What do you want in a fall outdoors boot? Something that can handle a long backcountry hike, obviously. Something that can handle a little weather, of course. Maybe even a lot of weather. Rain, mud, snow, who knows, fall is weird weather season. It would also be nice if the boot is comfortable and warm enough to wear around town to deal with rain- and snow-slickened sidewalks and backyards without having to change from regular shoes into burly outdoor boots and back again, depending on what you’ve got going on that day. The Danner Explorer 650s (on sale for around $130) aim to handle all of that. They’re positioned as sort of a style-first boot with the bones to handle real hiking loads in most weather conditions.
Normally, I shy away from lifestyle boots that can also provide a little hiking too—I prefer my hikers to be real-deal hikers. I also don’t like wearing technical gear when I’m not using it for its intended purpose. So I’m not really the target for a do-it-all type boot. But I liked the Mountain 600s that Danner released last year, so I decided to pick up a pair of the Explorer 650s this summer and use them exclusively as hiking boots. I’ve put a couple hundred miles on them and the only pavement these bad boys have touched is the parking lot at trailheads. And maybe a grocery store parking lot picking up camp food. Okay, and the parking lot of a bar for post backcountry burger and beer.
First, the good. These boots are absurdly comfortable. Danner uses a Vibram SPE midsole and an Ortholite footbed and the result is a soft but very firm cushion-y feel. It’s a unique sensation to walk in these (and the Mountain 600s) and a bit tough to describe, but “rubbery” keeps coming to mind, but I mean that in a good way—they’re plenty supportive. Simply put, I’ve never worn boots this comfortable before, even boots I’ve owned for a decade or more. They look narrow in the hand, but have a decently wide toe box and I’ve experienced no feeling of foot claustrophobia in these.
Despite the pliable foot feel, they also offer plenty of ankle support for most applications, with a six-inch ankle height and a TPU shank for stability. I’ve hiked in these with a 35-pound backpack with no problems. I’ve hiked in these carrying two surfboards, a dripping wetsuit, and a 20-pound backpack over rooted, slick trails—a very awkward balancing act—with comfort and ease. I’ve hiked through trickling freestone streams and they gripped and held just fine. With a grabby Vibram Megagrip outsole, slick rock is no issue at all. While I haven’t had these in snow yet, the same outsole compound is on the Mountain 600s and they worked great in the snow, so I’ll assume these will too.
Though they lack the stiff plastic armor of boots designed for rougher play, the leather wrap around the toe, sides, and heel is plenty tough to fend off sharp rocks, thorns, or nasty brush.
Did I mention they weigh only 33 ounces per pair? They’ve cut weight in a couple key spots by replacing leather panels on the uppers with breathable nylon, and elimination some of the outsole beneath the arch. The softness of the midsole and the lightness of the boot really help with the first-rate comfort.
Plus, lined with Danner Dry, Danner’s waterproofing material, they’ve kept my feet mostly dry through rain, mud, and the occasional hopscotch through a shallow creek. On hotter hikes, they’ve definitely heated up quite a bit, but so will any waterproof boot. The nylon panels seem to help airflow though, they’re far cooler than heavier duty boots.
Then, the bad. Uh, the nylon section of the uppers wrinkles a little. Seriously, that’s about it. As long as you keep in mind that these aren’t necessarily designed for hardcore backcountry use it’s really hard to find much to complain about with these.
For a fall boot, one that needs to perform in dicey conditions both on the trail and around town in funky weather, these are awfully hard to beat. Soft and badass all at once.
Weight: 33 ounces per pair
Midsole: Vibram SPE
Outsole: Vibram Escape
Waterproofing: Danner Dry
$130-ish (on sale) • BUY
More trail-to-town boots for the fall
Similarly lightweight (though a little heavier) and comfy but also totally capable, the Vasque Talus Trek Mid Ultradry boots are a slightly more aggressive boot in the same mold as the Explorer 650s. $150
Danner’s Jag boots are definitely more lifestyle, fashion-oriented than the Explorer 650s, but still feature waterproofing and a soft (though not as robust) midsole/footbed combination. $112
For a low-cut option (no a boot, I know), the Salewa Wander Hiker GTX offer a compelling mix of casual sneaker and tough-as-nails hiking shoe. I’ve backpacked through wet, nasty Northern California terrain in comfort in a pair of these. $198