Business shoe hybrids -- Timberland, Birkenstock, Merrell

Timberland is a company that realizes business trips are not all work. At the very least, most business travelers have free time at night to explore town. Some — like me — even sneak off on quick day trips to check out nearby canyons or mountain trails when the chance arises.

The TravelGear line of footwear by Timberland, which includes four shoe models, removable footbeds and waterproof sock liners, was designed for travelers tired of bringing two, three or four pairs of shoes on a trip. Timberland says one pair of its TravelGear shoes, accompanied by the right TravelGear components, can fulfill the duty of the four or five different shoe types a person may need.

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In a business meeting, the Hong Kong model ($70, www.timberland.com) I tested out passes muster as a stylish dress shoe. But with the quick exchange of a footbed, which Timberland calls a Chassis, the Hong Kong can be transformed to a supportive shoe suitable for hiking on uneven surfaces.

Further customization of the shoe is accomplished by adding Timberland’s Hydrosok insert. This soft waterproof bootie is made to be slipped on over your regular socks before stepping into the shoe, creating a piece of footwear supposedly suitable for wet, muddy trails or grass with heavy dew.

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As a concept, TravelGear is intriguing, but I think the company is making things too complex. I found the Hong Kong to be a nice shoe, both comfortable and good-looking. But I also found the multiple Chassis system to be for the most part unnecessary. The “Active” Chassis ($30) Timberland recommends for hiking and activity was comfortable enough for me to leave in all the time. I never felt the need to switch back to the “Comfort” Chassis ($30), which is a bit softer and more cushioned.

The $30 Hydrosok insert was even less necessary. If keeping your toes dry on a quick hike is of the utmost concern, then it may be attractive. For me they just felt kind of superfluous.

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Other companies that make shoes for both business and pleasure include Birkenstock and Merrell. The Footprints Chicago by Birkenstock, for example, is a $180 model that cloaks the company’s famously comfortable cork footbed under a dress-shoe shell. Merrell’s $90 World Summit and $80 Jungle Moc models both hide comfortable, supportive shoes that’ll cut it for short hikes outdoors while passing the boss’ inspection in most boardroom meetings.

Posted by Jack - 11/30/2009 11:29 PM

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