There are, I assume, few things in the world worse than a product planning meeting. Sure, I am happy to point out product flaws, and I even might be able to come up with a few big ideas to solve them, but as soon as we turn to the nitty gritty details I simply can’t summon the energy to care. What zipper should we choose? Blue or cyan? Should this buckle be 1.5 or 1.8 cm? To all of these my answer is a cold blank stare.
And this is precisely why I do not have a job at Arc’teryx. Arc’teryx is where the detail fanatics thrive, where the
strange good people who can spend years on a zipper design find a home. Pick up a piece of Arc’teryx gear and you can feel the weight of the many meetings, memos, product testing, and incessant drive for perfection. Don’t believe me? Go to REI, grab an Arc’teryx rain jacket and look for winkles in the seam taping. You will find none.
Perfection though, can be a bit boring. Take Patagonia as a counter example. While the Arc’teryx employees were sitting in their 387th meeting discussing the relative qualities of polymer compositions for one zipper on a single pack, the Patagonia product team was out doing some “field testing” at the local beach. The fact that their office is a fun place to be comes through in everything they make, meaning they come up with some neat, interesting, maybe even whimsical stuff. But also, this:
Which is a long way of saying that we need people like those at Arc’teryx in the world, because while the details can be boring, when you get them right the effect can be profound. This brings us to the topic of this review: the Arc’teryx Bora Mid hiking boots.
Arc’teryx footwear is radically different from all the hiking shoes that came before it. First, some of the shoes in Arc’teryx’s line are actually two separate shoes: 1.) A tough outer, and 2.) A removable inner which can be changed out for different conditions (e.g., insluated, waterproof, etc.). This design choice has been the focus of nearly all the press surrounding these shoes (for example, HERE, HERE, andHERE); however, I believe this is a red herring. The thing that really gives these boots the potential to be special is that the outer boot is not made of leather, but rather of a laminate that is simultaneously much tougher and much lighter.
Arc’teryx believes that these changes will will fundamentally alter our expectations of hiking footwear. That’s big talk. To test that claim I (or rather, my wife Angie, HAPPY FATHERS DAY TO ME!) plunked down $300ish dollars and hit the trail with a brand new pair of Bora Mids. However, there is a fundamental problem with the way shoe reviews work: because reviewers have to handle a huge number of shoes per year, they really only get to test out their shoes for a short period of time. In this way reviews at places like Backpacker (where, full disclosure, I have done a little bit of writing) are really something more like unboxings and first takes. Enter our 1,000,000 step review.
The 1,000,000 step review is actually spread out across multiple reviews. First I do an unboxing and quick take, which you can find HERE. This segment covers out of box fit and finish, goes over specific features of the boots, and gives many many more details on the removable inner-boot system. I really suggest you read it. Then, I do periodic updates around 250,000, 500,000, and 750,000 steps. The 250,000ish step update is HERE. Again, I really suggest you read along because I won’t rehash all the details every time. Just in case that isn’t your jam…
STEPS 1-294,853 SUMMARY:
WHY DID I PICK THESE INSTEAD OF THOSE WITH REMOVABLE INNER: Arc’teryx makes these boots with both removable and non-removable liners, with the removable liner model costing an additional $50. The liners themselves are supposed to make the boot more flexible, allowing you to choose the amount of insulation necessary for the conditions, but are only available Gore-Tex and Insulated models. I live in Arizona where I will never need an insulated inner, and Arc’teryx is not making the non-waterproof liner I would actually use. So, I elected to save the $50 and get the simpler boot and I suggest you do the same.
OUT-SOLE QUALITY: Much stronger and thicker than other boots in its class (e.g., Salomon Quest 4D, Lowa Renegade, etc.)
IN-SOLE QUALITY: Terrible, immediately replaced with superfeet green.
WATERPROOFING: Stood in full bathtub for 30 min, no leaks. Since that first test they have been rained on, drug through creeks, and across many dewy fields with not even a tiny bit of leaking.
LOOKS: Pure-sex. I don’t even mind wearing them in public.
STEPS 1-294,853 CONCLUSION: Great, but I wish they had offered a non-waterproof inner boot.
From the 294,853 step update:
In the first review, I mentioned that these boots were comfortable. What I did not realize at that time is that the laminate material that makes up the outer continues to break in more slowly than comparable nubuck leather boots. As such, these boots, which were already comfortable to begin with, have broken in even more to become an almost perfect mold for my feet. The minimal heel slipping that was apparent in the beginning is gone, the annoying clicking sound these boots can make when they are first worn is gone, and the general sense of clunckiness that came with such a stiff pair of boots when first worn is gone. By combining the out of box wearability of light hikers, and the made for your foot feeling of well broken in full grain leather uppers, these boots once, again, combine the best features of both worlds of hiking footwear.
Not to toot our own horn too much, but this type of observation is exactly what makes an extended review valuable– some of the early reviews noted that these boots did not live up to their expectations from a comfort perspective, but with the boot-hours I have logged I have to believe that these reviewers just underestimated the fact that these boots, unlike others in their class, get better with time.
I am going to sound like a broken record here, but these boots have continued to get better with time. From generally comfortable out of the box to wonderful at 300,00 steps, these boots feel like they were made for me at 500,000 steps. They are the most comfortable shoes, not just boots, I have ever worn, but it took a while to get there.
For what it is worth my brother in law (who runs an incredible photography site) has reported a similar pattern with his pair of Bora Mids. The shoe version of this boot, which I wear for canyoneering (review HERE), broke in a little faster and are equally wonderful.
My time with boots is a history of violence. I live in Phoenix, and I generally train with a 50ish lb pack on the local mountain preserves. Even worse, I am a heavier guy (190 lbs) and I supinate really badly, placing all the wear one one side of the outsole. If I get bored, sometimes I’ll run a little bit with the pack on.
All together this means I eat through boots. In 2013 I ripped lugs off the outsole on 2 pairs of Salomon Quest 4Ds (including one in less than 3 hikes!), one pair of Salomon Comet 3Ds, and one pair of Lowa Renegades. People like me haunt the dreams of boot designers everywhere.
In my earlier reviews I pointed out that the Bora Mids had the strongest outsoles I had ever seen of a boot in this class. 514,061 steps in here is how they look:
Wowza. The only other soles I have had hold up this well are the radically stiffer, heavier, and generally worse Asolo TPS 520.
As to the rest of the boot:
The outers as a whole seem to be holding up well. Elastic bands on the top of the liner cuff are still tight.
The binding point between the breathable (light gray above) and stronger (black above) is where the boot flexes as you walk. Despite my constant poking and prodding there are no signs of the laminate separating on either side of either boot.
Still got some of that red Grand Canyon dirt on the toes! Also, the rand is in good shape.
I hesitate to bring up waterproofing because, as the greatest hiker of our generation, Andrew Skurka, points out, waterproofing boots often causes more problems than it solves. To sum up Andrew’s point, waterproofing almost always fails, and when it fails, the waterproof membrane then stops your feet from drying. Therefore, IF you are going to have a waterproof membrane in your boot it damn well better work 100% of the time.
The Gore-Tex layer in the Bora Mids has proven exceptionally durable. I am not a product engineer, but I suspect that this is because the Mids have almost no seams, and seams are the most common failure point for water proof membranes.
This is an enormous differentiating point for these boots relative to the competition. I have owned at least 10 pairs of Salomon boot/shoes over the last decade. Most of these leaked out of the box, and all of them leaked after ten hikes. 515,061 steps in the Bora Mids don’t leak, full stop.
When I was a teenager my dad took me to REI to get my first good pair of boots. It was one of their garage sales, and I came home with a pair of (slightly) worn Lowa Renegades. Coming from a pair of old Hi Techs, which had apparently been assembled by elephants, the change was instantaneous. Suddenly I could hike further faster than I had ever thought possible. Blisters were gone and hiking was fun in the way hiking is fun as a child again. I wore those boots until my foot wore through the outsole on the middle of the Tibetan Plateau. I loved them, but these are better.
Want to buy them? Try these links:
Please support Lesser Places and purchase them using these links for MENS orWOMENS. For the removable inner Bora2 Mids click here for MENS, womens not available at this time. Doing so costs you nothing extra and we get a little extra cash to keep this site running.
See them in action:
Cool memories from when they were on my feet:
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.