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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes > Test Report by David Wyman

Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes
Test Series by David Wyman

Picture of shoes

Test Phases:

Initial Report - July 27, 2009

Field Report - September 29, 2009

Long Term Report - December 4, 2009

Tester Information

NAME David Wyman
EMAIL wyman(AT)wymanhq(DOT)com
AGE 31
LOCATION Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
HEIGHT 5' 10" (1.78 m)
WEIGHT 175 lb (79.40 kg)

While I've been camping for years, I've only been backpacking for a short time. I'm trying to find the right equipment, alternating between tent and hammock. My dog usually comes along on the longer hikes, and my wife and toddler join me on the shorter ones. I tend to carry more gear that I need resulting in a heavier pack, but I'm working on that. When I hike with my dog and/or my wife and son, we take it a bit slower, stopping frequently to enjoy the forest. I rarely hike fast unless I'm trying to make up time.

Initial Report - July 27, 2009

Product Information

Picture of shoes

Manufacturer Keen
Product Keen Obsidian Shoes
Year of manufacture 2009
MSRP US $125
Weight Listed: 27.4 oz (777 g) (13.7 oz/388 g per shoe)
  Measured: 30 oz (850 g) for the pair
Color Tested: Dark Shadow / Neutral Grey
  Additional Colors: Black / Gargoyle
Size Tested: 10.5
  Additional Sizes: 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, 10, 11, 11.5, 12, 13, 14
Materials (from manufacturer's website)
   Lining: KEEN.DRY(tm) Waterproof membrane / breathable textile
   Rubber: Non-marking rubber outsole
   Upper: Synthetic

Initial Impressions

Right out of the box, I was impressed with the Keen Obsidian shoes. They are incredibly lightweight yet seem to be very well constructed. Most of the upper shoe is constructed from a single piece of mesh fabric. This gives the shoe a very minimalist look which is very attractive. Based on Keen's recommendations, I ordered a half size larger than normal and the size 10.5 shoes fit very well. There don't seem to be any real rough spots on the shoes and I'm hoping to avoid any break-in blisters.

Over the last week, I've worn them on all of my normal outdoor activities, while running errands, and on several short hikes on local trails. So far they've been very comfortable and haven't required as much of a break-in period as other hiking shoes and boots that I've owned. The laces seem like an odd design, but I haven't noticed any impact on comfort yet.

Closeup of side The upper consists mostly of a single piece of mesh fabric. This fabric is their KEEN.DRY waterproof membrane which, according to the website, is "a proprietary waterproof, breathable membrane that lets vapor out without letting water in." This mesh fabric is bordered at the front and back by a grey, plastic material and the shoe is trimmed at the top and along the tongue with a different, lighter-grey mesh fabric.

The lower portion consists of non-marking rubber outsole, a stability shank, and stone bruising protection plates. The Obsidian uses Keen's S3 heel support which has a firm support material on the edges of the heel and a softer cushioning material directly under the heel.
Closeup of laces The laces are offset from the shoe's center line, starting at the center of the shoe near the top and angling outward down towards the toe. Rather than using eyelets to attach the laces, there are small loops of webbing.
The tongue is made out of a soft mesh fabric and stops at the top of the laces.
Closeup of tread The tread on the shoe is an interesting design and has several channels to divert water out from under the shoe. The tread also has two inset grooves which seem to lie along common flex stress lines.

Field Report - September 29, 2009 Trips Taken

This summer was a busy one due to the arrival of my second child. Though I wasn't able to get as many trips in as I had planned, I was able to squeeze in three separate overnight trips in August while my in-laws were in town. These trips all took place in Raccoon Creek State Park (picked the closest place so I could spend less time driving) in the first and second weeks of August. Two of the trips had reasonable temperatures (highs around 75 F / 24 C and lows around 55 F / 13 C) and light, intermittent rain - usually just a drizzle. Both of these trips were very enjoyable and, despite all the walking, quite relaxing. The third trip had temps from 70 F (21 C) to 90 F (32 C) and quite a bit of rain. This trip was hot, humid, muggy, buggy, etc - if it could annoy me while hiking, it happened. In addition to the overnight trips, I wore the shoes several times a week while running errands and being outside with my kids. These daily trips saw quite a bit of rain.

Thoughts and Impressions

Overall, I'm very happy with these shoes. The shoes encountered everything from hot and humid conditions to rainy and rocky trails and, after 40 miles of hiking and quite a bit day wear, they remain comfortable to wear.

Wet Weather

The shoes did a surprisingly good job at keeping my feet dry in various types of wet weather. While hiking, I encountered long periods of light rain and trails full of mud and puddles. Despite getting tracked through numerous puddles, very little water actually got inside the shoes. What little water did get in came from a puddle that was deep enough to cover the laces. The last overnight trip I took was hot and humid. The shoes handled the humidity fairly well and kept my feet fairly dry. They did get a little sweaty, but much less so than with my previous hiking shoes. The materials in the Keen Obsidian shoes did a very good job of wicking the moisture out and away from my feet.


Prior to doing any serious hiking, I wore the shoes daily for a week and a half to make sure they were broken in. They broke in fairly quickly, but not quick enough to prevent the chaffing and small blisters on Achilles tendons. That issue resolved itself fairly quickly and I didn't notice any other problems during the break in period. Once broken in, the shoes fit very comfortably on my feet. The toe box is a little large with a bit of extra room around my toes, but the sides and top of the shoes hugged my feet without crushing them. The extra toe room was only noticeable when hiking on slopes that had precarious footings - I noticed my feet sliding back and forth a bit while trying to keep my footing. I eventually figured out different ways to climb and descend that compensated for this, but it did result in some close calls.

Rough Terrain

The soles of the shoes did a decent job protecting my feet when walking on rocky terrain. With the fairly light weight and the padded soles, it was easy to scramble over rocks, roots, and rough ground. Unfortunately, while this cushioning worked well for day hikes and for lighter packs, a heavier load seemed too much for the padding to handle. I brought my dog along on the second overnight trip which meant that I had to carry my tent rather than my hammock. This, along with the extra food and water, raised my pack weight to 35 lbs (16 kg) - a good 10 lbs (4.5 kg) heavier than my pack weight when hiking without my dog. With this much weight on my feet, I definitely felt the rocks and terrain. One area that the shoes excelled at was gripping whatever obstacles I had to cross. They worked well while hiking through mud, up grassy slopes, and through shallow streams. The algae-coated rocks did have me concerned, but they seemed easier to handle than with previous shoes and boots. The tread on the shoes has started to show some wear but so far it seems mostly superficial and hasn't affected their function.


The shoes are very easy to maintain. After muddy trails, all it takes to clean them off is a brief rinse in a stream or pond and light wiping. The shoes don't seem to stain too easily, even after an unfortunate detour through a field full of muddy clay.

Long Term Report - December 4, 2009 Trips Taken

Made two trips to Raccoon Creek State Park, one in October and one in November. Both trips had ideal conditions - very little wind, no rain, and very few other people around. October's trip was two nights of car camping and had temperatures around 60 F (15 C) during the day and around 50 F (10 C) at night. November was a one night backpacking trip with temperatures falling down around 37 F (3 C) at night. In addition to the trips, I've worn the shoes on walks around town and short hikes with my family in the park.

Thoughts and Impressions

After several months of significant use, I'm still very happy with these shoes. They continue to handle wet weather and rough terrain well. They are beginning to show some signs of wear, but so far this has not affected their performance.

Wear Issues

The tread has begun to wear down with the most significant wear happening on the yellow, center portion of the tread. The shoes still work well, it just takes a little bit more work to get a good grip on some of the more slippery or steeper surfaces. In addition to the tread wearing, the material on the outer side of the shoes is starting to fray just a bit. This is understandable considering that I have been pretty rough on the shoes while hiking and they've had their fair share of bangs and scrapes on rocks and trees.


These shoes are still one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes I've worn. They are tight enough on the sides that they grip my feet well and they give me enough room around the toes so that my toes don't feel cramped while walking or climbing rocks and trees.


  • Handles wet conditions very well
  • Cushions the heels on rough terrain
  • Easy to clean
  • Cushioning doesn't handle heavy loads very well - easy to feel rocks while carrying a large pack
  • A little too much room around the toes for me

This concludes my testing of the Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes.

Thanks to and Keen for this opportunity.

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Read more gear reviews by David Wyman

Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes > Test Report by David Wyman

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