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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes > Test Report by John Waters


INITIAL REPORT - July 13, 2009
FIELD REPORT - September 21, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - November 30, 2009


NAME: John R. Waters
AGE: 60
LOCATION: White Lake, Michigan USA
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 178 lb (80.70 kg)
CHEST: 43 in (109 cm)
WAIST: 38 in (97 cm)

My backpacking began in 1999. I have hiked rainforests in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, on glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland, 14ers in Colorado and Death Valley's deserts. I hike or snowshoe 6-8 miles (10 km-13 km) 2-3 times weekly in Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, with other day-long hikes on various SE Michigan trails. I also hike in Colorado and am relocating there, which will increase my hiking time and trail variety tremendously. My daypack is 18 lb (8 kg); overnights' weigh over 25 lb (11 kg). I'm aiming to reduce my weight load by 40% or more.



Manufacturer: Keen, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website:
Listed Weight: 13.7 oz (388 g)
Measured Weight: 16 oz (454 g) - each shoe
Colors Available: N/A
Color Tested: DSGR (according to the hang tag - Dark Grey according to me)
Sizes Available: 7 to 14 US Men's/5-11 US Women's
Size Tested: 11.5 US Men's
Other details: (from Keen's Press Release)

* Keen Dry Waterproof Breathable Membrane
* Soft Flex Torsion Stability ESS Shank
* S3 Heel Support Structure
* Stone Bruising Protection Plate Guards Feet
* Removable Metatomical Tri-Density Footbed
* Welded Seam Breathable Waterproof Upper
Keen Obsidian WP Hiker
Picture Courtesy of Keen, Inc.


The Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes were not listed on the website at the time of this report, in fact the attached tag indicates the shoes are "Development Samples". Having no information about the shoes other than a one page press release, I was pleasantly surprised when I received them. They are definitely very nice-looking shoes. A little heavier than I thought for a trail shoe though.

The outer material of the shoes appears to be mostly synthetic with leather-look accents around the heels and toe cap. The hangtag says the uppers are "PU Nubuck" which is a material constructed to look like leather but be breathable.

Obsidian Heel
Pull-On Loop at Heel
There is a light grey mesh padded collar which is capped with a lime-green accented ribbon-like pull-on loop at the back heel.

The color-coordinating round laces pass through four sets of loops constructed of the same ribbon as the pull-on heel loop. There are no "quick-lace" loops as on many of my other hiking footwear, just the standard eyelets.The lacing track is different as it curves outward near the toe.

Other than the above mentioned ribbon loops, I could find no top-stitching. It appears all parts of the shoes are glued together.

A generous toe rand protects the front of the shoes with just a bit of the rubber covering the top of the shoes. The toe rand is bordered with the PU Nubuck, I'm guessing, for ventilation.

There is a layer of cushioning rubber sandwiched between the shoes uppers and the soles beginning at the front arch of the foot up to the heel. This layer follows the contours of the footbed and is grey with the Keen "S3" logo near the outside heel of the shoes. The Keen logo is also embossed on the outside upper of the shoes between the heel and the lacings.

The tread of the Hikers is mildly aggressive with obvious channels for shedding water and debris. There is a distinctive wedge of a bumpy material which wraps from the underside of the arch to where the sole meets the upper.

Arch Protection Plate
Arch Protection Plate
Keen Sole
Tread on Obsidian - Dirty Already!

The interior lining of the Hikers is a light grey with "Keen Dri" printed repeatedly. A gusseted tongue has the same logo on the interior and stops even with the collar of the Hikers rather than protruding beyond it as some of my other trail shoes do. Removable inner soles are perforated with dozens of holes to aid in ventilation.

Inner Sole
Inner Sole Bottom
Inner Sole Toe Area
Close-Up Of Inner Sole Bottom Toe Area

The Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes, on first examination, look to be well made and attractive. I am looking forward to testing out their performance on the trail.


Care Instructions on the Keen website for leather and synthetic uppers are simple. "Gently brush the footwear with a dry soft sponge or hand towel to remove loose dirt and restore surface. The use of a leather conditioner is recommended to preserve the original quality of the material. Stains should be treated immediately with a solvent-based cleaner. This process may cause slight discoloration to the affected area. "

I found two different statements of Returns/Exchange policies on the Keen Website. First the KEEN PRODUCT WARRANTY states: "KEEN offers a one year warranty on all our products from the original date of purchase. If you believe your KEEN footwear, bag or socks are defective for any reason, please contact the KEEN dealer where the original purchase took place... Please note: This policy does not apply to product that has been damaged by misuse, accident, modification, or unauthorized repair. "

The Keen Online Returns and Exchange policy also is stated as such; "We stand behind our products! If within 30 days you are not entirely happy with your KEEN purchase you may return it. Period."

A bit confusing to me but it sounds like the dealer route limits returns to defective product whereas, at least for the first 30 days, the online purchase can be returned for any reason at all.


Since the Keen Obsidians are a pre-production model, I had limited prior information about them. After looking over other shoes on the website, I decided to order the shoes larger than normal based on Keen's suggestion for some of their other shoes. I am very glad I had did because had I ordered my regular 10.5 size I would have had a very tight pair of shoes. As it happened, the Obsidians fit me just perfectly at size 11.5. They are very comfortable, although on first impression a little clunkier than I had hoped for.

I'm particularly looking forward to seeing how the shoes handle 100 F (38 C) desert air temps when the ground during the day feels much hotter after baking in the sun. Last week I was doing some work installing a wireless dish on a customer's roof and one entire sole of my sneakers slid right off. The glue melted.

So I will be looking to see what happens to the Obsidians this summer.

I'm not too sure about the slanted lacing tract. It's unusual and maybe I'll get used to it.

I've worn these for about 12 hours so far after taking them right out of the box. Two hours of that was hiking up a steep incline about 40 degrees incline and over very rough bedrock and sand. It doesn't appear that the Obsidians will need a break-in period. I'm pretty confident I could trek several miles/kilometers without any break-in time and not experience soreness.


I'm going to be wearing the Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes almost constantly over the next several weeks as I travel and hike around the desert and rocky areas of Canon City, Colorado and hit the shores and dunes of Lake Michigan on Beaver Island. One advantage of testing these in Colorado is being in the "banana belt" we get a lot of sun, so I should be able to test the low-height hiking shoes well into the end of the testing period without getting into snowfall. Our treks along the dunes in Michigan will allow me to report on how many ounces/grams of sand will fit in the shoes along with my feet.

This concludes my initial report on the Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes. Please continue reading below to see the results of my first two months' testing of the shoes.



I've been wearing this pair of Keen boots while hiking in some very rough and rocky terrain in Utah and Colorado and sandy level terrain in Michigan. I would estimate that since I started testing these, I probably have put over 40 trail miles (64 km) on them and probably over twice that just in normal everyday wear and tear.

I've hiked over 20 miles (32 km) across our high desert terrain here in Canon City, Colorado at over 5300 ft (1600 m) in temperatures from 45 F to 110 F (7 to 43 C), over 11 miles (18 km) in Utah on trail and off trail in Arches National Park, and over 5 miles (8 km) on trails and beaches on Beaver Island, Michigan. I also wore them while "hiking" around the Outdoor Retail trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah. I mention that because when I attended the show I actually walked over 7 miles (11 km) per day on concrete and any shoes or boots that wear comfortably are doing a fine job.


I was concerned that because these shoes are so clunky they would not perform well at high temperatures. I was wrong. They did well at temps up to 110 F (43 C), which means the temp at the ground was probably warmer. My feet did not excessively sweat at all. I do not think these shoes shed odor as well as some of my other boots and shoes, but also did not stink up as badly as some others I have. I'd say in "stink-ability" at high temps, these are in the middle of the pack.

Keen Obsidian toe crease
Keen Obsidian Toe Crease
According to Keen, the unique skewed lacing system was designed to allow more flexibility in the pivot area behind the big toe. That is a great concept, but there is a problem with these shoes having some kind of hard interior support going right across the area that is suppose to benefit from the skewed laces. When I put my hand inside the shoe I can feel this thin ridge, almost like a 16 gauge wire width running across the top. This feels very uncomfortable in the right foot, but barely noticeable in the left foot. On long hikes the way this section of the shoe fits is quite uncomfortable. More than any other boot or shoe I've worn. I've tried wearing thin socks, medium weight socks and heavier socks, but the shoes have a crease in them running across where my toe is (see photo left). This makes my toe feel like it's being compressed inside my sock. Even though there is plenty of toe room, this crease in the shoe apparently is holding my sock so it can't move with my foot. This crease has become quite obvious, even creasing the fabric and the leather.

I've also noticed that there is about a finger's width of space between the side of the shoe and my large toe. In the photo my finger is right on the tip of my right big toe, which places it pretty close to the center of the toe box. In other boots and shoes I haven't ever had so much empty space between my foot and the side of the shoe.

The soles are fine for basic trail hiking. I had no problem with feeling beaten by rocks underfoot under any trail condition from pebbles to fist sized pointy rocks even though I can feel small rocks underfoot. The shoes were stable under all conditions. In fact, we were traversing down a large solid rock faced slope at about 20 degrees for a few hundred feet/meters in Arches National Park and sections of the rock face were tilted to the left or right as we hiked down. These being regular trail shoes that don't cover my ankles; I was concerned that this tilting back and forth would create conditions that were ripe for ankle twisting. But as I even commented to my wife, I didn't feel any twisting in my ankle at all. The sloping was noticeable enough for me to call attention to it.
Obsidian Toe Box
Toe Box of Keen Obsidian

Sometimes, it bugs me when so many manufacturers put up descriptions of their products and then point out their features, like Keene's "S3 Heel Support Structure" and their "Torsion Stability ESS Shank". Ok, like what the heck is this? I'm guessing that the reason I didn't feel like I was going to twist my ankle was because of these technologies, but how do these work and in what conditions do they not work. Apparently the only way to figure this all out is to get out on the trail and see at what point I can break my ankle, then I know I went too far. But, I was impressed with the ability of these shoes to limit lateral motion and keep my feet as level as possible.

The toe guards really work well. I never felt a bump against my toes when scrambling through rock strewn paths. I even kicked a few boulders to see if I could do so without ill effects. I like having good toe guards on my boots and shoes and these meet the mark.

The shoes handled thick mud very well. They shed wet clay-based sticky goop very well and cleaned up nicely. The tread grabbed into the mud well and I never felt like I was going to slip and fall or lose traction on some very slippery wet expansive soil.

I did have to loosen up the laces each time I put the shoes on. The lacing system is such that the laces pull tightly all the way down to the toe box when tying them up. They can get pulled pretty tight and really close up the toe box very well. This doesn't help the problem with the crease because it causes the crease to really put pressure on my toe. So I had to make sure the bottom lace was loosened up before tying up.

My feet never got wet in these shoes. I walked through a lot of wet ground with water over the laces. These shoes kept my foot dry and they also dried out quickly. I also never got any sand or pebbles, or critters, inside the footbox even though they are a low height shoe.

I have a lot of boots and shoes that I can wear on long treks for long periods of time (even days at a time) and these are just not as comfortable. I have trouble wearing these now for more than a few hours before I want them off my feet. When I first started wearing them, I was impressed, but as I put more miles on, that creased area became more and more annoying.


In the last part of this testing period, I'll still wear them as much as possible. Next month, we're heading out to the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and then onto Nevada for more National Parks hiking. I'm hoping I'll be able to get some wet snow on the trail. However, the Keen Obsidians will not be the only boots or shoes I'll be bringing on this two-week excursion because I just can't wear them for too long.

This concludes my field report on the Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes. Please see below the results of my final two months' testing of the shoes.



Over the last 2 months I've worn my Keen trail shoes on weekly 4 to 6 hours hikes in the public lands behind our property and I spent 9 days hiking in various locations in southwest Colorado as well as the Mesquite, Nevada area and in Zion National Park and Arches National Park in Utah. In all, I estimate that I put on another 50 to 60 miles (80-100 km) on these trail shoes and probably more because I also wore them for work for about a total of a month.

Colorado one-day-each hikes took place in the Black Canyon area of the Gunnison National Park near Gunnison, Colorado and in Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado. A total of 2.5 days was spent there.

Mesquite, Nevada hikes included trails in the Valley of Fire State Park and Desert National Wildlife Range. Because of time constraints, only 2 days were devoted to hiking in Zion National Park and 1.5 days in Arches National Park, but I probably covered well over 10 miles (16 km) anyway.


To quickly review, in my Field Report, I mentioned that these trail shoes were hurting my feet because of a crease being formed where the toe-box flexes. My left foot was okay, but my right foot felt like the area around the toe was being pressed in on and my sock around the toe was being stopped from flexing. I decided to set these shoes off on the side for 2 weeks and wore my most comfortable boots instead to give my feet a rest.

After 2 weeks, I started to test the Keens again. My feet felt fine now and it was a chance to start over with fresh feet. I even decided to take the Keens with me on the 2 week trip mentioned above, but I was also going to bring along my favorite boots just in case.

I had no trouble using the Keens at all for the first 4 or 5 days. The weather was very nice in these areas. Sunny, in the 50 F (10 C) range, low humidity under 30% and the trails were pretty well groomed because we were with another couple who are not into technical hiking. After 4 or 5 days though, I could feel that my right toe was feeling the same way as before. So I switched to my favorite boots for a few days. When I switched back to the Keens after 2 days of relaxing in my favs, I again had no issues until I was wearing the Keens for the next 2 days. Now, when I say wearing them for several days, I mean they were on my feet almost all the time for those days. I only had them off for sleeping and showering.

Apparently I cannot wear these for an extended period of time. I checked to see if my socks were causing the problem, but my feet do not sweat and I wear the very same socks with all my other boots. So if I wear the Keens for a few days and put them aside all is well. If I were to have worn them for one day just for testing and not worn them continuously for days at a time, I may not even be reporting this toe issue. (I know this is projecting, but I want to make this point very clear) because after I take them off and wear something else then go back to them, my feet feel fine for a few days. In fact, the first day that I go back to them, they feel great; lightweight and comfortable.

I had the opportunity to wear the Keens in snow finally last week. Nothing deep. Just barely up above the edges of the footbed. But it was an icy kind of snow and slippery. As trail shoes, these do not perform like my winter boots that grip exceptionally well on icy snow. They did not give me a great deal of confidence and I was aware that I had to be careful not to slip and fall. Likewise, in slippery mud, they also did not grip well. The tread design is not very aggressive and the lugs are not deep. Also, the bottom is labeled "carbon rubber", which offers good cushioning and durability but not the grip of other outer sole material.


In all:

" When not worn for extended periods, these can be quite comfortable
" These are not shoes that I would wear on icy trails or in slippery conditions
" They do allow mud to be removed easily from the treads and they clean up easily
" The lateral support is excellent, keeping ankle twists to a minimum
" The toe guard provides excellent protection
" Waterproofing worked well
" They look pretty hi-tech and have nice glow in the dark touches
" After all the mileage, there is little wear shown on any part of the shoe.

This concludes my long-term report on the Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes. Thank you to and Keen for the opportunity to test these shoes.

John R. Waters

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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