The “quest” for the perfect backpacking boot has led me down several paths. First was a pair of Merrell boots; I thought those boots were great because they didn’t slip or rub on my heels. Still, by the end of an 8-mile hike in Canyonlands National Park (the Needles District) I was limping. My pinky toe kept getting squeezed under the toe beside it. Both pinky toes had blisters on the bottoms of them and my big toes were slammed into the front of the boots on the downhill portions of the hike. Ironically, my spare pair of shoes for that trip, which I still wear to this day, were another pair of Merrell light hiking shoes.
Next up in the quest for the perfect backpacking boot was a pair of Vasque Breeze GTX boots. These lasted me through several backpacking trips. They were sturdy and warm, they stayed dry when crossing creeks, and they weren’t too heavy. Still, I had to wear latex toe protectors to protect those poor pinky toes – and painful blisters were a part of every trip. I just assumed that’s how my feet were going to be. We didn’t backpack this past year (2011) so when I put those boots on in November for a long day hike it was the first time I’d worn them in almost a year and a half. One foot in and I thought How did I ever wear these? I’m sure these boots work great for a lot of people but not me.
So in late January we took a trip to the big city of Salt Lake and I was able to look for boots at an REI store with a large selection. My feet are pretty flat and wide so I could just wear the shoebox itself and probably be more comfortable than I am in a lot of shoes. However, I have a narrow heel. You see the issue? Nothing can be simple with my feet. I’d picked out three brands with “wide” shoes to try: Oboz, Lowa, and Salomon. The Oboz felt okay, but I could tell my toes would still get pinched in them. Next I put on the Salomon Quests.
It felt like my feet had finally found their sole mates. I wiggled my toes. Plenty of room there. I laced the boots up. A little high, but then again I haven’t worn boots in a while. I walked a few steps. Ahhhhhh. I stepped up on the slanted rock provided at the store for the very purpose of checking how boots handle steep ups and downs. No heel slippage on the up. I can’t even feel the heel! I stomped down the rock trying to slam my toes into the front of the boot. Wow. My foot did not slip at all!
I got off the rock, took off the boots, and tried on the Lowas. They were supposed to be a “wide” width, but felt way more narrow than the Salomons. I put the Salomons in the box, hugged the box to my chest, and ran for the register. These babies were mine!
This past weekend I finally had a chance to get out in my new boots. I brought them in to work so I could change before heading to the trails. Co-workers stopped to look at them and one even said, “They look heavy.”
“Pick them up,” I countered. She did.
“Holy cow! Those are so light!” (they weigh 1lb. 6 oz. each.) Salomon attributes this and the comfort and stability of the boot in part to “our most advanced trail running technologies.” Whatever it is, it works.
As I got dressed for my hike, I have to admit it took a bit to get used to the height of these boots. They’re not mid-cut or low-cut, they are straight-up, high-cut boots.
My friend and I met at the trail head and headed through a rocky drainage and up a steep switch-backing trail. On the steep uphills the heel didn’t slip. As odd as this may sound, somehow the boot cups your heel without really touching the heel. I never felt as if anything was loose or shifting, but I also never got a hot spot, never felt a rub, nothing.
These boots have great grip too. We were on loose and sandy soil at times and I felt stable. This is great news for when I’ll be backpacking with an extra 30lbs, heading down steep and rocky terrain. I also noticed that, when going downhill, that high cut ankle part was really flexible front-to-back. Side-to-side it was nice and stiff, so I didn’t worry about twisting an ankle, but the boot was really comfortable when flexing going downhill. As with my test in the store, my toes didn’t hit the front of the boot either.
For me, one last important feature is the toe bumper. We were on super rocky trails and more than once I didn’t pick my foot up high enough and my boot slammed into rocks. I felt no pain. That toe bumper is solid!
I had one issue with some soreness on the side of my foot, but I really think that was because I had them laced too tight. Also, the boots are warm – but they’re Gore-Tex so I expected they wouldn’t be quite as breathable as some others.
Overall I’m excited for backpacking season with these boots! No more toe protectors! No more tape! No more hobbling around camp at night!