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Vasque St. Elias GTX Review
Cons: Heavy, permeable leather needs treatment
Bottom line: This all-leather midweight hiker performs at the top of the group in every category except weight, making it a great choice for nearly any application.
The Vasque St. Elias GTX is an incredible midweight hiking boot, representing a modern upgrade on the classic backpacking boot. Like an old-school backpacking boot, the St. Elias is stable and supportive, durable, and water resistant. However, it's not nearly as heavy as its five-pound (or more) predecessors, and it's a real glutton for comfort, too. Lightweight EVA cushioning in the midsole and synthetic materials in the collar complement traditional full grain leather and Vibram rubber soles. It ticks all the right boxes for a boot to tackle nearly anything you throw at it.
That said, the current trend toward lighter, faster hiking boots has partly lead to this boot tying for the heaviest boot in our review. The St. Elias was beaten out this year for the Editors' Choice award by the more nimble, more stable Salomon Quest 4D II GTX. Not lagging far behind in scoring across the metrics was the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid, which packs a lot of performance into the lightest of the midweight boot class.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
This boot held its own in all our performance metrics except weight, and shared the highest awarded scores for traction and durability. We frequently reached for this $200 pair for longer adventures on foot. All-around performance in a comfortable boot is a great reputation to have, and this boot is just that.
This boot and the lightweight Keen Targhee II Mid both earned 9's in comfort. The Vasque St. Elias impressed us from the start with footbed and ankle comfort, and continued to impress through long days with a pack. The boot's front upper is supple enough to snugly lace easily, and the dual density foam insole is one of the best stock insoles.
We found the ankle collar comfortable when laced snugly. The collar is flexible and soft in the right places, and there's enough leather that the ankle feels protected. The lacing system works well. Laces slide easily through the lower four eyelets when tightening, and the middle locking eyelet does its job well. The upper lacing is comfortable and secure through two upper hook eyelets.
Finally, this model breathes well, considering its full-grain upper. We found the Salomon Quest 4D II to provide better ventilation, though.
Vasque uses a lighter, more supple synthetic material in combination with full grain leather around the ankle. We found the design to provide great lateral stability for the ankle, while being more pliable when flexing forward. The height of the ankle collar and the forefoot width both measure less than found in the Salomon and Lowa Renegade GTX models. These two boots also outmatched the St. Elias in torsional rigidity, and therefore scored higher in this metric.
This boot's combination of impact cushioning from the EVA insert and support from the midsole and shank make it supportive enough for carrying loads and cushioned enough for long miles with them.
We awarded this product the highest score for traction along with a few other boots in this review. Its Vibram Frontier sole performed better than most during our tests on dry granite slabs. The boot did well going up and down a scree slope, and kept us from sliding out when traversing muddy passes. Its performance on wet rocks and while scrambling, though, wasn't as impressive.
This product tied for the heaviest boot of all twelve boots on our scale, weighing 3.43 lbs. While there are certainly heavier boots in the market and from the past, we more often reached for a lighter pair, such as the HOKA ONE ONE Tor or the Keen Targhee II Mid.
From the outsole to the tongue gussets, we measured 6.125 inches, enough already to earn a high score in this metric. Additionally, our feet stayed bone dry for five minutes walking in the lake's edge. With minimal seams, we expect the Vasque St. Elias to maintain it's fine waterproofing longer than the Lowa Renegade, which has many more seams near the forefoot.
One thing to note: before treatment, the leather upper really soaks up water. However, when the uppers are dry, this boot breathes better than several other midweight hikers.
For the most part, we love the upper's construction. Good quality leather with a minimum of seams. All seams are double in the upper, too, minus in the ankle collar. The molded rubber toe cap sewn under the leather upper is a unique feature. Other rubber toe caps often fail where they are glued to the upper. The thread tension used and the trimming of the leather leads to a slightly upturned edge that protects the seams' thread from abrasion.
One area of potential concern are the moving hinges on the bottom four eyelets. We're not sure how much this mobility improves the lacing system, if at all. In general, we find moving parts to add more points of potential problems. Moreover, the soft material of the exposed EVA cushioning easily gets chewed up in rocky terrain, but doesn't present any functional problems.
The St. Elias GTX is ideally suited for those who want a durable midweight boot for carrying moderate loads backpacking and hiking. It's a perfect choice for an early summer hike of the John Muir Trail in California, and other similar trails. It's stable enough for the talus hopping and snow on the high passes, and quite comfortable powering through flatter miles.
This product is a great deal, at $200, for hikers who want to be prepared for any terrain. If you don't need the burlier features of a midweight hiker, lightweights like the Keen Targhee II and the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit are more affordable.
We believe this is the one of the best, most versatile boots we tested. Plenty comfortable for folks that want good ankle support when day hiking, and perfect for extended backpacking! With narrow and wide boots available, we recommend the Vasque St. Elias GTX for anyone seeking one boot that can do it all with a bit of the old and new school.
— Ross Robinson & Brandon Lampley
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