Monday, 30 March 2009

Keen Targhee II Mid boot review

PLEASE NOTE: Due to popular demand (i.e. - both my readers asked for it) I've decided to start adding a few gear reviews now that I feel more confident in knowing what works for me when I'm out in the hills. And that brings me to my first point: these are just my thoughts on stuff. I'm happy to concede that there are plenty more people out there with WAY more experience than me, who are possibly more objective and more knowledgeable in this field than I, who you should definitely listen to more than me. But hey, this is the beauty of the internet/blog/cyberspace democracy: we can all have a voice and add our two cents/penny/kroner (although the Norwegian Kroner is worth roughly 10p so does my opinion carry more weight?!). Anyway, I digress. These are my views/experiences/opinions. Treat them like a portion of hot, greasy chips... with a large pinch of salt.

I chose to review my Keen Targhee II Mid boots for two reasons: firstly, a pair of 'walking boots' is probably the first piece of kit that anyone taking up hill walking/hiking/backpacking/trekking buys and secondly, my Keens have let me down and when your footwear lets you down on the hill you know about it. Every step of the way.

I can remember seeing my father's big chunky leather hiking boots in our house from a very early age, sometimes stuffed with newspaper and often lovingly cared for with frequent applications of some magical waxy goo he kept in a tin. It's probably where my fascination with 'technical' footwear started and every hobby I've had since has required me to have the specialist footwear to go with it. I spent most of the first half of my life on bikes of some description, mountain bikes, road bikes, bmx. They all have their own necessary footwear and I've had all the shoes to go with each discipline. I've nearly always had a pair of 'hiking boots' though. Sometimes not used for a year or so but always there if I should need them. After destroying my knee twice in quick succession, falling off my bmx and the subsequent re-constructive surgery I was advised by my physio to get some walking done, on rough ground, to get my knee used to changes in level. So I did a little research on what to buy and ended up reading a lot about lightweight hiking and backpacking and it seemed to suit my need to be outdoors, physically active and with minimal impact on my convalescing knee.

Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying I ended up choosing the Keen Targhee II Mid boots. The wide toebox suited my slightly wide forefoot and the mid height collar was perfect as I have some weird nerve on the outside of my right ankle bone that can't stand much contact. They were fairly lightweight, waterproof and tough looking. Everything I thought I needed in year round footwear in the hills and mountains. And they were to start with. The big chunky toe bumper gave me the confidence to crash through rocky paths and the tough leather bits protected my foot. They were also a lot lighter and more flexible than the other boots I saw in the shops. Come rain or shine I knew I would have dry feet with the eVENT waterproof/breathable lining. However, after moving to Norway last year and wearing them on a weekly basis I started to notice a drawback. The eVENT waterproof lining wasn't keeping my feet dry in the summer, it was making them sweat. After more reading on the lightweight ethos I switched to light, unlined, quick drying trail running shoes in the summer and never looked back. My Keens were subbed off early in the game and had to wait until the second half of the season before they came on like an impact player from the bench.

Winter arrived on the west coast of Norway and it snowed a lot in between the rain and hail. The hills became wet AND cold and whilst my trail running shoes were fine for short, sharp sessions in the hills, on longer jaunts they left my feet cold. Sensing the right time for a change in tactics the Keens stripped off their tracksuit and began warming up. Out in the snow and slush they kept my feet warmer and dryer. That was until water got in over the top or wicked into the lining through my troos. Then they became wet inside and took forever to dry out (days in fact, on the floor of my bathroom with underfloor heating...). Wearing gaiters and/or waterproof over-troos sorted that problem but then I noticed another issue. As I started making my way higher up the hills and mountains the somewhat shallow grip began to cause me several heart-in-mouth moments, often on terrain and in conditions no where near crampon-necessary. Hmmmm, I was starting to have doubts about my Keens. They were still really comfortable and light but they gave me no confidence on anything steeper than a moderate gradient. Then the straw that broke the Camelback's back. They sprung a leak. My right boot would fill up with cold water within half an hour of leaving home.

That was it. That was the moment when I decided that these boots were not working for me. Yes, they are super comfortable and light (for leather boots) but that isn't the whole equation. Boots need to be grippy too. How much depends on your location and ground conditions but out here the Keens don't measure up. My ultra light and thin Inov-8 trail runners were WAY more grippy. Even my Salomon trail runners, with their infamous not-quite-grippy-enough tread offered more purchase when the ground was moist.

The subject of waterproof/breathable linings is a whole other matter. I'm used to getting wet feet in the summer in unlined footwear, safe in the knowledge that unlined footwear drains and dries faster and with good socks you're feet are perfectly capable of surviving being a bit damp. In winter, especially in cold, slushy conditions, I still believe a waterproof/breathable layer on my feet can improve long term comfort. I may try another brand of lined boots next year, I will definitely be trying Rocky Gore Tex Socks in unlined footwear in the spring and I know the waterproof/breathable lining can fail (or work) in any footwear (my girlfriend's ten year old Berghaus boots are still watertight). In conclusion: the Keen Targhee II Mids, despite promising much in the early days, haven't lived up to my expectations. Springing a leak could have happened in any brand of lined boots but the leak, coupled with the poor grip in the conditions I use them in have necessitated me to not only drop them to the reserve team (walking to work duties) but I'm also considering ending their career early in the Salvation Army clothes recycling bin.


PTC said...

Good stuff.

I've been talking to Keen recently and they've reacted to all the tales of leaks.
The new season Targee Mids with the KeenDri membrane (I think it's rebranded Entrant DT) has a two year waterproof guarantee.
That's a comminment, but whether or not they've got their fingers crossed we'll find out.

Joe Newton said...

ptc* - a two year guarantee might persuade me but I'd be suspicious of any companies definition of 'fair wear and tear'. The Keen Growlers(?) you tested would be the ones I'd go for in future for their better grip.

I am going to give the Rocky Gore Tex socks a go for the rest of this year and then rethink my winter boots in October. Icebugs will be high on the list. When I did finally decide to buy a pair this winter they had sold out of my size and were no longer stocking them until next winter.

Unknown said...

I have given up my Keens off-pavement as far too dangerous in the wet. I have wide feet and a bad knee. They are easily the most comfortable boots I have, and I can put up with getting wet. But have no traction at all on a muddy slope. They are not safe even with two poles.

Joe Newton said...

Morgi - couldn't agree more. The grip is far from ideal. Comfortable but poor grip and failed membrane = next to useless. My pair are gathering dust in the bottom f my gear cupboard.

Anonymous said...

I have the same pair and they only let me down after two years of har use in Ireland, the Torngats, Quetico, and Germany. They saw many KM, and a lot of water. They felt comfortable and didn't leak until now, two years later, and even then, very little.

Joe Newton said...

Anonymous - I am glad you have had positive experiences with these boots. The fit is perfect for me and I am inclined to give the Growler versions a try this winter (deeper tread and different liner). As I said, I think the waterproof/breathable liners can fail on any brand/model of boot, I was just unlucky.