By Jason Heaton
on 10.8.10

The Dolomites are a jagged finger of the Alps that extend down into northern Italy, close to the Austrian border. Many mountaineers, including Walter Bonatti and the über-climber, Reinhold Messner, have cut their teeth on the steep windy crags. A small group of particularly rugged and beautiful peaks in the western Dolomites is called the Tofane. If you plan to hike here or climb any of the Via Ferratas, you’d better take along a good pair of boots, like the new model from Zamberlan that is named for these mountains.

Zamberlan is one of those classic Old World companies that are becoming more and more rare in this age of disposable goods from Far East factories. Its history reads like legend. In the 1920s, founder Guiseppe Zamberlan, a shoemaker living in a small Dolomiti town, spent his weekends in the mountains, climbing with his friends. Dissatisfied with the hobnailed boots that were available at the time, Guiseppe took interest in, and supported, the idea of his friend, Vitale Bramani, who had come up with a revolutionary new rubber sole that was pliable but durable and provided superior traction on rock. Vibram (the moniker taken from its inventor’s first and last names) soles were born and Zamberlan started making boots with the new treads.

Fast forward 80 years and Vibram soles are on almost all the top hiking boots, shoes and sport sandals. Zamberlan is still a family-owned business, run by Guiseppe’s grandchildren in the Dolomites. They’re still making fine leather backpacking and mountaineering boots largely by hand. Modern features like gusseted tongues and Gore-Tex liners are found on most models. But step into a pair of Zamberlans and you step back to a slower era when things of quality were made by hand and took time.

The Tofane GT is right up there with the finest footwear we’ve ever reviewed here on GP. Yes, they’re hiking boots and yes, they’re expensive. But like the Allen Edmonds wingtips we reviewed a while back, these are boots you own and care for and love. They might be the last pair of hiking boots you need to buy. Look at the rich waxed full-grain leather uppers, lacing hardware and Norwegian-style welted construction. Hardly anyone welts shoes or boots anymore. Everything is glued these days. But the heavy Vibram NorTrak sole is not only glued, it’s stitched to the leather upper. This not only ensures bomb proof durability and superior watertightness, it looks beautiful. These are boots that you won’t want to get dirty and might be tempted to wear out to dinner with your tweeds. But they’re made for extended backpacking and mountaineering and beg to be abused.

Most full leather backpacking boots require a significant break-in period. The leather tends to be stiff at first and not flex with the forward motion of your foot, resulting in heel blisters and hotspots. But the Tofane GT has a jointed design, called Flex-STM, that allows the boot to move with your foot without sacrificing ankle support. The result is broken-in comfort right out of the box. My test pair hit the trail for an eight-mile hike on rocks and roots to the highest point in Minnesota (OK, it’s not the Dolomites) and my feet felt better than they ever have in my broken-in fifteen year old Zambies. A rubber toe bumper and Gore-Tex-lined upper round out the features.

My only complaint about the Tofane GT is that they are distracting. You spend your hike gazing at your feet and avoiding puddles, mud and obstacles that might scuff them. But like the classic Land Cruiser or a vintage Rolex, in the end, these boots do look best with a little patina. So go ahead and get them dirty. Climb the Marmolada. Then go home and enjoy cleaning them up.

Buy Now: $440

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