Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gear Review: Merrell Chameleon 5 Hiking Shoe

Merrell Chameleon 5 Hiking ShoeHiking is often a messy business, especially in the Adirondacks. Beaver flooding, natural seeps and deep, rain-filled ruts are just a few of the reasons for wet and muddy trails. Sometimes, just for a change of pace, a nice hike on a relatively dry upland trail is just what the doctor ordered. On these dry jaunts, a clunky, over the ankle pair of full-grain leather hiking boots is often overkill.

Hiking shoes are a fine alternative for these drier situations. They are lighter weight and dry faster than conventional leather hiking boots, which allows for more miles with less stress on your legs and back. After all, the old adage goes, “a pound on your feet is like five on your back.”

Hiking shoes are very popular these days too, judging by the number of different varieties currently on the market today. One fine example is Merrell’s Chameleon 5. It is an ideal shoe for day hiking, short backpacking trips or just walking around town (although that would be a waste of a perfectly good hiking shoe).

The Chameleon 5 is an attractive hiking shoe, with its pig suede and mesh upper, which provides plenty of opportunities for a foot to breathe on a long, hot trek. In addition, a bellows tongue should keep your foot free of any debris along the trail. The metal lacing eyelets makes it exceedingly easy to lace up the shoes, both quickly and snuggly with little effort.

The Chameleon 5 has a Vibram sole, the gold standard in the industry, with an aggressive pattern. Although I found the shoe had excellent traction on the trail, walking on wet artificial surfaces in civilization was tricky, as if shoes might slip out from under me at any moment. This phenomenon is not specific to these shoes however, as I feel much the same wearing most other hiking boots.

The most outstanding feature of this shoe is the external heel stability arm. This innovation is supposed to hold the heel in place, thus reducing the chance of blistering. I found that it not only worked as advertised, but it also pulled the sides of the shoes in, making them feel as if they were custom fit to my foot.

The shoes’ lower portion is equally outstanding. It has a 2 mm EVA (Ethyl Vinyl Acetate) insole for comfort and shock absorption, exactly what is needed when hiking over the exposed roots and protruding rocks common on Adirondack trails. The molded nylon arch shank supports the foot while carrying modest loads, like an overnight backpack or daypack. The shoes are exceedingly comfortable, more so than most of the hiking boots I have hit the trails with before.

These boots come in colors Carbon, Black Slate and Boulder. The men’s shoes weigh in at a paltry 2 lbs. 4 oz.

Like much of Merrell’s products, the Chameleon 5 contains a waterproof layer of M Select DRY, the company’s answer to Gore-Tex. This layer is designed to keep your feet dry regardless of the trail conditions. Avoid stepping in deep puddles though, as no technology can prevent water from going over the top of the shoes. Not only does the M Select DRY layer keep water from the outside getting in, it also allows moisture out, keeping your feet drier and therefore more comfortable during a long day’s hike.

In cases where deeper water is encountered or the threat of debris may be beyond the capacity of the bellows tongue, gaiters are an ideal accessory. I tried these shoes with my Integral Designs Shortie Gaiters recently, and they worked well, although it did take some doing to get the gaiters to adequately cover the top of the shoe.

Got stinky feet?

Fortunately, Merrell’s Chameleon 5 uses the AEGIS Microbe Shield technology, which reportedly helps control foot odor and other microbe-related annoyances that can jeopardize your hiking boots. This bonded antimicrobial technology provides protection against odor, staining and deterioration caused by nasty bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms, according to its manufacturer, Microban International. It is not temporary either, as it is purportedly a permanently bonded barrier that should keep your hiking boots smelling better regardless of what slop you step in.

Check out this Merrell-produced video describing the Chameleon 5 hiking boots for more details.

Recently, I took these hiking shoes out for a spin. Unfortunately, I was unable to take them into the Adirondacks, so a 4-mile stretch of the Finger Lakes Trail in Taylor Valley State Forest in central New York had to suffice. They performed well for the most part, my feet were comfortable and remained dry, despite some steep, long climbs and excessively muddy trails. My feet did ache some on the return trip, which required a lot of walking on hard-packed gravel roads, but no more than would with my other hiking boots I used over the years.

The external heel stability arm performed admirably, but it did not stop a small sore spot from forming on my left heel. The Chameleon 5 is probably not to blame though, as my feet are not completely healed from my 6-day jaunt through the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area a few weeks ago.

Although these hiking shoes have their use, I do not think I would ever engage in bushwhacking with them, especially not in the Adirondacks. Such rugged terrain, especially while carrying a relatively heavy backpack, requires the added support only an over the ankle, hiking boot provides. Plus, with all the wetland crossings, the added protection a higher boot provides reduces the chance of ending up with soaking wet feet.

Complete transparency compels me to divulge that a pair of Merrell Chameleon 5 hiking shoes was provided to the author free of charge for this review from Blackleaf. Blackleaf is the United Kingdom’s leading online retailer for outdoor apparel and gear.

If in the market for a hiking shoe, check out Merrell’s Chameleon 5. They offer an ideal combination of utility, comfort and style that is hard to beat, whether hanging around at a restaurant in Old Forge, or hitting the trail for the day or overnight.

Photo: Chameleon 5 Hiking Shoe courtesy of Merrell.

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Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

One Response

  1. Hawthorn says:

    Old thread revival! I’m in the market for a new hiking shoe/boot for mainly Adirondack use. What do hikers here think of hiking shoes instead of more traditional boots (which I have always used up until now)? I know all about muddy/wet/rough Adk trails, but lots of people do use shoes. One thing that made me think of this is my son hiked a good ways up Mt. Ranier last summer using the only shoes he had, which were actually boating sneakers. He reported they worked great and even though his feet got wet they dried out so fast it wasn’t a problem. A lot of AT through hikers seem to use shoes these days too. Thoughts?

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