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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes > Test Report by Patrick McNeilly

Keen Obsidian Trail Shoes
Reviewed By Pat McNeilly

Initial Report: July 8, 2009
Field Report: September 20, 2009
Long-term Report: November 30, 2009

Name: Pat McNeilly
Age: 46
Keen Obsidian ShoesGender: Male
Height: 5í 8Ē (1.7 m)
Weight: 155 lb (70 kg)
Email address: mcne4752 at yahoo dot com
City, State, Country: Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA

Backpacking Background:
I have been hiking for at least 20 years but backpacking for only the last five years.Most of my backpacking is done as overnight trips and occasional weekend and week long trips.My typical pack weight is approximately 18 to 20 lb (8 to 9 kg) before food or water.Most of my backpacking is the three season variety in the mountains of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.In addition to backpacking, I also fish, hunt, and enjoy orienteering.As a result, some of my backpacking equipment gets use in a number of different venues.

Product Information:

Product: Obsidian Shoes
Size: Menís size 10
Color: Black/Grey (and green sole)
Manufacturer: Keen, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Listed Weight: 13.7 oz (388 g)
Measured Weight:Left shoe†† 14.7 oz (417 g)
††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††† Right shoe 14.3 oz (405 g)
††††††††††† ††† ††††††††††††††Pair†††††††††† 29 oz (822 g)
MSRP: Not available yet

Initial Report
Report Date: July 8, 2009

Product Description:
Obsidian Side ViewInformation about the Keen Obsidian is not yet available on the companyís website.The pair that I received had hang tags indicating that they are a ďDevelopment Sample.ĒThe Obsidian is a synthetic mesh trail shoe with a waterproof breathable membrane lining.

The shoe has a fairly aggressive tread and a non-marking sole.The shoe also includes a flexible stability shank, stone bruising protection plates, and a removable footbed.The Obsidian has the characteristic Keen rubber bumper toe.The upper of the shoe consists of three different materials.The front portion of the shoe is a black heavy mesh which appears to be welded to a heavier grey plastic fabric in the heel and toe areas.There is another mesh fabric which makes up the tongue and surrounds the top of the shoe.††
The plastic material in the rear of the shoe is very stiff and produces a rigid heel counter.

The shoes have an asymmetric lacing system which consists of webbing loops which curve toward the outside of the shoe.The laces feed through webbing loops except for the very top which feeds through a plastic eyelet.The lowest two lacing loops appear to be welded to the mesh fabric while the others seem to be sewn in place.The mesh fabric tongue seems to be minimally padded and the top portion of the tongue is covered with the same plastic fabric as the heel portion of the shoe.There are also fine mesh gussets on either side of the tongue.

Product Review:
Right from the beginning, I noticed that the Obsidian Shoes are completely synthetic and have a plastic smell to them.They are also quite light.Maybe not the lightest shoes Iíve ever put on but certainly not the weight of full leather hiking boots.The next thing that I wanted to see was how well they fit.The size 10 shoes fit well.I typically wear a slightly smaller size but Keen indicates on their website that many of their shoes run a half size small.The size was a bit of guess for the Obsidian since I didnít have a full description of the shoes but I am happy with the fit.The shoes have lots of room in the toe box and feel as though they might be made on a wide last.While wearing mid-weight hiking socks, I certainly donít feel as though they are constricting my feet at all.
Keen Obsidian Footbed
The asymmetric lacing looks a little funny to me.Somehow I would have expected the lacing to curve toward the inside of the shoe rather than the outside.In any event, they do give the shoes a unique character.During the test period, I will try to assess whether this lacing system provides any particular advantage in the fit of the shoes.

I pulled the footbed out to look at its construction and found that it is comprised of three different materials.The toe portion is a soft flexible material, while the section surrounding the arch and heel is a more rigid material.Finally, directly under the heel is a soft material possibly to help with shock absorption but that was not described in any material I have seen.

The tread on the shoes is fairly aggressive but the lugs in the center look to be a bit smaller than those along the outside.There are also two grooves in the tread along the ball of the foot which seem to help the sole to flex.The rubber bumper toe is an extension of the sole material and completely covers the front of the shoe.It also wraps around approximately the front third of the shoe.I also do not see any seams anywhere on the outside of the shoe with the exception of the where the lacing loops and rear pull loop attach.The material I saw on the shoes mentioned that the fabric is welded and that seems to be the case.I canít say that I have ever seen a shoe with such minimal amount of stitching.

Field Report
September 20, 2009

Field Conditions:
Obsidians in AlaskaI have worn the Keen Obsidian shoes almost every day since the test began.If I was not hiking or backpacking, I wore them around town, mowing the grass and most any other daily activity.I wore the shoes on one weekend backpacking trip in the Great North Mountain area of the George Washington National Forest.The distance covered on this trip was approximately 18 miles (29 km) and at elevations of 1200 ft to 2500 ft (366 to 762 m).†† Temperatures ranged from 65 to 90 F (18 to 32 C) and I did encounter strong thunderstorms on this trip.All the hiking was done on maintained but rocky trails.

In addition to backpacking, I wore the shoes on a variety of hiking trips in Maryland and Northern Virginia.I also took the shoes along on a trip to Alaska where I was able to do some day hiking along the Alaska coast, including a portion of the Chilkoot Trail. All these hikes were on maintained trails ranging from smooth gravel roads to rough rocky terrain.Temperatures on these hikes ranged from 45 F (7 C) in Alaska up to 95 F (35 C) on the east coast.

I havenít done much running in these shoes but can say that I use them for orienteering (i.e., running with map and compass) which to assess how well they perform off-trail.Distances involved were relatively short, approximately 3 miles (5 km) with temperatures near 85 F (29 C).

Overall, I have hiked only approximately 75 miles (121 km) plus any additional wear from wearing them around town.

Product Review:
With about two months of wear on the Obsidians, the shoes seem to be holding their own.The uppers donít really seem to be very worn at all.Although, I have noticed over the years that I tend to wear out the soles of shoes faster than the uppers.I havenít seen any holes, loose stitching, or separating of the rand from the upper.I initially had some concerns that the soles might wear faster than I would like. I noticed that the soles seemed to have their fine details (i.e, small knobs or ridges) wear off quickly and some of the black material around the edge of the sole wore down showing the green material underneath.This initial wear seems to have slowed and soles appear to be in good shape.

Obsidian uppers after two monthsOne thing I have noticed with these shoes is that they seem to grip surfaces well.I havenít had problems on trails or rock surfaces (wet or dry).The only problems I have seen are with wet very smooth surfaces (like in bathrooms) or on wet wood.While using the shoes orienteering, I took a fairly nasty fall when stepping on a wet log but other than that they performed well off-trail.Most shoes would not likely perform any differently on these surfaces.

The shoes fit pretty well but I had a couple small blisters on my left Achilles tendon when I first started wearing the shoes.I havenít had any since.The left shoe does feel as though it comes up a little higher and puts some pressure on my Achilles tendon than on the right shoe.I have had some chronic Achilles tendonitis and am sensitive to these types of issues.However, other than the blisters, I havenít had any flare-up of tendonitis.

I found that the soles absorb shock fairly well.I could handle rocky trails for a while but if I hiked over 5 to 6 miles (8 to 10 km) I would start to feel the rocks under the ball of the foot.This was worsened if I was carrying a heavier pack.The pack weights for my West Virginia hikes were approximately 20 lb (9 kg).

I love how wide the shoes are.There is plenty of room for my toes to be comfortable without causing blisters.There have been a few times that I wanted to tighten the shoes in the front (e.g., on downhill portions of trail) and when I felt my foot slipping inside the shoe.†† I had a hard time getting the shoes tight on the forefoot.The shoe is pretty wide but the asymmetric lacing doesnít seem to allow much adjustment.

Obsidian soles after two monthsI was able to test the water resistance of the shoes and can say that they keep water out pretty well.While backpacking in West Virginia, I did encounter some substantial storms and wet condition and the Obsidians did their job of keeping water out.The outside surface of the shoes would appear wet but the inside was dry. The shoes seemed to take a long time to dry, which surprised me but I did not actually time this process.The shoes have been pretty breathable.I typically wear a midweight wool sock with these shoes and, for the most part, my feet have been dry, even after vigorous hiking or running.

One negative thing about the shoes is that they still have that plastic smell to them.It is most noticeable when the shoes have been in a warm place, like a hot car, for a while.The smell isnít as strong as when the shoes arrived but I still notice it almost every time I put the shoes on.There were a couple of cool mornings when I actually used the heater in my truck and, after a few minutes, I could smell the shoes.

Long-Term Report
November 30, 2009

Field Conditions:
The Keen Obsidians have been getting a fair amount of use in this portion of the testing.I wear them as much as possible around town and in the yard.I have not had opportunity to use them backpacking but have worn them on nine day hikes.These hikes were primarily parks or forests in northern Virginia or Maryland.††† I did wear the shoes one hike in the Norvin Green State Forest in northern New Jersey.The hikes ranged from 4 to 8 miles (6 to 13 km) and were all on maintained but often rocky trails.

The weather this fall has seen quite a bit of rain here and I have used the shoes under wet conditions for the majority of my hikes during the long-term testing.Temperatures have ranged from 40 to 85F (4 to 29 C).

During the testing I noticed an advertisement for the Keen Obsidians which I had not seen before.The ad indicated that the shoes were being billed as cross-trainers.So, in addition to the hiking, I did wear the shoes while on a couple afternoon runs.These included both street and trail runs in clear weather.

Product Review:
Obsidians after four monthsOverall the wear on the shoes has been good.I can see that some of the smaller portions of the tread are wearing down but there still seems to be quite a bit of tread left.There also is a bit more wear on the heel of each of the shoes but nothing that I would consider excessive.I did have one issue when I nearly took a fall while wearing the shoes in town.It was raining and I stepped inside a store onto a tiled floor and felt my left foot slide out from under me.I was able to catch myself before making a scene.However, I noticed that I felt like I was skating on the tile for a couple of minutes until the soles eventually dried out enough.Iím glad this wasnít something that happened on some slick rock outcropping.I havenít had similar experiences on trail, even in rainy conditions, but will keep this in mind for future use.

At the beginning of the test, I wasnít aware that Keen was marketing these shoes as cross-trainers, so I decided to at least see how they performed for running.The shoes did not seem like the best thing for running.They did not seem to have the right amount of support for running, particularly on streets, as I would like.They were fairly stable on a quick trail run but I prefer a shoe designed with running in mind.

I havenít had blisters form while using the Obsidians but I have noticed that my foot can sometimes slide forward in the shoe, particularly on downhill sections of trail.In the Field Report I noted that I couldnít tighten the toe portion of the shoe and I havenít been able to resolve that.I also note here that the insoles are very smooth and allow the foot to slide forward easily.This hasnít caused blisters or toe jamming but for me it is a little annoying.

Much of the hiking I have done in the last couple months has been in wet conditions.I have been impressed with the Keen Dry membrane.I have not had my feet wet from rain or surface water while wearing the shoes.My feet have also stayed reasonably dry when my feet perspire, even when running with a wool sock.This leads me to the conclusion that the membrane breathes well.I canít say that my feet would be bone dry but certainly drier than I would have expected.

The one thing that has not gone away is the plastic smell of the shoes.I can always tell I have the shoes on when I get in my truck and the heater warms up the shoes, I get that wonderful odor.It has faded over time but I really would have expected not to still be encountering that smell at this point in the testing.

There hasnít been any ripping of the upper or separation of the rand or sole.The only other minor comment I have is that the eyelets at the top of the lacing are starting to cause wearing of the laces.The laces havenít broken but I can see some wear.

The Keen Obsidian Shoes are an all synthetic trail shoe built on a wide last with plenty of room in the toe box.The shoes have an asymmetric lacing system and the characteristic Keen bumper style toe.The soles are fairly aggressive and grip well on most surfaces.The Obsidians have a waterproof breathable membrane which keeps my feet dry.The forefoot is a little difficult to adjust for a tight fit.The shoes do have a plastic smell that hasnít gone away during the testing period.

Things I like:
1. Soles grip well
2. Keep my feet dry
3. Wide last

Things I donít like:
1. Difficult to adjust in front
2. Smell like plastic

This concludes my testing of the Keen Obsidian trail shoes.I would like to thank Keen and for the opportunity to test this item.

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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Keen Obsidian Hiking Shoes > Test Report by Patrick McNeilly

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