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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Merrell Outbound Mid Boots > Test Report by Rick Dreher
Merrell Outbound Mid Gore-Tex Boots
I enjoy going high and light and frequently take shorter "fast- packing" trips. My longest trips are a week or so. I've lightened my pack load because I enjoy hiking more when toting less, I can go farther and over tougher terrain, and I have cranky ankles. I use trekking poles and generally hike solo or tandem. I've backpacked all over the U.S. West and now primarily hike California's Sierra Nevada. My favorite trips are alpine and include off-trail travel and sleeping in high places. When winter arrives, I head back for snowshoe outings in the white stuff.
Product Information & Specifications
The Merrell Outbound Mid Gore-Tex boots are heavy-duty hikers with a waterproof breathable liner and armoring sufficient for offtrail and snow travel, as well as non-technical climbing. They're quite different (taller, more rugged and heavier) from the trail sneakers I've been wearing the last ten years or so, but offer a lot of potential advantages for difficult conditions and when wearing snowshoes and traction devices (crampons).
Design, Materials and Construction
Starting at the bottom, the Merrell's aggressively lugged Vibram soles are "welded" to a tall wraparound rubber welt, forming an ostensibly waterproof, impact-resistant barrier (although pierced in some places by stitching). There is ample cutaway space in front of the heel to accommodate gaiter straps. Above the sole but hidden from view is a nylon plate to provide both springiness and stiffness. Cordura nylon fabric replaces more traditional leather in much of the uppers (a leather version of the Outbound is also available). While the specs mention synthetic leather I don't really see anything that would qualify as such. Additional bracing is provided in the form of "reinforced silicone instep arms and heel counters." The ankle collars and gusseted tongues are well padded and designed to be snug to help keep out snow and debris. Of particular importance for traveling in the wet and snow are the seam-sealed Gore-Tex liners, intended to fend off moisture while venting sweaty feet.
Inside are familiar removable foam insole and a little foam plug ("Air Cushion heel pocket") underneath, evidently to give some shock absorption at the heel. The boots are "Aegis" antibacterial-treated inside to fend off stinky boot syndrome. Outside, lacing is handled by a combination of eyelets and lace hooks. These are interesting in that they're cast metal rather than the typical stamped metal. They appear to be aluminum and are riveted into place. The rivets do not go all the way through to the inside lining.
The Outbound Mids are complex footwear and appear to be carefully made. Stitching-and there's a lot-seems to be even and on track. Joints are tight and whatever welding and gluing there is (not easy to tell which is what) is even and gapless. At present I can find no intruding seams, folds or other potential sources of blisters and raw skin inside. In my experience these seldom reveal themselves when shoes are new.
Reading the Instructions
The Outbound Mids come with various written tags and box inserts but there are no fitting, use or care instructions per se. Limited additional information is available on the Merrell Web site.
Trying Them Out
The Outbounds take moderate force to flex when I bend the toe back, and they are torsionally quite rigid (resistance against twisting). Excess fore and aft stiffness can affect long-distance walking comfort (how much "rocker"-premolded curvature-is built in also has an effect) while torsional stiffness is a big help when I'm snowshoeing or wearing crampons, and I welcome it here. Snowshoes in particular can twist flexible trail shoes so much that I lose control. I'll be interested to see what happens when these boots and my snowshoes match wills.
The Outbounds are stoutly made for tackling challenging conditions-much heavier than trail sneakers but still not as heavy as traditional full-leather boots. They are armored against abrasion and rock and root bruising, are lined against moisture and extend above ankle height. They will accommodate snowshoe and strap-type crampon bindings. I'm eager to try them in soggy fall conditions and once it snows in the mountains, taking them into our winter playground.
My thanks to Merrell and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test the Outbound Mids.
Field Locations & Conditions
I used the Outbound Mids a lot in the report period, including yardwork around my house, traipsing around the Delta region and hiking in the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains. Among my excursions were two late fall Sierra Nevada mountain day hikes and two Sierra snowshoe trips. Trails varied from flat and smooth to steep, rocky and uneven. Snow was mostly fresh with some packed trails and virgin snow from a half foot to perhaps a yard deep (0.3 to 1 m). My longest day's distance was 12 miles (20 km).
Performance in the Field
I've used the boots with Atlas Race and MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and they're a good match with both. They fit the bindings and don't interfere with the straps-no painful pressure points so far. The toes of my size 11.5s clear the openings in the snowshoe decking. I'm reminded of how relatively light the Merrells are because especially with the lightweight Atlases, they make a combination I can walk in for hours before experiencing my typical snowshoeing "bonk." The heavier MSRs have more grip and put more stress on the boots, especially when side-hilling. The Merrells have controlled them well so far, something that lighter footwear can struggle with. I have no experience with the Lightning heel lifter wearing the Merrells; hopefully I'll have something to report in the long-term.
The Merrells have softened and formed to my feet during the test period and I don't feel as much like a visitor the way I did initially. They're comfortable to walk in, even on pavement, and although I won't confuse them with trail sneakers they don't feel clunky like classic mountain boots either. I suspect the nylon sole plates flex more easily than they were when new—the boots bend more easily in my hands.
On the Go
Evaluating the Outbound Mids starting from ground level, the Vibram soles grip well in a lot of conditions-they were only slippery in mud and on ice. They grip wet rock pretty well, which is a plus and they offer generally good traction on a variety of surfaces. Fine-grained (silt-clay) mud clings tenaciously to the spaces between the lugs and requires a good cleaning before bringing them inside.
The very wide armored welt seems bombproof. Nothing gets through it and I can bang my feet against rocks without bruising. The boots can get sweaty in warmer weather and I believe this welt is the reason, but its impervious qualities are welcome in winter. The fabric uppers shed water, snow and mud pretty well and haven't wet through. Unlike the welt the uppers do seem to breathe some and this quality helps reduce sweating.
The lacing system works well. Lace tension is easy to adjust and the beefy eyelets tolerate my cinching while allowing the laces to move without binding. The laces can untie on the go and I sometimes double-knot them to avoid this. I'll see whether they soften with use; they're still pretty stiff. Snow can cling to the laces, although not when I'm wearing gaiters.
The Gore-Tex-lined Outbound Mids are very water-resistant. I slogged through water, mud, wet turf and snow without getting truly wet. Damp yes, but never soaking, wring-out-the-socks wet. I find it helpful to wear gaiters to keep snow, rain, splash and debris out of the boot tops. After a wet walk the boots are often moist inside but I can't know whether it's from sweat or wet-through or water coming in from the tops. In warm, dry weather it's certainly sweat but in cold weather there's no way to know. Sock selection has an impact, as does gaiter use. Despite the boot cuffs there's enough space to allow the elements in from the top, but gaiters fend it off well.
My feet never got cold in the Outbound Mids despite walking in snow up to my knees. They're reinforcing my observation that dry feet+good socks+enough foot-room=warm feet (but this is California, not Saskatchewan).
Considering the level of protection they provide the Outbound Mids carve a nice mid position in the comfort continuum. The midsole provides reasonable shock absorption and very good impact protection. I can't say I notice the "heel pockets" specifically, but I've not bruised my heels either. The sole plate flexes enough to walk but still provides support for toe-climbing and snowshoeing. There's good lateral stability for rocky trails and snowshoe control. I occasionally jamb my toes on steep downhills but not often and not leading to any purple or lost toenails. I've had zero friction blisters (yay).
Footwear is successful when it doesn't call attention to itself. If I'm not slipping and sliding, rolling my ankle, wringing out my socks or getting blisters I'm not really thinking about my boots. In this regard the Merrells are competently doing their job.
The Outbound Mid Gore-Texes have performed well so far and do more things well than I'd expected. I approached them as strictly winter boots but they're more versatile than that. They're comfortable, supportive, and so far, tough. They are good winter boots and fine for milder fall conditions as well. They pair well with snowshoes and I hope to find how they do with crampons in the long term test.
Recommendations for Improvement
So far I can't find any. How about that?!?
Please check back in two months for the long-term report.
Long-Term Test Locations & Descriptions
During the long-term period I wore the Merrell Outbound Mids in my soggy, muddy yard; on my commute on absurdly rainy days; on weekend day trips around the region; and on five day hikes: two snowshoe trips in the Sierra Nevada, one Sierra foothill hike down into the American River Canyon and two Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta hikes.
Performance in the Field
The Outbound Mids always performed well, regardless of what I put them up against. They kept my feet dry in rain, snow and standing water; fended off mud; gripped an array of surfaces and inclines; and kept my feet and ankles dry, comfortable and safe. I even found I could drive the car wearing them without getting my feet wedged in the pedals (something I was curious about given the recent automotive news).
I finally had the chance to slog up a long steep hill in warm weather and found the Outbound Mids can get a bit sweaty. Since the plastic welt extends so far up the sides and over the toe, I'm not surprised at this. The Gore-Tex uppers definitely help pull some moisture away, but there's a clear breathability difference between these boots and, say, a pair of ventilated trail sneakers. This is no surprise to me.
Stability remained good throughout this test and I didn't roll an ankle. There were times when I skipped trekking poles where I would otherwise have used them had I been wearing sneakers. The Merrells give me some added confidence on uneven trails.
There hasn't been a dramatic break-in during this test, as the boots feel similar to how they did when new. Sole flex is similar. Inside, the shape seems to have adapted to my ankle contours. I have adequate forefoot space and my toes don't hit the front when descending. I never got a blister in the Merrells.
The Outbound Mids hose off easily without becoming soaking wet inside-useful when they're caked in mud. Some debris knocks off relatively easy but other times there's enough left that an extra cleaning is warranted before they come inside.
I often find I'm retying the boots, and only double knots hold really securely. The tops can open up and let in rain when the laces loosen. The boots retain a unique "chemical" odor they had when new. If I'm ever evading bloodhounds I'll need to wear something else.
Wear & Tear
The soles have worn a bit, the uppers have stretched a bit, the welt is scuffed up, but the Outbound Mids are almost as good as new. I feel they're exhibiting good wear characteristics. I can't extrapolate across a full hiking season but after four months of use I at least know the Merrells are more than a match for what I've put them through.
Suggestions for Improvement
I can't think of much to change on the Outbound Mids. I'd like the boot tops to stay closed rather than opening up to allow debris in. Perhaps a lace change would help them stay knotted. These are minor quibbles, not major problems to slay.
The Merrell Outbound Mid Gore-Tex boots are well suited to my fall and winter hiking needs. They fit well, they're protective against the elements and poor trail conditions, they're stable, they're lightweight (for this class of footwear) and they wear well. They also work well with snowshoes.
I will keep wearing the Outbound Mids into the spring-early summer "shoulder" season, anywhere I'll encounter snow, mud, trails masquerading as streams, and unexpected cross-country travel. This is historically the most difficult season for me to match footwear to, and I believe the Merrells will prove a great choice. I'll switch to my typical low-top sneakers in summer but next fall, after the first couple of storms I suspect I'll be back in the Outbound Mids.
My sincere thanks to Merrell and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the Outbound Mid Gore-Tex boots.This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
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