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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Oboz Footwear Beartooth Boots > Test Report by Rick Dreher
Oboz Beartooth Boots
Test Series by Rick Dreher
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
Product: Oboz Beartooth hiking boots
Construction appears neat and clean. The Beartooths are assembled using a combination of stitching and glue, all of which look neat, clean and gapless. Some stitching is exposed beneath the removable insole, but doesn't appear vulnerable to wear and has no sharp edges.
Reading the Instructions
No information was supplied with the boots, either printed on the box or on a hangtag. The Oboz Web site does have a page for the Beartooths, from where I gleaned my technical information. One spec that appears whoppingly off is the weight which, if per boot would be at least in the ballpark for these but if the case, is an odd way to spec shoe weights.
Trying Them Out
Pulling them on while wearing mid-weight socks, I'm relieved to find the Beartooths fit pretty well for brand-new boots, so the sizing initially seems correct. (I'll wear them inside a day or two to ensure this is the case before I go muck them up.) The lacing system seems to spread tension evenly across my foot and I can feel the BFit strap pull my heels into place. Walking in the stiff, new Beartooths is eased by a bit of rocker (curved sole) build in to reduce the "clunk-clunk" motion typical of super-stiff, climbing style boots (note: the Beartooths are heavy duty hiking boots, not mountaineering boots).
The boots seem well padded at the tops, ankles and beneath the laces, hopefully adequate to avoid bruising and hotspots. They're cut lower to the back, presumably to not irritate the Achilles tendon. The Beartooths are not insulated beyond the padding, so shouldn't be considered winter-specific boots even if that's how I'll be using them. (The Sierra Nevada simply isn't Montana or Maine, even in January.)
The Oboz Beartooth hiking boots are beefy and seem ready for nearly everything late fall and winter might throw their way. Initial fit is good and it's obvious they're heavy, but at least they don't feel like I have a brace of anvils strapped to my feet. Because they use both waterproofed upper materials and a WPB (waterproof breatheable) liner, they should repel water and wet snow. Whether they can both do this and vent perspiration will be one of the key test questions.
Suggestions for Improvement
Nothing to note on first examination. I'd recommend Oboz reconsider how they spec their weights.
Please check back in two months for the field report.
Field Locations & Conditions
I wore the Beartooths around home and town, all of which is flat and at sea level. Temperatures ranged from 40-75 F (5-24 C) and weather was mostly clear but with some rain early in fall. I wore them day hiking in the Sierra foothills, mostly on hilly canyon trails. Temperatures ranged from around freezing to the mid-60s F (0-18 C) and weather varied from sunny to light rain. My mountain hikes have all been in the Tahoe Sierra, between 5,500 and 7,500 feet (1,680-2,300 m) on rocky, icy, and steep trails. Weather ranged from clear to cloudy with temperatures as low as the mid-20s F (-4 C) with winds from dead calm to strong.
Performance in the Field
A note about weight: I mentioned in the initial report the Beartooth weight is more than double the spec published by Oboz. After the report was posted they contacted me to confirm yes, their weight specs are per size 9 shoe/boot for men, size 7 for women and they have taken the extra step of their Web site to clarify this spec for each model listing. This is great responsiveness on their part, and I applaud Oboz for caring about what we crazy hikers--especially the gram counters--want to know and adding this desirable information to their literature.
Comfort: Ideally, footwear should never call attention to themselves and the Beartooths generally don't. During break-in I developed a small blister atop one of my toes, which a piece of tape took care of for the rest of the weekend. That's been a one-time occurrence. Hiking in the hills I can get sore where the boot tops meet my ankles, despite the generous padding. This has been an annoyance rather than a problem but I'll continue to watch and see whether it lessens and hopefully disappears with further wear. In warm weather my feet do get pretty hot, not surprising given the waterproof membrane and overall armoring, but I didn't experience heat blisters. (This has happened with other boots after when my feet got wet. It's now January and I won't be doing any more warm weather experiments during this test.)
Traction: Grip is good on most surfaces. The lugs give solid traction on turf, dirt, decomposed granite and granite slab, uphill, downhill and side-slope. The rubber grips reasonably well on a variety of wet surfaces, although it's been slippery on mossy streamside rock, wet wood, and ice. Note I haven't mentioned snow. It did snow at some point this winter, I think it might have been in November. In mid-January the only snow left in the mountains lies in deep shade on north-facing slopes, and it has either morphed into outright glare ice or at a minimum is nearly hard as a rock. Where this icy stuff isn't level it's very hard to navigate. Needless to say I don't sink into it wearing the Beartooths so I can't yet comment on how they grip in softer snow and whether snow ever balls up on the soles.
Water Resistance: I've worn the Beartooths in light to moderate rain, across soggy fields and through small streams. I've not yet seen the leather uppers wet through, much less had any water seep inside, past the BDRY membrane. So far, so good. I have yet to wear them in heavy rain (we're hoping to see some of that before summer), immerse them for an extended period or slogged with them through slushy snow--I can't yet say whether or when the waterproofing might fail. While they can become sweaty on warm days, in cooler temperatures I haven't found them uncomfortable after walking for a few hours, so the membrane technology does seem to breathe. This is especially important near and below freezing, when dry feet are warm feet.
Also because I've not soaked them, I can't comment on how long it takes the Beartooths to dry.
Socks: I've worn a variety of mid-weight socks with the Beartooths, all providing a good fit, warmth in cold weather and sweat absorption when it's hot. I wear my usual backpacking wool blend socks on day hikes--they're tough, comfortable and blister-resistant and warm. The Beartooths aren't insulated winter-specific boots, so sock choice is important below freezing.
Paired With…: I've worn the Beartooths with mid-height gaiters to keep debris out of the boot tops. The cutaway sole provides room for the gaiter strap and the boot lacing anchors the gaiters' front lace hook. While I've test-fitted them with two pairs of snowshoes (Atlas Race and MSR Lightning) there hasn't been enough snow for me to actually snowshoe this winter. Hopefully I'll be able to add this activity to the long-term summary. What I needed last weekend while skittering across the Sierra ice was added traction, but it didn't occur to me to carry any, such as my Kahtoolas.
Lace Hooks, and a Repair Initiated: From the start of this field test I've often noticed one or another of the top two inside-facing lace hooks of either boot would become bent outward while I was wearing them. The hook has to be bent back so the lace won't slip off and I don't gouge the opposite calf with it. This has happened to more than one hooks, perhaps all four at some time, but I never actually saw it occur. Was I catching them on the other boot's lace hooks or lacing? Was I catching them on brush? Were the laces themselves pulling the hooks open? If it happened while hiking I'd have to press it closed using a handy rock; if I noticed it at home I'd use pliers. Finally, one broke off during a hike. The silver-colored hooks are golden inside and not magnetic, so I presume they're brass. In any case, metal fatigue finally claimed one so this pair is slated to be sent off for repair by a cobbler (courtesy of Oboz). I'll update the repair in my long-term report.
Wear and Tear: Moving past the hardware issue, the boots remain in excellent shape. There are no cuts, bad scrapes, failing seams or other noticeable problems. The soles look used but show no unreasonable wear.
Support: Oboz customer service and their communications rep couldn't be more responsive. I had responses from both within an hour of emailing about my broken lace hook and quickly arranged for repair.
The Oboz Beartooths are (mostly) performing as I'd hoped and expected. They're rugged and allow me to stomp around most anywhere and not worry about smashing my toes and ankles or bruising my soles. They grip well on a variety of challenging surfaces, even at steep angles. They fend off moisture and keep my feet dry and warm. They're comfortable after wearing them a day. The failure point of the lace hooks is certainly a concern-I'll add that my pair were made early in the production run.
While they're decently light for a boot in this category I can certainly tell the difference in fatigue between a day in the Beartooths versus a pair of trail sneakers. But these two categories of footwear both have their place, in my view. I still hope to wear these snowshoeing, which I consider my prime activity to pair them with.
Finally, I'm impressed with the quick and responsive Oboz customer service. My interactions have all been positive and I'm comfortable in saying they're outdoor enthusiasts rather than just another company slinging gear.
My thanks to Oboz and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Beartooth boots. Please check back in two months for the long-term report.
Long-Term Test Locations and Conditions
Once repaired, I used the Beartooths for yard work at home, a few photography excursions, a couple day hikes in the foothills and, finally!, snowshoeing in the Sierra.
Performance in the Field
The Repair: To repair the broken lace hook noted in the Field Report, Oboz had me ship the boots to their cobbler, who replaced the broken hook as well as its counterpart on the other boot. These two were the ones most likely to snag laces, branches, etc. The replacement hooks are cast or forged rather than the stamped sheet metal of the originals, and are smaller. The top lace hooks weren't replaced, although they too occasionally bent.
Gaiters: I wore soft-shell gaiters with the Beartooths to ward off water, snow and debris, as well as keep the lace hooks from being exposed. They were a tight fit for my size large gaiters, but were a good match for the boots, otherwise. They stayed in place during the day without frequent adjustments.
Hiking: I didn't have another "zamboni" hike so no further slipping and sliding along mountainsides during the long-term test. Other than snowshoeing, my hikes were all in the Sierra foothills, mostly hilly with an array of trails and scrambling. The Beartooths were stable and kept my feet dry. Traction was usually good except where the going became really slippery. The soles skate across certain wet surfaces, and I'm not inclined to try comparing them against other types of rubber soles.
Wear and Tear:The broken lace hook remained my only failure point. I had other problems during my test. The soles show only moderate wear and the uppers look barely different than when new. Likewise, inside shows little wear and no damage. It's fair to conclude the Beartooths will last a long while for the type of use I gave them. They should be re-soleable as well for folks who travel across harsh environments, such as lava fields.
I'm not a consistent boot user but the Oboz Beartooths proved very useful for fall and winter hiking, as well as general knocking around in sloppy weather. Most importantly, they're comfortable and I also believe the lace hook problem has been solved. As a result I plan to continue wearing the Beartooths a good long while.
This concludes my Beartooth test. My sincere thanks to Oboz, Oboz customer service and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to participate!This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
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