Footwear is, for me, the most important piece of backpacking gear and I am very picky about my feet being comfortable. The large majority of hiking and backpacking consists of walking and if your feet are uncomfortable walking is not going to be very enjoyable.

My revelations into lightweight backpacking have me moving away from traditional heavy leather hiking boots to lighter-weight hiking shoes. I’ve also been avoiding waterproof varieties as this limits breathability, instead relying on a slick pair of Gore-Tex socks when things get wet.

wolverine flare

I’m on the constant lookout for footwear improvements as–as far as I’m concerned–they haven’t made the perfect pair of do-it-all hiking shoes as of yet. When I received my funky silver Flares for testing I was very excited as these seemed they may be a contender. My dog loves it when I get new shoes to test, and we set out together to find out if the Flares had what it takes.

wolverine flare

What are they?

The Wolverine Flares are a medium weight, medium duty hiking shoe. The synthetic uppers fit below the ankle and the soles have a fairly aggressive tread for various terrain.

The feature that separates the Flares from the multitude of hiking shoe choices is Wolverine’s new Individual Comfort System (ICS). The ICS is a gel disc in the heel of the shoe located under the insole that allows the user to change the amount of cushioning in the heel by simply rotating the disc to the desired setting.

The ICS has four main settings: Firm, Cushion, Inward, and Outward. Firm is designed to transfer more of your walking energy to the ground and the Cushion setting makes for a softer step. Inward and Outward allow for adjustability based on whether you pronate or supinate, to add cushioning to the inside or outside of the heel. There are also half settings between the main ones to blend the cushioning with support.

wolverine flare

It’s neat and unique to be able to customize a shoe’s cushioning on the fly and with the increase in online purchases the ICS means that people can buy these shoes without ever having tried them on and then adjust them for personalized support.

What’s good Wolverine Flare?

The adjustability of the Wolverine ICS is a really cool feature. Unlike the running shoes at specialty shoe stores that are divided into neutral, pronators, and supinators, hiking shoes and boots seem to all be lumped together with no way to tell what type of shoes fit your walking style.

The Flares get around sticking to a certain mold by allowing the user to customize their shoes. I’m like other gear-loving backpackers I’m sure, in that we enjoy fidgeting with our stuff to get the best performance and comfort. Having customizable settings in my shoes is both a good and bad thing, I now get to fiddle with my shoes for the best fit and, I now want to stop, take off my shoes, and adjust them, constantly…

The flares fit true-to-size and due to their running shoe-like construction they required almost no break-in period. The upper does not contain any mesh sections and is made out of a soft synthetic material and liner. Despite the lack of ventilation they seem to maintain breathability and I never noticed any undue sweating while wearing them.

I wore the Wolverine Flares in all sorts of weather conditions on many different types of terrain and I liked that my feet stayed firmly planted in the shoes with none of the sliding or twisting that I’ve experienced in other footwear. The soles maintained their grip throughout and I had no slips or falls while wearing the shoes.

wolverine flare

What’s not so good?

Throughout my testing of the Wolverine Flares there is one glaring problem that stands out for me… They made my feet hurt!

For regular walks around town or shorter day hikes, they performed just fine. However, as soon as I was wearing them for extended distances such as during a recent trip in the Rockies, where we walked about 50 miles in four days, the bottoms of my feet got unusually sore and fatigued.

It’s difficult to compare shoes directly as I was hiking exclusively in the Wolverines and I cannot say for sure that maybe my feet are just not used to distance walking after a long winter. But, I do know that through all my other seasons of hiking I’ve never noticed the bottoms of my feet getting so tender after only a half day of walking.

I tried setting the ICS on the cushioned setting, which does add more bounce to the heel, however it didn’t help with the overall lack of cushion for the rest of my sole. I also found that the cushion setting caused more heel rubbing and was starting to cause blistering on the lower portion of my heel. Possibly replacing the insole with something thicker may help.

To be fair, it should be noted that I encountered a lot of rain during my longest hikes and I know water logging can reduce the cushioning of a shoe. Each night I took out the insoles in the hopes that the shoes would dry out. Unfortunately the thick upper material soaks up water and holds it in and the lack of mesh ventilation doesn’t help.

wolverine flare

I also noticed a lot more wear on the heels of my Flares considering I’ve only been walking in them for less than half the year. As far as I’ve known from consultations with Physiotherapists I have a neutral step. Which, I thought, negated the need to adjust the heel cup to either the instep or outstep of my foot. But, looking at the uneven wear and observations by my hiking partners, it seems as though I pronate fairly significantly while wearing the Flares.

I adjusted the heel cup to add more support to my instep, which did help even out my stride. This means that they may work well for someone who does have an uneven step. It does seem strange though that, when comparing the Flares to my other footwear, all with significantly more miles on them, none of them seem to have worn unevenly in the heels.

The amount of wear on the soles, as well as some separation from the uppers, after a relatively short usage, brings up some concern for the longevity and durability of the Flares. The ICS also adds weight to the shoes, with the Flares coming in at 2 lb 3 oz (1000 g), which is 11 oz heavier than my current hiking shoes.

Summ-it up

The Wolverine Flares performed fine for shorter duration day hikes and the customizability is an innovative feature. With more development put into the overall shoe design, such as: improving the overall cushioning, better wearing soles, and better ventilation on the uppers, these could be a contender for a great hiking shoe.

I would be able to accept the extra weight of the ICS if I needed something to help correct my stride. I would also be able to overlook their slow drying and lack of durability if they provided great comfort. However, as I stated, comfort is my primary concern with hiking footwear and the lack of it is my main issue of contention with these shoes.

As it stands, the Flares suffer from the same problem as Goldilocks’ bears: too much this, too little that, but none of the settings are just right.

wolverine flare

 

Manufacturer: Wolverine

Date available: Now

Manufacturer’s Website: Wolverine Flare

MSRP: US$110.00

Weight: 2 lb 3 oz (per pair)

Materials: Synthetic Upper; EVA Midsole; Rubber Lug Outsole

Size/Model tested: Men’s 9 Flare in Light Grey

Colors Available: Light Grey, Black

 

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