Keen Aphlex Mid WP
$160, 2 lbs. 3 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: men’s 6-15, women’s 6-11
Lightweight, mid-cut boots at this price make up a competitive category of hiking footwear, and quality varies significantly. Many models are, frankly, made for first-time boot buyers and bargain shoppers who make a choice based on a couple of simple criteria: Whether the boots feel good (often achieved with plenty of foam padding, which doesn’t necessarily translate to good performance) and have any kind of waterproof-breathable membrane (a high-demand feature for hikers). To see whether Keen’s Aphlex Mid WP rose above all that mediocre chatter, I wore them on a two-day, 34-mile backpacking trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in mid-October, hiking long days with plenty of elevation gain and loss.
A dual-density EVA midsole, with a partial shank, creates a soft cushion and stable platform that provided adequate support for carrying 25 to 30 pounds (including photography gear); my feet were a little tired but not sore or achy after 17-mile days with some 3,500 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss (as they have been on similar days in other shoes). Foam padding around the boot’s collar—which is tall enough to protect the ankles—and in the tongue enhance comfort. But there’s not a lot of torsional rigidity (lateral support) to these boots, and EVA, although widely used in lightweight footwear, wears out quickly. I suspect that a heavy pack (or a really big hiker), or frequent, hard use in really rugged terrain (Great Smokies trails aren’t terribly rocky or bony), would wear down the midsole’s cushioning quickly.
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The somewhat higher-volume fit cradled my midfoot comfortably and gave my toes plenty of space, but had a little too much space for my heels on my feet, which fit in US men’s 9 boots from most brands. I wore thicker socks to fill up much of that excess volume. The Keen Dry proprietary waterproof-breathable membrane kept water out even when I stood in streams to test it, and breathed well enough to prevent my feet from sweating much in the moderate temperatures I encountered: sunny days with temperatures ranging from the 40s to 60s Fahrenheit, and generally dry trails. The synthetic and mesh uppers help keep my feet cooler, and are reinforced with a molded TPU exoskeleton and molded TPU at the toe and heel to protect them from the usual banging and abrading.
Shallow, multi-direction lugs on the proprietary outsole grip well on a variety of surfaces that many hikers encounter—dry or wet rocks, scree, dirt—but aren’t deep enough to shed thick mud or snow well, and lack the kind of smooth “climbing tread” under the toes for smearing on steep slabs and scrambling, found in approach-style shoes.
While it’s not designed for extremely wet conditions, rugged terrain, or routine, hard use, the Keen Aphlex Mid WP offers a good value in a basic, comfortable boot for dayhiking or light backpacking on trails.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.