Adventures with AltBerg

Summary: After getting through three pairs of Mallerstangs over ten years of hard use Tom's ready to review them

Review Date: 01/02/2018
Price when reviewed: £215.00
Overall Rating: Adventures with AltBerg scored 5.0 stars
Online Stock: In Stock

View Product

I realised recently that it was more or less ten years since I first met Joe Sheehan. He came to Outside in Hathersage to show our buyers a new range of high quality boots that were both traditional and at the same time radical in design. They also had a strange name.

A visit from a brands rep is far from unusual, but this time Joe had a story to tell.  Then just a young man, he was the son of the company's founder, Mike Sheehan. After a lifetime as a commercial footwear maker, Mike found himself - like so many others - redundant, following the recessions and destruction of British manufacturing in the 1980s. With his redundancy money he bought some of his former employer’s machinery and set up Alt-Berg a few hundred metres from his former place of work, in Richmond North Yorkshire.

It’s a good story, but it was the boots that really impressed us. The first one we saw was called a Fremington. It was a mid-height leather boot of exceptional quality, but the big plus was that they were going to make it in 5 width fittings, in Men’s and Women’s versions and in UK full and half sizes. They were also going to train retail staff to measure feet and fit them properly. We were impressed and they were a great success, but it was the second model off their walking boot production line that really fired my enthusiasm.


Fremington (L) and Mallerstang (R) walking boots from Alt-Berg

This was called a Mallerstang; again available in 5 widths and in UK sizes and half from 5-14, but importantly for me, it was an all-season, walking crampon compatible model. It was, and is err…tough as old boots, made in 3mm thick leather with a Sympatex (I say a bit like Gore-Tex but without the hype) waterproof breathable lining and a tractor tyre of a sole called the Vibram Ice Trek.

This was just the type of boot I'd been looking for; ideal for adventure trekking in the Greater Ranges and for long-distance walking in the UK. For years I’d struggled to find something that would do the job and would last (in addition to superb build quality, Alt-Berg boots can also be resoled at their factory and they come out like new).

In the 1970s I wore a pair of Robert Lawrie’s handmade boots (he also made boots for the 1953 Everest Expedition) and I wanted to like them more. Sure, they were tough, but they were also heavy, not waterproof and the screw on sole came unscrewed and fell off one winter day out on Scafell.

I then converted to super-light fabric and leather boots from (at the time) prestige Lancashire brand Karrimor. This type of boot, which we we take for granted these days, was in fact invented by Karrimor, with design input by the legendary outdoorsman Ken Ledwood. They were called KSBs. All was good with them except they only lasted me a year at a time and crampons were a no-no.


So here were the Mallerstangs. My first pair were used trekking in India and Tibet and for walking the Pennine and Dales Ways and much more. Eventually even after resoling I bought a second pair because the waterproofing was finally going. I gave them to a Nepali friend who still uses them, although if SealSkinz waterproof socks had been as good then as they are now, I would probably have kept them even longer.

My second pair did lots of trips around the mountains of the world, from Ethiopia and the Fann Mountains to Nepal and Mongolia plus an extended walk up the length of Scotland from Berwick on Tweed to Cape Wrath (before Cameron Mc Neish published his own version of such a walk that starts at the northern end of the Pennine Way and goes to Cape Wrath).

Taking a nap on Janet at the lighthouse, Cape Wrath Scotland

Summit of Machin, Mongolia

In ice and snow, the Mallerstangs work better than most boots on their own, but I have also used them with Kahtoola Micro spikes many times “Wainwrighting” in the Lakes for example. They're also great with strap on crampons on adventures in the Himalaya; something like a Grivel 10-point G10 or Monte Rosa is good. My own choice of crampon is a Grivel G12 New Classic strap-on, in which the link bar between the heel and toe section is replaced with a flexi bar. With this combo the crampon stays on my Mallerstangs in any conditions and when I reach Base Camp on an expedition I can easily fit them onto my double or single mountaineering boots. I have used this system all over the place on mountains from 4-8000m. I can’t claim credit for the idea though, it was American mountaineering super-hero Steve House who put me on to it when he was visiting Outside some years ago.


Crossing the Buchha-La, Sichuan, China 2017

These days, some Alt-Berg boots are still made in Richmond, but demand has long outstripped the numbers of highly skilled people available to make them. However such people do still exist and work continues at their factory near the Italian Alps, where Mike still spends a large amount of his time supervising operations.

In the Outside Boot Room we now stock the Fremington, Malham, Tethera and Mallerstang boots. Drop by some time and check them out - I’ll try to tone down the enthusiasm!

I’m now on my third pair of Mallerstangs, breaking them in around the house before setting off for Nepal at the end of March.

By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

View other articles by
Tom Richardson
Team Photo
Visa, MasterCard and PayPal Accepted 5 Star Reviews from Trust Pilot

Outside.co.uk uses cookies and some may have already been set. Please click the button to agree and remove this message.

If you continue to use the site we'll assume you're happy to accept the cookies. Find out more .