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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Merrell Chameleon Evo Mid Boot > Test Report by Hollis Easter

Merrell Chameleon Evo Hiking Boots
Test Series by Hollis Easter
Initial Report - 15 May 2009
Field Report - 21 July 2009
Long-Term Report - 22 September 2009

Merrell Chameleon Evo review by Hollis Easter

The Merrell Chameleon Evo GTX Mid is a mid-height hiking boot designed to offer waterproof comfort without a lot of weight.

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Reviewer Information:

The author
The author

Name: Hollis Easter
Age: 28
Gender: Male
Height: 6'0" (1.8 m)
Weight: 205 lb (93 kg)
Email address: backpackgeartest[a@t)holliseaster(dah.t]com
City, State, Country: Potsdam, New York, USA
Backpacking Background: I started hiking as a child in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. As a teenager, I hiked my way to an Eagle Scout award. I love winter climbing, and long days through rough terrain abound. The peaks have become my year-round friends. I also love climbing rock and ice.

I am a midweight backpacker: I don't carry unnecessary gear, but neither do I cut the edges from my maps. I hike in all seasons, at altitudes from sea level to 5,300 ft (1,600 m), and in temperatures from -30 F (-34 C) to 100 F (38 C).

Product Information:

Manufacturer: Merrell, a division of Wolverine World Wide, Inc.
Year of manufacture: 2009
URL: www.merrellboot.com
Listed weight: 34 oz (960 g) [unspecified number and size of boots]
Actual weight: 47.4 oz (1,344 g) [pair, size 13 US]
Size: 13 US, also available in half sizes 7-12 US; whole sizes 14 and 15 US
Width: Medium
Color: Canteen, also available in Dark Earth
MSRP: $150.00 US
Made in China

Boots and box

Product features (from manufacturer materials):

  • GORE-TEX Gasket Construction
  • Waterproof Nubuck Leather Upper
  • GORE-TEX Fabric Lining
  • Breathable Aegis Antimicrobial Air Mesh Construction
  • Breathable Padded Tongue
  • Injection Molded TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) Counter Reinforcement
  • Injection Molded TPU Instep Stability Arm
  • Protective Molded Rubber Rand
  • Protective Molded Rubber Toe Bumper
  • 4.5mm Anatomical OrthoLite Footbed
  • Nylon 6.6 Injection Molded Arch Shank
  • Exposed In-Board Compression Molded EVA Footframe with Grade 4 Tapered Nylon Insole Molded to Bottom
  • Merrell Air Cushion Midsole
  • 5mm Sole Lug Depth
  • Vibram Chameleon Speed Hiker Sole/TC5+ Rubber

Merrell doesn't list a warranty specific to the Chameleon Evo boots, but its website includes the following: "Merrell warrants all products against manufacturer defects. Please note this warranty does not include normal wear and tear and product misuse." On another page, they write: "If you suspect a defect on worn merchandise, the merchandise must be returned for inspection and a determination of eligibility for a refund, exchange or merchandise credit. Please call 1-800-288-3124 for further instruction on returning defective merchandise."

A word about the weight: Merrell doesn't indicate whether its listed weight is for a single boot or for a pair, and it doesn't specify what size boot is being measured. My feet are larger than average, so my boots are often substantially heavier than specified.

Initial Report - 15 May 2009:

See the wide opening?
See the wide opening?

When I first tried on the Merrell Chameleon Evo Mid GTX XCR boots (hereafter "Chameleons" or "boots"), I was surprised and pleased to find that the boots slipped on very easily. Merrell's tongue design allows the boots to open very wide, which means there's no fighting to get my feet in there. I also find that the finger loop on the back of the boots makes it a cinch to hold the boot in the right place.

'Wide' is a good word for the Chameleons. I have relatively wide forefeet, and I'm able to get my foot into the Chameleon without a pinching sensation. Time will tell whether this holds up on the trail, but it's a promising start, especially in a boot labelled "medium width". I mention this because I often have to take a rubbing bar to the outside forefoot of new boots—I'm used to evaluating this part of the fit as soon as I put the boots on.

The Chameleons are mid-height boots, which means that they just barely cover the protruding bones on the sides of my ankle. There is a modest cut for the Achilles tendon, along with a flexible padded tongue. I'm pleased to see that the tongue has full gussets along the sides to keep trail debris from migrating into the boots, since that's a feature I've come to demand in new boots.

The boots are built atop a Vibram Chameleon Speed Hiker outsole. Vibram (named for its founder, Vitale Bramani) uses a variety of rubber compounds for its soles, and Merrell lists this one as TC5+ rubber. I've had such good luck with Vibram soles that I rarely use boots with anything else, so I'll be looking to see how these hold up. I'm also curious to see whether the treads will be self-cleaning, or whether I'll need to pick dirt and mud out of the lugs. Merrell claims a 5 mm (0.19 in) lug height; I measured up to 6 mm (0.23 in) lugs, although some are shorter.

Soles and heel counter
Soles and heel counter

These boots have a rubber rand glued to the upper where it meets the sole; presumably this adds strength and water resistance. There's a lot of extra rubber in the toe area, which Merrell calls a molded toe bumper. We'll see how it protects my toes against abuse from Adirondack rocks and roots.

The upper is made from a variety of materials, from a Nubuck-style leather to suede, through a number of different synthetic mesh fabrics, and ending with molded plastic. The leather upper features large oval cutouts that reveal a mesh liner beneath; I assume that this adds ventilation while decreasing weight. I imagine that the mesh liner includes the GORE-TEX gasket listed in the boots' description, since I can't find anything else on the boots that would qualify as a gasket.

The Instep Stability Arm is actually a pair of injection molded pieces that bracket my ankle, running back to join the sole beneath my heel. They're the black diagonal pieces labeled "MERRELL" in the photograph above right. I assume they're intended to help lock my heel into place in the boot's heel cup, although Merrell hasn't provided an explanation.

These boots came with interesting laces. They're thin, slightly flattened, and have a checkerboard pattern woven into the material. I find them quite easy to grip and tighten. The laces run through a toe eyelet of webbing, then through four pairs of webbing eyelets, and then two pairs of plastic speed hooks by the top of the tongue. Unlike some other Merrell boots I've used, there is no keeper loop to hold the tongue in place. I thought the small Merrell logo on the tongue might hide a pump assembly like those cool sneakers from my childhood, but it appears to be a simple ornament, nothing more.

OrthoLite insoles
OrthoLite insoles

Vibram's included OrthoLite insoles are, indeed, light: 0.91 oz (26 g) each in size 13 US. That's less than half the weight of my usual orthotics. The insoles are somewhat cushioned, are highly flexible, and are a bugger to get back into the boots after the photo shoot.

I spent a while feeling around the inside of the boots. Although I couldn't get my camera in there to see, I did notice that the liner material was rucked up into ridges near my right foot's smaller toes. I'll keep an eye (metaphorically) on this. From what I can see, the boot is lined with a hard-finished synthetic mesh fabric near the boot cuff and, inside, a sueded synthetic fabric.

When I first put on the boots, I noticed that the Instep Stability Arms were very noticeable around my ankle, to the point of significant discomfort. In the course of breaking the boots in around the house, this has faded somewhat. The heel counter is very stiff, at least at first. Other than that, though, the boots are pretty comfortable right off the bat.

Merrell didn't include any care instructions with the boots. Since I prefer to treat boots as their manufacturers intend, I would recommend that Merrell consider adding a brief set of care guidelines to their boot packaging.

A brief word about Merrell's web site. I found their Flash-based site both gorgeous and very difficult to use. It pushed my computer's processor usage to 100% and sometimes seemed to hang for several seconds. It was sometimes possible to click a link to a less flashy (ahem) set of pages, but the link's presentation seemed to be tied to download speed. I have a fast connection, so this required some quick clicking. I would recommend that Merrell's site designers make the basic set of pages easier to find.

I look forward to testing the Merrell Chameleon boots!

Field Report - 21 July 2009:

Walking on Camel's Hump Mtn
Walking on Camel's Hump Mtn

During this period, I wore the Chameleon Evo boots for nine days of field use. I also wore them frequently around town. Except where noted below, all trips took place in or near the Adirondack mountains of northern New York state.

In brief: I have very mixed feelings about the boots. Read on for more information.

Field Conditions:

May 22-23, 2009: Cranberry Lake 50 (Curtis Pond)

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
35 F (2 C) to 60 F (15 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 1,500 ft (460 m)

We intended to do a 50 mile (80 km) thruhike of the newly-created Cranberry Lake 50-miler, a series of foot trails that circumscribe Cranberry Lake, third largest of the lakes in the Adirondack Park. However, a teammate suffered an ankle injury on the first day, so we camped after about 8 miles (13 km) at Curtis Pond to see whether an afternoon and evening of rest would help. He awoke feeling no better the next day, so I hiked out with him to make sure he stayed safe. God, the blackflies were awful. Total distance about 16 miles (26 km), minimal elevation change.

June 13, 2009: Camel's Hump Mtn (Vermont)

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
70 F (21 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) 4,083 ft (1,244 m)

A friend and I climbed Camel's Hump, the third-highest peak in Vermont, via the Burrows Route. It's a nice trail, gaining 2000 ft (600 m) in 2.4 miles (3.9 km). Total distance was about 5 miles (8 km) because we did some scrambling around. It was a lovely day for it, with slightly hazy views back to our beloved Adirondacks. We shared water, bug spray, and companionship with a nice group of Tennesseans.

June 21, 2009: Lampson Falls loop

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
60 F (15 C) negligible around 800 ft (240 m)

My Dad and I did a Father's Day geocaching trip around the Lampson Falls loop, a 3.5 mile (5.6 km) loop over old tote roads and newer trails. There was quite a lot of blowdown, and I did some scrambling over some rocks at the falls.

July 6-7, 2009: Lampson Falls

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
45 F (7 C) to 60 F (15 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 800 ft (240 m

A friend and I decided to make the excursion to Lampson Falls for an overnight test of some gear. Total distance was about 2 miles (3 km), with minimal elevation gain.

Boots on rappel
Boots on rappel

July 10, 2009: Chapel Pond slab, Keene Valley

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
75 F (24 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 1,500 ft (460 m)

A friend and I ascended a new route on the Chapel Pond slab, one of the longest continuous pieces of rock in the Adirondacks. Our route, done in six pitches, climbs friction over about 800 ft (245 m) of terrain ranging from 5.0 to about 5.5 or 5.6. We unroped and switched to approach shoes for the final pitch, which took us to the (horrendous) south descent gully. Six wet, mossy, unpleasant rappels later, we were back on the hiking trails. Total hiking distance was probably about 1 mile (1.6 km).

July 12, 2009: Mt Arab (and bouldering)

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
80 F (27 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) around 1,500 ft (460 m)

I helped lead an Adirondack Mountain Club outing up Mt. Arab, a small peak in the northern Adirondacks. We were teaching new hikers about the basics of mountain hiking, so we had a lot of kids along. Afterwards, a friend and I did some bouldering on the summit, and then some bouldering at McKenzie Pond in the central high peaks. Total distance was about 2.4 miles (3.9 km) with about 1,000 ft (300 m) of ascent.

July 14, 2009: South Colton (rock climbing)

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
70 F (21 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) unknown

I took my friend Pete on his first rock climbing trip, introducing him to a short 5.4 route at our local crag. The approach is relatively short at 0.5 mile (0.8 km), with minimal elevation gain. We had a good time.

Commentary:

My expression says it all
My expression says it all

I've been a loyal Merrell customer for many years, so it's very difficult for me to write the things that need to be said here. I am not happy with the Chameleon Evo boots, for a number of reasons. I have tried to be objective, since that's a part of what we do here at BackpackGearTest.org, but I've also included some subjective comments in the summary below.

I've used the Chameleons on a variety of terrain so far, ranging from flat dirt paths to steeply inclined rock. I've worn them through mud, light rain, runoff, and overhanging wet grass. I've used them for class 4 scrambling at the end of a climbing route, for scrambling at the top of a cliff while setting climbing anchors, for walking up friction slabs, and for demonstrating 5.4-grade face climbing moves to a friend. I've walked on sandstone, on granite, on metanorthosite, and a variety of other rock surfaces.

The Adirondack mountains, where I live, have been a wet place this summer. It's rained something like 28 of the last 30 days. That doesn't mean that it's always raining, by any stretch—but there's a lot of water around. Rocks dry out eventually, but they're often damp this year.

Enough with the excuses I'm making for the boots. On to the report!

Comfort is the first thing I evaluate in a boot, since it applies as soon as I put them on my feet. The Chameleons have mostly been pretty good: they're very lightweight, they're easy to put on, and they don't pinch my toes. I still feel the Instep Arm (the black plastic heel piece) on the sides of my ankle, but it's not usually egregious.

The Chameleon Evo boots are very comfortable for day hiking on level dirt paths. They're light and offer sufficient traction for that purpose.

Unfortunately, that's where the praise ends.

I do not like the factory OrthoLite insoles at all. They are squishy and feel imprecise, and they gave me significant foot pain within the first couple of miles of walking. I swapped them out for aftermarket orthotics, which helped somewhat.

However, even with better insoles, I've found that the boots stop providing good support when I'm carrying a pack with anything more than about 30 lbs (14 kg) in it. My feet slide around inside the boots when I have that much extra weight.

Traction is good on highly featured dry rock
Traction is good on highly featured dry rock

If these boots have a strong suit, reliable traction isn't it, at least not so far. Their traction is good on flat, dry dirt, and it's acceptable on dry rock as long as the rock is highly featured. However, if the rock is even a little bit damp, the boots become dangerously slippery, to the point where I've fallen repeatedly. It's been several years since I've fallen while hiking.

In the effort to understand this phenomenon a little better, I took the boots on a field trip to some slabby rock, and I brought my clinometer. A clinometer is a device that measures inclines—it's used in avalanche safety, and a rudimentary one is built into some sighting compasses. I used it to measure the slopes I was walking on.

When the rock was dry, I could stand on rock that sloped upwards at 30° fairly reliably (using good friction climbing technique), and could make it to 45° if the rock was very highly textured and there was a good-sized rugosity or dish to stand on. That's not bad, actually, and it would be perfectly acceptable if I could guarantee dry rock.

When I stand on wet rock, the boots will slide at 7° slope. For my readers who want to visualize that, I have a science experiment for you: take a US 25-cent piece and stand it on edge. Now take a 12 inch (30 cm) ruler, lay the very end of the ruler atop your coin, and examine the slope. That's what a 7° slope looks like. Not what I'd call steep.

I fell over while walking a trail after stepping on a damp rock that was sloped like that. I couldn't understand it. I didn't believe it until it happened again. And again.

The soles on my boots are not self-cleaning at all, meaning that if I've walked in any mud, it's stuck in the tread. This has the side effect of making the current walking surface effectively wet, even if it was otherwise dry... and I've mentioned that the Chameleons don't do well with wet surfaces. Striking the boots with my trekking pole doesn't clear the mud out, either: I have to get a twig and clean each part of the sole manually.

The waterproofing on the boots is unpredictable at best. I was pleased on the first few trips at how my feet stayed dry even when doing shallow stream crossings, and I was quite impressed. However, the waterproofing has quickly disintegrated. At this point, walking through wet grass will completely soak the boots (and my socks inside) within 1 mile (1.6 km), to the point that I'm able to wring water out of my socks. The soles still keep water out, but at this point, if water touches the upper, it goes through.

As far as durability goes: the rubber rand on the right boot started peeling away from the upper during my first day of wearing the boots. Other than that, I have noticed no wear issues.

Summary:

Conditions in the Adirondacks have been wet this year. I hope that I'll get some drier weather in the long-term testing phase, and that my opinion of these boots will improve. I want to like them. I've known and trusted Merrell for most of my hiking life.

"Trust" is an important word here. There are relatively few pieces of backpacking gear where trust is a really important factor. My water purification system. The suspension on my hammock. My climbing gear.

My boots.

Bottom line: I don't trust these boots. They slip, often unpredictably, on surfaces that don't look slippery to me. It takes a lot of technique to hike in the Adirondacks with these boots, since it doesn't feel like they give me very much traction to work with. It's often quite scary to hike while wearing them. I'm used to trusting my feet implicitly and, pardon the term, my trust is slipping in these boots.

I cherish the hope that these boots will redeem themselves during the next phase of their life with me. Maybe I just live in the wrong part of the United States, but for me, they really aren't working out.

Long-Term Report - 22 September 2009:

During this period, I wore the boots for two field days and several days around town. My experience was basically similar to that of the preceding months and, following BackpackGearTest policy, I stopped using the boots due to safety concerns.

Poised to climb

Field Conditions:

July 31-August 1, 2009: Lower Wolf Jaw Mtn.

Temperature:Wind:Elevation:
50 F (10 C) to 80 F (27 C) up to 15 mph (24 kph) 4,175 ft (1,273 m)

A friend and I hiked through the midnight rain to a campsite along Johns Brook, where we set up camp. The next morning, we met another friend and I led the crew on an ascent of the Bennies Brook Slide on Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain. We climbed the steep, wet open rock for about 1,500 vertical feet (460 m), finally reaching a hiking trail that led to the summit. A great trip: good friends, labradorite in the brooks, and good views. Total ascent was about 3,200 ft (975 m), and distance about 12 miles (19 km).

Bennies Brook Slide

Comments and Summary:

The Merrell Chameleon EVO boots were, again, disappointing. They managed to keep my feet dry this time, which was good especially given that the lower half of the Bennies Brook Slide was under running water. However, their lack of traction was often terrifying on the steep, wet rock we were climbing. I've been teaching one of my hiking buddies to do slide climbing, and his comments about my boots seem apt: "I kept watching you slip on easy terrain, and when I got there, I just walked right up it like it was nothing. That never happens with your other shoes."

Looking for silver linings, I can say once again that the Chameleons are very lightweight, which has a lot going for it. They've forced me to really focus on my climbing technique, since lapses in judgment lead to falls. I guess they're a good teaching tool in that respect.

However, I don't feel safe continuing to wear them, so I think they'll be staying at home from now on. Perhaps someday, in a drier year, they'll make it back onto some Adirondack rocks.

This test has shown me something: I have a very marked preference for steep terrain. All footwear involves compromises between conflicting goals, and I think the Chameleons strengthen other areas at the expense of traction on rock. For others, that may be a fine choice. Other shoes make different compromises, too—I have a different pair of Merrell trail shoes that works beautifully in the Adirondacks. This is why BackpackGearTest is relevant: real field experiences, grounded in a particular location. I hope reading about my slips and falls is useful to someone!

The Chameleon EVO boots are fairly comfortable, very light, and reasonably waterproof under some circumstances. However, they don't work well with my chosen activities and locations. Outsoles that trap mud are a liability this year, and wet traction is something I cannot afford to give up. I think these boots will be relegated to "around town" duty from now on, but I thank BackpackGearTest.org and Merrell for giving me the chance to try them out.

Likes:Dislikes:
  • Sized to fit my wide feet!
  • Vibram sole
  • Seem quite light on my feet
  • Good padding on cuff
  • Finger loop on heel
  • Comfortable on flat trails
  • Slow Flash-based web site
  • Traction is dangerously poor on wet rock
  • Waterproofing seems ineffectual
  • Poor durability on rand
  • Tread retains mud, exacerbating traction problems

This concludes my test of the Merrell Chameleon EVO hiking boots.

Finishing the climb


Read more reviews of Merrell gear
Read more gear reviews by Hollis Easter

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