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OTB Bootistan Boots

5/2/10 -The Bootistan, the newest tactical land boot from OTB Boots was derived in part from discussions with SOF troops about the terrain they encountered in the mountains of Afghanistan and the surrounding region. Hearing reports of regular boots lasting only about a month in the harsh, rocky terrain; OTB set out to design a more durable boot for those conditions, with initial testing conducted in the Helmand province.

Some of the design goals were to make a boot that would stand up to the harsh environment encountered in Afghanistan - steep, rocky, uneven terrain; and temperatures ranging from cold in winter to hot in summer. When developing new boots, OTB uses 'working names' that are generally 'tongue in cheek' and easy to remember that relate to the project. 'Bootistan' was the working name for this project, but it stuck with some of its users, so 'Bootistan' it was. The intention for this boot was not to make it a specialized (stiff, heavy) mountain boot, but more of a mid-heavy weight hiker that was designed from the ground up for combat instead of just a commercial hiking boot made in earth tones.

Manufacturer Specs:

  • Waterproof boot lined with a Sympatex membrane.
  • 360° protective rubber rand
  • Vibram rubber mountain outsole
  • Metal lace loops.
  • Variable 'sausage' laces will not come untied
  • Dual density orthotic cushioned footbed with Dri-Lex looped wool lining for increased wicking and comfort.
  • Full length composite molded shank provides support when carrying heavier loads.
  • Tan version: Waterproof suede/nylon upper in standard military desert tan colour for uniform use
  • Brown version: Waterproof nubuck/nylon for a more 'civilian' look
  • 8" high measured from floor to highest point on boot (size 8.5").
  • Weight (size 8.5, per pair) - 3 lb 2 oz (1 lb 9 oz per boot).

Tan Bootistan

Brown Bootistan

Boot uppers - The Bootistan is available in brown or tan. Each one uses different materials combined with nylon fabric, as mentioned in the specifications. The brown uses nubuck leather and the tan is suede leather. All leather is waterproof-treated. The leather covers most of the boot; with nylon panels on the sides and thinner/softer nylon around the collar. The leather is used in the areas exposed to the most wear.

There is no pull tab in the back, which I actually prefer; as my pant cuffs tend to catch on some. The collar dips at the rear of the ankle, where there is a small compression zone that allows the rear of the collar to flex when the foot is pointed down. My size 8.5 boot is 8" at its tallest point (measured from the floor), and 7" at the back of the collar. Boot height will of course vary proportionally with boot size. There are seven no-snag metal lacing eyelets, and the laces are of the variable 'sausage' type.

The interior of the boot is fully lined with with wicking material and mesh around the inside of the collar. The waterproof/windproof membrane is made by SympaTex. What sets this membrane apart from other water-proof breathable membranes like Gore-Tex is that is non-porous. Gore-Tex is a micro-porous membrane that allows water vapour molecules to pass through while preventing water droplets from penetrating. SympaTex, on the other hand is a non-porous structure that consists of hydrophilic molecules that use a physicochemical process to expel moisture (instead of a purely physical process). The SympaTex membrane is a copolymer mix of water-repellant polyester and water vapour-permeable polyether (which is responsible for transporting water vapour away from the skin). The hydrophilic components of the membrane absorb moisture from the body and release it outwards by evaporation. Since the SympaTex is non-porous, it's 100% wind and water proof.

The tongue is padded and constructed out of leather and nylon. The tongue is gusseted only at the upper half. The lower part is not gusseted, and the tongue acts as a 'crush zone' if the lower laces are tightened. A 360° climbing rubber rand surrounds the lower part of the boot upper, just above the sole. It serves to protect the upper from sharp rocks and wear, while adding support to the upper.

The Bootistan has a stiff heel counter and toe cap which provide stability for the heel and protection for the foot, and structure to the lower half of the boot upper. They are made of thermo-formed material which comes in sheet form, then molded on a hot last form, then cooled on a cool last form. The ankle part of the upper is not as stiff as the more specialized mountain boots, and allows more comfort and range of motion with the sacrifice of some ankle support. It's still stiffer and more supportive than most combat boots, but not so much as to limit running or quick movements, or squatting or taking a knee.









Insole/Outsole - The insole is a dual-density Ortholite footbed with a looped wool/Drilex textile top surface - the same as used on the Thor TC. It's made of the same high quality blown PU (polyurethane) foam with high rebound properties as the Ferdelance and Bushmasters, with superior compression set over time. Slightly harder pads (the red areas) are used in the fore foot and heel to further lengthen the life of the footbed. The Wool/Drilex top wicks moisture, is antibacterial, and is very comfy. It's also about 5 times more expensive than a standard footbed because of this. A little fraying of the looped wool fabric along the edges is normal, but long-term testing indicated no degredation in function or wearability of the footbed. Usually I replace stock insoles with Green Superfeet insoles, but I have not needed to with these.

The Bootistan is built around a full length injection-molded composite insole board, which is the foundation that gives the boot its stability. The board has forefoot flex for a natural gait, climbing and mobility, but is stiff for the rest of the boot, which prevents the boot from twisting and deforming when walking over rocks and uneven terrain. Combined with the heel counter and rubber rand, this provides stability the foot inside the boot.

An EVA midsole unit and tried and true sticky rubber Vibram mountain lugged outsole were chosen for the Bootistan, to provide superior traction and comfort in rocky terrain. It's been tested on multiple other mountaineering boots from major hiking brands.

 


Top/sole



Tongue details

Inside

Drilex Wool Footbed

Boot fit - The Bootistans initially felt a big on me, right out of the box; just like my Hanwag Mtn Lights did. Maybe about a half size too big. My initial impulse was to return them for the next half size down, but decided to try them anyways, since they're sized a bit roomier overall than the other OTB boots so they can accommodate thicker socks. There was definitely a lot of toe room. I compared them to my Ferdelance boots, and they're about half an inch longer. With mountain boots, I've found that the extra toe room is needed to prevent the toe from stubbing inside the boot on downhills/descents, as the foot can move forward if the laces aren't snugged down enough.

Since the boot uppers were relatively stiff when brand new, I had a bit of trouble getting the laces at the front of the boot tight enough, so that the boot would conform to my feet better. The lack of a gusset at the bottom of the tongue means that for the laces to be cinched up tightly, the tongue has to compress in width, and form creases at the sides so the laces can come together more. After the first day's wear, when I took them off, I tightened the laces down as much as I could with the boot off my feet, and adjusted the tongue to make sure that the creases in the tongue were where I wanted them to form. Then I left them like that for a couple of days. When I came back to them, the tongue had started to form the folds where I wanted them to be, so I loosened up the laces, put the boots on, and proceeded to lace them up snugly. This time, I was able to tighten them up in front. During the day, I snugged up the laces as they became looser as the boot formed around my foot. Breaking in took a few days of walking around, but after that, the boot uppers had softened up a bit, creases had formed, and they no longer felt too big for me, and fit like a glove. Or boot. That's exactly what happened with my Hanwags. For me, my measured size if the correct size in the Bootistans.

General notes/observations - Initial inpressions were that the Bootistan quality/workmanship are on par with the other OTB boots I've seen. The Bootistan is a clean, functional design, without any unnncessary fanfare. It's apparent that its lineage is that of combat boots, not commercial boots. It's basically a combat boot designed for mountainous/rocky terrain. OTB set out to design a medium weight hiker, and in my opinion, I believe that goal has been met. The Bootistan has a good balance of stability and support without being as stiff as a heavy hiker or specialized mountain boot.

As mentioned above, the Bootistans took about a week to break in and conform to my feet. Even though it's a mid-height boot, the upper provides more ankle stability than a regular combat boots, or OTB's other boots, when the laces are tightened around the ankle. The forefoot is still flexible so your walking gait isn't clunky, and the boot allows enough motion of the foot to be comfortable in various foot positions all day. Shock absorption is a good 'medium' - not as cushy as some of the 'go fast' boots with softer soles, and not as hard as the heavy hikers. Perfect for what it was designed for.

I haven't had a time this season to climb the local mountains like I used to, to test boots like these (having a toddler really cuts down on my available time outside of work). I did some short hikes on some local trails (both on and off the beaten path) which provide a varied selection of terrain; climbed some low hills and went out to the desert and tried them out on rock formations. The sole provided good grip on all surfaces (dry), and ankle support while traversing hills at an angle. I felt pretty confident that my ankles were well supported, which is important to me as I have a 'weak' right ankle that is now susceptible to twisting after being sprained a few times. The worst time was on a hike on a Scottish Isle when I stepped into what was probably a rabbit hole halfway through the hike, and had to hobble the rest of the way back.

I wore them out in the rain in an urban setting, and had good grip on the outdoor surfaces I tried. Naturally, wet smooth surfaces like tile are slippery and will make the soles squeak until they dry off. I didn't immerse the boots up to the ankles in water, but stepped into deep puddles that came past the rubber rand and didn't experience any leaks.

The Bootistans feel a bit warmer than OTB's other boot offerings, which is to be expected as it's a waterproof boot with no vents. That being said, they felt fine in cold and warm weather during daily use, and I never got the impression that they got too stuffy or uncomfortable. One thing I did notice was that the sausage laces are firmer than on other OTB boots - they don't compress as much when tightened. They did loosen on me a couple of times when I used the regular standard shoelace knot (I wasn't tying granny knots). I then reverted to Ian's secure shoelace knot, which I've used from time to time for years when I've wanted my laces to stay tied, and it worked like a charm as always. I've never had an Ian's secure knot come undone accidentally. It's also known as a Double Slip Knot. Check out Ian's Shoelace Site - it's the most comprehensive of its kind I've seen.

The rubber rand surrounding the tan boot lower does retain black marks (grease, oil etc), but can be cleaned with a cleaner. The black rand or sole on the brown boot don't stay jet black for long. Neither of these are issues, but I thought I'd mention them as observations.


In summary - More supportive than your standard combat boot, but more comfortable than a stiff mountain boot, it looks like OTB has achieved their goal of producing a combat medium-weight hiking boot. It's really a very good 'all-round' boot, and is not limited to mountainous terrain. But for those who need a combat boot that's been designed from the ground up for rocky, mountainous terrain without the weight and stiffness of a specialized mountain boot, the OTB Bootistan is worth considering.

 

Salomon Quest 4D GTX Boots

12/2/11 - The Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots are popular hiking boots, but haven't been available in the U.S. in a 'tactical' colour until just recently. Mission Ready Equipment and Über Group Llc., brought over a supply of Quests in brown manufactured for the European market, and are available exclusively (for now), from Mission Ready Equipment.

Mission Ready Equipment (MRE) was set up as a sister company to Blue Ridge Mountain Sports, to focus solely on selling equipment to the government. Über Group represents a number of outdoor brands and are positioned as somewhat of a bridge between specialty outdoor and the tactical community. Like other boot and clothing manufacturers, Salomon may sometimes produce certain model colours or variants for the European market which are not available in North America. I've noticed that this practice is quite common. The excellent Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots are such an example, and until MRE offered them in brown, we in North American were limited to whatever was brought in for the U.S. market.

For Quest 4D GTX boot. Salomon drew from their trail-running shoe technology, and incorporated it into a backpacking boot. As a result, the Quest 4D is nimble and light weight, yet supportive. It's designed to be a three-season boot that's at home in the desert or wet woodland trails.

Manufacturer Specs:

  • Waterproof bootie construction with GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort
  • Protective rubber toe & heel caps
  • Gusseted tongue
  • Textile/Waterproof Split Suede Leather Upper
  • Molded EVA Midsole
  • Contagrip® Outsole
  • Ortholite® Sockliner
  • 4D Advanced Chassis
  • Mission Ready Equipment exclusive: Brown
  • 7.5" high measured from floor to boot top (size 8.5").
  • Weight (size 9, per pair) - 2 lb 13 oz (1 lb 6.5 oz per boot).








Boot uppers - The Quest uses a combination of nylon textile and split suede leather for the upper. Much of the boot upper is covered by leather, especially the parts exposed to the most wear. The last pair of Salomon shoes I had were the Expert Mid Lightweight hiking boots, which had mesh panels that weren't very durable and developed holes from abrasion after some time. In comparison, the black and brown woven nylon textile on the Quest looks pretty durable. The boot upper is lightly padded around the heel and ankle for protection and comfort.

The boot upper is protected from bumps by a rubber toe cap in the front, and a plastic heel guard (which is part of the midsole). An additional rubber 'heel sling' protects the back of the heel from abrasion. There's a pull tab at the back of the boot made out of soft webbing, which I find preferable to leather. Leather loops are stiff and sometimes catch the back of your pant cuff, making it ride up.

The collar dips down about 1" at the rear of the ankle, and is comfortably padded. My size 8.5 boot is 7.5" at its tallest point (measured from the floor), and 6.5" at the back of the collar. Boot height will of course vary proportionally with boot size.

The inside of the Quest has a wicking polyester lining to absorb and disperse excess moisture. The inside of the collar and upper part of the tongue is lined with mesh. A waterproof GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort membrane bootie lines the Quest to keep water out, and feet dry and comfortable. The heel is lightly padded to prevent hot spots in the heel.

The tongue is padded to relieve lace pressure and constructed out of nylon, with a leather reinforcement on the upper half. It's gusseted up to the bottom of the 2nd hook to keep water and dirt out of the boot. The lacing system uses a combination of plastic eyelets at the bottom, and metal hooks at the top. The third hook from the top is a lace lock, and locks the lace in place so you can lace the boot up differentially; with different tension at the top than the bottom. To release the lock, you simply pull the lace down, out of the hook. Just to see how they look, I swapped out the laces with solid brown ones, shown below.


Tongue

Lace lock

With brown laces installed

Insole/Outsole - The Quest has a removable dual-density Ortholite footbed/sock liner for shock absorption and support, with an antimicrobial treatment to deter odours. It's made partially of recycled tire, and Ortholite claims that it will not break down, or lose effectiveness over time.

The 4D Advanced Chassis™ thermoplastic urethane midsole supports help control flex, reduce ankle strain, enhance stability and protect feet from rough terrain. The '4D' refers to the four layers provided by the foam insole, the midsole support plate, another cushioning pad in the sole, then the outsole. The thermoplastic midsole is visible from the outside of the boot as the clear, stiff plastic right above the outsole. The plastic is not only more abrasion resistant than rubber to rocks, but provides the stiffness needed to provide stability to the foot. The shank extends about halfway, so that the front half of the boot flexes longitudinally, making it flexible and comfortable enough to run in. It's not surprising, since the Quest was designed with trail running technology. It's stiffer laterally, to prevent the forefoot from twisting.

Contagrip® rubber outsoles have an ascending lug pattern in the front of the sole, and a braking pattern in the rear. The Contagrip sole has several densities to optimize grip and durability, designed for the intended usage of the boot. The dark brown rubber in the center of the forefoot is a softer compound than the surrounding black rubber. The geometry of the mountain Contragrip outsole features a high wear abrasion resistant rubber, with self-cleaning lugs.

 


Top/sole

Outsole

Inside

Ortholite footbed

Boot fit - I have size 8.5 feet (measured), and depending on the boot, wear 8.5 or 9. My forefoot is between a regular and wide width, which is why I'm sometimes a 9 in narrower fitting boots. I got the Quest in size 8.5, and they were a perfect fit for me. There's a little more room in the forefoot than some boots, which I find much more comfortable than a tight-fitting boot. Ample room for the foot to expand, and to keep the big toe from stubbing the inside of the toe cap when descending. I found it interesting that in contrast, the arch and heel of the boot fit narrower. Usually, I've found that if a boot is narrow, it's narrow all the way from front to back; or wide from front to back. The Quest has a narrower fit in the back and arch, and a roomier fit in front. This is actually the way I like it. Too often, I find that boots that are wide enough in front don't provide enough support for my foot at the arch and heel. The Quest provides better arch support than most others, and keeps the heel from shifting around with its snugger fit. It's honestly one of the best-fitting boots for my foot, right out of the box. I was pleasantly surprised.

General notes/observations - Right out of the box, the Quests were comfortable, and didn't require a break-in period whatsoever. All it took was about a day for them to conform around my foot, and the creases to form. The light padding surrounding the heel and ankle makes quite a difference, I feel. No hot spots or discomfort whatsoever.

At less than 1.5 lbs per boot, they feel very light on the feet. The laces are easy to adjust and the locking eyelet is great because you don't have to keep constant tension on the laces when lacing the top of the boot up. When the lace engages the locking eyelet, it can be tightened, but won't loosen. To loosen the lace, you have to pull it out of the locking eyelet. I pull it out every time I take the boots off.

I did not test the water resistance of the Quest in wet/rainy weather (we've had none at the time of this writing), but I did immerse the boot in water in the sink, up to the bottom of the locking eyelet, so the entire front of the boot was under water. I did the right boot, and after about half an hour, found that the insole had a small damp patch on it. I felt around the inside of the boot, and the wetness originated from the bottom outboard side of the boot, where it meets the outsole. I was very careful to ensure that no water entered the boot through the top. I then repeated exactly the same test on the left boot, and it remained completely dry; no leakage at all. I repeated the test on the right boot after it dried, just to make sure and got the same result. Isolated incidents like this have happened with other brands as well, where the Gore seam tape leakage occurs, so if you plan on wearing any boot in wet conditions, I'd test it before heading out just to be sure. If there's an issue, it's covered by the warranty and the boots will be replaced. When saturated, the leather does take a while to dry out - it took a few days in my case.

The Ortholite insoles are cushy/bouncy, and fine for general purpose, especially if you're walking or standing on hard surfaces all day. They don't provide much arch support though. If you have more of a flat foot, that's not an issue. I swapped them out for green Superfeet insoles for comparison, and while the green Superfeet provide additional support in the arch, they're not really necessary unless you need it. I did notice that the green Superfeet feel a bit cooler than the Ortholites, though. If I were doing some longer hikes with a load, I'd probably put the green Superfeet in there, because I pronate and my arches need more support.

On a couple of short trail hikes with hills, I found the stability of the boot to be very good, probably due to the fact that the heel is cupped securely . The lightly padded upper part of the boot provides lateral support for the ankle without restricting range of motion for climbing or descending. I didn't feel any part of the tongue or collar digging into my ankles when my feet were pointed up or down. I walked off trail to try out the outsole grip on rocks, sand, tree roots, grass etc. and the boots felt like they had good traction. The rubber toe caps work very well as I purposely stubbed my toes numerous times without incident.

I've been wearing the Quests in a mostly urban environment around town, walking and standing on hard surfaces most of the day. Outsole grip was very good on all urban surfaces I tried, and no worse than other boots on wet, slippery surfaces (like tile, painted metal, or manhole covers). The trail running heritage in the boot is evidenced by the natural gait; the boots do not feel clunky or awkward to walk in. At a recent pistol class, the boots were comfortable for a full two days of running around, standing, kneeling etc, and I didn't feel that they were hotter than my other boots, even in the warmer temperature.


Trail

Range






In summary - The Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots - very lightweight, out-of-the-box comfort (for me), with a snug heel and roomy front. They provide a good balance of stability and support without the clunkiness associated with some hiking boots. I'd categorize it as a light/fast to medium hiker, depending on the load you carry and the terrain. They're not limited to the great outdoors, but are also great in an urban environment - around town or at the range; for all-day comfort.


Lowa Camino Flex GTX Boots

3/28/12 - The Camino Flex GTX boots from Lowa are designed for distance hiking and trekking. However, their subdued appearance also makes them suitable for more 'tactical' use, with the added benefit of excellent support and stability.

For years, civilian hiking boots have found their way into the tactical/military arena for a number of reasons; the main one being that military equivalent boots for certain applications just didn't exist. Military boot manufacturers have made great leaps in the past few years, with many excellent combat boot choices available now, but when it comes to more specialized boots, comparable military boots can be sometimes difficult to find. The trekking/mid-weight hiking boot category is one such area, which accounts for the popularity of civilian brands such as Asolo, Salomon, Merrell etc. Besides their brightly coloured versions, these companies also make more subdued colour schemes that are more suitable for the tactical user. Other brands like Lowa, have branched out into boots designed specifically for LE and military customers, like Lowa's 'Task Force' line. However, I wanted to see what else from Lowa's civilian models might make a good 'cross-over' boot for tactical use. The Lowa Camino Flex GTX boot ended up being the one I picked out. 'Camino' means 'road/track/trail/path' in Spanish.

The Lowa Camino Flex GTX boot is from Lowa's line of trekking boots, which are lighter weight designs with softer flex than backpacking or mountaineering boots, but still able to support mid-weight (30-50 lbs) packs, on or off the trail.

Manufacturer Specs:

  • GORE-TEX® waterproof breathable inner bootie (a Lowa patented design)
  • Protective rubber toe & heel caps for durability
  • Gusseted tongue
  • 2.2 mm Nubuck leather upper with soft leather trim at the instep
  • PU (polyurethane) midsole with SPS (Supination-Pronation System) control helps reduce or prevent over-pronation and supination
  • 5mm nylon heel stabilizer and 3mm forefoot shank for stability without sacrificing flexibility
  • FreeFlex forefoot design secures the foot within the boot while reducing strain across the toes, especially when going downhill
  • Vibram® Apptrail outsole with increased contact area, self cleaning lugs and pronounced front heel edges for downhill traction
  • Polyester lining
  • Lowa X-lacing - two zone lacing with locking eyelets for optimum heel fit and instep stability. Tongue stud keeps tongue centered.
  • Carbon effect micro-fiber inserts in the heel for smooth transition to roll-off motion
  • Balance footbed for comfort and cushioning
  • Reinforced, crush-resistant toe cap
  • 6.75" high measured from floor to boot top at the back of the heel, and 8" to the highest point on the side of the boot (size 9")
  • Weight (size 9, per pair) - 3 lb 6 oz (1 lb 11 oz per boot)
  • Handcrafted in Germany or Italy








Boot uppers - One of the reasons the Camino appealed to me was that the it has a full leather upper, instead of a combination of a textile with leather reinforcements. It's not too 'busy' looking, and I feel that with boots, sometimes simpler is better. I'd actually prefer it without the two small V-shaped cutouts on the sides, which for some reason, look like they're embossed rather than cut out on the Lowa website (must be a photo of a pre-production model). The Camino shown here is the Dark Grey/Black colour, but it's actually more of a greyish brown, dark brown and black combination, as you can see from the photos. It's similar in colour scheme to the Salomon Quest 4D boots reviewed previously above.

The heel and toe are protected from abrasion by a rubber toe cap in the front, and a heel guard in the rear. This is a feature that I'm really beginning to appreciate on all my boots, especially on the toe. 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. At the rear of the boot, above the heel, is a small Achilles flex panel, similar to the one on the Lowa Desert Elite boot. 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. There's no pull tab at the back of the boot which I don't miss.

The boot ankle is padded for comfort and protection, and the inside of the collar and tongue are mesh lined. The collar dips down at the rear of the ankle and measures 6.75" high to the floor on my size 9. At its tallest point on the upper, the boot measures 8" from the floor. The tongue does extend about 3/4" higher than that. The inside of the Camino has a wicking polyester lining to absorb and disperse excess moisture. Lowa's patented waterproof GORE-TEX® membrane inner bootie lines the boot to keep water out, and feet dry and comfortable. Lowa's Climate Control System is evidenced by the line of holes along the top of the boot sides, and at the top of the tongue. These holes allow air to enter the boot lining while the walking movement pumps heat and moisture back out through the holes.

The C4 tongue is an asymmetrical design, and is anatomically contoured for a natural flex. The padding is thicker towards the outside of the foot, and the tongue is gusseted to keep water and debris out of the boot. It's constructed out of a dark brown soft leather with an assymetrical panel of thicker grey leather on top to relieve lace pressure. There's an asymmetrical flexible curved insert towards the inside of the foot (the horizontal crease sewn in to allow flexing at the ankle). The upper edge of the tongue has a softer cutout that provides more comfort when the boot is flexed and the top of the tongue is pressed up against the ankle.

Lowa's X-lacing is a two-zone system that uses ball bearing eyelets on the lower half of the boot, and locking hooks between the lower and the upper part. The ball bearing eyelets allow the laces to slide easily over them, so there's always an even pressure distribution across the lower part of the boot. You only have to pull on the laces above the ball bearing eyelets to tighten them, instead of trying to adjust them individually. The top three hooks are non-locking. An interesting feature is the tongue stud, attached in the middle of the tongue between the top and 2nd hooks. When the boot is laced up near the top, the laces wrap around the stud instead of crossing over to the other side, keeping the tongue centered and preventing it from slipping to one side or another. It works like a charm.


Lacing system

Tongue stud

Gusseted tongue

Insole/Outsole - The removable insole looks to me to be the same three-layer, fabric-covered Climate Control foam insert as found in the Uplander Desert, Zephyr and Seeker boots from Lowa's Task Force line. It's very comfortable, but pretty thin and doesn't add much support. While my usual practice is to ditch the stock insoles and replace them with Green Superfeet, I didn't feel the need to do that with the Caminos. They're more supportive in the arch than the combat boots like the Zephyr and Uplander Deserts, and the stock insole works well.

The Camino has a Vibram Apptrail Outsole 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 Apptrail Outsole unit has what I'd call a 'medium' compound, and what I'd expect on a trekking boot - not as soft/sticky as the outsole on the Zephyr and not as hard as some mountain boots. Its tread and shape is somewhat similar to that of the Elite Desert boots, with good grip and a pronounced front heel edge for good downhill traction.


Nylon shank

Insole

Boot fit - My forefeet fall in between standard and wide widths, size 8.5 US, so I based on my previous experience with all the other Lowa boots I've tried (which fit a bit narrow), and got the size 9 US Caminos. This proved yet again to be the right choice; pretty much a perfect fit on width with some length left over in the toe box, for downhills. I can also accommodate thicker socks if necessary for cooler weather or foot swelling due to walking. I didn't feel that the Camino fit as narrow as some of the other Lowa boots.

General notes/observations - Like all of Lowa's boots I've examined, the Camino provides 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.

At 3 lb 6 oz for the pair, they're not the lightest boots, but they're trekking boots, and by design, are stiffer and more supportive around the ankle than hiking boots and even some of the heavier combat boots. They're a very solid boot without feeling clunky.

Break-in - While the Caminos are trekking boots like the Lowa Elite Deserts, they upper was no where as stiff as the Elite Deserts. The Elite Deserts required about five days to break in to be comfortable on my ankles, whereas the Camino were comfortable out of the box, and only took about a day or so to 'break through' the initial stiffness. After that, the boot upper conformed to my ankles and it was supportive without feeling restrictive.

Other notes/observations - I wasn't exactly sure what the FreeFlex forefoot design was, that "secures the foot within the boot while reducing strain across the toes, especially when going downhill". But after poking around Lowa's website, I'm deducing that the it refers to the lacing system used. The 'toe-the-toe lacing, combined with cushioned ridges in the tongue, allows the tongue to settle in place without the laces exerting pressure on the instep. The ball bearing eyelets enable to laces to move freely and equalize the pressure on top of the forefoot. Does this make a difference? I think so, in terms of even pressure across the top of the foot. With other boots, if the laces are adjusted properly, my foots won't move forward in the boot on downhills. However, with the Camino's ball bearing eyelets, I do find that adjusting the lower section of the lacing system evenly is the easiest to accomplish so far, out of any boot I've tried. I just pull the laces tight at the top of the lower lacing zone, without having to adjust between the eyelets individually. Whether the hooks on the upper lacing zone or the tongue stud presents a snag hazard will depend on your usage. For 'normal' use, they do not pose and issue, as far as I've experienced.

I really like the asymmetrical 'C4' design of the tongue. Even without the tongue stud, it's more self-centering than other designs without the softer flex cutout at the top. On some boots, when the top of the tongue presses against the ankle (like when kneeling or squatting), the tongue gets pushed towards one side or the other. With the Camino, this doesn't ever happen.

Comparing the Camino again to the Lowa Elite Desert boots, they're similar in feel as they're both medium flex trekking boots that allow heel-toe flex at the ball of the foot while remaining stiff from side to side. More midsole stiffness than a regular combat boot or hiking 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. The heel-toe flex was appreciated when running around on the range and shooting from various positions. The Salomon Quest 4Ds are lighter, but they're a backpacking boot with less ankle support. A a trekking boot, the Caminos provide better ankle support than combat boots, 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.

While doing my research on the Camino boots, I read some other reviews/comments concerning the durability of the Vibram sole unit for backpacking use. It's a bit softer than mountain boot soles, but harder than the soles of the Zephyr or other desert boots. I can't feel a difference between the Salomon Quest sole and the Camino, in hardness. The subject of sole durability has come up before with some other Lowa boots, and the way that it was explained by Lowa is that the sole life is matched to the expected life of the upper, for non-resoleable boots. Hence, a slightly softer compound might be used than on a resoleable boot to provide better traction at the expense of some durability. I can't speak about the long-term durability of the Camino Flex boots, but they do offer good traction over all ther terrains I've tried them out on (local trail, running around on dirt and grass at the range, and for everyday wear in an urban environment). I haven't noticed excessive wear yet. The lugs have a medium depth so they won't clog up with mud as much as deeper lugs.

I've worn the Camino Flex boots for a short hike with about a 25 lb load, and found them to be very solid-feeling. There's definitely a noticeable difference in support between trekking boots, and combat boots or hiking boots. As for range use, everyday use (as well as riding my motorcycle), I found them very comfortable and supportive without being clunky or too stiff. As for their waterproofness, I immersed them in the sink, filled up to mid-level (top of the lower lacing zone), for a couple of hours. The boots stayed dry on the inside, and I detected no leaks or wetness.











In summary - After trying out the Camino Flex GTX boots, I feel that they will crossover from the purely civilian side to the 'tactical' side very well, based on the other boots that have done the same, like those from Salomon, Asolo, Merrell etc. One of the main attractions, I feel, is the overall simplicity of the boot upper. It's not too busy-looking, is relatively subdued, and looks to be plenty durable with its all-leather construction. Less seams and stitches, and no mesh fabric means stronger and easier to clean sand and dirt offf. The rubber heel and toe protection is going to be appreciated by those who need them. They're not the lightest tactical boots like the Zephyr, but their trekking design makes up for that in the support and ankle protection they provide; and are worth considering for terrain that might be a challenge for standard combat boots.

 

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