Overall: Anything this light yet this stiff deserves Five Stars. But read on for caveats.
Background on product familiarity: I haven’t used them yet on snow … but I’ve probably spent more time setting them up than some skiers have actually skied with their boots! Other race boots I have used for comparison include almost half a million vertical feet on the Scarpa Alien 1.0 and almost 900,000 vertical on the Dynafit EVO.
First, the first impressions out of the box: Although Dynafit simply rebranded Pierre Gignoux’s Race 400 / Ultimate, PG’s innovations go beyond just substituting carbon for plastic in the lower shell. My size 26 is slightly under spec: even fails the ISMF weight min. And only a few oz / foot more than xc boots & socks … for our 5 yr old daughter!
Shell fit is wider than Alien 1.0 or EVO yet somehow still feels reasonably snug. But the bike-style instep buckle’s effectiveness is limited by the lower shell’s extreme rigidity, and the lacing’s slider/lock is also questionable (although replaceable with a Salomon “Quicklace Kit”).
Interior length is true to size, but toe box height is so minimal as to make the front few cm almost unusable: on the Skimo Co boot page, every other boot has a front end more like a minivan, whereas the RC1 is pointlessly low slung. Fortunately a dremel and scalpel removed enough excess foam from the liner to accommodate my big toes.
And that liner comes up only just above the ankle, so very easy on/off. The user manual advises only a stack blower for molding, but my liners came out perfectly from my convection oven.
The shell leaves much of the liner open to the elements, and the partial liner doesn’t offer much protection either. Without a race suit’s integrated gaiter, you can try tucking the front edge of your pant legs under the buckles. The PG website offers a proprietary gaiter, plus my Scarpa Alien gaiter seems okay.
Second impressions, in use (or simulation thereof): In walk/tour mode, the upper cuff offers no discernable resistance and over an essentially unlimited range of motion. The vertical lever engages very easily for rearward and lateral support that are as expected from all that carbon combined with only the most minimal slop in the tour/ski lever assembly. Forward stiffness is somewhere in between the Scarpa Alien 1.0 versus Dynafit EVO, so if anything more than you need for fast & light backcountry skiing.
And as with all these boots, forward flex is highly sensitive to the upper cuff cord’s tightness. The RC1 lacks the quick adjustability of the EVO’s velcro strap for smaller adjustment. But the RC1’s clove hitch is far easier to adjust than both the Alien 1.0 figure eight on a bight and the EVO sheet bend or double fisherman. (For 2015-16, the renamed DNA boot not only gets an asymmetrical color scheme but also the PG “Black” model’s buckle-style cord adjustment.)
Also as with all these boots, forward flex is highly sensitive to forward lean: too much will not only shift your hips back and strain your quads yet also make the flex feel softer. The RC1 offers four different positions, adjusted via two different attachment points for the vertical lever’s pin combined with two different orientations for the pin’s attachment block. Unfortunately even the most upright of the four different positions was still too far forward on my particular sample of my size 26. Fortunately PG sells an attachment block further offset by 2mm, which translated into a 2cm difference in knee position (perfectly matching the more upright of the EVO’s two positions).
Like the PG Ultimate boot, the toe sockets are gouged out on the bottom, which looks similar to the Dynafit “Quick-Step-In” sockets. But it doesn’t have this benefit and is instead for the PG Ultimate carbon fiber binding (also rebranded by Dynafit). Despite previous incorrect information to the contrary, the RC1/Ultimate interface is compatible with standard bindings. But first you might need to (depending on the binding model) cut/grind away excess rubber in the toe to provide enough clearance for the wings (although many other boots share this issue).
Next you need a ~5.5mm heel gap for a typical race binding that specifies 4mm. The RC1 heel interface is perfectly flat, without the typical ~1.5mm of curvature. Hence a 4mm RC1 gap equals pin penetration of a ~2.5mm gap with any other boot. Although you might get away with that in any other boot, the RC1 heel slots are very short, and also all metal with no give. So when set up with a 4mm gap, the RC1 will not release laterally, period.
Finally, even with a larger gap, my particular boots needed to “work in” the toe sockets with at least several twist-outs in each direction. The easiest way is probably for a vise (or somebody else) to hold down a ski, and with the boot in your hands (gloved for the sharp edges), keep entering the binding toe (heel pins disengaged) then twisting out. Measured with a ski binding torque tester, values started off nearly unreleasable then became normal after a few twist outs. The sockets still looked the same, so whatever wear occurs from this is very small (yet very important).
Third impressions, for long-term durability: PG boots previously acquired a reputation for hardware/fastener vulnerability. I don’t know whether that reputation is still deserved, but with carbon rigidity plus minimal design slop, something has to give in the proverbial match-up between the irresistible force versus the immovable object. The good news is that all the hardware is designed to be readily replaceable (even in the field), and carbon shells can be repaired. The bad news is that warranty service is via France (not Dynafit/Salewa in Boulder), but PG has a strong reputation for responsive customer service (even setting up shop at Euro races). Off-snow, the rubber outersole at least looks durable, although the carbon lower shell probably doesn’t fare well in the first match-up of skimo’s version of rock-paper-scissors.
What about the heel gap if used with the PG binding? I assume that gap should still be 4mm?
Yes, the PG binding has shorter heel pins so the standard 4.0 gap is fine.
(For other bindings, based on further experimentation, I think 4.5 to; 5.0 is about right. But the typical 4.0 with a typical binding essentially locks out lateral release.)
Jonathan - did you buy the same size RC1's as your Alien 1.0's?
Yes, same 26 size. Interior length is pretty much identical. RC1 forefoot is way wider than Alien. Somehow though the RC1 still fits me fine, probably because I can get a tight fit in the instep where it matters via the buckle and the interior laces.
How does the heel fit compare vs. the Alien 1.0? I have an issue with a slight vertical heel slop in the Alien 1.0 liner that leads to bad blisters. It's not a boot length issue, as I can barely have a flat foot in the size 30 liner. Trying to find something that has more of a running shoe lace system to really lock in the heel. Thanks.
Dynafit heel fit has been fine for me. I did have a problem with the Alien 1.0: kind of a weird ledge that curves in dramatically. My boot guy heated it (carefully!) and stretched it out, then it was fine.
Jonathan, thanks for the information. Do you find you can create a tighter fit in the heel cup area with the RC1's and have less heel movement?
The heel cup fine is now both fine in the Alien 1.0 and in the PG.
The PG was that way right away.
The Alien 1.0 needed to have that plastic stretched out first b/c otherwise the ledge was either jutting in to create lots of pain or else too loose.
(Before I had it stretched, I essentially moved the ledge up a few mm by removing the little foam insert inside the shell and replacing it was something I little thinner.)
Update after 231,000’ earned vertical so far plus some lift-served, mainly with race skis, but also some wider, including La Sportiva Nano.
- Downhill performance for “fun” skiing on “real” skis is very sensitive to upper cuff tightness: too loose = little sloppy; too tight = total rock. Upper cuff cord is fairly quick & easy to adjust with bare hands, especially inside. (Impossible with gloves.) For racing though, even if the cuff is a bit loose, still more than enough control for typical fast skiing on race skis when you don’t care about style points.
- Instep buckle can freeze from wet snow changing over upon cold temps, but only a very rare and brief annoyance at the end of a day. (Always easy to tighten up the buckle during the day even if frozen.)
- The previously free-floating external tongue on my 2014-15 model has since been integrated into the carbon fiber upper cuff, which should eliminate another little minor annoyance I’ve experienced.
- Liners have some seam placements relative to the somewhat harsh carbon fiber shell’s interior that render them susceptible to wear, so requires periodic inspection combined with Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl and occasional reapplication of those little liner patches (i.e., that you’ve been saving from all your prior ski boots that rarely required them). Then again, the PG website has prices so low for replacement liners that maybe they’re just meant to be disposable like running sneakers?
- I temporarily repaired a broken sheath on the interior lacing cord by knotting together the good ends. Replacement with Salomon Quicklace cord should be technically easy yet tedious as the lower shell’s permanently affixed cover hinders interior access. Also some wear and minor holes on that cover from the instep buckle, though duct tape will be fine for patching that over eventually.
- Upper cuff pivot/rivet is still perfectly tight.
- Attachment point for the walk/ski lever developed some serious slop. However, this is *probably* the result of my replacement attachment block (to reduce the forward lean) combined with my reluctance to use Loctite Red. Instead I wimped out with Blue, which was ineffective. But with Vibratite (which is more like sludge, rather than glue) combined with ~1mm LDPE shim to increase tension, one boot now stays tight and the other requires only a little periodic Torx 20 encouragement to stay tight.
- After ~1,800’ vertical in off-snow race bootpacking over a mix of dirt, grass, rocks, etc. plus some random walking about in parking lots, etc., boot sole rubber still shows zero wear. In anticipation of more serious rock scrambling, for the spring & summer I’ve created a protective rand (as inspired by a prior PG model) with mastic tape.
- As for the big question, ascent speed for racing, hmm, anything lighter is of course faster, but how noticeable? I think the big advantage is toward the end of a longer course when you really dig down deep yet you’re already tired -- perhaps I can attribute edging out some rivals that way in three races this season. But for training, especially only moderately long solo outings, when I go back & forth between these vs more normal race boots (for another 141,000’ so far this season, as compared to 231,000’ on the RC1/DNA), it’s not a dramatic or perhaps even immediately noticeable difference.
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