Most of the travel gear brands I’ve written about on here before are familiar ones, but when I’m around a bunch of other frequent travelers and wearing my Oboz shoes, I get some curious questions. This company has been around for a decade though, based in Bozeman Montana. (The impetus behind the name.)
Their tag line is “True to the Trail,” so as you’d probably expect they mostly make shoes and boots for hiking. They go for quality over quantity, with only 20 models available at any given time for men, some of those being just variations on high/low and waterproof or not. This is a refreshing change from many footwear companies who feel a need to roll out that many new options each season, just to have something different to talk about.
This resistance to fashion cycles ties into the Oboz ethos of limiting their impact on the planet. If you’ve made a great hiking boot that people like, why do you need to tweak it every year and render the previous ones old news? Oboz manages to predict and sell through its inventory much more efficiently this way and they give whatever they don’t sell away through charities such as Project Sole. The company’s headquarters is 100% wind-powered and they compensate for their shipping and travel with carbon offsets. For every pair of shoes they sell, they plant a tree. At the moment that number of trees is 1,430,242.
Checking out the Bridger Mid Waterproof
After my old Keen hiking boots completely fell apart by the end of my 5-day trek in Nepal, I decided I didn’t want to take a chance with anything in my closet for this harder week-long hike I was doing in Kyrgyzstan. So I reached out to the company that’s never let me down and they set me up with a new pair of Bridger Mid Waterproof hiking boots that were up to the task. These are a bit softer than some leather hiking boots which was good because the only places I was going to be able to break them in before the trip were all flat.
I’m happy to say I got through the hike—which involved 1000+ meters up and down each day going over passes—without getting one blister. When we hiked for hours through a rain storm one day, my socks were still dry when I got inside the tent. The construction and sole held up really well on the varied terrain. That included landslide boulders we had to navigate, streams to cross, sliding shale downhills, and going up steep mountains where there was no real trail in the dirt. I was really thankful for the ankle support, especially when we were traversing the side of a grassy hill for several kilometers, but the collar was soft enough that I didn’t get any bruising despite the pressure. I was 100 times glad for the toe protection in the front.
Another aspect of Oboz shoes that I really like is that many come in wide sizes. I have flat feet, so I can never fit into a pair of Nikes and many other “one width fits all” brands are problematic. With Oboz you get a choice and mine fit me great. After giving them a real workout on this trip, they’ll be my go-to hiking boots for years. These shoes are far from cheap—most of them list for between $120 and $170—but they’re not going to crap out on you halfway through your hike.
Built to Last
Based on past experience, there will be many years indeed. I’m still using the first pair of Oboz hiking shoes I got six or seven years ago and I’ve got two other models that still come out of my closet for some trips—one being the all-around Switchback Low. All Oboz shoes come with a one-year warranty, but in my experience you’re good to go for years.
My only real complaint is the slippery laces, but that’s an epidemic problem in the outdoor shoe industry. Very few companies (like New Balance) seem to put as much care into sourcing their laces as they do their shoes so the wearers don’t have to bend down and retie several times per day. Frankly I wish they all came with Boa System enclosures since that technology is such a huge improvement over laces, but it’s a matter of $20 versus 20¢ in the cost probably.
When you’re finished hiking, you want to slip into something more comfortable, right? Oboz also makes flip-flop style sandals. I’ve been trying out the Selway Flip ones around where I live. If you spend a lot of time in the mountains though, they’ll really shine there: the heavy-duty rubber sole is meant to be grippy on slippery surfaces. This makes them a bit heavier than the norm, but they feel more solid and durable too.
You can find Oboz shoes in a lot of outdoor retail stores, but for the best selection head to Zappos, Moosejaw, or REI.