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9/18/19 - Featured here are two offerings from Lowa's Task Force (Tactical) line. The Zephyr GTX Lo TF is the lowest (shoe) version of the Zephyr trio, while the new Innox Pro GTX TF is a more like a boot-height version of a trail running shoe than a combat boot.
A bit about Lowa - 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 95 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. Lowa's high quality and designs have made it one of my favourite footwear brands.
Innox Pro GTX TF Boot
Overall description - The Innox Pro GTX is a very light weight, all-synthetic mid-cut tactical boot that feels like a tall trail-running shoe. It features a bi-injected DynaPU midsole for rebound, durability and cushioning and Lowa's well-proven and patented PU MONOWRAP® frame for lateral stability. It's designed for traveling fast and light while providng the traction and support of a light hiking boot, and features closed lace hooks for security.
The Innox Pro GTX is available in Coyote (shown here), Black and Wolf. The non Gore-tex version (dubbed the Innox Pro Mid) is available in Coyote.
Specs (Innox Pro GTX TF):
Outside - The Innox upper is constructed completely of synthetic materials. What appears to be suede is actually microfiber. The fabric covering most of the foot is a heavily textured fabric. It's not really a mesh; but a coarse weave. Mesh fabric with visible holes wraps around the back of the ankle. Instead of leather reinforcements, abrasion-resistant accents extend up from the midsole and heel to provide strength and structure to the upper. Microfiber suede wrapping around the heel cup and front of the toe provide some protection and abrasion resistance (I hope) in those areas.
The Innox has a gusseted tongue, and is made of a smoother face fabric. The gusset is unpadded, so it folds flat. The tongue itself is padded with what feels like mesh for comfort, and has a patch with the Lowa logo 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 for comfort.
Webbing is used to form the lacing loops on the foot, while the top two loops are closed metal eyelets. I'm not sure whether the webbing loops wrap around the foot; extending from the midsole; or if they're anchored higher up. The 'accents' on the sides do coincide with lace loop spacing, so they might share the same stitching. The supplied laces are just the right length; not long enough to wrap around the ankle nor hang down to the ground.
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. The inside of the collar and tongue are mesh lined. The collar dips down at the rear of the ankle and measures 6" high to the floor on my size 8.5. At its tallest point on the upper, the boot measures 7" from the floor. The tongue does extend about 1/2" higher than that. The inside of the Innox 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, keep feet dry and comfortable. A heel cup/counter provides the laternal stability for the heel. There is no toe cap; the toe of the boot is soft like a sneaker.
Insole/Outsole - The removable Climate Control footbed in the Innox isn't exactly the same three-layer, fabric and compressed felt-covered foam insert as seen on the Z-6S and Camino Flex GTX boots previously featured here. It feels slightly thicker to me, and has green foam instead of black like on the Camino Flex insole. The face fabric is also smoother and there are holes at the front of the foot presumably for ventilation.
The Innox has a lower profile version of the distinctive Lowa PU Monowrap stability frame technology used on the Z-6S and Zephyr, 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. The Monowrap frame on the Innox doesn't extend quite as high up on the boot; being limited to the heel area instead of all around the foot.
The Innox has a Lowa Multi Trac outsole, and a three-quarter length nylon shank. The Multi Trac pattern has a triangular profile for slip resistance and traction on various surfaces and in moderate terrain. It is an abrasion-resistant and flexible rubber outsole with comfortable rolling characteristics. It's not as wide as the outsole on the Z-6S or Zephyr. The sole of the Innox is more flexible than the Zephyr or Z-6S; sacrificing some stability and support for weight savings. As mentioned before, it feels like a trail runner. The sole therefore doesn't offer the same amount of torsional rigidity as on the boots in the trekking category, but as mentioned before, it's meant to be fast and light on moderate terrain. The rubber feels slightly softer, and it does squeak on wet surfaces.
Boot fit - I got the Innox in my measured shoe size; 8.5 US and they were a perfect fit - true to size for me, even with a slightly wider foot. Since the upper is thinner and more flexible, it also felt a bit more roomy than leather-constructed boots. This was due to the fabric just having more give than leather.
General notes/observations - The Innox Pro GTX boots are quite different from the other Lowa boots I've featured over the years which tended to be more 'combat-boot' oriented. The Innox, with its all-synthetic upper is more like a tall trail hiking shoe than a boot. I'd classify it as a shoe with ankle protection. Because of this, it's also the most comfortable Lowa boot I've come across, and that's saying a lot, because Lowa boots have been some of the most comfortable boots I've tried. It's not surprising, since the fabric upper isn't as stiff as leather and has a lot more flexibility and give; just like a running shoe.
With the Innox, you get more ankle protection than you would with a regular trail shoe, as well as less dirt and debris entering the top of the shoe. With its light weight, there are some sacrifices, naturally. I wouldn't expect the Innox to be as durable as the thicker, heavier boots in harsher terrain where rocks can be quite damaging to boot uppers. There is no toe cap or protection on top of the toes; the microfiber suede is soft and pliable, and is there for abrasion resistance more than toe protection from a bump. The outsole has a small rise in front (similar to the one on the Lowa Elite Desert boots) to protect the front of the toe when it's stubbed, but it's pretty small. That's one thing I'd have liked to see increased in size to extend up a bit further (like on the Z-6S or Zephyr) and wrap around the toe for more protection. If you're going to be in terrain where the extra ankle protection is needed, a bit more toe protection might be good to have as well. I've stubbed my toe by being clumsy and not seeing that stone sticking up from the trail/path more than a few times in the past.
Upon examination, the pair of Innox boots I have displayed the same high quality as the other Lowa boots that I've come to expect. The stitching is neat and straight both outside and inside the boot. I also liked the small, unobtrusive pull loop on the back of the ankle. Some boots have tabs or loops that are too large that the pant cuffs can ride up on, so when it comes to pull loops or tabs, I prefer something minimalist. Because of the lighter weight and construction, the Innox isn't as bulky on the foot as the more padded/protected boots, so it has a lower profile and looks smaller on the foot than boots of the same labeled size. The Innox is much more flexible than the other Lowa boots I've worn; so jogging or running in them feels natural, like a trail or running shoe. Definitely not clunky.
They also feel less stuffy than most other GTX-lined boots I've worn; maybe it's due to the light weight materials used on the upper; without large leather or rubber panels. No issues wearing this in hot weather.
Break-in - Some boots require a break-in period, and depending on the materials used, can take longer if they're thicker and stiffer. The Innox felt like running shoes; no break-in period needed for me whatsoever.
Comparison to the Z-6S - Just for the sake of side-by-side comparison, here is the Innox beside the last Lowa boots I featured; the Z-6S. The Z-6S is a heavier, stiffer and more protective boot and the difference can be seen in the photos below. Both are size 8.5, but the Innox has a noticeably lower profile as it doesn't have the added bulk of the Monowrap frame. The Innox also reminded me of the Salomon Forces XA Pro 3D, pictured in the last photo below. Both are designed with the same purpose, and I'd say that I prefer the fit and feel of the Innox better. I like the standard lacing system over the Salomon Quicklace system with its thin cord. The Salomon also has a bulbous toe, but does offer more protection with its toe cap. As I mentioned before, I wouldn't mind seeing the rubber bumper on the toe of the Innox cover more of the toe.
In summary - The Innox Pro GTX TF is a boot that feels like a shoe, but with the added protection around the ankle. I think that it'd be a great substitute for any light hiking or trail shoe as it also keeps debris from getting inside, plus it's Gore-Tex lined for damp weather. This will be my go-to light-duty footwear for the range or light hiking, when I'm not carrying a load or need much ankle support. Fits true to size on me with regular sport socks, but go up a half size if you plan on wearing it with thicker hiking socks.
Zephyr GTX Lo TF
Overall description - The Zephyr GTX Lo TF is the shortest version of the Zephyr series: Hi, Mid and Lo. It's intended as a versatile three-season trail shoe. It features Lowa's injected DuraPU midsole and PU MONOWRAP® frame for support and stability, and a Lowa Cross II outsole for traction.
The Zephyr GTX Lo TF is available in Coyote (shown here), Black and Wolf.
Specs (Zephyr GTX Lo TF):
Outside - The Zephyr Lo upper is constructed of tan split leather and nylon fabric. Much of the lower part of the foot is surrounded by leather, especially around the sides, while the top part of the foot has the fabric panels. There's actually not that much fabric exposed on this shoe. Unlike the tongue on the Zephyr Hi, which has leather on its front running its entire length, under the laces, the tongue on the Lo is made of fabric with a shorter leather panel at the top, right under the area where the laces are tied. The tongue is gusseted to keep water and debris out. It's padded for comfort and well designed. The shoe has three webbing laces loops and single metal eyelets at the top.
Inside - The shoe is unpadded, and there's some light padding around the ankle. The entire shoe is lined with a wicking/breathable Gore-Tex® bootie, including the tongue and gussets. The top of the tongue is lined with mesh. A stiff 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 provides minimal support. It's also called the 'ATC Climate Control Footbed' but it's not the same one as in the Innox. The foam is black, it feels just slightly thinner, and the face fabric is a slightly coarser weave. After some use (a month and a half), I did experience the face fabric peeling back from the underlying foam a bit, on the inside of the heel area. I have not experienced that on any of my other Lowa footwear.
The most distinctive feature on the Zephyr Lo, just like the Hi, is Lowa's Monowrap stability frame. 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 provides structure for the shoe and 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 protects the leather against abrasion. Under the foot, the midsole provides shock absorption and rebound. There are some very minor differences between the Monowrap on the Lo and the Hi, but that might be because it's been updated in the past 9 years.
The Lowa Cross outsole unit has a hiking-oriented tread pattern with good traction in diverse terrain. It has a three-quarter length nylon shank for torsional rigidity, but more flex up front for running. It has not changed (except for a couple of small, almost unnoticeable details) in the last 9 years since I reviewed the Zephyr Hi. 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.
Shoe fit - I got my measured size of 8.5 US for the Zephyr Lo whereas I had tried the size 9 for the Zephyr Hi (I had forgotten this, or else I might have ordered the size 9 instead). I have slightly wide feet, and the size 8.5 were the right length, but felt slightly narrower than the Zephyr Hi, which wasn't surprising being a half size smaller. In comparison, the Innox in 8.5 felt roomier. This was also due to the extra stiffness that the Monowrap frame provides, combined with the leather. It made sense then, that the Zephyr Lo broke in like a boot, rather than a shoe. It took about a week and a half of daily wear to break in the Zephyr Lo shoes. There was a pressure point on my right foot right where the bony bump behind the big toe (where bunions form) is; where I have a very slight bunion. I typically don't have any issues with it, but this time I did. I just loosened up the laces over that part of my foot and that worked to relieve the pressure. The shoes were a bit stiff when new, so they just needed a bit of time to break in and soften; and eventually that hot spot went away. However, based on this experience (as well as that with the Zephyr Hi), I feel that the Zephyr Lo fits a bit on the narrow side so I'd recommend going up a half size.
General notes/observations - I wrote about the Zephyr Hi boots here more than nine years ago (at the time of this writing), and thought that it'd be interesting to try out and compare the Zephyr Lo's after all this time. I had thought that the Zephyr Lo would be just an exact copy of the Zephyr Hi; just shortened, but there were actually some little cosmetic changes besides the functional ones to make a shoe instead of a boot. TI'm not sure anyone would notice unles you had both side by side to compare. The leather pattern on the Lo is slightly different from the Hi, and there are also small differences in the Monowrap frame and Cross II outsole. And, I really mean 'small'.
The Zephyr Lo shoe is designed as a three-season trail shoe. It is definitely more supportive and protective around the foot than a lightweight trail running shoe. The Monowrap frame functions as an all-around bumper for the foot. 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 softer outsole compound and its thickness provides excellent shock absorption, which I also tested by jogging on concrete and asphalt; just like I did when I first got the Zephyr Hi boots (except that I jog now; I don't 'run' anymore).
My Zephyr Hi boots are well worn in, being 9 years old. They feel softer and more flexible compared to the new Zephyr Lo shoes, so I'm expecting the Lo shoes to break in and end up with a similar, more pliable feel over time. As of right now, they're still quite stiff, only about a month and a half since I got them.
It's summer, so I haven't yet been able to wear the shoes in wet weather, but I expect them to stay dry and will update this write up should any issues be encountered. The Gore-Tex® liner and use of leather on the uppers makes it a bit stuffier than a non-GTX shoe, but I feel that it's on par with other lightweight GTX boots. Except for the Innox boots...which seem to be less stuffy than most; almost like they're non GTX boots. One quirk that I discovered with the Zephyr Lo shoes was that they developed a creak/squeak after a few days. It wasn't the bottom of the soles, as they'd squeak on carpet. I didn't think that it was inside the sole. It was pretty loud, and coming from both shoes. It sounded like I was stepping on ducklings when I walked! I finally discovered what was making the sound - it was the laces rubbing in the webbing lace loops! As I walked, the laces would alternnately tighten and loosen; rubbing inside the webbing lace loops. I tested this by pulling hard on the laces in the front, and sure enough, it caused them to creak. It's sort of the creaking sound that some ropes make when you load them, or if you've ever swung from a rope tied to a tree branch. I was able to get rid of the creak by pulling hard on the laces in the front, and 'wearing' them a bit into the lace loops. I think that it was just the combination of materials used for the loops and laces that caused it.
Comparison to the Zephyr Hi - Here are the Zephyr Lo shoes side by side with my 9 year-old Zephyr Hi boots. The boots are in Desert Tan, and the shoes in Coyote. Small differences in the leather pattern at the front of the foot can be seen between the two, and the Monowrap frame has a rear cutout on the boot whereas it's solid on the shoe, but otherwise they're functionally identical as far as I can tell. Yes, the outsole of the Zephyr Hi's has darkened over time, but it's a different compound from the Lo's (the Hi's were originally a natural gum colour).
In summary - The Innox above is a boot that feels like a (running) shoe, and the Zephyr Lo is a shoe that's built like a boot. More rugged, more supportive, more protective than a lighter weight shoe. They look like they're built tough and will stand up to some abuse. If you like the Zephyr Hi, you'll like the Zephyr Lo. Get a half size up if your feet as they fit a bit narrow on me, and especially if you plan on wearing thicker socks.
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