This impressively light but surprisingly robust hybrid boot punches well above its weight when it comes to performance on the trail.
Surprisingly durable and protective for a fabric boot
Needs a little more breaking-in than most fabric boots
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KEEN Explore Mid Waterproof: first impressions
Described as a hybrid ‘trainer-hiker’, the KEEN Explore Mid Waterproof hiking boots are designed to be lightweight, agile and versatile. With their chunky heel and mesh vamp, they certainly share some of the traits of cushioned running shoes, while utilising modern synthetic materials to add performance and durability on the trail. Chiefly, this consists of a fabric upper with tougher TPU overlays that also add a little more protection for the foot, without resulting in a significant weight increase. Just a few things to consider when deciding how to choose a pair of hiking boots.
As such, they feel light and bouncy, though still undoubtedly more like a boot than a trainer, unlike some of the other sneaker-inspired hikers in this round-up of the best budget hiking boots. This has the benefit of creating an overall sensation of all-round protectiveness, stability and durability, although it inevitably sacrifices a little of the flexibility and responsiveness underfoot that you get from conventional trail shoes or regular trainers.
• RRP: $140 (US) / £105 (UK)
• Weight (per boot): 340g / 12oz
• Materials: Performance mesh upper with TPU overlays for durability and KEEN.Dry waterproof breathable liner, EVA midsole, KEEN.All-Terrain rubber outsole
• Colors: Black & Magnet / Magnet & Fiery Red
• Compatibility: Lightweight trainer-hiker that still works well on wet or muddy trails
KEEN Explore Mid Waterproof: on the trails
We found these KEEN Explore Mid Waterproof boots needed a little more time to break in than expected from a fabric boot (see also how to break in hiking boots), though after a few hikes they were comfortable, with no noticeable hotspots. The fit is relatively accommodating, with a broad, blunt toebox that allows plenty of room for toes to splay. However, the heel hugs the foot nicely, which may be attributable to KEEN’s ‘Konnectfit’ heel-capture system, a TPU exoskeleton that pulls the boot in via the lace eyelet at the base of the ankle.
The outsole employs the brand’s own rubber compound and tread pattern, consisting of 4mm multi-directional lugs. Though they’re not the deepest, they’re actually pretty effective – the only time we slipped was when descending a greasy, grassy slope, where many boots would struggle. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind they’re not designed to take on technical terrain, and as such they wouldn’t be our recommended pick for rock-hopping or scrambling.
Having said that, the mid cuff is actually a little higher and stiffer than most, giving you better stability and support on uneven ground compared to its rivals. The pronounced rear cutaway also does a good job of relieving pressure on the Achilles while simultaneously aiding freedom of movement, especially when picking up the pace along rolling downhill trails. The overbuilt foam rubber heel and cushioned midsole are also a benefit in this regard.
The waterproofing also did its job – at least, they didn’t leak on test. Overall, we liked the KEEN Explore boots. They feel sturdier and more boot-like than most trainer-inspired mid-cut hikers, whilst remaining lightweight.
An outdoors writer and editor, Matt Jones has been testing kit in the field for nearly a decade. Having worked for both the Ramblers and the Scouts, he knows one or two things about walking and camping, and loves all things adventure, particularly long-distance backpacking, wild camping and climbing mountains – especially in Wales. He’s based in Snowdonia and last year thru-hiked the Cambrian Way, which runs for 298 miles from Cardiff to Conwy, with a total ascent of 73,700 feet – that’s nearly 2½ times the height of Everest. Follow Matt on Instagram and Twitter.