Let me preface this post by saying I am hypersensitive. Bright lights, the tiniest of noises, temperature fluctuations, smells, and the way things feel – they all affect me greatly. I think I’ve always been on the more extreme end of the sensitivity spectrum. Most of the time this sensitivity isn’t a big issue. I kindly ask my coworkers to not use products or eat things that smell strongly. Radios are used with headphones so I can’t hear the minor noises in the background. I wish I could do something about the fluorescent lights in my office, but I’m told my influence only reaches so far.
However, while I can usually keep my sensory issues under reasonable control, this sensitivity has become a huge issue when trying to find the “perfect hiking shoe.” And while there may not be such a thing as a “perfect shoe” I’ve been determined to find one that my feet won’t notice in any negative way. I should also point out that I have normal feet…. there’s nothing weird to work with here… just your run-of-the-mill standard sized 8.5 medium width foot going on.
I’m currently wearing the Merrell Grassbow Air trail shoe (weirdly, in a size 8). I had originally bought a pair over a year ago, and then had one shoe go defective. Merrell promptly sent me a replacement pair and they’ve been working great ever since. (and in the shoe’s defense, they probably weren’t meant to be used on rubber floor mats during kickboxing classes… oops!). The Grassbows are super comfortable and I’ve hiked many many miles in them… but on my longer training hikes with my pack loaded at over 40lbs, my feet have started to feel a little bit tired after 9-10 miles.
I first considered getting a newer, sturdier pair of hiking shoes last November when I was getting ready to go to Zion National Park for some good long day hiking. There are so many things to consider… besides the obvious of fit and feel, there’s low height, mid height, tread, stiffness, waterproof, leather, ventilated, etc. It’s overwhelming.
I went to my favorite store, REI, and tried on lots of pairs, finally settling on the Ahnu Sugarpine mid boot. I brought them home, excited to have them, and started the courting process of bonding with the new boots by wearing them around my dwelling. After just a couple of hours, my feet were tired and angry. Back went the Ahnu boots.
This was about the time of Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving and I saw a super sweet deal on Merrell’s website, so I ordered a pair of Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex boots to “just try” even though I’d never tried them on. These fit horribly. Back they went. No harm, no foul…. free shipping both directions and a full refund.
Next on the list was the Merrell Moab 2 Mid WP boots. I had stopped into Bass Pro and tried them on, thought they felt okay, so ordered a pair from REI – because I’m a member, and that’s what members do. Plus then I’m not rushed to make a return when they inevitably don’t work out. The Moab 2s arrived and felt… well, okay. They may be a contender. But I still wasn’t sure.
I went online and researched shoes, and saw that the Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots had outstanding reviews. Against my better judgment, I ordered a pair… from REI, of course. They arrived, and felt… well, awful. I should have known better. Neither Keen nor Salomon shoes have ever felt good to me. Back they went.
In this process I made a trip to REI to try on more shoes. The gal helping me convinced me to give the brand Oboz a try. I mean, they felt pretty good in the store. The toe box seemed abnormally large, but the gal told me that was okay. So I brought home a pair of the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry Hiking Shoes.
I also liked a pair of Oboz Bridger Mid Boots in the store, but at this point was interested in going back to a low boot, so went online to order the low version of the Bridger since the store only had the mid height in stock. The mid height boots felt entirely too stiff to me. I was hopeful for the low. The Bridger shoes arrived, and I sort of liked them. Until I started walking in them. The tongue was so stiff it kept pushing into the top of my foot and felt like a board. I hate the design of tongues like this. Back they went.
If you’ve lost track at this point, this is currently leaving me with the contenders of the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Boot and the Oboz Sawtooth Low boot. Neither of which I’m convinced is still “the one” for me.
In exasperation, I went to my local outdoor store and tried on some more shoes. I really liked the Vasque Inhaller II – but they didn’t have my size. It felt more cushy, and even though it was a mid height, it didn’t feel so stiff. This might be a good option. I went home and ordered a pair in my size online through Amazon. For the first time ever, Amazon failed me, taking entirely too long to ship. I cancelled that order, and ordered the same shoe from Backcountry whom I’ve used before and had free 2-day shipping. Does this count as two pairs or one pair of ordered shoes?
In this process I decided that I should also order a pair of the original Merrell Moab Ventilator Hiking shoes, but in the low version, because I think my hang up with the mid version is that they felt so heavy and clunky. Neither of which I want when I’m going to be doing any sort of hiking, but particularly not on a multi-day hike. Amazon had them on a super cheap clearance since the Moab 2 version just came out. Score.
And while I’m at it, why not just order the Oboz Sawtooth regular shoe (non waterproof) just to round out my obsession? Boom. Ordered. I wondered if the waterproof ones vs the ventilated ones would feel much different. I was hoping there’d be just enough difference that I’d fall in love with the regular ones.
This seems extreme, I know. It is. Even I admit it. It causes me a great deal of stress. It’s almost as bad when I search for a new running shoe. Almost.
But honestly, the hiking shoes are the most important component of the entire hike. I would be really really really happy if I am successful without having any blisters, or super tired feet. I need something cushy, so my shins don’t hurt and my weight plus my pack’s weight is being handled well.
So the final component of my craziness is that I love a bargain. Given that the Merrell Moab 2 Mid shoes felt really good, I couldn’t help but wonder if the original Moab would feel just as good, and thus save me over $50. So of course, I ordered a pair on Amazon.
Within a few days of the online shopping spree, all the newly ordered shoes arrived, which gave me six pairs to line up and decide between. It was a ShoePalooza!!
I’d also like to assure anyone who thinks I might need a mental health diagnosis that shoes seem to be the only area of my life where I have this huge of an internal debate and problem with making a decision. I am super thankful this doesn’t cross over into other areas and I can make decisions like a normal human being on things that ultimately matter. Things like… wine or margarita. Hiking pants, tights or jeans for an outing. Toms or flip flops. The important things.
So by this point, I know you’re asking yourself, “Did she ever make a decision?” And yes, my friends, I finally did. The verdict and the winner of the late great shoe race is…. drumroll….
- Winner: The Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof
- Runner Up: Oboz Sawtooth Low Non Waterproof
I think I should party like it’s 1999. I haven’t put in any serious miles with the Moab 2s yet, but I’ve worked out in them a few nights, and worn them for many hours at a time. So far, so good. I think they’re a clear winner, and I think I’m adjusting to the weight of them and the feel of a mid boot. Whew.
Besides, who doesn’t love a boot that’s named “MOAB” which stands for “the Mother of All Boots”?!
Sidenote: Total cost for this insanity? Less than $10 to return the Vasque pair of shoes to Backcountry. Everything else had free shipping, free return shipping, or I could return the items to my local REI.
Keep reading below if you’re in the hiking-boot market and want my quick assessments of some of the versions I tried.
Meanwhile, I think I’m gonna go grab a margarita and celebrate.
- Oboz Bridger Low Waterproof – these felt pretty good upon initial fitting, but felt really stiff when on hard surfaces. The tongue on this shoe is also not very padded, and felt like it was cutting into the top of the bend of my foot. They’re out.
- Oboz Sawtooth Low Waterproof – these were the highest contenders for a short period of time, but I decided the toe box was just entirely too wide, and was probably going to leave me with blisters. I like extra room in my toe box, but not thatmuch room.
- Merrell Moab II Mid Waterproof – these felt comfortable, but a bit clunky and heavy. This could be because I’m not used to mid height boots. They were and still remained one of the highest contenders through this process.
- Merrell Moab Mid Waterproof (original Moab) – I don’t know what the deal is between the two shoes, but the original version just didn’t feel that great. They hit one of my big toes oddly on the side, and just didn’t feel as comfortable. I read reviews comparing the two versions, and Merrell evidently made quite a few upgrades to the interior of the shoe and the shoe bed for the Moab II release. Back go the original version.
- Vasque Inhaler II Mid Waterproof – upon initially trying these, I thought I was in love. They felt like a running shoe, they were so cushy, but also provided ankle support. They were also the most expensive pair of shoes I tried. My concerns with these shoes were the following: the side of the foot was a thinner mesh feeling, which would probably be good for ventilation, but might not be good if something sharp poked the side of my foot. I felt like my foot could easily be bruised or injured with the lack of side bracing. The mid sole on the bottom also isn’t protected well and left more open, which probably is how they saved weight on these shoes, but could lead to a faster breakdown of the shoe. And my final concern with the Vasque is that with the level of cushiness they came with, I wondered how well they’d hold up over rugged terrain and carrying 35-40 lbs in my pack over many miles. Given all these concerns, the Vasque went back. Plus, with being the most expensive, I just feel like I can’t enjoy them nearly as much as I would a less expensive pair.
- Merrell Moab Low Ventilator – these arrived and felt fabulous. However, the toe box felt a little large. My Merrell Grassbow Air shoes are a size 8, but the mid boots and all other boots have been in size 8.5. I ordered another pair from Amazon in the size 8 to compare the toe box sizing. The size 8 arrived and was entirely too tight fitting, which leads me to believe that my size 8 Grassbow Air shoes are a fluke in size, even though they fit wonderfully. Back went both sizes of the Moab Lows.
- Oboz Sawtooth Low Non Waterproof – I really liked these. And my initial assumption was correct – the waterproof version has a much larger toe box than the non waterproof, making the non waterproof ones a pretty good fit and the runner up in shoe choice.