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6/7/05 - I created this new section (Footwear used to be under the 'Protective Gear' section). Footwear is one of the most important choices that will affect your performance in the field, whether it be hiking, hunting or soldiering. A good pair of boots can make the difference between a manageable tab and mile upon mile of agony. Since I don't go for 20-mile forced marches with full gear, I haven't any good advice about which boots are best for that purpose. Ask the real operators. My experience is limited to civvie hiking/backpacking, or shooting and scrambling around in the desert.
6/27/05 (Initial writeup) - Lowa is a well known name in the outdoor and mountaineering arena, hailing from Munich, Germany. Lowa boots are made in Europe and are familiar to most members of the military forces there, but less so in the U.S. From Lowa's Task Force line (Military and Law Enforcement) is the Seeker Desert PT boot, leather/cordura lightly padded boot. My first impression of these boots is that they felt LIGHT! Weighing them on a scale confirmed my suspicions - my size 9 boots weigh 1lb 6oz each (2 lb 12oz a pair). In comparison, my Wellcos (shown below) weigh a full 10oz more per pair, and I thought they were light. The Danner Desert Acadias, are the heaviest of the bunch, weighing a full 28oz (per pair) more than the Desert PTs. That's almost 2 lbs of additional weight where it makes the most difference! The Desert PTs are lightly padded around the ankle and calf, similar to the Danner Deserts. However, they feel like they provide slightly more lateral support than the Danners. The Wellcos have no padding and practically no ankle support. The leather tongue is gusseted and also padded for comfort.
Overall colour of the Desert PTs is very close to the Danners, and darker than the Wellcos. The shade of cordura is very close to Eagle Industries' "MJK". The Vibram® Vialta sole is non-marking, and the quietest boot sole I've worn. The compound is not as hard as that of the Danner Vibram Sierra sole, and I found to give excellent traction. The flip side to that coin is that a softer compound is probably going to wear faster. I brought this up to Lowa and was informed that "The Vialta has been used on our ATC collection of outdoor footwear for 3 years and has held up very well. It is softer than a backpacking sole but not so soft that it will prematurely wear or flake apart on hard surfaces. It should also have solid grip in wet conditions and self clean thru most mud and dirt." I didn't think the sole was resoleable, and Lowa confirmed that "The injected construction is not resolable. The injection provides a bond between the sole and upper that completely tears apart when one tries to remove it. The sole unit and upper should have a similar life expectancy."
The boot is relatively flexible along its length, so I'd put it in
the lightweight to medium hiker/moderate load category (I'd recommend
boots with a stiffer midsole/support for the more serious mountaineering
activities). The softer polyurethane mid sole provides shock-absorption.
I replaced the standard foam insole with green Superfeet® for more
support, something that's becoming a habit for me.
8/12/05 - The Seeker Deserts continue to be the desert boots I find myself wearing instead of the Wellcos or Danners, as they're lighter than either of them and more comfortable. I've done some light ruck workouts in them, and they do provide more ankle support than the other two. Again, they're not really suited for dedicated hiking boots, and not designed as such, as a lower boot would probably be more suitable. One thing I didn't mention before is the little almond-shaped cutout behind the achilles tendon. This has some softer material that allows the boot to flex at that point without creating a fold that digs into your achilles tendon when the foots is flexed downward, as on descents. On other boots without this cutout, I find the fold uncomfortable at times. Shooting on range with a lot changes in positions from standing to kneeling and prone made appreciate the comfort of the boots when the ankle is flexed in different postitions. The good padding around the ankles and upper part of the boot came in handy when sitting and in prone, where the inside and outside ankle bones are sometimes subjected to pressure and impact.
4/4/09 - The Lowa Seeker Desert PTs continue to be one of my favourite pairs of boots to wear; because they're so light, comfortable, and supportive. They're still going strong, which is to be expected from occasional, not daily, use.
3/15/10 - The Seeker Desert PT is being phased out and will be replaced by the Desert Uplander boot.
11/16/10 - The Lowa Uplander Desert Boot is a new addition to the Task Force line, and the replacement for the Lowa Seeker Desert PT Boot reviewed previously. The Seeker Desert PT is still one of my favourite all-around boots, and I was disappointed to see them discontinued. I'm glad to say that its replacement, the Uplander Desert, is an improvement on the original.
The Uplander Desert Boot follows in the footsteps (pun intended) of the popular Seeker Desert PT boot. It fills the niche between the more flexible Zephyr and the stiffer Elite Desert, and is designed as a general-use, breathable 8" boot in hot and desert conditions. The Seeker provided good support and protection for the ankle while being a very light weight boot. The Seeker was designed for a customer that was fairly abusive on their boots and gear, and over time, Lowa noticed that the warranty claims on the Seeker were a bit higher than their 0.5% standard. Most of those claims were related to the stitching around the derby lacing. Derby lacing usually refers to footwear where the facings with the lacing holes are not stitched to the tongue at the bottom, and the tongue is usually made from the same piece of material as the vamp (the part which covers the top of the foot behind the toes). The bottoms of the facings were getting caught on gear, debris etc, and would start to tear the boot. Lowa addressed the issue by going with a more rounded toe design. Also, by eliminating the side Cordura panels and changing to uninterrupted split leather on the sides, this also reduced the number of seams and junctions which could get snagged or tear. The Uplander is everything the Seeker was, but stronger and more durable.
Outside - The Uplander Desert upper is constructed mostly of double-stitched tan split leather with the top part of the boot above the ankle is Cordura. The leather extends up the sides and around the ankle, protecting the ends of the fibula and tibia. The shade of tan is very similar to the Seeker PT, and other models of Lowa boots. The Cordura around the top of the boot is a lighter shade than the Cordura panels on the Seeker. The Uplander has a nylon webbing pull loop at the top rear of the boot, while the Seeker had none. It helps a bit when donning the boot, but I didn't really have issues with the Seeker without the pull loop.
The Uplander has an Achilles flex panel at the rear of the ankle, like the one on the Seeker Desert PT, but slightly larger. This softer, padded area allows the rear of the boot to flex when the foot is pointed downward, as when going downhill. This prevents the rear of the boot from digging into the Achilles tendon when the foot is flexed. All of the Lowa boots I have feature a variation of the flex panel, and is one of the things I like about them as it allows full range of motion with comfort.
Like the Seeker, the tongue of the Uplander is constructed of leather and Cordura. The gussets are single-layer Cordura and unpadded so it folds flat, for the minimum of bulk under the lace facings. There's also a Cordura flex zone on the front of the tongue which allows the boot to articulate without biting into the foot when flexed. The tongue is padded and lined with quick-dry textile on the inside.
The Uplander boot has the same four outside-mounted metal speed-lacing eyelets on the ankle portions and five standard metal eyelets on the foot as the Seeker. However, at the front eyelets is where the change was made for the Uplander to increase durability. If you look at the photo below showing the Seeker and Uplander side by side, you can see that the Uplander is replaced the separate right and left lace facings with a single horseshoe-shaped piece of leather. There is also a leather loop protecting the bottom-most lace from being snagged or damaged. This new configuration reduces the chances of something snagging the lace or facing, and pulling it away from the boot.
The front of the Uplander is now a single piece of leather that wraps around the foot, instead of the leather with Cordura panel on the Seeker. Eliminating the side panel eliminates the seam where the two materials overlap, which provides one less seam to worry about splitting or coming apart. These two changes incorporated into the Uplander have resulted in a stronger and more durable boot than the Seeker.
The upper metal lace loops allow quick and smooth speed lacing by pulling at the top of the laces. The supplied laces are rather long, and can be wrapped around the back of the boot and tied at the front, or you can just leave the large loops hanging (or tuck them into the lower laces). The laces are cotton like the Zephyrs, and feel slightly thicker. Like on the Zephyrs, I'll resist the urge to swap them out with 550 cord until I need to.
Inside - The inside of the boot is padded around the ankle, to provide protection and some support for the ankle. The lower part of the boot/foot is unpadded. As in the Seeker, the top of the tongue and inside of the ankle is lined with soft nylon mesh and the rest of the foot is surrounded by a wicking textile. A heel cup/counter adds laternal stability for the heel and a toe cap protects the toes.
Insole/Outsole - The removable insole is the same three-layer, fabric-covered Climate Control foam insert as found in the Zephyr and Seeker. It's very comfortable, but pretty thin and doesn't add much support. I wore the Uplander with it for a while, then just swapped it with the Green Superfeet insoles I had in my Seekers, which provide additional arch support I prefer. Green Superfeet insoled can get expensive, so I don't go out and buy a new pair for every new pair of boots; I have a few pairs which I just swap around in my footwear.
A 7/8 length, medium flex nylon stabilizer is used for stability and torsional control underfoot. It is designed for forward-aft flex while being resistant to twisting.
The PU midsole is injection molded and bonded directly to the boot upper. It provides shock absorption, and is now a sand colour; matching the rest of the boot much better than the midsole on the Seeker. The midsole on the Seeker was a dark brown, which contrasted the boot upper and the lighter Vibram outsole. The Uplander has a Vibram® Vialta sole unit; same as the Seeker, but it noticed that it doesn't have two of the 'zones' on the heel and forefoot which were defined by grooves on the Seeker's outsole. I'm guessing that the grooves were eliminated to increase durability as they could be potential stress points where the sole can crack. The Vialta has a self-cleaning profile with excellent grip and looks to be the same compound as used on the Seeker. I'd call it a 'medium' compound - not as soft/sticky as the outsole on the Zephyr and not as hard as some mountain boots. The Uplander is not resoleable.
Boot fit - The Uplanders fit me exactly like the Seekers. I fall in between standard and wide widths, with a measured foot size of 8.5 US. All my Lowa boots reviewed previously fit a bit narrow (about a half size small), so I got the size 9 US Uplander Desert. They're the perfect size for me, and leave a little extra room if needed for thicker socks. There's also good clearance between my toe and the front of the boot.
General Impressions - Overall quality and construction of the Uplander Desert is the same as that of the other Lowa boots I've seen - very good; inside and out. The more uniform colour of the boot should make it less noticeable than the Seeker, or Zephyr for those who are concerned with wearing it in uniform. Donning and doffing is quick with the upper speed lace eyelets, and I found it easy to adjust the tension of the laces on the foot and around the ankle.
Break-in - The upper on the Uplander is slightly stiffer out of the box than the Seeker, due to the leather panel wrapping around the bottom of the ankle. On the Seeker, that area was Cordura and more flexible. You can see where the ankle crease lines are in the photos above. I actually don't mind it being a bit stiffer, and it didn't take more than a week to allow the boot to conform to the shape of my foot, and let the creases to start forming at the points of articulation. (This is why I take photos of my boots after the break-in period instead of brand new; so that you can see how they crease and where the flex points are.) I found the Uplander comfortable right out of the box and experienced no hot spots, rubbing, discomfort or any other issues.
Notes/observations - The Uplander Desert boots feel almost identical to the Seeker Desert PTs, so those who already own Seekers will find them very familiar-feeling. As mentioned above, the Uplander fills the role between the softer Zephyr and the stiffer Elite Desert, and is intended to provide a good balance between stiffness/support/protection and light weight. The wide footprint combined with the supportive heel counter feels quite stable on uneven ground/rocks etc. I felt that the Uplander has slightly more resistance to lateral ankle twisting than the Seeker Desert PTs because of the added support of the leather around the ankle. The 7/8 length shank ensures that rocks and protrusions are not felt through the boot sole.
We had a relatively mild summer, with the occasional blazing hot days (over 100°F) peppered here and there. Turns out that those hot days somehow coincided with a range day or desert trip. I haven't really been able to discern much of a difference in desert boots on really hot days, or whether my feet sweat more or less. Usually if it's that hot, I'm more concerned with the rest of my body. That being said, the Uplanders felt fine in the heat and I didn't think about my feet when wearing them. While the Zephyr is a great flexible and comfortable boot for running around, I prefer the Uplander for scrambling around on uneven ground and rocks (like in the desert) just for the added ankle support and protection.
So, to sum it up, if you liked the Seeker Desert PT, you'll like the Uplander Desert. Same role, same feel, but built to last longer.
6/3/09 - Designed originally for the British Army, the Elite Desert Boot from Lowa Boots is based on their Mountain Boot and is designed to be an all-season, all-terrain Desert boot. Most desert boots are more suited for flat terrain with their flexible soles and uppers. The Lowa Elite Desert boot combines the light weight and breathability of a desert boot upper with the support of a trekking boot, making it suitable for both flat and mountainous terrain.
The Elite Desert Boots are 8" boots, spec'd by the British military who wanted a boot that was not as tall as a traditional military boot, and was light weight and durable. The 10" version is called the the Elite Top, and is for those who want a taller boot.
Outside - The Elite Desert upper is constructed of tan split leather and Cordura mesh fabric. The upper is mostly tan rough-out leather, with fabric mesh inserts on the sides for breathability and at the top of the collar for comfort. I can feel some stiffening panels under the leather on either side of the ankle to provide stiffness to the upper. The shade of tan is similar to other brands and models of desert boots. The front of the boot under the laces is a smoother and thinner cut of leather, so it doesn't add too much bulk as it folds to form part of the tongue gusset. It also insulates the tongue from abrasion from the laces and prevents them from cutting into the tongue.
At the rear of the boot, above the heel of the foot, is an Achilles flex panel, similar to the one on the Seeker Desert PT (in the review above). This softer, padded area allows the rear of the boot to flex when the foot is pointed downward, as when going downhill. This prevents the rear of the boot from digging into the Achilles tendon when the foot is flexed. I really liked this feature on the Seeker Desert, and it's even more effective on the Elite Desert. A rubber anti-scuff toe cap provides added protection at the front of the boot from toe stubs or when in the prone position.
The Elite Desert has a mountaineering boot-style gusseted tongue, rather than the military-style tongue, and is probably one of the most comfortable and well engineered tongue designs I've come across. It's well padded, and constructed of the same rough-out leather and Cordura fabric as the outside of the boot. It's connected to the boot by the soft leather gusset, which should hold up well to wear from the laces. Inside, on each side of the tongue are small flaps which pad the top of the foot from the gusset fold. I've had boots where the gusset fold can sometimes feel uncomfortable - with many boots you have to make sure that the gusset is folded flat and there are no creases to cause hot spots. With the Elite Desert tongue, that's something you don't have to worry about.
The boot has eight metal lacing eyelets. In some pics of the UK version, the top four are of the hook (open) type, but on the U.S. version, they're all closed loops. The lace loops allow quick and smooth speed lacing by pulling at the top of the laces. The fifth loop, which is between the top and bottom laces, has a locking feature which allows differential tightening between the top and bottom of the boot. This is a nice feature, as you can choose to leave the lower portion over the top of the foot a bit looser while having the upper portion of the boot around you ankle cinched up to provide more ankle stability. The supplied laces are very long, requiring them to be wrapped around the back of the boot and tied at the front, or else there'd be laces dragging on the floor. I later replaced them with 550 cord, for shorter laces.
Inside - The inside of the boot is lightly padded, and lined with a durable mesh. There is also Cambrelle lining in the heel of the foot for added comfort. There are no internal seams running down the back of the ankle to cause hot spots or rubbing. A stiff heel cup/counter provides the laternal stability for the heel, while a similar cap inside the toe provides crush resistance at the front, protecting the toes from impact.
Insole/Outsole - The removable insole is Lowa's new 'Balance insole' which is a breathable top layer combined with a slow reacting foam (moldable EVA) which will eventually shape itself to the bottom of your foot. The covering fabric is designed to wick moisture off the sock. The foam insole is perforated with square holes, which creates small airspaces between the bottom of the foot and the insole board (shank). I typically toss out the factory insoles that come with most boots and replace them with Green Superfeet insoles, but found that unnecessary with the Elite Deserts. They provide my arch and foot with very good support the way they are.
The Elite Desert has Lowa's Trekking MVS/SPS sole with board lasted construction. The stiff PU (polyurethane) midsole/shank is tapered from 5mm at the heel to 3mm in the front, and provides medium flex at the ball of the foot. It incorporates the Lowa SPS system (supination pronation system). The SPS system places TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) inserts in the PU midsole which create firmer 'zones' of support and guide the foot into a proper walking motion. The nylon shank is used instead of steel as it does not conduct cold, and offers better support underfoot. It is also airport metal detector friendly.
The Vibram MVS Trekking sole is proprietary to Lowa, and uses Vibram's Trek compound. The outsole has increased surface area at high-wear points for durability, and thrust lugs for forward traction and braking lugs for stopping. The heel is rounded for a more natural walking motion. The compound and lug depth are typical of a backpacking boot - designed for a lot of durability and hardness on trails.
Boot fit - I fall in between standard and wide widths, size 8.5 US, so I based on my previous experience with the Lowa Seeker Desert PTs reviewed previously which fit a bit narrow, I got the size 9 US Elite Deserts as they do not come in wide widths. I'd say that I could probably have fit into the size 8.5, but prefer to have the extra room if needed. It's much easier to cinch a slightly looser boot up than to make a boot that's too tight fit. With the size 9 Elite Deserts, I can easily adjust the laces so that it's a tight fit, while leaving some space in the toe box between my big toe and the inside of the toe cap, for downhills. I can also accommodate thicker socks if necessary for cooler weather or foot swelling due to walking. So far, I've been using medium weight hiking socks and regular sports socks, and can get them as tight as I need them.
General Impressions - Like the Lowa Seeker Desert PTs I have, the first thing that struck me with the Elite Deserts is the impression of quality, inside and out. All the stitching is very neat, and the boot is finished as well inside as out, without any messy stitching or unfinished edges. The other boot whose quality impressed me in a similar manner was the Hanwag Mountain Light boot, which is also made in Germany.
At 3 lb 9.6 oz for the pair, they're in the middle of the weight range of the desert boots I have, which range from the lightest at 2 lb 12 oz (Lowa Seeker Deserts) to the heaviest at 4 lb 8 oz (Danner Desert Acadia). However, the Elite Deserts aren't really in the general deserrt combat boot category as they really fit in the trekking boot category, providing a lot more stability and ankle support than a general desert boot.
Break-in - Much of this ankle support is achieved through the stiff upper, which was quite stiff when brand new. Actually, they were so stiff that they reminded me of the Bates Tora Bora Alpine Combat boots, or the Hanwag Mountain Lights when I first got them. The first day I wore the Elite Deserts, I noticed my ankle getting rubbed by the collar - all the way around at the bottom of my calves. I figured that this was due to the height of the boots. With lower 6" boots, the collar moves with the boot but it's low down enough not to rub the calf. With higher 10" boots, the collar is 'fixed' around the calf, and the boot flexes instead of the collar rubbing back and forth. With the Elite Deserts, at 8", they're in-between heights and as I walked, the collar would rub against my ankles since the boot upper was stiff and didn't flex, causing discomfort. The mesh fabric on the inside of the collar also felt a bit abrasive. Halfway through the day, my ankles had a ring of red at the top of the collar, from all the rubbing, so I folded down the tops of my socks to provide a double layer around the circle of abrasion which helped a bit. I had also laced the boots up a bit on the loose side, since they were brand new. I usually break in boots by starting with them a bit on the looser side, then tightening them bit by bit over the course of the break-in period as they conform to my feet. By the end of the day, I was disappointed. I had heard such good things about this boot. The rest of the boot felt fine - the collar was just hell on my ankles.
The next day, I put them on over thicker socks, doubled the top of the socks over, laced them up around my now sore ankles and set about to torture my ankles with another day of rubbing. If this kept up, I'd have to put some tape around them. Same thing happened - the abrasion continued. I sat down to think about what was going on, and what I should do. This didn't happen with other desert boots because the uppers weren't as stiff and because they were either taller or shorter than the Elite Deserts. I thought to myself - "they're rubbing because the uppers are stiff, and when the boot moves, the collar follows. The collar is moving back and forth on my ankle, rubbing it every time. My skinny ankles aren't helping either. I need to stop the collar from moving." It then dawned on me that I might have been going about it wrong. I needed to cinch the top of the boot around my ankles instead of leaving them loose enough to move. So that's what I did. I snugged up the laces at the bottom of the boot a bit more, then when I got to the upper half of the boot, I really snugged them up tight - as tight as I could make them. What a difference I felt. Even though my ankles were sore from all the previous rubbing, the collar no longer moved back and forth and felt much more comfortable. The boot upper, instead, did the flexing when my foot moved and allowed the collar to remain in position around my ankle. I was hopeful.
The third day, I wore another set of thick hiking socks, then snugged up the boots, making sure they were especially tight up top. By this time, the upper had started to break in, and was still very stiff laterally, but was allowing the foot to flex foraward and aft at the ankle more freely. I had no more problems with the collar rubbing around the bottoms of my calves, plus the mesh fabric lining had also started to soften and lose its initial brand-new roughness. On the fourth day, I went back to lightweight/thinner socks, and kept up the same procedure without any issues. The boots continued to break in and get more comfortable.
I'd say that it took me five days to break them in. After that, they were literally like 'butter'. If I had started out lacing the tops of the boots as tight as I could get them from day 1, break-in would definitely have been quicker. They're now as comfortable as can be - more so than some of my other thinner, lighter weight desert boots. The light padding inside, combined with the lack of seams and hot spots inside the boot adds up to a pretty awesome desert boot that's designed for uneven, mountainous terrain which would twist the crap out of your ankles if you were wearing regular desert boots. So, remember that if you've got brand new Elite Deserts and experience the same thing initially, don't despair! Wear thicker socks (around the ankles) for the first couple of days and cinch up the ankles as tight as you can and soon, they'll feel like they were made just for you.
Other notes/observations - As mentioned before, the laces supplied with these boots are very long and require the wearer to wrap them around the ankle. Even after wrapping them around the ankle, and tyeing them at the front, there's still quite a bit of excess length. Lowa doesn't design their boots with the intention of wrapping the laces around the ankles although it's pretty common practice, and should probably have supplied shorter laces with the Elite Deserts. No worries - they're easy to switch out if needed.
I found the Elite Desert boots a bit warmer in the toe box than some other desert boots, which is in line with its more solid construction. This is probably due in part to the reinforced toe cap, which provides crush-resistant protection not afforded by others. I found it cooler than Danner Desert Acadias and on par with other hiking boots like the Merrell Sawtooths. It all makes sense as the Elite Desert is designed as an all-season, all-terrain boot, not a light weight summer boot, although I wouldn't hesitate to wear it in hot weather.
The Elite Desert boots are essentially a medium flex trekking boot that allows heel-toe flex at the ball of the foot while remaining stiff from side to side. More midsole stiffness than a regular combat boot, but not as stiff as an Alpine/mountaineering boot, so they don't feel as clunky and you can walk on flat ground with a natural gait. Lowa seems to be able to incorporate a lot of ankle support into their boots without making them heavier. The Seeker Deserts, for example, are my lightest desert boots yet have better ankle support than the Danner Desert Acadias at twice the weight, or the other desert combat boots I have. The Elite Deserts are no different - excellent support for the weight. They provide better ankle support than any other desert boot I've tried, making them a very good choice if uneven or mountainous terrain is anticipated, and especially when walking with a load. They're not confined to uneven terrain and work just as well on flat ground. The need for good ankle support isn't limited to humping in the hills - you can encounter ankle twisters in urban areas like stairs, curbs, doorsteps, rubble, rocks etc.
I wore the Elite Deserts to work, around town, on my
motorcycle, etc. After the initial break-in period, they're extremely
comfortable and definitely not overly stiff for everyday wear. Shock
absorption is good on hard surfaces.
I'm very impressed with the Lowa Elite Desert boots. They're essentially what you'd get if you crossed a Desert Combat boot with a trekking boot. Compared to other desert combat boots, they fall in the middle of the weight range, but provide much more ankle and foot support than most. With the medium-flex trekking sole, they're flexible enough for a natural gait on flat ground, but outperform regular desert boots (in my opinion) on hills and uneven terrain where a stiffer and more supportive boot is needed. Well designed and built, with attention to detail inside as well as out, they're a great choice for anyone who needs more support than a standard desert boot can offer.
4/9/10 - The Zephyr GTX® Hi TF (Task Force) Desert Boot is the taller version of the Mid-cut Zephyr Desert GTX®. The Zephyr Desert is a waterproof and breathable lightweight duty boot, designed for everyday use in desert and hot climate conditions. It is not currently available at the time of this writing - expected availability in the U.S. is May or June.
The Zephyr GTX® Hi TF is a 9" tall boot, and part of Lowa's Task Force/Military/Duty Boot line. It is a light weight duty boot that incorporates sneaker/running shoe performance while offering padded protection for the ankle and foot. When I saw the boot at the SHOT show back in January, I asked the Lowa rep, "Why make a waterproof desert boot?" She said that while you wouldn't think that you'd need a water proof boot in an arid environment, military folks had expressed a desire for a waterproof membrane in a boot because of exposure to sewage and other undesirable liquids that one might encounter in an urban environment in a desert country. That made sense to me. The mission/role dictates the equipment used, and the softer flex sole unit was requested by more lightly equipped (relatively speaking) soldiers that patrolled the streets in vehicles, then had to stop, get out, run around then get back into their vehicles. For dismounted patrols with packs and more equipment, then a heavier boot might be chosen.
Outside - The Zephyr upper is constructed of tan split leather and nylon mesh fabric. Much of the lower part of the foot is covered by leather, especially around the sides, while the top part of the foot has the mesh panels. The leather extends up the sides and front of the ankle, with the rest of the ankle covered in fabric. The shade of tan is similar to other models of Lowa boots - the lighting in the photos makes them look a bit more yellowish than they are in daylight.
The Zephyr has an Achilles flex panel at the rear of the ankle, similar to the one on the Seeker Desert PT, only larger. This softer, padded area allows the rear of the boot to flex when the foot is pointed downward, as when going downhill. This prevents the rear of the boot from digging into the Achilles tendon when the foot is flexed. I really like this feature on the Lowa boots that I have, as it allows full range of motion with comfort.
The front of the boot under the laces is a smoother and thinner cut of leather, so it doesn't add too much bulk as it folds to form part of the tongue gusset. It also insulates the tongue from abrasion from the laces and prevents them from cutting into the tongue.
The Zephyr has a gusseted tongue, and is just as highly-engineered as the ones on the other Lowa boots I've tried. The tongue itself is made of cordura nylon, as is the gusset. The gusset is unpadded, so it folds flat. The tongue is padded for comfort, and has leather on the front to protect it from abrasion from the laces. Just like the Achilles flex panel at the rear of the ankle, the tongue has a flex/compression zone at the front of the ankle, which controls the crease/fold at the front of the ankle so that it doesn't bite into the foot. It's extremely comfortable.
The boot has four metal lacing eyelets, which are the upper ones. The lower loops are made of webbing, which is more commonly seen on running/light hiking shoes/boots than military boots. The question of durability comes to mind - what if the webbing gets torn or worn? I've got shoes with the webbing loops, and haven't ever encountered an issue. Then again, metal eyelets or loops have been known to fail as well. The webbing loops are flat and are less likely to snag than metal loops. Also, they're located on the top of the foot where they're relatively out of the way. The only thing I don't like about webbing lace loops is that they can be a bit harder to thread laces through than metal eyelets.
The upper metal lace loops allow quick and smooth speed lacing by pulling at the top of the laces. The supplied laces are rather long, and can be wrapped around the back of the boot and tied at the front, or you can just leave the large loops hanging. The laces are cotton (I tested them with a lighter to see if they'd melt), and my first impulse was to replace them with 550 cord as I figured they wear out quickly. I resisted the impulse and left them on there. I'll replace them with 550 cord if they get worn.
Inside - The inside of the boot ankle is lightly padded, to provide protection and some support for the ankle. The lower part of the boot/foot is unpadded, as this boot is meant for hot weather use. The entire boot is lined with a wicking/breathable Gore-Tex® bootie. The top of the tongue and inside of the ankle is lined with mesh. A heel cup/counter provides the laternal stability for the heel. There is no toe cap - it's soft, but the overmolded rubber bumper at the toe provides protection and shape.
Insole/Outsole - The removable insole is a three-layer, fabric-covered foam insert. It's very comfortable, but pretty thin and doesn't add much support. I overpronate and like having additional support for my arch and heel, so as in the Seeker Deserts, I replaced it with Green Superfeet insoles which provide the additional support I need. By the way, I don't go out and buy a new pair of Green Superfeet for every new pair of boots (they can get expensive); I have a few pairs which I just swap around in my footwear. Folks with a more neutral foot will probably be happy with the stock insole.
Probably the most distinctive feature on the Zephyr Hi is Lowa's Monowrap construction. The PU (polyurethane) midsole is injected around the sides of the boot, wrapping the foot in a supportive 'frame' that is both light weight and comfortable. It also reduces the need for internal padding. This frame consists of the triangles on the sides, the toe bumper in the front and the heel support at the back. The cutouts in the frame allow the boot to ventilate. The PU frame also protects the leather against abrasion. Under the foot, the midsole provides shock absorption and rebound.
The Lowa Cross outsole unit has a three-quarter length nylon shank for torsional rigidity, but more flex up front for running. The tread pattern is very similar to that on the Seeker Desert boot. The compound on the Cross outsole feels a bit more compliant (softer) than the rubber on the Seeker Desert or Desert Elite boots, again for more shock absorption and comfort while running vs. longer wear on rocky terrain. Traction is excellent as the softer compound is 'stickier', but I did find that it was squeakier on wet, slick surfaces like tile than the harder soles of the Seeker Desert or Desert Elites. The rear of the sole is angled/rounded off which makes it easier to drive with.
Boot fit - I fall in between standard and wide widths, measured size 8.5 US, so I based on my previous experience with the two other Lowa boots reviewed previously which fit a bit narrow, I got the size 9 US Zephyr GTX Hi TF. They're the perfect size for me, and leave a little extra room if needed for thicker socks. There's also good clearance between my toe and the front of the boot.
General Impressions - Quality of the Zephyr GTX Hi TF looks very good; inside and out. The tan colours aren't much different from other similar boots, so it'll stand out mostly from its distinctive monowrap outsole, not because of its colours. It's an interesting, good-looking boot, and feels light and comfortable on the feet.
Break-in - Breaking in took only a day, and that was just to allow the boot to conform to the shape of my foot, and let the creases to start forming at the points of articulation. There's actually no 'break-in' needed; it's comfortable from the get-go. No hot spots, no rubbing or any issues.
Notes/observations - As with the other Lowa boots I have, the laces supplied with these boots are long enough to wrap around the ankle. As I mentioned above, I have not bothered switching out the laces, and just tuck the excess loop into the laces below. I find it a bit strange that Lowa doesn't design their boots with the intention of wrapping the laces around the ankles, yet supplies them so long.
The Zephyr GTX Hi TF boot was designed more for running with lighter loads than rucking with heavy loads. This intended use is apparent upon examination of the outsole, and then when I put them on. The civilian mid-height version is classified as a lightweight hiking boot meant for medium loads. The design of the outsole and 3/4-length shank allowing flex at the ball of the foot produces a more natural heel-toe roll of the foot than boots with a stiffer, blocky sole. I went jogging with the Hi TF, and it feels more comfortable for running than other combat boots that I've tried. The softer outsole compound and its thickness provides excellent shock absorption, which I tested by running on concrete and asphalt. I also stomped my feet on the ground, to see how much shock was transmitted through the sole to my foot and lower leg, and this boot absorbs it very well. How the sole wears over the long haul will remain to be seen, but I expect it to wear faster than a sole with a harder compound. There's always a give and take, so the user needs to determine what attributes are a priority. Even though the boot is flexible and the sole is relatively soft, the thickness of the sole plus 3/4 shank insulates the foot from rocks and protrusions, but I felt that I still retained a good feel for the terrain through the boot.
The 'sneaker' or 'basketball shoe' feel is furthered by the soft and flexible boot upper, which allows full fore-aft range of motion of the foot and ankle. While the padded sides are not stiff, they still do provide some lateral support and protection for the ankle - more so than standard desert boots with only cordura on the sides (like jungle boots). The monowrap construction of the outsole contributes lateral support for the foot and feels pretty stable under the conditions I used it in (everyday use, some jogging/sprinting, and range drills). I'm definitely less likely to roll an ankle with these boots than running shoes or low hiking boots (which I've done before).
I didn't test the boot for full waterproofness by immersion; I wore it out in the rain and aimed for as many puddles as possible, and my feet kept dry. Traction on wet pavement and road seemed pretty good. The Gore-Tex® liner makes it a bit stuffier than a non-GTX boot, but I felt that it was on par with other lightweight GTX boots. So, while my feet get a bit sweatier with a GTX boot at the end of the day, I found it difficult to notice a difference in temperature between the Hi TF and other non-GTX desert boots; as I wasn't swapping out boots on the same day. I've been wearing them in both cool and hot weather comfortably for the past couple of months at the time of this writing.
The bottom line with these - light and very comfortable right out of the box with no break-in period needed. Flexible, relatively soft sole with excellent shock-absorption and very good range of motion/articulation for the ankle/foot (in the right direction - not the ankle twisting direction) while providing padded protection for the ankle. These are boots that you can really run around with in comfort.
9/30/07 - The first commercial product ever to be produced in association with the British Army is the UK Gear PT-03 running shoe and bears the Army's crossed-swords logo inside the tongue as a symbol of its endorsement. The PT-03 was developed by UK Gear over a period of 18 months, part of which instructors from the British Army's APTC (Army Physical Training Corps) advised on its design and tested it. It was designed as a high performance running shoe for use on track, road or trail. The PT-03 is available in two models - the 'NC' (Neutral Cushioning) for those who require less structured support, and the 'SC' (Structured Cushioning) for those looking for a blend of cushioning and support. I am an over-pronator, which is excessive motion of the arch lowering and ankle tilting inward (toes point outward). Supination is where the the motion of the foot tilts outward. Pronators and supinators need structured support in their footwear to correctly align the foot. Shown here is the PT-03 SC in grey/red/black.
For a full technical overview .pdf of the PT-03 on UK Gear's website, click here. Here's an overview of some of the key features.
Upper - The upper is mostly made of mesh fabric for
ventilation with synthetic leather panels that add strength, durability
and support in key areas. It's anti-microbial treated to inhibit the
growth of bacteria, and other odor-causing microbes.
Lower - Solite EVA compound for 15% weight reduction of the midsole. S+S plates on the sides of the sole - these are Strengthening & Stabilizing polyurethane medial support plates for torsional support and added durability. A 2nd density EVA compound in the rear of the midsole helps avoid overpronation. The front of the sole wraps over the toe for traction and durability. The sole is made of carbon rubber for durability and on/off road traction. The sole also incorporates other technical features designed to absorb impact while providing motion control for the foot. Like many other manufacturers, UK Gear has a special name for each of these features, like 'NRG Reactor Pads' and 'Quadra Flex System'. Most high quality running shoes will have their own incarnation of features to provide cushioning and support.
Impressions - The PT-03 is a good-looking shoe, in my opinion. The combination of light grey mesh with darker grey midsole and accents with a bit of red thrown in makes a smart, and not overly flashy running shoe. Overall quality looked on par with the other running shoes I have (Asics and Nike). Most of my footwear is size 8.5. The PT-03s have a little more room up front, not quite half a size bigger; more like a quarter size. I also get the impression that the PT-03 is designed for tougher use than a regular running shoe.
As mentioned before, the tongue lace loops are designed to ensure that the tongue remain in place at all times. There are three loops, and each time the laces cross, they go through them. The lacing system uses loops, not eyelets, so the laces span a narrower area across the top of the shoe. That system, combined with the tongue loops, leaves almost no room to stick a finger in there to pull on a lace for tightening or adjustment. I found it very difficult to adjust the tension of the laces near the front of the foot without first loosening the ones up top. I got around this by only using the top tongue loop to keep it in place, leaving the laces exposed down below. Adjustments are much easier and I haven't noticed any shifting of the tongue.
Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a high (or even medium)-mileage runner. I jog about three times a week, for about 3-4 miles each time at about a 7-1/2 minute per mile pace for general conditioning, so that's my frame of reference. It isn't far nor fast, but enough for me to identify any issues with shoes that I may have. I mostly run on asphalt and concrete (the street), and occasionally on a rubber or dirt track. I'm a medium to overt overpronator, meaning that I need a shoe that provides structured cushioning to maximum support to help control the degree of pronation. I found that I needed a bit more support than the PT-03 provided. Even though the sole of the PT-03 SC has a relatively straight last and support on the medial side (for pronators), I felt that my arch wasn't getting enough support from the PT-03s, which allowed my foot to pronate (unless I have a very supportive shoe, that's what usually happens). This was more of an insole issue. The heel cup fits snugly and there is no slipping or rubbing.
The insole (EVA sockliner) that the PT-03 comes with is a standard foam insert that provides a bit of cushion but no support. I often find that I have to ditch the insoles in many of my shoes and replace them with green superfeet insoles, which provide a greater degree of support and as they also have a higher arch. I overpronate yet I'm not a flat foot - I've got a relatively high arch. I waited until I put about 20 miles on the PT-03s, to see if I still needed more support, then I replaced the sockliner with green superfeet and that did the trick for my support issues. This is by no means a deficiency of the PT-03 SC, just that my degree of over overpronation exceeds what the shoe was designed for. Mild to medium overpronators should be fine with the PT-03 SC.
Cushioning/springiness is on par with my Asics Gel Kayanos (my normal running shoes). I've used these shoes over the past month and have not experienced any shoe-related foot, heel, ankle or knee issues or discomfort, so they're looking pretty good. If you're looking for a good running shoe that's tougher than a 'normal' running shoe, then the PT-03 is worth a look.
10/2/08 - One of the latest products from UK Gear is the PT-03 Desert running shoe, the Hot Environment version of the PT-03 featured above. UK Gear actually introduced two training shoes for extreme climates; the Desert and Winter Shoes. Both were designed and developed in association with the British Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) and were tested in the extreme heat of Afghanistan (for the Desert) and cold of Norway (for the Winter version). I opted to feature the Desert version here as I get much more hot weather than cold in my area.
The sand proof PT-03 Desert running shoe is specifically designed for hot and arid environments with an optimal temperature range of +77 to +122°F. It took over a year to develop with the APTC before going through final testing with the British Army in the harsh terrain of Afghanistan. One of the more unique features of the PT-03 Desert is that it accomodates optional detchable gaiters to keep the sand out and protect the foot.
The PT-03 Desert shares the same basic features and sole construction as the PT-03, with some differences to optimize it for warmer temperatures and a sandy environment. It comes in a desert colour scheme of tans and browns.
Upper - The Desert upper utilizes a synthetic tan
canvas-like, sand-resistant yet breathable material for hot environments,
rather than the more open mesh fabric of the PT-03. The lower synthetic
leather panels (both solid and perforated) are suede-like rather than
the vinyl-like panels of the PT-03. The side panels are the same vinyl
-like material as the PT-03. These panels add strength, durability and
support in key areas. The shoe is anti-microbial treated to inhibit
the growth of bacteria, and other odor-causing microbes.
Lower - The lower is essentially identical in design
to the PT-03 with the exception being the materials are optimized with
new EVA densities for hot environments. Solite EVA compound for 15%
weight reduction of the midsole. S+S plates on the sides of the sole
- these are Strengthening & Stabilizing polyurethane medial support
plates for torsional support and added durability. A 2nd density EVA
compound in the rear of the midsole helps avoid overpronation. The front
of the sole wraps over the toe for traction and durability. The outsole
sole is made of heat-resistant gum rubber for durability and on/off
road traction. The sole also incorporates other technical features designed
to absorb impact while providing motion control for the foot, like the
bio-flexible underfoot bruise plate. One of the more common physical
training injuries in rugged terrain is bone bruises. The light-weight
protective plate helps spread the load when landing on sharp stones
Gaitors - The PT-03 Deserts are unique (as far as
I've seen) by being able to accomodate optional gaiters (they're called
'gators' on the UK Gear website). They're available in both long
versions. I've shown the short version here.
Impressions/observations - The PT-03 Desert fits pretty much exactly like my PT-03 SC, unsurprisingly. I don't notice any difference between them in how they feel when running. So, in my experience, they perform exactly the same - read my writeup on the PT-03 above for more details. Due to my over-pronation and tendency of my foot to roll to the inside, I need more insole support than the insoles that are provided with the PT-03 SC and PT-03 Deserts, and had to switch out the insole in the Deserts with Green Superfeet which provided the support I needed, just like I did with the PT-03 SC. At the time of this writing, I heard from UK Gear that they have a new, more supportive insole in the works, which should address that issue. I'm pleased to hear that and I'll update this writeup when I get more information.
I found the speed lacing eyelets easier to adjust on the Desert than the webbing loops on the PT-03 and I'm glad that they switched to only one tongue loop instead of three. I can stick my finger down there now and pull.
The gaiters were very easy to attach to the shoes - slip the tabs through the webbing and secure. This is done before you put the shoes on. The gaiters are held tight against the side of the shoe without any slack. The shoes are then put on as normal, then the gaiters zipped up and the top drawstring cinched up and tied off. I chose the short gaiters instead of the long ones because at a glance, they look more like high top sneakers instead of go-go boots (no offense intended to UK Gear or those who run in go-go boots). Once of my concerns was that the gaiters might add heat around the ankles, but that didn't happen. I didn't notice any difference in how warm my ankles or feet got when I went running with only one gaiter on, for comparison.
I headed down to the beach on a dreary morning to try out the PT-03 Deserts in the sand; both soft and firm. I was reminded why I don't run in soft sand too often - it's tiring! No visions of 'Chariots of Fire' here. I ran up and down the beach in both dry, soft sand, and the firmer sand. Kicked the soft sand around as well, making sure the the gaiters were had sand on them. They worked very well, keeping the sand out of the shoes. Unless you purposely pour sand around the gaiter tops where they seal around the ankles, little or no sand will work its way in as long as they're cinched around the socks and ankles. No sand made it into the shoe from the bottom, either, although a little made it into the bottom of the lace area from the front. It didn't migrate up. Unless you're running up and down sand dunes immersing the entire shoe and ankle in sand, the gaiters will do their job at keeping the shoes sand-free.
The PT-03 Deserts are a pretty neat concept, especially with the lightweight gaiters, and should work well for training in sandy environments as well as for some mild trail running to keep the little rocks and pebbles out of the shoe.
I've been a Danner boot user for at least 12 years - ever since I picked up a used 'Danner bob sole' pair at a gun show. I liked the way they felt, fit and how well constructed they are. The only drawback to some of the models is that they tend to be a bit heavy. But they're built to last, and they seem to.
The Blackhawk II's shown above are 6" boots with GoreTex liner. All leather exterior - I've had them resoled once. Only gripe is that they're a bit heavy and squeak. They'll last a long time, though. The Acadia uninsulated 8" boot to the right is a very popular choice amongst servicemen and LE personnel. Leather/Cordura exterior and GoreTex liner make them a great choice for wet weather. I've soaked them and haven't had a leak yet.
Danner Desert Acadia - Rough-out leather and 1000
denier Cordura. Dri-Lex lining - non-insulated and no Gore-tex (obviously).
Pull tab on upper part of boot. Two very fine mesh vents in the
arch, which do not open all the way into the boot, but into the
lining. Fit is actually slightly more comfy than my Acadias (my
initial impression) and they feel 'bouncy'. No Danner 'airthotic'
insole, but a cushioned insert instead.
Wellco Desert Tuffkushions
Mel from Kifaru suggested I try the Wellco Tuffkushion desert boots - as a lighter alternative to the Danner Desert Acadias. My size 8.5W boots weigh 1lb 11oz each (3lb 6oz per pair). They've become one of my favourite boots for hot weather (until I got the Lowa Seekers above). The Danners provide more protection around the ankles due to the padding, but the Wellcos are lighter and cooler. It's a give and take. The Wellco's leather seems to get dirty more easily - not sure why. They're pretty comfortable, and the Tuffkushion sole lives up to its name - it provides good shock absorption. I tossed the insoles that came with them and replaced them with green Superfeet for the arch support. The boots provide no lateral ankle support, but they're not designed to. The speed lace eyelets on the ankle extend out a bit too much and end up meeting in the center, and I cannot tighten up the boots as much as I'd like around my skinny ankles.
Salomon Expert Mids
Above are the Salomon Expert Mid Lightweight Hiking boots, as worn
by one of the soldiers removing the bodies of Saddam's sons - Uday and
Qusay -in Baghdad. Lightweight mid-cut boot, built for light to moderate
hiking, 1-3 day adventures on trail or low altitude rock. I was looking
for a pair of lightweight hikers and decided to give these a try. Very
comfortable from the start, but there might be some durability issues
with the upper mesh upper. We'll see.
Merrell Sawtooth Boots
I was looking for a pair of midweight hiking boots to replace my Timberlands,
which were in sorry shape after a couple of years, and I had heard good
things about Merrell boots. I went to REI to check them out and tried
on the different offerings. I compared the to the Chameleon Ventilators
but the Ventilators didn't provide as much support as the Sawtooths.
The Sawtooth boots shown here are priced very reasonably ($90), but
has some of the design features of the more expensive, heavyweight hiking
boots. The Salomon Expert Mids reviewed above fall into the category
of lightweight hikers, or trail cross trainers. The Sawtooths are midweight
hiking boots, which are meant for hiking with heavier loads and rougher
terrain than lightweight hikers. I was very pleased with the torsional
rigidity of the midsole. I can bend the front of the Expert Mids backwards,
almost folding the boot in half, but the Sawtooths have a very stiff
(but not uncomfortable) midsole that provides some of the best stability
and support I've felt in a boot of this kind. My feet don't roll over
in this boot, and going off trail, the rigidity helps prevent rocks
and pebbles from being felt through the bottom of the sole and bruising
the foot. The under-arch bridge also adds to the feeling of stability
of the boot, and I don't feel like my arch is rolling inwards, like
with some others (I'm a pronator). The Vibram sole has a relatively
aggressive tread pattern.
Update 6/7/05 - Worn these boots since March '04 and they're still providing great support, with barely any sign of wear. I'm very happy with this purchase.
Specs (from Merrell website):
I was down at Pendleton for the Marine West Expo with Mel (Kifaru),
Desertdiz and GG. Oregon
Aero had a booth there and was showing off the newer MICH/PASGT
upgrade helmet pads (the ones that are black and OD) made of their visco-elastic
foam. This is a closed cell material that will not bottom out, unlike
other foams. It resists compression, while providing the correct amount
of shock absorption. To demonstrate, the rep put a helmet pad on the
hard table and invited Diz to punch it as hard as he could with his
knuckles. Diz did so, and the pad completely absorbed the impact, and
Diz's knuckles were none the worse from the experience. The material
responds to the impluse of the impact - like an oil damper - the faster
the impluse, the more shock absorption and decceleration.
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