When you think “SHOT Show” naturally the first things that come to mind are firearms. While there are a helluva lot of guns on display, SHOT also has just about everything else peripheral to firearms—tactical gear of every stripe including backpacks, knives, slings, and a great deal in the apparel department. I was surprised how many manufacturers of boots were present.
After this year’s show our little publishing group had an editorial board meeting to discuss what will be reviewed for the coming year and one of the first things that came to mind was boots.
The parameters we came up with was gear that could be used both for the range (or hiking) and casually.
We decided to look at three product styles.
The first item is the brand new Terrain II from Wolverine, the venerable Rockford, Michigan company established back in 1883. Wolverine is not only a big player domestically. It has a presence in 200 countries and operates other subsidiaries including Bates, Chaco, Cushe, HyTest, Hush Puppies, Keds, Merrell, Saucony, Sebago, Soft Style, Stride Rite Children’s Group, Track ‘n Trail and Sperry Top-Sider.
The Terrain II departs from the usual image we may have of Wolverine as producer of leather boots and shoes (such as the C3 Boat Shoe we reviewed last year). This is a low cut “hiker” meant for day trips and “light” hiking. It resembles a cross-trainer and utilizes what the company refers to as their Wolverine ICS (individual comfort system) technology. This allows the user to customize their walking comfort level by adjusting a gel disc under the shoe’s footbed.
The disc, placed in a slot above the heel, is something akin to a shock absorber in an automobile or motorcycle. You access the disk by first removing the footpad. From there you can easily remove the disc. By rotating it you can select between a firmer or more dampened step.
The disc can also be adjusted to improve outer or inner foot support for those who tend to supinate or overpronate. You can also combine or isolate preferences making it possible, for example, to set the individual comfort system to cushioned inner support, firmer inner support, neutral cushion, neutral firmness, etc. It’s pretty cool.
So how does it feel to use the Terrain II?
At first glance it appears to be like any other high end running shoe. However, when you first lace it up and put your weight on it, you can immediately sense that it’s not your average cross-trainer or trail runner. The sole feels much more solid and substantial—stiffer and more boot-like than you’d expect from an athletic shoe. You sense that there’s some support there. It’s also a bit heavier (but not much) than your average cross trainer.
The outsole has a generous amounts of rubber and offers excellent traction over a variety of surfaces. It’s more boot-like than any cross-trainer I’ve ever seen. It provided good traction up the Mau’umae Trail here on Wilhelmina Rise, where I reside.
The lacing system secures the midfoot area quite well and gives the back of the foot a snug fit along with a well sculpted heel cup.
The upshot: I didn’t notice any heel slippage or movement in the shoe at all.
And how about the built-in shock abosorber?
It does work but it’s pretty nuanced. For example you really have to get used to the shoe and wear it enough to feel the difference between “firm” and “cushioned” settings. For people who tend to over or under-pronate, I can see the advantage of this concept however I can’t personally judge it’s efficacy in this department.
My verdict: If your partial to the low-cut athletic shoe for day hikes or even an excursion to the range, this is a great choice. It’s sturdy, very comfortable and that grabby tread keeps those feet from slipping.
Note that Wolverine offers a 30-day comfort guarantee or your money back.
What’s not to like?
Price is $112.00.
SWAT, a Stockton, CA-based company was new to me at SHOT but they have been around since 1999, making boots for Law Enforcement, Military and EMT’s. They occupy the mid-range of the shoe spectrum making good quality products and like so many companies, leverage overseas manufacturing to keep prices affordable. Their flagship product, the Original Swat 6″ Classic, is both a work shoe and something that can utilized casually or, for hiking.
To help me evaluate this product, I handed a pair of these boots to my good friend Louis Herman, a former IDF paratrooper, whose past experience with boots include 100 kilometer hikes in the desert while carrying an FN MAG machine gun. (On a number of occasions he remarked that he slept in his boots).
The first thing he noted when he picked up the SWAT shoes was how comparatively light they were compared to classic “combat” boots. According to SWAT, every extra ounce on a pair of boots equates to carrying an additional 625 pounds around for the day. THE SWAT folks have done their job in trimming the fat.
SWAT markets this as a work boot but we thought it did an admirable job on the trail. The sole was very similar to the high end Vibram sole of a Milspec Altama boot that we also reviewed in this article.
The SWAT website says that their shoes are distinguished by the quality of the midsole, which uses two types of shock absorbing materials, compression molded EVA (Ethylene vinyl acetate) and air. Compression molded EVA is an inch of closed cell foam-injected under pressure which does not hold memory and offers the wearer total foot support.
So what was the former paratrooper’s verdict?
Herman (who is now a political science professor at the University of Hawaii) was impressed with SWAT’s shoe.
First off he liked the supple feel of the shoe and commented, on the first day out, that it didn’t even need a break in period. Whether he bent over or stooped, the leather’s give was comfortable, especially when it comes to traversing rocks and boulders. A slightly beveled heel makes it even more pleasant to use.
They were snug enough (with an extra pair of socks) so that there was no friction that might cause the all-time boot bugaboo–blisters. He also liked that fact that they were cushioned without being “squishy”. The outer sole provided traction–both in wet and dry conditions.
Ours were Coyote in color—the company also offers one in black.
His verdict was an unequivocal thumbs up. Retail price is $85.00 on Amazon.
The third candidate in our review is 3LC Tan Desert Mil Spec Boot
from Lexington, TN.
Founded in Darien, GA in 1969, the company’s original plant manufactured children’s shoes, but the facility was later converted to make olive drab jungle boots for US soldiers serving in Vietnam. There’s no doubt that Altama’s warrior ethos, which took root back in ’69, hasn’t wavered in the decades that followed. The packing materials in the 3LC box contained a plastic wrapper with a map of the world, pinpointing the place, date and the name of every campaign since 1969 where Atlama Boots have hit the ground. This included locations such as Danang, Kuwait, Mogadishu, etc.
In bold print the company’s mission statement reads, “Our Mission is make boots that take you into the harshest places on earth. Then bring you out again.”
Certainly a noble cause.
In addition to military sales, the company also sells its products to federal, state and local agencies, military schools, police, Special Forces, uniform shops and Army/Navy retailers.
Altama’s shoe technology has evolved in lock step with the geographical environment presented by each campaign. For example, in 1991, following Desert Storm, Altama developed a line of high performance combat boots for civilian use with the traditional “Panama” sole. These products combined the design features of their Mil-Spec boots using the knowledge gained from that experience.
This is good news for the end user. The 3LC boot is perfect for Hawaii, which has the climate and terrain similar to much of the Middle East. Out of the box they were quite stiff and not very forgiving but as my extremities got used to them they become very comfortable. I walked on a number of different surfaces—both wet and dry, including asphalt, concrete, gravel, mud and lava rock. I found the Vibram Sierra sole gripped well in every environment and did very well on my test track, the Mau’umae Trail.
What I really appreciated (that the other shoes in this review don’t have) is the great ankle support and overall protection afforded by 8-inch boots. We don’t’ have to worry about rattle snakes here in Hawaii but scraping yourself on lava rock, can be particularly nasty.
These shoes are particularly good, so the Altama website explains, for load bearing missions and I’m sure you could jump out of an airplane with them.
If you’re going to go into the bush with a lot of gear on your back or for a work assignment, these boots will serve you well. They are on the heavy side, but that is to be expected. After all they are combat boots.
Be sure and wear two pair of socks when breaking it in. Someone I know failed to do this and paid the price with some blisters on his heels…
Price is $120.
Photos courtesy of On Target staff.
Thanks to University of Hawaii Professor Louis Herman (author of Future Primal) for his assistance.
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