KEEN takes aim at the “light hiker” category with its 2016 flagship footwear, the Versatrail. We laced up for a 10-mile hike last week in New Mexico for a first review.
The path ahead is rocky and steep, an ascent through ponderosa pines on the Atalaya Trail. Here outside of Santa Fe, I’m getting acquainted with a line of shoes KEEN Footwear will launch early next year into the crowded category that exists between hiking boots and trail-running shoes.
The Versatrail stands out because of its relative light weight, sole flexibility, comfort, and a versatile design that will appeal to casual outdoors types and hardcore hikers alike. It will come in men’s and women’s models at $120 when it hits shelves in early 2016.
KEEN Versatrail First Review ($120)
When I first picked up the Versatrail, my brain told me “trail running shoe.” It’s as light as some trail runners, looks a lot like a running shoe, and it even has a speed-lacing system.
But KEEN insists it is not made for running. Fast, light hiking is the intent with the 11.8-ounce shoe (men’s size 9.5), as well as versatility (as the name implies) to wear them anywhere outdoors or in daily life.
The shoe does not reinvent its genre, though I was happy with its fit and performance on my hike, and the shoe does look good as an everyday kick. In New Mexico, they served for more than 10 miles of mountain hiking one day and then a tour of the town and some bar hopping that night.
On a very rocky trail, stones and edges were palpable underfoot, but not at all painful. There is a substantial outsole and foam midsole, but for those who like a little “ground feel” in their shoes, the Versatrail delivers. This should lead to pretty good proprioception while moving over rough, uneven terrain.
The shoes fit well out of the box; for those who care about in-store fitting, this shoe is fairly soft and won’t take time to break in.
Hiking uphill, it took an adjustment of the speed-lacing system to keep the shoe from sliding around on my heel but once tightened it was solid on my foot.
A mesh upper makes the Versatrail very breathable. The tongue is thin and fits like a sock around the top of the foot.
The Versatrail uses a dual-density EVA foam in the midsole. It’s a bit stiffer in the heel than the forefoot.
I couldn’t notice a significant difference in the feeling of the material from front to back, but suffice to say that my heel — locked in place by an external EVA heel counter — felt well supported.
The midsole is soft when compared with hiking boots and even some trail-running shoes. The flexibility lets the shoe adapt to terrain underfoot instead of tromping on the ground and digging in like a heavy boot. But those carrying a heavy pack, or crossing big miles for multiple days, may find themselves under-gunned.
The shoe has modest outsole lugs — aggressive enough for hiking loose trails, but not so deep as to be uncomfortable on pavement.
Great Day Hiking Shoe
The Versatrail should land squarely in “day hike” land. The shoe provides reasonable traction for rocky or loose soil and protects the foot from sharp objects from below.
Several testers on my hike noted “tired feet” after our mountain trek. This is not surprising given the flexible sole combined with New Mexico’s super rugged terrain.
Who Should Buy Versatrail
Day hikers looking for a light, breathable shoe for summer jaunts through the forest will be well served with the Versatrail.
We’re guessing these will be popular shoes. Expect to see lots of them within a couple miles of the trailhead on popular trail loops or inbounds at National Parks and Monuments.
The shoes will also likely find lots of use in towns and cities. While the pair we tested were an eye-grabbing green, more subdued colors make for good daily-wear shoes.
At $120, the Versatrail is a mid-price offering in its category. They seem well made from our initial testing. We’ll update with wear reports if durability issues arise, but doubt to see design flaws after our first 10 miles on the trail.
Keen Versatrail Specs
- Price: $120
- Weight: 11.8 ounces (per shoe; men’s size 9)
- Upper: Mesh and synthetic fabrics; Ariaprene foam tongue
- Midsole: Dual-density EVA; TPU stability shank
- External EVA heel counter