Weight: 626g (per boot, size 5.5 wide)
Fed up with wet cold feet and having long been a lightweight footwear devotee, I returned to all-leather heavier 3 season boots about 4 years ago and haven’t looked back. I still prefer the comfort of fabric shoes and boots in dry or warm conditions but with so many Scottish hillwalks featuring lengthy bog trots or wet and cold weather, the lightweight options – even if combined with waterproof socks – weren’t keeping my feet warm. To keep the chilblains at bay I opted for Alt-Berg’s Tethera boot.
This is no nonsense sturdy 3 season boot. The upper is made from one piece with a bellows tongue right up to the top meaning you can stand briefly in up to 15cm in water before it comes over the top (size 5.5 boot). A substantial rand protects the 2.4mm thick Italian leather at the sides although it doesn’t extend far over the toe I’ve found the leather to be remarkably robust. Scraping my way up Cuillin peaks and across various Highland boulder fields has scuffed the leather in the last 4 years but never very deeply and using the recommended Leder-Gris combined oil and wax has restored the look of the boots as well as keeping them waterproof and relatively soft – there has been no sign of cracking at the flex points.
The ankle cushioning is good and has not broken down over time – and surprisingly the boots proved comfortable from the word go. Part of this has to be down to the array of width fittings and half sizes available from Alt-Berg – after trying and and pacing around the shop in a few sizes, I chose the Wide fitting from the 5 widths availble (extra narrow to extra wide). Alt-Berg also provide a stretching service (at cost) that should ensure a perfect fit if you have particularly difficult to please feet or a bunion to accommodate. This service is available from most stockists as well as at Alt-Berg’s busy factory shop in Richmond, North Yorkshire (an appointment is essential, the shop has been rammed on the couple of occasions I’ve visited). Bespoke boots can also be made to fit your own measurements but there is a long waiting time and, as you might expect, it’s expensive. It is also possible to order odd sized pairs at a smaller additional cost. The lacing system good allowing easy adjusting and has a lace lock on the third hook down.
The factory also offers a resoling service, however the vibram sole has proved pretty resitant to wear (see photo below). The sole is stiff but comfortable from the start due to a cushioned midlayer and a pronounced upturn on the toe causing a distinctive rocking walking motion. Some may find this takes a little time to get used to but I’ve found it very comfortable with no discernable loss of stability or confidence on rocks and in icy conditions. Although not graded as crampon compatible I have worn these boots successfully with lightweight flexible crampons in winter conditions on less steep terrain not requiring any front pointing (a more rigid, crampon graded boot is required for steeper peaks).
Whilst relatively light for a leather 3 season boot this is still a robust, solid boot and you will feel foot-weary at the end of the long day in a way you might not in lightweight alternatives. However for me the fact that these boots have kept me dry for long days in poor Scottish conditions outweighs the extra weight. I’ve also never found my feet overheating in them in the way I have in some lined lighter footwear. Another plus point for me is the fact that after 4 years they are showing no signs of needing to be replaced (the only casualty so far has been one broken lace) so they are likely over time to be significantly cheaper than my previous fabric lightweight boots which were being replaced on average every year.
Alt-Berg recently gave me a pair of its Nordkapp boot to try. Similar to the Tethera the main difference is the last. Designed from a running shoe shape the A-forme last is snug fitting at the heel whilst still accommodating reasonably wide feet in the toe box. The ankle cushioning is the same, the leather is nubuck and it has the addition of a higher rand which comes up over the toe. Whilst not having the range of width fittings they were not initially not quite as comfy as the Tethera, but after a few breaking-in days the Nordkapp appears to be a perfect fit for me and with same build quality as the Tethera, is definitely one to consider and try on.
For some there will be the satisfaction to be had from buying a British brand. Alt-Berg was founded by Mike Sheehan when the shoe factory he worked in went bust in the 1980’s. Slowly the brand has built up to an operation employing 60 people in two factories in Richmond and in Italy producing a range of hill walking, motorcyle and military boots. If you do visit the North Yorkshire factory for a fitting (appointment advisable) there is a real feel that the employees really know their footwear and have a real desire to send you away with a well fitting boot. If you can’t get to the factory, Alt-Berg have a small number of stockists across Scotland (primarily Craigdon Mountain Sports) who can help achieve that all important fit.
The Tethera is available in Women’s sizes 3 to 8.5 and Men’s 7.5 to 14 including half sizes and five widths and the Nordkapp in unisex 4 to 14 including half sizes.