My wife likes to hike. I don't like to hike. So we hike.
To this point I've always done most of my outdoor activities in the same pair of Nikes I wear to work or wearing casual shoes like Jack Purcells. It hasn't been ideal, and with a trip upcoming with a lot of hiking planned my wife forced me to look at getting a pair of more outdoor-oriented shoes. What she meant was probably a cheap pair of cross trainers or something to throw around. What I heard was the opportunity to buy something I would actually like. Too late, no backsies.
Since I don't hike that much, I didn't want to break the bank. Ideally, the shoes/boots would also be something I could wear outside of hiking to get more use out of them. That eliminated 99% of hiking shoes/cross-trainers for me, which I've always felt have been aesthetically designed like the footwear versions of a Pontiac Aztek or a Suburu Outback.
Fortunately, traditional hiking/backpacking boots offer some refuge in this regard. Rugged and stylish in their own way, there are a lot of brands who have been making quality hiking and backpacking boots long before they became trendy a few years ago (such as Danner and their well-known Mountain Light line). Though I've had my eye on some models for a while, I could never justify paying for them.
Enter Alico, a relatively lesser-known Italian brand (at least here in the US) distributed through Sierra Trading Company, an online storefront I've come to love for value-hunting. Alico bases production out of a small factory in the Dolomites, making everything from firefighter to skiing boots. Their website looks like something that was made in the 90's for free, and they don't have a lot of information on their site. What you can garner from the brief product pictures and specs, however, is that their boots are all business and look tough as hell. The Tahoe model caught my eye, and with over 550 reviews and an aggregate 4.5 out of 5 score, they clocked in at $121.96 shipped with discount code. Definitely worth a try.
Here are some first impressions after a few days with them.
The Tahoes are constructed from one-piece full grain anfibio calf leather uppers. The leather is 2.8mm thick and very stiff out of the box, with a fully gusseted and padded tongue. On a test wear out in light/medium rain showers, water beaded off easily with zero absorbance. Weighing in at 3 lbs 6 oz., they definitely have a substantial weight, though shorter and about a lb lighter than their big brother, the Alico Summit. Construction quality throughout is pretty impressive, especially taking into consideration their price point. The stitching on the boots is good, and double stitched on most lines. The sole is a familiar Vibram Roccia rubber lug.
The boots come with standard laces that articulate well with the D-rings and top speed hooks. Once laced and tightened, the laces don't slip around at all. A steel half-shank is incorporated between the insole and the outsole. Shanks are small pieces of material commonly used in mountaineering and heavy footwear as extra arch support and to lessen the load on feet during ascents. When moving over rough terrain, the shank protects the feet from impact as well. Though modern shanks can be built from different materials, steel is the most conventional and what is used here.
The insole is Texon (organic cellulose) fiberboard with EVA (a soft and flexible polymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate). The footbed is definitely my least favorite part of the shoe as it's quite thin and lacks significant arch support - something echoed in a lot of reviews I've seen. The Tahoe, unlike the leather-lined Summit (and some of Alico's other leather-lined boots), is lined with Dri-Lex, a moisture-wicking textile. Something to note is the conspicuous absence of the popular Gore-Tex fabric used in many other boots (like Danners) - a waterproof material some say has poor breathability and ends up turning into a bit of a sweat box.
One of the most interesting aspects of construction is what Alico calls their Norwegian Welt. Also called the Norvegese by the Italians who utilize it most, it's an old method of construction used in footwear designed to be waterproof. It achieves this is by turning out the upper and laying the welt on top of it. The welt is then attached with two characteristic lines of stitching as below - this leaves no channel for water to come through. On close examination, though, it appears the upper lies on top of the welt on Alico's boots in what is actually a "stitch-down" construction - a similar waterproof method which creates a more clean look by hiding the welt below the turned out upper. This site does a great job of showing the differences:
|Credit to: http://mydenimlife.com/blog/construction2/|
Sizing and Fit
I read all of the 550+ reviews on STP's site, and there were a lot of differing opinions regarding sizing. For what it's worth, I am an 8D in most Allen Edmonds shoes and I tried to order my true size in the Tahoes. I ended up exchanging them for a 1/2 size down (7.5D), which fit well with medium-weight socks.
The general profile of hiking boots are a bit chunky and stubby, and the Tahoes are no exception. It's the kind of look that either you love or you don't.
Being trekking shoes, I haven't yet had a chance to really put the boots through their paces on a long hike. With normal wear, however, they were surprisingly easy on my feet. As noted above, even with the pretty bare removable insole, wearing them around the city for a few days didn't cause me any problems or chafing.
Impressions and Value
I've come across an old adage a couple of times attributed to Sir Edmund Hillary following his ascent of Mount Everest: "One pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back." There apparently have been studies which support the assertion that weight carried on the feet is disproportionately exhausting, which would be a definite downside of heavier footwear like this. I can't speak to it personally, but it isn't hard to imagine being the case. That being said, boots like this aren't built with weight being the first priority. Heavy backpacking boots are made to withstand punishment and offer stronger support for longer trips and off-trail hiking. While admittedly a bit overkill for most casual use, I like the "buy it for life" feel of products so stoutly built.
I won't be able to fully evaluate the boots until I've used them extensively, but on first impression I'm pretty impressed with these Alico Tahoe boots. They're a combination of great leather and solid craftsmanship, and they seem tough as nails - I have no doubt they'll stand up to years of abuse. In terms of value for money, I would be hard pressed to come up with a serious competitor at their price point. I'm not sure why more people don't know about these (their website and limited distribution makes me think lack of marketing is a major reason). There are some companies that are all marketing and no product (i.e. Shinola), and others that quietly go about their business making quality products without the pomp and circumstance. I much prefer the latter.
The Tahoe is one of the lighter duty models in a full lineup of Alico boots carried by STP. You can check out the full line here. Don't forget to apply the DealFlyer codes - ideally somewhere around a 35% off + free shipping.
Things I Liked
Thick, sturdy, full grain leather
Waterproof welt construction
Fully gusseted tongue
Vibram lug sole
Things I Didn't Like
Removable insole is pretty Spartan
Dri-Lex fabric vs. leather lining on other models