Gear Review: Alt-Berg Tethera
So, anyone who has been following these pages recently may have noticed that for a few weeks now, I have bemoaned the unequal size of my feet and the lack of width in the relevant boot. Last week I decided to do something about it, so I popped down to the footwear section at Outside in Hathersage. The boots I am replacing, the Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid, since March had done a few hundred miles so I reckon they’d had a pretty good run anyway. Whilst they offer excellent responsiveness and grip in all conditions they’d been thrown at, they are nonetheless, more of a scrambling boot that you can walk in and considering the distances covered by some of my recent walks, it seems that I need the converse, so more of a walking boot that you can scramble in.
One bug-bear about the Salewa’s, aside for the fit in this particular instance, is the presence of a fabric tongue and Gore-Tex lining. Whilst these features both reduce weight and add to the boot’s breathability, they are a source of overall weakness in terms of waterproofing, especially when combined with a ‘to-the-toe’ lacing system which ultimately sits on a high-flex area of the boot. It would seem that the inevitable flexing leads to weakness in the membrane and water ingress that gets worse over time.
Given the latter, this time around I have selected the Tethera, a one-piece, full leather boot from Yorkshire brand, Alt-Berg. Whilst they are a Yorkshire brand the boots are made in a factory in Italy which they took over from a well-known Italian boot manufacturer, (whose name I unfortunately cannot remember) and now own. The boots are evidently well constructed, with a 2.6mm Anfibio leather upper, a small but full rubber rand, and a heavily-lugged Vibram sole unit known as the New Tsavo, (similar to this). Despite being a full leather boot, Alt-Berg have included a Sympatex lining, though from what I can make out from their website, is allegedly more waterproof and durable, (please someone correct me if I am wrong!). Also surprisingly, they only weigh 736g, just 100g more than the lightweight Salewa’s they replace.
Alt-Berg make a large range of foot fittings, including half sizes and 5 width fittings too. Myself having a narrow heel, a size 10 right foot and a left foot half a size bigger, I went for the 10.5 narrow fitting. As full leather boots do take a while to ‘break in’ properly, (there are countless instructions on how to do this online, try REI for a basic example), it’s too soon to tell whether this sizing choice is correct, but initial signs suggest that they will do fine. I would like to see how the New Tsavo sole unit compares against the Mulaz of the Salewa, which I must say I will miss. Plus the rand on the Tethera is quite shallow in comparison to the substantial offering on the Salewa’s, but indeed both are climbing-derived specialisations that betray their scrambling heritage.
During break-in the boots felt well-padded and comfortable overall, my heel felt well cupped and my arches supported. There are 4 different types of lace hook, all of which seem to efficiently distribute and smoothen the lacing, with lace locks that work well with no slippage when repeatedly flexing the foot and lifting the heel, (around the house at least).
After around a week of wearing them inside and subsequently to and from work also, it seemed like the boots were ready for their first proper outing. Since then, I have subjected them to everyday use and a few walks, though none over ca. 13 miles.
In the beginning, due to the memory foam construction of the inner padding, the lacing would have to be re-adjusted at least once after walking a long enough distance to generate sufficient heat to mold the boot to your foot. This requirement has disappeared after approximately one month of wear and throughout this time they have felt comfortable, even at the end of a >10 mile walk.
The boots have a snug fit and are quite responsive, they are relatively light and don’t feel at all lethargic. The sole unit is reasonably grippy, but the slightly rounded lugs don’t seem to afford the best traction on wet, muddy grass, or hard rock, (I’ve had grip-related slip in each case on a couple of instances). I definitely feel that the ‘edgier’ Vibram Mulaz sole is significantly better in these contexts, but whilst it is an edgier sole, with stickier rubber specified for climbing/scrambling, it is noticeably thinner and therefore less robust/long-lasting.
After significant exposure to pooled and running water there has been no ingress and I’ve felt no cold spots, even when standing in almost ankle deep streams for minutes at a time trying to compose and shoot photographs. I’d say the full-leather/Sympatex combination works really well.
To contrast again, the rand, whilst full, is too shallow for my liking, if like me you tend to ‘feel around’ with your feet for footholds, or stub your toes whilst navigating rocky terrain, then you certainly will end up with damage to the leather at the toe.
I’ve now been using these boots for a good 3 months, ashamedly in this time they’ve been used for both everyday use and hill walking also. So despite my qualms about the rand and sole unit, in either context, so far the Tethera have been excellent. The boots are very comfortable and aside from the aforementioned, I have experienced no problems that I can think of.
I would recommend these boots for 3-season use, and for anything up to a mid-grade, technical scramble Anything more and I expect that the reduced rand might lead to excessive damage.
n.b. Boot fit is a very personalised thing. No review should be taken as writ, it is advisable to visit a reputable store with knowledgeable boot fitters so as to determine what is best for your feet. Not all boot stores are created equal, though I can highly recommend Outside in Hathersage and Cotswolds on Deansgate, Manchester. Both places have a good range of boots and a bank of good, experienced staff.