Those lovely people at Merrell have sent us a pair of their brand new Chameleon 7 walking boots to try out! We'll be giving them a thorough work out around the Peak District over the next couple of weeks, (got to work off the Christmas excess somehow!) but here are our first impressions.
Merrell introduced the Chameleon boot some 16 years ago. Although stopping short of changing colour to blend in to their surroundings (how would you ever be able to find them?) they were inspired by the reptile's adaptability in changing conditions. Merrell sought to combine athletic, lightweight construction with durability for the long haul. So, finally, you could have your Kendal Mint Cake and eat it.
The introduction of the Chameleon boot sought to redesign how walking boots were made and, particularly, the trade off between stability and weight. Something that would be stable and protective, but without the weight penalty.
Taking elements from trail running footwear and combining them with hiking boots, the design has been evolved over several generations and has now led to the brand new Chameleon 7.
Our first impressions when we lifted the boots out of the box were just how light they were.
Weighing in at 976g they feel only slightly heavier than typical trail running shoes. Merrell say they have achieved the weight loss by introducing an ultra lightweight flexplate to the construction of the boots, along with strategically placed lugs on the sole, which are only placed where traction is required and achieve a 25% weight saving.
The distinctive sole design certainly catches the attention with its oval rubber pods producing a 3mm tread. Minimalistic, yes, but we shouldn't underestimate the grip and stability that the combination of the pods and the flexplate provides.
We'll be putting the grip to the test in the Peak District ice (possibly) and mud (definitely) over the next couple of weeks but we're reassured by the inclusion of the Vibram TC5+ outsole.
So far, we've established that the Chameleon 7's are lightweight but protective, athletic but grippy and that they offer a combination of rigidity and flexibility thanks to the flexplate. Add to this the high grade leather and breathable mesh upper, with Goretex waterproof membrane and you may just have the complete package. Metal hook and lacing eyelets, a bellows tongue (to stop little stones and debris from getting in) and protective rubber toecap and heel counter all suggest that these are going to be durable companions on the trail.
So, after all this, are they comfortable?
Absolutely. I wear size 10 shoes and the UK 10 fits perfectly. The first thing you notice is the way the boot supports the arch of your foot, with the aid of the removable "kinetic fit" insole. Merrell have included an air cushion in the heel for great shock absorption and the EVA midsole provides great support and comfort.
This model is the mid boot, so it fills the gap between hiking shoe and full height hiking boot. The top of the boot comes to just below my ankle bone. I can see circumstances where I might prefer to wear full height boots for additional ankle support but that would, of course, mean more weight. Deep mud would obviously come over the top of these boots so I wouldn't recommend a long day of sloshing through the heavy stuff, but that isn't what this design is intended for.
I really like the design of the new Chameleons. Technical without being overly fussy. The colour choices come in the testosterone filled names of Fire (black and red) and Boulder (brown featured here) for men, or Ice (Black and blue) for women.
So there we are. Sounds like me and the Chameleon 7's are made for each other.
Ultra-lightweight? Er... I'm working on it.
Check back here soon for an in depth review of how the Chameleon 7's cope with the winter terrain of the Peak District. In the meantime, be reassured that our resident springer spaniel, Fern, thought they were great too.