Monday, September 26, 2016

Gear Closet: Merrell Capra Venture Hiking Boots

As many of you know, last week I traveled to Bryce Canyon in Utah to test out a bunch of new gear from my friends at REI. I knew that while I was out there we would be backpacking through remote sections of the national park and camping in the wild. I saw that as the perfect opportunity to try out some new hiking boots as well, thinking that a couple of days on the trail would make the perfect testing grounds. Turns out the weather we encountered in Bryce was wild too, ranging from light rain to heavy downpours, followed by hail, gale-force winds, flash floods, tornadoes, and the occasional bout of sunshine. In short, it was exactly the kind of weather you need to see just how good your gear truly is. Thankfully, I made a good decision when it came to footwear.

For this trip, my boot of choice was the new Capra Venture from Merrell. These lightweight and very comfortable boots are a new addition to the company's line-up this fall, and being a big fan of the footwear that Merrell produces, I was eager to see how well they performed on what was expected to be a challenging, but dry, hiking trail in Bryce. It was far from that however, and over the course of two days of backpacking, we encountered conditions that would test the resolve of any boot. Thankfully, the Capra Venture met that challenge nicely, and kept my feet well protected the entire time.

This boot features a couple of new components to the outdoor industry that I was looking forward to putting to the test. Those included the new Gore-Tex Surround materials and the Vibram Megagrip outsole. Gore-Tex Surrounded as been specifically designed to create a more breathable, yet still waterproof, boot that can be worn in warmer environments. That's exactly what I had in mind when I chose it to take with me to Bryce Canyon, but due to heavy rains and cooler temperatures, my Capra Ventures were forced to deal with far more water and moisture than anticipated.

So how did they hold up? Very well for the most part. The shoes kept my feet warm and dry for the bulk of the trip, which included crossing through swollen streams, walking in lots of mud, and hiking in incessant rainstorms. Late in the afternoon on our first day out in Bryce my feed did start to get a little damp, but considering the amount of moisture we were facing on the trail this was more of a case of the boots soaking out, and possibly getting some moisture in over the top from y saturated shell pants, more than anything else. Either way, it wasn't a great deal of water that made its way inside of the boots, but it was worth noting nonetheless.

In terms of traction, the Vibram Megagrip performed extremely well too. Walking on slick trails throughout both days in the park, I was able to keep my footing without too much trouble at all. That is to say, when the outsoles had a chance to actually grip the ground. There was so much mud collecting on the bottom of the boots that it was difficult to keep them clean. This happened to everyone on the trip, no matter what type of boots they were wearing at the time. But when the soles of the Capra Venture actually touched the surface of the ground, they held firm and reliably, instilling a great deal of confidence in the guy wearing them.

Aside from these two new innovations, Merrell has brought a great deal of other design elements that I appreciated greatly. For instance, the boot has a nice low profile that looks good and feels very comfortable on your feet. It also happens to be fairly lightweight when you consider the level of protection it brings to the table. While the ultralight backpacking crowd are sure to prefer something else, those of us who would rather hike in boots will certainly enjoy the lack of bulk and weight here. Best of all, Merrell has still built the shoe to provide plenty of protection and cushioning, as at the end of the day my feet and legs still felt strong and ready to go.

Built with a bellows tongue to help keep debris out of the interior of the boot, the Capra Venture also comes a nicely molded footbed to provide comfort and support. As a result, these boots were comfortable on my feet immediately and required a very minimal amount of break-in time before they were ready to go. I experienced no hotspots, blisters, or abrasions after two hard days on the trail, and thankfully I didn't end up getting any mud, dirt, rocks, or any other unwanted debris inside the shoe. At the end of the trek, my feet were in just as good of condition as they were went they set out, which is about all you can ask for out of a pair of boots.

In terms of durability, the Capra Venture once again impresses. I wouldn't expect a boot to show much wear and tear after just a couple of days on the trail, but my pair was put through the wringer and still managed to come out looking practically brand new. That is, after I hosed off all of the mud and dirt that had accumulated along just about every surface. Once cleaned and dry, I was hard pressed to be able to tell that they had not been just taken out of the box, despite miles of hiking in poor weather conditions.

If you're in the market for a new pair of backpacking or trekking boots, and you're looking for something that can provide plenty of protection without a lot of weight, the Merrell Capra Venture is a great choice. It not only comes packed with the latest fabrics from Gore and a new outsole from Vibram, it has decades of Merrell's heritage behind its design too. The result is a boot that is meant for those of us who hike longer distances while carrying a sizable load in in our backpacks. On the Bryce Canyon trip my pack was stuffed with all kinds of gear, including a new three-person tent that I was carrying by myself, but these boots still kept me fresh, moving fast, and feeling strong.

Priced at $230, the Capra Venture is about inline with what I would expect to pay for a very good backpacking boot. The fact that they are so lightweight and comfortable however puts them in a bit of a class all their own, and in my eyes makes them well worth the cost for someone who needs this level of performance. This isn't a boot designed for a short hike on a perfectly groomed trail on a Saturday morning – although it would do just fine in that environment. Instead, this is outdoor footwear built for adventures in rough and tumble places. It's meant for hiking longer distances and for trekking in remote places. If that's where you find yourself heading on a regular basis, the Capra Venture is definitely a boot for you.

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