When you're shopping for mountaineering footwear, Nike probably isn't the first brand that comes to your mind. Nike hiking boots, however, have graced store shelves since the late 1980s.
While many of the brand's hiking boots have been running shoes dressed up (or down depending on your perspective) with outdoorsy features, some are legendary specifically as hiking boots. In the 1990s, Nike churned out the Air Mowabb, Air Mada, Super Dome and Baltoro High, each of which was trail-ready. The neon color schemes may have been a bit out of line with the great outdoors, but the features were there.
These classic Nike hiking boots are unavailable today, but they were part of a product line that the manufacturer has relaunched. Nike markets these new boots as crossovers — a mix of fashion, urban walking and outdoor adventuring.
Are they good enough for the trail? Can they handle mud, rocks, roots, and miles of wear? Answering these questions may be easier with a more in-depth look into the history of hiking boots, Nike's dabbling in the outdoor shoe market, and the features and details of the athletic shoe behemoth's current line.
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Hiking Boots: A History
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What is a hiking boot? Most people have specific an image in mind. They picture either a stout 1970s-era brown suede boot with red laces and promises of blisters, or a modern comfort hiker. The latter looks like a sturdier version of a high-top basketball sneaker, only in earth tones or solid grey.
Besides appearance, hiking boots provide support through long hikes, durability, so they hold up for the season, and heavy treads for gripping all the nastiness of the trail. Today's hiking boots also can feature waterproof properties, to provide extra comfort year round.
Those 1970s-looking boots actually were designed by the Danner company in the 1930s as logger boots. This new spin on outdoor boots took a classic work boot design and added features for trekking in the forest for extended periods. As mountaineering and hiking became more popular and new lightweight materials and waterproof fabrics became available, hiking boots became more sneaker-like.
Nike Hiking Boots
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Fast forward a bit to 1989, and Nike's growing athletic shoe empire debuted the All Conditions Gear (ACG) line and its iconic 1990s shoes. These designs became less popular over in the 2000s, but recently, Nike recharged the ACG line with a new collection of outdoor-focused footwear.
The current lineup features boots for serious hiking and some pairs that are perfect for racking up miles on concrete streets. We chose three models of Nike hiking boots to compare: the Manoa, ACG Ruckle Ridge, and ACG Angels Rest.
How We Reviewed
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To determine quality and best use, we looked at professional reviews and customer comments. This mix of reviews provided varied perspective on the products. Not all of the chosen products had customer reviews, however, as Nike just released the two ACG models.
The New Nike Hiking Boot
The new Nike hiking boot line consists of several innovative -- and drastically different -- designs.
The Manoa shoe is Nike's sole "serious" hiking boot. It's a solidly built shoe with that traditional "hiking boot" look that has a clear connection to some of Nike's most classic designs. From a distance, these Nike hiking boots look like Nike's Air Force One basketball shoes, except for the workboot colors and padded collar. Up close, these shoes are unmistakably made for the outdoors.
The Manoa hiking boot is made of leather, with a synthetic mesh material woven into the upper for breathable comfort. The tongue is gusseted, which means that the manufacturer folds the leather to prevent nasty trail bits from entering the boot during use. Dirt, pebbles, mud, sand, and water roll off the gusset and away from the boot. For the outdoors, this feature is essential. The water-resistant leather upper also helps keep feet dry on the trails.
Nike offers these boots in two basic colors: Haystack, which is like the classic Timberland work boot light tan, and black. Inside, these Nike hiking boots feature a Phylon midsole for lightweight cushioning. Phylon is like the standard foam used for years by many sneaker makers but is more compressed and lighter for less cushion and more bouncy responsiveness.
The Manoa is a popular boot, with over 200 customer reviews on Amazon. The consensus is that these boots perform well both outside as hikers or light-duty workboats and indoors as casual shoes. Fans loved the sneaker-like comfort. Some note that the quality is high when brand new, but that the boots wear out after a few months.
Other negative reviews pointed out that the boots can run small, which is unusual for Nike sneakers which usually fit true to size.
Another shoe that Nike markets for outdoor use is the ACG Ruckle Ridge. Although this shoe has outdoor features, it's more of a fashion statement than a rugged outdoor boot. Still, the design and features might be right up the alley of someone looking for comfort and durability in a non-traditional design. In fact, the shoe's designers took inspiration from mountain goats in Glacier National Park.
The designer learned that mountain goats could endure miles of trekking because of the natural softness of the inside of their hooves — like cushioning. In addition to cushion, the goats also have a hard perimeter on their hooves which helps them scale vertical rock.
Combining these two features, Nike created a supportive shoe with lightweight cushioning. Although untraditional in appearance, these Nike hiking boots are built for the outdoors.
The ACG Ruckle Ridge doesn't have many customer reviews, because of its newness. On Nike.com, customer reviews note the shoes great fit, comfort, and appearance.
Another new entry in the ACG line of Nike hiking boots, the Dog Mountain Trail Running Shoes is a suede high-top trail running shoe that is likely more in place in fashion than a mountain trail. This shoe is part of Nike's Holiday 2018 lineup, which has scattered availability and has experienced high demand.
Nike markets this shoe as having retro styling, including old logos, a prominent 1990s ACG theme, and a sneaker-like design. Very few performance details are available, which makes us think these Nike hiking boots are best left in the suburbs or the city.
As another newly minted shoe line, there are only three online reviews. These reviews give the shoes high notes for comfort and durability, with a lot of emphasis on looks.
Comparison with Other Hiking Boots
Nikes are popular shoes. Many people buy Nike hiking boots just because of the brand name and its reputation as a leader in athletic footwear and apparel and as a leader in fashion sneakers. Seasoned hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and even many competitive runners are not as enamored with Nike products. To best review Nike hiking boots, we decided to take a close look at the competition.
The Columbia brand is well-known for affordable, entry-level outdoor footwear and apparel.
Its Newton Ridge Plus II hiker is a popular waterproof boot with added comfort features. Made of full-grain leather, except for the tongue which also incorporates mesh for breathability, these boots combine comfort with lightweight performance. Columbia also added its Omni-Grip advanced traction rubber sole for slip-free movement.
These shoes are an Amazon Best Seller and have many fans. Most customer reviews praise the balance of comfort and low price. Several note the strong traction and waterproof performance. On the other hand, several negative reviews say the boots are not waterproof. Other negative comments complain about uneven wear on the insoles.
Timberland is another shoe brand that once was known for utilitarian products —its iconic yellow workboots — but that has now focused more on fashion over function. The company still makes many hiking boots that are trail-ready. These shoes are often affordable, too. The Timberland White Ledge Mid is a waterproof ankle boot hiker.
Made of 100 percent premium full-grain waterproof leather, these boots are lightweight and durable. Its padded collar and removable dual-density EVA footbed add comfort to the boots' outdoors performance. Like the ACG line of Nike hiking boots, this Timberland model has been around for a while and is one of the most popular hiking boots on the market.
The Timberland White Ledge boot is both extremely popular and highly-regarded in customer comments and reviews.
On Amazon, there are almost 9,000 reviews, with 68 percent rating the product five stars.
It is an Amazon #1 Best Seller, too. Customers love these boots, noting that they last much longer than many competitors' products. Reviews call these "great outdoor boots" that are easy to break-in. The few negatives point out that the boots are mid-ankle, so they do not provide the kind of support necessary for very long hikes.
If you like the design of the new Nike ACG models, but don't want to fight crowds or wait in a line wrapped around the block, the RAX Lightweight Hiking Boot is your ticket to fashion-forward outdoor shoes.
These look a lot like a pair of sneakers from the 1980s, such as the Reebok Alien Stompers (which were featured in 1986's Aliens sci-fi horror film). They feature a suede leather upper that is noted as wear-resistant and comfortable.
A "multi-terrain" hiking shoe, these shoes also feature a water-resistant upper. Water-resistance is not the same thing as waterproofing, so one should not expect these to keep your feet dry during a serious hike in the rain. They are lightweight and are marketed as the perfect companion for "free walking."
There are not a ton of online reviews, but enough to get an idea of the quality of these shoes. Most of the commenters say that these hiking boots are just O.K. Some say the shoes are comfortable and light, while others say the sizing is way off, as much as two sizes too big.
Is Nike the Best of the Bunch?
Nike hiking boots clearly focus on fashion over function. However, the Manoa transcends its fashion background and performs well as a one-season hiking boot. Some customers noted that the Manoa would wear out after six months to a year.
This is one aspect where Nike's athletic shoe background is evident, as running shoes also tend to last only about six months. If you are going to pay $100 for a pair of boots each year, the Manoa will keep your feet in good condition on small hikes and will look great on the street.
The new ACG line is cool, but after fighting the crowds for a pair, you'll probably want to keep them nice and clean, and far away from mud and dirt. If performance on the mountain is your only concern, we think the Timberland White Ledge is the best option for most hiking needs. They just might not look as cool.
What do you think of Nike's hikers? Fashion-forward function or better left for city streets? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image via Pixabay