Review: Just as Tough as They Look

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, March 1999

Review: Just as Tough as They Look
Beefy leather hiking boots to last you a lifetime

By Kent Black


Boot Care 101
Out of the Box: Coat with Lexol Leather Conditioner (800-241-6996) to waterproof and soften.

Post-tromp: Clean, whisking away dirt with a soft nylon brush and swabbing the linings with a damp cloth. Air dry, stuffing boots with newspaper to draw out moisture. Waterproof, applying Nikwax Aqueous Wax Leather Waterproofing (425-303-1410).

At season's end: Recondition with Lexol.

You might call my original interest in Norwegian-welt boots something of an adolescent infatuation: Stephen Stills flaunted a pair on the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and my 14-year-old feet simply couldn't do without. I got into backpacking at the same time and learned that, coolness aside, such stalwart boots were a truly worthy expenditure of my allowance.

I feel the same today, and though I've tried conventional designs with glued-on soles and pliant leather uppers, I strongly prefer so-called waffle stompers. Their soles have deep, sturdy lugs that grip well on river rock, crags, and plain old dirt trails, and even accept crampons. The thick one-piece leather upper does feel like a cast at first, but once you condition it and log several weeks on the trail, it molds to every little nub of your foot. It's stitched to the relatively wide sole, which makes for unparalleled stability, not to mention durability. Indeed, with proper maintenance and an occasional resoling, all five boots I tested (ordered from light-duty to mountaineering models) will last a good chunk of your life. And they'll probably never go out of style.

1. The Danner Adams ($203; 800-345-0430) is the friendliest of these boots, meant more for stomping around with a daypack than for extended backpacking. Danner marries a relatively thin 2.2-millimeter waxed full-grain leather upper to a unique rubber outsole with round lugs. The four-pound (per pair) boot also has a Gore-Tex liner ù rare for this breed, but welcome nonetheless. And though the upper is thin, a three-quarter-length fiberglass shank and a wide forefoot provide good stability.

2. The Merrell Wilderness ($225; 888-637-7001) is the mountain goat of the group: Its wide forefoot, light weight (3.25 pounds), and shallow-lugged sole mean comforting surefootedness. And though the waxed, full-grain leather upper is three millimeters thick, spare cushioning keeps the weight down. The nylon lining wicks superbly, but can tear away from the collar, as it did on a three-week trek in Bolivia, forcing me to use the camp spatula as a shoehorn.

3. La Sportiva offers the best bang for your Norwegian-welt buck in its Himalaya (four pounds, one ounce; $200; 303-443-8710). In other words, it's inexpensive but not cheap. The three-millimeter reversed-leather upper from premier tanner Idro-Perwanger has a rough texture that hides scuff marks. Air pockets and soft, closed-cell rubber at the heel take the edge off when your feet slap trail on a loaded descent. And a set of ingenious eyelets locks down on the laces so that they don't slip when you're tightening them.

4. I was suspicious of the Montrail Mazama (four pounds, 10 ounces; $255; 800-647-0224) at the start: It's the first stitch-down boot I've felt comfortable in from day one. Credit Montrail's new last (called IntegraFit), shaped by melding computer scans of a million American feet and said to fit 80 percent of the population. As for construction, the three-millimeter full-grain leather is waxed, waterproof, and double-stitched to a Vibram Montagna outsole ù this breed's standard. Inside, the Mazama is luxe, with a full-leather liner over closed-cell foam.

5. The Vasque Monta±a ($315; 800-224-4453) is the closest thing to a mountaineering boot in this bunch. Which means it's particularly obstinate to break in. But once the soft leather liner finally takes to your foot, the 3.4-millimeter waxed full-grain-leather upper feels like a well-worn pigskin glove. At five pounds, four ounces per pair ù yes, that's without crampons ù it's something of a bulldozer for your feet, but that's a small price to pay for such heavy-duty piece of mind.

Photographs by Clay Ellis

Filed To: Snow Sports

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