Friday, January 25, 2013

Saucony Adventerra GTX Review: Darth Vader Eats Trail Mix

The Adventerra GTX is a first-of-its-kind from one of my favorite running specialty makers, Saucony. Unlike Merrell, who came into running from the outdoor adventure crowd, Saucony is attempting to do something amazing and enter the outdoor crowd coming form the running side.  

Why is it amazing, in my opinion?  I guess there is a mentality I believe I have observed in hardcore outdoor gear that heavy, traditional, and tried & true products and brands are best, like my pair of Vasque Sundowners.  

There are many distance hikers that swear by this style of all-leather, indestructible boot. Gore-tex liner. Heavy Vibram lugged outsole. High, stiff ankle collar. One-piece smooth upper.  In short, a hiking boot in the traditional mold. What you really have is a work boot. I don't us ermine for hiking, even with a pack.  I use them for driving a shovel in the ground, protecting my feet out in the field for work, etc.  Hiking, after all, is pretty much just rigorous walking with a load on your shoulders.

So, with my long-standing belief that less-is-more in footwear, I am eager for this emerging market of effective, lightweight, low-drop hiking products coming online.  Right now I am wearing the Saucony Adventerra GTX and the Merrell Proterra in a "battle of the 'terra-boots" testing period.  These are both low-drop hikers based on performance lasts shared with popular minimal running products like the Saucony Kinvara and Merrell Barefoot platforms, respectively.

Now, no one will accuse either of these boots of being minimal footwear.  Make no mistake, they are both hiking boots.  However, in a twist of fate, the Saucony...the one from the running shoe company, is the sturdier and more robust of the two, while the Merrell Proterra, from the traditional rugged outdoor company, is much lighter duty.

Well, let me just say I am very happy that I was able to get a shot at reviewing both products, but in my everyday life the unusual (more on that in a minute) Adventerra gets the nod.  I wear this boot for work (i manage a conservation non-profit, so I get muddy a lot) and I appreciate the familiar feel and fit I have grown accustomed to running in my all-time winner, the Kinvara (with the Kinvara 3 being my "everyman's shoe pick-of-the-year" in 2012).

The Adventerra can be reviewed two ways.  For the gorp crowd, lets look at it as a hiking boot.  Lets say that you are an aspiring AT hiker and you are comparing the Vasque Sundowner or some other hardcore boot with the Saucony alternative.  You will find the Adventera GTX to be just as waterproof (the GTX indicated Gore-Tex). You will find it just as stable (Adventerra has wide, stiff, luggy outsoles borrowed from the popular Brooks Cascadia competitor, the Saucony Xodus).  You will find a high, protective ankle collar (albeit one with a neoprene sleeve that hugs the Achilles, a departure from a traditional boot). You will find a roomy, comfortable fit.  In short, you will find a competitive hiking boot.

Here is the catch...the thing is way lighter.

As a runner, lets say you have a new goal of taking on long-distance hiking.  You go to the outfitter and you are comparing the Adventerra to your minimal running shoes.  You will find a low-drop last (4mm heel-to-toe).  You will find a lightweight, breathable upper.  You will find a cushioned ride.  You will find a running-shoe-like insole.  You will find a higher collar than you are used to, but not a stiff, Italian leather brace, but rather a flexible, neoprene sleeve that won't disrespect your delicate road-runner tootsies.

A few details.  I like the outsole.  It is durable, tough, and luggy.  Perfect for a boot.  I bet I would think it is too much in the Xodus shoe it was designed for, but in a hiking application it is great.  I like the fit and the low drop.  I don't totally love the mid foot wrap in the Adventerra, I have to really reef on those laces to get a snug fit there.  It is forgiving, but maybe too much so. Usually it isn't a big deal, but if I was hiking with a pack, I might want more security. The fit is roomy, but I could always ask for more toe-room.  I have really only worn these in deep winter conditions with really thick socks, so I bet more athletic socks would leave me with plenty of room, but be sure to size carefully in store (bring your thick socks and your thin ones). I like the looks, very Darth-Vader-eats-trail-mix.

It is a great product from Saucony that gives the runner a new sort of option when thinking about footwear outside of their running.  I see minimal runners wearing minimal running shoes for walking around in snow.  Often, that is a-ok.  However, for someone like me who needs to get in rugged spots for work all year, no matter the weather, the Adventerra is a welcome option. I actually asked my Saucony contact WHY did Saucony do this?  After all, it is there first-ever non-running (or recovery) product. Here is what they said:

“We created the Adventerra because we believe that running is the ultimate outdoor activity and that many of our runners love to hike as well. We felt we could bring a running shoe mentality to the heavy hiking boot world that our runners would find more comfortable, lighter and more familiar to the shoes they run in every day. However, we knew that we had to bring key hiking boot protection and traction as well. The Adventerra is the result of this combination.”

So, I guess I could have just post that and called it good.  So, if you are considering a hiking boot, you may want to give this one a try.  I can dig in a shovel with it, but don't have to suffer with heavy leather boots all day.  It isn't perfect, but it is a great option in the hiking category and should lead to great things from Boston.

The Adventerra GTX is available from Saucony and other online retailers. It retails for $170...not cheap but competitive with other hikers in its class.  My pair was provided by the manufacturer.  


Ryan Jankoska said...

This is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks Zak for reviewing this. This really helps. Thanks for the in depth review !

Anonymous said...

No problem. I really hope product like this is the start a widespread move in the performance shoe industry towards integrating low drop, foot-friendly stuff in new places, like hikers. There are companies doing this with dress shoes already.

Peter Larson said...

I'm wearing the Merrell Mix Master Mid at work today - love it for slushy, snowy weather and it's light enough to wear all day comfortably. Seems like a slightly less built up version of the Saucony shoe. Interesting that Saucony and Merrell are both now owned by the same parent company, and will be interesting to see how they fit together going forward.

Zak said...

Absolutely, Pete. I am pretty excited to see what the sharing between Saucony and Merrell can provide. The same holds true for Patagonia footwear...I have a new video review of the EVERmore coming in the next few days and it is essentially a 4mm-drop Bare Access 2 with some tougher outsole materials and a rock plate.

You are right about the Adventerra, it is a lot more shoe than the MixMaster mid...but similar idea. The Adventerra is beefy enough for real field work and driving a shovel in the ground. It is a boot with the heart of a running shoe.