Jury’s still out as to how much mileage you could really get
Seems pricey for this brand
Colourways aren’t the most immediately attractive
Hmm. OK – all black? Really? For a boot designed for hot-climate hiking? Curious. They do come in other colourways with a bit more pop, but still. Then, whoa – they are seriously light in the hand. The look and feel fits with the current vogue for boots which lean into trainer stylings, with softer uppers and the sole which curls up the toe-tip just like your classic Nike or Saucony runners (which I have a soft spot for, so I’m into that). This feels like a little step-change for a Craghoppers design. A more minimal, sleeker and contemporary styling than usual, and better for it, I think.
There’s decent flex when I give them a little push and pull and the grip and tread looks just like the type that gives me the confidence I need when following my nose off the trails and seeking out hidden viewpoints or signs of wildlife. Heel guard feels solid too, also the toe cap. Good. I’m already keen to see how the breathability claim plays out in balmy heat. One slight worry: they look a little too slight, maybe even flimsy. Have the designers oversteered toward ultralight too much? Easy to see that happening.
What I’m Looking For
Some years ago I made the (un?)conscious decision to switch to trail or approach shoes for all hiking, bar days at the very highest elevations. Why? I never felt comfortable with tight material around my ankles, even with mids, and I went through at least a few successive boot pairs which lured me into a false sense of security, blisters sneaking up on me, just when I thought I had swerved the little blighters.
I love trail shoes for the spring, the lightness and the agility they afford my long, cumbersome frame and I’m always (perhaps a little complacently) confident that I will pick the right route to avoid scree slippage, ankle rolls and the like. They also double up as handy day shoes. I live at the top of a hill that features in the Tour of Britain cycle route and on any given day I can yo-yo up and down it a few times. Trail shoes give me just enough support and comfort for that so they become my everyday go-to, even over my favourite Sauconys. I’m rarely not wearing them.
So, when it comes to hiking boots, I’m loath to hand my feet over to what my brain is telling me will feel like a couple of plant pots at the end of my legs. But, that said, I walk in the wet. A lot. Moorland, burns, brooks, long grasses etc – so I am always eagle-eyed for options for nimbleness but also keep my toes and soles from being a sorry, soggy mess. Trail shoes can never really deliver on that. Lightness, toughness, dryness, coolness, spring – and a subtle but stylish look, make up my standard wishlist (as well as comfort obviously). Usually I go for Scarpa or La Sportiva as these brands have generally done it for me in the past and I get about 18 months of solid use out of them.
Lightness, toughness, dryness, coolness, spring – and a subtle but stylish look, make up my standard wishlist
A couple of complementary tests in one trip, really. First, an afternoon’s gentle hiking, taking a detour from the Via Francigena (a branch of the pilgrimage trail that joins Canterbury and Rome) into the pseudo-sub tropical lushness of a series of paths tucked against the Elsa river in mid-Tuscany. The white-ish limestone there both imbues the waters with their milky cornflower blueness but also means the paths include Tibetan-style roped crossings, where the river’s flow rolls over your feet, and they’re punctuated by quick bursts of elevation up and around the various waterfalls.
Then, onto the heavier going of the Via degli Dei which lights out from central Bologna into the rolling mountains (some named after gods – hence the trail moniker) and wooded trails of Emilia-Romagna and towards Tuscany again.
On all days the sun was high and full, the sky clear and the temperature hanging around the 32°C mark.
Who are these boots for?
Those who like to be fleet of foot while navigating mildly testing terrain will warm to these boots, I think. I was genuinely quite surprised as to how responsive they were as I breezed through 3 hour-ish trail sections with almost zero foot fatigue at all. Whenever I sated the urge to hop off-piste onto more unstable slopes or across potentially slippery river stone, the boots held well and I always felt able to get decent purchase before pushing on. There were no dramas.
Back to the black: I was also surprised and to be honest, a bit disoriented, as to how cool my feet stayed. I feel like sometimes my feet could heat a small Icelandic hotel, such is their propensity for warmth and any chance I get I’m usually horrifying people in the vicinity by kicking off my boots and giving the toes a blast of oxygen. But even in the sometimes soporific heat of late spring in Tuscany, at no point did I feel any more feet-heat than normal. Weird, but good weird. So, if you’re like me and get hot foot flushes easily, these are for you.
If you’re looking to pack light and hike light for days with varied and intermediately challenging terrain in warm environments, these boots are a solid bet. Especially if you want to get going with little to no breaking-in time whatsoever.
I usually take a UK11 and size up half a size to allow for thicker socks. I felt like even with the thinner sports socks I had in Italy, I could have used more wiggle room at the front end (I tested a UK11).
If you’re looking to pack light and hike light for days with varied and intermediately challenging terrain in warm environments, these boots are a solid bet.
What stands out?
Supple, sustainable soles
ADAPT EVA Midsole and the Vibram Litebase outsole (apparently 50% thinner and 30% lighter than the standard rubber outsole) combine to keep my feet feeling light, supple and agile.
A word on the upper: this is created from 70% recycled polyester mesh yarn including 7% recycled plastic bottles and 3% recycled marine litter. Even just saying these makes me think my feet are going to sweat. But – nope. Nothing of the sort. A balance achieving very good breathability has been struck.
This is Aquadry – ‘a guaranteed waterproof and breathable fabric. Designed for moderate to heavy downpours’. Well, at various points I let the cool azzurro waters of the Elsa wash over and around my booted feet to see if this played out. There was no watery ingress at all.
zero foot fatigue
The oversized arch ghillie and open lacing surely helps reduce pressure on the top of my foot giving the blood a little room to flow more freely to those tootsies and keep things pumping at the right level. The lightness has also undoubtedly helped me conserve energy with no toiling at all.
The Arneflex Eco Hi-Density Insole (made from recycled foam) is antibacterial and breathable, so at the end of a six hour session having trudged up and down woodland, craggy limestone and river-soaked trails, my feet (and socks below the waterline) on removal are remarkably fresh. Win.
Value for Money
Growing up in the North of England (as I did), the Craghoppers brand was always thought of as gentle, middle-market and, dare I say it, even a bit dated. This perception was due in part to the pricing which always seemed as if it was saying – this is average wear for average level adventures at average prices. It never seemed to be pointed at those with an appetite for risk. Harsh? Maybe the unnecessarily scornful gaze of youth, but I think it’s fair now to say the brand has moved on from that with some aplomb.
At £150, these boots are by no means bargain basement and I take this to be a further statement of intent for the brand. These are unashamedly quality boots and priced accordingly, in the upper reaches of the mid-range.
For that price point, I’d expect to get more than a year’s worth of varied hikes out of them and I’d expect them to deliver on what they promise and be reliable. I’m impressed enough to believe this to be true here.
These are unashamedly quality boots and priced accordingly, in the upper reaches of the mid-range.
BASE Bottom Line
These boots are likely to go underestimated – perhaps even becoming a minor cult favourite. But on the performance in this test, Craghoppers’ claims are pretty much spot on and a substantial leap forward by the brand has been made in a market that only gets more ferociously competitive.
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