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Reviews > Footwear > Boots > Oboz Yellowstone Boots > Test Report by Richard Lyon
OBŌZ MEN'S YELLOWSTONE HIKING BOOTS
Initial Report April 2,
TESTER INFORMATION and BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 61 years old
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp. In the past few years I've been actively seeking ways to reduce weight, but I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and often I choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing my favorite camp conveniences.
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION and DETAILS
Obōz calls the Yellowstones a "light hiker built for the Northern Rockies," for "all seasons and all conditions." These over-the-ankle boots are the most substantial footwear in Obōz's men's line.
Manufacturer: Obōz Footwear LLC
Warranty (from a hangtag on the boots): One year warranty against defects in manufacture, with a standard exclusion for damage caused by misuse. Obōz encourages warranty service through the retailer from which the customer purchased the boots.
TRIAL RUN and FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I had two immediate reactions when I opened the box, both pleasant. The delicious smell of new leather wafted out; I had no idea that Nubuck could have this quality. Also I was struck by the boots' light weight, not too surprising a reaction for a backpacker who all too often hikes with full-grain leather on his feet.
The Yellowstones have five leather loops for laces and one set of hooks at the top, with crisscrossing pre-threaded laces. A sewn-in, bellowed tongue has a strip of Nubuck in the middle with a small loop, halfway up, through which the laces can be threaded to improve tension. I had no problem putting my feet into the boots and the laces held snugly on the hike described below with a simple shoe knot.
The High Friction Outsole tread has a different design than any I've seen previously. The insoles are removable and appear less stout than the footbeds I usually use to replace boot makers' OEM products. As can be seen from the photograph, there is bright yellow trim at the bottom of the leather to which the lace loops are sewn, underneath the heel cage, and just above the heel cage. The heel cage and toe rand are sturdy molded rubber. At the top of the boot cuff is a small fabric ribbon to aid pulling the boots on.
Shoe lasts are not standard so all size 13s are not equal. The Yellowstone give a bit less open space in the toe box than the same size in other boots I own but I believe it's sufficient for my hiking. My first fit was comfortable heel to toe, suggesting that these boots are somewhat narrower than the D or E width that I've found to be standard, as I have a narrow foot and seek out medium-width boots. Overall the size 13 Yellowstones fit my feet nearly perfectly.
The feature most quickly apparent on my first wearing was the Dual Density Propulsion Foam. The cushion and arch support in these boots feel almost springy, much more substantial than in other light hikers I have worn. A very good feeling. The inside of the boots below the leather stitched at the cuff is soft black nap.
The Yellowstones arrived a day before a scheduled day hike in Kerrville, in the Texas Hill Country, that I took with some backcountry service volunteers-in-training. This hike was at a break in the safety class I was giving, so I kept it short and simple, a double loop up a rocky trail cut on a nearby hill, all told about five miles (8 km) with perhaps 500 feet (150 m) of elevation gain. We hiked under an overcast day with temperature measured at 61 F (16 C). I wore the Yellowstone, literally out of the box, with a pair of heavy wool socks but no liners. The Yellowstones were comfortable enough that I wore them for the rest of the day rather than changing into the sandals I had brought just in case. I had no irritation anywhere on my feet, no pinching while hiking, no overheating, and no pain of any kind. Looks like break-in period will be minimal to nil!
Obōz, whose name is a contraction of "outside Bozeman," named these boots after the national park that lies roughly halfway between the company's corporate office in Jackson, Wyoming, and its sales office in Bozeman, Montana. The Greater Yellowstone region is my favorite hiking venue in the world so I look forward to testing the boots in Obōz's home territory. But I'll wear these boots at every opportunity, including day hikes in and around my home in North Texas.
Obōz's description of its boots' features, in the table above, sets my testing standards. Most important to me is whether the great fit out of the box will hold up after use and abuse in the field. Fit includes protection and comfort. The insoles are of particular interest. I'd really welcome a boot that doesn't require the extra fitting and cost of a custom footbed or other orthotic (which I usually must add) for a blister-free fit that holds my feet in place in varied conditions. I normally hike with thin liners and heavyweight wool socks even on day hikes, but I'll see how well the Yellowstones perform with a single pair of socks.
Closely related to fit is durability. Even on-trail hiking in the Northern Rockies means rocks, scree scrambles, abandoned paved roads, plenty of dirt and dust, and more than occasional stream crossings to test the Yellowstones' mettle. I've got some cross-country bushwhacks on the agenda. .
The traction that the special lug pattern and Z-GRIP rubber provide on the various surfaces, wet and dry, will receive close attention, and I am looking forward to see if the lugs really do clean themselves.
The four-month test period spans the muddy spring in the Rockies and monsoon season in North Texas, so I expect to test Obōz's claimed waterproofing thoroughly. I shall look at how quickly the boots dry, whether they retain proper fit when they are wet, if they ever become waterlogged and heavy, and whether dampness will cause any chafing.
There's another means of soaking boots – perspiration. How breathable are these boots when worn during normal hiking, with and without a backpack? Will the B-Dry™ Membrane, Obōz's proprietary waterproofing, wick perspiration that builds up or will my socks have to absorb it? How will this vary with the temperature or humidity?
As a non-lightweight backpacker I'm also interested in capacity. I don't have any expeditions planned during the test period but my long-weekend pack load can exceed forty pounds (18 kg), and in the springtime I may have to add the weight of waders on fishing-oriented trips. I shall look at how much arch support these boots provide with various pack weights.
Ease of care and cleaning, at home and in the backcountry, is important to maintaining any boots' functionality and avoiding extra weight and discomfort on the trail.
The Obōz Yellowstones have been on my feet on every day hike and camping trip I have taken in the last two months, an estimated eighteen days and fifty trail miles (80 km) over asphalt, dirt, scree, mud, grass, scrub, and slush.
Camping trips include a two-day, three-night car camping trip in Wasatch State Park near Heber City, Utah, in mid-April. Hiking temperatures were in the 40-65 F (4-19 C) range. All hiking was on dirt trails or grassland and everything was dry. On two overnight backpacks near Dallas hiking was on paved roads or dirt trails. On the first trip temperatures ranged from 72 F (22 C) during the day to about 50 F (10 C) at night. Heavy rain Saturday night, but only a light drizzle on the hike out Sunday morning. On the second it was warmer, 90 F (32 C) and humid on the hike in, with a thundershower just before we reached our campsite. After the storm a cold front cleaned things up nicely, with the overnight low at 52 F (11 C) and North Texas's normal low humidity. I wore liner socks and a pair of heavyweight wool socks each day on all these occasions.
Day hikes in the Southwest, mostly on paved roads, were in and around Dallas, and on one occasion in Kerrville, Texas, in February through May. Temperatures from 50-85 F (10-29 C), with one brief rain shower but no sustained precipitation.
I walk with my dogs every day when not traveling, frequently venturing into the city park (called a nature area) adjacent to my home. Until last week, when much of the flora was mowed by the city, most of this area was scrub brush (not as grabby as devil's club but still full of roots and nettles) or prairie grass, from ankle- to mid-thigh high. On these walks the boots have met heavy dew, rain, very wet grass, and an occasional muddy patch.
The Yellowstones visited their namesake, Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming and Montana) in June, for three afternoons of fishing and day hiking. Spring has been late in coming to the Park – temperatures never exceeded 40 F (4 C) amid frequent snow squalls and gusty winds. The trails, in the Madison River section of the Park or in nearby Harriman State Park in Island Park, Idaho, were muddy and covered with several inches/centimeters of either wet snow or slush.
Finally, I have been experimenting different packs and pack loads on walks along my home street, a mile-long (1.5 km) country lane with the park at one end. With three different packs I've hauled loads from forty to sixty pounds (18-27 kg) for up to three miles (5 km) on flat pavement, occasionally venturing into the park for brief periods. (The trail time and mileage at the beginning of this section do not include this staged testing.)
Except for the overnight trips, I wore the Yellowstones with a single pair of socks, usually medium or heavy weight wool socks but on one occasion thin ankle-length wool socks. The largest pack load I carried while wearing the Yellowstones in the field was about thirty pounds (13 kg) on one of the overnights.
Fit. Simply put, the Yellowstones give my feet a great fit. The toe box is roomy, but not so roomy that my toes move around too much. Size 13 is the perfect length, enough room without my feet slipping and sliding when I go uphill or downhill. This may be due in part to the lacing system. Because of my narrow ankles boot laces tend to work loose when hiking. Even if they don't come completely undone after awhile the knot can migrate away from the tongue, allowing my feet to slide around a bit and requiring a re-tie. That has happened much less frequently with the Yellowstones, and I haven't had to jerry-rig the lacing or use a double knot to bring this about. Number or weight of socks hasn't affected the fit either, a big plus for me. I'd be very pleased to dispense with liner socks on shorter hikes with lighter loads.
Another rarity for me is that I haven't felt the need to replace Obōz's insoles with an aftermarket upgrade or to supplement them with an orthotic. Normally I must do so to accommodate a relatively high arch and to avoid plantar pain when awakening the morning after a hike with a full pack (or, worse, plantar fasciitis, which I've dealt with after ignoring my arches for too long). No need to tinker with the fit has confirmed my experience, reported in my Initial Report, that no break-in period has been necessary. I cannot remember being able to say that about even street shoes, much less hiking boots.
The Yellowstones are a snap to put on. My foot slides easily into the boot and with only a single wrap of the laces around one set of hooks and a quick knot I'm ready for the road.
Comfort. The Yellowstones have breathed well also, albeit in generally dry conditions and at lower-than-summer temperatures. Particularly when carrying a pack I customarily take my boots off at rest breaks to dry both footwear and feet, and with the Yellowstones this has sufficed to keep my feet dry. I continue to benefit from the thick and soft pad (Obōz's Nylon Plate Techtology™) underfoot, noted in my Initial Report, for both support and comfort. The heavy pack weights on my experimentation haven't changed that; again, though, the real testing is yet to come when the hiking will be longer, the temperatures warmer, and a ready bail-out unavailable.
Other Features. The funny-looking treads have kept a good grip on both road and trail, even the slushy trails in Yellowstone. No noticeable difference from the Vibram soles I've relied on for years. There may be something to Obōz's claim of self-cleaning lugs. After two-plus hours in the mud and slush the treads were free of soil or ice. Even more impressively, after several trips to the local dog park no nastier substance has remained amid the treads, which I do not attribute solely to careful steps or good luck. The waterproofing works too. So far the Yellowstones have kept my feet and socks completely dry. Though not yet immersed in water, they received constant exposure to ice and slush when worn in Yellowstone Park and environs. I experienced no water seepage through the mesh or soaking of the upper leather.
Durability. The Yellowstones look almost as good as new. Neither mud nor water has stained the suede, and I haven't noticed any darkening of the light brown leather. The toe guard and heel cage remain firmly affixed to the boots, and all stitching is intact. The laces and lace loops show no fraying. I cannot detect any serious wear on the treads. The new leather smell is gone and the suede shows some smears from inadequate cleaning; otherwise they might have just come out of the box.
Cleaning. Mud sometimes adheres to the suede uppers, but I've been able to wipe it away with a damp cloth. I've not had the need to deodorize or otherwise treat the Yellowstones, a pleasant change from my full-grain leather boots, which get a dose of Sno-Seal after every outing.
LIKES AND DISLIKES
I've had many good things to say about the Yellowstones. Any problems? I've tried mightily to find something, but without success. I really like these boots!
Testing so far has involved no hike longer than three hours, and nothing in brutal heat, so I am reserving judgment on comfort, breathability, and waterproofing until extended summer trail time and bushwhacking. That will occur during the Long Term Reporting period, the next two months during which I have several longer hikes scheduled in the Northern Rockies.
LONG TERM REPORT
The past two months, as hoped, furnished ample opportunity to wear the Yellowstones in warmer weather and on longer hikes. I have worn them an additional seven hiking days covering about 65 trail miles (105 km), for four-month totals of 26 days and about 120 trail miles (190 km). These figures do not include occasional around-town use on weekends, walking my dogs, or the staged hiking described in my Field Report.
Dallas, Texas, late June. A Sunday day hike along the Katy Trail, a paved route from downtown to the north. This trail is being restored; about five miles (8 km) are easily accessible at this point in time. Our group hiked up and back for a ten-mile (16 km) hike. Reported temperatures for that morning were 86-95 F (30-35 C) but most of the trail is shaded so it didn't feel that warm. This was a typical north Texas summer day – no clouds and low humidity. I wore a day pack with about ten pounds (4.5 kg) of food, water, and gear inside.
Big Timber, Montana, area, early July. Four long (8-15 miles/13-24 km each) day hikes in the Absaroka and Crazy Woman mountain ranges. These were all on established dirt trails, one of which was very rocky and two of which included some fairly long marshy sections. All days were sunny, with low humidity and temperatures from 70-85 F (21-29 C) – great hiking weather! I carried my overnight pack with about a thirty-pound (14 kg) load, acting as Sherpa for two teenagers who accompanied my companion and me. These three colleagues (all female) paid a compliment to the appearance of the Yellowstones – each asked for a pair for Christmas.
Inverness, California, early August. A leisurely six-mile (10 km) hike along a dirt fire road to the Inverness Ridge on a beautiful day, about 70 F (21 C) without a cloud in the sky. I carried my overnight pack with about 15 pounds' (7 kg) total weight.
Livingston, Montana, mid-August. This was primarily a fishing trip but I did take one on-trail day hike in the Absarokas, about ten mostly flat miles (16 km) on a clear 90 F (22 C) day.
Almost all my observations mirror those in my Field Report. I'm still in love with these boots.
Comfort. During the past two months I always wore only one pair of heavy wool socks with the Yellowstones, dispensing with the thin liner socks I usually wear. Shedding this layer, the Yellowstones' great fit, and the boots' breathability made for some of the best treatment my feet have received when hiking with a pack in summer. My feet got hot but not to the point where a stop-and-soak was required, and I didn't notice any perspiration build-up while hiking or at rest breaks when I did get a chance to air-dry my feet.
The cushion and arch support that the foam and underfoot nylon plate provide are exceptional. I didn't feel the rocks through them even on the really rocky trail in the Crazies. As noted in my Field Report, I have been able to use the insoles that came with the Yellowstones rather than replace them with orthotics. Through the past four months I've had no plantar pain or swelling following a day's hiking.
Maybe most importantly, I've also not developed a heel blister when hiking in these boots, even without my usual liner socks. On the first day with a heavier pack I did take my usual precaution of pasting an Engo Blister Prevention Patch (see separate Test Report) at the heel of both boots, as I have done with all my hiking boots since discovering the Patches.
Convenience. Obōz's unusual lacing system has worked like a charm. With my narrow feet I often have laces work themselves loose quickly unless I have secured them with a double knot. On most occasions in the Yellowstones I haven't had to bother with a double knot, and haven't had a problem even after an hour of hiking downhill, which I consider astounding, certainly a first for me.
Waterproofing. All the dry summer weather I've encountered meant no chance to test the Yellowstones in a thunderstorm or even a heavy shower, and I didn't go as far as suggested by Obōz, charging right through a stream. They did take me through some very boggy trail sections in the Crazies and Absarokas without incident, however. If I were giving this feature a grade, it would be "Incomplete but promising."
Traction. I've had a minor problem with slippage on steeper trail sections, usually while descending, when the trail holds a large amount of loose dirt and gravel. The unusual tread pattern on the Yellowstones has otherwise worked well. They kept a tight grip on slippery rocks along the creeks that paralleled my hiking trails in the Absarokas.
Durability. The Yellowstones no longer look like new; they show the signs of well-used hiking boots. I have a few scuffs on the heel and toe cages, to be expected after frequent trail use. I have carefully examined all stitching and welts and am pleased to report that the overall integrity of these boots is unimpaired. The tread remains sound and without undue deterioration. I detect no fraying on the laces or fabric lace loops.
Cleaning. All I've had to do is clean off accumulated dirt and mud with a wire brush after each hike and then remove remaining surface dirt with a damp rag. No special water treatment, no seam sealing, no hosing down. I hope this holds true after a sound dunking in a stream or hike in a thunderstorm. As in my Field Report, the self-cleaning lugs do appear to leave less embedded dirt than other treads I have tried, supporting Obōz's marketing claim.
The Yellowstones have cradled my feet safely and in comfort for the past four months, with only one minor complaint, the one about slippage. I like them best for the great fit, which is idiosyncratic to any hiker. Obōz's lasts and my feet are definitely compatible. But I give considerable credit to the workmanship, ingenuity, and innovation that Obōz put into the design and manufacture of these great boots. I shall continue to use the Yellowstones as my primary hiking boots for as long as they last. Then I'll buy another pair. I have it on good authority that Obōz will soon be marketing a full-grain leather boot. If that's true the company will have at least one ready customer, so that I can wear boots from Obōz during my trail maintenance work.
My Test Report ends here. Thanks to Obōz, and to BackpackGearTest.org, for the introduction to this company and my testing opportunity.
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