Sunday, July 15, 2012

Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid Ventilator Gore-Tex Comparative Review

Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid Ventilator Gore Tex

NOTE: Click any of the photos for a larger view 


A while back I came across a good deal on some Merrell Chameleon 4 Ventilator Gore-Tex Hiking Shoe's at a "certain LARGE outdoor retailer" and picked up a pair after trying them on and walking around in them. When I got home, I immediately put them on and went for a planned 8 mile hike to do some photography. Well, about 1 mile into the hike, I developed a blister in the Achilles tendon area of both feet. I decided to immediately head home. Before I arrived home, both blisters had rubbed off and it was painful to say the least. I don't know if this is common with this shoe or if I may have had the wrong size so take it for what it's worth. They seemed to fit perfectly to me but they were definitely a no-go. I attempted to take them back but was honest and told them that I had walked over two miles in them. Well, they told me that since I had actually walked in them, that they couldn't take them back. I explained that sometimes you have to walk a ways in hikers to know how they really fit. In short nothing worked and they weren't taking them back. Well, when I arrived home, I figured I'd call Merrell and see what they had to say. To Merrell's credit, they asked what I wanted to do. I told them that I'd pay the difference if I could send them back and buy a pair of their Mid hikers. To my surprise, they said, "don't worry about the price difference sir, we're sorry about your experience, which pair do you want?" I told them I had also been looking at their Chameleon 4 Mid Ventilator Gor-Tex Hikers. She told me to send the other pair in; so I did. Two weeks later, a box arrived at my door with a brand spanking new pair of Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid Ventilator Gor-Tex hiking boots. My first experience with Merrell customer service was a resounding 10 out of 10!


When the Chameleon's arrived at my house and I took them out of the box, immediately my wife says, "those are good looking boots"; so we were off to a good start. I immediately slipped them on, snugged them up and went for a walk around my block. Fortunately my block is almost a half mile around so I got a good test walk in. These boots felt good, the heel area was nice and comfortable and they didn't seem hot which is a big thing in S TX. The tread was aggressive like I prefer and they looked good, so says the wife. Allot of this review will be a comparision to the Keen Targhee's since that was my last pair of hikers and some of my friends and emailers have asked for the comparison.


Initially, the Merrell Chameleon's weren't quite as comfortable as the Keen Targhee's out of the box but they were not uncomfortable either. Arch support felt very good; a little better than the Targhee's (if you have issues with Plantar fasciitis that's important). Both the Keen's and the Merrell's snug down nicely with no hot spots. The Keen's felt much more cushioned in the uppers and both had good cushioning in the heels. The Merrell's are easier to put on but nothing significant over the Targhee's. Both the Keen's and Merrell's use a system interwoven into their laces that snugs the boot up around your heel when tightening up your laces. Keen uses one of the actual straps that your laces weave through. Merrell uses a long piece of polymer attached to the heel area that is attached to webbing which is ultimately attached to the laces. Both systems work fine and I don't prefer one over the other. After putting over a hundred miles on the Merrell Chameleon's they have broken in nicely but I still give the comfort edge in overall comfort to the Keen Targhee's.
The polymer strap is attached to the lacing system to snug up around the heel.

Heel Protection on the Merrell Chameleons

Both the Merrell's and the Keens came with sufficiently long laces. The laces on the Keen Targhees were thicker and seemed a little "lumpy" which is something I've noticed with my higher end running shoes. The "lumpyness" seems to prevent them from becoming untied as much and on the Keen's it prevents them from coming out of the top cinch/hook (they hold the laces in place even if they come untied). The laces when tied all the way to the top hooks on the Merrell's ride nicely with no over ride issues. The Keen's laces will work their way over the top of the tongue if you do not run them through the provided tongue loop. The laces on the Keen Targhee's did start to fray a bit after about 200+ miles but nothing bad. The laces on the Merrell Chameleon's where thinner but have not shown any wear issues. The Merrell's come with the standard hooks at the top of their uppers which work great. After over 200 miles, they still show no fraying. Overall, I prefer the laces on the Keen's.
The lacing system on the Merrell Chameleon's

I like the Vibram lug patterns on the Merrell Chameleon's . They are more than aggressive enough for just about all terrains. I am happy to report that they grip very well on just about all surfaces. They perform better than the Keen Targhee's on wet rocks. Mud is more difficult to clean off of the Merrell Chameleon's lug pattern than the Keen Targhee's . So in short, there is a trade off; you get better traction with the Merrell Chameleon's but the Keen's clean easier...You have to choose your preference. I like them both. I'd give the overall edge to the Merrell's for traction.
The very grippy Vibram Lug pattern on the Merrell Chameleons.

 Tread Comparison (Top) Merrell Chameleon's and (Bottom) Keen Targhee's


One of the reasons I chose the Merrell Chameleon's is for the Gore-Tex liner. For me Gore-Tex has proven pretty reliable for being water proof and thus far the Gore-Tex on the Merrell Chameleons have not disappointed. My Keen Targhee's started leaking at about 70-80 miles and progressively got worse. Given, the Keen Targhee's did not have Gor-Tex, they used their own membrane for water proofing their boots. I gave the Keens a pass because the area's that I hike, walk and do my wildlife photography is plagued with thorns from hell. Everything in South Texas has thorns; heck even some of the animals have thorns. Some how despite the plethora of thorns, the Merrell's have retained their water proof claim. Well done, Merrell (and Gore-Tex).
The Merrell Chameleon's keep water at bay very well, seen here crossing the Frio River in S. Texas
After a 6 mile hike through the snow covered Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, the Merrell's Gore-Tex held back the moister nicely.

There's a Merrell Chameleon in there somewhere. Thank goodness for Gore-Tex.

The Merrell Chameleon's have a hard rubber bumper over the toes for protection and it works well. Keen's trademark is their "Keen Protect" toe guards and the toe guard areas are a little thicker on the Keens. Both work great but I'd have to give a small edge to the Keen Targhee's since they saved my toes from a rattlesnake bite. Both provide great protection so other than the Keen's saving my toes from the snake bite once, I can't really pick on or the other as for being "better".


If I had to venture a guess, I'd bet I have about 200 to 240 hard hiking miles on the Merrell Chameleons and probably 20-30 regular "around town" walking. Thus far they have held up very well and I see lots of miles to go on these. One thing that I have a habit of doing that I probably shouldn't is that I use the toes of my boots to flip smaller rocks when looking for photography subjects such as spiders, scorpions, snakes, lizards and the like. The toes on these boots have held up very well. I've washed the Merrells with the water hose and two trips through the washer/dryer. I have observed no glue separation at any juncture, very little fraying and they still look good after a good wash. I'll update with more recent photos later. 


As reported in the "Background" section of this review, my one and only experience with Merrell Customer Service sold me. They asked very few questions, seemed generally concerned with the problem and picked up where the retailer failed miserably. They even went the extra mile to make the customer happy with a higher priced pair of boots at no extra charge. What more could you ask for? Well done Merrell you have earned a return customer!


The Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid Ventilator Gor-Tex (man that's a long name) boots are very nice hiking boots. They are very comfortable but I give a slight edge to the Keen Targhee's in that department. The Merrell Chameleons have retained their waterproof-ness (is that a word) after some hellish hikes through the south Texas brush. I hiked recently through the snow covered mountains in se New Mexico for three days and had zero issues with wet toes. I've crossed many central Texas rivers with them and the Gore-Tex liners held back water great. My longest hike to date with the Merrell Chameleons was about 19 miles and I can happily report no blister issues nor notable hot spots. The best aspect of the Merrell Chameleon's to me is their grippy nature. They seem to cling to everything and they are a joy to hike in. I have had no issues with thorns coming through the sole or the sides. They breath very well in the hellish S. Texas heat and have had very few issues of them coming untied. Now the question remains, do I prefer the Keen Targhee's or the Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid's?  Personally, as I get older, comfort becomes more and more important so in this aspect, I prefer the Keen Targhee's. This is not to say the Merrell Chameleons are uncomfortable; in fact, I find them very comfortable. They are just not AS comfortable as the Keen's. If you constantly walk in wet environments, then you'll probably prefer the Merrell's with their Gor-Tex liner. Both are fine boots and both are made in China. While I'd definitely prefer American made, you'd be hard pressed to find good, mid priced hiking boots made in the United States. Heck even my Danner GTX's are made in China now (EXCELLENT boots by the way). In fact, my favorite hiking boots that I own is made in Germany, the Lowa Ranger GTX . I bought them used but I'm waiting on a good deal on a new pair.

All in all, I think you'll be very happy with a purchase of the Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid's. They are a very comfortable, waterproof, good looking well made pair of boots. One of my buddies has a pair of Merrell's Perimeter Gore-Tex boots and swears they are the shizzle (whatever that means). I think they are next on my review list.
Overall a very nice boot

Merrell Chameleon 4 Mid Ventilator Gore-Tex Specs:

• Strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort
• Pig suede leather and mesh upper
• Bellows tongue keeps debris out
• External heel and instep stability arm
• GORE-TEX® Performance Comfort footwear lining protects feet and keeps them dry
• Lining treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution eliminates odor

• 20% recycled EVA dual density footbed provides comfort and support
• 2mm EVA inSole for comfort and shock absorption
• Merrell In-Board™ Compression Molded EVA footframe provides cushioning
• Merrell air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
• 5 mm Sole lug depth
• Vibram® Chameleon4 Sole/TC5+Rubber

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boot Review

Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots after 150+ miles in the south Texas brush (and mud)

NOTE: Click on any of the photos in this article for a larger view
For several years, I've used various sneakers (Tennis shoes) and recently hiking sandals for my outdoor forays. As a wildlife photographer, hiker, kayaker, shade-tree herpetologist, etc. I tend to hike many many miles through some very unforgiving areas.  I decided last year that I needed something with a little more ankle support. Well, my favorite hiking sandles have always been Keen with their "Keen Protect" (toe guards) so I finally decided to try a pair of their hiking boots. After a usual long exhaustive internet reasearch I decided to try a pair of the Keen Targhee II mid hikers. I'll make this review short and to the point as much as I can.


Out of the box, the Targhee 's were very comfortable with very little break in time required. The cushioning around the top is well done as is the nice removable metatomical dual density EVA footbed. These boot slip on and off with ease and Keen even put a nice little heel loop on the back for aiding in putting them on and off.

The laces were sufficiently long and thanks to their webbing tied in with their laces, were very snug. One of the Webbing straps goes completely around the back of the boot which gives a little bit of extra "snuggness"; nice touch. 
As soon as I got these boots, I took them for a 6 mile hike at a nearby nature park. I had no issues with blisters or hot spots and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable they were. My longest hike with these boots thus far was at Choke Canyon lake (Texas) on a wildlife photography hike. I walked 20+ miles through mud, swampy areas, waterways, over desert terrain and rocks, all while carrying 35 pounds of Camera gear. The result? Very comfortable with no blisters. they did get pretty wet but that's another section.

The S3 shock protection (as Keen calls it) seems to work pretty well. These boots seem to cradle the foot and provide nice ankle support.The day I hiked the 20+ miles, it was approximately 98 degrees (f) and these boots breathed very well and felt good in the heat.


Traction on dry rocky areas was very good. As you can see from the photos, Keen's own bi-directional lug design is very aggressive and it works well. The carbon outsole lugs are a substantial 4mm and are very firm providing a nice bite into most terrain and obstacles. The firmness however left a little to be desired on wet rocks; nothing bad mind you just not as grippy as I would have liked. On gravel, dirt or even mud, the bi-directional lug design worked great; no complaints.
Targhee II lug design (with mud)
 One thing I really like about the lug design of the Targhee's is that they are easy to clean the mud off. The space between them is sufficient enough that a strong stream of water usually does the trick cleaning them. Most lug patterns do not work well in this regard but these are pretty easy to clean. Below you can compare the lug pattern of the Targhee's and my newer Merrell Chameleon4 Mid Ventilator Gor-Tex (review coming soon).
Lug Pattern of the Keen Targhee's (bottom) and the Merrell Chameleon4 's (top)

One issue I've had with some hiking boots I've bought in the past was that they either had cheap laces or the laces were too short. I'm happy to report that Keen doesn't skimp in this department. The laces were sufficiently long and have lasted through some rough times. One aspect that I kinda like on the lacing system of these boots is the last lacing loop or notch (seen below). It is basically a plastic (very tough) cinch that due to the lumpy nature of the laces catches and holds the laces in place. They work very well; in fact the few times that my shoe has come untied, the cinch loop kept the laces in place and the boot snug; great idea.  

The one aspect I would probably change about the Targhee's is that  if you do not run the laces through the provided tongue loop, the laces will ride up over the tongue. Maybe a bit longer tongue would remedy this.  


While the Targhee's do not have Gore-Tex, they do have Keen's version that they call Keen Dry. When I first got the Targhee's their water proof membrane seemed to work very well. After several miles of hiking however, the left boot started to leak a little bit around the toe area, then later, the leaking got worse. I will give Keen a pass on this issue however since where I live in south Texas, EVERYTHING has thorns and a thorn might have inadvertently penetrated caused the leak. When the Targhee's get soaking wet, they do take some time to dry out. 


Basically Keen Protect means toe guards, an ingenious albeit simple idea made by Keen to protect toes. I think they first come up with this idea for their sandals / Huarache's (Spanish for Sandal) and it is what first convinced me to buy a pair of Keen sandals many years ago. Living in the desert southwest is hell on open toes. Keen has somewhat made their toe guards their calling card or trademark kinda like Spyderco uses their hole in their knife. Keen has included their Keen Protect toe guard on their hiking boots and on the Taghee's has saved my toes many a time. I was even bitten on the toe guard by a 3 foot Mottled Rock Rattlesnake (C. lepidus lepidus) with no penetration; thank goodness! So I guess that the Keen Protect takes on a whole new meaning in that regard.
Keen Protect Toe Guards / Rattlesnake Protection (Don't try it)

I am happy to report that after owning  four pair of Keen sandals and now these boots, I have had no need of customer service and cannot report on this aspect personally. I have read good things however.


- 4mm multi-directional lugs
- Dual density compression molded EVA midsole
- KEEN.DRY ™ waterproof breathable membrane
- Non-marking rubber outsole
- Patented toe protection
- Removable metatomical dual density EVA footbed
- S3 Heel support structure
- Torsion stability ESS shank
- Waterproof nubuck leather upper


I really like these boots and there is still lots of life left in them. They breath fairly well in the hellish S. Texas heat and were initially waterproof (a thorn may have ended that). The Targhee's are VERY comfortable out of the box and caused no blisters and required little to no break in time.  The traction is excellent in most conditions except on wet rocks. The lugs are easy to clean after a day in the mud with nothing more than a stream of water. The toe guard AKA Keen protect provides much needed protection from thorns and sharp rocks (and in my case rattlesnakes).  If I had to come up with a negative (and that would be pushing it) it would be how the laces ride up over the tongue unless you run them through the provided tongue loop. That's just a minor pet peeve and should not detract from the fact that these are VERY NICE hiking boots, one's that I highly recommend.I like them so much, I'll be getting a second pair.