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5/5/14 - When you're done doing whatever tactical stuff you're doing in your MultiCam gear, and are ready to relax, doff the boots and slip on a pair of the Freewaters MultiCam Scamp Sandal, exclusively from SKD Tactical.
Description - SKD Teamed up with Freewaters to add a 'tactical touch' to their popular Scamp sandal. With the addition of MultiCam webbing on the straps, the surf hippie sandal has been transformed into a one that any tactical samurai would be proud to wear. Freewaters teamed up with Therm-a-Rest (a Cascade designs brand), to utilize the same Therm-a-Rest closed cell foam used in their Ridge Rest camping pads on their footbeds, creating a comfortable and supportive sandal. The Therm-a-Rest ridge pattern provides grip, flexibility, cushioning and air circulation as well as water drainage.
Manufacturer Specs/Features for the Freewaters MultiCam Scamp (size 9 shown):
• Therm-a-Rest (TM) footbed for instant comfort - channels
out water and air cools the foot.
General notes/observations - By now, we're used to seeing MultiCam show up in some of the strangest places, where a camouflage pattern actually stands out, but for those who know the history behind Crye's successful camouflage pattern, it's still cool to see. While the 1" MultiCam webbing on the Scamp sandal straps obviously aren't going to help conceal you anywhere, they sure set these sandals apart from the rest of the ones you see in the surf shops. That being said, these ARE very comfortable sandals, and I like the feel of the ridges on the Therm-a-Rest footbed. The built-in arch cookie provides a natural-feeling arch support and the denser outsole a feeling of durability. The next-to-skin surface of the strap is a very soft synthetic suede-like texture.
Living close to the beach, I have my fair share of sandals/flip flops, and theyr'e all comfortable for surf and sand, but none as tacti-cool as these. On a recent camping trip in the desert, they were just the thing to relax my feet in after a day of shooting and hiking. They're also my go-to footwear after a session at the rock climbing gym. That's livin' baby!
1/7/15 - Salomon, an icon in the civilian outdoor gear industry is introducing their Forces product line; dedicated to the specific needs of military, safety and law enforcement professionals. Two of their new Forces boots are featured here. They're adapted from their successful commercial models; the Quest 4D and XA Pro 3D mid.
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.
Quest 4D Forces Boot (non-GTX) - The new Quest 4D Forces boot is designed for full mission profile with closed eyelets for MFF (Military Free Fall) and Fast Rope. The 4D chassis provides the support of a light mountain boot but still has the flexibility to take a knee or sprint to the target. The Quest 4D Forces is available in a GTX (GORE-TEX®) and non-GTX version shown here. The non-GTX version is designed for warmer, drier climates. The civilian version only comes in a GTX model at this time. Note that much of the specs for the Forces boot overlaps with the civilian version which I featured here back in 2011.
Boot uppers - The Quest 4D Forces uses a combination of nylon textile and Nubuck suede leather for the upper. Much of the boot upper is covered by leather, especially the parts exposed to the most wear. While the civilian version has the black and brown woven nylon textile, the Forces version has a tan nylon. The boot upper is lightly padded around the heel and ankle for protection and comfort. Anything that was shiny or reflective on the civlian Quest is now subdued and non-reflective on the Forces Quest.
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 usual foot size is 8.5 US, but only whole size samples were available for preview (early Sept, '14) so I went with size 9 rather than wait. The size 9 boot measures 7.5" at its tallest point (measured from the floor), and 6.5" at the back of the collar - same as my size 8.5 civilian version.
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. 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 eyelet to keep water and dirt out of
the boot. The lacing system is where the
Quest Forces differs from its civilian counterpart. The civilian
Quest uses a combination of plastic eyelets at the bottom, and metal
hooks at the top. On the Forces boot, the eyelets on the lower part
are leather, and the upper ones are eyelets instead of hooks. The
third eyelet 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 upper part of the lace back, out of the teeth in the lock.
The Quest Forces comes with 550 cord laces.
Insole/Outsole - The Quest 4D Forces 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. On the civilian Quest, the thermoplastic midsole is visible from the outside of the boot as the clear, stiff plastic right above the outsole. On the Quest Forces, this is now non-reflective khaki. 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.
The civilian and Forces Quest boots have exactly the same sole pattern and shape except that the Forces sole is tan coloured. The 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 rubber in the center of the forefoot is a softer compound than the surrounding rubber. The geometry of the mountain Contragrip outsole features a high wear abrasion resistant rubber, with self-cleaning lugs. They do tend to pick up tiny pebbles/stones in the siping, though.
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 civilian Quest in size 8.5, and they were a perfect fit for me. The Force samples are in size 9, and they're more roomy, as expected. Not that much where I can't wear them though, and I think that if you have wide feet or there's chance that the feet may swell, you can go up half a size. Otherwise, stick to your measured foot size and you should be fine.
Unlike the Salomon XA Pro low shoes I have, which fit slightly narrow, there's a little more room in the forefoot of the Quest 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. Other than having a bit more toe room, I was able to tighten up the Forces boot to fit the same as my civilian pair. Like the civilian Quest, the Forces boot 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.
General notes/observations - Note that my observations for the Quest 4D Forces basically mirror that of the civilian Quest 4D, as they're the same boot except for some external differences. I didn't need much of a break-in period; all it took was about a day or two for them to conform around my foot, and the creases to form. The light padding surrounding the heel and ankle help prevent hot spots or discomfort in that area. At less than 1.5 lbs per boot, they feel quite light on the feet. Not as heavy as a mountain boot, but slightly heavier than a light hiker or trail runner. I found the 550-cord laces a bit harder to adjust than on the civilian boot. This is due to the eyelets being closed vs. open hooks. It takes a bit longer to unlock the locking eyelet because you can't just pull the lace away from it like on the civvie boot. But once locked in, it's secure and 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 away from the locking serrations; which I have to do every time I take the boots off.
Obviously, I did not test the water resistance of this particular model of the Quest 4D Forces since it's a non-GTX boot. I didn't swap between the civilian and Forces Quest boots to see whether the GTX model made my feet more sweaty, but I've had a chance to wear the Forces model in hot weather and cold weather now (since Sept '14) and my feet feel pretty dry and comfortable.
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. In my pair of civvie Quests, I swapped the Ortholite insole 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.
I wore the Quest 4D Forces on a flat range and also while hunting in some hilly terrain. Stability feels good going up and down hills, and the lightly padded upper part of the boot provides lateral support for the ankle without restricting range of motion for climbing or descending. Like the civvie Quests, I've been wearing the Quest 4D Forces in a mixture of outdoor and urban environments - around town, walking and standing on hard surfaces most of the day. Outsole grip is good, but they do tend to squeak when wet on smooth floors.
XA Pro 3D Mid Forces (non-GTX) - The Salomon XA Pro Mid Forces is the non-GTX version of the civilian XA Pro Mid GTX boot. The XA Pro 3D Mid Forces is designed as a hot weather assault boot, providing underfoot stability and ankle protection with a breathable mesh upper and Quicklace™ system.
The civilian XA Pro 3D Mid GTX was designed as a trail running shoe - grippy, waterproof, with a mid height to provide ankle protection and reduce the amount of debris entering the shoe. The XA Pro Mid 3D Forces comes in both GTX and non-GTX versions, and with a different outsole than the civilian version. It's not a shortened version of the Quest, but a different shoe altogether.
Boot uppers - I've owned a pair of XA Pro 3D Ultra 2GTX shoes for a couple of years, which are essentially the lower cut version of the XA Pro Mid Forces. I had a lot more miles on the civilian version, so I'll use it as a comparison here. The Mid Forces uses a combination of anti-debris mesh textile and smooth synthetic leather for the upper. The upper textile is thinner than that used on the Quest 4D Forces, which is more like Cordura nylon, so I'm assuming that the material on the XA Pro would be slightly less abrasion resistant. It's a compromise to save weight. The 'synthetic leather' accents also provide much of the structure and protection of the boot upper. 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). The heel guard is lower than on the Quest. The collar dips down about 1.5" at the rear of the ankle, and is comfortably padded to protect the ankle bones from impact. My size 9 boot measures 6" measured from the floor to the side of the boot; the tongue extends further up.
The inside of the XA Pro Mid has a wicking polyester mesh lining to absorb and disperse excess moisture. The inside of the collar and upper part of the tongue is lined with mesh. The heel is lightly padded to prevent hot spots and abrasions in the heel.
The tongue is nicely padded to distribute lace pressure and is constructed out of nylon fabric. It's gusseted up to the top the 2nd eyelet to keep debris out of the boot. The XA Pro Mid has Salomon's Quicklace™ system, which they use on quite a few of their shoes. The Quicklace system is a minimalist system using a very thin but strong Kevlar lace, designed for 'one-pull' tightening. The Quicklace systems come in two types - assymetrical (as on the XA 3D Ultra low) and symmetrical (on the XA Pro Mid).
The Quicklace System has a rubberized pull piece at the top, which you pull to tighten up the laces. It also covers the sewn-together ends of the laces. Small adjustments can be made as you tighten them up. The toggle/cord lock is then snugged up to secure the laces, then everything (excess lace, rubber pull and cord lock) is stuffed into the spandex lace pocket located at the top of the tongue. It's easy to use, snag-free and clean-looking. To doff the boots, the laces are retrived out of the lace pocket and the spring-loaded button on the lace lock is pushed upwards while pulling on the lace lock to allow the laces to slide through the lock.
Not visible in the photos below, the laces
actually run through small plastic tunnels inside each lace loop.
The lace does not abrade the webbing loop itself. The XA Pro Ultra
low shoe has a slightly different arrangment, with the plastic lace
guides exposed. Shown below are the low XA Pro 3D Ultra 2GTX and
XA Pro 3D Mid Forces side by side for comparison. I know a lot of
folks probably own the low shoes are are curious to see the differences.
Insole/Outsole - The XA Pro Mid shares the same removable dual-density Ortholite footbed/sock liner as the XA Pro Ultra low shoe. Other than the yellow colour, I'm not sure I can tell the difference between it and the one in the Quest, which is green. The sock liner absorbs show and provides support, with an antimicrobial treatment to deter odours. It's made partially of recycled tire, and Ortholite claims that it will not break down nor lose effectiveness over time.
The XA Pro Mid features Salomon's 3D Advanced Chassis™. To quote their website about the 3D chassis: "Salomon's low profile advanced chassis, placed between the outsole and midsole, maximizes security, motion control, energy management and push through protection for a high performance, stable and responsive ride." For 4D chassis, it says "Foot control and protection with active comfort provided through a stable chassis construction that works together with two different midsole components." The difference between the 3D and 4D chassis is that the 3D chassis was developed from running shoes, and the 4D came from hiking boots. The physical difference between the two is that the Quest 4D chassi has cushioning plates on top of and below the wishbone-shaped midsole support plate.
The Contagrip® non-marking rubber outsoles have a different tread than on the Quest, but also has 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 outsole on the XA Pro Mid Forces is different from my earlier XA Pro Ultra2 and XA Pro Mid GTX, but from Salomon's website photos, it looks like the Forces boot and current XA Pro Mid GTX have the same tread pattern. The only difference is the colour.
Boot fit - As I've mentioned in all my footwear writeups, 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. When I first got my XA Pro Ultra2 GTX shoes, iI felt that they fit a bit more narrow than the Quest. They're made on a narrower last, it seems to me. I was afraid at first that they'd be too tight, but they did break in after a month or so and loosen up. Since my sample pair of the XA Pro Mid Forces are in size 9, they don't feel narrow at all, and fit fine with a lot of room in the toe box. If the size 8.5 fit just like the Ultra2, then you should be fine buying your measured foot size and not need to get a half size up. Just be aware that it may take some time to loosen up if they feel narrow initially.
General notes/observations - After the break-in period where they felt narrow, my civilian XA Pro Ultra2 GTX shoes became one of the most comfortable trail shoes I wear. They're more of trail runners than hiking boots, due to their low height. Since my XA Pro3D Mid Forces boot came in size 9, I didn't have the initial feeling of tightness, and I was able to wear them comfortably right out of the box. I just cinched up the laces to take up any extra room around the foot, and have lots of room in the toe box. With their mid height, they feel more like very light hikers than trail runners, and will provide some ankle protection that the lower shoe won't. They'll also keep out sand/debris a bit better as well when running around in the dirt.
They're light at about 1 lb per boot, and are low cut enough to allow as much flexibility as the ankle needs when kneeling or squatting. Note that the low height doesn't provide as much ankle support as a higher boot like the Quest 4D, but does provide more than the low cut XA Pro Ultra2 GTX shoe. I had initially thought that it didn't add any support at all, but flexing my ankle while swapping back and forth between the XA Pro 3D Ultra2 GTX shoe and the XA Pro 3D Mid Forces shows that there is a difference.
The civilian XA Pro Ultra2 GTX shoes have been my go-to pair of GTX shoes for rainy days around town when I don't want to get my feet wet in puddles, but don't really need the added bulk of boots. I've worn them in all sorts of weather, and terrain, and they've performed very well. The XA Pro 3D Mid Forces, not being water proof, are reserved for dry weather, and I've had a chance to use them in hot weather as well as chilly weather. Basically I've been bringing both the XA Pro Mid Forces and Quest 4D Forces with me and switching between them during the day on outings. The XA Pro 3D Mid Forces are designed as 'go fast' boots; light weight and flexible; just aching for any kind of fast action. If hiking, I'd limit their use to lighter backpacks. The upper is thinner and more flexible than that on the Quest 4D, which will provide more support when hiking with heavier loads. Think of the XA Pro 3D Mid as a light hiker and the Quest 4D as a medium hiker.
In summary - Salomon's civilian boots have been used by military forces for years (typically SOF), despite the lack of 'military-specific' colours. If you're familiar with the civilian versions of the two Forces models featured here, and like them, you'll be happy with the Forces line. It's nice to see yet another outdoor company recognize and cater to the specific needs of military and law enforcement personnel.
4/9/16 - The Z Series boots are the latest offerings from Lowa's Task Force line. The Z Series boots come in both 6" and 8" versions, and Goretex (waterproof) and non-Goretex versions. Featured here is the Z-6S GTX, the waterproof 6" boot.
In the past, 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. Lowa is one manufacturer that has boots designed specifically for LE and military customers, with their separate line for their military/LE customer base. Lowa has been manufacturing climbing, mountaineering and hiking boots for over 90 years, and military boots for over 20 years. Lowa's boots have been thoroughly tested by U.S., German, Swiss, British and Spanish military and security forces. Lowa is known worldwide for their high quality outdoor footwear, and their Task Force Collection focuses on the military, tactical, LE and other professional organizations that require ankle and underfoot security and support in grueling conditions. Lowa boots are 100% designed, sourced and handcrafted in Europe and Lowa is the only outdoor footwear manufacturer in the world to be granted ISO 9001 status for quality and process standards.
Overall description - The Z Series boots utilize the well-proven and patented PU MONOWRAP® frame technology found on the Zephyr models, but are beefier with a medial sole wrap and heavier duty lug pattern to protect against rope abrasion or rappels. The Z Series offers the comfort of light hiking boots with the support and protection of backpacking boots, putting it in-between the Zephyr and Elite Desert boots previously reviewed. Further design changes include a full-length nylon stabilizer and aggressive rubber outsole. Light weight metal closed hook allow for speed lacing and meet jump boot requirements.
Depending on the model, the various Z Series boots are available in Split (S) or Nubuck (N) leather. For the waterproof version, the Goretex extended comfort laminate provides comfort, breathability and warmth in damp weather. Quick-drying fabric linings are offered in hot and humid climates. The available colours are black, desert, coyote, dark brown and sage. However, not all models are available in all colours. Here's a rundown of the available models and colours at the time of this writing:
The Z-6S GTX 6" boot in desert is featured here.
Specs (Z-6S GTX only):
Outside - The 6S upper is constructed mostly of tan split leather, with Cordura used for the tongue and around the ankle. More of the lower part of the foot is covered by leather than on the Zephyr, especially on the top part of the foot. The leather extends up the sides and front of the ankle, with a Cordura panel wrapping aorund the rear of the ankle at the top. The colour of the rough-out leather is the same as that found on the Elite Desert boot reviewed previously, and darker than that found on the Zephyr GTX Hi TF. There are some very small perforations in the leather to aid in ventilation, but I can't tell how effective they are.
The 6S has a gusseted tongue, and is made of Cordura nylon rather than leather-covered like the Zephyr. The gusset is unpadded, so it folds flat. The tongue is padded for comfort, and has a leather patch on the front at the top to protect it from abrasion from the laces. It 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. Like the tongue on the Zephyr, the tongue on the 6S is extremely comfortable.
Instead of the combination of metal lacing eyelets and webbing loops as found on the Zephyr, the six loops on the 6S are all metal. They're of the closed type and meet requirements for jump boots. The metal lace loops allow quick and smooth speed lacing by pulling at the top of the laces. The supplied laces are finally a good length; on the Zephyr and Elite Desert, they came way too long and I had to cut them down/replace them. They're nylon instead of cotton.
Inside - The inside of the boot ankle is lightly padded, to provide protection and some support for the ankle. As far as I can tell, the lower part of the boot/foot is unpadded. The inside of the collar and tongue are mesh lined. The collar dips down at the rear of the ankle and measures 6.5" high to the floor on my size 8.5. At its tallest point on the upper, the boot measures 7.5" from the floor. The tongue does extend about 1/2" higher than that. The inside of the 6S 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. A heel cup/counter provides the laternal stability for the heel. There is no toe cap - it's stiffer than that of the Zephyr, and the rubber bumper at the toe provides protection and shape.
Insole/Outsole - The removable Climate Control footbed of the 6S is a three-layer, fabric and compressed felt-covered foam insert; the same as the one found on the Camino Flex GTX boots. I didn't feel the need to replace them with my usual Green Superfeet insoles like I did on the Zephyr, as the 6S provides more arch support.
The 6S shares the distinctive Lowa PU Monowrap frame technology, where 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. Note that the Monowrap frames on the Zephyr and 6S are not exactly the same; you can see the differences in the photos.
The 6S has a Lowa Cross Duty outsole, and a full length and width stabilizer vs. the three-quarter length nylon shank of the Zephyr. The 6S offers approximately the same stability provided by a Trekking category boot like the Desert Elite. The 6S, therefore is more torsionally rigid than the Zephyr series boot. The tread pattern of the 6S is almost identical to that on the Zephyr boot, but the foam is thicker, as is the outsole with 5mmm deep lugs vs. the 3mm lugs on the Zephyr, which also add to a more rigid and supportive sole unit. The rear of the sole is angled/rounded off which makes it easier to drive with. Another feature that's new to the 6S is the special medial sole wrap at the instep for added protection against rope abrasion while rappelling. You might also notice that the sole of the Zephyr has turned darker over the years of use.
Boot fit - Sometimes when I've done writeups, only whole sizes have been available at the time of writing. This time, I was able to get my measured size of 8.5 US for the Z-6S. I have slightly wide feet, and the size 8.5 were a perfect fit. In the past, other Lowa boots have fit a bit narrow, prompting me to go up half a size, but I'll say that it's not needed for the 6S; they fit more like size 9.
General notes/observations - The Z-6S, like all the other Lowa boots I have convey the impression of quality. All the stitching is very neat, and the boot is finished as well inside as out, without any messy stitching or unfinished edges. It's also a good-looking boot and doesn't add more bulk when worn than necessary. Some boot just seem to be 'bigger', even if they're the same size on the inside, like the Salomon boots.
Traction on different surfaces is the same as the Zephyr and Elite Deserts, as far as I could tell. Arch support was good enough for me to retain the supplied insole, instead of replacing it. It happened to rain on and off when I was wearing the 6S boots at the range, and I noticed that the hydrophobic leather would repel water drops pretty well, rather than absorb them immediately. I looked for puddles and water dripping from the shelter and stood in them to expose the boots to a bit more than just rain, and didn't experience any issues. The water does eventually start absorbing into the leather, but it doesn't seem to go deep, and dries quite quickly.
I measured the pair of boots on a precision electronic scale to be 3 lb 2 oz for the pair of size 8.5 US. For comparison, the size 9 Elite Deserts weighed 3 lb 9.6 oz and the size 9 Zephyr GTZ Hi 8" boot weighed in at 3 lb 0 oz for the pair, so the Z-6S are in-between the Zephyrs and Elite Deserts in weight.
Break-in - None was needed of any note. All it took was a couple of days to 'settle into' the boot. While the Z-6S has more of a trekking sole like the Lowa Elite Deserts, the upper is more like the softer Zephyrs and no where as stiff as the Elite Deserts when new. The Elite Deserts required about five days to break in to be comfortable on my ankles, whereas the Zephyrs and Z-6S were pretty much comfortable out of the box. The cushioning around the ankle and on the tongue is very comfortable. I haven't had any hot spots or blisters walking around all day with these over the past three months.
Comparison to the Elite Desert and Zephyr - The 6S is supposed to offer trekking-like boot support (like the Elite Desert) but with a lighter upper. I'd say that it's exactly that. The 6S is definitely stiffer than the Zephyr, as it has the full-length shank vs. a 3/4 shank. The Zephyr sole is quite flexible, being more like a light hiker suitable for running with lighter loads, as 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. The 6S isn't quite as flexible as the Zephyr, and also has more torsional stiffness, making it more suitable for trekking with a medium load. The 6S upper also utilizes more complete leather coverage, with less use of fabric, making it more supportive and less flexible than the Zephyrs.
When compared to the Elite Desert boot, the 6S is the more flexible boot, with the mid and outsole feeling similar in stiffness, but the 6S upper being the more compliant of the two. It's a good balance between the two boots. If you've read my other Lowa boot writeups, you might recall that I said something similar about the Uplander Desert. I'd say that the Z-8 (8" boot) definitely fills a role very similar to that of the Uplander Desert; being a good, lightweight general boot with good support. The main difference between the Z-series boot and the Uplander would be the styling; the Uplander looking more like a regular combat boot, and the Z-series boots standing out with their monowrap sole, plus the fact that the Uplander isn't offered in a shorter 6" version.
In summary - The Z-series boots fit in-between the flexible Zephyr and the stiffer Elite Deserts; providing a good balance of weight and support. For the civilian, the 6S fills the role of light trekking boot, providing more support than a light hiker without the weight and stiffness of a hiking or mountain boot. Basically, a really good all-around, general boot for light to medium loads.
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