With hindsight, walking 11 miles around Dartmoor in sandals (albeit hiking ones) might not have been a particularly wise move. Bits of dust and dirt had got trapped between the strap and my feet, slowly rubbing them raw. In my defence, I did not have much choice (not walking on Dartmoor was not an option!). It had been over three years since my last pair of hiking shoes, a pair of Keen Targhee II. They had served me well for over 1000 miles, but the deteriorating heels progressively got worse until even a few miles would lead to blisters forming (and they had started to leak). A new pair was long overdue!
The much needed replacement came in the form of a pair of Merrell Moab GoreTex hiking shoes. My previous experiences of Merrell has been from their casual range, but I have always been impressed with their comfort and quality (albeit with a price tag to match), and I was curious to try out a pair from their hiking range. How best to break in some new hiking shoes than another trip to Dartmoor!?
[Disclosure – these shoes were provided by Blackleaf for me to give my own personal opinions on them and they have no influence on these personal views and no editorial control.]
I have admit to finding the range of Merrell hiking shoes available mind boggling – so many options, with a wide range of prices and the usual baffling marketing terminology. I am sure there are people out there who understand the subtle difference in the jargon, but beyond knowing I wanted them to withstand water (a must for daily dog walks!) I pretty much just picked a random pair that I liked the look of.
The Merrell Moab’s have an Aegis (also a class of frigate which I find confusing) anti-microbial treated GORE-TEX lining – so they should be breathable, waterproof (or as Merrell put it have “cloudburst protection”) and not smell. They have “AirCushion technology”, which presumably means they should be comfortable, and Vibram soles for grippiness. Sounds good right? They come in Beluga (also a class of submarine), Black and Black / Granite – I went for the Beluga (basically grey).
The advice from various people online, especially Terry, was that Merrell’s are usually a tight fit. Taking that advice on board, I went for a size 11 rather than my usual 10.5, hoping it would be enough. They felt fractionally tight when I first tried them on, my big toe just lightly brushing the inside lining. I weighed up my options – another trip to Dartmoor in sandals or hoping the material would stretch slightly. I headed to Dartmoor…
There is an important statistic relating to hiking shoes (and indeed all shoes generally) that manufactures and reviewers tend to fail to mention – the ‘undo-y-ness’ coefficient, in other words how quickly the shoelaces undo themselves. Obviously this also relates to the ‘ability to tie’ coefficient (at which I lack ninja skills), but nonetheless these shoes are sorely lacking. Without double tying, the laces untie themselves in just a few steps indoors (let alone in the great outdoors)!
The first day on Dartmoor made me seriously question my decision not to go for a bigger size. Within the first few miles I started feeling hot spots, the trademark sign of blisters, on my heels. At the pub, I investigated, but there was no obvious sign of anything untoward happening. Over the next few days the same thing kept happening, but each time I checked there was no redness or any other sign of rubbing. I think it must have been discomfort from compression with the shoes being fractionally tight (and it was hot, so my feet had probably swelled!). After a few days however, the shoes seemed too settled in nicely and the issue disappeared. Otherwise I have found the Merrell Moab’s very comfortable, in fact, since wearing them, I have not felt the need to use my soothing hiking foot cream after a walk, which is a good indication that the fancy air cushions are doing their job – in fact they seem to have got even more comfortable over the months as they bedded down. The one proviso is that I have not tried them on a tarmac heavy long walk yet – the ultimately test in comfort for any pair of shoes!
Whilst the GORE-TEX gave some protection from wet dewy grass and puddles, including a particularly wet underfoot Dartmoor hike, the shoes were not completely waterproof and there were a few times though where my socks have felt damp. Initially I could not put my finger on whether it is sweat, leakage from outside or moisture coming in from the top, but after an unscientific test involving a puddle and dry socks, it does seem to be caused by seepage through the breathable mesh. Perhaps I am expecting too much from the GORE-TEX, but I certainly would not trust them to keep my feet dry ‘stomping through mountain streams’ as Merrell’s literature suggests (and I find their description of ‘cloudburst protection’ slightly exaggerative, unless you are super fast putting on waterproofs, any sudden ‘extreme amount of precipitation’ is going to result in wet feet as the rain drips down your legs and into your socks and ultimately into your shoes anyway!)
From my (admittedly fairly limited experience) the grip seemed pretty good, but it is not the best I have experienced. The Vibram soles held pretty well whilst scaling Dartmoor granite or on wet grass, but, and I know without clever scientific tests grip is largely arbitrary and relative, I just felt less confident in the grip than in the Keen Targee II’s or even my Keen sandals. In mud, the grip was good but the treads quickly saturated with clay loam reducing the grip available (better than my wellies but not as good as the Keen’s). The soles, and indeed the shoes generally, do feel pretty sturdy and well-constructed though despite being quite light – they are about 340g. Whilst four months of wear is still early days, I would expect them to last well.
Overall the Merrell Moab GoreTex hiking shoes are fairly good, but I am not sure they would be my first choice for a pair of hiking shoes. Whilst they are very comfortable (after they settled in) and fairly light, the reduced waterproofness and grip were a little disappointing. Considering the Merrell’s are the same list price as the Keen’s, I would rather trade some of the weight for dry feet and grip. At £84.95 a pair (from Blackleaf, £110 from Merrell), I cannot help thinking there is a more suitable pair in that price range for me and my walking habits.