Hiking Gear Review

Hiking Shoe: La Sportiva Boulder X Review

Relatively low heel-toe drop combined with substantial cushioning

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I tend to prefer lightweight hiking shoes with flexible soles that let me feel what's going on underfoot, so the La Sportiva Boulder X was a bit of a departure for me -- but you voted it into second place in Reader's Choice Awards, so I figured it'd be worth a try.

Technically this is an approach shoe, made for climbers to wear while hiking and scrambling toward the base of a climb.

That pretty much fits the bill for regular old hiking too and, actually, approach shoes are a great category to shop in if you want the best traction possible. On the downside, the soft, sticky rubber outsole that gives approach shoes such great traction tends to wear out relatively quickly.

La Sportiva Boulder X

La Sportiva Boulder X Review in Details

Features:

Construction: Board Lasted

Lacing System: Mythos lacing system for a highly adaptable fit
Upper: Leather
Lining: Mesh (back half and tongue only)
Midsole: Micropore EVA
Insole: 2mm Polyproylene/2mm La SpEVA
Sole: Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear Impact Brake System™

Hefty, hefty midsole

La Sportiva doesn't release exact heel-to-toe-drop specs for its shoes, but a representative told me the Boulder X's drop measures "about 4 mm to 6 mm." That's right in line with the standard for lightweight, minimalist footwear, although the Boulder X's thickly padded midsole runs contrary to that aesthetic. When I first tried out the Boulder X, they felt so inflexible -- clonky platforms on my feet -- that I was afraid I'd twist an ankle from hauling them around.

After 10 to 15 miles, though, that clonky feeling was fading -- and after about 25 I realize the soles had become flexible enough to suit me, with just enough give to feel thoroughly padded, but not squishy, underfoot.

These are definitely not minimalist footwear but they have decent trail feel, considering. That's pretty much my ideal feel for a heavier hiking boot, so it's noteworthy that the Boulder X is also available as a waterproof (Gore-Tex lined) "Mid" boot. My one gripe is that the Boulder X feels so solid and boot like underfoot, I kept expecting some significant lateral ankle support -- of which, of course, it offers none.

Some quirks in the fit

La Sportiva Boulder X review

This shoe has a lot of things going for it in the fit department: A spacious but not-too-roomy toebox, removable insoles that come out easily, and a heel cup that's on the roomy side but still does an okay job with narrow heels. There's enough room for my high arches, but only barely. The midfoot feels great when my foot is actually weighted -- but if I'm sitting around or driving, it's just a little too snug over the arch. Most important of all, the lacing and shape of the midfoot keep my toes from contacting the front of the shoes when going downhill.

The tongue doesn't have a gusset, but stays where it's put; I wish I could say the same for the thick, round laces, which usually come untied at least once a hike. Said laces also run around the back of your heel (through channels in the shoe), which means replacing them will be a pain in the backside -- if it's even possible. In theory that round-the-heel lacing is supposed to provide a more secure fit, but I don't feel that it helps at all.

Suggested Reading: How to Hide Shoe Laces | Do it Yourself

Overall performance

la sportiva boulder x review

The La Sportiva Boulder X's Vibram rubber outsole gives dreamy traction on almost all natural surfaces, including -- no, especially -- wet rock(!); tree roots; and all but the thinnest, slickest sheets of mud. Traction on wet logs is acceptable.

They do just fine on snow -- nothing remarkable either way. Ice traction is adequate, but becomes completely absent when dealing with smooth, water-slicked ice. If you're going out for a post-hike drink or meal on a winter day, watch out -- these shoes and slick sidewalks are a very poor combination.

The leather uppers aren't the lightest things around (13 oz. for one of my size 37s (US size 6), a little more than a pound (16 oz.) apiece for a mid-size men's shoe) but they're sturdy and would require a good soaking to get you wet through. After about 35 miles the soles are still looking good, so there's hope that these shoes will have a relatively decent lifespan.

Related Article: Find Best Shoe Glue for Soles, Heels Repair.

The final verdict

I'll update this La Sportiva Boulder X review about the shoes' durability once I log more miles. But for now, my verdict is that these shoes are sturdy, with great underfoot cushioning, good foot protection and surprisingly decent trail feel in spite of that -- once you break them in with a few shorter hikes. Given my usual preference for lightweight shoes, I'm surprised by how much I like them and consider them a great buy -- if they last for a few hundred miles.

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