The first thing you notice about the La Sportiva Trango ICE Cube GTX (other than the unnecessarily long name) is how light they are. My size 43.5 come in at 776 grams. That is a scant 36 grams heavier than the 3-season Trango Cube GTX, on which they appear to be closely based. The ICE is significantly warmer than its three-season cousin, however, and despite its light weight, is actually warm enough for winter use.
How La Sportiva managed to make a sub-800-gram boot that’s also warm enough for mid-winter ice climbing is somewhat beyond me, and the tech specs don’t really seem to add up to that much warmth either. When I first saw these at the OR show, and read the specs, I looked at them again (and again, and again) to try and figure out how this boot was supposed to be warm enough for winter use. Even after I chatted with a friend who’s a Sportiva athlete and was using a prototype pair, and commented that they were fantastic ice climbing boots, I remained skeptical. It just doesn’t really make sense!
The upper is constructed of various high-tech synthetic fabrics, while the inner lining is the time proven Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort Footwear stuff (on which there is frustratingly little info available, anywhere, but at least it’s warm and it works!). The insole is a 3mm carbon honeycomb, while the sole is Sportiva’s signature One by Vibram, which is effectively sticky on rock and sheds snow and dirt equally well. Unique to the ICE is a stretchy Schoeller gaiter which covers the upper laces and ankle, and prevents debris from falling into the boot. I imagine the gaiter adds some warmth as well but all-in-all the spec sheet doesn’t make this sound like a boot you can spend many sub-zero hours in.
…but it is. As these just came out towards the end of ice season, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in them: a few days of ice around Canmore, then a week and a bit of ice climbing in China, and another seven days or so of ice climbing around the Rockies before the ice melted away. A couple dozen days or so total then, a couple days in the -15/-20C range, but most around -10C to +5C.
The ICE is much warmer than its weight would indicate, and even on the colder -20C days my feet stayed warm during long belays. The gaiter adds a bit of warmth, I think, but the carbon insole and other high-tech outer materials have to to be given due credit as well. I wouldn’t hesitate to use these mid-winter, and though Sportiva doesn’t rate them as warm as Nepal EVO’s, I think they’re not far off.
Thanks to their warmth you can also wear thinner socks, which, if your feet are as wide as mine are, is very helpful as the ICE is a fairly narrow boot. They feel noticeably narrower than the Nepal CUBE, or any of the Scarpa boots I have. (Though, of course, this is pretty typical: Scarpa runs wide, Sportiva runs narrow.) That said, my hobbit feet still find them comfortable enough for 12-hour days and long approaches.
The lacing system helps to alleviate any pressure on your feet as the forefoot and ankle are separated by a couple of lace-locks. I should point out that my first pair of the ICE had issues with the lace hooks: I broke one of the lace-locks on their first day out around Canmore, and snapped both the upper lace hooks while in China. La Sportiva replaced the boots under warranty (even though as a reviewer my sample products don’t typically qualify for warranty repair or replacements — thank you Sportiva North America for swapping these out!) and I haven’t had any problems with them since. I’m going to chalk this up to random chance, as the lace hooks appear to be the same ones as those on the Trango Cube GTX and I haven’t had, or heard of, any issues with those.
But, back to the lacing system. It is actually quite straightforward (exactly the same as on the non-gaitered Trango Cube) but it appears somewhat over-complicated as the laces pass through a couple of eyelets and into the gaiter. This also makes tying them a bit more fiddly as you have to catch the outer lace locks, then flip the gaiter down to continue pulling the laces tight across the ankle. Annoyed, I initially cut slits in the gaiter to bypass this. However, I’ve kept the replacement pair of boots unmodified: realistically, I only need to access the laces four times over the course of a day (once for the approach, tighten up for climbing, loosen for walk out, take off when done) and the few extra minutes it takes to fiddle with the laces is not that big a deal at the end of the day. (A friend has completely cut the gaiter off his ICE’s, but I do think this is a touch too drastic: if the gaiter does annoy you that much, I’d suggest cutting slits in it first before cutting the whole thing off. It does help keep snow out of the boots, after all!)
Durability wise, other than the broken lace hooks on my first pair, the boots have performed very well. The outer synthetic fabrics and injected-TPU lacing system are incredibly abrasion resistant and readily shed snow, ice, dirt and mud. The sole is incredibly sticky so grips fantastically but it does wear faster than that found on general mountaineering boots such as the Nepal Cube — there’s always a downside to high-performance, and in the ICE this is it.
The sole is also only lightly rockered and as a result the boots do feel a bit ‘plank-like’ when walking on hard, flat surfaces (roads, boardwalks) but this feeling disappears as soon as you’re on dirt, snow or scree where their stiffness aids traction and edging. Thanks to the stiff sole, front-pointing in the ICE is a breeze, the boot supportive underneath but still flexible through the ankle. Performance on mixed terrain is absolutely fantastic.
The Gore-Tex liner works as expected, so waterproofness is not an issue. The ICE breathe quite well — not quite as well as leather boots, but they’re definitely more breathable than gaitered footwear (such as the Batura 2.0). The combination of warmth and breathability should make these ideal for summer alpine slogs, and I can’t wait to try them out on some of the Rockies’ classics in a couple months.
Crampon fit is very good thanks to the relatively wide toe welt. Every crampon I’ve tried follows the shape of the asymmetrical sole for a natural, secure fit.
Of course, there are some downsides. They’re quite narrow, so anyone with feet even wider than mine will have issues with the fit. The sole also trades absolute traction for long-term durability, but this is a common trade-off in every lightweight, high-performance boot I’ve used. Lastly, these are quite expensive: though it seems most climbing goods have gone up in price lately, footwear seems to have gone up more so than other categories. The ICE go for $695 Canadian, and have a US msrp of $550. That’s as much, or more, than most traditional leather mountain boots on the market and represents a significant investment for most climbers. But, much like high-end anything, you get what you pay for: more performance and less weight for more money.
I love these boots. They’ve become my go-to for mixed climbing, and I favour them over gaitered boots for warmer ice climbing days — though they’re warm enough for chilly days, I still prefer gaitered boots for their extra warmth, just in case the day goes sideways. Their light weight is a standout, and I love how weightless my feet feel when wearing these.
Pros: light, stiff, warm, comfortable, climb exceptionally
Cons: narrow fit, not as durable as traditional boots
Overall: Very highly recommended, especially for advanced users, as long as you understand their limitations.
Addendum: By popular demand, a comparison vs. the Scarpa Rebel Ultra.
The Rebel Ultra and Rebel Pro are the closest competitors to the ICE Cube. For a comparison of those two boots, check out my previous article here.
Compared to the ICE Cube, the Rebel Ultra is more flexible through the ankle, fits a little wider, isn’t quite as warm, walks a bit more comfortably, has a closer-fitting gaiter and is a bit harder to pull on. It also weighs a bit more: my 43.5 Ultra comes in at 792 grams (vs 776 grams for the ICE Cube). It’s also not available in North America anymore, unfortunately. They’re still available in Italy and the UK, so with any luck Scarpa NA might bring them back as it’s a fantastic boot and worthy competition for the ICE Cube.
There also exists the Kayland Apex Plus GTX, but I’ve never seen one in person and don’t think they’re available in North America, either. It looks suspiciously like a Rebel Ultra… Check it out on the Kayland website.