While looking at ways to ensure I keep my feet warm during ski tours in the winter I looked at several options. Switching to plastic double boots (T2's, Excursions, etc) and 3-pin bindings would be an expensive option and the boots would be an over-kill for my touring skis. Another option I had heard discussed was buying a HUGELY oversized pair of NNN-BC boots and using a felt liner but that too seemed like a 'hammer to crack a walnut' solution. I started to research overboots but all I could find were thin, ski-racing options until I remembered reading about Andy Skurka using early versions of the Light Energy TR Overboot from Forty Below to keep his feet warm in the frigid conditions he faced on some of his earlier adventures including his Sea-to-Sea and Nation's Ice Box excursions. The original LE overboot has a long, stretchy gaiter built in.
On Andy's more recent Alaska-Yukon epic I noticed on his gear list that he was using a newer model Light Energy Shortie overboot. Intrigued I contacted Joel Attaway at 40 Below. Joel confirmed that they were indeed now offering a lower fitting LE overboot with a stretchy knitted cuff. This sounded like the overboot would work better for me under my Patagonia Backcountry Guide ski pants with their built-in mini-gaiters. Joel was a joy to work with, his family has been skiing and mountaineering for decades, and he answered all my questions promptly and in detail. After giving Joel the dimensions of my ski boots I sat back and waited for my overboots to arrive.
Construction & materials:
The main body of the overboot is constructed from a nylon-faced neoprene material. The nylon-facing offers abrasion resistance while the 3mm neoprene insulates your foot from the cold. There is a very thin but tough, textured sole that is great for gripping snowshoe decks and ski bindings. The Shortie collar is a soft, stretchy, knitted affair that is really comfortable and conforms well to the cuff of your chosen footwear. Super chunky YKK zippers may seem like overkill to the UL'ers amongst you but you'll be thankful of them when trying to pull the overboots on whilst wearing mittens! Behind the zip is wide, comfortable neoprene flap that prevents snagging and cushions against the zip.
The overboots were perfectly sized to fit over my Crispi NNN-BC ski boots. I also tried them over my Montrail mids and Inov-8 330 trail runners that I would use whilst using snowshoes and they fitted well. The fit can be further customised using various insoles or even the Forty Below Simple Slipper. My size Large overboots weigh in at 346g for the pair.
Light Energy TR Overboots and ski bindings:
During discussions with Joel I enquired about using the overboots with Nordic ski bindings. The problem with Nordic boots and bindings is that they require holes to be cut in the sole of the overboot for the binding and boot to connect. Joel assured me that the tough fabric used on the sole would allow them to be customised depending on which binding system you use (NNN, NNN-BC, SNS, SNS-BC, etc, etc). The key is to use very sharp scissors and follow the 'measure twice, cut once' philosophy! I started by cutting a small rectangle so that just the binding bar was exposed but found that the binding engaged far easier by opening the aperture to allow more of the binding plate to engage with the grooves on the sole unit. For those rocking AT/ski-mountaineering set-ups then Forty Below also offer the Fresh Tracks model that will work better with Dynafit type bindings.
The hole in the sole doesn't mean that the boots can no longer be used in snowshoes or as camp wear. Slipping the supplied CCF foam insoles into the overboot seals up the hole to a suitable degree. There will be some snow ingress but it's minimal and doesn't appear to affect the overboot's ability to keep your feet warm.
So far I've been unable to test the Light Energy Shortie overboot in truly frigid conditions but I can confirm that they have kept my feet warm on wind-scoured mountain plateaus at -10C. I'm hoping they keep my tootsies warm on an up-coming trip to the far north. For next year Fort Below are working on a specific Nordic ski touring version of the Light Energy overboot that should come with the binding aperture pre-cut.