Hike Gnarly Trails: Columbia Conspiracy III Shoe Review

For several days, dozens of miles, and hundreds of rocky, Incan steps, we abused Columbia’s waterproof light hiker — the Conspiracy III Titanium OutDry.

Columbia Conspiracy III hiking shoe

Probably the only thing my hiking shoes wouldn’t have protected me from was the venomous fer-de-lance pit viper that slithered across the trail. For a week, I used a pair of Columbia Conspiracy III Titanium OutDry light hikers to navigate the precipitous Andean slopes and cloud-misted ruins of southern Peru.

Launched this spring, the Conspiracy III builds on Columbia’s in-house technologies and OutDry — a waterproof membrane bonded to the outer mesh. The brand claims improved moisture-blocking closer to the surface of the shoe.

Columbia Conspiracy III hiking shoe

In short: The Columbia Conspiracy III hiking shoes offer plenty of protection for trail-goers without feeling cumbersome or “unconnected.” These shoes kept rain and puddles at bay, allowed feet to breathe on long treks, and provided solid purchase on both damp granite steps and loose gravel switchbacks. They’re available in men’s for $135 and women’s for $110.

Note, Columbia also offers an “Eco” version of this shoe. It’s made without the use of PFCs and employs recycled polyester laces and an environmentally friendly dying process. It runs $150 in both men’s and women’s.

Columbia Conspiracy III Review

Columbia COnspiracy III hiking shoe

Columbia isn’t breaking new ground with the Conspiracy III shoes. Rather, it updated the shoe’s design with its latest tech, resulting in a very comfortable and light-on-the-foot hiker.

The Conspiracy III strikes a solid balance between weight and agility. My size 13 weighed 14.7 ounces per shoe and Columbia advertises 11.5 ounces for a size 9. These may not qualify for ultralight trail runners’ needs, but the shoe is tough. I scuffed rock faces and stumbled over my fair share of jagged stones without visibly damaging the construction. And even with this waterproof defense and solid abrasion resistance, the Conspiracy remained light enough for long, hikes.

Columbia Conspiracy III hiking shoe

For full days on uneven terrain, they worked great. Columbia added channels along the sole that increase flex in the rubber. This worked for rocky paths, allowing the shoe to articulate over the terrain. It also provided a measure of extra comfort out of the box, removing some of the typical new-shoe stiffness.

The waterproofing worked as advertised. The shoes weathered rain and puddles perfectly. Still, these are low hikers, so heavy splashing or extremely wet conditions could result in water entering the top of the shoe.

Columbia Hiking Shoes

Columbia also designed the Conspiracy III hikers with an asymmetrical lacing system. It’s not the first time the brand has done this, but it was my first experience with it.

Columbia Conspiracy III hiking shoe

According to Columbia, asymmetrical lacing “alleviates pressure on the top of the foot.” From the top of the tongue to the toe box, the eyelets and laces curve inward, eventually ending near the base of the big toe. I have high arches and have noticed some shoes that “squeeze” the foot if laced tightly. While this is not a common problem, the asymmetrical lacing did feel noticeably different.

The lacing opens up more room at the outside edge of the toe box. On the one hand, this allowed more room for my feet to splay and expand, especially on high-mileage days. On the other, this does permit a little more slippage inside the shoe. It was especially apparent on steep descents when the lugs gripped hard. But my foot slid forward to fill that extra wiggle room.

Overall, I liked the feel. But I imagine this will be a matter of personal preference, as it does alter the feel inside the shoe.

Columbia Conspiracy III Hiking Shoe Recommendation

Columbia Conspiracy III hiking shoe

Members of our staff swear by Columbia’s running line, Montrail. However, it’s worth noting the Conspiracy IIIs are not part of that line — these are hiking shoes. I used them to “toe-bang” my way down a fast switchback descent and for a light jog back up the valley, but they’re not built for a sustained running gait.

We will continue to log miles in Columbia’s hiking offerings to see how they stack up. But so far, the Conspiracy III is proving a solid choice for trekking.

The shoes are both breathable and flexible while also providing protection from both solid and fluid obstacles. But the shoes’ unique lacing and fit is something to consider.

Remember: Your feet will change and move during a long hike, so if something feels wonky in the first five minutes of wearing, that could be a warning sign. But for all-weather capability and a fair amount of agility for a hiking shoe, the Conspiracy III is worth considering.

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By
Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.
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