We were just on YouTube watching the hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch where Christopher Walken, in the role of record producer, exclaims to the band, "We need more cowbell!" And it got us thinking…you know, over time, some pieces of gear just fall out of favor. Times change, and the cowbell fades away (sigh). It's a strange analogy, but in some ways the mid-cut hiking boot is the outdoor equivalent of the cowbell—it's been shoved aside and replaced by more trendy alternatives, namely low-cut models with athletic shoe construction.
But a new boot, the Asolo Flame GTX, has changed the way we play. Thanks to its excellent fit and comfort, we're once again trekking in a mid-cut hiker.
Asolo has positioned the Flame as a boot for hiking, rather than backpacking, but it actually functions well for both pursuits. The pair we tested (size 10.5) weighed about 3 pounds, which is relatively light for a shoe this substantial, and the Flame didn't feel like cumbersome overkill during day hikes with little or no load. The sole construction allows the natural gait you get with a low-cut light-hiking shoe, and the upper of fabric and suede leather flexes well.
Still, the upper is moderately stiff, and the midsole offers good support, so our feet held up well during a 20-mile overnight trip carrying a pack loaded with 40 pounds. A key to its comfort is the midsole construction. Not only does foot ride on a soft EVA platform, but the heel portion of the midsole is made with dual-density TPU, so it is soft in the middle and stiffer on the edges. There is also an effective heel counter that did an excellent job keeping our feet stable on steep descents and uneven terrain. Leather overlays on the upper add just the right amount of rigidity for added ankle support, without making the collar feel overly stiff. And the topmost portion of the collar is made of soft, cushioned material so that it doesn't dig into the ankles.
The boot also sports some nice design details, such as the lacing system, which includes speed laces on the lower portion of the boot. At the point where the lace loops are attached to the cleat there is a hinge, so the loops rock back and forth a bit, adjusting to the flex of the foot. As for the lace hooks on the collar, the lowest hooks allow you to lock the laces down, so you can looses the collar as needed without loosening the forefoot portion of the boot.
The Flame is also constructed with a Gore-Tex membrane, and we found that the waterproofing was solid, so this is much more than a mere fair-weather shoe for jaunts in the sunshine.
Another plus is that these boots proved burly and stood up to miles of trail abuse. The suede leather of the upper doesn't scuff easily, and the toecap is hard as a rock.
The Flame is best suited for low- to medium-volume feet, and if there is any drawback it's the toe box, which could be roomier. Another thing to consider is that the lugs on the sole are shallow, so the Flame doesn't provide the level of traction you get with a true backpacking boot. But, as we mentioned, Asolo pitches this as a hiking boot, so we can't really dock them for outfitting the Flame with a more low-key sole. The only other knock is that fashion-conscious hikers might think the boot appears to be a little "Euro" looking, but it's not so unattractive that we'd opt for a different boot – heck, our tester even wore them in the deep South, and didn't hear one disparaging comment about his fashion sense, or lack thereof.
With the Flame, the positives far outweigh any negatives, and its balance of support and comfort could inspire some people to, once again, add a mid-cut shoe to their mix. Our gear testers are certainly singing a new tune. It's time for a mid-cut revival. And while we're at it, we need more cowbell!
SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $180.00
For more information: www.asolo.com