A lightweight, mid-height, waterproof boot that’s more focused on providing agility than protection, but which is quick and easy to put on, very comfortable to wear for long periods and extremely speedy on less-technical trails.
Made with recycled materials
Waterproof and breathable
Good quicklace system
Low-profile lugs can be slippery on some surfaces
Modest heel support
Lower levels of toe and foot protection than other KEEN boots
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Keen Zionic Waterproof Hiking Boots: first impressions
After the recent release of the KEEN NXIS Evos, the launch of these KEEN Zionic Waterproof Hiking Boots sees yet another model added to the North American brand’s ever-expanding range of lightweight walking footwear options, which aim to supply weather protection and foot support without the heft and bulk of a traditional hiking boot.
• List price: $170 (US) / £160 (UK) / €180 (EU)
• Gender availability: Male / Female versions
• Weight (per boot): Men’s: 480g / 16.93oz; Women’s: 450g / 15.87oz
• Materials: Recycled Ripstop mesh upper with TPU overlays, KEEN.DRY waterproof membrane; TPU outsole
• Colors: Men’s: Fjord Blue & Evening Primrose / Black & Steel Gray / Dark Olive & Scarlet Ibis; Women’s: Dark Forest & Sea Moss / Fjord Blue & Tangerine / Steel Gray & Magnet
• Compatibility: The Zionics are ideal for speedy three-season hiking on formed trails and fastpacking adventures
Impressively, the Ripstop upper chassis of the Zionics is made mostly with recycled PET plastic (with some TPU overlays for additional strength). Breathable weather protection is supplied by the brand’s own KEEN.DRY waterproof membrane, enhanced by a dose of environmentally gentle PFA-free Durable Water Repellent, and an integrated tongue to keep cloud and trail juice from coming in the top.
The Zionics feature an air-injected midsole, plus a stability shank, and boast a heel “crash pad”, formed by the outsole extending around the heel to help absorb the impact of repeated footfall. There’s a PU insole with arch support, and extra padding around the Achilles.
To save weight, the oversized toe bumpers, which used to be a signature feature of KEEN footwear, have been almost entirely removed from the Zionics.
KEEN Zionic Waterproof Hiking Boots: on the trails
I’ve been wearing the KEEN Zionics during all-day hikes in fairly hot, but wet conditions, on mostly well-maintained trails around the South Downs, and on some more rugged terrain in the South West. These are exactly the kind of conditions the Zionics are designed for, with the boots being breathable and waterproof enough to deal with warm, damp weather, while remaining lightweight and highly cushioned so they’re comfortable and don’t fatigue you during big days out.
While remaining almost as light as the KEEN NXIS Evos, there is a lot less mesh on display on the upper chassis of the Zionics, and they don’t accumulate as much muck as a result – which I’ve found to be a big bonus in wet and muddy conditions.
A single pair of quicklace hooks makes them quick and easy to put on, and the integrated tongue helps keep grit and water out. The fit is comfortable, but I don’t think the way the Zionics hold my feet is quite as secure as the cradling feels in KEEN boots with the KonnectFit heel-capture system, such as the NXIS Evos and the Explore.
The level of cushioning is what makes the Zionics really stand out, however. The air-injected midsole combined with the heel “crash pad” supply some seriously good suspension. The PU insole with arch support also helps with comfort levels on long trail days, and I appreciate the extra Achilles protection too.
The tread on the outsole is low-profile by design, and designed to promote good ground connection and to facilitate a fluid heel-to-toe movement. KEEN claim the teeth on the outsole tread are multidirectional, but while they do vary in size, the 4mm lugs seem pretty uniform in the way they are shaped and angled to me, and I did experience some slippage while testing the Zionics, especially when walking on smooth wet rock. I also don’t think the control and braking capability is quite as good as some other boots that have reverse chevrons on the rear, including the NXIS Evos.
After being downsized on the NXIS Evos, KEEN’s classic big toe bumper is missing entirely from the Zionic. They still provide perfectly adequate toe protection for the trail conditions and uses the boot is designed for – which is at the lower end of the technical scale – but the emphasis is very much on saving weight rather than shielding your feet, and I kind of miss it.
Despite the stability shank, there is still a reasonable amount of flex across these boots – again, exactly inline for the purposes they have been made for, which is moving fairly fast over low-level tracks and trails, not cautiously edging around high rocks or tackling super-technical terrain in bad conditions.
Every effort has gone into making the Zionics as lightweight as possible while maintaining top-class cushioning and comfort levels. But, in making them a more dynamic boot, aimed at agile movers, KEEN have downsized the amount of protection the Zionics provide from the usual tank-like levels we have come to expect from the brand.
This isn’t bad, it’s just different – if you want to travel fast and light, both these and the KEEN NXIS Evos are well worth considering. If you want to trek on more technical trails, especially while carrying any significant weight or in challenging weather conditions, then a model like the KEEN Karraig would be a better choice.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.