I just got my hands on Tecnica’s new Forge boot ($250 to $270) at this week’s Outdoor Retailer. These boots, which launch in specialty retailers next spring, are the world’s first custom-moldable hikers: The retailer fits them to your feet before you walk out the door. Tecnica’s goal is to cut break-in time to zero using similar technology to what has existed in the ski world for a long time.
The fit process starts with custom-moldable footbeds that the retailer heats up to 180 degrees using a custom machine. (Tecnica expects to launch with about 50 to 60 retailers across the country and will provide these machines to each of them.) Once the footbeds are hot, they’re placed on the bottom of the customer’s feet, which are then placed in balloon-like compression bags that squeeze the footbeds into the right mold. Custom footbeds aren’t new, of course, but they’re an important part of the fit process.
Next—and this is the innovative bit—the same machine is used to heat up thermo-moldable sections that sit on top of the leather or synthetic uppers and distinctly wrap around the heel, ankle, and arch of the boots. The customer places her foot and custom footbed in the boot, and the same compression bag system molds the entire boot. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.
After this process, I could see the way the boots had conformed to the contours of my ankles and arches. Thanks to the wrapped cuff (as opposed to a traditional tongue cuff), plus self-locking laces that were easy to cinch down, I had the boots snug around my feet in under a minute.
I wanted to do a mini-test of the boots, so some other Outside editors and I walked out of Outdoor Retailer with them, jumped in an Uber, and headed to Grandeur Peak in the Wasatch Mountains outside Salt Lake City. Grandeur is one of the smaller peaks, but the trail goes straight up and gains nearly 3,000 feet of elevation in just under three miles.
After about an hour of steady uphill climbing, my feet were nearly soaked—the boots have a Gore-Tex liner and temps were in the high 80s—but there were absolutely no hot spots and my feet hadn’t slipped around once. I was legitimately impressed since the Forge is a medium-stiff, high-top boot meant for burly terrain, and everything else I’ve ever tested in this category needed dozens of miles to get to a point where I had zero discomfort. The front of the boots were wide enough that I could wiggle my toes, but my heel and ankle stayed locked. I was also glad to have the Vibram soles, which Tecnica helped design with pliable, oversize lugs that hold onto both crumbly and rocky terrain.
The only downside of these boots is the $250 entry point, which is not unheard of but still quite steep for a hiker. The leather boot we tested is $250, and the synthetic model is $270, while many of the boots we recommend in our Buyer’s Guide fall in the $125 to $200 price range.
These boots are not going to be for everyone—I don’t recommend them for the casual weekend outing. Tecnica is targeting serious hikers who put a premium on fit and want to invest in a boot they can wear for lots and lots of miles. I also suspect the company will roll out several iterations of this technology down the road, some of which will be less expensive. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw copycats, too.