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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Montrail Namche Boots > Test Report by Ernie Elkins
Test Series by Ernie Elkins
Name: Ernie Elkins
I've been an avid backpacker since the late 80's. Although I occasionally venture further afield, my usual destinations are in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest. I try to get out at least once each month, and most of my trips are two to three days in duration. I prefer solitude, so I usually hike alone. I also prefer a light and simple gear kit -- my base weight ranges from about 8-12 lb (3.6-5.4 kg) depending on the season, destination, and trip duration.
May 9, 2007
While Montrail refers to the Namche as hiking boots, they definitely stand apart from most other hiking boots on the market. In hand, they look and feel a lot more like trail runners, but, as I discovered when I tried them on, the mid-cut uppers are surprisingly stiff. In fact, Montrail's stated goal is to fuse the two categories in a new and exciting way, to provide both the "feel of a running shoe" and "the protection of a hiking boot." As they make clear on their website, they intend the Namche to be rugged enough for thru-hiking and bushwhacking, breathable enough for "hot and humid" as well as "dry and dusty" conditions, and versatile enough "to provide great friction on a variety of trail surfaces." Can one boot offer all of these features? That question will remain at the top of my list throughout the testing process.
The Namche boots' uppers are largely comprised of lightweight mesh. On the sides and heel, where the mesh is most vulnerable to abrasion, Montrail has provided additional layers of protection. The first is an outer layer of plastic-like mesh that covers the panels from top to bottom. The second is a thick band that covers the lower portion of the mesh along the seam with the sole. The only unprotected fabric is on the forefoot.
The ventilated collar is moderately padded, and Montrail adds stiffness with a rigid plastic plate that stretches up from the heel and underlies a portion of the fabric that wraps around the collar. The tongue is lightly padded and is gussetted with a light, stretchy fabric, and the thick laces are threaded through webbing loops. While not rigid, the toecap is still quite stiff.
The sole is also stiff, and the tread pattern offers a lot of variety. The lugs on the outside edge and heel are triangular in shape, and, according to Montrail, are designed for traction. The inside edge has a series of unusually shaped lugs that I suspect are designed for enhanced friction on slippery surfaces. The center of each sole includes two parallel rows of horizontal, rectangular lugs and a center row of arch-shaped lugs that alternate in direction. All in all, the sole offers in interesting mix of lugs that, presumably, are intended to function like a multi-tool -- multiple lug-types for multiple purposes.
My first thought when I tried on the Namche boots was that they were surprisingly tight. I tried them both with a thin liner sock, which was tight but acceptable, and with a liner sock and medium-weight hiking sock, which proved to be too tight for comfort. In particular, I had a very hard time getting my foot in and out of the boots while wearing the heavier socks, and I also had hard time with the laces - I had to loosen them so much to make the fit even mildly comfortable that they were almost too short to tie. I've always found Montrail's size 9.5 to fit my feet quite well, so this is a new experience for me. In fact, the 9.5's are so tight that I've put in a request to move up to a size 10.
In addition to my concern about the boots' tightness, I'm also mildly concerned about the height and position of the arch support. I may find that the size 10 alleviates this issue, but the arch seems to be set a little further back than usual, and it's also quite high and steep. Montrail may have a very good reason for this design, but it's definitely an issue to which I'll pay close attention in the coming weeks.
These two concerns aside, the Namche boots feel very stiff and supportive. The laces snug up nicely, and the padding on the collar is comfortable against my ankles. The heels feel springy, the heel cup holds my foot quite snugly with no slipping, and the soles feel hard and stable. In a word, the fit is precise. My feet feel light, nimble, and relatively unencumbered, yet they also feel secure and protected. I suspect that the tightness of the boot plays an important role here - while the 9.5's are definitely too tight on my feet when I'm wearing hiking socks, the boots' agile feel is clearly enhanced by their snug, stable fit.
I look forward to monitoring how my initial impressions of the Namche boots play out in the coming months. I've planned at least four backpacking trips to the North Carolina and Virginia mountains, as well as a few day trips to less demanding trails in the North Carolina Piedmont region. For the multi-day trips, I'll test the Namche boots' performance with pack weights in the 15-20 lb (6.8-9.1 kg) range. My planned destinations include some rather rugged terrain, including the Black Mountain Crest Trail, trails in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, and the primitive Lost Cove Creek Trail in the proposed Lost Cove Wilderness Area, where I expect a lot of creek crossings. These destinations should give me ample opportunity to test the Namche's performance on rough trails and varied terrain.
In large part due to Montrail's marketing claims, I have high expectations for the Namche boots. Are they truly as versatile as Montrail suggests? In particular, I'll consider the following questions:
Montrail clearly has big ambitions for the Namche boots, and my initial inspection has really piqued my curiosity. My only concern at this point is the sizing. I strongly recommend that potential Namche buyers seek out a Montrail dealer for a professional fitting. Although Montrail provides a basic sizing chart on their website, it isn't detailed enough to allow buyers to make an informed decision. Their website also provides a detailed introduction to achieving a good fit, but this is clearly intended to guide shoppers who are visiting Montrail retailers and simply doesn't provide enough information for internet shoppers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because boots are obviously one of the most important gear decisions that you'll make, and a good fit is crucial.
August 7, 2007
Testing Locations and Conditions
Thus far, I've worn the Namche boots on three backpacking trips for a total of about 55 miles (88.5 km) traveled. On my first outing in late May, I hiked a modest 19-mile (30.6 km), three-day loop in North Carolina's rugged Black Mountains. Overall, the trails in the Blacks are very rough (rocks, roots, etc.) and very steep. My trip began and ended at about 2,800 ft (853 m) above sea level and peaked at 6,684 ft (2,037 m) at the top of Mount Mitchell. The weather was dry and mild, with daytime temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s F (mid 20’s C).
My second outing with the Namche boots was a two-day trip on the Appalachian Trail in late June, from Carver’s Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border north to Hump Mountain and back. This portion of the AT crosses several high, exposed balds at altitudes between 5,500 and 6,000 ft (1,676 and 1,829 m). Although not as rugged as the trails in the Blacks, the trail does include some steep grades and rocky, uneven footing. The high temperature on day one was near 80 degrees F (27 C), but overcast skies kept the temperature about 10 degrees cooler on day two. Both days concluded with thunderstorms and heavy rain.
On my most recent trip I spent two days in the Wilson Creek area of North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest. The elevations were much lower than on my previous trips (1,500 to 2,500 ft/457 to 762 m) feet, and the weather was hot (90 F/32 C), muggy, and dry. The trails that I followed crisscrossed several large creeks, so I had numerous opportunities to get my feet wet.
I carried a relatively light load (12-18 lb/5.4-8.2 kg, including food and water) and used a pair of trekking poles on all three trips. I wore the Namche boots in tandem with a pair of Coolmax liner socks and lightweight merino wool hiking socks.
Fit & Comfort
My size 10 boots arrived just two days before my trip to the Blacks, and, to my relief, the fit was perfect. The uppers were snug but not restrictive, there was ample room (but not too much) in the toe box, and the arch support was just right. Seven days on the trail have confirmed these initial conclusions – overall, I'm very satisfied with the fit. Furthermore, they do seem to offer the comfort that I would expect of a running shoe: they're light and agile, the heels are springy, and they feel good on my feet. My only complaint about fit and comfort at this point is this: when descending steep trails, I've noticed that my foot slips forward slightly and my toes get jammed into the toe box.
Stability, Support, & Protection
I've also been very happy with the stability of the Namche boots and with the support that their stiff, mid-cut uppers provide. Despite some very rough trail conditions, the Namche boots have consistently kept my feet upright. I've counted a total of two minor ankle rolls in 55 miles (88.5 km) of hiking, both of which had more to do with a lack of attention and sloppy technique than any failing on the Namche's part. On both occasions, I really appreciated the stiff uppers, which caught my ankle before the roll could become severe enough to cause injury. I've also found that the boots offer good, all-around protection for my feet (no bruised soles, stubbed toes, etc.).
With one not-too-surprising exception, the Namche boots have provided outstanding traction in a wide variety of trail conditions. On the steep trails in the Blacks, for example, they handled rocky, hard-packed climbs and loosely-packed descents equally well. No matter what was underfoot, my feet stayed under me. I counted a total of two minor slips on that trip, and both took place on one especially steep, loose descent where I was moving very quickly (perhaps too quickly).
On both the AT and the creekside trails in the Wilson Creek Area, I also found that the Namche soles handle wet terrain quite well. This, however, brings me to the one exception noted above. I had a forewarning of what to expect on the AT, when I stepped off the trail on to some wet rocks immediately after a thunderstorm. The rocks were clean and smooth, and I found the footing very precarious. The same proved true on the smooth, wet rocks in the creeks that I crossed on my last trip. Unfortunately, it took a fall while rock-hopping to bring the matter squarely to my attention. I haven't had trouble with wet rocks on the trail, though, so this would appear to be a rather minor issue.
Summers are hot and muggy here in the southeast, so I've really appreciated the Namche boots' mesh uppers. Even in hot and humid weather, my feet have stayed surprisingly comfortable. Overall, although my feet remained warm and slightly damp from sweat, the Namche boots provided good ventilation – my feet never felt uncomfortably hot nor did the dampness ever become unpleasant.
Water Resistance & Drainage
Although the thick sole and watertight rand keep very shallow water at bay (1.5”/3.8 cm max), it came as no surprise to me that, overall, the Namche boots offer no water resistance whatsoever. My first experience with wet feet in the Namche boots occurred during my AT trip, when I was caught in a strong thunderstorm: the boots soaked through immediately. I stopped for the night soon after, and the boots were still very damp the following morning. Thanks to wet, overhanging vegetation, they soaked through yet again soon after I set out. Once things dried a bit, though, I found that the squishiness that’s most annoying about wet boots passed after about an hour of steady hiking.
The results were much the same on my most recent trip. I gave up trying to keep my feet dry on the fourth or fifth creek crossing, and I had wet feet for the remaining day and a half. As I found on the AT, it took about an hour of hiking for the wet, squishy phase to pass. I ended the trip with wet feet, and the boots are still wet as I write this, about 24 hours later.
Thus far, the Namche boots are holding up very well. The sides of the soles have picked up quite a few abrasion marks, but none are significant enough to be alarming. I also noticed a small gouge on one of the toecaps after my first outing, and it has definitely grown a bit larger over the course of my last two trips. At this point, it's nothing to be concerned about, but I will keep a close eye on it nonetheless.
I also had a good opportunity to test the tear strength of the mesh forefoot on my trip to the Blacks: I snagged the exposed mesh on a small log on the trail. By the time I realized what was happening, I’d already begun to move that leg forward. Fortunately, the log was light enough that it shifted forward as well, allowing me just enough slack to keep from falling. After extricating my boot, I examined it closely and saw absolutely no signs of damage to the mesh.
At this stage of the test process, I'm very pleased with the Namche boots' performance. My initial concerns about the fit and position of the arch support were solved when I moved up to a size 10, and I've encountered no significant problems while field testing them. Overall, they appear to be just what Montrail promised, and I look forward to wearing them as the test series continues.
September 30, 2007
Testing Locations and Conditions
Since my field report, I've worn the Namches on a two-day, 20-mile (32 km) backpacking trip to the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area in western North Carolina. For the most part, the trails in and around the gorge are hard-packed, rocky, crisscrossed by roots, and steep. Therefore, footing is consistently uneven. With the exception of a light and brief drizzle on the afternoon of day two, the weather was dry and hot, with daytime high temperatures in the lower 80's F (27-29 C). Thanks to a summer-long drought, the trails were very dry and dusty.Fit & Comfort
I've continued to be satisfied with the fit of my size 10 boots; at this point, I'm completely confident that sizing up was the right decision. I'm still satisfied with the comfort level as well. I did notice some soreness in my heels during the last leg of my most recent trip, a first for me while wearing the Namche boots. Not only was this mitigated by the timing (i.e. the conclusion of a 20-mile/32-km trip), but it was also mitigated by the trail conditions -- a pounding descent on a straight, steep trail with a very smooth grade. Under all other conditions, I've found the heels to provide good shock absorption.
The only other issue that arose was a recurring one with the toe box. As I mentioned in my field report, the boots don't hold my feet in place well enough during descents, so that my toes bump the front of the toe box. This problem has proven to be more uncomfortable than painful, though, and I've only noticed it on a few occasions and always on very steep trails.
Stability, Support, & Protection
The Namche boots continue to perform well in this category. As my experience so far led me to expect, the boots proved to be very stable and protective on the Gorge's rough trails, and, as before, the stiff uppers saved me from injury on the one occasion on which I did roll an ankle.
As I discovered on the similarly rough and dry trails in the Black Mountains, the Namches' soles provided reliable traction. The trail conditions changed slightly on day two, when a brief drizzle glazed the trail with rainwater. I was traversing an exposed and especially rocky trail at the time, and, given the experiences with slick rocks that I mentioned in my field report, I took extra caution with my footing. Nonetheless, the water had a negligible impact on the soles' traction, and I didn't notice a single slip or slide.
In yet another consistent performance, the Namche boots continued to provide good ventilation in hot temperatures. As before, my feet never became uncomfortably warm or damp. After 75 miles (121 km) on the trail in warm and hot weather, I'm very impressed with the outstanding ventilation that they offer – their combination of protection and breathability is without question one of their most impressive selling points.
In contrast to their impressive performance in all other categories, I do have two durability-related concerns. The first is the abrasion on the toe cap of the left boot, which has grown considerably larger since I first noticed it in late May. At this point, the outer coating of the toe cap has peeled away in a section about one inch (2.5 cm) long and a quarter of an inch (0.6 cm) wide, which has exposed a gray, fibrous inner material. While I see no immediate danger of it wearing all of the way through, that is definitely a concern for me in the long term.
The other area of concern is one particular lug on the outside edge of the heel. This lug has begun to peel loose on both boots, but the problem is more pronounced on the right boot, where the inside edge of the lug has developed a tear that's nearly half of an inch long (1.3 cm). Unlike the abrasion on the toe cap, this is definitely a problem that requires an immediate repair.
Other than these two problems, the Namche boots appear to be holding up well overall. The tread wear on the soles is relatively minor, and the lightweight uppers have proven to be remarkably tough. If I can find a way to stabilize the abrasion on the toe cap and repair the two peeling lugs, I should be able to use them for some time to come.
The Montrail Namche boots have been a pleasure to test. They offer an impressive combination of comfort and support in a remarkably light package that, true to Montrail's claims, provides both the "feel of a running shoe" and "the protection of a hiking boot." For warm weather hiking, when ventilation is a must and water-resistance isn't a concern, the Namches are an option well worth considering. Although I did run into a couple of comfort-related issues (sore heels and toes bumping toe box), they were isolated problems that did little to dampen my overall enthusiasm for the boots. The durability issues are a bit more significant, but they too pale in comparison to the boots' core strengths: outstanding support, stability, protection, comfort, ventilation, and traction in a featherlight package.
This concludes my long term report. I'd like to thank both Montrail and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this outstanding product.
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