One thing you don’t want to scrimp on are your hiking boots.
These Garmont® 9.81 Track GTX may be what you are looking for in a trail runner or light hiking shoe.
by Leon Pantenburg
Disclaimer: Garmont supplied the product in this review. I was not paid to field test, review or write this post. At the time of publication, there is no sponsorship agreement between Garmont and Survival Common Sense. Garmont has no imput in the review. All I ever promise is a fair shake, and the opinions expressed below are mine.
Nothing makes a hiker appreciate quality hiking boots, as much as cheap, ill-fitting ones.
Sure, you thought you’d save a few bucks, and went to the box store, and got a pair that were on sale. You lace them up and start walking. Before long, hot spots develop. Given time, and if you don’t stop and fix the problem, blisters form. Then the situation becomes a slippery-slope and before you know it, the hike went from being fun, to being miserable.
I like Garmont hiking shoes and boots. I wore a pair on a Boy Scout 50-Miler several years ago, and my left knee gave out long before my feet started to get sore.
Of late, I have gone to low top hikers/walkers for most of the trails in the southeast. So I was interested in Garmont’s 9.81 Track GTX.
Here are the Garmont® 9.81 Track GTX specs, according to the Garmont website.
- Gore-Tex® Extended Comfort waterproof breathable membrane offers optimized breathability for higher-intensity use in moderate and warmer conditions
- Engineered 3D mesh and microfiber upper with synthetic leather overlays
- Toe cap and heel wrap for protection and stability
- To-the-toe lacing provides extra adjustability and hold
- Eyelet and webbing lacing style
- Gusseted tongue keeps out dirt, debris and moisture
- Padded collar and tongue
- Breathable fabric lining
- Removable cushioned insole
- Bi-density EVA midsole
- TPU heel support for added stability
- Vibram® Fast Trail outsole
- Made in Viet Nam
Here is what I found out about the 9.81.
Precision lacing: This was amazing. I have been double knotting my shoelaces since learning how to tie my shoes in elementary school. The 9.81 is the first shoe I have ever been able to tie with a simple overhand bow knot and have it stay. I don’t know if it’s the laces or the placement of the eyelets, but the system works.
Asymmetrical cuff: The cuff grips the sides of my heels very well, with no sliding. They are a little harder to put on, but that comes with a tight fit. From day one, there was no lateral movement in the heel area.
This comes from (according to Garmont) the fact that the ankle cuff is lower on the outside and taller on the inside for better edging and greater overall stability. It works for me.
Roomy box toe: The toe is great! I have wide feet, and appreciate the wider, roomier toe. Coming downhill, you’ll soon learn if your shoe is too short or too narrow. The laces across the instep secure the foot from sliding into the toe. This is huge for a trail runner or trekker.
The toe box features a straighter shape to accommodate the natural position of the big toe. The company claims this design helps the toes provide better balance and propulsion.
Tread: The tread pattern was good. I wore the shoe in sticky, delta mud, and the soles did as well as could be expected. Typically, the mud will ball up under your foot when you’re trying to walk in it, and the 9.81s were no exception. But it cleaned easily.
I also walked in mud and sand on a creek bed, and the tread stayed clean. It’s a good pattern.
Not so hot on:
Sizing: My rubber-bottom, leather-top Sorels are size 9-1/2. My Merrells Vents are 10-1/2. Shoe sizes vary among different brands, and that is no surprise. But the first pair of 9.81s I got were ordered in size 11, and I could barely squeeze my feet into them. I re-ordered a pair of size 12, and they fit fine.
Waterproofing: I don’t like low top, waterproof hiking shoes. At best, you only have an inch or two of waterproofing, and then the water will go into the shoe. And there it stays, since there is no way for it to get out. The major complaint I had about these 9.81s was the Gore-Tex® lining.
My experience is that Gore-Tex® doesn’t work as advertised. And I’m not the only one. This outdoor expert also doesn’t like Gore-Tex.
I tested the 9.81s on several hikes in Mississippi, during the July heat and humidity, and the shoes were hot. (In all fairness, everything was hot.) The shoes felt like they didn’t breathe at all. In fact, my feet sweat so much in the 9.81s that my socks stayed perpetually soggy. This resulted in softened, sore feet.
While it was nice to walk on muddy, wet trails with the 9.81s, I couldn’t tell if the waterproofing kept my feet dry. My impression is that the air pressure and high humidity negated any “breathing.” This could become a major issue during a longer trek, and would be the reason I wouldn’t buy a pair. These shoes would not be my choice for a hot desert hike.
The 9.81s might be perfect in a cold, wet rain forest hike, but my experience is that ANY hiking boot needs to be able to breathe.
Insole: The insole is thin, and doesn’t provide a lot of arch support. This is also not a surprise. Generally, I replace the insoles in any hiking shoes/boots I wear. A trail runner needs to think about the insoles that will work for them.
Made in Viet Nam: There are many fine products made overseas, and not all foreign workers are wage slaves. But foreign factories and workers generally don’t pay local and state taxes, and those overseas workers don’t contribute to local American communities. I would like these shoes better if they were made in the USA.
Do you need these shoes?
Maybe – it depends on what you will be wearing them for, and under what conditions. And one size does not fit all when it comes to outdoor gear. While I like these shoes OK, they might be just what you’re looking for.
I expected better performance from these shoes, so I’m not done yet. In fairness, I did one hot hike purposefully wearing cotton athletic socks, like many people will wear hiking. The 9.81s will be tried out again later in the year, with some different socks and conditions. This is not my first pair of Garmont hikers, and the company makes a quality product. I don’t expect the 9.81s will let me down.
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