Anyone who knows me knows I beat the living snot out of gear. I don’t do it intentionally. It just happens. One day it’s new and shiny and the next it’s covered in dirt, abraded by slickrock and barely clinging to a modicum of usability. This is especially true for shoes. Way back when, during my pre-photography adventure racing days, I was offered the opportunity to do a gear test on a pair of Nike “backpacking” boots. The test was supposed to run for 3 months. The boots threw up a white flag at 1 month. Apparently the folks at Nike were impressed with my ability to wreak havoc on their shoes because I’ve been an official Nike gear tester ever since.
As you might imagine finding durable boots that don’t require weeks of break-in isn’t an easy task for me. Last summer, on a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons, I neglected to pack my waterproof hikers. Upon arriving in Jackson we were greeted with abundant snow still lingering in the high country and muddy trails down low. I needed some waterproof boots and I needed them pronto. We stopped at Teton Mountaineering and I wandered to the back of the store to check out the selection. All the usual brands were there on the wall – The North Face, Salomon, Vasque. And then there was Oboz. O-what? Never heard of ‘em. An employee came to help and I explained my dilemma. He suggested I try the Oboz Yellowstone Light Hiker. He explained that it would fit my narrow to medium volume foot and that they are immediately comfortable – no break-in required.
I tried on the Oboz along with three other boots from the aforementioned collection. To my surprise, the Oboz fit my weird foot perfectly while the others paled in comparison. After walking around the store with the Oboz on my feet for about half an hour I decided to give them a shot. Now, seven months later, I can say with absolute confidence that it was a wise decision.
I would usually start with my “likes” but this time I’m going to start with my “dislikes”. Why? Because they are so very few I’d rather just get them out of the way so we can move on to the good stuff.
A Couple Things I Don’t Like
- The hard rubber soles don’t provide great traction on the slickrock around Moab. I can’t really say this is a design flaw or even a fault of the boot but it is worth mentioning. If you do most of your hiking on slickrock, find an approach style shoe with a sticky rubber sole.
- The proprietary waterproofing (called BDry) is good but not great. Gore-Tex is better. eVent is the best. Whatever technology they use seems to vent perspiration well and doesn’t leak through if you’re intermittently splashing through creeks or slogging through snow. Stand in the middle of a creek because it’s the best place to compose an image and your feet get wet. Is it fair to knock the boot for this? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve worn boots with other waterproof liners and my feet seemed to stay dry longer in the same conditions. (Update: Oboz contacted me after finding this post to advise that they are aware of some issues with the BDry membrane and that those issues have been resolved. A “higher quality membrane” has been developed and is now in use. They also noted that a new, all leather Yellowstone II will be out in 2010.)
Now On To the Good…And There’s A Whole Lot of Good
- Hiking boots this comfy right outta the box shouldn’t be durable. Actually, they should be but they never are. Until now. The Oboz never gave me blisters or hot spots, they never felt too stiff and they never made my feet go numb. What they have done is give me miles and miles and miles of super comfortable hiking in the mountains of Wyoming, the rainforests of Washington, the coast of Oregon and the deserts of Utah. More importantly, after 7 months, they’re still going strong. No delamination, minimal tread wear and all the seams are still intact. Go Oboz!
- As I’ve already mentioned, my feet are weird. I have a low arch, a razor thin heel and a narrow to medium volume forefoot. Athletic shoe shopping is not my favorite thing to do. I usually end up wearing thick socks and custom lacing boots that are too wide for my feet. Not so with the Oboz. I slipped in my Superfeet insole and the fit was perfect. No custom lacing. No unusually thick socks.
- Light hikers don’t usually offer much support when you’re carrying more than 15 pounds on your back. I regularly carry almost twice that with all my photography and day hiking gear crammed into an abused pack. The Oboz haven’t flinched. I’ve not turned an ankle (knocking on wood at this very moment) and even after 10+ miles my feet don’t feel overworked. I have no doubt these boots could be pushed into use for weekend trips. Even with the support and durability these boots offer they don’t feel like big, fat leather bricks on your feet. A men’s size 9 weighs 37.8 oz. per pair but they feel much lighter in use.
- Oboz boots/shoes incorporate different outsoles on each model. The Yellowstone uses what they call the “Sawtooth”. As I’ve mentioned it doesn’t grip well on slickrock. But stomp through mud, dirt or rocky terrain and the outsoles shine. Even on steep downhill trails covered in scree they seemed to bite into the terrain with terrific traction.
- Waterproof hiking boots aren’t cheap. The Oboz Yellowstone retail for $125, which isn’t cheap but it is lower than the offerings of most of their competitors. That combined with the fact that the Oboz will outlast the others means these suckers are a great value.
If you’re looking for a comfortable, reasonably priced, durable waterproof hiking boot and you’ve got a narrow to medium volume foot you should seriously consider the Oboz Yellowstone. If you do and you feel like sharing your opinion stop back by my blog and leave a comment for all the world to see.
You can learn more about Oboz at their website, www.obozfootwear.com.
Disclosure: I have not been compensated in any way to write this review. I am not sponsored by or affiliated with Oboz. I just really dig their product.