Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gear Review: L.L. Bean Technical Upland Boots

NOTE: L.L. Bean has informed me that they are trying to iron out some quality issues on these boots and that as of May 20, 2011, they are not for sale.  You can find the full story here.

NOTE: This review has been updated with my impressions of the boot after a month or so afield.  That evaluation can be found here.

Here's a first in a (hopefully) occasional series of upland gear reviews.  As I purchase new stuff, I'll do my best to post initial, as well as subsequent, evaluations as time allows.

There has been a lot of discussion about the new L.L. Bean Technical Upland Boots on various upland hunting message boards, and they recently garnered a 2010 Field & Stream Best of the Best award.  Those factors were enough for me to give the Bean Boots a try.  I ordered them for $179.00 and free shipping directly from L.L. Bean on August 27th and I received them on September 2nd.  That seemed a tad long, even for free shipping, but the ordering process was otherwise uneventful.

Full disclosure: my opinion of L.L. Bean generally skews neutral to slightly negative. I own little (if any) Bean gear, and right or wrong, I have always considered it northeastern preppy stuff. Not to the Orvis level of pretentiousness, but not far from it. In fact, I think the last piece of Bean apparel I owned were a pair of duck shoes back in 7th grade -- they were hot, uncomfortable, and butt-ugly.

Enter Bean's Technical Boots. Unique looking is probably a charitable description.  They're sort of a cross between a traditional hunting boot and a high-tech hiking boot. Two features really steal the show on these boots though -- the funky material that comprises most of the upper, and the unique steel cable lacing system.

Normally, my taste in boots is pretty traditional. I prefer full leather uppers, and I like a light boot that still gives me good ankle support. I'm not normally in terrain where I need a hardcore hiking boot -- my typical terrain is rolling prairie grass, cropland, and thorny West Texas mesquite pastures. But form follows function in my book. I'm not afraid to employ new technology, whether it's textiles, electronics, or ammo -- as long as it makes my time afield safer, more efficient, or more enjoyable.

Puncture resistance is part of what attracted me to these boots.  The uppers, as I mentioned, are made of Superfabric, a composite material that sort of reminds me of a cross between fish scales and chain mail.  According to the manufacturer, Superfabric is abrasion resistant, and cut resistant, and L.L. Bean claims it's "punctureproof" -- all good things for the intrepid (and sometimes clumsy) upland crusader.  In a preliminary walk around the neighborhood, it also felt very flexible and lightweight -- no noticeable difference between a leather or Cordura upper.

I wouldn't say I'm particularly hard on my boots, but I don't baby them, either.  I have a good hunting buddy that needs a new pair (at least) every year -- he tears up boots like nobody's business.  I'm not that way, but I do put a lot of miles on mine in many different environments -- from swampy Minnesota grousewoods to the dusty plains of Texas.  I can usually get a couple years out of my boots, and then retire them for yardwork, kennel cleaning, etc.  I'll be interested to see how the Superfabric holds up to the claims, and will report back once I get some miles on them.

The other unique feature of these boots is the Boa stainless steel lacing system.  I was somewhat familiar with this feature, having seen it on cycling shoes and boots. It made a lot of sense to me -- no laces to fray or untie, and at the end of a long day, I could easily pop my boot laces and open up the fully-gusseted tongue on the drive back to the motel.











The Boa system (thus far) has not disappointed. It's simply a matter of pulling out the knob and twisting it counterclockwise to loosen the coated steel cable lacing. When you're suiting up in the morning, you just push in the knob and twist it clockwise for the proper fit. You can really customize the comfort of each boot -- my right foot is slightly larger than my left one, and it was easy to adapt each Boa to my foot. I was a little surprised at how thin the laces are -- I'd hate to have one of those suckers break in the middle of a long hike, as they're not as easy to replace as traditional laces. I would assume that Bean would repair or replace these if they ever broke. Nevertheless, the manufacturer claims the laces are, gram for gram, "stronger than tank armor." So at least I've got that going for me.

The sole is similar to most midweight hikers -- fairly aggressive, but flexible and with a tread more more like a tennis shoe than a waffled or air bob sole. They don't look like they'd hold a lot of mud, but only time will tell. The upper appears to be both stitched and glued to the sole for optimum waterproofness, and, like most boots, the Technical Upland features a Gore Tex membrane. As a side note, I've found Gore Tex to work flawlessly -- for the first couple of times your boots are exposed to water. After that, it's a crapshoot. The boots also feature a pretty robust toe rand -- the strip of rubber that partially shrouds the toe box and deflects some of the toughest hits from brush and rocks.











Putting on the boots was easy. They felt true-to-size for my size 12 feet, and the unlocked Boa system allowed plenty of room to slip my foot into the footbed. As noted before, I was able to custom-tighten the laces for each foot, and there was no way they'd loosen or untie over time, like traditional ones. Ankle support was more than adequate (at least in a jaunt around the neighborhood).











My one big gripe about these boots is the removeable insole. In a word, it's crap. They're thin, flimsy foam that would be worthless for any hunter that's serious about anything more than road hunting. For a boot that runs $180, I would have expected more. Thankfully, that was easily remedied with a pair of Dr. Scholl's Custom Fit Orthotics. Normally priced at about $40 at Wally World, I had a $10 rebate that made the purchase tolerable. I had some issues with plantar fascitis last season, so I'm hoping these will prevent another flareup. Even so, I think Bean ought to take a serious look at the lousy footbed they're currently using.











Using a fairly precise kitchen scale, the size 12 Technical Upland weighs in at 3 pounds, 6.5 ounces. That's not my lightest boot, but it's not my heaviest, either. For comparison's sake, my Cabela's ultralight kangaroo boots clocked in at 2 pounds, 12.5 ounces and my Danner Sharptail Covey Boots weighed 4 pounds, 7 ounces. I have a feeling that the Beans will be light enough to go all day -- and they certainly possess the best out-of-the-box fit that I've ever experienced in a hunting boot.

In conclusion, I'm really excited to give these boots a go this season. I plan to wear them on a dove hunting trip today and tomorrow in South Texas.  It'll be a light to moderate break-in that should give me a decent idea of how they perform. If all goes well -- as I expect -- my L.L. Bean Technical Upland Boots will see a lot of miles this fall.

7 comments:

  1. They had a test while dove hunting, but that doesn't say much. They looked comfortable and the lacing system is great. If future posts look good, I may get a pair.
    GREAT HUNT!!

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  2. Cool...do they make them for dudes?

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  3. Obviously, someone spends a lot of time worrying how he looks afield...

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  4. I have around 40 hrs in these boots so far. Mostly grouse hunting woods of N.WI. Some dog training in prairie grass. The rubber 'protector' with the 3 squares shown in pic above has separated from the superfabric. They still hold water, but I don't have high hopes for their future

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  5. I have a pair and they are very comfortable but they leaked the first time I wore them in some wet grass on my left foot and the BOA system loosens if you put the boot to walking up and down ditches but all you have to do is screw it down again...I see LL Bean isn't offering them on their site anymore and wonder if they had a lot of returns?

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  6. u sir lost all credibility when you at the very forst of the reveiw bitchzzed about a 6 day arrival time with "free shipping"....ha ...REALLY DUDE, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FOR FREE ??????

    after that, MOST of your comments were snide and wreaked of Niles Crain in his most prosaic filled moments... ....
    what are you doing in the woods anyway ..?? latte is much less of a challenge..drop the hiking stuff..buy a BMW..

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  7. Anonymous: Thanks for stopping by, it's nice to see they allow inmates internet access now (but apparently not a spellchecker).

    If you bothered to read the entire review, you would have realized I actually liked these boots. As for the shipping time, I usually get stuff I order with free shipping quicker than six days. It's probably different in Possumbelly, Tennesse, where the mailman rarely ever has reason to visit your single wide.

    Now go back to watching your Frazier reruns, Bocephus.

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