Field Tested: Olukai Mauna Kea Boots

Lately it seems that you have to choose between gear that looks good and gear that actually works. Many effective apparel items have crazy colors, strange patterns, or make you look like a frumpy zoo keeper who clearly doesn’t date much. On the other hand, the good looking lifestyle products are just for show, ripping or falling apart under actual use. It was because of this problem that up until recently I had been forced to sacrifice space to bring multiple pairs of shoes on trips. While I can roll into the local pub or restaurant with yellow accented hiking boots, I’ll receive plenty of awkward disapproving looks and definitely won’t be blending into the local scene. Thankfully, the Mauna Kea bucks the trend and delivers a good looking boot with the performance to match.


The Pros

If you’re only going to buy one shoe to bring on trips, you need to make sure it can cover all the bases. It’s easy to tell if you like the look, but knowing if they hold up over time and strenuous use is another story. For this reason I set out to wear these boots every day and in every condition over the last six months.


Within the first week of receiving my stylish new shoes I had laced them up and hopped on a flight for a trip. Despite my initial impression of the zipper being kind of corny, I immediately fell in love with it for the ease of taking the shoes on and off in airport security. This feature also makes the boots a lot more livable on a day to day basis since you don’t need to keep unlacing and re-lacing them at the house, a task that becomes arduous with the heavy leather strings used here.


Hiking and walking are comfortable with a good mix of cushion and support throughout the foot. Even on steep climbs in the first week of ownership, I didn’t receive the blisters and sore soles you normally get with a new boot. Sweat and odor haven’t been an issue, even after the no sock test in 100 degree heat, thanks to the merino wool lining used inside the upper sections. The interior of the shoe also features a removable footbed, something great for people who need to add orthotics or additional support when hiking or walking daily.The high-tops of the Mauna Kea make them excellent for ankle bracing when laced properly, and even provide the added benefit of protection from scrapes, plants, and snakes on your ankles.


As an overlander, any boot you own needs to work well in the vehicle to be practical. While using these shoes on my daily commute and every camping trip this summer, I’ve found that driving in them is surprisingly easy when compared to many similar options I used in the past. At a size 14 foot, the added bulk of a boot can often catch the edge of the gas pedal when pressing the brake or the edge of the brake when pressing the gas. I was relieved to find that the Mauna Kea did no such thing and worked as well as my go to driving shoes, a worn out pair of vans.


Mud and rock performance was better than expected thanks to the grip of the rubber soles, and the boot did its job repelling moisture even in extremely wet conditions. The stitch down construction is one of my favorite features, which besides looking great, allows for resoling in the coming years. This is a huge plus as a good quality boot will usually outlast even the best quality sole.


The Cons

At the end of the day these aren’t the most technical hiking boots of the century. Certain performance characteristics were compromised for the sake of design, and whether that is a deal breaker or not, is up to you.


First and foremost you’ll need to know that these boots get dirty easily. Mud especially can turn them into a grimey discolored mess and dust will give them varied shades of brown in no time at all. Thus far a quick wipe down has taken care of any issues, however extended use will lead to a distressed leather look similar to the boots in the photos.


After torturing these shoes in all conceivable ways I found that the arch stitching in one of them is beginning to give way. The material used is soft and doesn’t match the surrounding rubber sole, which creates a weak point for rocks and roots to assault on long hikes. I would recommend replacing it with a rubber compound before or during the first resoling.


Despite my love for the zipper, they could have made it thicker and more durable. It can easily get clogged by a stray string or mud and honestly feels like it could break at any time. A heavy-duty zipper to match the bold look and feel of the boot would have been much more appropriate for the outdoor market.


The Verdict

I can happily say that after months in the office and on the road, I left for my latest three week jaunt with just the Mauna Keas on my feet and space in my bag. While not the best purebred hiking boot out there, they’re perfect for the traveler who wants some outdoor durability, as well as the good looks needed to impress at the restaurant and bar.


More information is available on Olukai’s website here.


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Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.