Limits
By Jon Gaffney
on 12.12.13

Over the years we’ve owned a number of different hiking boots in a continuous search for just the right balance of sufficient support, stability, and grip without being so rigid and heavy that they feel like Tony Soprano concrete specials. Recently we had the opportunity to try the BIOM Terrain Plus ($230) from ECCO, a brand we knew only as the maker of grandpa’s “most comfortable shoes you’ll ever wear!” Of course we were skeptical about where they would rate on that scale of comfort and stability — and, equally as important, whether we’d want to be seen wearing them on the trail. If your grandpa hasn’t already introduced you to ECCO, just close your eyes and envision a “corrective orthopedic walking shoe”. You’ll understand our concern.

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ECCO was founded in Denmark in 1963 by Karl Toosbuy, a man bold enough to think that shoes should fit the foot and not the other way around. From the very beginning ECCO shoes were built for optimal comfort; Toosbuy wanted to make shoes that fit like a glove without ever needing to be broken in. Over the last 50 years this single-minded focus has earned ECCO diehard supporters the world over. Even so, ECCO has stayed aggressive about innovation, pushing for vertical integration by purchasing their own tanneries, R&D facilities, and factories around the world.

The BIOM Terrain Plus is a case study in the benefits of this vertical integration. The uppers are constructed from a unique Yak leather that provides superior strength over other leathers while being lighter and more water resistant. The footbed and sole are constructed through a direct injection process that fuses the components at a molecular level to both each other and the leather upper of boot, a process most footwear companies skip in favor of less durable glues to cut costs. A Gore-Tex lining keeps feet dry but is still breathable, because nobody wants trench-foot — nobody. A rugged rubber outsole provides traction when the boots hit the trail.

The BIOM Terrain Plus’s are a good looking pair of boots; grandpa’s orthopedic shoes these are not. The aforementioned Yak leather creates an extremely soft, nearly seamless slate gray upper. Coupled with a neon green and black sole/footbed, they’re understated with just enough color. Even the inside of the boots have a luxurious finish, with a supple leather interior and all outward facing seams to minimize hot spots. The only feature that struck us somewhat odd was a noticeably wide toe box (we learned to love it).

LACE UP

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Lacing your hiking boots can be a pain. With laces a few feet long, over time one side inevitably ends up annoyingly long and requires re-lacing. Avoid this with an easy trick. Unlace both boots and place a knot in the very middle of each lace. Then lace back up. Now no matter what your laces will only shift an inch one way or the other.

For some trial by fire we spent nearly a week hiking into canyons, along dry stream beds, and up rocky trails in the canyon lands outside of Grand Junction, CO and Moab, UT. Feeling bold but also preparing for our feet to take a beating, we’d foregone our normal break-in procedure to put ECCO’s philosophy of instant fit and comfort to the test. Through Colorado and Utah we covered over 12,000 vertical feet and 20+ miles of trail; from alpine groves on the canyon rim to desert on the canyon floor, we encountered tricky gravel, cough-inducing dust, loose scree slopes, and even the aptly named “slick rock”. All of it smoked our legs and our lungs, but the BIOM Terrain Plus held fast and brushed off whatever the trail threw at us. True to their word, ECCO’s boots felt broken in and molded to our feet within minutes of hitting the trail — that usually takes months. From that first step until flying home we never once got a blister, something we can’t say for any other hiking boot or shoe we’ve ever worn.

The wide toe boxes quickly came into play as well. After spending hours hiking, especially while changing altitudes, the feet begin to swell. With snug boots this can be quite painful. By building in a wide toe box, the BIOM Terrain Plus’s allowed our toes to flex and splay naturally while we hiked and provided ample room when they swelled. By the end of our week it was apparent that every detail on the BIOM Terrain Plus had a specific purpose. Some were subtle, some obvious, but all of them worked and worked well.

In the end we could only find two downsides to the BIOM Terrain Plus. The first was heat. With temperatures spiking in the upper 80s, the Yak leather construction just couldn’t let our feet breath quick enough; they felt roasted. If you’re going to be hiking in hotter climates, go for the BIOM Terrain Lite, which has a synthetic upper that breathes better than the leather of the Plus. The second issue is price. At $230 they’re well above many other options in the category. For us, though, the lack of a break-in period, superior comfort (i.e. zero blisters), and innovative construction made that price tag more than worth it.

The ECCO Biom Terrain Plus has realigned our view on hiking boots. No longer do we find it acceptable for a boot to destroy our feet for weeks during a “break-in” period; and who says hiking boots are inherently less comfortable than our favorite sneakers? Our expectations have been raised across the category, and that’s the mark of a great product and company. Gramps was right again.

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