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9/27/2012 12:50 PM
 


First, I've got to start with my standard disclaimer that it is worthless talking about brands of boots because fit is king and everybody's feet are different. I will be talking about specific boot brands and models here, but there's the caveat up front.

I do want to talk about types of boots. For the past few months I've been building up my foot and ankle strength for use with lightweight hikers because I wanted to give the lightweight footwear thing an honest try. That culminated with doing virtually the same trip twice within a month in a pair of Solomon Fastpackers and my older Asolo mountaineering boots. The route was a mixture of on and off trail in the Rockies with a good amount of vert and some talus slopes mixed in. The trail itself is not well maintained. I was carrying around 45lbs on my back.

First go was with the FPs. Climbing a couple thousand feet of vert, I was really impressed with how stealthy I felt and how easy it was to lift my feet. Then my feet got wet and stayed that way. That sucked. I think the proper application of gaitors might have fixed that. My descent was very slow, which I attributed to conditioning. I did notice that the FPs felt dicey at best on some of the hairier trail sections. At the end of the hike, I had a very minor amount of soreness mid foot and that was it. Pretty impressive.

Second go, I was wearing the heavy boots. By the top of the climb, my "boot lifting muscles" felt like lead. Lifting all of that weight really costs you. Then I ended up on a steep off trail pitch where I depended heavily on my boot stiffness to safely carry me through. In fact, I was wishing at that exact moment that I was wearing even heavier and stiffer boots. I *never* would have been on that slope in a pair of less stiff boots. That jived with my experience when I would occasionally throw on the mountaineering boots for a morning hike instead of the FPs. No doubt, in broken off trail desert country I was way more sure footed in the heavier boots. The downside is that the heavy boots didn't have as much underfoot cushioning and I experienced a very familiar bone rattling sensation when cranking down the trail in a way that I found jarring. When the time came for the descent, I was expecting to go as slowly if not more so than in the fastpackers. To my surprise, a quick descent was no problem at all. The stiffer boots were just way more sure footed for the descent.

I decided that, for me, the whole light footwear thing just has too many downsides when it comes to not being limited by my footwear in where I travel. The light footwear advocates talk long and loud about how proper foot conditioning will overcome all the limitations of light footwear. I don't completely buy it. The fact remains that I only know of three guys who I know for sure get out and travel off trail in the western mountains who are light footwear advocates, and they all weigh at least 40 pounds less than my 215-220 lb weight. Throw a good sized load of meat on your back and the problem is exacerbated. I paid enough attention in vertebrate zoology to know that not everything scales in a linear fashion as size goes up.

My head to head testing did convince me of a couple of things though. First, I wanted to drop on-foot weight as much as I could. Second, I wanted more underfoot cushioning. Third, I wanted an all leather boot because nothing is more durable or comfortable. Armed with a generous birthday gift certificate from my in-laws, I went boot shopping. My plan was to get a pair of the Asolo TPS 535 mids. They have tennis shoe style midsole cushioning, are all leather with no goretex, and weigh a half a pound less than my Asolo mountaineering boots. Seemed like the right place to be on the scale of light to heavy. I've been wearing Asolos almost exclusively for the last decade and I know the last fits me. I tooked some time and considered. I tried a pair of the 535's goretex brethren on and was less than overwhelmed with the initial fit, although being relatively stiff leather I would expect that to get better.

Then I happened to take a look at what Kennetrek offered, and fell madly in lust with a boot that looked like something I might have spec'd myself -- the "Desert Guide". All leather, no goretex. Half a pound less than my Asolos, plenty of forward and backward ankle articulation due to cuff and heel flex point design. Most significantly of all, the sole has a proper toe and heel welt built in so I can step right into my ski bindings when the snow hits. On paper, a do it all boot. I consulted with a couple of friends who have been running Kennes to get their perspective on cushioning and support. I decided to order a pair and see what I thought.

When I got the Kennes in, I spent about three days just wearing them in the house to be sure. Kennetreks are a big allocation of resources. It's also *really* hard to know how a pair of heavier duty all leather boots are truly going to perform until after break in at which point they're not returnable. Initial fit felt fantastic. The heel cup is nice and pronounced, and the achilles tendon is well cradled. Better than any boot I've had on my feet since my old Lowa 80s vintage norwegian welt boots. These two design points allow you to get a lot more support out of a lighter boot. I don't think there is much in the way of tennis shoe style midsole like on the 535s, but there is a padded .25" footbed that the insole rests on top of. It strikes me that that footbed may not be as cushioning as the tennis shoe midsole out of the gate, but as the two break down, you can always throw a piece of foam or gel insoles in to replace the compacted .25" underfoot bed (because there is space for it), whereas your only recourse with tennis shoe style is to throw the boot away. Also, the Kenne has a lower heel position than the 535 which I have very much come to appreciate in rough country travel. It also has a stiffer sole, which will come in handy. There is enough rocker in the sole itself to overcome that for really striding out.

The only downside to the Kenne I've observed is that doggone full circumference rand. I've got it in my Asolo mountaineering boots and the practical effect is limiting toe box width and flexibility. The Kennes have a nice wide toe box, but I'm still fighting that rand with a hot spot as I break them in. Hopefully it will resolve itself in time just like the Asolos did. The Kennes also are lace to toe (again like my Asolos). I'm not sure what percentage of the population needs or wants lace to toe, but I'm not in it. That's a simple fix though -- just relace your boots without using the bottom eyelets and the problem corrects itself during break in.

I'll know more over time, but I'm cautiously optimistic about the Kennes. I was worried about how the stiff soles would work off trail in slick rock country. The soles are very sticky, and the rocker creates a natural smear point so the overall effect is not as bad as I thought. I'd probably still choose lighter more flexible sole for something like canyoneering, but all leather goodness is hard to beat when you get into the cactus fields. They don't cushion like a pair of tennis shoes do, but they cushion way more than the Asolo mountaineering boots did. As mentioned before, I'm still fighting the rand with my big toe on both sides. I'm guessing that I'm about a third of the way through break in, so I hope that resolves itself. It will be interesting to see how well they ski.

On a side note, I use Sole mid thickness insoles. They provide some cushioning, and handily beat out superfeet greens for me in a similar head to head test a year ago. The thickest ones are much more nicely cushioned, but the heel is too high for use in most boots because it pushes your heel too for up into the to edge of the heel pocket and creates a nasty blister. I wish they made the mid thickness or even the low thickness ones, but with the padding on the thickest ones.

It would be interesting to see where other folks' footwear experimentation has taken them, and the kinds of characteristics they look for in go-to backcountry footwear.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
 
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9/28/2012 8:18 AM
 

Nice write up Evan.

I was also experimenting with using lightweight trail running shoes this year. My experience was pretty comparable to yours. Where I liked the trail running shoe was on regular hiking trails. I found that they dried out relatively quickly and weren't terribly uncomfortable if they got a little wet (keep in mind this was during the summer). They were a great choice for doing day hikes up your standard maintained trail.

I started to dislike them when hunting season started several weeks ago. Most of my days out are spent off trail. While I like the lightweight factor, one thing that has been killing me is the lack of "protection" with the shoe. Not protection from rolling your ankle or anything like that, the other kind. I'm constantly pulling the shoes off to dump sand, twigs, burrs, neetles, thorns, gravel. Gaiters help with this, but because a huge portion of the shoe lightweight is breathable mesh, a lot of stuff just comes right through the side. 

I've more or less gone back to my old boots for now (nothing special, Columbia Ocanto Peaks, in the photo below). I've considered getting a fancier pair of mountaineering type boots, but haven't gone that route just yet. I had a pair of logging-lineman boots for a while, but I sold them because I wasn't using them as much as I had hoped. I also tried some newer style "tactical" boots for a while (Original SWAT I believe) and wasn't super impressed. They seemed pretty sloppy and were made from fairly junky leather.

-Rob


-Rob
 
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9/29/2012 9:15 AM
 

Boots and their use is a favourite subject of mine.  I have four standard boots I use, more or less seasonal. 

Good, stout leather boots are always my preferred choice.  For years I wore a boot known as a Scarpa Attack - very light yet super robust leather boot.  The only downside was it was not warm in the winter.  I stupidly I got rid of them and have never find their like again.  I have since replaced them with a pair of Hanwag Yukons.  Simply outstanding - robust, not too heavy, can fit on my snowshoes, vigid sole for the tough stuff.  Their downside is being too warm for my liking in the summer.  My mid-range boot is from OTB and is known as the Thor TC.  Unfortunately OTB has been bought out by another company (New Balance I believe) and the Thor TC is no longer in production in N.America.  A version (made in Italy I believe) known as AKU is still available .  These boot are light and very tough.  The welt is that suede type material used in climbing shoes and the sole is semi rigid.  It is technically an approach boot.

For lighter work and higher temperatures I have a boot that is a version of the orignal WW2 desert boot.  These are based on African veldskoens; tough, very light, crepe soled suede ankle boots.  I actually carry these year round in my pack to wear around camp at the end of the day when my main boots are airing / drying out.  The version I wear are called Roamer Ghillies. 

Finally are my mukluks - I use my issued ones in the winter when it is very cold.  These are nylon and rubber with a double felt duffle sock.  These are good to -40 with the right socks on and fit on my snowshoes.

But, like Evan stated first off, fit is king.

 
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10/2/2012 11:00 AM
 

Ill add some thoughts on shoe choices for locales which allow less supportive footwear...In the past year or so I have taken to the minimalist approach at footwear. I also do most of my outdoor ramblings on a mountain bike or in Texas rolling hills (bumps to most of you probably). so I suppose I don't have as treacherous of terrain. I wear LEMing shoes and Unshoes sandals on well worn trails, or Justin stampede snake boots if in going into the brush or if it's wet (they act as my 'gaiters' in tall grass). The result of wearing 'floppy' shoes is that my feet have been greatly strengthened, my ankles don't get sprained weekly, and my knees don't hurt when I run and midfoot strike. 

 
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12/3/2012 2:02 PM
 

Well thought out post, I find it interesting because your approach is very different than mine.

Over the past four years I've been favoring ever more minimal trail runners for all hiking.  I haven't owned boots other than ski boots for years.  My favorites this year were LaSportiva X Countrys.  9 oz a shoe in size 11.5, very minimal cushioning, 3mm difference between heel and forefoot, aggressive tread and fairly sticky rubber.  It is all mesh, but the mesh is quite dense and doesn't allow any grit in.  A year ago these shoes felt fatiguing on 20 miles of good trail, but by this summer I could hike talus and scramble ridges all day without feeling like the footwear was holding me back.   On the contrary, the more minimal I've gone the further and harder I can go in rough terrain without foot fatigue and pain being the limiting factor.  In the past soreness in the balls of my feet has always come on before my legs gave out.  When I'm halfway fit that is no longer the case.

The caveats here are that I'm 160-170 pounds depending on fitness, and never carry more than 35 pounds while backpacking (and in high summer it's usually half that).

Interestingly, during this time my arch has risen and my foot has shrunk a bit in length, but I can no longer tolerate arch support of any kind in any shoe.  Had to buy new work shoes this year as the old ones were absolutely intolerable, and finding plastic AT boots without arch support in the bootboard was a trial.

Regarding technical terrain, going in light and flexible shoes is like 5.11 microedging in rock slippers: very possible but requires foot strength and a light touch.  Not being able to kick steps in snow is a problem in spring and early summer, but for me having to do a little step cutting is usually worth the efficiency during the dry stretches.

For me wet feet isn't a big deal, anymore I expect it.  Having soaked feet doesn't seem to make me any more blister prone, but other folks have different experiences.  In colder weather I wear thin neoprene socks with very thin wool liner socks underneath.  For spring trips with soaked trails and loads of knee to nuts deep creek crossings this is the most efficient setup I've found.  It does depend on motion to keep the body heat pumping, and therefore comes up short for slower paced activities like hunting.

The poor durability of light shoes is something I regret, and a problem I have yet to solve.  Depending on use the X Country uppers will wear down at about the same rate as the sole, but if you get 1000 miles out of them you're doing very well.  The LaSportiva Crossleather was a light trail shoe with a tough leather upper, but is no longer made. 

 
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12/3/2012 4:30 PM
 

Well thought out post, but your experience is almost the opposite of mine. I prefer less not only on the uohill but on the down hill as well. I don't like stiffness descending steep terrrain, instead I prefer to be able to use the flexibility to establish traction. During first season, I started out with boots because it was supposed to snow a lot. The second day I found myself 75 yards from a bull, on a steep timbered slope that I did not feel comfortable moving quickly down using my boots. I took my next water reload as an opportunity to go get my INOV shoes I stashed lower, so I felt like I could close fast in steep terrrain. I only wear boots now for deep snow, or something where I may need to kick steps in snow (I also use them for farm type work , cutting wood etc). I don't find carrying weight to be an issue in shoes either. I carried a bone in rear quarter and front quarter (hide on and one load) in the Inov trail runners. The load was likely over 100 lbs, and there was no trail. It was steep, partly in a drainage, with some ducking through and around trees / timber. I would actually be inclinded to carry less weight on less rugged terrain wearing boots. Now, I won't push my shoe choice on anyone, but that is what I prefer. I think the best is do what you feel most comfortable with. It could be you use techniques I don't that work well with boots, and likewise it could be possible I use techniques to feel comfortable that are really shoe specific. Now I will say, I've done a fair amount of trail running and most folks consider me a pretty good "technical" downhill runner, so I'm used to moving downhill quickly in shoes. It is somethign that is probably acquired, I think I acquired it by running from storms up high while peak bagging.


http://www.seekoutside.com | sig added by EH... go check out Kevin's stuff!
 
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12/3/2012 4:51 PM
 

kevin_t wrote
 

 Now I will say, I've done a fair amount of trail running and most folks consider me a pretty good "technical" downhill runner, so I'm used to moving downhill quickly in shoes. It is somethign that is probably acquired, I think I acquired it by running from storms up high while peak bagging.

 

I think that about sums it up. Most of the guys that are using trail runner type shoes hunting, backpacking, climbing do some running or come from a running background. My guess is runners have ankle/foot strength/toughness built up from that or its a mind thing that they just feel more comfortable in shoes.

I am a boot guy, I wear light mountaineering boots grochery shopping. One thing I hate about light boots/shoes is feeling every rock on your foot while hiking. People that wear them say thats what they like about them. Sometimes I dont even feel comfortable in my 8" Lowa Tibets coming down gnarly stuff, I wish I had my 10" Lowa hunters. It doesent matter if I am packing zero pounds or 100 pounds I still want my Lowa boots.

I am on my 3rd set of Lowa Tibets in 5 years. Not because they fall apart but I wear the soles down. I would'nt change that about them though because they stick to anything. I will take traction over long term value.

 
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12/3/2012 5:57 PM
 

I won't disagree that boots last longer. I generally figure I go through two pair of shoes a year and a pair of boots every few years (of course I hardly wear the boots). I like the feel of terrain, and I dig in or change the way I move often in steep downhill terrain, and sometimes I even just let it go and for lack of a better term let gravity do it's thing and just look to be able to control it a little.

I will say this though, some shoes are a good combination. If it's a scree field, I ususally go with my 5.10's which are so sticky it's silly, but they are technically called an "approach" shoe so they should be sticky. You have to wear little gaitors to keep stuff out of them when new becasue they literally stick to everything.


http://www.seekoutside.com | sig added by EH... go check out Kevin's stuff!
 
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12/4/2012 10:18 AM
 

I think the biggest difference is the size of the individual. It seems that the folks who like the minimalist footwear are smaller in most cases a lot smaller than those who appreciate boots.  My personal favorite boot is Asolo TPS 520. I have used them both with and without gortex. I typically get about 2.5-3 years out of a pair, and find they are a great mix of weight and agility, cushioning, and ankle support.  Like Evan I gave the lightweight thing a try, and it was alright with a super light load and limited scrambling, but as soon as the pack weight goes up, and the terrain gets rougher I want my boots.


Co-Owner Hill People Gear "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end, if your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its foreit." - Dougal Haston
 
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12/4/2012 1:51 PM
 

scothill wrote

I think the biggest difference is the size of the individual. It seems that the folks who like the minimalist footwear are smaller in most cases a lot smaller than those who appreciate boots.  My personal favorite boot is Asolo TPS 520. I have used them both with and without gortex. I typically get about 2.5-3 years out of a pair, and find they are a great mix of weight and agility, cushioning, and ankle support.  Like Evan I gave the lightweight thing a try, and it was alright with a super light load and limited scrambling, but as soon as the pack weight goes up, and the terrain gets rougher I want my boots.

I agree completely.  Regret to say at age 64 I weigh nearly as much as I used to in my 20s when wearing helmet, flak vest, rifle and fighting load. 

My everyday outdoor footwear are Lowa Zephyr GTX, in which I have two pair in mid-height which I alternate. www.rei.com/media/dd/6f3d6110-916c-4353-b413-c5a793620463.jpg These have served well for walking on dirt roads and woods nearby and for upland and small game hunting in the Appalachians.  If  I must carry more than a day pack , over steep and rocky terrain, or in ice and snow, I change to Crespi Super Granite GTX mountaineering boots which were recommended to me by my host, retired Col. of the Alpini Regt. ,when I was over there. www.crispi.it/it/ak_engine/upload/crispi/imm_articolo/big/super_granite_0512103.png

My everyday street wear are the Lowa Renegade cross trainers, www.rei.com/product/843008/lowa-renegade-ii-gtx-lo-hiking-shoes-mens which I also keep two pair of and alternate days.  In these I have the Superfeet performance insoles, which make a big difference if you weigh over 200 pounds.

I mark each pair of shoes with the year of purchase and try to wear our the oldest ones first.  I generally buy one new pair of shoes yearly with my REI dividend which rotates and replaces my four EDC pairs every four years.  I get 5-6 years out of a pair of mountaineering boots because I don't do as much hunting as I used to. Also depends upon how much ice and snow we get.

 
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12/4/2012 6:38 PM
 

 I guess just call me tiny timm:)  I didnt  feel small until now :(


http://www.seekoutside.com | sig added by EH... go check out Kevin's stuff!
 
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12/5/2012 9:56 AM
 

kevin_t wrote
 

 I guess just call me tiny timm:)  I didnt  feel small until now :(

Never said tiny just smaller, and in relation to me you are, and I am small in relation to some folks. Just pointing out that the weight difference is not just in the pack weight, but your weight or a total GHW (general hiker weight).


Co-Owner Hill People Gear "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end, if your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its foreit." - Dougal Haston
 
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