Photos Denis Piccolo
In putting together a story like this, I decided to proceed step by step, setting precise time references. So let’s start from the beginning, from a date, the one that definitively marked the “new step towards the future” of mountain footwear: the 5th of February 2017. That day, in the halls of the Munich fair, with the victory of the prestigious ISPO Awards as “Product of the Year”, the entry of Ribelle Tech OD was made official, a boot that would revolutionize the world of mountaineering forever. A technological and innovative marriage between a trail running shoe and a mountain boot, a concept capable of giving enthusiasts a new standard in terms of comfort and performance. For the first time, with the same shoe, it was possible to start from the valley and reach the summit, a total change of perspective for any mountaineer. But to get to this we had to bring tradition back into play, to look at the project from a completely new point of view. Excluding any other terms of comparison.
To learn more about the history of Ribelle and to understand the evolution that led to Ribelle Tech 3 HD, we spoke to one of the key people in its development. One of the protagonists, one who, that day in 2015, sat at the table in Viale Enrico Fermi: Hervé Barmasse. With him also Francesco Favilli, brand manager of SCARPA.
Ribelle. When did this word start circulating in SCARPA and in the world of mountaineering?
Hervé: It’s been several years now. It was 2015. Ueli Steck and I wanted to create a boot capable of satisfying our needs, the ones of fast mountaineering, “comfortable” mountaineering. This product had to combine the fit of a trail running shoe and at the same time guarantee the features of a mountain boot: it had to be warm, waterproof, suitable for crampons. We sat down around a table in Asolo and started sharing our ideas. The first reactions were “but this is no longer a mountain boot”. I remember looking at the Modeling Manager and saying to him: “Ok but we have to create a rebellious boot, a boot that leads to a new way of going to the mountains, which is technical but at the same time which guarantees performance, lightweight and speed”. It was from that moment that we started working on the first prototypes, a job that ended with the presentation of the first Ribelle at ISPO 2017.
«From that moment on, Ribelle represented not only a boot in itself, but a new style, a new way of tackling the mountain.»
Hervé: The seal of our work came a few months later, when the boot was already. For the final test I had the Ribelle Tech OD covered with a down gaiter and used it on the Shisha Pangma. I climbed an 8.000m mountain with a boot designed mainly for summer mountaineering, on the classic routes of our Alps. That was the last, true, test bench*. That day I understood that Ribelle would have open the way to new models, that this would only be the starting point from which to draw inspiration for developing a real lines. We had to give further follow up on that idea, born from a simple meeting, in that office in Asolo.
«Ribelle is not just a boot. Ribelle is a concept. We had asked to develop a boot that followed this new way of going to the mountains, fast, dynamic, of which Ueli had certainly been a great protagonist.»
Innovating means exploring the delicate boundary that exists between performance and versatility, taking advantage of cutting edge technologies and materials, of the experience of the ambassadors and of the continuous and passionate work of those who design and realize shoes. In conceiving Ribelle, SCARPA had in mind where it was going: it wasn’t about evolution, but about revolution. “We called it Ribelle because for us it was a revolution, we wanted to change the rules of the game on how to move around the mountains”. In 2020 Ribelle takes a further step forward, trying to improve even more. Ribelle Tech 2.0 is born.
Hervé: At first, I have to be honest, someone looked at us saying “yes, but it will be a boot that nobody will use”. When Ribelle Tech OD came out, orange footwear was popping up everywhere. It was clear that somehow we had revolutionized the market, the way to go to the mountains. But Ribelle, I repeat, is a concept, the concept of experiencing the mountains in a different way, in a way that has never been seen before. And this has also opened a new path for other companies. What we subsequently did was to renew ourselves. With Ribelle Tech 2.0 we have improved the lacing, thanks to an innovative overlapping system integrated with the upper for a feeling of total wrapping. The OutDry waterproof membrane has been replaced by the HDry version. The inner lining has been divided into two parts, with differentiated insulation to pay more attention to the part of the boot that tends to get cold more easily, such as the forefoot.
And finally, after another 3 years, comes the last born: Ribelle Tech 3 HD.
Francesco: In a constantly evolving world, so fast and dynamic, one cannot stand still. This is how we have always worked, this is how we will continue to move in product development, this is how it was for Ribelle Tech. We wondered if something could still be done compared to the previous versions, if such a product could be further improved. Ribelle Tech 3 HD was born from this point of view: once again unhinging the preconceptions of mountaineering and trying to broaden the horizons of those who experience the mountains at 360°. Today, the new Ribelle, with greater technicality and efficiency, represents a further evolution of the all round mountain boot. We kept the same upper made with knit technology. We’ve slightly modified it to have more wrapping in the calf area and prevent debris or snow from entering the gaiter. We have revised the tip volumes to increase precision when climbing. We have introduced a double lacing: a first part capable of customizing the fit on the forefoot, with a speed lacing technology derived from the world of trail running, to which is added a Velcro strap system on the collar of the ankle to adjust its mobility depending on the phase. Also worth mentioning is the new sole system which sees for the first time the introduction of a drop 6 on a crampon-compatible mountaineering boot (heel-toe drop which usually stands at 10-12mm). We managed to do this by moving the crampon insert back and drowning the heel in the midsole. This allows for a more natural and efficient walk, reducing calf fatigue. We reserved the last provocation for the tread compound, with the use, for the first time in the world of crampon-compatible mountaineering, of a Megagrip compound by Vibram, usually used in approaching or trail running. A soft rubber that adapts perfectly to a fast & light boot like this.
Hervé: You must not forget that great performances must be combined with the concept of comfort. You have to think that when you go to the mountains there is a first part of the approach, and with Tech 3 this can be tackled with much more comfort, compared to other models on the market. This allows you to waste less energy and using it for climbing. On the technical part it obviously does not betray and perfectly marries the needs that you have on snowpack, rock, ridges. In all those things that are classic mountaineering, Ribelle Tech 3 satisfies everyone’s needs.
Are the technical innovations in Ribelle reflected on different footwear, such as those dedicated to trail running or trekking?
Hervè: You have to think that when you develop a product you have to go through a prototyping phase. Prototypes that are refined and of high quality, a standard that sometimes can’t even be offered to the final consumer. In the first Ribelle, for example, the prototype weighed 100g less because the crampons were screwed directly to the upper, of course that would be unfeasible to the market. What we do is take all concepts to the extremes, reach the apex of the pyramid, and cascade down to propose the best solutions, also suitable for segments such as trekking or approaching. What certainly remains in the way of approaching the development of a new product is that you never compromise in the quality of the membranes, rubbers, uppers. SCARPA always seeks the best, with the desire to arrive at a final product that satisfies everyone’s needs.
Francesco: There is one thing about Hervé that makes me smile. It is the memory of when we left for the approach to Cerro Piergiorgio, in Patagonia. At home he had his own scale, with which he weighed everything. If there is one aspect that he has always pushed, in every product development, it is precisely that: finding the right compromise between lightweight and durability. Reduce weight as much as possible to make climbing and approaching less difficult.
Hervé: Everyone likes to work hard to achieve a goal. It’s what motivates us. But the products must be innovative, they must give everyone the opportunity to improve. It is obvious that if you manage to have a lighter boot, with the same features as a heavier one, this will help improve performance. That’s why we take weight a lot into consideration. There is no real study, but if we have 100g more on our feet it is like as if we had 1kg more in our backpack, this is to give a term of comparison. I’ve always tried to push as much as possible on this. Of course, sometimes you go to extremes of a concept and then go back until you find a balance. Professional mountaineers are used to it, they always go to the limit, sometimes that limit tries to surpass them, other times they are forced to take a step back. The balance between performance, comfort, warmth and waterproofing then leads to the best product.
Francesco: And there are few visionary athletes who push companies to constantly improve. Ueli and Hervé are among them, people who have inspired entire generations and taken mountaineering to another level. Sometimes the requests of the athletes can seem like provocations, but without these, we would never get to the products we see today.
Where will Ribelle arrive?
Hervé: We need to start thinking that mountaineering is changing, as an evolution of a different mentality and approach to the mountains. Once upon a time Matterhorn or Mont Blanc were faced in several days of climbing; today they are all climbs that can be done in a single day. What does this mean? That our approach is different, but something else is also changing. Unfortunately there is an ongoing climate crisis, summers are increasingly drier and hotter, and therefore SCARPA already has in mind what the future of Ribelle could be, a Ribelle 4.0. What we will certainly try to do is always be one step ahead of what the new concept of mountain footwear will be.
“Going to the mountains in a different, innovative way, with a new concept, you have to be a rebel in some way. But we can all be rebels. No need for Ueli Steck, Herve Barmasse or a professional mountaineer. What we basically study, through prototypes, is the idea of improving the performance of any person. This is SCARPA’s goal and the concept of Ribelle as a Revolution.»