Earlier this summer I decided to get a new pair of hiking shoes. In the past I have always had Keen traditional full height hiking boots. I say always because the only boots that have been available and fit have been Keens. When you are stuck with size 15/16 feet depending on the brand, choices are all too often limited.
This was the case when I went into the Oak Brook, IL REI to look at shoes. I wanted to stay under $150 for a pair of boots. I asked them to just bring out what they had in that price range and size 15 or 16. They had two pairs of shoes.
The first pair was a Merrell. It was more of a trail running shoe, wasn’t waterproof and unfortunately left my foot feeling cramped and like it would slip out of the heel any moment. Scratch that.
The second (and last option), was the pair of Keen Targhee III Low WP Hiking shoes that you see pictured here. The lower cut of the shoe helped to reduce their weight (just 1lb 14.8 oz. for the pair) giving them a lighter feel that I had with my previous full height Keen boots.
I know a lot of people don’t like waterproof boots, they are warmer, and the waterproofing does eventually weaken or fade. But what I hate more is having feet that are soaking wet. It seems a fair trade off to me.
That being said I’ve read on a number of different forums that having non-waterproof shoes that drain/dry better is becoming more preferably for longer multi-day adventures so maybe my thoughts on this will change in the future.
They are made of what Oiled Nubuck. If your like me, my first reaction was “WTF is Oiled Nubuck?”
Nubuck - Nubuck is top-grain leather that has been buffed on its outer side, the side of the hide on which the animal’s hair grew. Nubuck can also be made from full-grain leather. Because Nubuck is made from the strong outer layer of the hide, it is more durable than suede.
Oiled Leather - Manufacturers oil leather to improve its resistance to water, stains and damage. Oiled leather is soft and flexible. It is often used in shoes, where strength and water resistance is important, but it is sometimes used in leather upholstery as well. Oiled Nubuck combines the soft surface of Nubuck with the durability of oiled leather. It is relatively easy to maintain, and light scuffs can be removed simply by rubbing the surface of the leather with a fingertip.
One of the things I have always liked about Keen is that the lower portion of my foot never feels crushed in their toe box. What’s nice about this is that it gives me a lot of sock layering options. This holds true with these Targhee boots.
What I’m not as fond of is the lower cut design and the ability to lock in your heel. With the full height boots the extra shoelace lugs on the upper portion make it really easy to lock things down. While it’s sort of possible with these lower cut Targhee’s it doesn’t feel as substantial or robust to me.
From an everyday wear perspective off the trail I had high hopes for these boots. I bought them before we went on a sixteen day trip to China this summer and gave them plenty of time to break in. In China we were mostly urban exploring and these Keen’s were nowhere near as comfortable as my old ones were walking around.
Maybe the old pair only felt better because they were so broken down, but I seriously doubt that is the case. On a trail these shoes feel fine, off trail not so much for long distances.
As you can see the trad on these boots is fairly meaty and space well enough apart that mud doesn’t stay embedded in them for long. Apologies for the dirty nature of these boots after my recent hike, I haven’t had an opportunity to give them a cleaning.
I’ll have to compare their tread to my old pair of Keens to see how they differ as I am wondering if it might be the cause of their unpleasant foot feel on concrete/asphalt.
After just 5 months of use they are already starting to show some wear and tear around the upper heel area. I recall this happening with my old pair but not nearly so soon (I think I wore my old pair for 4 years until the tread was falling apart).
The Bottom Line
This is a tough one for me. I’m really waving back and forth on whether or not to return these boots for the full boot Keens that I have worn in the past. I kind of feel long term that while I like the low cut nature of these boots that in the long run I will be happier with the full boot.
At the same time I feel conflicted after all the reading I have been doing about trail running shoes being used for long distance backpacking. Backpacking is my ultimate goal, should I look at trail running shoes? I know they will be as hard to find in my size as regular hiking boots.
Surprisingly I am not upset that these hiking boots don’t feel fantastic for long distances on concrete or asphalt. Sure that would be optimal, but that environment isn’t what these boots are designed for, and on trails they feel great.