It's been a while since I've rolled up for a mysterious assignation in a random Peak District car park with a bursting bladder, but today was the day. On the bladder front, all I can say is that a leaking hydration reservoir isn't much fun, but the rest of it was kind of enjoyable in the way that only wandering across Kinder Scout in the name of work could be...
The mysterious stranger was actually called Adam, but let's label him 'The Man From Ecco' because essentially that's what he was. He'd come up to the Peak to show me - and indirectly you - a new lightweight walking boot from Danish footwear brand Ecco.
Ecco is best known for its casual footwear, but it's a giant of a company which churns out around 20 million pairs of shoes a year and has full control over its production and supply chain. Interestingly alongside those sensible Danish casual shoes it runs a range of successful golf shoes and, hence our assignation, a selection of outdoor shoes and boots.
We grabbed a pre-walk coffee and Adam, the man from Ecco, produced the new boots. 'They are made,' he said. 'From yak leather'.
I looked at him. He was serious. The boots, dubbed BIOM Terrain are genuinely made from yak hide. Yaks, apparently, being high mountain dwelling, bad-ass beasts have hides which are as tough as well, old boots. Tibetan ones.
There's more too. The construction is glueless. Instead the upper and sole unit are merged using direct injection techniques so they're bonded and destined, hopefully to remain a single unit for ever. There are rubber toe bumpers, a kevlar-based rand, a Gore-Tex liner, Memory Foam and green laces, though black spares are also supplied.
Finally there's the eponymous 'biom' which is basically about natural motion - not 'barefoot' exactly, as there's a shank underfoot, but a lower than average heel to toe drop and lots of underfoot flexibility for natural motion.
Mostly though I remembered the yak leather.
Always up for a new boot, I stuck 'em on the editorial feet, completed the mentally challenging task of doing up the laces - still tired from that flipping bike race - and with matching bromance-friendly, green-soled boots we headed up for a classic wander along the popular side of Kinder.
The man from Ecco, it turned out, was relatively new to walking in the Peak, but made up for that with a deceptive turn of speed across the peaty tussocks and gritstone boulders. How were the boots doing? Hmmm... mostly I wasn't noticing them, which is generally a good sign.
They were instantly comfortable on the foot with enough, but not too much volume, felt pleasantly light, which they are at around 1140g for a pair of size 43s and on the road approach were pleasantly cushioned. There's loads of forefoot bend and give, which is comfortable for walking, but the heel feels decently anchored, which helps keep them stable. And they're grippy on rock and road.
More importantly, it was a lovely, slightly overcast, but mostly dry summer day overshadowed only by the constant drip of water down the small of my back, onto my butt and down the backs of my legs. Nice.
By the time we got back to Hayfield four hours later, my feet were still distinctly happy, which isn't bad for a boot that's come straight out of the box - try that 20 years or so back. We'll be including the boots in our lightweight walking boot special next week, but first impressions are that they're a really nice, lightweight all-rounder with a nice, flexible, but not flimsy feel.
They're not cheap for sure, with an RRP of £160 and some people will prefer a stiffer option for mountain stuff - Ecco does some of those too - but based on today, I'd say they sit nicely in the sweet-spot between minimalist and mountain boot.
And hey, did I mention that they're made of yak leather. From Tibet?
Big thanks to the man from Ecco for a top day on the hill - more about the boot at shopeu.ecco.com.