Merrell has seen the future in the hiking boot category, and knobby tread and big heels have nothing to do with it. Instead, the company’s upcoming M-Connect line takes influence from the trend of barefoot running.
The new designs, which come out next year, include hiking-oriented shoes and low-top boots that are light, flexible, and built with soles made to encourage “ground feel” as opposed to thick padding and protection underneath.
“Traditional hiking boots put you higher off the ground and can be like walking on stilts,” said Craig Throne, a VP at Merrell we interviewed last month. “Our new barefoot designs put you close to the ground.”
Throne cites greater surface contact, better fit, and “greater overall stability of the foot and body” with shoes like those seen in the M-Connect line. “You can go longer and use less energy” with these boots, Throne said.
The line, which does not come out until 2013, includes men’s and women’s shoes and boots with low stack heights (0mm to 4mm) and lighter weights between 5 and 13 ounces per shoe, depending on the model. The soles have a low-profile tread with no abrupt knobs for greater contact with the ground.
Throne said Merrell noticed many people using minimal trail-running shoes on hikes, so the company decided to provide an option with its new line. He noted Merrell worked with a University of Virginia lab on product testing and development. So far, he says the company only tested the minimal boots on people carrying backpacks of 20 pounds or less.
We at GearJunkie pretty much ditched hiking boots for lighter options years ago. Almost everyone we trek and backpack with now uses shoes, not boots, on their feet.
The purported “support” that boots offer often just translates to a bulky build that is slow and cumbersome. Stiff soles also have worse traction than flexible soles, the latter which can better let the foot flex and mold for traction on the ground.
Merrell obviously is looking at it in much the same way, though according to Throne the moving “fast and light” part is not the No. 1 priority with the M-Connect line. “The boots here are not just about speed,” he said. With the barefoot design, Throne continued, you can “go further and feel good on a hike.”
—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.