To truly get the true measure of a hiking boot, you need to put it through the ringer. Our Deputy Editor took the new Hi-Tec V-Lite Flash Hike i WP to Madagascar to do just that. Here’s how it fared.
I’ve tested a fair share of kit over the last six years at Getaway magazine and every year we aim to improve our testing to be more thorough, more long-term and, ultimately, more valuable to you. That means pushing items to their breaking points and, sometimes, beyond that. It was with that philosophy that I took Hi-Tec’s new V-Lite Flash Hike i WP with me to one of the most remote regions of Madagascar to cover an inaugural six-day, 150-km trail race for the November issue of Getaway magazine.
The assignment involved less actual trail running than you’d think (though I did complete one of the stages) and a whole lot more scrambling up and down mountainsides and racing to various checkpoints on a motorcycle, hopping off and hiking to catch the runners in action. Days were long and demanding and getting the right shots was tough. So was the terrain. The tail end of a tropical storm turned some sections into mud baths. The rest were a mix of sand, rocks and rivers. Many, many rivers. My ‘work boots,’ as I started calling them, had their work cut out.
The first thing you’ll notice when picking up a pair of Hi-Tec V-Lite Flash Hike i WP (bit of a mouthful, I know. I’ll call them V-Lites from here on out) is that they’re incredibly light. At around 450g a shoe (I weighed the size eights), they’re just a few grams heavier than the highly rated Adidas Terrex GTX, which is a composite-fabric shoe. For a leather boot, that’s pretty impressive, and no coincidence – the V-Lites are designed to be as lightweight as possible. But does it lose out on durability? We’ll find out later.
The classic, chocolate-leather look might not thrill younger trekkers. Lumo mountain gear, I’m told by Capetonians, is ‘in’ right now. Though I’m fairly certain Table Mountain doesn’t give a damn. Lion’s Head might. Anyway, I’m a big fan of the classic look, and I’ll also tell you why later.
Most notably, the V-Lite’s midsoles feature what’s called the Vibram RollinGait system. You can actually feel it as soon you slip your foot into the shoe – your arch is cushioned, raised and held fast, which not only feels great but also distributes the weight of your step evenly which improves your gait and reduces muscle fatigue. As I mentioned, a lot of my time in Madagascar was spent on a motorcycle (wearing riding boots) – sometimes riding up to four hours a day and hiking up to five kilometres in between to photograph trail runners at various points of the race. Slipping into the V-Lites after being in riding boots was sweet relief. I actually looked forward to the walking, even though I was tired from riding.
Unless I’m doing a trail run I mostly prefer hiking in boots rather than low-cut outdoor shoes or trainers. However, for the all-round foot support that rigid, high-profile hiking boots offer there’s one downside – many lack flex. And even with the best tread pattern, you don’t get maximum grip because the sole is unable to bend around rocks or obstacles, like a shoe does.
Quick lesson in grip dynamics: the more surface area in contact with the ground, the better grip you have. Simple, ne? Let’s move on.
On the Hi-Tec V-Lite’s, however, Vibram have managed to create a high-profile outsole that’s not only tough but also very flexible. The round inner lugs, at first glance, seemed an unusual choice but their broad spread pattern and pliability, coupled with impressively ductile outer lugs allow more flex than I’ve experienced in other boots (it also eliminates the chance of small stones getting stuck in the tread). I’m the type of photographer who likes to climb up to vantage points before considering how to get down. Because of this spectacular lack of foresight, I often found myself descending some rather tricky terrain (from loose-gravel slopes to not-quite-sheer-but-sure-as-dammit-feels-like-it cliff faces) having to rely heavily on the grip on my front foot, or hopping from rock to rock across small rivers, all with a camera bag strapped to my back. Every time, even with wet outsoles, the V-Lites held fast. It’s comforting, especially when you have gear on your back that costs more than an SUV.
And, finally, the best for last: waterproofing. The full leather upper (with some suede around the ankle support) is coated with iShield, essentially an invisible hydrophobic coating that repels water (and dirt). Inside, the brand’s signature Dri-Tec waterproof technology keeps your feet dry and comfortable. That’s what the release says anyway. Does it work? Hell yes.
These shoes are as waterproof as it gets. At one point I was submerged up to my ankles (that means laces in and alles), in the Irodo River trying to get a photo of a runners splashing through the current and my feet stayed absolutely dry, thanks, in part, to a clever waterproof membrane that connects the sides of the tongue to the shoe itself.
(Actually, just so you know, I waded into that river even further without realising, eye stuck to the viewfinder looking trying to get a good shot, until I went too far and the water ran over the top of the boots and into my socks. There’s no waterproofing in the world that can save you from stupidity.)
After the multi-stage trail race, the boots took another two weeks of abuse (albeit a little milder) before I eventually returned home to SA, wearing a pair of V-Lites which, given the circumstances, still looked very good (see image below). There are a few scuffs on the toes where I had to do a bit of rock climbing and the leather has settled down nicely with some characterful lines. As for the durability? The lugs are all in perfect condition (no chips or gouges yet) and, surprisingly, they still smell pretty good.
What’s more, the chocolate-brown leather (told you we’d get back to that) means they don’t look out of place beneath a pair of jeans. In fact, and this is the truth, they’ve become my everyday shoes – they’re comfortable enough to wear over the course of a full work day, and even out in social situations afterwards (bonus: they’re as beer-proof as they are waterproof – that, I have also tested).
The highlight, however, is how they’ve helped with my daily commute. I ride an adventure motorcycle and commute on it to work every day. Having a pair of tried-and-tested waterproof kicks beneath you at all times is a godsend in the Mother City, where there is no such thing as an objective weather report.
From R2599, hitec.com