Boots For Adventure – Vivobarefoot Hiker Review
Surprise! There’s a new Vivobarefoot hiking boot in town. In fact, it’s an updated, improved, renamed and re-skinned version of a discontinued model. It’s what the Synth Hiker should have been all along and we’re going to break down why it’s better, where it fits in the range and why you should buy it over the Tracker.
I mentioned previously how Vivobarefoot had slimmed down their range of off-road boots from three models, leaving only the Tracker alongside their Trail Shoes.
I reviewed the Tracker and loved it – it’s a stylish, real-leather boot that has an old-school quality look about it. It has an enormous list of positive alongside just a couple of downsides – the price, and the relatively small toe-box. Of all Vivobarefoot shoes, their off-road hiking boots have always had a tendency to be slightly smaller in the toe area than their on-road counterparts. Compare the Scott, One and Motus to highlight my point.
Now, the hiking range has doubled in size, because the Synth Hiker is back, sitting in stark contrast alongside the modest looking Tracker. It’s been given a new name to go with the updated design and technology, now somewhat obviously called the ‘Hiker’.
The first obvious thing to note is the colour, which will more than likely have other designs added alongside it in the near future. It’s actually a little bit tricky to describe – some people might think it’s almost entirely brown, particularly when looking at photos – but it’s really a mixture of greys.
The upper, which is a rugged, abrasive, hydrophobic mesh is a light grey while the semi-transparent waterproofing band around the sole-separator adds a slightly deeper shade of grey into the mix. The toe-guard, lace loops, and the ankle and heel area are the darker still, but almost brown in colour – a kind of pale, woodland brown.
What you’re bound to notice first are the lime green highlights present on the heel loop, tongue cutout and as an additional piece of material attached to the second lace-locker. They’re bright and they give the boot a some much needed vibrance.
The other thing is the sole, which is the same V-Trek design used on the Tracker and Trail Freak’s. The normal 4.5mm lugs accompany a 2.5mm sole which now has an Outlast thermal insole on the inside for an additional bit of warmth in the colder months. What is different, is the colour of the sole. I think I’m correct in saying that every hiking boot ever made by Vivobarefoot has had a brown or black sole – presumably because they get covered in mud and so appear less dirty than any other colour.
On the Hiker, they are light grey, which in comparison to the rest of the boot, almost appears white. Clearly Vivobarefoot must have realised that their trail shoes get just as dirty, if not more so, than any of their hiking boots and have therefore taken queues from the sole used on the Trail Freak’s where they have tried black, yellow, orange, grey and white since their introduction. Prepare yourself then, for a dirty looking sole!
In truth, it matters very little. Unless you’re walking through sticky wet mud, they’ll stay just as grey as the others do black; and what’s cooler? A white sole that stands out, or another brown one?
With aesthetics out of the way, let’s talk about some of the more physical aspects of the Vivobarefoot Hiker.
Laces are always a bone of contention with Vivobarefoot, who seem to have a different type on hand for every conceivable occasion. Usually they’re very long, other times they come undone when you’re running (unless you conjured up an obsessive-compulsive tying style like I did) and on occasion, they seem just right. The Tracker has astronomically long laces that, despite how many times you loop them around or knot them, still seem to flop about (I’m a no-lace-left-once-tied type guy) and the discontinued Breatho Trail had laces which magically un-tied themselves unless double knotted. Vivobarefoot got it right with the Motus, and the old Aqua Lite (there’s a new one out, by the way!) could barely be undone when tied up even just once.
With those things in mind, I’m flabbergasted that the laces on the Hiker are so short. Like, short enough that I, a no-lace-left-once-tied type guy, have trouble getting them double knotted. It’s do-able, just. Though it has to be said, I prefer them this way, than the Tracker way.
The eagle eyed amongst you might have noticed the lack of stitching on the boot – there is some, but compared to the Synth Hiker which had lines of stitching in every direction, the Hiker has very little. In place is a seamlessly glued band all the way around, which is intended to improve waterproofing. Of all the hiking shoes Vivobarefoot have produced, the Synth Hiker was the weakest at keeping the water out. That isn’t to say it didn’t perform well, but if one was going to leak in, it’d be the Synth Hiker. So now we have no stitching around the sole at all, which leaves glue and glue alone.
Vivobarefoot have probably become a little bit tired of the word ‘glue’, since numerous models of their shoes have suffered a separation of upper and sole in some form. My pre-release Trackers have unfortunately experienced that fate, and it is only because of my somewhat-bodgy gluing job they they still continue to function. My One’s did it too. There’s good reason, in my opinion, for people to be concerned about their glueing processes – we can go back as far as the Terra Plana Kariba that was in production around 2009 and endured the same problem.
It is with hesitation then, that I understand their decision to ditch the stitch entirely; when it works, it’s better – both aesthetically and from a performance perspective. The Hiker now joins most of the other shoes in the Vivobarefoot range that aren’t glued and screwed. As time goes on, the process can only get better, more consistent and eventually; seamless (excuse the pun).
Thankfully, my Hiker’s, which are also a pre-release pair, have not suffered any separation issues whatsoever, and as I have stated many times in the past, if they’re going to separate, they usually do so pretty much from the outset. It looks like Vivobarefoot have got it right with this boot.
Next up, the toe-box.
It’s no Scott, it’s definitely not a Motus, but it’s the best it has been for a long time. Remember the Tracker’s small toe-box I spoke about at the beginning of this review? That is not the case with the Hiker. It is the same width, but there is more space above my toes in the Hiker, around 5mm more than in the Tracker. I can wear thick hiking socks without the upper pressing down on my toes, which was my main complaint about the Tracker.
As always, I did not break in these boots before going on a long hike which involved a lot of tree climbing and jumping from them – essential to find out how much your feet move in the shoe. Usually, problems occur with toe-stubbing when you’re coming down a mountain, because all of your weight is forward in the boot. For me, jumping off things simulates this effect pretty well, particularly when landing on ground that is angled away from you. It’s a good test of toe space and whether the boot actually fits you – it’s for the same reasons a lot of outdoors’ shops have a ramp for you to walk on that simulates terrain angle and materials; because walking around the shop simply isn’t enough.
I experienced no problems with space, pinching or hotspots on my first hikes and as ever, I don’t expect that will be the case in the future – I’ve never had a blister while wearing Vivo’s.
I have so far found the Vivobarefoot Hiker to withstand grazes and tangles with brambles very well. The rough surface of the upper is never going to show up a scratch or a scrape but will certainly cling onto mud much more than the Tracker or the old Off-Road Mid/Hi which are both smooth in texture.
The toe-guard offers a nice amount of protection from knocks and it is the only part of the boot with a bit of solid structure to it. The front part of the sole, combined with the guard gives a little bit of rigidity that will help when bashing around solid surfaces. The rest of the boot is flexible in all of the right places and will move with your foot, rather than moving around it. That is essential for having the best movement and while it won’t compress or twist like the Tracker, the difference is only down to materials used.
So, what should you do? Buy the Tracker, or buy the Hiker?
First, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. Where will you be using the boot, what do you prefer aesthetically and how long do you want it to last?
If you are pottering around the hills, enjoying nice day hikes or even wanting a pair of boots to wear casually, I would buy the Trackers. They are cleanly designed, minimal in construction and classically finished.
If however, you want to go scrambling, tree climbing, crawling through the woods and getting dirty, I would go with the Hiker. They will take a knock, they will take a scrape and they will not show a mark when a thorn drags across them. They are more suited to regular, hard use than the Tracker, which have a more luxurious side to them, as well as a luxurious price tag.
I expect, in the not too distant future, that more colourways will enter the range alongside this first pair, giving you more options and more to like.
At £140, they’re priced around the good quality end of the market, which should come as no surprise by now, but if you are after a new pair of boots that will stand the test of time, these will be your best option from Vivobarefoot.
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