~ Saturday 8th December 2018

Hoji update: Quite a few days touring in the Hojis now and I like them better each day. Inners are easing off a bit - I had them heat-fitted but they were tight at first which is good, but cold! Several days at -10 didn't change much but they're getting there now. It's a thick inner boot so there's plenty of material to pack down. The Hoji is supposed to be a 1 buckle ski/walk operation where you can leave everything done up and just undo the rear lever for skinning. That works fine but I find for longer ascents I get much more ankle movement - ie longer stride - if I ease of the top buckle too. Skinning is great - nowhere near a TLT/Backland style boot, but plenty for proper touring. I think you can feel the difference with the toe pivot, but without comparing back-to-back it's hard to tell. Not a game-changer anyway. Downhill it's all good news - stiff enough, soft enough, really progressive flex. The TLT/Backland are too soft for big skis for me. The Mercury always too stiff going slowly, fine at mid-speed, but beyond a point would suddenly fold forwards. The Hoji seems to manage to be "just right" everywhere. Phew.

Today, we went skiing. First day of the winter and guess what? I saw a unicorn! Not really - the mythical creature I glimpsed was just possibly the perfect ski touring boot. A true "unicorn" boot would be stiff enough to race the kids whilst subtle enough to deal with powder, bumps, crust and the rest. It would tour like a Scarpa Alien, walk miles down springtime paths, climb grade 5 ice when needed, cost less than a pair of trainers - and also last forever. Sadly, unicorns don't exist but the Dynafit Hoji might be as close as you can get in touring boot world. I'll update this as the season goes on but first impressions are good - very good.

First thing to note - it's wide. Very wide. I've had Scarpa Spirit 3 and 4, Dynafit TLT 5, 6 and Mercury, Atomic Backland...and the Hoji is wider. Much wider. Everywhere. I had to have all the above boots stretched and my TLTs stretched to the maximum. The Hoji forefoot isn't particularly high - just wide. It might not fit if you have narrow feet, especially around the heel, but the inner boot is very thick and responds well to heat-fitting. Try them before you buy them!

Buckles are brilliant. The Hoji ski/walk system is so complex that the shop have a transparent shell to show how it works. And it does work, but will take a bit of getting used to - it's like nothing else on the market. No pins locating in holes, nothing to freeze up or wear loose...and no "clunk" when you slot into ski mode! The fastenings are all very streamlined too (so they shouldn't snag when walking or cramponning) but in big gloves there's not much to get hold of when adjusting fit.

Powerstraps. All boots should have these. No more rubbish velcro! It's bit fiddly to thread but it stays done up!

The "very Dynafit" toe. No toe lug! This boot won't work in Alpine bindings or frame touring bindings. It doesn't work with the Dynafit Beast either. It skis fine in a Fritschi Tecton although some people report issues uphill with the Tecton - the short toe box means the front of the boot hits the binding and limits stride length. In Plum bindings and all other Dyna bindings it's great.

The toe means you can't use wire toe-bail crampons, but the new Petzl toe-bails fit just fine.

Ski-boot stiffness is much discussed, but stiffer isn't always better - you want smooth, progressive flex whatever the stiffness. Boot flex is like car, mountainbike or motorbike suspension - you need spring rate and damping to work together. The Hoji manages to feel softer than the Mercury at first but smooth through the full range of flex. I found the Mercury too stiff on easy ground but beyond a point it would suddenly fold. Push harder on the Hoji and it doesn't give up. It's like a soft Alpine boot.

Finally: Strong/Light/Cheap - pick 2, as Keith Bontrager said. The Hoji is strong and light(ish) but it certainly isn't cheap! Hoji is apparently the nickname of the boot's designer, but I think it's just an abbreviation of what people say when they see the price. Holy Jesus, this is an expensive boot. But it might just be worth it...

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