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Hands-on Gear Review
Keen Targhee II Review
Cons: Heaviest shoe reviewed, leaked in our waterproof test, a bit wide for narrow feet
Bottom line: This shoe is a fan favorite among backpackers for its support and comfort over varied terrain.
The unique design of the Keen Targhee II has proven its worth countless times over the years. It's a fan favorite among the long distance hiking crowd due to its combination of support and comfort at an affordable price. It handles any trail and support a medium-sized load while doing it. We love the toe protection, which makes us a little less fearless when moving through rough terrain. Two key aspects kept this shoe off the podium this year — poor water resistance and the heaviest weight in the review. Overall, though, this shoe remains a great value for many hikers, ourselves included.
The Targhee II was unseated from its Best Buy throne this year by the Vasque Juxt, which is much more lightweight, breathable, and $15 cheaper. One pair we expected to compete well against the Keen model was the Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof. It provides more traction and durability, but it couldn't match the support or keep our feet as comfy as the Targhee II.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Keen Targhee II is a solid choice for light to medium backpacking trips and rugged day hikes and costs $125 retail. It has a nubuck leather and mesh upper that covers the KEEN.Dry waterproof breathable membrane. The sole consists of three parts; a dual density compression molded EVA midsole, a torsion stability ESS, and a proprietary rubber outsole.
The Targhee II provides a comfortable, supportive ride, which is largely what drives their popularity. Many features contribute to the comfort of this model. The tongue is well padded, the footbed feels balanced, and the roomy toe box keeps toes fresh on long descents. Foot protection is also superior to every model in this review, with a beefy rubber toe cover and stiff soles to quell discomfort on pointy, rocky terrain. We wish the footbed had a little bit more arch support, but otherwise, it is a comfortable shoe.
This model's four eyelet lacing system is top notch. Three widely-spaced lower webbing eyelets lace the boot over the fore and midfoot. This wide spacing allows folks with narrower feet to snug the upper down. The upper webbing eyelet extends down and around the heel of the shoe, creating the ability to cinch your heel down in the heel cup. Many hikers praise this feature. With a little experimenting, the forefoot can be laced loose for comfort, while the heel can be cinched into the heel cup for security.
The KEEN.DRY membrane wasn't the most breathable model. After our treadmill test, our feet were quite sweaty, warm, and our socks were damp. The mostly leather uppers trap heat inside. Hiking in cool weather with these shoes is more enjoyable than hot summer hikes. For better ventilation inside the shoe, the Vasque Juxt is a great solution.
The Targhee II is the heaviest hiking shoe in our review, weighing 2 lb. 6.4 oz. on our scale. Some hikers are willing to put up with this extra weight for the added support, stability, and comfort this model provides under a heavy pack. However, if you don't need your hiking shoes to support loads over 30 pounds, there are lighter models. Check out The North Face Ultra 109 GTX or HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP for lower weight underfoot yet great support.
Many hiking shoe models are trending toward faster, lighter, slimmer designs, which often leads to deficits in the support department. This is not the case with the Targhee II. If you're looking for excellent support in your hiking shoes, this is the pair for you. It outscored all other models in this metric.
For increased support and ankle stability, consider a pair of hiking boots.
The Torsion Stability ESS shank combined with the dual density midsole create a stiff shoe. The wide footbed creates a solid base for pushing through with each step, too. The standard insole in this Keen model is the most supportive in all shoes tested. It has a flexible forefoot but features an added layer of density from the heel to the forward end of the arch for a stiffer midfoot. The opportunity cost of this solid support system is the heaviest measured weight of any model reviewed. The second heaviest pair, though, the Merrell Moab 2, fell far behind the Targhee II in support.
The lug pattern and design provide a large amount of surface area contact, but for some reason, the Targhee II just didn't seem to stick to all surfaces as well as some of the competition, such as The North Face Ultra 109. The proprietary rubber sole handled dry granite slabs with excellence and also moved over wet rock with little slippage.
While winning us over on solid ground, when the earth underfoot got loose, this model began to slide to the back of the pack, quite literally. The wide, textured lugs weren't enough to bite through loose sediment, mud, or snowy slopes, and gravel seemed to just roll around under the large tread pattern.
The chunky and clunky Targhee II does not win any accolades for its looks, but it handles light and rough terrain with a moderate pack like a charm. We like it for day hiking and backpacking. Models with more narrow toe boxes and lower weights were much better for picking up the pace on the trail. Running just feels wrong in the Targhee's. This is not the shoe you want if you mix in some running on your hikes and the beefy look is a bit much for casual wear. For a mix of backpacking and trail running ability, check out The North Face Ultra 109 GTX. If you're more into speeding down trails and don't need to carry a pack, the Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX are lightweight, narrow, and ready to take off down the trail.
The Targhee II fell to the back of the pack in this metric. Its flood height is above average at 4.5 inches, yet the proprietary KEEN.Dry membrane failed our waterproof challenge. Barely reaching two minutes underwater, both shoes began to leak. The right foot got it worse, soaking the forefoot before five minutes were through. Both shoes leaked from above the fourth toe where the synthetic mesh meets the leather of the upper. The Keen's do resist water, but were not the shoes we wanted for wading in water nor when rain strikes. At the same price point, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX resists water with more proficiency.
The Targhee II has a positive reputation throughout the world of hiking, but this does not stem from its durability. The midsole is exposed, and at the end of our testing period, had several nicks and bites. There were also a handful of loose strings sprouting from the leather upper at the end of the testing period, which does not provide an argument for quality stitching. Many user reviews of this product report delamination of the sole as the number one issue with this model. After our testing period, we did notice the midsole separating from the leather upper in a few places, although tiny at this point. In the future, we imagine the separation continuing.
There are redeeming qualities of this model, however. We love the protection of the toe box on this model, which surpasses all other models in robustness. The upper also consists mostly of leather, which has withstood the test of time in countless hiking shoe models as a quality material. For a shoe with ample toe protection and greater longevity, though, check out the Asolo Agent GV.
This model is best for backpacking and hiking rugged trails due to its ability to support a load and ample foot protection. It's not our recommendation for fastpacking, though.
A previous Best Buy winner at OutdoorGearLab, this shoe presents a great value for backpackers and long-distance hikers. It costs $125. Although it won't last as long as some other pairs, buying another pair when the time comes is an affordable option.
The Keen Targhee II has earned its positive reputation. Keen found a design that works and has stuck with it over the years, as have their followers. The wide toe box and great foot protection are awesome on flats, ascents, and descents in varied terrain, and the solid support provided allows for more backpacking possibilities. It's overkill for day hikes in easy terrain, and won't set any speed records. Yet, for its intended purpose, it's a great product.
— Ross Robinson
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