You could make the argument that foot care and condition is one of the most critical elements to back country excursion success.  It is what allows us to reach the goals that we have set and when it goes wrong, it can single footedly derail our adventures (pun intended).  So when looking to replace my “seen too many miles” Salomon low hikers, my goal was to achieve balance between waterproofing, durability, weight and foot temperature. In my opinion, these are the elements that drive the condition in which your feet will arrive at their destination.  I liked my Salomon shoes but I was determined to branch out and see what else was available.  Merrell has always had outstanding brand recognition and after my routine investigation, it seemed that the Chameleon 3 GTX was what I was looking for.

When they arrived, my first impression of the design and aesthetic was that the rubberized side straps and front toe covers gave the shoe a rugged feel that inspired one with confidence that the shoe would hold up admirably on a craggy rock scramble.  The Vibram sole was solid and the ‘lug-type’ tread design looked like it was geared to grip uneven terrain and still effectively shed mud if the trek took me into the marsh.

© Brad Weiser

First impressions on the foot were varied:  The Chameleon felt very sturdy in side construction and the soles had a firmness that felt as though it would last for many rough miles.  It was a little too firm around the ankle but I assumed that this would soften as the shoe was broken in.  The fit was maybe just a touch loose, particularly in the heel socket which seemed a little deep but was easily modified with the included sole inserts.  Most noticeable was how heavy they were.  These low cut cross trainers were heavier than my mid-height Garmont boots.  I’m not sure if it is the raw weight of the GoreTex or the thickness of the sole that was the bigger contributor but this quality took the Chameleon out of consideration as a lightweight hiking alternative.

After wearing for daily use for a month to break them in, the side construction was still very stiff and could be uncomfortable on the ankle during longer walks.  There was very little to indicate that the shoe was going to ‘break-in’ the way that I was accustomed to.  Potentially a greater concern was the breathability of the shoe.  While GoreTex bills itself as a breathable waterproof option, the breathability here leaves a lot to be desired.  My feet would be sweat damp in 30-40 degree temperatures after walks as little as half a mile.  Even after stopping activity, the shoe retained the heat and moisture rather than cycle it through the material and back into the air.  It seems, after some research, that the Chameleon is not the only GoreTex covered shoe to experience this side effect.  The soles were great for most terrain (except wet kitchen tile which is remarkably similar to the lichen covered rock that we experience on the Appalachian Trail here on the East Coast) and were especially at home on dry rock surfaces and soft forest trail.  The durability was not in question either.  The soles barely showed signs of wear and the placement of the rubberized sections on the side of the shoe as well as the toe really help prevent scuffs and cuts.

© Brad Weiser

Conclusion:  The Chameleon 3 GTX is a good walking shoe that is well constructed for cool damp conditions but not appropriate for warm weather hiking (even if raining) nor for backpacking as the weight and comfort concerns outweigh the benefit of the grippy soles and indestructibility.  While it is an effective rain shoe in suburbia, it does not fulfill my criteria for backcountry comfort and success.

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