I've just come back from a week of 'tramping' around the Travers/Sabine circuit in the north of the South Island of New Zealand.
I was with 6 mates who are, like me, in our 40's and look forward to our annual one week adventure out of range of phones and wifi and other distractions.
The group is informally called 'The Tea Baggers' and has been organising an annual one week hike in Australia, New Zealand or even New Guinea (Kokoda Track) for about the past ten years. I'm a recent addition to the group, this being only my second year, and it was only through being mates with one of the guys who I've travelled to Borneo and Nepal with that I managed to snag an invitation.
So anyway, back to the subject of boots.
Like most middle aged guys we all love our gear and gadgets so these trips tend to involve plenty of discussion about the merits or otherwise of everyone's gear.
This year there was quite a lot of discussion about boots and their performance - good, bad or otherwise.
After a couple of days I noticed that most of the group would tape up their feet each morning to avoid blisters and a couple managed to get blisters still anyway.
The terrain we were walking on is pretty harsh most of the time, lots of steep climbs and descents on every surface imaginable from slippery shale to mud to tree roots and hard rock.
So boots, ankles, knees and hips get a pretty solid workout.
On about day 5 one of the guys, Chris, mentioned something about his blisters and I joked 'what are blisters?' and it got me thinking that the boots I was wearing and have been using for about 5 years now, are actually the best boots I've ever owned.
I've never had a blister, even when they were brand new and I've never had to tape or bandage my feet to avoid them.
I actually bought them in late 2009 and then flew to Tasmania and walked the Overland Track in them from brand new, so they pretty much had a baptism of fire from day 1 - no problems!
So far I estimate that I've walked at least 500km in them on one trip or another and virtually all of it on rough tracks while carrying a 12 to 15kg pack (about 100kg total weight including me!).
As you can see in the picture below, the soles are still well and truly attached and I only replaced the laces for the first time before this NZ trip as a precautionary measure.
Why I Chose The Keen Targhee Mid Hiking Boot
I've enjoyed hiking since I was a teenager, thirty or so years ago and my first boots were ex army GP's which I bought from army disposals.
They were okay but certainly lacked the refinement of the boots we wear today.
After the GP's retired I tried a another pair of other similar styled boots that laced up well above the ankles but the sole compound was so soft that half of the lugs ripped off the first time I really tested them - a lesson learnt.
In my early twenties I bit the bullet and bought a pair of leather Zamberlans which were brilliant - just the right mix of strength, durability and comfort.
I managed to get over 15 years of use out of them by taking them back to a boot repairer after several hikes and having him re-attach the soles. I actually did a 7 day cross country hike through Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory with the soles being held on at the front with para cord - when you reach that stage it's time to go shopping!
Having had a good run with the all leather style boots I decided this time I'd take it up a notch and I set my sights on a pair of Scarpa SL's which I figured would be bigger, stronger and more durable than the Zamberlans.
My thinking was that once you 'break in' a pair of boots you want to get the most amount of life out of them as you can because once they mold to your feet perfectly they become a very reliable piece of kit. And broken boots or feet will soon ruin any trip.
I figured I should be able to get about 20 years of life out of the Scarpa SL's which justified the $400+ price tag.
I have to say now though that my thinking has changed significantly.
I wore the Scarpas around camp and on some shorter hikes to break them in and after 40 or 50 km they were getting pretty comfortable and I wasn't needing any tape to avoid blisters anymore.
The real test came when I walked the Overland Track the first time with a heavy pack and through all sorts of terrain.
Comfort wise they were excellent and durability was never in doubt. They were completely waterproof as well so long as the water didn't come over the top.
The big issue though . . . . the weight!!
They are heavy!
At around 850 gm each they put a lot of load on your legs and more specifically, your knees.
I found this out the hard way on day two of the Overland Track when my left knee just gave up in protest.
For the next few days I pushed through with the help of Ibuprofen tablets but it was clear that the extra weight at the end of each leg was an issue. This was the first time I'd ever had knee problems of any sort and not something I wanted to have to persist with.
So, at the end of that trip I put the near new Scarpa's on the shelf in the garage and went looking for an alternative.
This is when I started to change my thinking from 'must find boots that will last 20 years' to a more 'disposable' outlook.
If I pay around $250 for a pair of lighter boots that use more fabric and less leather and they perform well even for just 5 years or so, i can then throw them away and buy another pair.
No doubt there will be newer and better designs by then anyway.
So with this in mind I went shopping at a few outdoor shops and ended up with the Keen Targhee Mid Boots on my feet.
Compared with the SL's they felt like a pair of running shoes and I have to confess I was sceptical that they would perform.
What I liked immediately though was the wider front section than the others I was trying on.
They also have the unique toe section where the sole folds up and over the toes. My much loved Zamberlans had failed in this area when the sole started to peel back from repeated kicking of rocks and other obstacles on the track.
I figured the Keen design had to be an improvement.
They also claimed to be waterproof thanks to a breathable 'Keen Dry' lining.
So in the store they seemed to tick all the boxes:
- Well designed sole
- Wide front section
At around $240 the price was pretty good as well.
So I bought them.
Now, 5 years and 500km+ later I can report that they were a great choice and continue to perform superbly.
The Travers-Sabine Circuit I've just finished hiking (that's 'tramping' for the Kiwi readers) is tough on legs and boots.
I had my feet fully submerged in creek crossings more than once and after a kilometre or so of walking, most of the water had squeezed out and while my feet were still felt wet, the performance of the boots didn't change at all.
On one occasion I took my wet boots and socks of at lunchtime to get a bit of drying time in the sun (which made little difference) then put them back on wet and walked another 10 kilometres - no tape, no bandaids, no hot spots and no blisters.
We also had a couple of days of going down very steep slopes where the trekking poles were getting a thorough workout slowing us down. This is a real test for boots and feet as your toes are jammed into the front of them.
No issues with the Keens at all, my toes didn't reach the front hard enough at any stage to cause any issues and still no blisters anywhere else.
As for durability they have held up as well or better than I expected. The soles are showing the wear and tear but they are still 100% attached with no signs of starting to lift anywhere.
All of the stitching is also 100% in tact.
The only area really showing signs of wear are actually the cloth lugs that the laces go through. I noticed when I replaced the laces a few weeks ago before heading to NZ that they were wearing out.
This may in fact be the boots Achilles Heel (sorry!!) as I'm not sure that the lugs could be fixed and without the laces pulling evenly on both sides of the boot then performance is likely to suffer.
It would be a shame if otherwise perfect boots were rendered useless by a small issue like that.
We'll see what happens.
The Keen Targhee Mid Boots are lightweight, extremely comfortable and durable.
They grip your ankles solidly which inspires confidence when you are wearing them knowing you won't twist an ankle.
Their light weight is easy on the knees but so far they don't seem to sacrifice anything in the way of durability.
Where to Buy
Check price and availability at Mountain Designs