Field test and review
In mid-2017 I caught up with a few hiking buddies who had just completed the Jatbula Trail in Australia’s Northern Territory. If you have never heard of this trail, as I hadn’t at the time, the Jatbula Trail is one of those ‘must-do’ treks located in the NT, giving you the opportunity to walk through Nitmiluk National Park from the famous Nitmiluk Gorge to Leliyn (Edith Falls). The trail overlooks Seventeen Mile Valley and beyond and features magnificent waterfalls tumbling from the high sandstone escarpment that feed into creeks surrounded by shady monsoon forests. Numerous rocky outcrops along the escarpment provide great opportunities to view stunning ancient rock art and cool off at great swimming spots at the end of every day. It sounded amazing, so in June 2017, as soon as trail booking opened, we locked it in.
Over the past few years I have covered a lot of kilometres whilst hiking and as you would expect, my hiking boots eventually suffer the consequences. On all of my hikes I have been wearing a combination of the SNOWGUM Cooper MKII (which I reviewed in 2016) and the ASOLO Fugitive (I won’t even get started on the ASOLO, after 2 years they continued to give me blisters and rubbed in all the wrong places, so they ended up in the bin). My Cooper MKII boots have made hiking a lot more enjoyable but sadly they too were in need of an upgrade. I was chatting with Ross from SNOWGUM and he excitedly informed me that they had just released the Cooper Mk3 and asked if I wanted to give them a go.
So, in June this year (2018) my wife and my two boys (aged 12 and 14) headed to the NT to trek the Jatbula Trail. My sons are at the age when they are growing too fast, so they were also kitted out with a new pair of Cooper Mk3 boots, especially for this 5 day, 62km adventure. Usually I would always recommend that you wear in new hiking boots before embarking on any lengthy adventures but as we only received the boots days before our departure we literally had to take them out of the box on day one of our trek. My wife expressed concern, on more than one occasion, that we would all end up with blisters and should not be taking new boots on this trip. I tended to agree but what could I do, we had no alternative. I did have some peace of mind though as I had worn Cooper MKII boots and never had any discomfort wearing them. Needless to say, I did pack an extra supply of trekkers wool, band aids and blister pads. Fingers crossed.
Following the short ferry ride across the Katherine River we headed excitedly into open woodlands and gradually climbed to the top of the escarpment where we were rewarded with amazing open views across Seventeen Mile Valley with its hills, cliffs and buttes. I say excitedly, but maybe that was just me, my two boys did seem a bit unsure about what the next five days would hold, especially with 14kg packs on their back. After a few hours of walking in 30-degree temps we were all delighted to walk out of the tall grassland and into our first camp site for the night, and a relaxing swim in the cascades.
Sitting in the rock pools we conducted what was to be the daily feet inspection and I was thrilled that no one had any signs of rubbing, blisters or discomfort. The Cooper Mk3, out of the box had performed really well. When we first pulled the boots onto our feet we all commented at just how comfortable they felt, particularly around our ankles and under the arch. Similar to the Cooper MKII, there is plenty of padding and cushioning in these boots and they seemed to hug your feet in all the right places. One notable difference with the Mk3 is that they are wider across the toe box than the MKII and this is a huge win, particularly as my boys and I all have particularly wide feet and struggle to find a boot that will fit.
Over the following four days we traversed monsoon pockets, bushfire-burnt regions, two-metre high grasslands, marshy floodplains, scrambled up amazing rock formations, creek crossings and some of the best waterfalls that fortunately, we had all to ourselves. The Cooper Mk3 boots seemed to handle all of this terrain well and not once did any member of our party get wet or muddy feet, lose their footing or injure and ankle thanks to the sturdy yet flexible grip and mid-height ankle protection.
The VaporTEC waterproof membrane worked really well when crossing creeks and muddy floodplains and I often found myself dipping my boot back into the water and mud, just so I could see it slide right of the boot. As with all waterproofing, nothing is 100% waterproof, so I wouldn’t advise standing around in the water or mud for any length of time but walking through these conditions, they do the job just fine.
The sole of the Cooper Mk3 seems a little softer to the touch than the MKII and this really helps grip the rocky terrain. It also goes a long way to stopping your feet from hurting after multiple days on the trail. It is impossible for your feet not to hurt at some stage, given that they are doing all the hard work, but I was impressed that my feet only started to feel sore and tired on the last day of the Jatbula. My ASOLO boots used to make my feet ache constantly, even after day hikes, so I was thrilled to have completed four days before I noticed them.
The last day of our trek was an exciting day for a few reasons. Every step we took was gratefully acknowledged as one less step to go and we were all welcoming the sight of Edit Falls where a celebratory swim was planned. I felt super proud of my boys for completing a 62km trek and I know they felt proud of their own achievement. The entire five days was an absolute joy and provided quality time together, immersed in amazing scenery and much needed isolation from the real-world. Our Jatbula Trail experience was incident free with all our gear performing as expected.
The SNOWGUM Cooper Mk3 boots have impressed me again with their ability to keep us upright and our feet dry, comfortable and protected.
Room for improvement
After five days and 62km, over highly varied terrain the only comments I have are in relation to the durability of the boot. By the end of the trek I had pulled the cover off one of the laces, leaving the white lace exposed. This is not a functional issue as I was still able to tie the lace securely but the cause of this will hopefully be addressed. Seems it is either the quality of the lace itself or the angle of the uppermost hook eyelet that drags on the lace as you pull it tight. The other minor thing I noticed was that all three pairs of boots had worn through the toe rand (stitched on protector) at the end of the toe box. Again, this did not impact on the performance of the boot, but I would recommend a thicker, more durable material be used to prevent this. Another item that could do with some attention is the inner soles. I took them out after the third day because they kept sliding along my boot and end up curling up in the heel. I have come to expect that inner soles need to be replaced on all boots as they are all pretty bad quality. Even my $400+ ASOLO boots (which are now in the bin, despite them being in good condition) had cheap crappy inner soles and I had to buy $40 ones. I thought it was very bad form that an expensive boot would require you to purchase replacements but at the Cooper’s $99 price point I suppose it is to be expected.
Comments from Snowgum
I contacted Ross in relation to the few items above and have included his replies below. It is good to know that Snowgum take feedback on board and are always looking to improve the products that they offer.
“Firstly the laces I agree with you they are too loosely braided and the factory changed them on me prior to shipping without my approval. They promised me they were the ‘same as those I ordered’ but of course as you can see they are not. We have organised replacement laces and send them out free to any customers who have bought a pair of Coopers and request replacements. Ideally I will include a better pair of laces with each pair but I haven’t received the correct ones from the factory yet – and they are different lengths for different sizes of shoes so it’s a bit of a pain to organise – but anyway, suffice to say I am aware of the issue and to date we’ve had 2 complaints now 3 including yours out of more than 200 sales of this new model. Probably because most people don’t really put the boots through their paces as you have”.
“Secondly the toe rand – The toe rand on the Cooper isn’t rubber, it’s PVC and I deliberated long and hard over that. It’s a similar material to the Cooper 2 in tech spec but it feels softer to me. I contemplated upgrading it to sanded rubber – but that was quite a lot more expensive and this is a price pointed boot, so I decided against it, thinking this would do the job as it had on the Cooper 2. Anyway, you’ve found it a problem so for the next production run I’m going to upgrade that to sanded rubber”. I should point out Darren that deterioration of the toe rand will not impact the performance of the boot or impact the waterproof properties of the boot because the membrane is inside the leather. Only when you wear through the leather and puncture the membrane will the boot no longer be waterproof.
“The third thing I don’t like in this boot is the inner sole, it’s not as structured as the last one – even though it was supposed to be. Once again at the last minute there was a production change due to late delivery of the original component. We were under the pump on delivery and when that happens, the factory pushes things through to meet the shipment date. We are going to fix the inner sole, the lace and now the toe rand on next production in 2019”. Meanwhile the inner sole can easily be replaced with a more structured replacement at any time”.
If you are looking for your first or a replacement boot I strongly encourage you to give the SNOWGUM Cooper Mk3 Boot a try. If you are a club member $99.95 is a steal.
Buy direct from Snowgum for $179.95 per pair
The VaporTEC lining offers waterproof protection, combined with an internal lining for extra moisture wicking and breathability these boots offer excellent performance for any adventure. The Leather and Cordura mesh uppers offer strength and durability meaning these boots are made to last. The high traction, shock absorbing outsole means they are light, stable and very supportive, with a cushioned innersole that is removable for orthotics they are a comfortable fit. These boots are ideal for those buying their first pair of walking boots, day walkers or occasional hikers.
- Cow suede leather upper with Cordura mesh underlay
- Brushed rubber toe and heel guards
- Removable Snowgum cushion support innersole
- VaporTEC waterproof and breathable membrane
- Moisture wicking lining
- Product Specifications
- Upper: Cow Suede Leather/Cordura mesh
- Insole: Removable cushioned inner sole
- Outsole: Strong and supportive Phylon midsole, plastic shank for added support
- Weight: 1.1 Kg
Field Tested by
Darren Edwards > www.trailhiking.com.au