Each day on the trail, we see more and more people wearing low-cut footwear -- even while hauling larger packs. As they follow the trend toward hiking lightly, folks are looking to their footwear as a way to shed weight. Unfortunately, many low-cut shoes simply don't offer adequate foot support when shouldering loads closer to 50 pounds.
However, Merrell's low-cut Chameleon carries loads very well. Granted, these shoes are probably marketed more for lighter hiking, but we've worn them on multi-day trips in the backcountry with a sizable load, and suffered little foot fatigue.
The name Chameleon seems entirely appropriate. Not because these shoes shift from their attractive "gunsmoke" color to adapt to their leafy surroundings -- though that would be cool. It's because they're comfortable in a wide range of conditions.
At 2 pounds 6 ounces a pair, they aren't exactly lightweight, but the Chameleon feels comfortable for everyday walking. The fabric and leather upper breaks in quickly to become very flexible, and substantial cushioning in the midsole makes the shoes very forgiving.
But the Chameleon still walks a little more like a boot than an athletic shoe. The molded EVA footframe and outsole create a wide, beefy platform, which does an excellent job of stabilizing the foot on uneven terrain. Also, the significant structure of the midsole and outsole absorb quite a load, so your foot doesn't have to.
Merrell extends the comfort range of the Chameleon by utilizing W.L. Gore's XCR membrane. In tests with the Chameleon and other XCR products, we found that this membrane really does appear to breathe better than other systems, particularly in higher humidity. One SNEWS reporter wore Chameleons (combined with gaiters) for several days on the Appalachian Trail this summer, and their feet remained relatively dry (considering that our tester's feet sweat a lot).
If we have one complaint it's that the shoe volume may pose problems for those with low-volume feet. One of our testers solved the problem using the same techniques you would with a traditional boot -- replacing the factory footbeds with Superfeet, and slipping a neoprene tongue depressor underneath the laces. It solved the fit problems, but the depressor severely cramps your style.
SNEWS Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $110
For more information: 800-789-8586 or www.merrell.com