The contemporary overlander is not easily defined, nor are their individual gear needs. While some stay sequestered within their vehicles, many enjoy a mix of pursuits beyond the driver’s seat. For years, overlanders only wore heavy-duty leather boots, a trend I always thought was a little strange. Today’s traveler is still keen to wear well-made shoes and boots, but the scope of applicable footwear has expanded considerably.
Danner Mountain 600 4.5-inch (Editor’s Choice)
New for 2017, Danner’s modern riff on a classic boot blends timeless styling with modern materials for a durable yet curiously comfortable hiker. The magic of the Mountain 600 resides within the unique midsole made of a proprietary material called SPE, or Specialized Performance Elastomer. A co-polymer blend of synthetic and natural rubber it lends the midsole a plush yet supportive foundation for all-day comfort. At ground level, the Fuga outsole, made by the tread masters at Vibram, employs a low profile lug for a light and sure-footed stride.
Available as a shoe or 4.5-inch tall boot, I chose the latter. Deciding which of the eight colors and leather treatments I wanted was tough, but in the end I opted for the full-grain upper with old-school red laces. For you boring types out there it also came with milder tan laces. While the top half looks like a stomper from decades past, the bone-colored midsole confirms something technical and modern is afoot.
As I would expect of the legendary brand based in the rainy Pacific Northwest, the Mountain 600 includes a waterproof and breathable laminated membrane to seal out rain. Break-in took all of a few steps and by day’s end they felt like old pals. Surprisingly light at just 39 ounces for the pair, they feel like running shoes, but protect my feet like a lightweight boot should. If you’re inclined to buy a pair, and why wouldn’t you, be sure to drop down half a size as they run big. $200 www.danner.com
Forsake Banks WP
I was a latecomer to the Forsake brand, introduced to them only after a few friends raved about their casual styling and high performance. Featured in last year’s roundup, the Forsake Hiker has been one of my favorite shoes since. For this fall, I wanted to try something a touch lighter, but still rocking the neo-retro aesthetic which is so popular now. The clear choice was the new Banks WP.
With its bi-color EVA foam midsole and contrasting leather and nylon upper, it looks a bit like the classic New Balance hiker my dad wore through much of the 1980s. That’s a good thing, and reason enough for me to gravitate toward the Banks. As simple as they look, there is a decent amount of high tech shoe making at play. The full grain leather is paired to ripstop nylon uppers with a gusseted tongue and a low profile lace patch for a snug fit and clean look. The padded collar and tongue eliminate break-in and the heavy lugs on the outsole are perfectly shaped for long walks on loose surfaces.
Perfect for general travel and knocking around town, the Banks are also my preferred road trip kick. Light on my feet and plush underfoot, they’re weatherproof and surprisingly supportive for long days on the road. $124 www.forsake.com
KEEN Saltzman Waterproof
KEEN has come a long way since releasing their first product, a sandal with rather questionable styling. They now offer a hundred different models of shoes, boots, and sandals for men, women, and kids. Known for their unique fitment which accommodates a wide variety of foot shapes, I know people who wear KEENs and nothing else. For this fall I spent time plodding around in their multi-use Saltzman waterproof shoe and think it’s one of the nicest models they’ve produced to date.
Many people associate KEEN with shoes best suited for wide feet and that is true enough if considering something like their popular Voyager. On the other hand, the Saltzman fits my average width feet perfectly. I did have to bump up a half size as this model seems to run a touch small. A perfect choice as a light hiker, general travel shoe, or around town scoot, the Saltzman is more robust than it appears. The midsole is sufficiently stiff for long days on the trail, but still has enough forefoot flex to walk comfortably. The EVA midsole is soft and cushy and the outer lug pattern is edgy and durable enough to hold up to the decomposed granite of my local trail system.
Lined with a waterproof and breathable membrane, the Saltzman has not been too hot for summer use, but did extremely well during our wet summer monsoon season. For those of you still clinging to Merrel Moabs, the shoe that just won’t die, I might suggest these as the far superior alternative. The reinforced mesh upper and thick toe cap have defended against tough kicks, ensuring these shoes will survive several seasons of hard use. $130 www.keenfootwear.com
The latest trend in footwear is to meld old and new-school desigs with a combination of attributes borrowed from different shoe formats. The Teton follows that ethos with a boot that looks like a 1980’s basketball shoe mated with a moccasin-toed work boot. On paper it sounds like a horrible idea, but on my feet they look, feel, and perform great.
The best part of any Chaco boot or shoe is hidden deep within—their uber comfortable LUVSEAT Polyurethane footbed. Perfectly sculpted and appropriately squishy without compromising support, the underfoot experience is reason enough to wear the Teton. I can walk in them all day and not get tired dogs.
For those of you who like clean and unfettered designs, the Teton is not overengineered. Made of high-quality materials like top-grain leather and waxed canvas, the overall quality is superb. Those natural layers eventually break in and form to the user’s feet, and the lowers gain patina with time giving them extra character. Some people are not wild about waterproof and breathable membranes and the Teton forgoes such a layer which helps bolster breathability and all-day comfort. A great boot for lightweight duty, it’s not a great hiker, but for those in search of a townie or travel boot, it’s the ticket. $150 www.chacos.com
I know many of you travel extensively and not just by way of a built-up overland vehicle. I spend countless hours in airports and shuttling between hotels. For those days I almost always wear my Superfeet Ross shoes. I doubt there is a better travel shoe available. If you have never worn Superfeet footbeds, something I’ve done daily for over 20 years, you’re really missing the boat.
Whereas most shoe makers build a high quality shoe then cram a cheap insole into it, the Ross was built around the brand’s famous footbed system. Without getting into the heady science of podiatry, the EVA and cork insole in the Ross is designed to carefully align your heel and in doing so helps support the rest of your foot for optimal biomechanics and long-term foot and skeletal health. As a cyclist, runner, and hiker, taking care of my body matters and it starts from the ground up.
For travel, the Ross shoes offer easy on/off and they are light as feathers. They look nice enough to wear into fancy hotels and restaurants and scrunch down small enough to fit in a travel bag. Maybe I’m getting old, but my days of wearing Vans are numbered. Sore feet make me cranky and the Superfeet Ross shoes are sublimely comfy, even while riding my skateboard to the mailbox every morning. See, I’m not that old. $129 www.superfeet.com
Salewa Multi Track
Many of today’s overlanders always keep a pair of running shoes at the ready. Sitting in a truck all day is a great motivator to lace up a pair of Salewa Multi Tracks to blow off some steam. Designed as an all-purpose sport shoe, they certainly live up to their name. Stiff enough to use on bicycle pedals or running on singletrack trails, they’re also light, well-cushioned, and rugged.
Like all Salewa footwear, the Multi Track uses the latest technologies to reinforce lightweight upper fabrics to bolster support and durability. The lower edges of the mesh are impregnated with a stiffening material as is the area around the ankle. The EVA midsole is soft but not so much it degrades support and the Michelin outsole is sticky and tough. I’ve been a fan of Michelin’s outsoles since the early ’90s. It’s great stuff and the micro-lugs in the tread does great on a variety of surfaces.
Keeping weight to a minimum, the laces are thin and cinched tight with a quick-release lace lock. Over the course of the summer I found the uppers to be highly breathable and supple. On my first foray with the Multi Tracks, I laced them up and went for a 9-mile hike and came home with happy feet. $150 www.salewa.com
For this year’s roundup, I tried to pick one shoe or boot from a new and upcoming category. I also wanted to highlight footwear worth wearing all day, every day. There were a few models not featured here which I felt deserved more attention and those reviews are in the works. In that list are Vasque Sundowners and Danner Jag light hikers, two boots which have been available for decades, but still win new fans every season.
Of the footwear listed above, all of them have been great. If I had to pick a favorite, and I did, it is the Danner Mountain 600 4.5. A true boot with a pinch of running shoe, it’s all adventure all the time. – CN