Traditional heavyweight hiking boots are considered to be very durable. And they are, at least compared to the lightweight trail runners favoured by many, me included. Trail runners seem to last around or under 1000 km while traditional heavy weight leather boots can last for several thousand kilometers.
But even hiking boots are not forever.
On my latest guiding stint two of my clients were using traditional high quality leather hiking boots about 10 years old. The boots hadn’t seen much use during the last years but were well maintained and seemed used but fine.
But after the first 12km both pairs started to fall a part: The outer soles started to detach from the heels and sides. Closer inspection revealed a well-known but often forgotten problem: The midsole material had reached the end of its service life.
The midsoles of most modern hiking boots are made of polyurethane (PU) foam. The PU foam can take a lot more abuse than the EVA foam used on trail runners but it seems that the type of PU foam used has a limited service life as a part of planned obsolescence (i.e. planned lifetime of the product). General consensus among experienced hikers is that the lifetime is around 10 years, 15 years at max. At the end of the service life the material starts to crumble and just disintegrate. There is really no reasonable way to fix this except changing the whole midsole.
Of course not all hiking boot midsoles are made from the disintegrating PU and there are more durable options out there but the PU with planned lifetime seems to be the norm nowadays. This was also the case with my client’s boots: around 10 years old and reached the end of their planned service life quietly in a closet without much use for a while.
We survived by scavenging some old slashed rubber boots that we lined with neoprene booties and the other client decided to test the barefoot approach in practise by hiking several days with heavy rucksack in thin neoprene diving booties with insoles from the hiking boots and double socks for extra padding. We also fixed the hiking boots with some paracord and duct tape (if you bring any duct tape, bring a lot!) to be used in the descent to the Reisadalen canyon and they worked well enough for that bit.
But to avoid getting into the situation: Check the conditions of the midsoles of your boots! Especially if you haven’t used them for a while, which is probably the case for many of us who have changed from traditional boots to lighter footwear. And if you’re taking your old boots for a big hike after some time, go for a test walk before the big thing.
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Inspired by this I’ve decided it’s better to sell my old heavy-duty boots as they still have many years left in them and I don’t have enough use for them. So, if you’d like a pair of Meindl MFS Vakuum GTX boots in size 48 (good secure fit for size 46 foot with double socks) for reasonable price, please contact me!
My Inov-8 390s failed me after few hundred kilometers so here’s my new choise for the shoulder seasons: Merrel Proterra Mid Sport with Gore-Tex.
Funny, I just contacted today Lowa about my broken Lowa Zephyr mid GTX shoes I’ve had a bit less than a year. I did some 1000km before the seams close to inner big toes are torn through from both shoes. Otherwise it was a nice pair as I didn’t have a single blister with them!
Those Merrel ones look cool. Is there a shop in Finland that sell them?
Funny but unfortunate coincidence. The more seams there are, the more likely failure is. I’ve been occasionally thinking of traditional leather lined leather boots with minimal seamns but lightweight footwear has too many advantages…
The Proterra Mids are a test pair from Finland so they are available here. They are listed on Merrel’s Finnish site: http://www.merrell.com/FI/fi-FI/Product.mvc.aspx/33008M/0/Mens/Proterra-Mid-Sport-GORE-TEX-Carbon I couldn’t find them from any webshop with a quick look but here’s a list of Finnish ealers: http://www.merrell.com/FI/fi/DealerLocator
Ten years seems like a long time when you look at the current crop of GTX shoes. At least in my experience they start leaking after a year or so, and after that they are just suboptimal. During last week’s course a lady had a pair of quality leather boots that were twenty years old and still going strong. My Lundhags shoes seem fine after 10 years, but are unfortunately now too small for me. I don’t know what to replace them with. I would be interested in trying to lightest Lundhags boots, but they seem to be hard to get in Finland. I also guess I could go for a pair of GTX boots, since you can often find them on sale, but I really don’t like the idea of buying boots every few years. Boots should last longer than that.
That’s true also. The service life of the Goretex membrain, especialy in lighter footwear, is not too long, but depends on the use. I’ve returned three pairs of otherwise excellent Haix boots but the Goretex failed within the one-year warranty. The Meindls I have (for sale) haven’t seen too much use and the membrain is still functional and waterproof. And the membrain doesn’t break in the closet, but the PU foam midsoles do, even if you would not use the shoes at all.
Maybe go for a traditional style all-leather boots and just take good care of them so they’ll be mostly waterproof? I know many people keep using boots with failed Goretex lining as the boots are otherwise in good conditions and are waterproof enough with proper waxing and treatment but one could just skip the easily failing part and go all-leather.
I’ve understood, that if you leave your boots long time unused (as has been done in the situation described in the post), the PU foam might fail because of this. When the boots are being used, there’s a constant pressure-release-process affecting the midsole and it actually strengthens the foam. If you leave the boots unused for a long time (like several years) the foam will loose some of its properties (become brittle or something?) and eventually fail when you finally take them on a hike. I don’t know about the details of what’s happening, but this is something that a guy from Meindl was saying once and maybe a good thing to consider as well.
Great to see you commenting here, Malviina! 🙂 I don’t immediately buy the explanation from a guy from Meindl as it basically says: the more you use it, the more it will last. Maybe, but it sounds counter intuitive. But as you said, something to concider as well.
Judging from tape job shown in photo of leather boot, the way the PU failure manifested itself was separation of (glued) sole from leather uppers. If that is correct, I have some more to say.
Hi, Bill! The PU midsole just crumbled to dust. Some of it was left on the glue on the outer sole and some left on the glue on the leather upper but the midsole itself had turned very weak and just failed.
Please, share your in any case. Knowledge and sharing is always good. 🙂
Well, that kind of crumbling to dust is beyond my experience, but I’ll go on with my train of thought. If by “midsole” you mean the layer immediately above the bottom layer (usually Vibram or similar with lugs or treads), on my boots (Asolo) it’s the midsole that is glued to the leather. Occasionally I notice the edge of the midsole beginning to become detached from the leather upper. Once, a friend’s midsole became mostly detached in the middle of a trip, so I take the minor separations seriously. Anyhow, my field remedy is to take a tube of cryoanalate (“super”) glue and trickle a little of it into the developing separation. A little taping may be necessary. The next morning it’s as good as new!
I suppose the manufacturers are treading a narrow line between glues that won’t fail and ones that fail too easily. If the glue is too good, the boot can’t be resoled — if not sufficiently durable, the soles come off at inconvenient time.
As you can imagine, winter desert hiking is the best thing in Texas, but I do enjoy reading about your trips on snow and ice.
Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask.
Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog article
or vice-versa? My site discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly
benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to send me an email.
I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!
Sorry, but in my opinion it seems we are not dicussing a least bit of the same things. If you were serious and this was not a spam, feel free to send me an email.
Hi, important suggestion and an fascinating
post, it’s going to be fascinating if this is still the state of affairs in a few years time!
I am commenting late, but I found this post after searching for “boot midsole disintegrating”. I have seen this happen three times, once on my boots (Asolo) and twice to a pair of Garmont women’s boots. My sister’s Garmont midsoles disintegrated en route to Machu Pichu, and a guide sewed the soles back on with a thick needle and twine!
In all three cases, the boots were 8-10 years old and crumbled after a long time (1-2 years) of inactivity. I do think it’s possible that this exacerbated the problem. Perhaps dormant PU loses its flexibility and pliability.
Anyway, I’m really surprised this is the ONLY article online about this! When I brought my Asolos back to EMS they had never seen anything like it. So maybe active users never experience this, either because of the inactivity theory, or because active hikers burn through their boots before they have a chance to disintegrate.
Thanks for your comment Michael! Good to hear you managed even with the broken boots. Since writing this I’ve also fixed clients xc ski boiots with wide short screws and some tape. That was due glue failure but the fix might work also on disintegrating PU midsoles.
I’ve read about several occasions on Finnish outdoors forums (of course in Finnish only), sometimes also by active users. But I think you are right: either active use actually helps or they wear out the shoes before the midsole failure happens. I still think the latter to be more likely.
I just had my Asolo boot soles disintegrate this afternoon, first one (used cord to do a quick fix), then about 100 feet later, the other one. Same story as above. Some years without using them, but the uppers are perfect. Can they be re-soled? Who can do it? I am way beyond the glue fix.
Hi Kathryn. Sorry to hear about your boots but unfortunately it seems like quite a typical problem. You could take the shoes to a proper cobbler (shoemaker doinf repairs) and ask what could be done but to my understanding it may be difficult to repair modern shoes with disintegrating soles. There was a DIY repais project displayed on one Finnish outdoord forum but it apparently isn’t for you (seemd like quitel ot of work and messy). Hope you’ll get them fixed!
I’ve had the same thing happen as Kathryn…the midsoles on both boots just crumbled. Otherwise, the boots are perfectly fine if they could only be re-soled. I’d hate to just toss out these boots as they are basically brand new. If I find any solutions, I’ll share & please do the same.
Hi Peg. Sorry to hear that. It seems to be a relatively common problem. If you find a way to fix it, please share it!
Anyone know how to find boots that won’t do this? Had Merrells that failed after one year on non-use and just now found my Raichle hiking boots doing the same. I sporadically get the hiking bug and want boots that will last!
The only sure way that comes to my mind would be to use/have boots that don’t have the PU midsole at all. So either something with EVA (trail runners or some light boots) or traditional stuff with proper rubber or leather. I think some old military surplus boots. In Finland I would look at the Särmä Classic repro’s or older military surplus boots from Varusteleka: https://www.varusteleka.com/en/group/varsikengat-ja-maiharit/167/ Not quite the same than modern hiking boots but meant to last, also in the inventory while waiting for the cold war to warm up… 😀
I’m a lifetime boot guy myself and usually wear some type of boots at least 95% of the time. Work, cowboy, Military combat,, motorcycle, hiking and tactical. I seldom wear shoes at all, and when I do, it’s even more rare for me to wear sneakers. I’m a full time licensed HVAC technician and pretty much live in my boots both on the job and while off while at play. I should go as far to say I am even considered by most to be a “boot collector” or a person obsessed with a OCD type fetish about it. LOL Come on, I just need one more pair! LOL Yeah, I bet!
I’ve always worn “mid grade” boots and shoes most of my life. Recently, I started going up to tier 1, bombproof, bulletproof, MADE IN USA top quality footwear. Whites, Danner, Red Wing, Belleville, Thorogood, Carolina etc… My shift was I got tired of burning through my good footwear so quickly and just overall poor quality. The cheaper boots go into the dumpster when something better can easily be repairs for a fraction of what new costs. The thing that convinced me was an old pair of Timberland hikers I bought new in 1995. These have to be MADE IN THE USA to be 21 years old, and although beat up, still very serviceable. I’ve read stories about 20+ year old made in England Dr. Martens still going strong recently as well.
My theory is that cheaper footwear and it’s typical “cost cutting” might not always show it’s ugly face until several years down the road. Cheap thin leather, not triple stitched, glued on soles, mid soles made from who knows what and no clue what was included into the mix. A 8 year old boy in China could have been mixing it up that day…you are clueless as to know. Men who never served in the U.S. Military and/or worked a hard physical labor job should also know better, you need more than one pair of shoes and should rotate them and change your socks often. Never wear the same boat/shoe twice in less than 24 hours. They need to rest and dry out. Using a PEET boot dryer will help greatly as well. “Cheap” footwear has a glued or chemically welded sole on it. It’s more economical to produce, thus leading to a much lower original purchase price. What you don’t realize is that the good old fashioned “Goodyear welted” boot or shoe will be far more durable down the road. It might not be quite as comfy at first and need to be broken in properly, but for most the trade off is more worth it.
Until you wear out your “cheap footwear” and start upgrading, I’d make sure I wore them at least once a month. If nothing else, just put them on while you are at home or need to run a quick errand. A hour or two with some walking should do the trick to keep them serviceable. The heat and friction created by your foot should keep the glue strong and flex the chemicals in the sole or mid sole enough to mix it up and keep it stable. I’m currently wearing some Red Wing USA 10875s and 10877s at home after I get off work at night to form the leather insoles to my feet. I’ve worn them out several times and had experienced some pain from the all leather insole and feeling like you are walking on a board. These will need more work, so that’s why I have been doing what I have been doing. Seems to work so far and they are getting so good, they fit my feet and arches almost perfectly now. You can do the same thing with your boots/shoes but for a different reason.
Another thing owners can do is let these companies know that whatever they are doing during the manufacturing process of these new cheaper shoes and boots isn’t working and you are not happy with it. Anything that is $150 +/- should last more than six months or a year or two. I bought my last pair of Nike Airs I will ever own back in about 2004. I’ve been plagued with gluing and regluing the soles back on for at least the last six years. These shoes seldom are/wear worn. At the time they were in the $100ish ballpark. I just tossed them in the trash last week for a pair of New Balance USA 990V3s. These aren’t overpriced China crap…..
Glad I found this site. I am planning a trip back to Nepal next month where I’ve had some extensive trekking in the past and took out my two pairs of boots (heavy duty leather and somewhat lighter Gore-tex, both good brands), neither of which I’ve used in the decade plus since my daughter was born. I’ve done lots of mountain walking in the interim but as indicated above also had just switched to trainer type shoes which are much more comfortable and have served me fine in the absence of multi-day trekking which has been less feasible. Anyway, this week was trying to decide which pair to use next month…and discovered that neither will work as the midsoles have both just totally disintegrated. One just dissolved into a hundred bits of foam upon lifting. I managed to don the others, load up a 10kg pack for a local practice run locally and was feeling terrific….until an hour into my hike I looked down and saw that the flaps of both soles were coming off and detaching. I managed to get back to a road to call my partner to pick me up but by that point I no longer had a sole on either boot. Learned a lesson–an expensive one. New boot purchase tomorrow and a rush to break them in…..
I have just been chased away by a shoe repair shop with my disintegrating Haglöfs shoes that I bought in a fair for 6 euros, but I am so happy for this conversation!
I think this is a very good start for finding the most fitting most durable shoes that will last once and for a little bit more! thank you everyone for the comments!
You refer to replacing midsoles. I’m hoping to do that. I bought a pair of never-worn, made-in-England Dr. Martens full leather sandals from someone who ordered online but didn’t like the fit. They are perfect for my feet and I’ve been wearing them around the house (winter in Manitoba, Canada is a bit chilly). I started to notice shreds of cotton-like stuff on the floors and on my socks. Further investigation shows the midsole is disintegrating. Apparently the sandals sat in storage somewhere far too long. I contacted the Canadian rep for Dr. Martens and was pleased with prompt, gracious response. They apologized, and understand my dilemma, but since I did not buy from them directly, and because the model is obviously an outdated one, but quite a bit, the warranty is off. I am satisfied with that; it’s not exactly their problem now.)
I didn’t pay full price, so I can’t really complain, but I am disappointed and it seems a shame to pitch the shoes when all the rest is still in pristine condition. I also need the good support because both knees are badly compromised by osteoporosis-arthritis, yet my EENT insists I walk as much as possible to help counter the vertigo caused by a tiny malignant growth. Help! I would love to try carving or suctioning out the broken-down PU and then fill the cavity with some sort of malleable material that might firm up after application. Would spray-foam insulation work? I’ll try making a mold of the insole first, so I can use it to reshape the insole after filling it with something that is suitable. Please advise! Can you tell I’m a bit stubborn?
Sorry but I haven’t tried anything like that myself. I know people have succesfully used construction glue to replace broken midsoles (carve out all the old PU and reglue the outer sole, but you do miss some/most cushioning of the midsole). Maybe contact a local shoemaker?
Would love to upload a photo of Lowa boots that shows the disintegration of the polyurethane midsole. I wore these occasionally indoors over the past decade, never hiked in them. Time, not wear or storage, crumbled the material. Glad I did not discover this while hiking or in a social situation.