Gear review: Hi-Tec Trail OX Chukka boots

As part of Hi-Tec SA’s comfortable anywhere campaign, the new Hi-Tec Trail Ox Chukka hiking boots have just hit South African shores. These shoes include soles made by Michelin, a feature that had me rather interested!

Anyone who knows anything about motor racing will know the record Michelin has across various motor sporting codes – the 16 consecutive Le Mans wins Michelin had as tyre manufacture remains a record for the longest running sporting dynasty in any sport, beating the legendary West Indian Cricket Team by one year. So I was naturally interested to see how they would do when it comes to shoe soles.

To test these shoes out, after wearing them in with some walking around the block, and a Parkrun or two, I decided it was time to give them a go in the KZN Drakensberg. I took them on a trip up the rather rocky Mponjwane Pass at Mnweni, and up the grassy Gypaetus Pass at Giants Castle. With 70km of mountain testing, including one day in the wet – I have had a good chance to get a feel for the performance of these boots.

Design

The shoe takes the middle ground between a trail shoe and a hiking boot. The ankle is higher than trail shoes, but not as high as a normal hiking boot. This in an unusual design, one I am yet to form an opinion on. As it reduces weight, I do prefer this design.

The look of the shoe is great, although dirt shows up significantly more than it would on a more traditional brown shoe. Personally I feel that a clean hiking boot is about as useful as a set of dishes that are kept for display purposes only – it kind of defeats the point. So this doesn’t bug me, and I guess anyone who is pedantic on their boots looking neat will probably be cleaning off their brown shoes after a hike anyway.

I often find that Hi-Tec shoes have an issue with laces that untie themselves. These shoes, however, do not have this problem. One concern on the laces, however, is that they are a bit shorter than I would have liked. They are adequately long to tie properly, but an extra 10cm of lace on each boot would make them much easier to tie.

At 600g per boot, the shoes are significantly lighter than most other boots in their class. Since weight on your feet makes more of a difference than weight anywhere else, this is a big plus for me.

Comfort

While most shoes require an extended period to be worn in, basically every pair of Hi-Tec shoes or boots I have ever used has been basically ready for hard use from day 1. The Hi-Tec Trail Ox Chukka are the first exception to this that I have noted – I had to use my boots for a fairly substantial amount of time before they became comfortable.

The issue is around the ankles, this region is very stiff and did take a while to loosen up. This suggests that there is good reinforcing in the area, so I do not think this is a fault with the product. It is just necessary to bear in mind that you can’t buy these boots and go on a long hike the next day – a proper wear-in period is required.

Waterproofing

The shoes are marked as waterproof, and as I have found with every waterproof boot that I have ever tried – this means that water stays out of the boot for 2 to 3 hours of rain or walking through grass covered in dew. This shoe performed as I expected in this regard, with water seeping through around 2h30 into walking through dewy grass. Seeing as this shoe matched the performance of more expensive shoes in this regard, I cannot fault this. It is simply noteworthy that waterproofing has a limit.

On the other side of the coin, I found the shoes to be more breathable than most shoes I have tried in a similar price range. I did find that I was taking the shoes off to let my socks dry whenever I stopped for a long break – but no more than I would with any shoe in a similar price range. Quite honestly – this is the reason I normally hike in trail shoes!

Grip

Grip is a difficult aspect to measure – I find that specialist rock climbing shoes provide no grip on grassy slopes, while my Hi-Tec Zuuk shoes provide amazing grip on grass slopes. The beauty of the trips I tested these shoes on is that I covered going up and down rocky gullies as well as grassy gullies. Mponjwane Pass and Nguza Pass are mostly on rock, including loose scree in places. While Gypaetus Pass and South Hlubi Pass are entirely on grass. None of these passes have trails, and all four passes are steep – giving me the perfect testing ground to evaluate a shoe that is built to stick itself to a surface.

When I first put on the shoe, the soles actually squeaked on a wooden surface – it sounded a bit like when you drive your car with new tyres out for the first time. I quite enjoyed that, I knew it was a good start!

At first I was reasonably tentative as to what the shoes could do, but with time I have tried to do more difficult moves in the shoes. On surfaces where the shoes should be able to grip – so not scree or mud where only some form of spikes could reasonably be expected to grip – I found them to hold very well. The only near-fall on a solid surface that I have experienced in these shoes to date was on crossing a river, where the shoes did not grip a smooth piece of wet basalt – a surface that most shoes won’t be able to grip either.

In my mind, the grip is the key feature of the shoe, and by far the area that the shoe is most notable for.

Overall

Overall, I rate these shoes as a good solid pair of hiking boots for the hiker who needs their feet glued to the rock. Obviously they are not rock climbing shoes, and shouldn’t be used as such – but I rate they are good for any route that requires some scrambling.

I would personally have liked a better degree of breathability and waterproofing, but this is very hard to come by – especially in this price range.

Overall they are a great set of boots and I will most certainly be using them on some of my upcoming hikes.

 

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