Exclusive: Arc’teryx & the Footwear Revolution

The design and construction of footwear has remained fundamentally the same for years. But this situation is poised to change as Arc’teryx introduces its new line of Technical Performance Footwear for Spring 2015 – a line that rewrites current methods of construction.

After an intense R&D phase, the Arc’teryx footwear team has introduced eight shoe styles for men and women, separated into low-cut approach shoes (Alpha FL) and mid-cut hiking/light-trekking boots (Bora Mid).

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The Arc’teryx Alpha FL. Photo by Mountain Life/Ned Morgan.

All of them share the Arc’teryx ‘Adaptive Fit’: separately manufactured inner and outer shoes that work together for the best fit, breathability, and weather protection. Outdoor boots offering the comfort of ‘hut slippers’ have long been wishful thinking. (The rugged and technical nature of mountain terrain requires sturdier materials; the need for warmth and waterproofness adds more material and diminishes the wearer’s comfort.) But in the top-of-the-line styles Alpha2 FL and Bora2 Mid, the liners are removable for use as slippers, for improved wash- and dry-ability, and to extend climate adaptability.

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We recently spoke to Arc’teryx Footwear Sr. Product Line Manager Federico Sbrissa – who works out of the Annecy Design Centre, France – about this new footwear and what it means for outdoorists.

 

Federico Sbrissa (right) at the Arc'Teryx footwear launch earlier this year. Photo courtesy www.snewsnet.com
Federico Sbrissa (right) at the Arc’teryx footwear launch earlier this year. Photo courtesy www.snewsnet.com

Mountain Life: We’re wondering how the idea for Adaptive Fit (and in particular the removable liner/hut slipper) originated.

Federico Sbrissa: The idea came from trying to address a very important set of needs. We talked with our athletes and guides about what they really didn’t like in their footwear, with a specific focus on mountaineering boots. One common answer they gave was the ability of their boots to dry fast when sleeping outdoors. The second and most obvious answer was comfort and precise fit; and the third was the ability to adapt to different climates.

While brainstorming about how we could solve all the three issues we came out with one unique solution inspired by ski touring and ski boots: shoes with a hydrophobic TPU-based shell and a removable and interchangeable liner made of stretchable materials able to conform to foot anatomy.

Later in the process we decided to add some versions where the liner is not removable but still adapts to each foot (what we call the Adaptive Fit). We did so because some consumers asked for the same amount of benefit, comfort and protection in a more “easy to use” product with a lower price-point.

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The Alpha2 FL bootie.

ML: What can you can tell us about the R&D phase?

FS: The R&D and testing of the range has been quite long: after the initial brainstorming we had the first usable prototypes made around the end of 2012, and after that a long phase of testing and re-design started. The fine tuning of the fit and heel hold – in particular on the shoes with the removable liners – has been quite complicated. We built and rebuilt an enormous number of different shoes to achieve today’s result.

The testing is handled mainly from our internal testing team from the footwear office in Annecy. We have a full group of testers from athletes and guides to rescue teams and hikers who receive a set of prototypes at each stage of development. They use them for a couple of intensive months and give us feedback. After several rounds, we produce more pairs for a longer testing period to improve the durability and overall performance. After the validation we go in production. Shoes are tested in the conditions where they’re supposed to be used – Alpha FL for example was given mainly to mountain guides and climbers to be used during intensive approaches, while the Bora went to hikers all around the world.

At every step of development we also run intensive laboratory testing on each component and on finished shoes.

The Bora Mid.
The Bora Mid.

ML: Which segment are you targeting? Climbers, mountain trekkers, hikers? General outdoors users?

FS: Alpha FL is our technical alpine approach shoe. We designed it with ton of support and durability despite the light weight. This makes it perfect for those approaches where there might be long distances and rough technical terrain to cross but also thanks to the versatility built in the sole, it is a perfect low-cut hiker. Of course the Alpha2 FL with removable liners is particularly suited for multi-day trips, technical terrain, and wet conditions.

The Bora is designed with the same technology of the Alpha FL and is a durable and lightweight technical hiking boot with the same adaptive fit, removable liners (on the available models) and the hydrophobic upper construction.

Watch for the release of the Arc’teryx Technical Performance Footwear here.

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