My tried and true Alpha II's saw action from Sitka, to Prince William Sound, to interior Alaska, and down to the Kenai Peninsula. I used the Alpha II's literally year round as a go-to boot for plowing my driveway and ice-fishing local lakes along with general summer/hunting season usage. I sent a note to the folks at LaCrosse telling them about my positive experience with their product. It was suggested that I try their new (at the time) Aerohead boot that had just been released. I soon had a pair at my doorstep and immediately was liking what I was seeing. Even though I could've given first-impressions on the boots, I wanted to give it a fair amount of time to get some miles in the boots before singing any songs of praise. After a few months of experience with my feet in these new boots, I think it might be time to warm up the vocal cords!
Left: Alpha II Right: AeroheadPlucking one of the boots out of the box, it was quickly noted that what I was feeling wasn't rubber. It turns out that instead of a rubber-clad coating over neoprene, LaCrosse has a patent-pending process of applying liquid polyurethane over neoprene to perfectly mold the outer covering over the lightweight neoprene liner. Polyurethane has some serious advantages over rubber in categories such as weight, tensile strength, chemical resistance, abrasion resistance, cracking, tearing, cutting, and the list goes on. A rear gusset on the boot is nothing new from LaCrosse but you'll notice that the rear of the boot does not have the polyurethane armor coating either, just the 'naked' neoprene. Combine the weight savings in the material usage along with the more moderate usage of the coating over the Alpha II's, and you're looking at a substantial weight savings when comparing these two boots.
With the rear of the boot all the way down to the top of the ankle being soft and supple neoprene, the boot is more comfortable to wear as the neoprene can bend and fold without gouging or 'pinching' your leg. Being 18" in height (not much taller than the Alpha II's but just on the edge of catching my knee pocket), I was wondering if these were going to bite me in the back of the leg at every step. What I found was that with the ring of soft neoprene around the top, they're actually more comfortable despite the marginal gain in height. The neoprene also enhances the easy on/off of the boot as it stretches easier than rubber when your heel pushes toward the rear.
Soft neoprene rear provides protection along with added comfort
What I'm looking for in a boot is to forget I'm wearing it. It just makes sense to put the boot on and actually expect it to perform as you intend them to. Though the old pair of Alpha II boots did just this, after this year's hunting season, I can say that the overall comfort of the Aerohead boots is superior to the old Alpha series. The ankle-fit design of these boots, again, seems superior as both components of the construction (neoprene and polyurethane) combine to increase comfort while still providing the protection on the foot/shin area that is needed for tackling alders, devils club, and other vegetation you might encounter in Alaska.
The Aerohead boots also feature an armor weld liquid rubber protective coating on the seams both up the rear of the boot and along the seam holding the gusset straps in place. If I were to say one thing that has me stumped on this boot, it would be the tread pattern. LaCrosse claims that the 'non-loading outsole features a lightweight rubber compound for superior durability and traction in mud', but looking at the tread doesn't scream 'traction' like a deeper/more aggressive patterning would. I will concede that, so far, I haven't had any problems with the tread, performance-wise, but it was just a bit of 'huh?' moment that I thought was worth mention.
The insulating properties of the neoprene with the added boost from the polyurethane outer shell has given these boots some pretty impressive weather ratings. The 3.5mm boots have a rating of -30F and the 7mm twice that to -60F. Along with field testing, LaCrosse develops their temperature ratings based on thermal insulations tests performed at the Institute for Environmental Research at Kansas State University, but I'm not sure I'd venture out into weather that cold wearing just these boots. They do let the end-user know that factors such as your level of activity, weather conditions, proper dress, exposure to the extreme temps, and present moisture will all affect your level of sensitivity to the cold.I will certainly continue to use the Aerohead boots for work around the house, recreation throughout the winter for local activities, and for upcoming hunts planned in Southeast Alaska. Since I only have a season on them so far, I will say that comfort and weight savings are the two big bonuses of these boots and the manufacturing advancements are proving to produce a better product. With my previous experience with LaCrosse products, I don't doubt that durability will be far behind. So far I'm recommending these with confidence.