For the past few years, I’ve been hiking and backpacking exclusively in New Balance trail runners — mostly dry day hikes and short 2-3 night backpacking trips. It’s worked well for me, but I have to admit that on some of the rough trails my feet feel pretty beat up at the end of the day. So for my John Muir Trail trip this year, I decided I wanted a little more protection.
After researching in several forums, reading online reviews and talking to other hikers, I was ready to head to my local REI and try some on.
REI is a great place to buy hiking boots or shoes. Not only do they have a dividend for members, but they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
I tried on several pairs and ultimately chose the KEEN Pyrenees boots. They are an all-leather upper with a Nubuck finish and a waterproof liner. At 17 oz, they weigh the same as the nylon/leather KEEN Targhee II mid-height boots. I also replaced the foot bed with Superfeet insoles. The combination of the KEEN Pyrenees and the Superfeet insoles made these boots feel like butter.
The upside to an all-leather upper is improved protection and water resistance. The downside is that they generally require more breaking in time than an nylon or nylon and leather upper.
Breaking in the Boots: A Somewhat Unorthodox Approach
My boot guy at REI suggested I wear them around the house for an hour on Day One, then for four hours on Day Two. Really smart advice, but I took a slightly less conventional approach.
On Day One, I hiked 4-1/2 miles on the Colinas Bluff trail. It had rained during the night, so the normally dry dirt had turned to slippery mud. I was thankful I wasn’t wearing my trail runners! The boots kept my feet dry and gripped the slippery hills.
The next day, I hiked up Holy Jim canyon to Santiago Peak. At 5,687 feet, Santiago is the highest peak in Orange County. There were several small creek crossings, some patches of snow hiking, and it rained lightly during the course of this 16 mile hike. Of course, wearing new boots on a hike like this is a risky proposition, and I wouldn’t recommend it. I took a calculated risk based on my Day One experience with them, and was fortunate that it worked out well. I was prepared with moleskin and first aid if I had needed it, and in the worse case scenario, I could’ve turned back early toward the car. I was fortunate; the boots performed like champs, and fit like a glove. No hot spots or blisters at all.
Of course, hiking boots and footwear are a highly personal decision, but so far, I’m very pleased with mine.
Hiking Boot Shopping Advice
If you’re looking for some good advice on what to look for in a hiking boot, the Hiking Ladyhas some great advice. Though her advice was written “for women” the general advice applies to guys as well. I’ll just add that when you go to try on boots, bring along the socks that you’ll be using to hike in so you’ll get properly sized.
And even though your boots may claim to be waterproof, take the time to properly and lovingly waterproof them with Sno-Seal or similar treatment.
March 16th Addendum
This past weekend I hiked 19 miles on Blackstar Canyon, including some boulder scrambling around waterfalls. While scrambling on wet boulders, I noticed that the soles don’t have the same “grippiness” some shoes I’ve worn. They are described by Keen as “non-marking rubber.” I’m not sure what that means, but in my experience, “marking rubber” soles are a little more grippy. That being said, it wasn’t a problem and I’m still very happy with them. But I will exercise a skosh more caution on steep, slippery and hard services.