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Monday, 28 July 2014

Ecco Biom Hikes: A review after a long walk

I last wrote about these boots on 6th May, shortly before heading off for the TGO Challenge ~ a two week backpacking event across the Highlands of Scotland. These boots arrived less than a week before I set off for Scotland and I asked myself if I had gone mad taking a pair of boots that were brand new. Well, I am pleased to say it all went rather well!

I am always surprised when reading reviews of waking boots and shoes that we never hear about the testers’ feet. How can we possibly tell if the shoes that reviewers are writing about will suit us if we know nothing about the reviewers’ feet? So, before I let you know how I got on with these boots I’ll let you know about my feet.

If you are squeamish about feet, look away now.

These are my feet:

MY LEFT FOOT

MY LEFT FOOT

 

MY RIGHT FOOT

MY RIGHT FOOT

Have you ever seen such raw beauty?

I have slim girly ankles, an averagely wide forefoot, a decent arch but quite a shallow foot. They are “low volume” feet. These feet are great if you want to buy proper running shoes (runners tend to be slim, low volume types), but are quite difficult if you are buying walking boots or trainers. It seems that even big fat bastards have taken up jogging and hill walking and so the average volume of feet for these activities is getting bigger these days. Us slim elegant types are finding it tricky to get boots that fit.

To help make boots and trainers fit a little better, for almost twenty years I’ve been using custom-fit Superfeet. I use them in my Scarpa Nepals (which I have worn for the last eight years) and I use off the shelf Superfeet for trainers. These insoles hold your ankle centrally in the heel cup and prevent your foot slipping forward on steep descents. I have nothing but praise for them.

After a couple of walks to town and back I settled on the combination of my off the shelf Superfeet combined with the lightweight leather/synthetic insoles that the boots are supplied with, that have no structure to speak of, but are useful volume adjusters. I used liner socks and medium weight Smartwool socks. I use a fresh pair of liners each day, and my Smartwools generally last three to four days before a change is required.

So, that’s my feet/sock combo and fitting adjustment dealt with. I’m sure everyone has their own methods of finding the best fit, but now you understand what a chap with feet like mine will have to do to get the best fit from Ecco Biom Hikes.

***

Now we can talk about the boots themselves:

Straight off, these are medium to high volume boots – hence the adjustments for fit I explained earlier. A pair of size 45 boots, with the supplied footbeds comes in at 1570g. They are not lightweight, but nor are they heavyweight either. They are quite a bit lighter than my Scarpa Nepals.

In the following pictures of the boots, the pictures with the pale cream backgrounds were taken when the boots were virtually brand new, and those with dark grey backgrounds were taken today, after the boots had done over 200 hard miles in Scotland. This way, you can see how the boots have fared over time.

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The uppers are made from Yak leather. No nasty Gore-Tex is involved, which can only be a good thing, as I have never understood the need for a water proof membrane combined with what is inherently a waterproof leather upper. This dual combination can only result in an over-hot foot and the inevitable failure of the membrane which will result in soggy feet that are slowly boiled inside your boots. Yak leather is a dense, robust and very waterproof leather, which means that thinner leathers can be used than is normal for the same leather of ‘water-proofness.’ I would estimate the Yak leather to be between 2.5mm and 3mm thick. The great thing about the Yak leather is that although it wets out quite quickly the boots remain waterproof. They also dry out very quickly – much more quickly than my Scarpas, which is a big plus-point on a long multi-day walk..

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The lining is made from a cream leather, which is padded around the ankle. This padding, happily, is not bulky and the leather lining covering it is mostly aerated, presumably to absorb sweat. The heel cup itself is sensibly nice and smooth. You do not want the heel of your boot to grip your sock at the back of your heel, as that’s a sure recipe for blisters. The padding has conformed nicely to the shape of my ankle, so the fit is secure.

The lace fastenings are made from a rust-proof alloy, with a locking hook over the instep, which means that you can have different tensions over your forefoot and around your ankle. There is a fairly hefty rubber rand around, and partially over, the toe box. The external heel stabiliser is made from a firmer rubber and is in a nice vibrant orange, that I quite like.

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The sole unit seems to be made by Ecco themselves. I really like this sole unit; It grips smooth wet rock really well, it does not clog up with mud, it has a deep tread and so is good in mud. It is really quite “squidgy”, which makes walking along roads and hard-track a very comfortable experience. You will have noticed when comparing the two pictures of the sole that there has been absolutely no discernable wear over two hundred miles. I am light on my feet compared to most walkers – I get two thousand miles from a pair of Scarpa Nepals with a Vibram sole – but I would suggest that these will be almost as hard wearing. Time will tell.

Your forefeet feel quite low to the ground, which feels good on rough ground as you feel in contact with it rather than teetering over it. It’s good for balance.

I was amazed at how comfortable these boots were straight from the box. They are very flexible and the sole unit gives you a soft ride on hard surfaces.

One thing I have noticed about these boots is the way that there is a lot of grip and rubber under the forefoot. Take a look at quite a few hiking boots, and you will notice that recently there‘s less and less rubber under the forefoot – the place that gets most wear. The same applies to the rear of the heel – these boots are solid rubber here, where a lot of the competition have far less rubber – it’s almost as if other boot manufacturers are building in a shorter life-time to your boots on purpose.

So - Absolutely full marks so far for these boots.

Is there anything I would like to see changed?

The laces. Let’s be honest, these laces might look gorgeous, with ‘biom’ emblazoned along the lace and lovely brass lace-ends, but these laces stretch. They stretch by a good 10-15% when under tension. This makes getting the tension right a real problem. The extra stretch, coupled with my slim feet means I have yards of lacing left over, so I have lace back down the boot before tying off. A bit of a pain, really. Ecco need to sort this out. I know Robin Evans has mentioned this in the past, and I agree whole-heartedly with him.

The fit. I would love it if Ecco could make these boots with a lower volume, as I had to faff around a bit to get them to fit, but I know that it costs a huge amount to do this – there would be a massive cost to doubling the number of lasts and it would add to stocking costs as well.

As it is, the boots ended up with slightly bulbous toes as I pulled the boot to fit around my slim feet. – not a deal breaker, but it did look a bit clumsy.

***

To conclude:

  • Even with a slim low volume foot I found a way to make these boots fit me. This is highly unusual. I think it is because the Yak leather upper is very supple and conformed to my feet with careful lacing and volume adjustment under my Superfeet footbeds. These boots went through a week of incredible bogginess and rain on the first week of the TGO Challenge and never let a drop of water through to my socks. I am totally sold on Yak leather. It is a wonder material! Yak leather does not need a “waterproof membrane.” Well done Ecco!
  • The leather lining and ankle padding could not be better.
  • The sole unit is quite simply the best I have ever walked in – and I have walked in a huge variety of boots and shoes! The sole unit is built to last.
  • The boots are supple and very flexible which means they are comfortable from the box. I have only ever experienced this from trail shoes – never from boots.
  • The lacing system is superb.
  • The laces are NOT good. Replace them as soon as you get them!

Would I buy them with my own money? – A big fat “yes!”

19 comments:

  1. alan i take it all back you are not mad for wearing theses boots a few days before the challenge and i,m glad you have given them an excellent review . now where can they be brought from and how much do they retail for .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can buy them on Amazon and on Ecco's own website.
      Right now they are 40% off retail price on certain sizes on Ecco's own website, which you can find by clicking
      HERE

      Delete
  2. Interesting review. I'm at the point of considering a new pair of boots and am unsure exactly which way to go: light boots are OK, but can wear out quickly. Well made, lasting, light boots are a rarity unless higher prices are paid - then there is the gamble of long-term durability and waterproofness.

    TBH, in recent years I have looked to buy "bargains" in the sales - if I pay £50-£70 for discounted boots by a reasonable manufacturer and get a couple of years out of them then I'm happy - but these seem to be becoming harder and harder to find.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jules
      I had a brief fling with trainers (Terrocs and Raptors) for a while but in the end realised that I was paying large amounts of dosh for very little in return. At the very best I got 400 miles out of the Terrocs and about the same from the Raptors. With the Terrocs the uppers fell to pieces after 200 miles and the Raptors the sole just wore down far too quickly leaving no grip at all.
      I went back to my Scarpa Nepals.
      When Ecco offered me the Bioms to test I was pleasantly surprised at the aggressiveness of the sole and the well made /well thought-out uppers. They are slightly pricey, (no doubt to the weakening Euro/ strengthening pound) but I am sure they'll last a long time,
      Well worth it for comfort, grip and value for money.
      :-)

      Delete
    2. I'll be honest and say I've got a bit nervous about buying expensive boots. I have done in the past and been very happy, but modern versions just don't seem to last like they used to, or stay reliably waterproof (if with a waterproof lining). OK, much of what I am basing my fears on is anecdotal, but there have been a lot of cases mentioned on t'interweb, for example about Meindl (one of my favourite makers) and the after-sales service from Bramwell, their UK distributor.

      I currently have an OK pair of Burmas, and am only using them when needed, to preserve their life. If not needed, I'm trying to use cheaper/discount boots instead.

      I think this situation is the end of a process whereby weight has almost become the be-all and end-all of a product, particularly from supposedly "influential" reviews in magazines likes of Trail, TGO, etc, and the drive (from for example backpackers and mountaineers) to have ever-lighter kit. The Burmas you buy now are totally different from the Burmas you could buy 7-10 years ago (I know, I've had 3 pairs over 12-15 years), and they are nothing like the quality they were - in terms of durability, reliability and long-term return on investment. Like JJ mentioned, I'd like to try on first, so hopefully there's a retailer/stockist in this area to try. If they were comfortable for me, and a 4-5 years lifespan was a realistic proposition, I'd be very keen. :-)

      Delete
    3. I'm absolutely sure that some modern sole units are being designed to wear out prematurely simply by providing very little rubber at the critical wear points - under the ball of the foot and at the heel strike.

      This is not the case with these babies, fortunately.

      I have asked the ECCO team (via twitter) to step in and let everyone know where they can find Biom Hiks to try on in the UK.

      Hopefully someone from Ecco will be along to help.
      :-)

      Delete
    4. Hi Jules

      You can try them on in a store in your area. Have a look where to find them here: http://global.ecco.com/en/service/find-a-store. I suggest to give them a call up front and ask them if they have the shoe in your size on stock.

      Best, Gabriel - ECCO

      Delete
    5. Thank you Gabriel.
      Here's a quick link for everyone:
      ECCO Find a store
      It's a map that shows you all the stockists.
      Note - a lot of the stockists seem to be golf shops, but Ecco's own shop are alos shown - worth checking there first!

      Delete
    6. When you are on the "Ecco find a store map" click on the coloured pins (they're the Ecco stores) and then click on the "GET INFO" button.
      This will show the Store information to the left of the map. Under "Range" you are looking for "Performance" - as this includes Biom Hikes.
      It is still advisable to ring the store to check they have them in stock to try before setting out.
      :-)

      Delete
  3. Boots choice is such an individual thing - what suits one doesn't necessarily suit another. I spent a long time trying to find a boot design that worked well for me - Meindl were the only boots that I was very happy with but even they have their shortcomings, certainly as far as my feet are concerned.

    Ecco seem to have scored well with these and I'll certainly have a look at them the next time I'm visiting our local (Manchester) outdoor shops.

    Thanks for an interesting review.

    JJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Sweet Thing!
      :-)
      I'm pretty sure that if you suit a Meindl boot the Biom's will suit you down to the ground, JJ.
      You'll find them quite a bit more flexible / 'easier to bound along in' too.
      The Yak leather is really flexible - they mould to your feet really quickly.

      I've had a scout around a few outdoor shops recently and have found it difficult to find Ecco Biom Hikes. You may have more luck in Manchester - there might be an ECCO shop there.

      Delete
  4. I have a pair of these too, Alan and I like 'em. Pity the poor old Yak population if too many read your blog post, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm up in the Lakes next week with a friend (Tuesday-Friday).
      Perhaps our Yaks could meet up?
      I'll email you tomorrow. (is that today now? I've been out...)
      :-)

      Delete
  5. Al, I understand the logic of your "first let's look at the anatomy"approach but - and no offence intended here - I'm a bit nervous about how this might translate to reviews of boxer shorts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Good Lord Above!
      I could publish pictures, I suppose but they would be captioned
      "Move along please, there's nothing to see here...."

      Delete
  6. These boots have been recommended to me and I came upon your very helpful review when doing some research. I my only concern is whether they might be a bit hot for walking in warm temperatures. I am new to hiking and have been walking the camino de Santiago (Frances - 500 miles, Portuguese - 420 miles, Mozárabe - 870 miles). My feet do not tend to get too hot, but I have not yet walked in leather boots. I would value your opinion. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, and welcome.
      😊
      The boots are leather but there's no ghastly goretex to heat your feet. I would happily wear tbem in the summer.

      Delete
  7. 2 stars for me: Gave it a low rating because the durability is not there. I bought two pairs of this boot and both had a crack on each side of the toe cover after only a year and a half of use (6 weeks of hunting). I can procide pics

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds disappointing.
      Did you take it up with Ecco?

      Delete

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