lady GTX walking shoes felt good to have on my feet, they were definitely very comfortable straight out of the box, but I also had that bonus new shoe, fresh shoe feeling, that came from having something new on my feet. I had paired the boots with my trusty smartwool merino walking socks, which I thought would work well with the Gore-Tex SURROUND.
At this stage all I could comment on really, was that they were light on my feet, flexible and comfortable – a good first impression. In terms of looks I think they’re one of the most attractive of the range we’ll be taking in the spring, with lovely colour contrast between the ice blue laces and black fabric. I was looking forward to testing out the technical side of things during the day and putting Gore-Tex SURROUND through its paces. I’m glad I was wearing a standard Gore-Tex boot in the days leading up to the walk as this gave me a good feel for comparison, even though the Brashers have a leather upper and are a boot instead of a shoe.
We started the day at 8am meeting at the Brixen Forum (where there were some other groups waiting to head off on activities with various protagonists) to get a coach to the Plose Gondola station, where we would take the cable car up 2050m to begin our hike. The cable car was fantastic, with amazing views over Brixen/Bressanone as you went up through the clouds. The first part of the hike was from the Bergrestuarant Kreuztal which was right next to the cable car station at the top and would take us up to Plosehutte at near the Summit of Plose (2562m) where we would stop for brunch.
Once above the clouds the weather was bright sunshine and blue skies, truly beautiful and unexpectedly rather hot - perfect for testing out SURROUND’s breathability! We set off up to the summit, at this point I regretted not taking walking poles as I found this bit of the hike quite challenging, being my first mountain hike (we don’t have anything remotely as elevated in Kent!) but luckily I was able to borrow a pair for part of it. It took about an hour to walk up to the hut at 2445m after stopping to listen to Peter Habler, Herve Barmasse and Marc Inglis talk part of the way up. By the point of reaching the Plosehutte I was sweating a great deal, having made a huge mistake in wearing black trousers and a black top, the back of my neck and hair were soaked, so my feet must have been warming up by now.
After re-hydrating and cooling down a little with an interesting sausage, pretzl and mustard brunch, we began to make our way to the Rossalm, our next pit stop for lunch. We made our way over the summit, bellies full and eventually began to decend down in the direction on the Rossalm. I found this part of the hike a little more comfortable with a light breeze and decreasing elevation, although, it was a little precarious at times as in places it was quite steep, mixed with smooth long fronds of dry grass and jagged but beautiful rock and slate added into the mix. This made getting footing a little tricky and I relied on poles once more to support my way down. During this part my feet were well looked after and the shoes helped me grip, gain steady footing and feel secure, though I still have a bruise under my toenail 2 weeks on!
It was about another hour to the Rossalm altogether, but we stopped to take photographs and chat together along the way, enjoying the stunning views of the Dolomites. For me, although steep, this was the most enjoyable part of the walk, it was tricky enough to give you a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment at the end without being too challenging or uncomfortable. It was at the end of this part I could say that the boots had been well tested so far, bearing in mind they were being worn straight out of the box without wearing them in slightly first, they were still comfortable on my feet, with very little rubbing occurring on my ankles. My feet did not feel too warm and definitely not wet with sweat, so far so good.
We stopped at the Rossalm for an hour or so and had a pretty awesome lunch and listened to some more talks from the Alpinists – though many were in German or Italian and sadly our vocab didn’t stretch very far. After lunch and feeling ridiculously full we had some time to explore the area at our leisure, so we ventured onwards on a trail leading away from the Rossalm to make the most of the stunning views towards the Dolomites. We were limited in how far we could go, as our coach would be waiting for us at 4.30pm at the bottom cable car station. By this time of day the sun was strong and people were making the most of the warmth, laying on the mountain grass. There were a lot of families and children around playing games and walking dogs, but as we ventured on we reached a quiet trail with beautiful views – a very easy walk.
We made our way back to the Rossalm after a little exploration and met with the others from our group to take one of the ’Woody Walk’ routes back down to the Gondola, which gave us some welcome shade among the beautiful pines. We took the cable car back down and waited to board the coach. We realised by this point that this glorious weather hadn’t given us a chance to test out the waterproof capabilities of the Gore-Tex SURROUND system! Pretty important when bearing in mind that there is, what are essentially holes, in the shoes, which allow your foot to breathe. Luckily for us there was a nice little water feature near the cable car station which seemed to us, the perfect opportunity to test our new walking shoes fully!
A little tentatively at first we dipped our feet in and the bolder ones among us began to walk around the little pool, swilling the water around the shoes. After a few minutes, my feet began to feel much cooler and if I’m honest, I thought they were wet. I remembered that during the Gore-Tex talk the previous day it was mentioned that people experienced a cooling sensation in the shoes when in water and during testing people had complained of damp feet, yet on closer inspection their feet were dry, meaning that the damp sensation they were getting was actually down to their feet being cooled.
Remembering this, I took off my shoe when I’d made my way onto the coach and found that my socks were completely dry. The sensation was actually very nice when in the water, especially after being so warm all day and wearing the boots for a good few hours. I wouldn’t say my feet were hot to begin with but you quite obviously felt a difference.
At the end of the day, I took my shoes off and my feet felt quite good – apart from a slightly sore toe and a tiny bit of rubbing on the back of my ankle, all was well, especially considering they were fresh out of the box that morning. I definitely noticed a huge difference and improvement in terms of temperature and comfort on spending the entire previous day wearing my Brashers, even though travelling by plane and car instead of walking.
I definitely want to try these shoes under some more conditions, but based on this experience I’m sure that Gore-Tex SURROUND is a great development for walking shoes and will benefit hikers everywhere.