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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Oboz Footwear Beartooth Boots > Test Report by Richard Lyon

OBOZ BEARTOOTH BOOTS
Test Report by Richard Lyon


Initial Report November 7, 2011
Field Report January 30, 2012    
Long Term Report April 2, 2012


Personal Details and Backpacking Background

Richard Lyon
Male, 65 years old
Bozeman, Montana USA
6'4" [1.91 m], 205 lb [91 kg],
Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Standard shoe size: 12 for street shoes, 13 for athletic footwear (US sizes)

I've been backpacking regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500-3000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. Recently I've been actively reducing my pack weight, but still sleep in a floored tent and often include my favorite camp conveniences. Winter trips are often on telemark or touring skis.

INITIAL REPORT – November 7, 2011

The Boots

Beartooth bootsThe Beartooths, named after a rugged mountain range near Oboz’s headquarters in Bozeman, Montana, are over-the-ankle backpacking boots made of Nubuck and stiff rubber.  They look and feel fit for almost any trail or off-trail conditions.

Manufacturer: Oboz
Website: www.obozfootwear.com
Height, measured at the rear of the cuff: 6.25 in (15.9 cm)
Weight, listed [size not specified]: 30.7 oz (870 g)
Weight, measured, size 13: 37.25 oz (1056 g) (per boot, with laces)
Available sizes: Men’s half sizes 8-12, also 13 and 14 US, Women’s half sizes 6-11 US
Listed color: Midnight (men’s), Sky Blue (women’s)
MSRP: $200 US

These boots have several visible features:

•    A heavy molded rubber toe rand and heel counter
•    A lacing system with six metal clips plus a flexible fabric loop at ankle height (Oboz calls this its BFit Lacing System)
•    Nubuck leather (said to be waterproof) and “high abrasion” textile uppers
•    Glove leather lined heel and inside tongue top
•    “2 Park Dual Density PU Midsole”
•    Carbon rubber outsole with a topo imprint
•    Molded rubber insole with heel and instep pads on the underside (pictured below)

Not visible but equally promoted features are:

•    “BFit Deluxe Footbed Oboz BDRY Waterproof/Breathable Membrane
•    Injection Molded Polypropylene Lasting Board”

All of these features are self-explanatory.  The only thing I don’t get is the Midnight color.  I've always associated that word with dark blue, and there's nothing blue on the Beartooths.  The rubber is black, must have been named on an overcast moonless night.  

First Impressions

OK, tough guy, pick your adjective: stout, burly, heavy duty, all terrain.  At first glance these boots remind me of a cut-down combat boot.  They’re big, stiff, and heavy, said to be waterproof, and come up several inches/centimeters above my ankles.

insolesFit is great.  I have a high arch, a narrow foot, and particularly narrow ankles, but Oboz’s lasts seem designed for my normally difficult-to-fit feet.  In fact this company is the only bootmaker whose boots I have been able to use without replacing the factory insole with a custom orthotic; testing will tell if the Beartooths can meet this highly desired criterion.  I like the BFit lacing system, which pulls the cuffs of the boots tightly around my ankles.  On other heavy boots I’ve had to tweak the laces to accomplish this, even when the third clip down was set back.

A trial hike two days ago, about three miles (5 km) on a relatively flat paved road, indicated that break-in will be minimal. Wearing silk liners and heavy wool socks, my custom when hiking in over-the-ankle boots, I experienced no chafing and had no blisters, and I didn’t find the Beartooths overly stiff.  Quite the contrary – it was a comfortable walk, with no overheating despite 80 F (25 C) temperatures and direct sun much of the time.

Traction in wet or slick conditions must await testing; I had no opportunity to test the outsoles on anything but dry pavement and a short stretch of packed dry ground.

Partly because much of my backpacking involves trail maintenance, and also because I’ve taken a conservative approach to protect my ankles, I’ve always favored over-the-ankle boots when in the backcountry.  More than once I’ve been accused of sizing up.  The Beartooths look to be well suited to my hiking style.

FIELD REPORT – January 30, 2012

Field Conditions

Break-in.  The Beartooths are stiff boots, and the first boots (of five pair) from Oboz that I’ve worn that required breaking in.  It didn’t take long to accomplish this; I simply wore the boots for a weekend at home, including my dog walks (about two miles a day) and one 75-minute workout on the treadmill at the gym, most of it at an eighteen-degree angle.  My ankles were a bit sore Saturday evening, and I had a minor indication of plantar fasciitis Sunday morning (common for me when breaking in boots), but after the gym session and hiking on Sunday, I’ve had no further pain.

On the trail.  Following that introductory weekend I’ve worn the Beartooths on six day hikes, in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Montana, at temperatures from 30-75 F (-1 to 26 C), for a total of approximately forty miles (53 km).  All but the Montana hike were on established trails, either hard ground or an old paved service road.  In Montana last weekend I had hoped to hike on snowshoes, but the skimpy snowpack prevented that.  On that hike I did walk occasionally on snowy patches, with some bushwhacking amid the spruces.  All hikes but one were in fine weather, but over the Christmas holiday in Pennsylvania it was wet throughout from rain the night before, scattered showers in the morning, and a steady rain for about ninety minutes.   I carried a standard (for me) daypack load of about ten pounds (4 kg) including food and water.  Socks were heavyweight wool, my usual custom, but no liner socks.

Performance

Fit.  As with my other Oboz boots, fit is great.  With my first pair of boots from this manufacturer (the subject of another Test Report on these pages) I found a manufacturer whose design and lasts fits my feet as well as any I’ve found in nearly half a century on the trail.  With a slender foot, especially skinny ankles, and a relatively high arch, I’ve had great difficulty locating footwear that doesn’t cause my ankles to move laterally, but Oboz is the answer.  I put down the initial minor aches and pains to breaking in.  

Oboz’s great fit, however, can be improved by custom footbeds.  On a couple of day hikes I substituted these for the factory issue.  One was a pair of out-of-the box insoles from a pair of trail runners, the other a kit that allows the wearer to add pieces to adjust the arch height.  Hiking was easier with these than the factory insoles, though the latter perform satisfactorily on the other hikes.  

Water resistance.  Waterproof is not a term I’ve ever applied to any footwear other than solid rubber boots, but the Beartooths’ performance in the rain was exemplary.  After the hike the only part of my feet that were even damp were just above my ankle tops, strongly suggesting that water entered there through my socks and not the boots.  Oboz’s BDry technology has worked well so far.

Insulation.  My feet became uncomfortably warm at temperatures above 60 F (16 C), perhaps due to the high cut of the Beartooths and perhaps to my heavy wool socks.  At lower temperatures however my feet didn’t feel hot or constricted, which I attribute to the boots’ breathability.

Traction.  I had no problems on the slick trail (some paved, mostly hard ground) in Pennsylvania, though I slipped a bit on hard packed ice on the Montana hike.  The Beartooths’ grip holds firm in dry conditions, including the few rock scrambles I made.

Durability.  The Beartooths look almost like new, with no deterioration at the seams and no distortion of shape.  I do tie them up after taking them off at night to reduce the risk of drying or freezing in an unnatural position (a technique comparable to using shoe trees on civilian shoes).  All I’ve done to clean these boots is wipe off a spot or two with a damp cloth.

One problem.  The laces of these boots tend to work loose fairly frequently unless double-knotted very securely.  I’ve tried different lacing configurations with the top three grommets but haven’t noticed any material difference.  So before any hike, long or short, I must cinch the laces with a tight double knot.  I consider this a minor annoyance.

Weight.  The Beartooths are much heavier than my usual day hiking footwear, and definitely overkill for day use.  Even on my longest hike, though, about ten miles (16 km), I didn’t feel as if I were wearing cement.  Given my penchant for base camp backpacking and my work on backcountry service trips, I’ll find plenty of occasions where their strength will serve me well.  I don’t deem the bulk or weight of these boots a fault, rather a dictate on when and under what conditions they are appropriate.  

What I Like

Strong and durable
Highly water resistant, at least so far
Good fit

Could be Better

The lacing problem
Some break in required

LONG TERM REPORT - April 2, 2012

Field Conditions

I have worn the Beartooths on two overnighters in Texas and a three-day, two-night hike in Montana.  The Montana hike was scheduled as a hut-to-hut ski trip, but there simply wasn't enough snow to ski the planned route (or to get my mandatory downhill skiing in), so we converted it to a combination hike and snowshoe camping trip.  This was in (appropriately) the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, maximum altitude about 7000 feet (2100 m), in clear weather and unseasonably warm temperatures, up to 50 F (10 C) during the day and down to only 15 F (-10 C) one night.  I carried a pack load of about 25 lb (11 kg) divided between a front pack and backpack. I wore liner socks and heavy wool over-the-ankle socks, my typical backpacking practice.  Most of this six-mile (10 km) trip was hiking, carrying the snowshoes on my pack.  It wasn't bushwhacking but the trail was hard to find for the snow and mud in many places.

In Texas each overnighter was relatively short, each about four miles (6.5 km), with a daypack and front pack containing about 20 lb (9 kg). I didn't wear liners, but did wear my heavy socks.  Temperatures ranged from 45 F (7 C) at night to as high as 75 F (24 C) during the day, with one very short rain shower but otherwise clear weather.  All hiking was on-trail.

Since moving to Montana in February I've worn these boots almost daily for exploratory walks with my dog.  He gets one short and three medium to long walks a day, 2-4 miles (3-6.5 km) total, on the dirt roads that runs through my subdivision or in the surrounding woods and pastures.  In the past three weeks we've had a wide range of temperatures - 10 F (-12 C) one frosty morning to 68 F (20 C) on several afternoons - and weather conditions - sun, rain, snow, sleet, sometimes all four on the same walk.  I usually wore midweight socks on these walks.

Counting break-in I estimate about 85 miles (135 km) of walking in the Beartooth boots.

Performance

Fit and comfort.  Fit is great.  The main reason I keep coming back to Oboz footwear is that its shoes and boots seem custom made for my skinny feet and narrow ankles.  Except when the laces work loose (see next section) my foot doesn't slip at all, there's no pinching at the toes, and my ankle stays comfortably but firmly between the leather.  It's easy to slip these on thanks to the BFit lacing system that, according to Oboz, is intended to seat and hold the heel in place.  Best of all, no blisters and not even a hot spot.  Also no red marks or pain across the top of my feet from the laces.  For burly boots the Beartooths are quite comfortable, as are my feet and the end of the hiking day.

The day after one of the Texas hikes I had another mild attack of plantar fasciitis in my right foot, so for the balance of the test period I replaced the Oboz footbed with a custom footbed with a slightly higher arch.  That's a first for me with Oboz; another reason I like its footgear is that I have avoided the bother and expense of orthotics.  The replacement beds solved the problem, so now my soles are as comfortable as the rest of my feet in the Beartooths.

The combination of the Beartooths' Nubuck leather (claimed to be waterproof) and BDRY membrane has kept my feet dry when walking through the snow.  No water has seeped through, and the BDRY system has allowed perspiration to escape.  Even after longer walks in warmer temperatures I haven't experienced uncomfortably hot or sweaty feet.

The laces.  Try as I might I found no lacing pattern that got the laces on these boots to stay knotted for more than an hour at a stretch.  An hour in fact was good performance on this score.  As reported in my Field Report, a carefully and firmly tied double knot solves this problem, or at least reduces it to a manageable level.  That presents its own problem, as the laces are not quite long enough to get a double knot unless I skip one of the top two grommets or don't crisscross the laces there or between the second and third grommets.  The third laceholder isn't a grommet, rather it's the loop on the BFit system.  I don't think the BFit system is the problem, however, as I've had similarly configured lacing systems on boots from other manufacturers, and the laces didn't work loose on a regular basis. Unexpected unlacing has happened as often when wearing one pair of socks as two, and I can't pin down a lacing pattern that increases or reduces frequency of working loose or time it takes to do so.  All I can think of as the culprit is the angle of the top grommet, which may need to be tweaked to keep the laces from slipping around.  Even after 85 miles (135 km) I can't detect any bend in the grommets and all appear firmly seated in the same spots they were when the boots were new, so I'm pinning the blame on a design flaw.

The slipping laces have been more of a problem on the dog walks and short hikes, when I don't always remember to double-knot the Beartooths.  I always double-knot when wearing a pack, a habit born of having slender ankles all my life. And the laces' working loose isn't always noticeable at first; the BFit system holds my heels well enough that my feet don't slide around even after the laces have come loose.  It is a bother though, and something I'd like to see addressed.

Traction. The Beartooths' grips have held their wearer firmly in place in some gnarly conditions, notably mud and sheet ice. A neighbor normally plows the roads in my subdivision immediately after any snowfall.  When this is done on a dirt road when the temperature is below freezing the result is a very thin sheet to ice, too thin (usually) to notice in an automobile with four tires and a ton or more of weight, but a real problem for walkers. For me the circumstances were made more acute by being attached by a leash to a 100+ pound (45+ kg) dog who was new to Montana and eager to protect his owner from the threatening wildlife, usually whitetail deer.  Despite the tugs and jolts I didn't slip once, not even on the steep road just uphill from my driveway.  These conditions are common enough and scary enough to prompt a sensible guy to get some traction devices, which this not-so-sensible guy shall do before next winter.  I'm grateful to Oboz for not taking a fall.

I didn't slip much in the mud on the trail in the Absarokas, certainly nothing to complain about.  As on other Oboz boots I own (one reviewed elsewhere on this website), to some extent the treads self-clean.  Most of the mud works loose from simply walking in the boots once back on a solid surface.

I haven't walked enough on wet rocks to comment on the boots' holding ability on that bugbear of traction systems.  As you can see in the picture current local trail conditions are a combination of mud and hard-packed snow.

Oboz on ice Durability
.  Phenomenal! Much of my mileage on these boots has been through serious mud and through snowbanks (another of my dog's new-found pleasures), yet the boots still look almost new. All grommets and stitching remain intact and functioning as new, no cracks or creases in the leather or fabric, and the treads look to have many more trail time on them. Even the laces, despite all my re-tying, show scant signs of wear.  The Beartooths are still a bit stiff, but that's intended and that's one reason I like them.  As noted above the stiffness hasn't translated to discomfort.  Care has been limited to wiping off the mud with a damp cloth after a hike or walk, and once hosing them down when they were especially muddy. 

The Bottom Line

I really like the Beartooths, the lacing issue notwithstanding.  They are remarkably comfortable for such stout footwear, and well suited to my less-than-ultralight backpacking style.  They should be just the ticket for my trail maintenance work this summer.  I look forward to wearing them, literally, into the ground. 

My Test Report ends here, with thanks to my friends at Oboz and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.







Read more reviews of Oboz gear
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