Field test and review
For years, I have always been told that you never select a hiking boot based on style. Real hiking boots are designed to be rugged, durable, comfortable over long distances, provide adequate support for hours on your feet, clambering over uneven terrain in all types of weather. There has always been so much emphasis placed on how boots work and perform (which is great) but along the way someone seems to have decided that fashion should take a backseat when it comes to what we wear on our feet in the great outdoors.
When purchasing new boots, I have often said, ‘these feel great and seem to fit well but do they come in another colour’, only to have the sales rep chuckle, assuming I was joking. Rather than appear vane, I would reply that I was of course.
Thankfully, and I am sure many will agree, in recent years hiking footwear has come a long way. Now when you enter an outdoor store there is often a vast collection of varying styles, shapes and more recently, colours to choose from.
Now the game appears to have changed again
Recently I received a press release announcing the launch of the ECCO Exostrike GTX Boot. Following is an extract from the release, so you get a feel for how they are promoting this boot…
Hiking products have always tended to have a deeply traditional look, but there is a new movement of outdoor boots, with a modern style. And right at the forefront of that movement is the ECCO EXOSTRIKE, combining the full functionality and high-tech performance of a hiking boot with an aesthetic inspired by the city streets.
Among the exquisite materials used in the EXOSTRIKE is the DYNEEMA® BONDED Leather, a new futuristic hybrid that was created by the ECCO Leather Studio by combining the company’s rich cow hides with a man-made fibre that is 15 x stronger than steel.
Wow, 15 times stronger than steel, I am not sure how-to best field test that. Needless to say, I was certainly intrigued and wanted to get these on the trail to see if Street Style really could work on the Hiking Trail.
When I received my pair, I excitedly opened the box and must say I was surprised by what I saw. They looked like no other hiking boot I had ever seen, certainly more like a fashion accessory than what I’d expect from a hiking boot.
Overall, they looked like a pair of boots so that was a great start. The upper is fashionably crafted in smooth look leather. Initially, I was a little confused as to what leather it actually was as their website mentions Yak leather while the press release mentions the DYNEEMA® BONDED Leather as mentioned above. Checked inside the boot and the label read leather upper. So, I guess that confirms I have the 15 times stronger than steel version. Cool.
The next thing I saw was the well-known GORE-TEX® tag hanging from the laces so now I had a great looking hiking boot that I knew would be waterproof and breathable too. I could continue explaining all the visible features of the boot but it’s probably best to get these on my feet, on the trail and see how fashion really performs in the rugged outdoors. Oh, first dilemma, do I want to ruin these by hiking?
Getting the boots on my feet presented the first challenge of my adventure. I just couldn’t seem to get my foot in, irrespective of which way I rotated it. I wear a US9 (EU43) and this is exactly the size I requested. The boots looked large enough so I could not understand why I could not get them on. Looking inside I noticed an internal sock-like sleeve sewn into the lining and it was this sleeve that was preventing access. Placing my hand right inside the boot I could feel this sock covered the entire boot inner.
Seemed apparent to me that purpose of this sock was to provide a glove-like fit and feel while preventing your feet from rubbing on any internal seams. A nice idea. I later discovered that the fabric (Neoprene/Dry-lex) is actually protecting the GORE-TEX fabric membrane that is suspended behind. GORE-TEX is moisture wicking to transfer perspiration away from your feet and allows the show to breathe. I could not find information documented anywhere that stated the fabric or purpose but that is what it appeared to do when things got hot in there.
As you have possibly gathered by now, I was able get the boots on after unlacing them close to their full extent. Unlaced, the boots have quite a wide/open collar which may not be ideal when hiking but when considering these for the urban environment I can see the reasons for that. (Because it looks cool to wear your boots open and laces partially undone. If you don’t believe me, Google it).
Right, let’s get serious and out on the trail
Whenever I field test gear, I always like to find an environment that has a bit of everything and to spend at least four full days on the trail in such locations. There is no point strolling along an urban trail once and then telling you ‘these boots are awesome’. Luckily my two favourite haunts (the Lerderderg and Werribee Gorge State Parks) are right on my doorstep so I have great choice.
Rock scrambling is something I enjoy so this is always my first port of call. The outsole of these boots is rugged in design with a great coverage of semi-aggressive lugs, all made from Rubber (RU). This material is not new to this boot alone as most quality outsoles are manufactured from this material, which is essentially a tough, hard wearing rubber. What I am pleased with is that the design of the outsole provides excellent grip on dry rock (at an angle of roughly 60 degrees towards vertical) and more than acceptable grip when the rain came down (enough that I didn’t lose confidence although they did feel a little slippery at times). In terms of durability, well I’ll have to get back to you on that as four outings is not enough to offer my honest opinion. As with all my reviews, I will provide updates on durability if I believe performance to be poor.
Walking over uneven terrain and jumping from rock to rock didn’t appear to present any issues and the boots provided excellent impact cushioning and support. The ultra-light PU PHORENE midsole (this is the thick, white cushioning part of the boot that is ECCOs proprietary product) seemed to flex easily under my heels and as I walked, I could feel the midsole pressing against my arch and I walked heel to toe, offering additional support. This is an important feature when hiking as after a full day or multiple days on the trail it is very common for your feet to ache and feel flat due to lack of support.
Speaking of support, I guess you noticed the large heel cup (also known as heel counter)? On the EXOSTRIKE this exceptional feature is specifically referred to as the PROSOMA TPU heel cup. Aside from being a fashionable addition to the boot (ok, I know some will disagree) this really does serve a purpose and that is to provide extra stability to the heel and structure to the boot. I have found that over months of wear, poorly designed hiking boots will start to show a collapse in support around the heel. This can result in blisters inviting their way into your adventures but even worse than that, inadequate support for your heel can result in the boot shifting off centre from the midsole allowing your ankles to roll in unwanted directions. The heel counter of these boots feels solid and rigid which is personally what I like in a boot. The boots feel like they hug my heel and prevent any unwanted movement.
Thanks to all the rain we have had around Victoria recently I have had ample opportunity to test the waterproofness of the ECCO Exostrike GTX. Being of leather construction you would think there is no need for additional waterproofing, surely cows don’t leak! I have always found leather, with an adequate protective coating provides enough waterproofing. The problem can be is that the more protective coating you apply, the less breathable the boot can become, with sweaty feet the result. If the correct aftercare product is applied (such as ECCO’s recommended CCP) the natural performance qualities of the leather will actually be enhanced. The bonded leather of these boots, with the inclusion of GORE-TEX in the construction works together well to provide a waterproof and breathable boot. I tested this in rain with excellent results, but the real test is when river crossings.
With the grip provided by the outsoles I could have easily rock-hopped my way across flowing rivers but what’s the fun in that. With the high-cut design of these boots I was able to easily wade across rivers without so much as a drop getting in. Water was able to flow around three-quarters of the height of the boot (around ankle deep) before there was any chance of entry. Due to gaps between the collar and tongue I was not game to submerge my feet above this three-quarter height.
One aspect of the design that I believe could be improved upon would be to include a bit more padding around the collar. The collar is the top part of the boot that surrounds your lower calf and ankle and an important reason for this collar is to provide both comfort and ankle support. This is especially important when carrying a heavy pack over uneven terrain where rolling an ankle is a lot more likely. I believe there has been a compromise here between form and function while trying to achieve both hike and street appeal. There is a slight amount of padding in the rear of the collar, but the rest is only millimetres thick. To put this in perspective, some of my hiking boots have up to 20mm of padding.
The lace box is nicely covered by four leather tabs that neatly cover the fabric (not metal) lace loops. Personally, I have always preferred metal loops simply due to the strain I often place on laces while ensuring a firm fit. Most of my other hiking boots also have locking loops just below the collar that allow you to maintain the correct tightness before the final lace tie. I’ll be interested to see how well the Cordura Nylon loops perform under pressures of the trail.
I am also keen to see how functional the four leather tabs are. While they may add aesthetic appeal I am concerned that when my boots have been ankle deep in mud I am going to have to spend considerable time cleaning the mud out of all the nooks and crannies created by these tabs. With hiking boots, sometimes simplicity of design can prove to be more practical.
Finally, let’s talk about this ‘15 x stronger than steel’ claim. I honestly wasn’t sure how to test this. My first thought was to grab my hiking knife and try to drive it through the side of the boot. I didn’t of course as I could only see two possible outcomes. One: I would cut a hole in a perfectly new pair of hiking boots. Two: If it truly is 15 times stronger than steel then surely my knife blade will break, and I love my knife . That is a joke of course, the 15x stronger claim is relative to a piece of steel of the same dimension as Dyneema composite fabric, which is paper thin. Of course, the knife blade will not break.
All I really felt comfortable doing was to let nature work its magic, like is has with so many other pairs of boots, and try to tear a hole in the side through general wear and tear; scuffing them on rocks, snagging them on fallen tree branches, having random twigs flick up and stab at my feet in an aggressive attempt to penetrate my ankle. I experienced all of these to some extent on my four outings and are pleased I have no damage to report. I will be the first to comment again here though if that situation changes and who knows, after six months of wear maybe I won’t feel so precious about the boots and will bring my knife out for a real test.
What a great looking boot that I am more than happy to wear off the trail. They come in a range of colours so if black is not your thing, I am sure you will find a style you like. What a well performing hiking boot that I am more than happy wearing on the trail. Ticks almost every box and so far, living up to claims and expectations. Let’s see how they perform long-term as far as durability is concerned. Go check them out, they are certainly worth a look.
Buy direct from ECCO
EXOSTRIKE in Black/Black or Camel – On Sale $249.95 (normally $289.95)
EXOSTRIKE GTX in Coffe/Mocha or Black/Black – On Sale $259.95 (normally $299.95)
Field Tested by
Darren Edwards > www.trailhiking.com.au