L.L.Bean Speed Guide Hikers (GTX)
Materials: Full Grain Leather/Keprotec
Use: rough trail backpacking
Break-in Period: 30 miles or so
Weight: 4 pounds
Price Paid: $199
Impressive. These boots use a fabric borrowed from motorcycle jackets meant to prevent road rash. It's heavy cordura interwoven with strands of kevlar-an aramid fiber known to be as durable as steel at 1/5th its weight.
I have worn the boots on four or five training hikes where I load my pack with the contents of one of those 35 bottle cases of 500ml water and march through the Santa Cruz mountains for eight miles give or take. These have been punctuated by many day hikes.
Sumptuous is the first word that comes to mind. REI expedition weight socks with a liner help, as do my Birkenstock orthotics tucked under the stock innersoles.
The fit is dreamy. Ankle support was good enough to bruise during break-in, but those days are over.
The usual foot-in-a-kiln temperatures generated by this set-up never become quite as warm or sweaty as I remember from my old (outgrown by the need for arch support) full leather Scarpa SL's.
Just when I think I have blemished or faded the irredescent, almost psychedelic blue fabric, I step in a creek and they return to looking basically new. But for some cosmetic deformation in the weave in flex/stress regions, the boots' uppers are eerily immune to indignity.
Nobody has correctly identified them on my feet on glamourous California trails. Ha!
The boots are undeservedly rare. My guess is that Bean's catolog writers' failure to use the word 'kevlar' in the product copy has persuaded readers that the boots are weird and pointlessly expensive. Afterall, if Black Diamond accepted LL Bean gift certificates, you wouldn't be reading this.
There's lots of vulnerable stitching in this design, but meaningful failures have thusfar eluded me. One location on the triple layer high rear ankle has lost its threads, but hasn't begun to move as it appears glued. The black leather must be over 2mm thick.
My biggest worry is the Vibram Trail Runner sole. It's an open bloc, waffle pattern in fairly soft rubber. Rocks and my lifestyle, have taken bites out of it already. The tapered insole it protects is resolutely stiff and does a lovely job supporting all my weight. This leaves these stubby, soft little nubs on the sole to do a tough job.
The boots do not appear resoleable in the traditional sense. And I do not see how this (very comfortable) outsole could possibly match the service life of the damned clever uppers.
I am betting that davepagecobbler.com will be able to resole them. Our throw-away society gives me issues. Bean's graciously replacing these pretty-as-a-picture boots with such towering potential all because the soles wore out will drive me to write a long letter.