Mid-height GTX Lined Men’s Hiking Boot
Weight: 708g / 1lb 9oz
Price: £120 RRP
Since the beginning of my hillwalking days I have preferred boots to minimalist trail shoes. The extra stability in the ankle has always appealed to me. As a hiker with a very flat arch mid to higher level boots have always been more comfortable to wear. When Merrell offered to send a pair of their light Grassbow boots to review, this seemed like an interesting way to have my cake and eat it. While very much a mid boot in terms of ankle cuff height, the Grassbow approaches minimalist-grade weight at just over 700 grams. I’ve worn the Grassbow boots extensively in the Mourne Mountains during my testing, read on to find out what I thought of them.
The black/silver Grassbow boots have an understated yet stylish appearance, with subtle differentiation in the colour and materials. The majority of the boot upper comprises a breathable, flexible mesh which keeps the boot fabric from absorbing too much water, keeps it light and provides increased comfort. A stiffer, more robust synthetic fabric is used in areas of stress or tension such as around the lace eyelets and near the toe area.
All eyelets except the top two are fabric based, with the top two being metal hooks for cinching the boots in around the ankle for a more snug fit. The fabric eyelets still allow the laces to glide smoothly while bringing a welcome weight reduction.
The tread in the sole are impressively aggressive and deep for such a light boot and have provided excellent grip on varied terrain from wet grass to rocky crags.
The boots also feature a plastic reinforcement around the ankle area which lends additional stiffness to the boot where it is needed most. The differentiation of the plastic brings a nice aesthetic effect to the boot while more importantly providing a little more ankle stiffness.
While I could never expect these boots to provide the same stiffness and support as my Mantas, for a boot which is around a kilo lighter per pair, the support provided belies the remarkable lightness of the boot.
The boot has a good soft, yet firm support around the ankle. This is helped by a small yet helpful feature, the pull tab on the top of the tongue to pull it taut and straight before lacing the boots up and locking it into place. While this may seem insignificant, its little details like these which add up to comfort, particularly in lightweight footwear.
Thoughts from the trail
Now that we’ve covered a brief feature overview, lets consider how the boots performed where it mattered most, out in the hills / on the trail. I’ve worn the Grassbow on a variety of trails and conditions, for example they were worn on the Newcastle Challenge Trail almost immediately after I received them. The boots required no breaking in at all and this was proven on the Newcastle Challenge Trail, a 28 mile route which we covered in one day. I took a slight gamble walking almost 30 miles in a pair of boots I hadn’t broken in yet, but they had a level of out of the box comfort which reassured me. Had I have tried this with a traditional leather boot I no doubt would have had a painful experience.
The Grassbow’s lightness allows it to cover a range of route types where footwear choice was previously difficult. On a long (25 mile +) route with mostly flat paths and even terrain, I would sometimes simply wear a pair of running shoes. The light weight allows me to travel the longer distance without the fatigue of wearing a boot. It only takes one muddy field to make you regret that choice however. The grassbow gives some ankle height and support with very little weight penalty over the running shoes. It feels a little like cheating, or at least having your Kendal mint cake and eating it.
I also wore the Grassbow boots on a recent three day trip, the Ring of Gullion Way. A lightweight boot helps on longer trips by reducing fatigue, but also by holding less water. Even a waterproof boot will hold a certain amount of water in the outer fabric when wetted-out and this can add a surprising amount of weight. A lighter boot holds less and dries quicker and I found this to hold true with the Grassbow, whereas other boots such as my Scarpa Cyclones can often hold quite a lot of water in the heavy outer fabric, even if the inside is still bone dry.
The Grassbow boots are Goretex lined. This does add a little extra weight, but comes in quite valuable when crossing low streams or walking through wet grass for long periods. When dealing with deeper water however you do need to be careful, perhaps especially so with a lined boot. While the Goretex has always done an excellent job of keeping the water from penetrating the sides and upper, for obvious reasons it cannot prevent water ingress over the ankle cuff. Once water spills in over the top the Gortex has a way of keeping it in there, whereas a lightweight, un-lined boot would drain much more quickly. Thankfully I found the grip in the Grassbow boots didn’t fail me in the wet weather, so I wouldn’t hesitate to reach for them on those wetter days just perhaps not for a burn run or coasteering (unsurprisingly!).
I’ve worn these boots teamed up with a pair of knee high Sealskinz socks and found them to be a great combination when deeper water is expected. A calf-high flooded section of trail which forced my friends into a detour was no issue, allowing me to plod on and empty the boots out at the other side. I’d be curious to try a lighter Non Goretex shoe such as the Chameleon wrap as combined with the Sealskinz they might drain without needing emptying.
I’ve always found wet leaves to be an illustrative challenge for the grip of hiking boots. Many top notch hiking boots I have owned have performed flawlessly on rock and crag, only to slip and slide when confronted with wet leaves.
I suspect this is due to the fact that boots with deeper, linear lug patterns tend to fill up with mud early in your walk, reducing their surface area and effective grip when it comes to smooth surfaces like wet rocks or leaves.
Thankfully the unusual tread pattern on the Grassbows seems to be very mud resistant, with very few straight cracks between lugs to fill up with mud or debris.
The boots have a good level of flexibility in the forefoot and sole unit. This makes the boot extremely comfortable during those dreaded road sections of routes, where a natural foot-roll gait is the most economical and comfortable way to walk.
The flexibility of the Grassbow does have its downsides however, this is not a boot in which you would like to carry a heavy pack over uneven ground. I have carried a full camping pack in these boots over relatively even terrain without difficulty, however over highly difficult or technical terrain I would recommend a stiffer boot if you are carrying a lot of weight. On a three day trip before Christmas I carried a 22 kilo pack through uneven ground in very windy conditions and found myself wanting for a little more stiffness and support. Someone needed rescued at the end of that trip and I made similar observations when helping with the stretcher. To put this into perspective, this is the boot to race to the site of the accident in, not the one for carrying the casualty off the mountain. I wouldn’t see this as a disadvantage to these particular boots however, such use is well outside the intended use-case for the Grassbow.
In terms of durability, the Grassbow have performed very well. The boots have had extensive use in 2014 and early 2015, through everything from forest trails to multi day mountain trips. The boots have been wet and dried, muddied and cleaned countless times and still have a good solid grip in the sole and the upper fabric is intact and unworn looking. A longer term update will follow from this perspective at the 18 months mark, but for now things are looking great.
The Grassbow is a lightweight yet waterproof and supportive boot which bridges the gap between a minimalist barefoot shoe and a full blown hiking boot. It provides excellent grip and decent support despite its light weight, allowing you to press on fast and light on the flat paths, assured that you’ll be ready when the ground gets uneven and wet.
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