Pros and Cons
Filed under:Footwear, Trekking Boots, Keen Karraig
Jon Doran tests out KEEN’s new European-made Karraig, a refreshing take on the 3/4 season boot concept
New from KEEN, the Karraig is the latest in the US brand’s European splinter range and was born in Montebelluna, the geographical heart of the Italian boot industry. It’s arguably the butchest boot KEEN has ever created. It gets a full-length shank for added support when carrying heavier loads across rugged terrain like, you know, UK mountains, and is even suitable for occasional use with flexible crampons.
Also something of a departure for KEEN is the high-ankled design and a serious-looking rubber toecap-come-rand that looks like it’s been transplanted from a climbing boot – all very reassuring if you’re planning on kicking into some granular snow or slogging up the odd scree slope. Less traditional is the luxuriously thick, soft-feeling waterproof Nubuck-type leather complete with modish aesthetic design lines, which is mixed with a tough Nylon mesh fabric in the area under the lace hooks and around the top of the ankle cuff.
Fit and adjustment
KEEN’s European-made boots – you can identify them by a tag on the lacing when new and from the label inside the top of the tongue – are cut a little bit snugger than their original US designs, but they’re still pretty roomy, particularly in the forefoot and suit a wide-ish foot. What I did find slightly problematic was snugging down the forefoot. The lace hooks aren’t the smoothest running out there and getting them tensioned right took several goes and a lot of pulling on lace segments. Once done, the good news is that the locking lace hook at the instep, keeps things fully locked down.
Once on and adjusted, the boots gave a nice mix of comfort and support. The high ankle cuffs are soft and flexible with enough padding that they don’t feel stiff or restrictive, which is sometimes a problem. Underfoot there’s plenty of lengthways flex for comfortable walking, but the full-length stability shank gives decent lateral support and the boots always felt stable on rocky terrain. You can’t feel rocks through the sole either. On top of that there’s enough cushioning from the ‘high rebound’ PU midsole to take the sting out of harder surfaces and even road sections. It should last well too. The footbed is EVA with a round pad under the heel to improve comfort further – a nice detail.
Overall KEEN has avoided the slightly clumpy, over-stiff feel of a lot of traditional European ‘backpacking’ boots, but without losing the underfoot support they provide. It helps too that the Karraig is reasonably light at around 1500g for a pair of size 43s – UK9 – which is around 150g less than, say, a pair of Scarpa R-Evolution Active GTX. All of which means they feel much more nimble and comfortable than their chunky looks and design suggest and certainly much less clumpy than many traditional so-called 3/4 season or ‘backpacking’ boots.
Rubber and waterproof liner
Underfoot, KEEN has used its own ‘All-Terrain Rubber’ outsole with 4mm lugs. It’s not as super-aggressive looking as a classic Vibram mountain sole, but so far I’ve found it to give really impressive all-round bite on anything from wet rock through to softer ground. The softish rubber compound does feel like it might wear faster than some used on more abrasive terrain, but it’s early days and I’ll report back.
Finally, I asked KEEN whether the boot was suitable from crampon use. The reply was that ‘it has a lasting board all the way thru and can take a light crampon for use on snow and icy terrain’. It needs a cradle-type or strapped attachment like Grivel’s New Classic binding for example and I wouldn’t suggest the boot as a specific winter walking one, but for occasional use in the odd cold snap on walking terrain, it should do just fine.
KEEN has kept the price down to a reasonable £160 partly by using own-brand technologies like that sole unit, and this extends to the waterproof KEEN.DRY liner. We’ve had good experiences with it in the past and we’d expect it to cope fine here as well. It comes up nice and high too. Dedicated boot sniffers will also be delighted that the Karraig features a Cleansport NXT treatment to reduce lingering odours inside the boot. So far so good.
KEEN’s Karraig may look very like a traditional 3/4 season or backpacking boot, but it’s lighter and more flexible than most, while still giving decent underfoot grip support and cushioning particularly on rocky terrain. The fit is medium broad and will suit those with wider feet and overall comfort is impressive for a boot that’ll also allow occasional crampon use. My gut feeling is that it doesn’t quite have the brute stiffness that works best for kicking into hard neve, but then that’s not really what it’s all about. Think of it more as an all-round mountain walking boot with contemporary looks.
Our one niggle with the Karraig was the slightly fiddly lacing on the forefoot, however this only really needs to be adjusted once when you first get the boots, and overall we found it to be a really nice, broad-fitting, all-round mountain walking boot which features traditionally high ankle cuffs and traditional underfoot lateral stiffness, but without the accompanying discomfort or clumpiness. The downside is that it may not be as long-term durable as heavier designs.