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Oct 01 2010

Review: Garmont’s 2-buckle Kenai

A case of less = more.

Garmont has been transforming their entire line of ski boots with shells that hug your foot tighter to deliver higher performance. While the majority of interest in their line has been for the higher cuffed, big-boot version, the emphasis here is on earning turns, so a review of the most touring friendly tele boot seem appropriate.

In the telemark line, one of the most obvious visual elements of this ongoing refinement in performance is the elimination of the toe buckle. Sporting only two buckles, Kenai is the replacement for the SynerG, a svelte mix of power and touring pragmatism. So the question is, are two buckles enough?

In downhill mode they’re the only two that really matter, holding your heel in place above and below the ankle. For extra power, the cuff is as high as EnerG, but with a nice fat power strap to secure the upper lip. It adds enough leverage to handle mid-phat to full-phat. If you insist they can drive super fatties, but Garmont’s Voodoo makes more sense in that case. As you would expect, the flex is smooth, thanks in part to a new progressive bellows that collapses at the rear first, then the front. The bellows is curved to conform to the metatarsal line so you can weight your pinky toe better. All in all, excellent improvements throughout Garmont’s new tele boot line.

One of the coolest items is the new Easy-Lock cuff buckle. This utilizes a rib of plastic down the middle of the latches that grabs the mating hook and holds it securely in the groove. With the hook effectively locked in the groove, to switch from fully clamped for turning, to loose for skinning, just unflip the buckle. No need to take the time to hook it into a special touring tooth, or worry about it flopping around. Just flip the buckle open and it hangs loose without letting go. To completely unhook, or to even catch the hook, press down on a button at the end of the grooved side of the buckle to pull the plastic fingers back and let the wire go. This is far and away my favorite feature Garmont’s newest generation of ski boots, tele and AT.

Three different densities of foam and some real eyelets adorn the Kenai liner.

There are other changes in the basic construction of this boot. It uses an overlap tongue, and triple injected plastic to reinforce lateral rigidity in the shell and in reinforcing ribs around the angled bellows. Plus the liner is completely new, with three zones of different density foam and reinforced lace eyelets that look like they can actually survive tugging on them more than half a dozen times, unlike the eyelets on SynerG’s or EnerG liners. Be forewarned, Garmont liners are the least preformed of any telemark boot manufacturer. Combined with a lower shell that is the narrowest available the correct size shell will probably be uncomfortably tight out of the box. In my case, even a shell that was a size large was tight on my forefoot, while the correct size shell was downright painful. Since it was my duty to get past first impressions I followed my own advice and despite the pain I trusted the molding process and voila, after molding they felt great. By design the end result is a very comfortable liner that resists packing out. This is due to the squished nature of the foam on either side of your forefoot (after molding), and to the use of a denser foam underfoot.

Though narrower than models of yore, these boots still favor those with a higher instep foot. Those with a low instep like yours truly will need to fill the extra space above the instep with extra foam rubber so the lone foot buckle can hold your heel down better.

Regardless of whether you have a low or high volume foot, the lack of a second buckle practically guarantees more heel movement in the shell. This isn’t noticeable while turning, but is especially true in tour mode where you want your upper leg to be able to flex fore and aft. As soon as you release the cuff buckle, the only thing attempting to hold your foot in the boot is the foot buckle. When you’re skinning, this is simply insufficient and your heel will lift with each step. On a long tour, that spells blisters – the longer the tour, the badder the blisters. On the positive side, the tour/turn lever that releases the cuff allows a lot more movement than its predecessor, the SynerG. It may move more, but it doesn’t feel any more free, owing to the higher cuff.

I agree with Kenai’s premise that the front buckle of most ski boots is vestigial. Unfortunately the lone buckle is not far enough back to keep my heel in place, especially with the cuff buckle loosed. Those with a higher instep, or a higher volume foot will probably not notice.

In downhill mode Kenai skis more like a T1 than a T2 or T2X. The closest boot in performance is probably Black Diamond’s Seeker, but even here, Kenai’s stiffer frame and cuff offer more. Bottom line, I’m not sure two buckles is enough to hold your foot secure enough in all modes of travel. For those who tend to judge a boot based on criteria like the number of buckles, Kenai delivers far more than you would expect. However, considering how little an extra buckle weighs, I’d recommend Voodoo over Kenai, not so much for turning as the ability to hold your foot in place for touring.

© 2010

 

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    The reader should be aware of my inherent bias with Garmont. In general I really like the features and performance of Garmont boots. Unfortunately I rarely experience it all because I don’t have a Garmont friendly foot. It isn’t that I can’t get a good fit with Garmont’s, I can. It just takes a lot more work than it does with Scarpa, and a little bit more work than Crispi or Black Diamond. So any negative comments in the review that relate to fit should be viewed accordingly.

     

    The big change is that those who have traditionally chosen Garmont because it fit their wide feet easier are in for a rude awakening. The new line can, but you MUST heat the liners enough to squish ‘em out so your forefoot isn’t crushed.

     

    Don’t confuse wide with high volume. When I say high volume, I mean a high instep, which I absolutely do not have. If you find the top of your foot back by the ankle is easily crushed by instep buckles such as those found on Black Diamond, Crispi, or Scarpa boots, you probably have a high instep and a high volume foot. You’ll still like Garmont, you just might need to spend more time making sure your toes are not getting squished from the side. Heat those liners and squish back.

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    Thanks Craig. I’ve been interested in two buckles ever since I progressed past t-3′s and lost that simplicity. I am currently skiing “buckle happy” BD Push’s and though performance is adequate, dealing with buckles and adjustments at the top of a skinning route followed by the gear transition is problematic in cold air and wild winds. (PainITA) I will give this boot some serious consideration for this season. The “fiddle factor” is as or more important to me compared to weight I will look for these in Los Anchorage later this month.

    Plus they have retained….the duckbill!!

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    You’ll LUV the Easy-Lock top buckle for reducing fiddle factor. It’ll be good to get additional comments on whether the lower buckle holds your foot well enough for tour mode. Based on a quick survey at TTips it appears it may, as long as you have a high instep. Unfortunately that’s just speculation since most folks are buying Voodoos, not Kenai’s.

  • DDB

    Craig
    Thanks for the review. Very useful, especially as I was concerned that the two buckles might be an issue for a lifting heal. I am currently skiing on Veloce. I gather that the Voodoo are a significant step up in terms of stiffness. Any thoughts about how hard it would be to transition into them?

    Thanks.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    DDB,

    That depends on your foot. If you have a classic Garmont foot – that is, you have a high instep and fitting Garmont’s doesn’t take any extra effort, you’re probably okay.

    Compared to the Veloce almost any modern tele boot is a step up in terms of stiffness. If you like the soft flex of your Veloce’s you’re better off trying to find a pair of SynerGs, or T2s. OTOH, I think you’ll appreciate a slightly stiffer boot for turning control and the walk mode feature of the Kenai or Voodoo help compensate for a higher cuff since they rock backwards so much further than other boots with equally high cuffs. For instance, Kenai’s cuff rocks back further than the cuff of a T2X, even though it is higher. If possible, try before you buy, or get a fit guarantee and be prepared to upgrade to a bigger boot in the long run. If you have a free-pivot binding (Switchback, O1, Axl) the stiffer boot ceases to be an issue for uphill, and only helps for turning.

  • rider70

    I ski the Prophet NTN, but this tip came from a friend that skis the Radium and I think it should work for the Kenai as well.

    When you put on the boots, wrap the power strap BETWEEN the liner and the shell and pull it nice and tight. Then fasten the buckles with the shell tongue outside of the power strap. When it comes time to tour, just release the walk mechanism and open the top buckle. You should find that the power strap holds the liner securely around your foot, but the shell allows for an incredible range of motion. When it’s time to point ‘em downhill, just close the top buckle and lock the cuff.

    When I was first told of this, I was pretty skeptical that I would be giving up downhill performance, but after a full season I have found that I get great touring comfort, great downhill power, with a minimum of fidgeting!

    I know that the cuff on the Kenai is lower than that of the Prophet and there could be a bit more of a trade off in downhill control using this method, but I definitely think that it would be worth a try.

    ps – I don’t use laces on my liners

  • cancruise

    Thanks for this review. I wish I had read it a few days ago. I had been looking at Garmont for a long time on the old wish list, finally got a pair of Kenai, but sadly was misguided about the fitting. I had been reading about how Garmont was GREAT for the wider foot. So I now have the Garmont Kenai in a size 25 which, unknown to me, they narrowed up on the fit. I made my best guess and got these on-line at a great price. I am determined to make it work if I can. No ski shop on my island, lol, to do a thorough fitting test.

    Out of the box, I have a great fit on one foot, but for my other foot, the boot feels a bit to cramped. I can wear it in touring mode for a while, but then it becomes overwhelming around the forefoot. Toes can move well enough, but at the wide part of my forefoot is where I am having the problem. Asking a crystal ball question, do you think that the molding process can get me enough width with these boots/liners? I can tell right away these are STELLAR boots, and if I can make the fit, these will be the PERFECT match for my Rossi Sick Birds. The boot is incredibly light and yet has all the features and feel that I have been looking for for many years. Any response to this would be greatly appreciated.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Cancruise,

    As I said above, heat molding the liners with the NEW Garmont shells is pretty much de rigour, especially if you have wider feet.

    You need to go to a shop and get them fitted. Be sure to mold them with your footbeds and be sure to use toe caps to squish the liner out so you can wiggle your toes when all is said and done.

    Sounds like maybe I need to cull the Couloir catacombs and create a boot fitting guide. Lou Dawson has a good one on WildSnow.com. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have one here too.

    If you decide to heat the liners yourself, put ‘em on a pizza stone to help make the heat distribution even. A convection oven is highly recommended too.
    Hope that helps.

  • slon

    Hey Craig
    Quick question. Are you going to review BD Seeker? It has been quite long on the market but it’s difficult to get any comprehensive review. I skied them approx 10 days last season and had mixed feelings. I’m curious what you think about them especially with comparison to T2x.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Slon,

    Review the BD Seeker? Good idea. I do have some time on it and more beta than I was able to share in the pages of Backcountry mag. Besides, seems most folks are enamored with the big boots and forget that there’s a huge part of the market that don’t need or want big boots. Seeker fits in that category. I’ll dig up the notes and get something posted sooner than later.

    My take on them was that they were an unbalanced boot. The cuff felt ginormous for the size boot it was supposed to be, kind of like the Kenai, but with a softer flexing bellows. The oversized cuff make ‘em feel like big boots for hiking and skinning, but had more drive to ‘em than was necessary for the bellows, so they didn’t respond as smoothly as I would have liked. BD plans to revise their boots for 11/12 and the Seeker is high on the list of boots needing adjustments.

    My fave teleboot from BD? The Axis, which they discontinued ‘cuz it wasn’t beefy enough to attract any interest. So they say. I think there aren’t enough folks at BD who understand and like the Axis so they don’t know how to sell it. It is/was a great boot. I WILL post a review on that. It is a smooth flexing boot, more like a T2X, but a bit less powerful. For some folks, that’s perfect. For agro, steroid poisoned tele whackers, it’s more like a WTF boot. With good technique it is more than enough plastic to control reasonably sized skis.

  • slon

    Thanks Craig for comments. They definitely reflect what I think about these boots. Unbalanced- appropriate term. The thing that I really like is flat sole which engages cartridges significantly quicker than T2x . As for the cuff I agree that it’s to stiff, especially for it’s height I don’t have particularly tiny calves but find difficult to adjust upper buckle tight enough to prevent shin from banging against the tongue. It might be due to relatively short but stiff cuff I think.

  • http://www.skiwith.us.com neletele

    And so has the Kenai now been morphed into an NTN version too? I can’t seem to get the scoop on this can you?
    http://www.xxl.no/vintersport/alpint-telemark/alpinstoevler/kenai-telemarkstoevel-1011-1068253

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    I’m sure it has, or is about to. It was obvious as soon as I took the Kenai out of the box that they had designed the mold to accommodate NTN sooner or later. There is a flat spot on the sole corresponding to the same spot where the Prophet and Priestess have the NTN 2nd heel mounted. Its purpose seemed obvious as a way to easily modify the boot mold to conform to NTN dimensions.

    That and when Garmont first announced they would be introducing NTN boots, almost three years ago, they intially told me that would be coming to market with as many as 5 models. Of course, they only introduced the Prophet for the first year, but that’s because they saw the global economy going into a deep freeze. But that didn’t change the plans for how many models, just when each might make it to market.

  • bley2@oz.net

    I have very wide feet. I have skied Garmont Garas for many years but have worn them out. I just bought a pair of Garmont Voodoos but do not get the roomy feel of the Garas. Do you have any boots you would recommend?

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Bley,

    Garmont changed the width of all their new boots about three years ago to deliver better performance. It resulted in a narrower shell. Their older shells (Gara, EnerG, SynerG, etc.) had been far too wide resulting in a lot of folks swimming in their boots after a year of use.

    Unless you have a narrow forefoot, or a wide heel, the new boots practically REQUIRE thermo-molding. Did you mold your liners?

    Secondly, did you check to see that the shell is the right size? With the liner removed, put your foot in the shell with your big toe touching the end. You should be able to put 1-1/2 fingers behind your heel, maybe 2 but 1-1/2 is recommended.

    Now, even when sized correctly Garmonts will feel too tight in the forefoot unless they are molded. That was my experience and almost everyone else’s I know. After molding you should find they fit great.

    Given those caveats, if Garmont still doesn’t provide the room you want, then just about any other brand will give more room in the forefoot. Crispi, Black Diamond, or Scarpa. Of these, Scarpa provides the most room in the forefoot. Thermo-molding is highly recommended in every case.

    In my experience the right sized boot should feel painfully tight (but not too painful) out of the box before molding. If the boot feels comfortable out of the box before molding it will pack out after about 30 days (or less) and be eternally loose.

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  • SkiingIsBelieving

    In case you still check this, another question or two for you. I am upgrading from my 15-year old T2s that have been too small all that time and I suffer for it. My main mission in upgrading is to get a better fit. I live in Alaska where I ski in single digits (above and below zero) a lot and also do longer tours so I need to err on the side of big rather than small. I have a low-volume foot. I don’t love the fit of new Scarpas and am drawn to the Kenai for its no-frills, backcountry based feel and the way the bellows flex. I am a competent but not extreme skier.

    About fit. My old boots fit with a 1.5 finger test and they are miserable feeling. I tried on a pair of Kenais in 29 shell with a 29-liner which felt way too tight. Could not try on a 29.5 in that shell b/c they were on Craigslist. I just ordered a 30 shell w/ 30 liner and they feel great out of the box–a little tight at the big and little toe and outside pinky toe, but way better than my old ones. I have inner soles in them. I don’t want them to be way too sloppy, but would rather err on the side of a little too big than too small. 

    A final obstacle is price. I can’t afford the $700 upgrade right now, found these for $360 so would love to make them work if I can. I’d go with them easily if I hadn’t read your bit about trusting the process (above) and going with an uncomfortable one first. 

    Sorry so long! Thanks for your blog. Any input?

  • Dostie

    SiB – You say your foot is low-volume. Do you mean narrow? Boot fitters consider a LV foot to be one that has a low instep, in which case Garmont’s are one of the worst for you, Scarpa’s the best. Sounds like you need a good boot fitter. What is the width of your foot by the metatarsals – B, C, D, E? 

  • SkiingIsBelieving

    My feet are odd. They are average width and I have an average arch. It’s not a flat foot per se. But the foot above the arch is not thick. So the part of my foot where shoelaces would go is just…flat. It doesn’t take up a lot of space in shoes. I usually have room above it. So with tele boots, there is always a bit of space above my foot before it touches the boot, which means I have to flex harder to get boots to give. To compensate for this, I often end up fitted in a shorter boot. But, my feet are long, one set of toes slightly longer, and with my cold temp skiing, I can’t err on that side this time.

    I have had boot fitters before give input, and I have had Scarpas before and even tried new ones, and they feel okay but the bellows is so much harder to flex, compounding my low-contact foot problem. I feel like I have to really reef on them, bending deeply, to get any give.

    Mostly I just want to know, do you feel the fit of the Kenai is going to change a lot as it breaks in, from how it feels now? I like the flex and the comfort of these a lot, but I do have the room above the foot, as always. I can feel my foot moving a little–ideally it should be a little further forward. The foot slips back into the heel pocket on the downhills. Not terrible, but not ideal. I’m trying to decide whether to shim a little with these, or go back to ground zero. 

    I tried on the 29, as I said, and they were not doable. The 29.5 is the same shell, and I tried on the Voodoo in a 29.5 and the fitter said go 30. I have 30 and the shell fit is a fat 2 fingers. Maybe I’m just between sizes. Or, I could try BD but have never been super impressed by what they’re offering in my niche. I can always make a Scarpa work, I was just really attracted to the flex.

    Thanks a ton for your input, as no stores near me carry these and I have found very little on line.

  • Dostie

    Based on your description you have a low volume foot. Garmont teleboots are categorically a bad idea for your foot. Scarpa is absolutely the way to go, maybe Black Diamond. I suspect you need a tongue shim or padding above your instep even with a Scarpa. You can’t bend the boot because your foot lifts inside the boot because there is so much room between the top of your foot and the tongue of the shell. Probably. I’d have to see your feet to confirm. 

    Here’s a trick I’ve used when testing boots that don’t fit me out of the box to fill the volume above my low instep: stuff some bubble wrap between the liner and shell above the instep to hold your foot down. Don’t be shy about how much. If you add too much, the bubbles will pop and self adjust the volume to just fill the appropriate space. If that works, then you need to glue patches of foam in that area to take up the space and hold your foot secure so it can properly drive the shell. Hope that works.

  • SkiingIsBelieving

    Thanks a lot for your input. I will try on the Scarpas again and give it some more thought. I appreciate your help.

  • Dostie

    Scarpa is adamant that the flex of the T2-Eco (whatever color you find) is the same as the T2X (red). Without skiing more than one run at a demo day I concur – there is no discernable difference. It is a well dialed design and they know better than to fix something that ain’t broke.