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Keen Marshall Flexible Hiking Shoes

Keen Marshall shoes

If you’re only going to be doing light hiking or walks now and then and want something that’s comfy and flexible right out of the box, Keen’s latest Marshall shoes are a good bet. Just be ready for a trade-off in the cushioning and support.

We’re big fans of Keen shoes here at Practical Travel Gear and between us have tried a lot of different versions over the years. Most have a few characteristics that set them apart: they’re not super-narrow, they have protection for your toes, and they’re built to last.

You get all three of those as expected with these Marshall hiking shoes. They’re also lightweight, so they’re good to travel with, and the mesh allows your feet to breathe well when you’re on the move. I actually took off a pair of leather shoes my feet were sweating in at one point and put these on. When I took off the Keens, my socks were dry.

The Marshalls have a good lacing system to adjust the fit and pull tabs on the back and on the padded tongue. There’s a good tread on the bottom that grips rocks well.

Alas, you’re going to feel every bump and crevice in those rocks because the cushioning on these is quite minimal. The shoes fit like a pair of slippers out of the box, with no breaking in necessary. The downside of that is the flexibility means there’s not a whole lot besides the tread between your feet and the ground. Like barefoot running trail shoes, but looking like something much sturdier from the outside.

Keen Marshall hiking

After wearing these around for a few months, my conclusion is that they’re great for light hikes of a couple hours on flat trails or for navigating cobblestones in the city. I wouldn’t do any serious hiking in them though for long distances with a pack on. They also fit me really well, but I have flat feet. People who need more of an arch support might not be as thrilled with the casual fit as I am.

I do like these shoes a lot and will keep wearing them on trips where the adventures won’t be too challenging. At a list price of $110 though (and $130 for the WP waterproof version), Marshall feels like a shoe that aspires to be a bit more than it really is. Too see all the color choices and check for markdowns, surf a few different options: the Keen website, Amazon, Zappos, or Backcountry. There’s also a women’s version.

See more reviews of Keen Footwear products.

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Wolverine Alto Leather Hiking Shoes

Wolverine Alto Hiking

Two years ago at this time I was hiking around in a pair of Wolverine shoes with the ICS disc in them and I raved that I’d finally found a pair that fit right and performed great. I still use those sometimes, but lately I’ve been hitting the trails with a pair of Alto Leather Trail Shoes on my feet. Different materials on top, but same great outcome.

Wolverine is known for making rugged, dependable boots that won’t let you down. In many cases their work boots are on the kind of people who had better not let you down: the guys who do tough jobs in tough places. This same ethic applies to their hiking footwear, which may be light but never lightweight.

These Alto hiking shoes are made from quality leather, but not just solid pieces that will stretch over time. There are thicker reinforced sections crossing down from the laces for extra stability. Each layer provides support and protection, from the padded tongue to the Ortholite footbed to the tough rubber sole with good tread and a toe guard. There’s a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry if needed.

Wolverine Alto hiking shoes

The secret ingredient that sets Wolverine apart is the ICS disc under the insole that you can take out and adjust. If you have flat feet like me, you set it one way. If you have high arches and tend to wear down the outside heel of your shoes, another setting. Two more are extra stiff and extra soft. You can pull the disc out and switch it if trail conditions change.

There are lots of little features I like, such as tough nylon loops the good laces go through, a padded cuff around the ankle, and a loop on the back for pulling them on. The soft leather broke in fast, but there’s nothing wimpy feeling about these, either in the support or the structure.  Being all leather, they’re not as super-light as pure synthetic ones, but they’re certainly not going to drag you down on a long trek. I’ve been hiking around the mountains of central Mexico in these and have been quite happy with how they performed on giant boulders I had to hike down and how they didn’t feel too heavy on my feet.

You’re limited to brown or black on the colors, but kudos to the company for making a wide option. Buy the Alto Leather Trail Shoes direct from Wolverine for $139 or shop online at Amazon. This is a new spring release, so you should start seeing them in stores soon too as everyone moves out the old seasonal inventory.

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Oboz Bridger Hiking Boot

You know that stereotype about women owning too many pairs of shoes? Guilty as charged, though with an unexpected plot twist: instead of sling backs and peep-toed heels, I own hiking boots. A lot of hiking boots. My closet is wall-to-wall waterproof uppers and arch support.

Oboz BridgerFinding the right pair of hiking boots is as personal as finding the right overnight pack or pair of skis: there’s no right answer, just the right boot for your foot, your terrain, and your excursions. I realize not everyone can own a hiking boot for every occasion (that honor is reserved for obsessive types like me), so if you’re looking for a solid all-purpose boot, the Oboz Bridger fits the bill. The boot comes in both men’s and women’s versions, and is categorized as one of Oboz’ classic hikers. Fun fact: the Montana-based Oboz company gets its name from the term meaning ‘outside Bozeman’.

The Bridger is constructed of a full leather upper with a pliable collar. Out of the box, the all-leather boot looks like it will be stiff or bulky, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. When worn, the Bridger is soft and flexible, if not the most lightweight. You get a sticky rubber sole with an outsole with nylon shank for stability, side lugs, and excellent arch support in the insole. (I do like a high arch, so this was a plus for me.) The boot is waterproof but still breathable: it uses ‘Bdry’ technology that ensures the membrane blocks water on the outside while releasing sweat from the inside.

My first hikes wearing the Bridger were on wet trails spotted with ice and slush, and I experienced no leaking whatsoever. I didn’t need the customary band-aids I bring along for breaking in boots, and I experienced good traction on the slick trail and in mud. As this review goes live, my Bridgers are with me on a late winter trip to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia national parks, where so far, they’ve performed well in wet snow an dried out reasonably well by fireside overnight.

The Bridger comes in walnut and Rio red for women, retailing for $160 on Oboz, and in Sudan or black for men for the same price. They can also be found on Amazon, Planet Shoes, or REI.

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Shoelaces Redefined: the Boa Closure System

boa adidasIf you readers could be a fly on the wall when I’m complaining about what’s wrong with my shoes months after I’ve started wearing them, you’d hear me bitching a lot about shoelaces. If all my shoes had Boa Technology systems on them, that would stop.

My main pet peeve about footwear companies is they put all this thought and effort into design and materials for the shoe itself, then treat the laces as an afterthought. (Way too many treat the insole as an afterthought too, but we’ll table that one for later). Even shoes retailing for $150 and up too often come with slippery, cheapo shoelaces that don’t stay tied without double-knotting them like you would for a first-grader.

At the last two Outdoor Retailer shows I’ve attended, I got invited to a lunch sponsored by Boa and checked out a bunch of shoes and boots that are using their technology. The systems use a continuous coated wire and a winding, locking turn wheel to control the tightness. Instead of a haphazard lacing system that is too loose in some places and too tight in others, this Boa system gives you precise control. And whatever you set it at, it stays there. No friction, no loosening, nothing to get wet or freeze. Boa snow sports

This lacing system is surprisingly simple to use, but very effective. To loosen the shoes or boots, you pop out the circular knob and…that’s it. To tighten them, you simply push the knob in and turn it. As you can imagine, this is far faster and simpler than fumbling with laces during a hike along a precipice or fumbling with buckles when you’re snowshoeing through the woods with gloves on. And can you imagine how much easier a parent’s life becomes when a kid has this system instead of shoelaces? No matter how young, they can fasten this themselves. You can see a video demo here.

Many sport-specific brands are using Boa systems. The company was doing something really cool at that gear trade show though: taking attendees laces out of their shoes and rigging them up again with their superior system for people to pick up later.

For writers like us, they did the same with some new shoes, in my case for these cool Adidas kicks pictured below that I’ve been wearing around and getting comments on. Sorry, you can’t buy these, but you can get Adidas golf shoes with Boa lacing. Also running/trail shoes from Treksta or biking shoes from Specialized. Boa lacing Adidas

In the winter sports world, you’re seeing this system in more snowboard and ski boots from Apex, Scarpa, and Black Diamond. But you can apply this fastening to other products as well: Smith Optics is using it in helmets.

A lot of the products I saw in demos earlier this year are for this current winter season or the coming spring one, so keep an eye out as you’re browsing the shoes and boots at your local outdoor gear store. Once people experience this superior technology, they start bitching even more about their shoelaces, so you should see an amplification from the network effect as word of mouth spreads.

Unlike shoelaces, these systems come with a lifetime guarantee. See more at BoaTechnology.com.

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Lowa Renegade II Hiking Shoes With Gore-Tex

Lowa Renegade 2 GTX

For low-top hiking shoes that will hold up to tough terrain and water, these Lowa Renegade II ones set you up with Gore-Tex, a Vibram sole, and quality Nubuk leather. And hey, they’re not made in China.

I’ve had far too many pairs of shoes in my review queue much of this year, so I’ve had my hiking housemate trying out the women’s version of the Renegade, one of Lowa’s perennial popular models. It comes in a variety of styles and heights, but she liked the look and functionality of the low ones in maroon.

These shoes are advertised as being comfortable right out of the box and on that claim they passed well. They didn’t go on a five-mile hike out of the box, but they probably could have if needed. (With some good travel socks that is.) The leather is supple, the tongue is not stiff, and the lining is soft. There’s plenty of support where it counts though, with serious tread that’s ready for rock-hopping, a PU midsole that is lightweight but with plenty of cushion, and a nylon shank for stability.

Speaking of lightweight, these certainly are. They might look like they’ll weigh you down, but they come in at under a pound each—great for leather ones. They come in a version with or without Gore-tex. This GTX model has it and it’s been useful since we arrived in hilly central Mexico during the rainy season. If you’re in an always-dry climate though, you might not need to pay the premium.

There is a premium no matter what though when you buy these European hand-crafted shoes. They’re well-made and built to last, so you’re looking at a list price of $170 to $200. A real investment for many people.

In the months she has been using them, my female tester has been happy with all but one aspect: the toe box is too narrow. She has what are usually deemed normal-sized feet, so try these on first before buying them if your feet are not very narrow. Some online reviewers have complained about this as well, so hopefully it won’t be a permanent issue in the series.

Get more details at the Lowa Footwear site and check prices online for these at Amazon and Zappos. They come in five colors for women and there’s also a men’s version.

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