Mud, mud, glorious mud. There's nothing quite like it for... finding out if your boots are good. We were invited to test Merrell's latest walking boots and we have been exploring the trails of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire over the last couple of weeks to see if they are up to the task.
I was delighted when I was invited to test out the new generation of Chameleon walking boots from Merrell. The timing was impeccable as I was in the midst of considering what would be the best choice of footwear for our forthcoming West Highland Way adventure. 96 miles of terrain between the outskirts of Glasgow and Fort William will be so much more enjoyable with the right choice of boot.
So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I laced up the Chameleon 7's and took to the mud, ice and slippery rocks of the Peak District for a few days of testing.
Merrell have been producing high quality hiking and walking boots since 1981 and these are the 7th generation of the popular Chameleon series. Over the last 16 years, the Chameleons have developed on the original premise of providing all the advantages of lightweight construction, whilst providing durability for the long haul.
Don't be disappointed that they won't change colour like their namesakes. But they will provide adaptability to different terrains and conditions. Like their namesakes.
You can find our first look review here, which looks at the technology and design incorporated into these boots. This time, we're going to look at how they fared in their first Peak District adventures.
The first thing that struck me about these boots are that they are not a particularly high cut, coming up to below the ankle bone. For comparison purposes, the picture above shows my well worn Salomon Cosmic 4D GTX, the Chameleons and the Terra hiking shoe from North Face. I've always liked the support provided by the Salomon boots and my first concern was whether the Chameleons would be able to offer enough ankle support and whether they would be high enough to avoid water and mud disasters.
Having walked around 30 miles in the Chameleons, the height concern has become far less of an issue. They feel more like trail running shoes or light walking shoes than traditional boots, which is mainly due to the super lightweight construction and the flexibility of the chassis.
I take a UK size 10 and the relative weights of the 3 boots pictured are 708g for the Salomon, 566g for the Chameleon and 401 for the North Face shoe.
We looked in our previous review at the ingenious design of the sole, with the lugs only being placed where needed. This really does contribute to a really lightweight feel but without sacrificing grip.
Merrell have a long standing association with sole specialists Vibram and the TC5+ outsole on these boots provide outstanding grip. Walking on the Roaches in Staffordshire, we were swapping between deep lying mud and sloping rocks as we made our way along the ridge. The Chameleons handled the transitions perfectly and the grip on the wet stone felt strong and boosted confidence. I could even keep up with my 9 year old son on his "the floor is lava" challenge as we leapt from rock to rock. I'm delighted to report that I didn't get burnt once in the lava of eternal doom.
At no point did the boots feel too light, though. They are reassuringly robust and feel very durable and comfortable. The protective toecap and heel are great for rocky surfaces and scrambling and the shock absorbing effects of the midsole and insole mean that these boots can be comfortable worn on a full day hike.
Merrell have come up with a compelling mix of the lightweight feel of trail running footwear and the durability and stability of a hiking boot. Add the waterproofing and the shock-absorbing comfort and you have a great companion for full day or even multi-day hikes. The Chameleon 7's retail for around £160 and are available in both male and female ranges.
The height of the boots may be an issue if crossing boggy moorland with deep lying mud but closer to the trail this wouldn't be an issue.
In fact, I think I may have found the leading contender for my choice of footwear for the West Highland Way.
PS: Regular visitors to our site may be familiar with our resident springer spaniel, Fern. She has been quite bemused on recent walks at the amount of time I have spent photographing my feet and has insisted on posing at every opportunity.
Mark Sweeney is a hiker, mountain-biker, picture-taker and keen coffee drinker, living on the doorstep of the Peak District's finest walks