KEEN FOOTWEAR OREGON PCT BOOT
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
October 26, 2008
FIELD REPORT January 10, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT March 13, 2009
||Catskills, New York
||6' 0" (1.85 m)
||215 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from
a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no
means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to
carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In
recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within
the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: KEEN Footwear
Year of manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.keenfootwear.com
Boot color: bison/rust
Upper materials: Leather (oiled nubuck by appearance), "high abrasian synthetics" [sic], KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membrane lining, etc.
Outsole material: Carbon non-marking rubber
Listed weight: n/a on website
Size tested: 14 US (N.B. largest available size). Sizes run from 7 up, with half-sizes available to 11 1/2
Measured weight: Left and right boots both 2 lb (0.9 kg); i.e. total weight 4 lb (1.8 kg)
Place of manufacture: China
Front view of boots
The boots arrived in great shape, and were pretty much exactly as I expected from the website. There was no literature included, other than a packing slip. I tried them on immediately, wearing a pair of expedition weight Dahlgren alpaca/wool socks (my usual trail wear, pretty much year round, as I like the padding these socks supply). The fit, on walking around the house initially, was noticeably comfortable.
The boots flex well, and I don't have any sense that these boots are likely to chafe or rub unduly, though confirmation must await further testing. My heels feel locked firmly in the heel cups, without any sensation of being constricted. The toe-box is a comfortable width for my toes. The large front rand makes the toe-box quite rigid. This means that my toes should be well protected against stubbing on rocks, etc. For boots not yet broken in, they feel comfortable. So far as I can tell they are free from the sort of "slop" in fit that can give rise to rubbing and blisters.
A preliminary break-in hike on level terrain of about four miles (6 km) has confirmed the impressions I've just noted. As a consequence, I feel that the fit can be fairly described as true. This is critical so far as I am concerned, as I have some longstanding foot problems that can be exacerbated by ill-fitting boots. At the same time, my feet are fairly "average" in overall shape, if there is such a thing: I have found that more boots fit me well than badly.
The Keen Footwear warranty (taken from the website) seems industry-standard. "KEEN offers a one year warranty on all our products from the original date of purchase. If you believe your KEEN footwear, bag or socks are defective for any reason, please contact the KEEN dealer where the original purchase took place. The dealer is the best place to get your warranty issue resolved. The dealer can usually accommodate an immediate replacement or credit toward a special order for new product if a replacement is not in stock..." And so on.
Design and materials
The impression I have after examining the boots is that they are carefully designed and well manufactured. While there is a good deal of external stitching, all the seams are double-sewn and appear flawlessly constructed. My hope is that they will prove comfortable and durable, as they will be exposed to rugged conditions. They will also be used in quite cold weather, on snow and ice, sometimes in snowshoes or with crampons attached. That's a given, due to the fall-winter testing period.
The uppers are largely leather. While the precise material used is not described on the Keen website, it appears to be an oiled nubuck. The tongue is constructed from a heavy foam-padded nylon, with leather fittings and a central nylon webbing strap, ending at the top in a loop (there is a similar webbing loop on the heel of the boot). There is a loop at the center of the tongue through which the lace passes, presumably to prevent the tongue from drifting off-center. The tongue gussets extend to about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) below the top of the boot. Ankle support is provided by a stiff nylon-coated synthetic that is sewn in a complex design over the heel, and each boot has a well-padded cuff (again made from a sturdy fabric), with a pronounced Achilles notch.
The two-tone soles, which are of proprietary manufacture (note the KEEN logo on each boot in the image below), are heavily lugged, with what Keen describes as "4mm multi-directional traction lugs." The lugging on the heels is similarly formidable, and each heel has a core of a cork/EVA composite (a brown material with visible wood particles), that is intended to reduce heel shock (it is stamped "Natural Cushioning," the text just visible in the center part of the heel in the photo). The insole is shanked with what is described by KEEN as the "Keen Key-Tec full length TPU stability plate." I'll have to take that on faith! There is a sturdy rand all the way around the sole of the boot, extending over the toe box as a substantial "bumper." This has a small yellow "alert" triangle cast into it. I'm unclear if this is a decorative element or if this symbol is indeed intended to impart a warning of some kind.
The lugged soles. The cushioning
can be seen at the center of each heel
The lacing system on each boot includes three lower pairs of brass loops. Above these are a pair of webbing loops that are part of a continuous webbing strap that wraps round the heel, passing throught a series of slots. This is intended to facilitate heel lockdown, according to KEEN's website description. The top three pairs of fasteners are speed-lacing hooks. The laces themselves are black and orange, to match the color scheme of the boot. From preliminary testing, the lacing seems simple and secure, and the heel lockdown does seem effective, though this is just a very preliminary assessment. The arrangement of the lacing elements is such that non-standard lacings should be straighforward, something I started to experiment with on my first break-in hike.
The insole is removable, and is made of two-tone EVA foam. It appears pretty sturdy. Initially I will be using this, though if I find it provides insufficient padding for my forefoot (my right foot suffers from Morton's neuroma) I may have to try swapping them out for custom insoles. My preference is to avoid this, if possible. The interior of the boot is lined with KEEN's proprietary breathable fabric, KEEN.DRY. This does not form a full bootie (as with some boots with waterproof breathable fabric), but is sewn onto the fabric under the insole.
The boots from the rear
From the preliminary walking I've done in these, I have reason to hope that these will be a comfortable pair of boots. I will be interested to see if the strong tread pattern provides good traction on the slick rock (and soon, snow and ice) that predominates in my hiking areas. The lacing system works well, based on early indications. It has some latitude for alternate, non-standard lacings, should these prove to be necessary.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the Keen PCT Oregon boots in moderate to serious winter conditions for about eight days of hiking over the Field Test period, as well as occasional strolls, trips to the stores, and other non-hiking use. I did not use them for winter backpacking, for reasons discussed below. Use was in the Catskill and Shawanagunk Mountains of New York, to elevations of about 4000 ft (1220 m). Conditions included moderate snow cover, as well as rain and occasionally ice-slicked rock, with temperatures from about 15 to 32 F (-9 to 0 C), give or take a few degrees.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
My first concern with any new pair of boots, after the overall fit, has to be break-in time. I have owned pairs that have never broken in to my satisfaction. My experience is that boots with a composite construction, such as these, are usually much easier than full leather boots in this regard. This has proved to be the case here, but while the Oregon PCTs could conceivably be worn for serious hiking straight out of the box, based on my experience I wouldn't entirely recommend it. I found that some minor ankle chafing during initial wearings, and it wasn't until this fairly robustly constructed area of the boot had enough use to render it reasonably flexible that I found the boots entirely comfortable. I do have fairly thick ankles, which may have been a contributory factor. The footbox was entirely comfortable from the outset.
Now they are fully broken in I find these boots extremely comfortable, both on and off trail. As mentioned in the initial report, I wear these with heavyweight socks, and wearing these (Dahlgren and Patagonia expedition weight), I found the boots (which have no added insulation) amply warm in temperatures down to the 'teens (around -9 C), and they are as good a fit as any off-the-shelf boot I have encountered. My heels seem to be firmly locked in place on steep downhills, and there is no noticeable slop on sidehills (which is always a good test of boot fit). I would judge these a superior fit, though as with any boot I must qualify this by saying they are comfortable on my
feet, and every foot is different. I have used the footbeds that came with the boot exclusively, and I've not had any problems (so far) with the Morton's Neuroma that periodically afflicts my right foot. In other pairs that I have used in past years, I've nearly always had to use a semi-custom (heat-formed) footbed.
The boot's external resistance to moisture is at least adequate, and indeed maybe a bit better than average. Still, if there are water crossings (or even snow-melt) the surface does wet out noticeably. My feet have so far remained dry within the boot, indicating that the moisture is not fully penetrating. Also, though I find this hard to judge precisely, I would say the linings are quite breathable. My socks have stayed dry, except when I have ended up with a bit of snow in them (I've mostly used these without gaiters, for the simple reason that until recently both my current pairs had been mislaid).
Provided that I carry dry socks (and I always do—a pair of vapor barrier socks, to be precise), a wet boot is not a serious issue for winter day hiking. So far, they have dried fairly rapidly upon my return home. Still, for winter backpacking in snowy conditions I always use plastic climbing boots, both for the comfort and warmth of removable liners (which I can use in my sleeping bag), and because plastic boots do not freeze. Unless I sleep with them in my sleeping bag, which is less than comfortable in my opinion, leather and composite boots can become extremely stiff in sub-freezing conditions. Thawing them on my feet first thing in the morning is an excruciating (and, in deep cold, potentially dangerous) experience. Been there, done that. If we have a period of predictably mild conditions during the test period, I may use these for overnights, but otherwise I must report on the backpacking aspect of these boots in an addendum, once milder weather returns.
The soles provide excellent traction on packed or slab snow, but are (entirely predictably) less than good on ice. I took one unusually heavy fall when coming down an inclined slab that proved to have glare ice concealed under thin snow. I really don't think that any boot will grip in such conditions, so I don't consider this in any way a deficiency, merely that the soles have limits. Traction on mere wet rock is adequate, or better. I'm usually pretty stable on my feet, and I have no other serious tumbles to report. The soles so far show little or no wear, and the boots overall still look in great shape, despite some exposure to muddy trails back in early November.
I am not especially concerned with support, as I carry light loads when hiking and three-season backpacking, and indeed I will often backpack in trail runners in summer. These boots do provide good ankle support, and I would hazard a guess that for anyone carrying heavy loads, they would perform quite well, but that is merely supposition. The boots are easily to lace well, and in fact I have not generally needed to use anything but the standard lacing. The speed hooks grip the laces well, and the laces themselves are holding up nicely.
So far this season I have not yet had to use crampons or snowshoes on my excursions. I can report that a pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes fits well, and that they stay put. I hope to put the boots to the test with crampons and snowshoes during the long term test period.
The Oregon PCT boots have been very comfortable and an excellent fit, once broken in. They appear durable, and have been a pleasure to wear for their excellent traction on compacted snow-covered trails. I don't have any significant criticisms or issues to date.
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
For the past two months I have used the Oregon PCT boots on numerous snowshoe mountaineering trips in the Catskills and Shawanagunk Mountains. It has until recently been a cold winter (far colder than the period of the field report, with daytime temperatures in the hills on occasion as low as -10F, -23 C). There has been a great deal of snow in the mountains, by the standards of this region, often well over three feet (one meter), with deeper drifting in areas. The cold has eased suddenly with the advent of March, and in a recent brief respite from the Arctic cold I undertook a backpack trip with the boots, about which a little more later. I have also taken one rather arduous trip in up to three feet (almost one meter) of unstable "rotten" snow of the kind characteristic of spring conditions in these hills, in temperatures well over freezing (likely up to 45 F, 7 C). This severely tested the waterproof nature of the boots.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The boots continued to be comfortable, and are extremely well broken-in. They have proved well suited to wear with snowshoes, and they also work adequately with non-technical flexible crampons (used on sections of trail ice). Because they are more flexible than the boots I usually use in winter, I occasionally felt minor compression from the straps of snowshoes and crampons, but not enough to be an issue. This is important to note, as constriction of footwear by such straps (and the resulting squeezing of feet and circulation) is potentially dangerous in harsh winter conditions. At all times I continued to wear expedition-weight socks, and my feet were generally sufficiently warm.
Though the waterproofing of the boots was adequate (moisture limited to snow-melt on the surface), the one March traverse mentioned in the section on conditions proved too much for them. I was on wickedly unstable off-trail snow, with several descents (and ascents) of between 500 and 1000 feet (150 and 300 metres), at temperatures well above freezing. It was also raining, in the afternoon at least. Wet snow soaked into the the boots. There was also snow that was forced into the boots during various helter-skelter slides (the final descent on this route is exceptionally steep). The rain and numerous falls on snow caused my boots to become utterly saturated inside and out, despite the use of snowshoes.
Fortunately, the combination of milder air temperatures and thick socks helped keep my feet warm. (I was carrying dry VBL socks, but decided I was not at risk of frostbite or hypothermia and did not change.) I would not call this soaking a defect, as I don't think anything except plastic boots (too warm for these conditions) would have done too much better. I was leading a group on this occasion, and one member said that it felt like a winter survival course, despite the milder temperatures, so wicked was the condition of the snow. I am pleased to report that when, several days later, the boots dried out at home, there was no foul odor.
Wear to heel strap
Durability has, with one exception, been excellent so far. That single exception may be the (pun intended) Achilles heel of the boot. The webbing strap that acts to hold the wearer's heel firmly in place has started to abrade at the eyelet on the instep side of the left boot. The wear extends almost to the center of the strap. Similar wear does not show on the other eyelets, I wonder if this damage resulted from sharp abrasion from rock. That it has happened at all is a concern. The nature of the boot's construction, with a strap running over a hard nylon eyelet, does seem to carry with it the risk of this kind of "hammer and anvil" damage.
If it were possible, I would love to see this strap totally sheaved in future versions of the boot. The idea of a heel retaining strap is excellent, but based on this evidence, the execution could be improved. If and when the heel strap fails, I don't know what the impact on the fit of the boot will be, but I cannot help but think it will be adverse.
I have worn the boot on one backpack over this winter period, and that with a degree of trepidation. I was carrying what was (for winter) a light load of about 30 lb (14 kg). This is hardly extreme, and the boots were perfectly comfortable and stable on the snow over which I was traveling (wearing snowshoes). I will be interested to see how they handle hard trails in the summer, a rather more typical test of a backpacking boot.
My concern for winter backpacking use, remarked on in the field report, comes from the strong possibility that the boots will freeze hard during the night. Fortunately the temperature in the tent did not descend much below freezing on this trip, and the boots did not become especially wet during the previous day. Still, I hesitate to recommend these boots for winter backpacks, given that (as already noted) they can wet out. In deep winter such mishaps can cause (at best) morning unpleasantness (putting on rock-hard frozen boots is simply excruciating) and potentially, it can lead to serious frostbite.
These are, for me, very comfortable, well-fitting boots that are surprisingly suited (given the lack of insulation) to winter dayhikes. I do not think that they are especially suitable to winter backpacking in sub-Arctic conditions. Since the terrain I hike been almost uniformly snowy at elevation over almost the entire test period, I can only comment that on those occasions when I was on rock or trail rather than snow they handled admirably, and they do grip wet and snowy rock pretty well. I like the way my heels are cinched in by the heel strap, but wish the webbing were better protected against abrasion. In all, though, my experience with these boots is very positive, and I will certainly continue to wear them into the spring and summer.
My thanks to KEEN and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test these boots. This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org
Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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