The 1,000,000 Step Review has moved on! Find the 1,000,876 step update HERE.
Or read on to the 713,174 step update below.
This is my son, Jack.
I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately. At 17 months old he is entering the most exciting time of his life– old enough to understand how things work, but young enough that every single thing is glittering and new. He can spend hours, days really (assuming we take breaks for the all-important nap and snack times), exploring and discovering. So, he runs through the world discovering new things, naming new things, eyes shining with the thrill of seeing something you have never seen before. It is beautiful and endearing, the kind of thing that gives you hope for the future.
Some of us lose this as we get older, as the thrill of discovering the sun is replaced with the knowledge there is nothing new under it. We are let down when “new” ideas turn out to be re-treads and slowly we gravitate toward the things we already know. Yet, even we old cynics can be surprised once in a while. And, when we are lucky enough stumble upon something new, something genuinely different, that child like wonder can quickly bubble back up. Next thing you know, you are a kid again, smiling wide as you remember that the world is neat and things really can change.
All of which is a long way of getting to the point of this review: I’ve been wearing the Arc’teryx Bora Mids for nearly three-quarters of a million steps now, they are new, they are genuinely different, and they are incredible.
Simply put, Arc’teryx footwear is just 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 made of a laminate that is simultaneously much tougher and much lighter than leather.
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.
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. That 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 and the 500,000ish 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 1-514,061 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 $50-150 depending on where you purchase. 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 (as of this writing) Arc’teryx is not selling the non-waterproof liner I would actually use. So, I elected to save the money and get the simpler boot.
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: At 514,061 steps no sign of leaking
LOOKS: Pure-sex. I don’t even mind wearing them in public.
STEPS 1-514,061 CONCLUSION: Great, but I wish they had offered a non-waterproof inner boot.
On to the update!
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.
And the 514,061 step update:
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.
At 731,174 steps these boots continue to surprise. Somehow they keep getting more comfortable. Because I have strangely shaped heels, I always have to do serious lace locking to keep my heels in place. Over the last testing period I realized that these boots had so perfectly formed to me that I no longer have to. It’s wonderful.
As I mentioned in my initial review, one of my great disappointments with the Bora system is that Arc’teryx has elected not to release non-water proof liners. This might sound silly because everyone wants dry feet, and waterproof shoes seem like a surefire way to keep your feet dry. However, as Andrew Skurka points out in his seminal piece on the topic, one of the problems with waterproof breathable membranes (like the Gore-Tex used on these boots) is that every material will fail eventually, and when waterproof breathable membranes fail they not only let water in, but inhibit the ability of water to move out.
In initial testing the Bora Mids performed flawlessly, keeping my feet completely dry despite being fully submerged in water for 15 minutes. However, last weekend, after two days in boggy conditions, of Mt. Baldy my feet, especially the right foot, began to feel wet. To confirm that the leak was not the result of water wicking down my soaked legs into the socks, I repeated my full 30 minute submersion test.
Both boots leaked directly over the “pinky” toe. The right boot in particular leaked far worse than the left, confirming what I felt on Baldy.
What does this mean? Well, that’s actually a really interesting question.
For one, let’s compare start by comparing the Bora Mid to the competition. I maintain that the natural born enemy of the Bora Mid is the Solmon Quest 4D. Every pair of Solomon Quest 4Ds I have owned (and there have been many) have leaked right out the box. Every. Single. Pair. Looking away from Solomon, the pair of Lowa Renegades I loved so much that I wore down to the midsoles leaked within six months of owning them. The Boras held up to a comparatively strong 500,000+ steps. This is speculation, but I am confident that the Bora Mids did better than anything else they are competing against would.
Second, though these leaks are annoying they are not catastrophic. Remember that the pictures above show my feet after 30 minutes fully submerged in water. This is an admittedly extreme test, and as these boots transition from being “completely waterproof” to “a little leaky” they will still protect your feet from the conditions the vast majority of the conditions hikers face most of the time– rain, snow, and dew. Or, put another way, if you don’t want to get your feet wet don’t stand in the stream for 30 minutes.
Last, you could see this as a reason to step up from the Bora Mid to the Bora2 Mid, which utilize replaceable liners. This would play to the modular promise of the Bora line, as when the Gore-Tex liners wore out you would just replace them. But this too requires a little introspection. Using Amazon pricing as a guide, here are the costs of such a proposition:
Bora Mid (size 11.5): $199.94
Bora2 Mid (size 11.5): $328.25
Replacement Liner: $95.00
Difference w/Liner: $223.31
*Pricing as of 8/30/16
So you could buy an an entirely new pair of boots, complete with fresh soles, outers, and eyelets, for the price of upgrading from the Bora to the Bora2 and replacing the liners when they wear out. This might be worth it if Arc’teryx also offered non-waterproof, fully breathable liners for the Bora2 as well, making the system truly flexible, but until then buying the Bora2 only make sense if you life in a cold climate where the insulation matters.
So what are we left with? The Boras have performed admirably in the department of waterproofing, outlasting any competing design I have experience with. The leak they developed is not horrendous, and I have only noticed it in extreme scenarios. 750,000ish steps in I am sure they would do fine in the rain and snow, which is what most people buy waterproof boots for in the first place.
However, they do leak because all waterproof boots will leak with enough wear. And when they do leak, all the water that gets in has trouble getting out. This is the fundamental flaw of waterproof footwear, and, despite their best efforts, Arc’teryx doesn’t seem to have figured out a way around it.
OUTER and SOLE DURABILITY
To set the stage: I live in Phoenix, I hike all summer, 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.
731,174 steps in, lets look at the boots:
Incredible. Absolutely incredible. The only boots I have had hold up this well are the absurdly heavy Asolo TPS 520.
I will mention that my brother in law has the same boots and his have developed wear points on the outer shell, right at the ball of the foot. He wears his boots quite loose compared to me, so my working hypothesis is that the extra flex in his step is putting too much pressure on the outer. My pair, despite lots of wear in really terrible conditions, show no similar wear signs.
That being said, durability is the area where Arc’teryx’s decision to use laminate pays dividends. Usually durability comes at the cost of weight. However, relative to leather, laminate is both lighter and tougher. What more, because the weight savings on the upper are so great, Arc’teryx could use a stronger, more durable, heavier outsole than the competition and still end up with a lighter overall boot. All together this means you get the toughness of a hardcore, classic backpacking boot (e.g., Asolo TPS 520, Danner Mountain Light, etc.) with the weight comparable to the lightweight boot champion, the Solomon Quest 4D.
A serious question: if lighter, faster, grippy-er shoes can get you to places like this…
…while still being strong enough to support you and your pack, then what is the point of boots, anyways?
I am not the first person to ask this question. Actually, I’m probably a decade or so late. For years boots have been slipping in popularity as serious hikers move towards trail runners. Shoes have gotten better, loads lighter, distances longer, and (most importantly) we have gotten tougher. When facing the vastness of the PCT or the non-stop walking of an Arizona Death March, ounces matter and boots weigh many ounces. What more, as these trail runners began to populate the REI shelves, weekend warriors realized they did not need to lug around boots for their few 5 mile hikes a year. To continue to exist boots needed to change.
And change is what Arc’teryx has done here. The Bora Mids are a fundamental transition in boot design, a complete rethinking of what materials can be used to make a boot. By transitioning from leather to laminate Arc’teryx have created a boot that is lighter than other “light” boots, stronger than trail runners, equally as durable as boots that are heavier, and still comfortable enough to rack up huge miles.
Of course, there are quibbles. Break in is long. The provided insoles are terrible. I wish the waterproofing were infinitely durable and infinitely breathable. But quibbles these are. To continue to be useful boots must prove themselves better at something that shoes. They must be more durable, they must provide more support, and they must remain light enough not to be a hinderance. The Bora Mids do all of this and more. These aren’t just good boots, they are an example what boots should be, what boots will have to be if they are going to make it in a world of ever longer, ever faster hikes.
Want to buy them? Try these links:
Please support Lesser Places and purchase them using these links for MEN’S or WOMEN’S. For the removable inner Bora2 Mids click here for MEN’S or WOMEN’S. Women’s models are not available through Amazon at this time, and the provided link takes you directly to Arc’teryx, which has no affiliation with Lesser Places.
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.