Terra Sigillata

I used to live in a place where if you lacked proper hiking boots you could actually die, or be very badly injured.

i-a07ef7379385d3ae418556e54c025003-product_77208.jpgMy 1991 Vasque Sundowner hiking boots are now barely good enough to wear while cutting the lawn (damn monoculture!) in my now-suburban life. (Then again, that means they are old enough to go to college.). At least I still have some great state parks very close to me and some great national parks within 3 hr where we could backpack.

When looking to order a new pair of Sundowners online (since our local REI stopped carrying the version for my wide stubby feet), I was shocked to read the 1 out of 5 ratings from a ton of commenters who lived and died by their Vasques.

The major complaint on the threads is that boot quality is so poor that they last barely one year. The common theme is that they are now made in China. But at least there are no allegations (yet) of heavy metals or melamine. Anyone from Vasque want to comment?

So, Dear Reader, what are you wearing when you want a one piece leather jobber medium-weight hiker/short backpacker? No, not the lightweight ones with Gore-Tex mesh – I want a nice, solid piece of leather that’s gonna serve me well for at least 10 years. This is very important as Christmas is my window of opportunity.

Comments

  1. #1 Isis the Scientist
    December 7, 2008

    Dr. Isis is sporting these for all her climbing adventures.

  2. #2 Michael Anes
    December 7, 2008

    I just bought a pair a year ago. They are holding up OK but I haven’t been seriously hiking in them. My old vasques (not Sundowners) lasted 20 years of hiking and a trip to Central Asia. I also have 15 year old Merrel Mountaineering boots that are super heavy duty, with a stitched welt even – you don’t see that anymore. But I think Merrell may still make an all leather heavy duty boot – yep, the Wilderness, that’s what I have.

  3. #3 Professor in Training
    December 7, 2008

    I have a pair of all-leather Scarpas (SL) that are 12 years old and still in perfect condition. I’ve worn them on some extremely physical long-distance hiking adventures in very remote spots on 5 different continents and have only sustained some scuffing on the toes which is easily fixed with a coat of beeswax. They’re still comfortable and waterproof and you can’t go past their workmanship. They have a Vibram sole which is indestructible and there’s little evidence that I’ve actually worn them anywhere. They cost a bit, but not having to replace them makes the initial outlay worth every cent (hell, even the original shoelaces are still in perfect condition).

  4. #4 leigh
    December 7, 2008

    i have beaten the hell out of timberland boots (bought in 02, i think) and they hold up to it fine. i had to replace my timberland work shoes once in 7 years- i walked several miles per day in them for one college job.

    husband’s work boots for the past several years have been timberland pro. any other kind last less than 6 months with him, but timberlands stand up to 2-3 years of his severe abuse and automotive fluid exposure.

    once we discovered how they hold up, we got a little brand loyal! a good bang for the buck.

  5. #5 anjou
    December 7, 2008

    I had the same Vasque boots from 1988 until last year when the sole separated from the boot– they were fabulous and served me well through many hiking trips.

    I got the lightweight gortex mesh Vasque ones. They have yet to shape to my feet the same way the old ones did, but they’re ok.

    Recommend checking prices on whatever you opt for on sierratradingpost.com Perhaps try on in store first, check for comfort.

  6. #6 Eric
    December 7, 2008

    If the uppers aren’t totally destroyed, you might consider letting Dave Page, Cobbler ( http://www.davepagecobbler.com ) restore them. He has worked on boots and sandals for me, at no small cost, but the workmanship has been excellent. I have no connection other than being a very satisfied customer.

  7. #7 Abel Pharmboy
    December 7, 2008

    Wow, lots of folks at the computer today.

    @isis – thigh-high leather booths on me would just be wrong. Very wrong. But what scared me more about that site was the left sidebar classification of shoes with heels going to “8″ and up.” You should need a license for those.

    @Michael – your story is one that is told by so so many Vasque wearers. I’ll take a gander at those Merrills.

    @ProfInTraining – those Scarpas look like exactly what I want (the SL-M3), plus they’re in Boulder! But while I was pissing and moaning that I want an all-leather boot, I saw some reviews on Scarpa’s ZG65 XCR Hiking Boot that sound great for my intended use; one from a very happy former Sundowner wearer and another who used them to hike two Colorado 14ers with a 55 lb pack.

    @leigh – the Timberlands look great, especially the prices, but they may not be high enough for me; the ones on their site, even the all-leather, are all mid-height. I have a really screwy ankle from a trailrunning fall that still goes wacky every once in awhile and I need the support.

    @anjou – I totally forgot that your wine escapades with Erleichda are wine *and* hiking trips. I’ll check the Sierra Trading Post. thx

    @Eric – a great recommendation about Dave. In fact, I did have my Sundowners resewn and resoled and they were great for another 5 years. These are now beyond repair for even the most talented cobbler. I’ll probably bury them in Colorado this coming summer.

  8. #8 Professor in Training
    December 7, 2008

    Yeah – given the choice between all-leather and synthetic/cordura, I’ll choose leather any day as I’ve had a couple of Gore-Tex lined boots fill with water and they’re harder to keep clean. The only downside of all-leather boots is that you need to wear them in and while that can be a painful exercise, the result is a lifetime of blister-free hiking adventures!

  9. #9 Isis the Scientist
    December 7, 2008

    But, Abel, did you see that they go all the way up to a size 16? I think that’s like a man’s size 12. We could be twins.

  10. #10 ERV
    December 7, 2008

    If you can find them, Ive had my Hi Tec Magnums for ~10 years.

    Luv em.

  11. #11 DrugMonkey
    December 7, 2008

    Limmers!

  12. #12 Janne
    December 7, 2008

    Graninge boots: http://www.graninge-outdoor.com/345.php

    Used by mountain hikers and popular among military service people in Sweden since they’re so much better than the official issue boots. Keep them in good condition and they’ll last forever.

  13. #13 ecologist
    December 8, 2008
  14. #14 jc
    December 9, 2008

    similar to ecologists’s Cresta boots from llbean, I have the Wildcat boots. LOVE! Took a few short trips around campus to break them in, then I did a 12 mile muddy horse trail (hike = got no horse) in them – the traction and comfort kept me sane. They aren’t heavy on my feet, even uphill both ways.
    They also have them in men’s
    http://www.llbean.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?storeId=1&catalogId=1&langId=-1&categoryId=57071&feat=474-dppfi

  15. #15 Barn Owl
    December 12, 2008

    My Vasque hiking boots pre-date yours, Abel, and they’re still going strong. I wore them on a very rocky 5-mile hike over this recent Thanksgiving weekend. I haven’t looked into replacing them, because I suspect they’ll outlast my hiking healthspan. I wish my riding boots lasted as long; no amount of cleaning and leather conditioner keeps the stitching from wearing out on the horse-side of the boot.

  16. #16 Lora
    December 13, 2008

    Wish I’d noticed this earlier, you have probably already done your boot shopping by now.

    My personal favorite brand for boots is Ariat. They make men’s hiking boots, although their main focus is equestrian boots. I have their paddock boots for everyday wear, and I have to say the engineering that goes into these things is superb. They really think about how an athlete using their feet needs a boot to be built. A little spendy, but with proper care of the leather, they last many decades. Mine were bought in 1998 and would still be in good condition had the cat not used them for a scratching post.

  17. #17 Abel Pharmboy
    December 15, 2008

    @Isis, you’re not going to let up about those thigh-high boots, are ya?

    @Janne, those Graninge boots are pretty remarkable and striking. Not only functional, I could use them in the evenings for my industrial/techno-pop band.

    @Drug, I had thought that Limmers were totally out of my price range b/c I thought they were a custom-only company. Looks like they make a production line now. I really like their rough-trail boot – looks a lot like the old Sundowner. My Boulder-Denver snob buds don’t give enough respect to the eastern mountains so it would be cool to have a New England-crafted boot.

    @ecologist and jc – great suggestions from LLBean. I hate those horse trails sans horse. Uphill, both ways – and even living in a shoebox, eh?

    @Barn Owl – pretty impressive lifespan there! I suspect mine would’ve lasted longer had I not done stupid things like dry them in front of a wood stove and a lot of other things a Jersey kid didn’t know about good leather. Looks like we’ll have to go for a hike when I’m next in your neck o’ the woods.

    @Lora – thanks so much for the Ariat suggestion as I doubt that many know they make a hiking boot (I sure didn’t). Gotta do something about that cat.

    But the winner is the suggestion by Professor in Training of the Scarpa SL-M3 boot. Backpacker had some great reviews of it and it won for me because of the extra ankle support. However, I just got them the day before I traveled south and won’t get to try them out until I get back from wearing flipflops for a week. Upon cursory inspection, though, they appear to be somewhat more rugged than the Sundowner – looking forward to giving them a whirl.

    Great teamwork folks – superb participation – everyone gets a gold star! Thanks.

  18. #18 Professor in Training
    December 15, 2008

    Great choice! It will take a while to break them in but persevere and you won’t regret it. Happy trails :)

  19. #19 Overmywaders
    December 22, 2008

    I wore a pair of Pivetta “8″s every day for perhaps ten years; until they were slaughtered by a cobbler in resoling. Now I wear a very comfortable pair of Pivetta Muir Trails around town and would wear a used (twenty-five year old) pair of Pivetta “8″s with plenty of miles left, on the hills (if hills didn’t have the tendency to go up).

    Finding single-piece full leather upper, leather-lined, Littleway or Norwegian stitched, hiking boots is increasingly difficult. Here is a list I made of some options – Old School Boots

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