by Ryan Jordan | 2006-03-16 03:00:00-07
The perfect shoe does not exist.
But if it did, and its design was specified by a long distance trekker, it might have the ability to drain water and dry fast as its most beneficial feature.
Water and feet don't mix. To perform at their peak day after day over hundreds of miles, your feet need to stay dry, at least intermittently. I don't really want to take "river shoes" and I sure as heck don't want to remove socks and footwear every time I have to cross a creek or river. I want to charge in with my hiking shoes, not break stride when reaching the other side, and have the walking action pump most of the water from the shoe. The rest of the water will dry quickly, because the shoe is made largely of nonabsorbent materials.
Designed and marketed by Timberland and GoLite for their co-sponsored adventure racing team, the Delerion Pros (which we highlighted from the 2005 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market) are made entirely of low-absorption synthetic materials (to enhance drying time), have an upper composed primarily of fine plastic mesh (to aid water drainage while keeping dirt and sand out), have a very flexible midsole (to complement the natural biomechanics of a "fit" foot), a rapid lacing system (to quickly take the shoe on/off without untying/retying), and an integrated gaiter (to prevent entry of foreign materials into the shoe).
My Delerion Pro shoes, in a Men's size 9 (US), weigh 23.3 oz per pair (without insoles). The gaiters weigh 1.3 oz per pair.
The integrated gaiter works well enough. It is breathable (not waterproof, thank goodness) and stretchy (nylon), securing to the shoe with a front and rear hook and a M/F gutter on each side of the shoe. The seal is tight and effective.
As of this writing, I've hiked and ran 240 trail miles in the Timberland Delerion Pro, but my most severe test to date has been in the desert canyons of southern Utah.
The shoes were subjected to extensive wet-dry cycles resulting from wading canyon creeks and hiking through fine desert sands. They were subjected to fine clay muds and creek silts known throughout the desert backpacking community to permeate everything from the down-filled chambers of sleeping bags to body orifices you didn't know you had. During a four-day traverse of Coyote, Escalante, and Stevens canyons, I only had to rinse the inside of my shoes once per day to remove caked silt inside the shoe. This is a remarkable performance metric, considering that equivalent conditions with other mesh upper shoes (and non-integrated gaiters), including Montrail Hardrocks and Inov-8 Flyrocs, resulted in so much silt getting into the shoes that rinsing the clay cakes out of them became a regular ritual that occurred several times a day.
Water drainage out of the Timberland Delerion Pro is excellent. On average, about fifty steps were required after exiting a creek to pump enough water out to eliminate the perception of "sponginess" in the shoe. Combined with only a very small amount of water-absorbent synthetic materials (used only in the heel cup and tongue for padding), the Delerion Pros felt dryer than any shoe I've used for wet conditions hiking. This has important and more practical ramifications that extend beyond your need to perceive drier feet. First, less water absorption means that on very cold subfreezing mornings, the shoes weren't bricks of ice. While still "frozen" on a 20 degree morning in the Utah desert, I found that only two or three minutes of walking resulted in restoration of the shoe's flexibility to its original feel. Second, lack of any significant water absorption means that socks stay drier, feet stay drier, and the common "raisin-foot" skin condition that occurs after a day of intermittent wading or canyoneering is all but gone when the shoes are removed in the evening.
Carol Crooker is conducting a comprehensive test of water drainage and drying times for the most popular models of trail running shoes favored by the ultralight hiking community, and the Timberland Delerion Pros are included. I'm told, based on preliminary data, that my hunch that these might be the fastest drying shoe on the market is going to be validated with meaningful data.
All this talk would be meaningless if these shoes did not offer other features important to the long distance hiker, namely, light weight, flexibility, and an effective trail tread pattern. At less than 24 oz per pair, the Delerion Pros are certainly light. They are among the most flexible shoes on the market (the only trail running shoes I've tried that are more flexible are the racing models from Inov-8). Finally, a shallow lug pattern with durable, but sticky-enough rubber, worked well enough on slickrock slab traverses while shedding desert mud effectively.
The shoe's key strength is also its weakness: the integrated gaiter. The gaiter is not the easiest accoutrement to engage with cold hands or muddy shoes. It requires fine motor skills to insert the gaiter pin into the gutter, attached to the shoe. Two tiny hooks are then used to further fix the front and the rear of the gaiter to the shoe. I found it best to simply leave the gaiter on the shoe at all times.
What's missing from this review is an assessment of the Delerion Pro's durability. Unlike any shoe I've tried, the Delerion Pros looked "almost new" after cleaning them up following four days of brutal desert canyon hiking. They exhibited little seam wear or abrasion, and the interior of the shoe suffered only miniscule amounts of damage in spite of the effects of abrasive desert sand. This was a welcome surprise: I've thrown other shoes in the garbage after such a trip.
Look for more this summer about their durability, these may be the shoes I take on a 600 mile trek through the Arctic...
"Timberland Delerion Pro Shoes SPOTLITE REVIEW," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/timberland_delerion_pro_shoes.html, 2006-03-16 03:00:00-07.