Keen have made great inroads into the UK walking boot market with their latest offering, the Liberty Ridge. They are very eager (notice I avoided the word ‘keen’!) to promote the fact that the Liberty Ridge is European made.
I tested a pair throughout the late summer and autumn, and at first wasn’t really sure what to make of them. For comfort they were amazing. Very, very nice to wear straight out of the box. However, my initial impression, before even slipping them on, was that they just looked far too big for my feet. I checked the sizing, and saw that this was indeed correct, but the boots just looked massive. So, I put them on and realised that yes, the Liberty Ridge that I had been sent did indeed fit my feet perfectly, but for some reason, Keen have decided to make the overall boot very, very broad. I mentioned this sizing issue to a couple of friends from Seattle, and they confirmed that many US companies make very broad boots. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we don’t see them that often in the UK?
Keen tell us, “The Liberty Ridge hiking boot is KEEN’s tough, supportive high-performance leather boot for long trips on gnarly trails. The shock absorbing direct-attach PU midsole delivers lasting comfort, and a full-length shank adds stability. The waterproof upper and KEEN.DRY waterproof, breathable membrane combine to keep your feet dry. Designed to handle any trail surface, if you rack up serious backcountry mileage with a full pack, this is your boot. European Made with materials from around the world”, but what did I think of them after four months leading groups throughout the mountains of the UK?
I really did love the amount of comfort afforded by the Liberty Ridge boots, and felt that on the right sort of terrain I could walk for days and still have happy feet. The main point to raise about that last sentence though is the phrase ‘the right sort of terrain’. The first time out in them I took a group up the North Ridge of Tryfan in Snowdonia. The rock was a little wet and slimy, and unfortunately the Liberty Ridges just weren’t up to the task. I found myself slipping quite a lot, and within half an hour of leaving the car had failed to gain any kind of faith in my new boots.
On any rocky ground, whether on actual rock slabs and steps, scree slopes, or even just a path with a few rock protruding, I found the size of the boots a bit of an issue. I just felt that I wasn’t really in full control of my feet, and certainly couldn’t rely on my boots to be stable on this kind of rough terrain. I felt that this issue was partly to do with the boots simply being too broad overall (and remember, I don’t mean ill-fitting, I mean the whole boot), and partly to do with the boot sole. I’m used to Vibram soles, and the ones on the Liberty Ridge boots feel very plastic by comparison.
So, what about on non-rocky terrain? Well, I had a few backpacking trips in the Dyfi Hills, which involved walking on long grassy and heathery ridges, as well as lots of open stretches of moorland. On this kind of ground the Liberty Ridges were superb. The broader boot really came into its own on boggy ground, as the greater surface area made me feel less likely to sink into the quagmire when all around me were struggling to keep their heads above the water!
Overall, I’m in two minds about the Keen Liberty Ridge boots. I do choose to wear them for bog-trots, but if I know that there’s any amount of rocky ground to be negotiated on my route I’ll go for something a little more technical and fit for purpose. One thing I do hate about them, regardless of the type of terrain, is the laces. They are cylindrical, and very, very stiff. This means it’s impossible to tie them without the knot coming undone in a short space of time. Yes, I’ve double-knotted them. Even triple-knotted them, and each time I have to retie within half an hour. Surely someone at Keen has tried these boots out for themselves in the field? If they have, they must have thought, “these laces are rubbish”?
So, would I buy a pair of Keen Liberty Ridge boots? At around £150 I think they would be a great investment for someone doing a lot of low to mid level walking, or for someone planning to walk a National Trail for instance. However, if you’re buying yourself a pair, allow a little more in your budget for some better laces! As mountain boots, I think the Liberty Ridges are not really designed for that purpose, and I would therefore go for a different boot.
For more details go to Liberty Ridge from Keen