Natural Shape Walking Boots

Asolo Creek GTX vs Merrell Proterra Mid

Recent years have seen a new craze arrive in the world of running. The buzzword is 'Barefoot' and by now every reputable running-shoe manufacturer has released at least one dedicated 'barefoot' running shoe. Vibram's Five Fingers, Merrell's Trail series and countless other incarnations all feature the same basic design; a thin rubber sole with minimal cushioning, and a foot hugging upper. Manufacturers claim use of these shoes results in gains in strength and stability, with the shoe encouraging a mid-footed strike rather than the traditional heel strike.

Little of interest then to hikers, who will find their gait much unchanged regardless of footwear. Aside, perhaps, from heels made tender by the much reduced cushioning in a traditional 'barefoot' shoe. However two of the most respected names in footwear, Asolo and Merrell, have recently released light hiking boots touted as 'natural shape' footwear. In reflection, perhaps, of their respective heritages, the two companies have produced markedly different footwear.

Asolo Creek GTX
Asolo Creek GTX
Asolo is a brand I have always respected for their quality of material's, craftsman-ship and innovation. Their 'natural shape' series consists of four different boots. Two women's boots; a Gore-tex lined one and a breathable mesh version, and two men's boots of the same combination.

I was fortunate enough to obtain a pair of the Gore-tex lined Creek boots soon after their release. In the intervening months I have subjected them to watery bogs, rocky scrambles, mountain biking trips and the odd gritstone jamming crack.

None, aside perhaps from the first, fall within recommended usage but, given their versatility, they have found themselves often my footwear of choice.

Bespoke 'natural shape' Vibram Sole

A suede and polyester upper is complemented by a generous rubber rand across the toe. This is effective and simple without destroying the aesthetics of what is undoubtedly an eye catching boot.

The lurid green may not be to all tastes but is a pleasant change from the usual dull blacks and browns. The sole is a bespoke version from Vibram, designed to reflect the natural shape of the heel and fore-foot.

Dual density rubbers and an aggressive tread pattern give reasonable grip in a variety of situations, but the general rounded shape of the edges of the sole do not give the same security as a traditional boot in soft mud.

The shape inside the boot was ideal for me, if not a touch wide across the fore-foot. My foot is narrow at the heel, low volume and D width. The heel in particular, a usual sticking point for me with boots, was well defined and seems to hold the foot in place by it's shape rather than by gripping the heel. The insole matches the shape of the sole. When removed it looks odd, as though it should not fit, but a quick check against the foot reveals perfect alignment.

In use these boots have proved to be something of an all-rounder; they have a light sensitive feel, to the extent that stones and sticks are noticeable underfoot, but the thin TPU insert seems to prevent any discomfort. They are extremely light (395g per boot), and have a good, grippy sole unit. Six months of solid use has produced no noticeable impact on the integrity of the boot, and it seems likely to last well. With it's soft but surprisingly secure cuff it will remain my boot of choice for light-weight summer walking.

Merrell Proterra Mid

(Synthetic upper pictured)
Merrell's newest line-up of shoes feature technologies garnered from their barefoot range, but the similarity to their 'Trail' range is less apparent. The increased 'drop' in the heel, 4mm rather than often double that, produces a comfortable more trainer-like feel.

While there is less cushioning than usual across the entire sole unit, this shoe still feels far more heavily cushioned than the Asolo boot. The wide flat sole provides masses of stability. (Great on a flat pedaled bike, for those it may apply to.)

The sole comes from Merrell themselves this time, a departure from their usually flawless Vibram units (apart from one memorable Chameleon sole; great in the dry, but a veritable death-trap in the wet).

This is a trend across the brands with Lowa, Salomon and Asolo all sporting non-Vibram soles. The Proterra sole unit is not very aggressive, featuring a 2mm deep diamond pattern, but grips well on pretty much everything, wet or dry, aside from thick mud where it lacks the deeper tread required for traction.

The upper is a thick suede bonded to a durable lining mesh. The one piece construction of the upper and the usual Merrell quality of materials means the upper is tough, water repellent, and protective. The fit however, advertised as precise and glove-like, is anything but. The cavernous interior will require a volume reducer to be fitted for all but the widest feet. These are easily available in most outdoor shops and if the shoe feels big it is worth trying one to fill out the shoe and reduce wear on the flex points.

The short cuff on the Proterra Mid provides little but psychological support, but is useful when walking over fine scree for preventing stones getting inside. I am not a fan of 'mid' shoes in general, finding they provide little ankle support while making the shoe heavier and more cumbersome. However Merrell do make the exact same shoe without the cuff so this is a non-point. And I will admit that in waterproof versions they do provide superior protection to water than their cuff-less counter-parts.

Proterra sole unit
In all this is a good, comfortable shoe. It's unpretentious looks lend it well to travel or city use, where its increased cushioning and comfort is sure to be a bonus. It is tough and will last, and while it's smooth sole make it unsuited to more demanding terrain, its width and lack of squidgy, flexible bumps makes it feel very stable and grounded.


Overall I have been thoroughly pleased with both boots, though as I have mentioned, both are very diffferent. Asolo's 'Creek' boot is an out and out walking boot, though its thin mid-sole and very minimal shank makes it more suited to lighter use. In saying this though, when not carrying heavy weight they are a joy to wear and do indeed provide a much more natural experience.

Merrell's Proterra Mid on the other hand is a vastly different boot. It is a comfortable everyday shoe which offers good foot protection and durability. It is not suited to any but the lightest hikes on well defined paths, which is unfortunate for a slightly deeper and more aggressive sole would have solved this problem. However despite this minor short coming I know that while I really do love my Asolos as a boot, The Proterras are my shoe of choice for everyday wear.

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