This is by far the most common question that we get at AAI. People generally want to know if a pair of light hikers will work on a glaciated peak. The answer to this question is that it depends.
First, it depends on the time of the year. In April, May and June, double plastic boots work better than anything else on the glaciers of the Pacific Northwest. This is because of the fact that they are warm, they stay somewhat dry in the sloppy wet snow, and if they don't stay dry, they are easy to dry out.
Heavy leather boots are quite difficult to dry out. As such they aren't recommended for longer early season trips. If the climb will only take a couple of days, a heavy leather boot might be fine. But if you plan on spending a week on the glacier, plastics are the best.
As the glacier drys and becomes more icy, heavy leather boots perform well. They are certainly lighter than plastics and provide a lot more precision in climbing. But they are nowhere near as warm...Most crampon compatible boots have a protrusion on the rand at both the toe and the heel.
Second, are your boots crampon compatible? Heavier boots have a protrusion on the rand that allows one to clip a crampon to the boot. Lighter leathers often only have the protrusion on the heel rand. And extremely light hiking boots don't tend to have a protrusion at all.
If your boots do not have any type of crampon compatible rand, it is unlikely that they should be used for glacier mountaineering. The word from the previous sentence that is important to take home is the word "unlikely." There are a handful of boots that will work in a mountaineering setting that are not officially crampon compatible. However, these are definitely in the minority.
If you are not sure about your boot and whether or not it will work in a given season on the glaciers, feel free to give us a call at 360-671-1505. You might also be interested in a Blog we posted about how to choose the right footwear for your objective. To read the post, click here.
--Jason D. Martin