Everyone wants perfect products. When it doesn’t seem like there much money to be spent on fun things, and there is never enough money to spend on fun things, this seems like a reasonable desire. After all I, like you, can’t afford much that doesn’t feed my kid or put them through college, so when I do spend that money on new non-essentials I want whatever I buy to be perfect.
But perfection also comes at a cost. For one, creators seeking perfection tends to keep great things from us. Take the song Hallelujah as an example. It is a song that every decent human being loves. Unfortunately it’s creator, the late great Leonard Cohen was never satisfied with it. Instead he tinkered with the song his whole life, never quiet finished. In the meantime, while Cohen deliberated on how to make the song more perfect, someone else stepped in allowed his imperfect creation to be great.
It’s also worth pointing out that perfect isn’t necessarily better than great. LeBron James is unquestionably a more perfect basketball player than Michael Jordan. He’s taller, bigger, and can defend more positions all while averaging more assists and more rebounds per game than Michael. If you went to a laboratory and designed the perfect basketball player you would come out with LeBron James. But then you see this…
…and you remember that sometimes, given the choice, you’d rather have greatness than perfection.
All of which brings us to the topic of today’s review: I’ve walked 1,000,878 steps in my Arc’Teryx Bora Mids. They aren’t perfect, but sweet holy God they are great.
Simply put, Arc’teryx footwear is just different from other hiking shoes. 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, and HERE); however, 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 was actually spread out across multiple reviews. First I did 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 did periodic updates around 250,000, 500,000, and 750,000 steps. The 250,000ish step update is HERE, the 500,000ish step update is HERE, and the 750,000ish step update is HERE. This is the final edition, where I will go through how the boots survived all one millions steps. I really suggest you go back and read along because I won’t rehash all the details with every update, but just in case that isn’t your jam…
TL;DR STEPS 1-731,174 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: Small, slow leaks developed above both pinky toes
LOOKS: Pure-sex. I don’t even mind wearing them in public.
STEPS 1-731,174 CONCLUSION: “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.”
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.
TRUE STORY: Last weekend the laces of one of the boots came loose and they fit me so well that it took me a full mile of hiking before I realized what had happened. Yes, break in was long, but the payoff is boots that fits like it was made for you.
From the 731,174 step update
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.
These leaks have not grown worse since the last update.
As to what this all means, that is still an interesting question. As I’ve noted in previous iterations of this review, I’ve owned many pairs of these boots main competitors, the Salomon Quest 4ds and Lowa Renegades. Every pair of Quest 4ds I owned leaked out of the box and no pair of Lowa Renegades has made it more than six months before leaking. So, grading on the curve of lightweight backpacking boots, the waterproofing in the Bora Mids have been best in class in my experience.
Back to the 731,174 step update:
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.
Some have seen this as a reason to buy the more expensive Bora2s and simply replace the GoreTex liner when it wears out. I don’t think this is a good idea. Pricing has changed since that the last update, with the Bora Mids now up to MSRP ($280, pricing on these boots have been incredibly variable during the testing period). However, even at MSRP, buying 2 pairs of Bora Mids only costs $135 more than buying a single pair of Bora2s with an extra liner for when the leaking starts. And for that extra $135 you get an entirely new pair of boots, soles, outers, and all, rather than just a new liner. Outers and soles won’t last forever, so this seems like a better plan to me.
OUTER and SOLE DURABILITY
Good News/Bad News.
First the good:
At 1,000,876 steps the vast majority of my outers are in flawless shape.
Outsoles are in incredibly good shape as well. On the very last trip of the reviewing period I picked up one small cut in the sole of the left heel
My guess is that this came from sliding down some shale on the West Pinto Trail. I knew those rocks were sharp!
To put this all in perspective, my time with boots is usually nasty, brutish, and short. 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. The only other soles I have had hold up this well are the radically stiffer, heavier, and generally worse Asolo TPS 520.
Now the bad:
When Arc’teryx designed these boots they made the somewhat inexplicable mistake of only grommet reinforcing the top eyelet. This wasn’t a problem until about 900,000 steps, when I began to to notice the laces pulling through 1-2 eyelets per boot. As noted above, a couple layers of gorilla tape have taken care of this.
A quick disclaimer is needed: I tie my boots RIDICULOUSLY tight. I kick my heels in hard, yank the shit out of the laces, and lace lock repeatedly. That being said, I think two things are important: 1.) Obviously this should be fixed in Gen 2 of these boots. Just add some grommets and presto biggest fault with the boot solved. And, 2.) This is exactly why long term reviews like ours are important. Most consumers who buy outdoors gear (rationally or irrationally) expect it to last forever. Yet, nearly every review, in print and on the web, offers little beyond unboxings. This is a huge disservice to our readers, and we, both consumers and creators of outdoors media, have to find a way to fix it.
Okay, I’ll come off my soapbox now…
One million steps.
That’s three trips to the Grand Canyon,
Two old foes reconquered,
Many fish, fished, and deer, hunted,
A couple first trips,
And some easy times,
But more hard.
Or put anther way, one million steps takes you from this,
And, somehow, this,
Are they perfect? No. The eyelets need gromets, if you walk them forever they will leak eventually, and there is no acceptable reason that a non-waterproof liner has not been released yet. No, these boots aren’t perfect.
But they are impossibly light, and impossibly strong, and impossibly durable. By starting from the ground up and using materials that no one else had ever considered, Arc’teryx has managed to build the only piece of gear that I own that I am consistently amazed by, the only piece of gear that really seems different than everything else in my closet. These are not just my favorite boots, but rather my favorite boots by a distance so huge that it is difficult to imagine buying other boots. No, these boots aren’t perfect. But they are great.
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 IRL
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.