KEEN is clearly invested in the whole family. The brand continues to build backpacking boots that are comfortable yet durable and complaint free — a bonus for parents everywhere.
Each summer, my husband plans a family backpacking trip in a nearby national park or backcountry area. I’m giving him props because he does all the work — scouting, mapping, vetting, buying, even packing. My sons and me, well, we stuff a stuff sack or two and show up with our boots on.
This year we tried some KEENs. It was a grand experiment to see if we could contain the kids’ complaints. No doubt, a backpack does get heavy on little ones’ shoulders. But we thought eliminating any foot issues would clear the way for happier hiking all around.
KEEN Targhee for the Whole Family
So we got to work on our family field test experiment. The fully waterproof or vented Targhees come in sizes for the whole family. It’s the first season KEEN added a kids model to the Targhee line of boots.
KEEN has caught on that to get kids to give up their Nike Frees for more stable backpacking boots, you’ve got to create the “mini-me” boot. It looks just like dad’s boot, which is kind of cool. The mindset becomes, “There’s probably a reason he’s wearing his, so I’ll wear mine too.”
We got the KEEN Targhee boots (women’s, men’s, kid’s) a few weeks in advance of our Labor Day trip. So we planned to at least do some mini hikes near our neighborhood to break in the boots. We live in the mountains, so even a stroll down the block is an adventure in most people’s books.
However, between two busy boys’ schedules and a parent who prioritizes riding bikes and long-distance trail running, we only squeezed in one pre-backpacking hiking session. And that was a flat stroll around a lake, which ended in ice cream. (Oh, and my husband counted chopping wood in the yard as his break-in period.)
But even breaking the rules with a lack of boot prep, we immediately noticed the Targhee’s pure comfort factor. While traditional hiking or backcountry boots have come a long way, the footwear category as a whole still wrestles with balancing comfort and durability.
Overcompensating for ankle support, sometimes they’re too stiff. And that can lead to pain in odd places and blisters. That’s especially true if, like me, you wear flip-flops in as many places as appropriate.
KEEN Backpacking Boots Under the Pack, on the Trail
My husband and I were focused on the feel, especially after adding the weight of our packs. We carried most of the gear — tents, food, cook supplies, layers. In fact, my husband was KEEN’s greatest tester, given that he was lugging an obscenely heavy four-person tent with a big old vestibule.
He’s also a thin man, with narrow feet, in a men’s size 8.5. And the Targhees worked exceptionally well for this narrow profile. He was able to cinch them down to reduce any heel lift or excessive ankle movement, while not cutting off circulation.
The gnarly 4-millimeter, multidimensional lug is offset by a soft upper that feels surprisingly smooth against the top of the foot, especially that lumpy, boney part. And a solid lacing system with “speed hooks” kept everything in place — and occasional smiles on our kids’ faces.
Having worn these for yard work, my husband was already super comfortable in these boots before we even left for the trail. And about 10 miles later, he emerged from our backcountry excursions with huge red marks where his over-weighted pack’s shoulder straps were. But he had nothing but the good kind of ache in his feet.
I had nearly the same experience with my Targhees. I was in the same model in a women’s version — the Targhee III Mid. My color combo was cool: “weiss and boysenberry.” That’s a classic backcountry brown updated with a punch of rich pink. I felt functional yet feminine, a hard balance to achieve in outdoor gear.
The number one thing I can say about these boots is they’re darn comfortable for being sturdy, pack-supporting, mid-calf hiking boots. Because I’m not a footwear design expert, I’m going to guess this had everything to do with KEEN’s “metatomical” footbed design.
The brand describes this internal support mechanism as “anatomically engineered to provide excellent arch support and cradle the natural contours of the foot.” And that’s what it felt like.
The Targhees breathe while still being exceptionally waterproof. I wore a midweight wool hiking sock and didn’t experience any moisture buildup or extreme heat or cold. It was in the mid-60s during the high-altitude hike.
I tested these under the weight of my pack on a 3.5-mile steadily incline approach to the alpine lakeside campsite, and without a pack on a speed climb to the top of a pass the next morning. During both, I stayed focused on the scenery, not my feet. The boots seemed to magically regulate themselves for the elemental and physiological demands.
Tween Weighs In on the KEEN Targhee
My only issue with our first test in KEEN boots was the sizing on the youth boots. But if you know anything about how wildly varied kids’ shoe sizing is, you feel my pain. My older son, who is on the border of an adult-size boot and has wider feet, fit perfectly into a size 7. My younger son tried two sizes, both of which were too big to go for a long hike in.
We did the best we could measuring his feet and going off his sneaker size, but what we needed was an afternoon at REI to get him fit in the right boot. And that’s on his parents.
We didn’t have time to replace the samples a third time, so he, with the lightest pack, wore sneakers that appeared sturdy enough. But of course, he was the only person who required moleskin on the way out. Go figure.
My younger son didn’t get to try the “big kids'” version of the Targhee. But I was downright thrilled that my older son, who is acutely aware of when things don’t feel good, said literally nothing about his feet all weekend! And this is a kid who’s used to wearing Vans high-tops for anything I will let him do in them.
Even though my kids are getting bigger, we asked them to carry only their own sleeping bag, clothes, and little stuff like hammocks and some food. My older son did move to a larger 45-plus-liter pack this year.
The Targhee boots seemed to hold up comfortably under the extra weight while being unburdening when it came to hike-ability. In fact, my son never mentioned feeling like his boots were dragging him down. That was my greatest fear because I knew he was coming from the land of unsupportive sneakers.
Targhee Balances Weight, Waterproofing, Breathability
My son, of course, was also the first to test the Targhees’ waterproofing by walking through mud puddles, dousing them straight into a frigid lake, and messing around in water-logged grass after an afternoon downpour. His KEENs never got wet inside, even assuming he wore them improperly laced at all times.
That was a huge weight off my shoulders, as we had no backup shoes for the kids. A change of socks for the next day made the Targhees like new for several more miles. During a mini peak bag in the morning and descending miles of potentially toe-jamming, ankle-sweating effort, I didn’t hear a peep about anything related to feet. Success.
The Targhees’ simple lacing system was also helpful for younger hands and lazier minds. My son could essentially cheat his way to lacing the boots properly and still feel comfortable doing all kinds of mountain-boy activities.
Overall, KEEN’s Targhee collection of family hikers impressed us. These boots took one element of stress away from keeping kids safe and smiling during a tromp through the woods. There’s no doubt these whine-free boots will become a go-to for next year’s trip — and beyond.
In fact, we hope, thanks to good footwear, we can go a little longer each annual backpacking trip. And although our kids’ feet will continue to grow, these broken-in boots will be yet another marker of childhood. And there’s no complaining, only nostalgia, in that.
The women’s Targhee III Mid comes in three colors for $145; the men’s KEEN Targhee has four colors to choose from at the same price point. Little and Big kids‘ waterproof Targhees each come in four colors with an easy-adjusting no-tie lacing system for $70.