As noted earlier, I am sold on the Altra design strategy for hiking shoes. While doing some gear comparisons at REI, I discovered they had the Mid Top RSM (rain snow mud) version of my shoes available in my size. I decided to give them a go.
Knowing that they’d be comfortable, I had only two questions: how much hotter and how much waterproof…er would they be? Not wanting totake unfair advantage of REI’s amazing return policy, I treated them carefully knowing I’d probably be bringing them back the next day (if for no other reason than to put off buying them until next year when I need them – and coincidentally during REI’s annual 20% off sale!).
With little to no fear of looking like an idiot, I donned one of each Altra shoe and went for a fast-paced test walk on a warmish day (about 80 degrees). Within about 30 seconds I could tell a difference in heat. It wasn’t extreme – and after 15 minutes or so seemed to hold steady – but while the “mesh” low tops never got above “warm” the Mid RSM’s quickly reached “noticeably hot.” This wasn’t surprising. Waterproofing retains more heat than material with virtually no barrier to moisture, especially if that material is wrapped around your ankle.
On the plus side, the Mid RSM does not feel like a hiking boot. For one thing, they are extremely lightweight. At 12.3 oz., they’re only two ounces heavier than the mesh low tops (and one third the weight of my Keen boots). They are also fairly cool compared to a comparable waterproof hiking boot. The Mid RSM offers more ankle support than a low top, of course – but it’s not a lot (again, when compared to a boot).
The major advantage to this shoe’s form factor is that the waterproofing material goes above the ankle and thus should work a better than the RSM version of the mesh low top (which, to me, seems almost useless for splashing or rain).
If, that is, the waterproofing works.
I planned on three tests to compare the Mid RSM and mesh low tops. The first would be to spray the material only and see how it held up. The second test was to spray it from the top and test the “seal” formed by the ankle wrap. Third, I would soak the inside of both shoes and see how fast they dried out overnight.
The first test revealed enough for me to not really care about the others. Although I did not get water near the ankle area, the shoe was definitely moist inside. Now, I cannot be sure if it was seep-though or sweat from my 15 minute walk – but it doesn’t really matter, because either way the inside of the shoe was wet.
I decided to move on to test two anyway. I sprayed my leg a bit and the “seal” around the ankle did almost nothing. As soon as any water ran down my leg the shoe started filling up. Tying the laces much tighter constricted my leg too much for comfort, so that would not work. Basically, in rain or with a decent splash, water was going to get in and likely stay.
I skipped the third test because I knew I would not be using the shoe for the Camino and didn’t want to push my goal of returning the shoes in good-as-new condition (a goal I met, BTW).
These shoes seemed a perfect combination of Altra design and good waterproof hiking boots. Alas, the added heat and moisture retention are not, for me, worth the added waterproofing features.
I think Altra did a very good job with these shoes – but I have come to believe that I am too hot blooded for most waterproof gear unless it’s nice and cold.