Footwear is an area of gear where it’s not easy to get right. Over the past few years, I’ve tried several different boots and shoes. Mainly I’ve use Salomon Fastpacker Mid boots. For me, they’ve been the most comfortable footwear and a good compromise between trail shoes and more traditional boots. I’ve tried trail shoes a few times, but they just don’t work for me in the hills. I find they are awkward on slopes, particularly for contouring. I’m also not a huge fan of wet feet. On the other hand I find traditional walking boots clumsy and tiring. Hence, mid boots are a good compromise.
Although the Fastpackers are waterproof, they do wet out quite quickly, which then impairs the breathability of the Gore-Tex membrane. The result is that over the course of a wet day my feet get quite damp. They are not sopping, like they would be in an unlined trail shoe, but they still get quite wet.
My interest in the Ecco Bioms was piqued by Chris Townsend’s experience of them at the Scandinavian Outdoors Awards. I was immediately struck by the substantial rubber toe bumper, which should stop the saturation of the leather at the toe, which is the downfall of many leather boots. He also reckoned they felt a bit like trail shoes and seemed to be very water resistant. After a bit of consideration I decided to take the plunge and buy a pair. Unlike Chris’s test pair, I chose the lower mid style of boot.
At £160, they are certainly not cheap, but they do appear to be very well made. The uppers are made from yak leather, which is supposed to be more robust than cow hide. The roomy toe box is well protected by a rubber rand, which extends around the junction of the sole and the upper and then curves up to protect the ankle. Unlike most rubber rands, it is very flexible. The heel cup is supported by a rubber frame as well.
The yak leather outer is quite soft and feels like a very fine suede or nubuck. There is some exposed stitching which I might have to proof. The upper side of the tongue has a suede feel to it and is quite soft and well padded. The lacing system ensures a snug fit with substantial metal eyelets and hooks. In particular there is a proper heel lock hook (HiTec please take note!). The laces are a little bit stretchy and may have to be replaced. There is a loop to thread the laces through on the tongue but I found this made it awkward to secure the laces on the heel lock hooks so I unthreaded it.
The lining is a soft wicking synthetic material with a Gore-Tex lining. The footbeds are made from a soft fibrous material and give little support, so I’ve replaced them with Superfeet green footbeds. The sole is a substantial but flexible rubber unit. The tread pattern is chunky and deep and I imagine should give a good grip as well as lasting for a long time.
Out of the box, they made a very good impression, but what are they like to wear? On the evidence of a few dog walks and a couple of longer walks in the forest, I really like them. While they are definitely boots, they are very flexible and the low cut gives good ankle mobility. The think sole means that they do feel more like boots than trail shoes, but they are not clumsy like more rigid boots. While there is cushioning, it is not excessive. I couldn’t describe them as dainty but they are not clod hoppers.
They are definitely warmer than the Fastpackers (and trail shoes) but not excessively so. I think the mid construction allows more airflow. The toe box is quite roomy. I’m hoping that this might solve the problem of bruised toes that I’ve suffered from over the past two years. Being leather, the boot grips the top of my foot more firmly and so should be more solid on descents.
One thing I don’t know is how waterproof the outers will be. Being leather they shouldn’t wet out as quickly and water shouldn’t wick across the surface. The downside may be that they will dry out more slowly once wet and might be somewhat stiffer. I’m tempted to take them to Dartmoor at the end of the month to test them thoroughly. Overall, so far, they’ve proved to be very comfortable.
The Brasher Fellmaster GTX looks a good comparator and a bit cheaper, although the sole unit might be stiffer. It feels like a bit of a retrograde step going back to more traditional boots, but if it cures the toe bruising problem and keeps my feet dry, it will be worth it.
Disclaimer: these boots were bought with my own money