User Review: Meindl Makalu
Materials: Sil-nuBuk leather
Use: Rough or no trail; rugged terrain, with or w/o pack
Break-in Period: For comfort, none if fitted well; for shank flex, 60+ km
Weight: Just over 1 kilo per boot, Euro size 10, my scale
Price Paid: $339 CAD, plus taxes
Like Glenn Irving (below) I also decided after a long period of boot research -- and fitting -- that Meindl's Makalus were the best boot available. After only two months, I'm already convinced I made the best decision, even though the boots took a while to break in and the cost was nearly prohibitive. So far I've put 100 km on these boots and they are living up to expectations and then some. I've worked in them and I've hiked in them, getting to the summits of three 4000-to-5000 foot mountains in the general Vancouver area. The break-in period was a bit long but that's not the uppers, it's getting some flex into the medium strength shank. I'm told too that eventually the Makalu's flex will get even closer to the touted Island trekking boot's flex.
I have been a prospector, fieldworker and tree-planter and I've fought forest fires. Currently I'm making trails part-time in the rugged coastal mountains of British Columbia. Here the Makalus have taken me thru slightly muskegy terrain, rough creeks, bogs and mudflats, over slippery 'deads and downs' (logs), across steep scree and talus slopes, and up and down jagged boulders on old washed-out logging roads. Most of what I do gets me off-trail and that's what these boots were designed for. I don't carry a heavy pack (about 20 lbs) so I can't speak to the matter of heavy backpacking but I can guess that the Makalus are solid there too. I have been on ice and snow, though, and the boots were fine.
The torsional support is great; the one-piece leather is top-notch; the stitching is robust and carefully done; the gore-tex lining works as advertised; and last and probably least, the boot has a shape and design that's aesthetically pleasing. The uppers are forgiving and ankle-hugging and don't extend too high. The laces are a bit of a surprise in that they are flat, but they don't come undone as easily as round laces and the Meindl dealer said he's never seen a pair snap or wear out in his 30 years of selling boots. There's a well-placed rand all the way around. The last suits my somewhat narrow heel and slightly low-volume foot. The toe-box is roomy enough for me while the synthetically-reinforced heel cup is fairly snug if the boot is laced properly. The midsole is a full-length polymid orthotic shank with superb flex and roll for a boot that is also crampon compatible. The boot is classed according to Meindl's helpful usage categories as a 'C' boot, meaning it is for sub-alpine, off-trail sidling. (Sidling is a term from Australia/New Zealand -- see www.stagersport.com -- meaning traversing steep slopes across unlevel surfaces, where edge grip is important.)
The overall weight -- approx. 2 kilos or 4.4 lbs. for a Euro 10, or 44 -- is not bad considering the attention to detail in this boot. The sole is a medium-hard vibram, and the lugs are shaped and spaced so as to mimic the profile of the hooves of the ibex, which is supposed to give extra grip and traction and so on. Apparently the design concentrates one's weight on the ball of the foot, our natural balance point. Whatever, ibex or not, the boots work well.
My only reservations have to be the supplied in-sole which I replaced with a Superfeet insole, and the warmth of my overly sweaty feet in the boots. This latter problem bedevils all gore-tex lined boots anyhow -- indeed almost all leather boots in general. Using a coolmax liner and a fairly synthetic sock helps. As for blistering, if you've had a boot fitted by a competent fitter and you don't have overly oddball feet or bone spurs, you should never have a blister, even if you wear the most inferior, mass-produced boot (e.g. Merrell).
This bootmaker constructs boots the way Lexus makes cars (not that I can afford one). Perhaps I should say Audi instead as Meindl are German-made. Meindl's craftsmanship is unsurpassed, and I've had boots by different manufacturers, including the regular run-of-the-mill ones like Vasque, Montrail, and Asolo. But the technology underlying this hand-crafted boot is good too, despite the slightly old-fashioned appearance. At www.meindl.de or at www.stagersport.com you can read a bit about the research behind the boot. There's also a brief review of the Makalu's sister boot for higher volume feet, the Nepal Pro, at trailwalks.com in the UK.
In summary, while I wouldn't hike the PCT or AT in these, they can't be beat as a pair of general, all-purpose, rough terrain boots. I've also tried on Han-wags and Scarpas, which seemed excellent but the last seemed off wrong (and the boot-fitter untrained compared to the Meindl guy). But sometimes you have to pay a bit more to get something superior. I did and don't regret it. I recommend these Makalus without reservation.