For the TLDR readers, the summary is going to be that I think these 43.5 spantiks i bought for my 10us feet will be in the classified section shortly . But if you want the full story of a guy spending several hours with the same set of boots, read on.
I was working late and got a reminder that a pair of Spantiks was about to end on ebay. Like many of these super-boots, they had one trip to Denali and then were doomed to a closet. They were listed as "10.5", but I didn't have time to ask if that was 43.5 or 44 but I hoped the later since that would be closer to the standard spantik recommendation of "one size up" from my size 10s. Previously I had already decided that I didn't need these boots. I'm probably a decade away from an attempt on Denali, and the only immediate need is a Rainer attempt this summer but after that they are likely to sit idle. I held the cursor over the "confirm bid" button, telling myself that the decision had already been made. But with 3 seconds left, I decided to splurge with the dollars I would be collecting with my late-night moonlighting.
When they arrived in the mail, I was very excited to try them on with the thinking that a $750 pair of boots must be somewhere between walking on a cloud or bouncing on the moon. I pulled on a pair of silk liners and smartwool expedition weight and donned the inner boots. I felt like a damn ninja. Stepped into the outer boot and then..."shit".
They were way too small. My toes weren't bumping but they sure were packed in there - laterally and vertically squeezed but not longitudinally (terms as if my foot was an airplane). The heal and arch felt completely weird - and that's when I discovered that the last guy left some orthotics in the outer boot. Took those out and then they felt much better but still too packed.
I tried again with just liners and no smartwools. My foot was swimming in the inner boot, definately a long way to go before I had toes bumping the front. I now also felt like I had nearly enough room in the toe, but now not nearly enough volume in the rest of the foot. I knew socks made a difference but this was the first time that I think it hit me how much a sock affects the fit. My thinking until now was wear warmer socks when it's cold - but now I realize that's really not very accurate - your sock system becomes married to your boot.
I took out the inner boots' footbeds and replaced them with a pair of "superfeet". Much better, it drew the toes back slightly and filled the boot much better. But at this point I'm still wearing just liners and I don't know how I feel about that (question later). So the smartwools go back on. Definately room in the toe from the inner boot's perspective, but pressure from the side on the big toe and on the top in general once the outer boots are on.
Then I remember that there's still a footbed in the outer boot as well. Take that out and everything seems fine. At this point, I'm pretty sure I could get this to fit with a footbed in the outerboot with low volume in the toe. Plus even with the superfeet in the inner boot, I feel like I still needed additional arch support anyway (my ankle "bone" gets sore and I've guessed that it's from collapsing arches). However, I feel like I'm reaching the far end of adjustability when there is probably something that is a little closer to center in the 44 or the 44.5 size. In any case, I've have learned a lot from this little exercise and how much there is to fitting a boot beyond the boot itself.
I do have a question. Who doesn't use expedition weight socks? I have to admit i'm not wild about them - they can bunch up and while they make a boot feel more cushy, they can also make it harder to lock in your heel. I didn't think much of it when the local ice climber just suggested standard weight socks, but now I think he might have been on to something.
So from one newbie to another here's my boot fitting suggestions beyond bumping toes and swelling feet:
* have lots of time - maybe even buy multiple sizes and then return the ones you don't want.
* bring your complete sock system - the slightest change in volume affected boot fit
* bring thin socks - thinner socks let me feel around with my foot and gave me an idea of how far I was off
* bring footbeds - gives you an extra dimension of fit and the spantik has two footbeds you can mess with. Plus nearly every original footbed I've replaced has
been cheap foam or felt and add almost no support. The outer boot footbeds on the spantik are no exception. Those in the inner boot partly foil, so they may be worth inserting over top of any additional footbed for heat retention purposes.
* if you're like me and live a thousand miles from any significant mountain, make sure you take advantage of being close to a good outfitter when it's around and try on several pairs of boots and take notes (really didn't take advantage of the portland REI the last time I was there ).
* the "one size up" rule seems pretty true, but for me it's from the perspective of a tennis shoe not another mountaineering boot. The LS Makalu 44s fit me well so I don't think I'd consider this boot to run small.
I suppose a good bootfitter could do all this for you, but nobody around me even stocks the spantik. I'm going to make sure I spend some time trying on some boots this summer in portland so I have a better idea of this for the future.