The Bechler River Trail approaching Douglas Knob in Yellowstone National Park crosses a wide expanse of grasslands, one that in mid-September we were surprised to find was nearly ankle-deep in water. We were, I came later to find, sloshing through the headwaters of Littles Fork, a tributary of the Bechler River.
Though the trail turned boggy and soggy, it was a perfect test for KEEN's Erickson PCT (MSRP $170), a heavy-weight, full-grain leather boot that was taking over for a pair of midweight, mesh Salomon boots that had lost their water-proofing.
It's been years since I've slipped my feet into a heavy-weight boot, instead opting for the lighter, mesh-lined boots that typically are more comfortable and, with their Gore-Tex or similar linings, can keep your feet dry.
But the Yellowstone trek was envisioned to go roughly 80 miles, climbing up over Grants Pass from Old Faithful, down towards Shoshone Lake before veering to the right and down the tilt that drains Littles Fork, Phillips Fork, and Ferris Fork, among others, into the Bechler River, which practically screams as it wends its way through the park's southwestern corner, and then wrapping east and north before swinging back west to Old Faithful.
I did not want to venture there with a porous boot, no matter how comfy.
Right out of the box, the size 11 boots were a tad hefty (3.4 pounds for a size 9 vs. 2 lbs, 13 ounces for a pair of Salomon Quest 4D GTX), and felt stiff, which wasn't too surprising in light of the full-grain leather uppers. Beneath that upper and out of sight is a liner of KEEN.DRY, the company's proprietary water-proof, and breathable, barrier. Under foot was a thermoplastic urethane shank/thermoplastic urethane torsion plate for stability and protection on rocky trails.
An interesting aspect of the KEENs is their somewhat wide toebox, a roomy enclosure that gives the toes both room to breath and expand when you're under way and pounding the trails with a full pack on your back. A narrow heel cup and somewhat slim midfoot help keep your foot from sliding forward into that toebox and ramming your toes.
Arriving at my doorstep a good month before my departure for Yellowstone, I figured I'd have time to break in the boots and get my feet used to them. I was partially correct. Wearing them around the yard doing chores and up onto the trails of the Wasatch Range for day hikes were pain-free and quickly softened up the uppers.
However, once out on the trail, with a 35-pound pack on, the boots convinced me via some small blisters on my right heel that they still had a little ways to go to be fully broken in.
The solution? During the initial break-in period back home, gradually increase your miles during day hikes and once you think the boots are ready for bigger things to come, add a pack to your back for more day hikes to remove any doubt.
The Ericksons, named for the Leif Erickson Trail in Forest Park in Portland, Oregon (22 miles round trip), proved well-suited for the Yellowstone trek. They were comfortable, survived the slosh past Douglas Knob (8,544 feet) without a leak, and well-protected my toes from those inadvertent rock-kicks on the trail.
If there's something I'd change (aside from taking more time to break them in), it'd be a stouter pair of laces. The ones that came with the boot already are fraying after just a month of use.
Traveler footnote: While Adventure Medical bills its "GlacierGel" blister protection as being waterproof, it doesn't stand up to fording rivers.