molding Tecnica Plasma S shoes

Testing Thermo-Molded Hiking Shoes: Tecnica Plasma S Review

Tecnica’s Plasma S uses technology similar to ski boots to thermo-mold to a specific foot’s shape. For this review, I wore them on adventures around the globe from hiking trails to tarmac in varied weather conditions.

I’m not an avid hiker, but I walk a lot of miles as a photographer and journalist. And as my work in the outdoors takes me over all kinds of rugged and varied terrain.

In short: The Plasma S ($150-180) is a low-top hiking shoe with good support, light weight, and great traction. But the standout feature is customization. Go to a shop and have the Plasma S heat-molded specifically to your foot for the best fit in the shoe market.

Tecnica Plasma S Review

I’ve taken these shoes on a few technical day hikes to get good photos. I’ve also worn them around massive trade shows for days on end and hiked around the streets of many big cities on my travels over the past year.

From photoshoots in the desert to the icy streets of Niseko, Japan — and a lot in between — these Tecnica Plasma S hikers have seen a lot of miles.

Tecnica Plasma S Review

Tecnica Plasma S Hiking Shoe

  • Price: $150 ($180 w/ GORE-TEX)
  • Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz. (U.S. men’s 9)
  • Available U.S. sizes: Men’s 7-14.5, women’s 5.5-10.5

Thermo-Molded Hiking Shoes

Tecnica introduced its CAS (custom adaptive shape) technology on the Forge hiking boot back in 2018. The brand has since used the tech in the Origin line of trail runners and the low-top Plasma line of hikers.

Tecnica Plasma S Review

The CAS fit technology comes from Tecnica’s long history in the ski boot space. CAS shoes are not as customizable as a ski boot or ski boot liners, however.

On the Plasma S shoe, the only moldable areas are the heel and arch (basically anywhere you see the little dot pattern) as well as the removable footbed. Heat and pressure are used to form the footbed, heel cup, and arch of the shoe to the exact shape of your foot.

The fitting process takes about 24 minutes in total. My local Tecnica shop in Portland, Oregon, is Next Adventure. They did a great job of getting me fitted properly and quickly.

Tecnica Plasma S Review

The custom-fit process for the Plasma S looks like this:

  1. 8 minutes to heat up footbeds
  2. Footbeds in booties for 3 minutes under 150 psi of pressure with foam knee block and strap over knees
  3. 8 minutes of heat on shoes (can be done while pressurizing footbeds)
  4. 3 minutes with footbeds in hot shoes
  5. Walk around for a few minutes as shoes cool
  6. Store in a cool place overnight for forming memory to set in

The fitting process definitely adds a bit of time to the shoe buying experience. It’s pretty quick and easy, however, as a store tech does all the hard work. You basically sit back and enjoy some toasty-warm feet.

Plasma S Hiking Shoe Build Specs

The Plasma S comes in a non-waterproof version, as I tested, and a GORE-TEX waterproof version, known as the Plasma S GTX.

Overall, the shoe is a medium-volume, low-cut hiking shoe. If it doesn’t fit relatively well before the custom fitting, then it won’t fit well after the process. So the thermo-mold isn’t magic, but it does fine-tune the shoe really well if it’s reasonably comfortable out of the box.

Luckily for me, the shoe fit great right out of the box, and even better after the custom fitment. The Plasma S also seems to run true to size, as the men’s U.S. size 12.5 was perfect for me and is my normal shoe size.

Tecnica Plasma S Review

The dual-density EVA midsole, with a TPU shank, provides comfort, impressively sure footing on any terrain, and good protection underfoot. The Vibram Plasma Megagrip outsole offers aggressive, widely spaced lugs in the heel and a smoother forefoot. This setup works great in loose conditions as well as on slick rocks.

The uppers of the Plasma S are made of synthetic polyamide fabric with TPU-laminated reinforcements and a mesh lining. This construction proved to be relatively breathable while still keeping out most trail debris and light moisture. It’s also very durable, showing little signs of wear after some serious abuse and many washes.

Inside the shoe is a stiff, supportive, removable footbed. I found the footbed offered just enough cushion and the utmost support, especially after a fitter custom-molded them to my feet. I was also impressed with how well the footbeds repelled smells. After nearly a year of hard use, they still smell relatively fresh.

The overlap tongue design makes for a secure fit. The tongue also helps keep stray rocks and dirt out of the shoe. But I did get some dirt and pebble entry around the ankles.

The round laces look good and self-adjust to even the load across the top of the foot. I found that my pant leg regularly unties the laces, however. I double-knot them every time I lace up now.

Tecnica Plasma S Review: Versatile Looks

I love the look of these shoes. From the front, especially when wearing long pants, they are subdued and blend in during most situations. From the back, the orange dots and orange sole in the heel let everyone know these are technical shoes ready for adventure.

Tecnica Plasma S Review

The Tecnica Plasma S fit in just as well on hiking adventures in the wilderness as on travels in the city. The shoe can even pass at semiformal events, like nice restaurants and night clubs.

I love having a super-versatile shoe like the Plasma S on my travels. Along with a pair of running shoes and sandals, I’m ready for any adventure.

Pros:

  • A great tailored fit for most people
  • Super supportive and offers big underfoot protection for a low-top light hiker
  • Sure-footed on loose and smooth terrain alike
  • Multipurpose, versatile footwear
  • Great-looking shoe

Cons:

  • Your shoe buying experience will take at least an extra 20 minutes (to get fitted)
  • Not very sure-footed on icy surfaces
  • Can be to snug across the top of the foot, reducing circulation
  • Expensive

Conclusions

The Tecnica Plasma S low hiker is a super-versatile, extremely durable shoe that will make a lot of people happy. The tailored, precise fit offers a comfortable shoe right out of the box. I never experienced any hot spots or blisters with these shoes.

These hikers aren’t inexpensive, and I did find them to be a bit sweaty in super-warm, humid environments. With that said, they look and smell nearly new after nearly a year of hard use. The Plasma S is a great hiker and a great all-around shoe for nearly any adventure. I know you’ll see me wearing them for years to come.

Tecnica has just recently allowed retailers to sell CAS shoes online. Tecnica found that the CAS shoes fit many straight out of the box, not even needing the custom fit process to dial them in. Many shops are selling online during the pandemic and offering free fitment if desired once stores open back up.

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Bryon Dorr
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Bryon Dorr caught the outdoor adventure addiction through whitewater kayaking, and worldwide adventures to remote places ensued. He crafted his own professional path as a photographer, journalist and marketing consultant in the automotive and outdoor industries, while full time overland traveling for nearly 8 years. You’ll usually find him out exploring by adventure motorcycle or 4x4, while seeking out opportunities to ski, mountain bike and kayak.

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