Tested: Keen Liberty Ridge
We travel to the Balkans to try out Keen’s latest European Made hiking boot…
Keen have made much recently of their push to manufacture in the markets that they sell into, and rightly so. As well as providing jobs in these regions, it also saves on the energy used and pollution created by shipping products around the world from far eastern factories. Keen’s factory in Oregon has been manufacturing footwear for the North American market for four years now and they have recently started manufacturing in Europe to serve its customers on this side of the Pond. If only more brands would follow this model!
One of the first major new products to come out of the factory is the Liberty Ridge boot for men and women, a tough hiking boot with a high quality full-grain leather upper and Keen’s own waterproof/breathable liner to keep rain out. The boot is available in two styles for men and one style for women, and Keen say the Liberty Ridge is “designed to handle any trail surface – if you rack up serious backcountry mileage with a full pack, this is your boot”. An ideal boot for general hiking and trekking then, it would seem, so let’s find out whether the Liberty Ridge delivers the goods.
Out of the box, the Liberty Ridge looks unmistakably Keen, with a funkier look than many of the more traditional European brands; distinctive touches include the toe bumper and ‘zigzag’ pattern of rubber which acts as a kind of rand around the boot. The model we received was Black/Gargoyle and this was certainly pleasing enough on the eye (with contrasting yellow laces and details), though the Bison/Gingerbread colour scheme (see the Key Features boxout) is equally appealing. The upper is made from full-grain leather – the choicest cut of leather – that is smooth and quite supple to the touch. There are several synthetic overlays on top of the leather, notably on the area at the back of the heel to add further protection. The ankle cuffs are incredibly well-padded, and rather than just being located at the top of the ankle cuffs, the cushioining comes down several inches to almost the foot itself.
The lacing system is quite sophisticated, with four metal eyelets augmented with a speed lacing ‘tube’ on each side – and finally finished off with two metal hooks at the top. The tongue is well-padded, and consists of
a tough mesh fabric with a leather overlay, with the whole thing stitched to the upper to provide contiuous protection. Moving to the bottom of the boot we find an outsole featuring Keen’s own dual-compound rubber, with what looks like a tougher rubber in the centre of the outsole and a softer, grippier rubber around the edges and at the front and back. The arch is quite pronounced and with larger, spaced-out lugs in the centre and flatter, grippier areas at the toes and heels, the outsole seems to have been designed to provide good traction on a range of different surfaces and terrain.
As luck would have it, I was about to head off on a hiking trip to Bosnia and Croatia just as we took delivery of the test samples, and the type of terrain encountered there would be ideal for testing the Liberty Ridge’s capabilities. First we headed to the mountains southwest of Sarajevo for a two-day trek around the peak Bjelasnica (2,067m) in the area used for the 1984 Sarajevo winter Olympics. A few days later we found ourselves climbing Croatia’s second-highest peak, Biokovo (1,762m), a beautiful trek right on the coastline but fairly arduous due to the high temperatures and height gain. Back in the Chamonix valley, I also used the Liberty Ridge for several day hikes including an 8-hour round- trip to La Jonction (2,589m) which included over 1,600m of height gain to the top. This is exactly the type of extended hiking days on rough trails that the Liberty Ridge was intended for, and the good news is that it coped with it incredibly well.
The first thing I liked was that the fit was spot on for me. There’s enough room where you want it in the forefoot, but where you want a snug fit – and to be held securely – at the ankles and heel, it does that brilliantly.
The ankle support is superb; that extra padding gives you great confidence, especially it you’re like me and find it all too easy to turn a foot over! The height of the ankle cuffs is great too – almost like a ‘low mid’ rather than a ‘mid’, and tapered towards the heel. The next thing we liked was the lacing system, and the laces themselves. The speed lacing lugs mean you can tighten the laces all the way down the foot easily, and then the top two sets of hooks hold the laces firmly, so that they don’t slip back when tying them up. And the laces are good too. It may seem a small point, but laces that won’t stay done up are irritating at best, and could cause an accident at worst. And the great thing is, even if they do work loose the two top hooks hold them firmly in place anyway.
On rocky trails you want good support of course, but for long days you don’t want your boots to be too stiff either. The Liberty Ridge is actually quite a soft boot, in terms of forward and sideways flex, but this means that you should be able to wear them for many hours in comfort. They don’t offer the technical precision needed for scrambling, of course, but that’s not what they are intended for. Having said that, the grip is such that short/easy scrambling sections are easily dealt with and their performance on wet rock is
I was pleasantly surprised with how well the Liberty Ridge coped with the challenges I threw at it. To take the boots straight out of the box and use them on back-to-back eight-hour days without even a hint of a blister (which I am prone to) is quite impressive. Not only that, but the comfort and support they provided along with a high level of protection meant I could have worn them for many more hours without problems. For long hours hillwalking in the UK or trekking around the world, the Liberty Ridge really is a winner if the fit suits you, and for me they are probably my favourite Keen boot to date.
VERDICT: Fantastically comfortable and supportive hiking boot – well made and durable too