The more I hike, the more I am reminded that each trip is its own animal, with its own set of parameters and its own individualized gear needs.  When testing the Vasque Bitterroot GTX, I got a good lesson on why this is and when that very shoe would come in handy. You see, the Bitterroot is heavier than my normal choice of hiking footwear and heavier than most anything I would even choose to carry in my pack period.  That said though, the quality of the shoe shone through in a number of categories and has easily earned a place on my selection rack.

Upon first inspection, the Bitterroot is a brutish mass of Vibram outsole and smooth leather upper that feels amazingly supple for being just out of the box.  I expected a more rigid pliability that would need weeks of breaking in. However, I was headed to the trail for a weekend of 20+ Appalachian Trail miles in two weeks and I needed those boots to go along so the soft feel was a positive sign.  The shoes have a substantial toe cap, and excellent heavy duty laces that are run through hinged eyelets that allow for greater foot flex (and a little easier to loosen up if frozen).

Trial of the first fit ©Brad Weiser

I want to make sure to make special note of the fit of the shoes. Vasque offers varied widths to achieve the best possible fit but what stuck out to me was how carefully they had planned their sizing for the intended use.  Knowing that most of us will be wearing a thick merino or poly blend sock, they seemingly added just a little extra 1/8th size boost to accommodate their intended audience so that their was no feeling of restriction.  The toe box is also slightly broader and allows for toe movement without slipping or blistering.  Because the boots are leather, they did spread ever so slightly during use and after getting wet but it had no discernible impact on fit or foot health.  The heel transition to the upper is completely smooth and not once have I had any heel blistering (given how my feet sweat, and how often I find myself in wet socks, this is borderline miraculous for me).

My initial proving grounds for the shoes were those AT miles I mentioned earlier in the Northern part of VA and WV up to Harpers Ferry.  Anyone who has hiked this section will know it for the roller coaster hills and the continuous rock fields that allow for very little continuity of pace and require very cautious foot placement.  This is another area where the Bitterroot excelled.  The heavy Vibram soles not only withstood the constant beating but were so supportive  that I fear if I had been wearing a trail runner that I simply would not have had enough arch support and would have experienced a great deal of foot pain as a result.  The ankle support was equally excellent as I teetered on sharp edged rock that was more ground cover, than bouldering material.

Terrain tested ©Brad Weiser

The waterproofing held true to description as long as you didn’t submerge them past about five inches which brings me to a couple things that I felt were not strengths of the shoe:  Heat retention and breathability.  It is debatable, but a waterproof shoe that has so little ventilation that your feet are soaked within a couple short miles, may be missing its marketing goal.  So while I have been mostly singing praises of the Bitterroot so far, it is not a shoe for warm temperatures in humid climates.  I have simply decided that when I want to use the advantages in stability and durability that the shoe has, I need to bring extra socks and change more frequently.  The other noticeable criticism is a direct tradeoff for all of that support, durability and strength and that is the overall weight.  The net effect of extra weight related to fatigue is increased when that weight is on your feet as opposed to the same weight being on your shoulders, so at 3.8 pounds per pair, you have to make some value judgements as to what you want out of your shoe and where you are using it. (Remember that whole, “each hike is a different animal” thing from above?)

All in all, a really well made and functionally sound heavy-duty boot, best suited for cool to cold weather on sharp edged rock or areas where you want a very resilient sole and excellent ankle stability but are willing to give up breathability and pay the weight penalty.

 

©Brad Weiser

Manufacturer: Vasque

Date available: Now

Manufacturer’s Website: Vasque – Shoes

MSRP: US$199.95

Listed Weight: 3 lb 8 oz

Actual Weight: 3lb 8 oz (per pair)

Materials: Leather outer with Vibram Sole; Molded PU/EVA/TPU Midsole

Size/Model tested: Bitterroot GTX Size 10.5

Colors Available: Slate Black/Chili Pepper or Gunpowder/Estate Blue

Bitterroot in action ©Brad Weiser
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