CHACO CANYONLAND MID
TEST SERIES BY DAVID TAGNANI
December 04, 2008
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT
5' 10" (1.78 m)
160 lb (72.60 kg)
Backpacking Background: I have been camping and hiking for as long as I can remember, but I've really only been backpacking for a decade. I started off in the hills of northeastern and central Pennsylvania, have hiked trails from Maine to Georgia, and now I am exploring the incredible terrain of the inland northwest. I seldom do trips longer than three days, with most trips being overnighters. I do not own crampons, an ice axe, or a climbing harness, so if the route is technical enough to require them, you won't find me there. I simply like to walk in the woods.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: chacousa.com
MSRP: $110 US
Listed Weight: Unavailable
Measured Weight: 2 lbs 8 oz (1134 g) per pair; size 10.5 US (44.0 Eur)
Other colors available: Oxide
Height: 5 in (12.7 cm)
Country of Manufacture: China
Uppers: Synthetic Microfiber
Outsole: Getagrip butyl rubber
Midsole: Compression-molded EVA
Insole: BioCentric / Agion
Chaco's website categorizes the Canyonlands as a light hiker. Some interesting features that the website touts are:
- Removable BioCentric footbed
- Compression-molded EVA midsole
- Getagrip rubber outsole
- 360-degree rand
- Quick-drying synthetic microfiber uppers
- TPU Dual Zone lacing system
The Canyonlands arrived in their cardboard Chaco box. The only things inside the box besides the shoes were the receipt and a hangtag on one of the shoes. The tag was advertising Agion, which is a silver-based antimicrobial product woven into the footbed. Strangely, Chaco's website does not mention this, so it is a nice surprise.
The shoes are a bit unusual looking, to be sure. They sort of remind me of old wrestling shoes. I don't find them unattractive necessarily, just different. A close and careful inspection of the seams reveals some less-than-perfect workmanship. As you can see in the picture to the right, there are some places where adhesive has spilled out of the seam and onto the uppers. Another thing I notice is that there are A LOT of seams. These shoes are pieced together out of many different pieces of material with lots of stitching holding it all together. As a devotee of all-leather hikers, all of these seams and stitching seem excessive to me. Some of the stitching is frayed and loose. Hopefully, these imperfections are merely cosmetic and will not affect functionality.
The Canyonlands are very light. They feel like a pair of running shoes in my hands. Flexing the shoe with my hands, I can feel that the sole is very soft and flexible. The Getagrip outsole also feels softer than the Vibram outsoles found on most hiking footwear.
The insoles in the Canyonlands are a nice change of pace from the thin, throw-away insoles found in a lot of shoes. They are touted by Chaco as BioCentric footbeds, designed to control pronation (turning the ankle) and offer "aggressive" arch support. Judging by the looks of them, I don't doubt their claims. They appear to be solid, substantial insoles. The heel cup is deep, the top of the insole is nicely padded, and the bottom is a study hard plastic material. They look every bit as effective as any of the popular third-party insoles. Only time will tell, though.
One thing that instantly stands out on the Canyonlands is the lacing system. Chaco designed the system to be "dual zone," meaning that one can have two separate areas at two different tensions. Since the shoes came with no directions, this will take some tinkering to get right.
TRYING THEM OUT
Since the Canyonlands are classified by Chaco as light hikers, I decide to try them on with a pair of light hiking socks: Bridgedale Ventums. Immediately I am confronted by the rather intricate lacing system Specifically, the plastic lace lock at the ankle's flex point is a bit tricky to operate.
There are two openings on these lace locks. One opening consists of two different diameters, allowing the lace to either pass freely through or locking it in place (see picture below). The other opening is one fixed diameter that allows the lace to pass through. The Canyonlands came laced through the top of the two-part opening in the lace lock. This made it impossible to tighten the shoes, because as soon as any pressure was applied, the lace slid into the smaller diameter opening and locked into place, disallowing further tightening. It would have been nice if Chaco included some brief instructions with the Canyonlands.
Hmmm. How about re-lacing them so that the lace passes through from the bottom? This seemed to solve the above problem. But now there is the issue of that other hole; what could that be for? I tried every possible lacing configuration and still could not figure out what it could be used for. I tried using the two openings in conjunction, but that did not allow the locking opening to function correctly. I tried using the lower opening by itself, but that just bypassed the locking mechanism altogether and left the upper part of the plastic lace lock sticking up awkwardly. I'm stumped. Absent instructions, I just laced them up as shown above. That seemed to work best.
The lace lock itself seems only relatively effective at locking the lace in place. It certainly is more difficult for the lace to move through the opening when locked, but it's certainly not impossible. A little pressure causes the lace to slip through the lace lock. We'll have to see how this functions out on the trail. Is the lock tight enough to maintain the "dual zone" lacing, or does the pressure of walking cause the laces to slip through the lock?
After playing around with the lacing for too long, I finally got a good feel for the Canyonlands. They are very comfortable right out of the box. Walking around my house, they felt very light and soft on my feet. These are not necessarily qualities I look for in hiking footwear, but they felt good nevertheless. The cuff felt a bit awkward on my ankles, but I haven't owned a pair of mid-cut shoes such as these in a long time, so I'll probably get used to it. Another issue is that they feel a touch narrow. My feet are normal width, and these shoes are very soft, so this doesn't seem like too much of an issue right now. The Canyonlands flex easily when I plant my foot, allowing my foot to expand comfortably.
I proceeded to experiment with different socks, trying both light and mid-weight hikers with and without liner socks. I even tried them with a pair of standard low-cut cotton socks. This didn't work very well due to the mid-cut cuff feeling uncomfortable against bare skin. But every other combination felt pretty good. The lacing system and the suppleness of the uppers allowed the shoe to expand easily to accommodate the heavier mid-weight sock. But after all was said and done, I preferred the way I started out: lightweight hiking sock with no liner.
Next I compared the stock insoles to a pair of orange Superfeet insoles. Placing them next to one another and looking them over, I noticed that they are remarkably similar in thickness, width, and placement of arch support. I tried the Canyonlands on, one with the Superfeet insole and the other with the stock BioCentric insole. If I didn't already know, I would never have been able to tell the difference. This is one area where the Canyonlands really deliver on their promise of a top-quality insole.
I have one very weak ankle. This is why I wear high-cut, all-leather, heavy duty hiking boots, even when on dayhikes. Even with this protection, my ankle will still collapse every now and then. I don't re-injure my ankle when this happens; I just stumble a bit and experience a little pain. So these light, mid-cut hikers have their job cut out for them supporting my wet noodle of an ankle.
Before I ever get to the point where I feel comfortable hauling weight with the Canyonlands, I plan to dayhike extensively in order to gauge their supportiveness. Since this will be my first time hiking in light, mid-cut boots, I will begin with relatively level dayhikes and slowly work my way into serious elevation gain and then hopefully multi-day trips.
Most of these initial excursions will likely be in Riverside State Park along the Spokane River. The many trails here generally involve little elevation gain or loss and are on wide, well-groomed trails, though there are a few sections that cross basalt talus slopes. I tend to do some scrambling, as well, up and down the riverbank to reach the water if I'm fishing. These will be great opportunities to evaluate the outsole. Every boot I have ever owned has had a Vibram outsole. These Chaco's have trademarked Getagrip outsoles, so it will be interesting to see how these compare to the standard Vibrams. The loose scree and talus at Riverside will be an appropriate testing ground.
When on these hikes, I will take along my Superfeet insoles so I can swap them out on the trail for some real field evaluation, supplementing the in-house testing I did in this report. Also, I frequently take along a heavy overnight back on dayhikes for training purposes. So I'll gather impressions as to how much weight these light hikers can handle comfortably.
When I am confident that the Canyonlands offers sufficient support and comfort for longer, weight-bearing trips, I have a few multi-day backpacking trips planned for the next few months, and I'm sure there will be several others that pop up last minute with little planning.
The Canyonlands are very light, soft, and comfortable. But can they withstand long, hard miles on the trail? Can they support my weak ankle? We'll just have to see.
This concludes my Initial Report. The Field Report will be amended to this report in approximately two months from the date of this report. Please check back then for further information.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Most of the time, I have used the Chaco Canyonlands in the arid, hot conditions of the Inland Northwest. Specifically, these shoes have been all over Riverside State Park in Spokane. This park lies on the banks of the Spokane River and ranges in elevation from 1600 ft (488 m) to 2400 ft (732 m). The terrain is dry, open Ponderosa Pine forest with basalt outcroppings and adjacent talus slopes. I wore these shoes during the summer months, which typically ranged in temperature from 85 to 95 degrees F (29 to 35 C). We usually go many weeks without rain here in the summer, and it did not rain at all during my outings in the Canyonlands.
Two trips to the Cascades tested these shoes in more challenging alpine terrain. The weather during my trip to the Teanaway River valley was typical of summer weather east of the crest: hot and dry. The other Cascades trip was to Mount Rainier National Park, where I encountered cooler and wetter weather during the first few days. Highs were around 65 F (18 C) with cloudy skies and strong winds. Little actual rain fell, though it was humid and misty. Elevation ranged from 4100 ft (1250 m) to 6800 ft (2073 m) through dense forest into open alpine meadows and rocky mountain passes.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
FIT & COMFORT
The Canyonlands have proven to be very comfortable shoes. They required no break-in period and felt good on my feet right from the start. They seemed perhaps a bit narrow at first, but they are so soft that they expanded immediately to accommodate my feet with no resulting discomfort.
I am accustomed to hiking in heavy-duty, high-cut, all-leather boots, and the Canyonlands represent a whole different approach to hiking footwear. They were very light on my feet, which is a definite positive. I even tried trail running in them for a bit, that is how light and soft they feel. But since they are so light and soft, I did not feel as though my feet and ankles were protected or supported.
I have had a dualistic experience concerning the support that these shoes offer. The arch support is excellent. The Canyonlands do not come with a cheap, disposable insole like most hiking shoes these days; they come with a substantial, quality insole that offers ample support. During my first real hike wearing the Canyonlands, I took along my orange Superfeet insoles and swapped them out with the original Chaco Biocentric footbeds. I changed insoles several times, and even walked a distance with the Superfeet insole in one shoe and the Chaco insole in the other. I could not tell the difference at all. Considering the price of after-market insoles and the performance of the stock Chaco insoles, the Biocentric footbeds are one of the greatest qualities of the Canyonlands.
|Basalt talus in Riverside State Park|
The ankle support offered by the Canyonlands, however, leaves much to be desired. As mentioned in my Initial Report, I have one very weak ankle and so usually hike in heavy, high-cut boots to support it. I was interested to see if I could get away with the support of a mid-cut shoe. The answer, apparently, is no. Though they felt very light and comfortable on the trail, my ankle rolled on a somewhat regular basis. The Canyonlands could only keep my ankle stable on the flattest, most well-groomed trails. When it came to rocky sections or otherwise uneven terrain, my ankles felt the strain and my weak one collapsed as often as not. Considering the fact that this was happening on day hikes while carrying less than 10 lbs. (4.5 kg), I concluded that there is no way the Canyonlands would be able to offer the support I need on overnight trips while carrying 30 lbs. (14 kg). As a result, I was unfortunately unable to test these shoes on longer, overnight trips.
Again, the sole leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent. I was very interested to see how the Getagrip outsoles performed in the field, since I cannot remember having a pair of hiking shoes that did not have a Vibram sole. The Getagrip sole proved to be very grippy indeed. When scrambling over, up, and down the basalt talus slopes in Riverside State Park (see picture at right), the Canyonlands held onto the rocks with no problems, providing a safe and secure grip. Likewise with loose dirt, roots, and other surfaces. Solid, slick, and wet rock proved to be no problem, either. In this respect, the Getagrip outsole performed well.
But as far as protecting my feet goes, the soles did not perform well. They are so soft, I can feel every little pebble and twig that I step on. This is particularly problematic when crossing talus as pictured to the right. The sole gripped very well, but every last edge and angle dug into the bottom of my foot, creating some discomfort. This was not too much of a problem on a day hike, but when traveling over greater distances for days on end and carrying greater weight, this could become a major issue. At the very least, it would slow me down considerably as I took more time and care in my foot placement in rough sections in order to protect the soles of my feet.
Though I was a bit confused by the innovative lacing system on the Canyonlands at first, I have since become a fan of this system. As reflected in my Initial Report, the lack of directions produced some uncertainty as to how to lace the shoes. But after some experimentation, I found a way that works (see the IR). In the field, this lacing system really performs. I initially questioned the effectiveness of the lace locks in keeping the laces in place, since I was able to pull the laces through with my hands. However, the locks prove solid when it really counts. With this system, I was able to have two different degrees of tension with the laces, providing somewhat of a custom fit. Over my foot, where I thought the shoe felt a bit narrow, I laced them looser to accommodate some expansion. On the ankle cuff, where I need solid support, I laced them tighter to help hold my ankle in place. Even after 10 miles (16 kilometers) on the trail, the lace lock did not slip at all or need adjustment. I was surprised and impressed by this.
I would classify these shoes as ULTRA-light hikers. I have trail runners that offer more protection than the Canyonlands. But their lightness and softness also contributes to their comfort. My feet never got tired of wearing them, except when crossing rough terrain where the lack of support became an issue.
|A washed-out trail in Mt. Rainier NP|
I found the Canyonlands to be a good footwear choice when I was walking around the local, well-groomed and well-maintained trails. They also served me well on fishing excursions when I didn't have very far to walk, but had a few steep sections of riverbank to negotiate. The Getagrip soles provided a secure grip on the steep banks, and the light, soft uppers allowed me to stand for long periods of time in comfort.
But, as I said, these same attributes made me decline to take these shoes backpacking. I backpack in high, steep, and rough terrain, and the Canyonlands did not inspire confidence that they could support and protect my feet and ankles on such a trip. Even dayhiking in Mount Rainier National Park, where I had to negotiate sections of washed-out trail and dry, rocky stream beds, the Canyonlands felt like they were not up to the challenge.
THINGS I LIKE
- grippy soles
- quality insoles
- comfortable uppers
- effective "Dual Zone" lacing system
THING I DON'T LIKE
- not enough ankle support
- soft sole allows me to feel every last pebble and twig underfoot
- soft uppers offer little protection for feet
CONTINUED TESTING STRATEGY
I will continue to wear the Canyonlands on shorter hikes on well-groomed trails. With my weak ankle, this is all I trust the Canyonlands to handle. It will be particularly interesting to see how far into the fall the Canyonlands can last before my feet get too cold. I wish I could test them on some upcoming trips into Montana's Cabinet Mountains and the Selkirks of Northern Idaho, but I just don't feel comfortable trusting my feet to the Canyonlands on such rugged excursions.
Thanks to Chaco and BGT for the opportunity to take part in this test. Check back in late November for my Long-term Report.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Due to my lack of confidence in the ability of the Canyonlands to handle difficult terrain, I have only continued using them when hiking the easy trails of nearby Riverside State Park. These trails are wide, well-groomed, and smooth, with only occasional sections that traverse basalt outcroppings. In this regard, the field conditions were similar to those in the Field Report.
One significant difference, though, was the temperature. The mercury has dropped significantly during the Long Term Testing period. The last time I wore the Canyonlands on a hike, the temperature was a balmy 38 F (3 C).
The other significant difference in weather here in the Inland Northwest is that we finally have rain. Though I did not hike in any downpours, I did hike just after a significant rainfall, when the vegetation was wet and there was a lingering mist in the air. Temperatures were around 45 F (7 C) during this particular outing.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Nothing significant has changed regarding my opinion of the Canyonlands as far as their abilities and limitations. They were comfortable and capable shoes to wear while on leisurely hikes on well-groomed trails close to home. Due to my experiences during the Field Reporting period, I did not chance pushing the capability of the Canyonlands any further than this. I felt like I would have been risking injury taking these far into the backcountry.
I did, however, get to test the limits of their ability to handle the cold. Due to their light weight and highly breathable uppers, I doubted they could handle much outside of the summer months. But they actually were comfortable down to about 45 F (7 C), which is more than I expected from them. One factor in this is the fact that the uppers are so soft and flexible, I was able to fit a thick midweight hiking sock in them, which provided some added insulation. When it got much colder than this, the Canyonlands reached their limit. They are now out of commission until late spring.
The return of wet weather to the Inland Northwest proved to be another challenge for the Canyonlands. Though I did not actually hike in a downpour, the wet vegetation brushed against and soaked the Canyonlands in no time. These shoes really soak through quickly. Chaco makes no claims of water-resistance, but does call them quick-drying. I did not find this to be the case, but the weather that day was so damp and misty, they probably didn't have any chance to dissipate the moisture.
These are not the right shoes for cool, wet weather. Neither are they the right shoes for me when navigating uneven terrain. For use on smooth, wide trails, they are a comfortable alternative to my heavy-duty hiking boots. They have proven to be reasonably durable shoes, as I can see no noticeable signs of wear on them at this point. Of course, a major factor in this is that I have worn them mainly on the easy trails, saving the rough stuff for my burlier footwear.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
In short, they seem to be quality lightweight trail shoes, but certainly don't seem to be able to go beyond those limitations.
Thanks to Chaco and BGT for the chance to test the Chaco Canyonlands.
Read more reviews of Chaco gear
Read more gear reviews by David Tagnani