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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Montrail Helium GTX Boot > Test Report by Bob Sanders

Montrail Helium GTX® Boots


Test Series by Bob Sanders

Initial Report: November 28, 2008
Field Report: January 28th, 2009
Long Term Report: March 31, 2009



PERSONAL INFORMATION
Name: Bob Sanders Backpacking Background: I went on my first backpacking trip as a Boy Scout at the age of 16. Over the years I have hiked the Wonderland Trail in Washington and section hiked parts of the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In 2003 during a seven week period I hiked 740 mi (1191 km) of the Pacific Crest Trail. Best vacation I ever took. I continue to backpack and hike year round in the Colorado mountains. I have evolved from a heavyweight backpacker to a lightweight backpacker. My three day summer solo adventures (using a hammock) have me hovering around a 10 lb (4.5 kg) base weight. However while backpacking in the winter I will be using a tent and additional clothing. So my base weight will climb to approx. 17 lb (7.7 kg)
Age: 51
Gender: Male
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 210 lb (95 kg)
Shoe Size: 11 US (122 cm)
Email: sherpabob(at)mac(dot)com
Location: Longmont, Colorado USA


INITIAL REPORT

November 28, 2008


Montrail Helium Side View   Montrail Helium Rear View   

PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer: Montrail Manufacturer's description (From Website):

User Profile:
A whole new way of thinking about big boots for big adventures. Our men's only trekking boot is ultra-light with mega protection for heavy loads and off-trail backpacking.

Year of Manufacture: 2008 - Made in China
Manufacturer's Website: www.montrail.com
MSRP: US $220
Listed Weight: 1 lb 8.6 oz (697 g) Unknown size
Measured Weight: 1 lb 13.4 oz (834 g) each boot, Size 11 US
Available Sizes: US (7-12, 13, 14, 15)  UK (6-12, 13, 14)
EUR (40-47, 48, 49)

Features & Benefits (From Website):
  • Enter the next generation of big boot backpacking comfort in a lightweight, finely tuned package.
  • New synthetic upper with breathable Gore-Tex provides all-day waterproof protection for crossing small streams and snow fields.
  • Weight saving composite shank provides sturdy underfoot protection with less bulk and a molded anatomical heel counter gives ankle support.
  • Gryptonite™ “sticky rubber” outsole delivers confidence while hiking on a variety of trail condition
  • IntegraFit is the result of the analysis of over 800,000 foot scans combined with extensive research around the biomechanics of the foot. We've applied this learning in the design and development of every piece of footwear we bring to market. Our customers have come to expect exceptional fit that includes a secure heel and mid-foot fit, anatomically correct arch support, and even contact pressure for the majority of feet.


Montrail Helium Tread     Toe Rand

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The boots arrived in a standard retail box. These boots are big, sturdy, stiff and surprisingly lightweight. I am so used to wearing low top running shoes for 90% of my outdoor adventures that these boots are quite a change for me. I slipped them on to see how the "straight out of the box" feel would be. They are indeed big and stiff. These boots are going to take a bit of breaking in to feel 100% comfortable. My previous big, heavy duty mountaineering boots were made of thick leather and weighed easily twice as much and took forever to break in.

Of all the boots and shoes on the Montrail website the Helium GTX appears to be the biggest/tallest and most robust boot they offer. And it only comes in a men's version. The boots do match the photos on the site but the amount of information supplied about the boot is a bit low for my taste. To be fair these boots need to be tried on and seen in person. They offer much more support than the photos would indicate. This is a tall boot and measures 7.75" (20 cm) from the ground to the top edge of the collar.


Construction:
The Helium GTX boots are well made with no loose stitches and only the smallest bits of extra glue being visible. One of the very top lacing hooks on the collar was slightly flattened, so much so that I couldn't slide the lace underneath it. I took a pair of pliers and opened it up to match the others. Everything about these boots is robust. The metal eyelets/hooks appear to be riveted (not sewn) to the upper fabric. The toe cap and most fabric areas are sewn with two lines of stitching. The toe cap and rand is made of a rubber like material, is quite thick and wraps around the side of the boot a good 5" (13 cm).

The entire boot appears to be made of synthetic materials except the top outside of the tongue and the top outside edge of the collar. These areas are made of a medium gray suede leather.

The uppers are made of a heavy duty black nylon with additional thicker, black and white threads criss-crossing, creating a very unique pyramid pattern. The boots do have Gore-Tex fabric technology but there is no indication if the Gore-Tex is laminated to the nylon fabric of if there is a separate inner bootie. The website indicates that the "Gore-Tex adds breathable, all-day waterproof protection for crossing small streams and snow fields". I will be keeping a close eye on the breathability and waterproofness of these boots.

The heel counter and toe area are very stiff. Using my thumb and pressing down on the toe there is basically no give. Squeezing the heel counter between my thumb and index finger also has no give. The upper fabric area is stiff but has plenty of give. The tongue and collar areas are well padded and soft.

The boot also has a stiff, molded one piece ankle support that runs from the instep on the outside, wraps around high on the back of the boot and finishes on the inside instep. This gives a tremendous amount of lateral support to the ankle area.

The sole of the boot is thick and very stiff. The boot has a composite shank that appears to run the length of the sole because the sole does not bend at the toe area. The sole is pre-bent with a slight rocker to it. This helps while walking but you still get that flat "Frankenstein" feel while walking. However a stiff sole like this is great for use with crampons and snowshoes.

The inside of the boot is lined with a gray woven wicking material and the inside of the tongue is lined with an open hole mesh similar to the mesh found on the inside of pack straps.

The insoles are a simple molded foam with a black fabric top. Pretty standard insole.

Fit:
I would consider myself to have pretty normal feet. They are of normal width and my heel is not too thin. When I put these on for the first time and walked around the house my toes had plenty of room and the length was perfect. I wore two pair of socks consisting of a medium thick merino wool sock with a thin wool liner sock (my normal sock combination). When you slide your foot in you can really feel the heel counter snug up nicely around your heel. The only area that gave me any discomfort was ironically the tongue. The two inner edges of the tongue pressed into the front part of my shins. I continued to wear the boots for about an hour and even took the dog for a walk. The longer I wore the boots the pressure did seem to ease up a bit. The next day I had the same experience. Initially there was a lot of pressure on the front of my shins but the longer I wore them and walked around the pressure would ease up. This is the break-in period all stiff heavy duty boots have. Some more than others. I will be keeping a close eye on how long these boots take to finally settle in and mold to my feet. I will also try thicker socks to see if this eases the transition.

Summary:
These boots do indeed offer lots of support for heavy loads (which I rarely carry) and for serious off-trail hiking (which I do frequently). All that support at such a light weight is quite remarkable. The only negative so far is break-in time (I'm spoiled with zero break-in for running shoes) and the boots do not have a pull tab on the back of the collar to help pull them on. So far this is not a big issue. They open up wide enough and my foot slides right in.
     
_______________________________________________________________

FIELD REPORT

January 28, 2008

As I expected these boots have taken some getting used to. For a boot this robust the break-in time has been minimal. I estimate the first good 8 to 10 miles over numerous trips has finally gotten me to a point where I can slip them on and go for a hike and not have any new pressure points, hot spots or rubbing to contend with.

Testing locations and conditions: These boots have been used on almost a daily basis in and around Boulder, Colorado. Between walking the dog, daily fitness walks and weekend hikes in the mountains I estimate I have traveled a good 90 miles on these boots in the first 2 months of testing. They have held up well and have far exceeded my expectations. Temperatures have been between 60° and 0° F (16° and -18° C) and elevations between 5000 and 9000 ft (1524 and 2743 m). They have been used on a multitude of surfaces including asphalt, hard-packed dirt, muddy, rocky and rooted trails and on lots of snow and ice.

I have used these boots to climb Mt. Sanitas (twice), and on trails in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness area (my normal stomping grounds). The longest single day mileage has been 10 mi (16 km) carrying an 8 lb (3.6 kg) day pack.

Sizing:
I normally wear a size 11 and the length and volume of this boot seems to be spot on for me. This includes my normal sock combination of a midweight wool sock with a thin lightweight wool sock. At one point I did replace the midweight with a thicker heavyweight wool sock and the fit was only slightly more snug. I just loosened the laces a bit and they fit fine.

Comfort:
As I mentioned earlier there has been some breaking in to do. The first day I wore the boots two areas of concern became noticeable immediately.

First: Where the tongue wraps around my ankle at the top created pressure points on both sides on both boots. I switched to a thicker sock and that helped a little. I went for a walk around the neighborhood and when I got back the pressure seemed to have subsided. At the beginning of every hike I would notice the pressure on the front of my ankles. By the end of the hike it was pretty much gone. I believe the tongue and ankle area have loosened up to a point now that the pressure is gone.

Second: There are padded protrusions on either side of the ankle inside the boot. They kind of sit in that indented area between your heel and ankle bone. First time I wore the boots they were very noticeable. By the end of the hike the pressure was tolerable but still noticeable. Now you only notice them when you initially put the boot on. After a couple of minutes of walking everything seems to settle in and become comfortable.

With a mid-weight wool sock and a thin wool liner my feet have been warm (while hiking briskly) down to 0° F (-18° C). These boots are uninsulated but well padded internally which gives them some insulation. When just standing around in the snow or during brief rest periods my feet do begin to chill in colder weather. This would not be my boot of choice if I knew I would be inactive in below freezing temperatures. The Gore-Tex® lining also adds a small bit of warmth because it slows down evaporative cooling. The lining is breathable but it keeps that warm moist air around your foot longer than an unlined boot or a running shoe would. I have also worn the boots when the temperature has been 60° F (16° C) and the boots are a bit too warm for me causing excessive sweating. I would consider this a cool/cold weather boot as long as you keep moving if it is real cold.

Moisture management:
The Gore-Tex® linings classify these boots as "waterproof" and I would have to agree. I have walked through snow, mud and on one occasion while crossing an ice covered shallow stream my foot went through the ice into 4 in (10 cm) of ice cold water. I pulled my foot out and the rubber parts of the boot were shiny and wet. The nylon parts didn't appear to be wet at all. I rubbed my hand across the nylon upper and there didn't appear to be any water on the surface. So no water got in the boot and no water appeared to soak into the nylon.

My feet sweat a lot on a normal basis. During the summer months I only wear running shoes with lots of mesh and my feet still sweat a lot and my socks collect moisture. The breathability of these boots is there, but it is minimal. One of the things that I believe slows the breathability is all the padding inside the boot. Most of the padding is between .125 and .25 in (.3 and .6 cm) thick. It appears to be some sort of open cell foam, but without cutting the lining to see I can't be sure. At the end of a good hike my socks are wet. Not sopping wet but definitely in need of changing.

Construction:
Overall the boots are very well made. They have held up well with only small scratches and scuffs on the rubber parts. The rand is still glued tight and all the stitching is intact. The gusseted tongue has done a excellent job of keeping debris out of the boot and the generous toe cap has protected my toes from rocks and roots. The nylon areas are holding up extremely well and still look brand new.

Soles: The soles of the Helium's have a proprietary tread pattern and rubber compound referred to as Gryptonite™ “sticky rubber”. The soles have lived up to their name with good traction on most surfaces. The wear to the soles appears to be minimal at this point.

Summary: After the initial breaking in period these boots are beginning to be comfortable. They are lightweight but very robust. They have excellent ankle support and give me a great sense of stability. The only thing so far I don't like is the breathability. It could be better but I think the trade off would be a less robust boot.

_______________________________________________________________

LONG TERM REPORT

March 31, 2008


I have thoroughly enjoyed testing these boots. Over the past two months my testing has remained pretty much the same as my field report, consisting of day hikes, walking the dog, shoveling snow and the occasional overnight backpacking trip. Now that the weather is getting much warmer I have been reaching for my trail runners instead of these boots. For Colorado, especially the Front Range the winter has been mild with very little snow. Until last week that is. We got about 14 in (36 cm) dropped on us and the boots got a good work out to finish out this test.

Testing locations and conditions:

Day Hike — Walker Ranch loop trail, 7.4 mi (11.9 km) in Boulder, Colorado. The temperature started out at 40° (4° C) and quickly climbed to 70° F (21° C) with elevations between 6500 and 7500 ft (1981 and 2286 m). The trail is extremely rocky in spots and there were patches of snow and lots of mud. There were numerous mini streams from the melting snow so the boots were quite filthy at the end of the hike.

Day Hike — Climbed Mt. Sanitas, 6863 ft (2091 m) in elevation with a 3.2 mile (5.1 km) hike to the top and back. This hike was very dry and very warm. I got started late and the temperature was already 68° F (20° C). There was no snow on the ground and the sun was blazing. When I finished I really wished I had worn my trail runners because my feet were very hot and sweaty.

Day Hike — Heil Valley Ranch loop trail, 8.1 mi (13 km) in Lyons, CO. This was a much cooler hike. Started out at about 35° F (1.6° C) and only got to about 50° F (10° C). Just about the perfect spring hiking weather. The trail is pretty smooth with an elevation gain from 5700 ft (1737 m) to 6800 ft (2072 m). The trail was dry, sandy and a bit rocky in spots.

Overnighter — Finch Lake, west of Allens Park, CO 4.5m (7.2 km) one way. Elevations run between 6400 ft (1950 m) to 9900 ft (3017 m). The trail is very rocky in spots with very little snow but lots of mud and wet areas. In several areas I had to wade through 3 in (8 cm) of ice cold run off.

Overall Performance: These boots have done a magnificent job during the winter months. They can handle moderate cold down to about 0° F (-18 C) if I keep moving. They are not really insulated so just standing around in camp in those temperatures led to chilly feet.

They can handle rocky, rough trails with ease. The soles are thick and very stiff so even when scrambling over rocks or scree fields I never noticed the rocks beneath my feet. The excellent ankle support gave me a solid feel on the rocks. Not once did I feel like my ankle was going to twist or that I needed to slow down and be overly cautious.

The soles have excellent traction and can handle mud, snow and slippery trails.

The Gore-Tex liners are indeed waterproof. Not once, even when wading through 3 in (8 cm) of ice cold water did they leak. If my feet had gotten wet during that trip I would have been miserable the rest of the trip. I probably would have turned around and headed back to the car. These boots have excelled in the snow. I have traveled through snow up to my knees and they have been warm, waterproof and with excellent traction.

Now that they are fully broken in these boots feel wonderful on my feet. It took a little while but it was worth it. No more hot spots and no more blisters. Not bad for a boot that is this stiff and robust.

The boots continue to look really good. Other than some scuffs and scrapes the boots are fully intact with no loose threads or separation of the rubber parts. They are easy to clean with a quick spray under the water faucet and a light scrubbing with a nylon brush they are ready for the next trail.

Summary: For me these boots are going to be used more often when the weather is cool to cold. When the temperature climbs above 50° F(10° C) they will probably be left at home. Or if I know I will be traveling on extremely rocky trails and I know I need the extra support I will bring them. But for summer hiking on moderate trails they will stay at home. I love my trail runners and they only get a rest when the weather turns cold.

I would like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and Montrail for the opportunity to test these boots.




Read more reviews of Montrail gear
Read more gear reviews by Bob Sanders

Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Montrail Helium GTX Boot > Test Report by Bob Sanders



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