Lowa Boots has utilized a new injection molding technique that's intended to shave weight from the light hikers currently in its line without diminishing the support those light hikers have long been recognized for. With the new AL-X series, Lowa injects polyurethane and other polymers into a mold to create a single, continuous piece of material that not only serves as the midsole, but also wraps over the upper portion of the shoe. This "Mono Wrap" material on the upper does triple duty, providing torsional rigidity and protection for the sides of the shoe while also covering as a rigid heel counter and a protective rand for the toe.
One goal of the technology is to reduce the amount of materials and layers need to form the midsole and upper, and the shoe succeeds in this regard. But does it shave that much weight? Well, a pair of men's size 9 shoes is 2.4 pounds per pair -- definitely not a big difference from other low-cut hikers on the market, but the weight is right in line with other shoes offering good support in a relatively lightweight package. Also, the AL-X 66 has a trim profile and feels pretty nimble on the trail.
One of our chief concerns was whether the midsole material would peel away from the split-grain leather on the upper. But we wore the AL-X 66 on a number of pretty serious day hikes over scree and rocky terrain, and it proved plenty durable. Plus, the Mono-Wrap material was a good shield as we banged and scraped our way down a rocky descent or two. Though our shoes appear slightly scuffed, we couldn't easily grind away material or gouge it.
As for stability, the shoe has a well-shaped heel cup and our tester's feet stayed seated securely, plus the Mono-Wrap material surrounding the heel added definite stability. Also, a nylon shank adds some necessary stiffness.
There were a couple of things that could limit use of the shoe. First, the sole does not offer a great deal of forefoot protection, meaning rocks and large pebbles are more readily felt underfoot rather than smoothed over, so the shoe is best for more groomed trails. Also, lugs on the sole are not aggressive and they do not provide great traction, so this shoe isn't the best choice for scrambling when the going is more rugged or the surface more loose. This is a bummer because the shoe has great potential with an upper that's flexible, protective and supportive. Plus, the shoe just looks like a scrambler. Alas, it's definitely more of a walker.
Also, the midsole provides little cushioning, so if your inclinations are toward a more cushy ride underfoot, you're likely to be a tad disappointed. Our tester found that after many miles on rather hard terrain underfoot, his feet felt the lack of cushioning.
One thing the AL-X line will certainly do is attract customers. The Mono-Wrap construction lends it a unique look that should stand out on the shelves. For the vast majority of consumers hiking a few miles on established trails, the AL-X series should be pretty popular.
SNEWS Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $135
For more information:www.lowaboots.com