Cost £100 SRP
Material Leather uppers with ion-mask technology waterproofing
Outsole Exclusive Vibram rubber design
Midsole Advanced Stabila-Flex, contoured thermo-plastic bi-fit board with CMEVA midsole for cushioning and support
Sizes Men’s 7-13
Women’s 4-8 both including halves
Weight 1,140g
Crampon rating B0 (not crampon compatible)
Country of manufacture Indonesia
High and dry on Pen-y-ghent: the Hi-Tec V-Lite Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi

High and dry on Pen-y-ghent: the Hi-Tec V-Lite Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi

The search for waterproofness is the Holy Grail of the outdoor industry in the UK.

With an average rainfall reaching 5,000mm (200 inches) in parts of the western Highlands and many parts of the country not far behind, Britain’s climate offers a unique challenge to gear designers and manufacturers, and keeping feet dry is never an easy task.

The choice traditionally comes down to treating leather boots and relying on the material’s natural tendency to resist water, or placing a membrane such as Gore-tex into either fabric or leather footwear.

The Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi boots use ion-mask technology

The Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi boots use ion-mask technology

Hi-Tec’s V-Lite Altitude Ultra Luxe WPi boots use a third, fairly recently developed treatment called ion-mask to tackle the problem, of which more later.

The boots drop into the lightish leather category – not as heavy on the foot as many other leather walking boots, but a touch heavier than the lightest fabric footwear. The Hi-Tecs are similar in weight to, say, the fabric Scarpa ZG65 XCRs.

The Altitude Ultra Luxes are very roomy at the front of the foot – if anything slightly too much so for my feet – and on the first walk out there was some heel lift. However, although the Hi-Tecs don’t have locking lace hooks, an extra locking knot on the laces on the fourth loop up largely solved the problem.

A locking knot was need on the laces of the roomy boots

A locking knot was needed on the laces of the roomy boots

The boots feel very light on the foot – Hi-Tec uses its V-Lite Support System which mimics the traditional steel shank without the added weight and specifically designed hardware replaces the traditional heavy brass lace hooks to further reduce weight.

The flexible Vibram sole gives good grip

The flexible Vibram sole gives good grip

The Vibram sole is very flexible and gives the sort of grip you would expect and gives a good rolling action when walking. The heel section is just a tad more cut away than I would like, to give that bit more security when descending steep ground and a good-dig in is required.

Cushioning is good from the Comfort-Tec contoured footbed, and the soles of my feet were still in good fettle even after long walks over varied terrain.

The Altitude Ultra Luxe has a deeply cut ankle at the rear

The Altitude Ultra Luxe has a deeply cut ankle at the rear

The general comfort was marred at the ankle, with the tongue needing careful positioning and lacing to get a fit that didn’t dig into the bone. But it was the Achilles’ area that proved least comfortable. The Altitude Ultra Luxe has a deeply cut ankle at the rear and unfortunately this juts into the tendon just at the wrong place and, after a six-hour walk, the cuff was digging painfully into the back of the ankle.

If Hi-Tec is considering a redesign ever, this is one area that might benefit from scrutiny.

But it is the waterproof claim of the boots that is the most unusual aspect of the footwear. Membranes can be damaged by stones getting into boots or even by sharp toenails, and traditional leather boots rely on reproofing using silicone or aqueous wax to provide repellency.

The ion-mask technology, developed by P2i, a UK defence contractor spin-off, creates a protective layer of polymer which is deposited on to the leather using ionised gas plasma in a vacuum. Sounds very hi-tech, appropriately. The idea is that the material – in this case the leather, retains all its properties – particularly breathability – while repelling water.

That satisfying beading on the boot

That satisfying beading on the boot

I took the boots for a hike up Pen-y-ghent on a dry day following a period of rain, with the boggy sections still nice and wet, and the boots performed well – the water beading nicely off the leather in that satisfying, new coat, fashion. Another day on Pen-y-ghent – different route, different weather – with clag and freezing conditions also suited the boots well.

But the fearsome bogs of the Peak District’s brooding Bleaklow were to be a match for ion-mask. A cool, dry day with wet underfoot conditions would be a good test for the boots. By the time the summit cairn was reached, the boots had had a good deal of wet mud to contend with and there was the hint of dampness in my socks.

Bleaklow 1-0 ion-mask. The Peak District mud defeated the waterproofing

Bleaklow 1-0 ion-mask. The Peak District mud defeated the waterproofing

It could have been sweat, I thought, and pressed on. In finest Bleaklow tradition, a snowstorm then enveloped the summit and with visibility down to 40m and wet snow combining with the gloopy blackness of the hill’s peat bogs, there was now more a definite wetness within the boots.

By the time I reached Longdendale, there was no doubt: the waterproofing had failed and, back at the car, there were two soggy socks to wring out.

A week later, more wet snow and more black peat on the ascent to Bleaklow’s neighbour Black Hill confirmed the diagnosis: the boots were no longer waterproof.

Which was all a bit disappointing because, if ion-mask had stood up to its claims, it would be a boon to walkers, particularly in Britain.

The good news is: after a dosing with aqueous wax, the boots now seem waterproof again, with that satisfying beading back in action. Another 10-mile walk taking in Pen-y-ghent with a good selection of wet ground over Plover Hill ended with dry feet.

The technology:

Uppers
Waterproof one-piece full-grain leather upper
ion-mask™ waterproof technology
One-piece embossed stitched leather on vamp and sidewall
V-Lite metal hardware lacing
Enduro leather tongue with raised gusset
Leather collar and tongue lining
Enduro leather on inside of heel collar
V-Lite design and build technology

Insole
Comfort-Tec contoured sockliner

Outsole
Advanced Stabila-Flex, contoured thermo-plastic bi-fit board
CMEVA midsole for cushioning and support
Exclusive Vibram rubber outsole

  • Thumbs up: roominess, lightness, sole cushioning
  • Thumbs down: ankle discomfort, waterproofing.

For more details, visit the Hi-Tec website.  For retail stockists, ring 01702 541771.