Merrell Zion GTX Hiking Shoes | Review - Outdoors Magic

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Merrell Zion GTX Hiking Shoes | Review

James Forrest tests out the new sneaker-inspired Merrell Zion GTX hiking shoes on trails in the Lake District

I spent six months this year – from April to October – climbing all 282 Munros in Scotland. It was the adventure of a lifetime: wild landscapes, rugged mountains, knife-edge ridges, sunset camps and charming bothies. However, at the end of it, I had to throw four pairs of battered hiking boots and shoes in the bin. So, on returning home to the Lake District, I needed something new for my day-to-day walking needs, be it ambling around Buttermere or yomping up Blencathra. I opted for these, the Merrell Zion GTX hiking shoes. This is how I got on with them.

Merrell Zion GTX: Comfort

On opening the shoebox, my first impression was that the Merrell Zion GTXs didn’t really look like hiking shoes. They reminded more of a pair of fashionable skater shoes. I joked with my girlfriend Nic that I’d use them to do a couple of kick-flips, Tony Hawks style, if only I could find my rusty, cobweb-covered skateboard in the shed. But I quickly put that idiotic thought aside and tried them on. The Merrell Zion GTXs are – very deliberately – inspired by a sneaker design and feel, following the trend set by Adidas Terrex and Columbia’s new SH/FT Outdry range for hiking shoes to almost look like a pair of super-cool fashion trainers.

The Merrells definitely aren’t as cutting edge or in vogue as those other two brands’ offerings, but the logic is the same. Merrell want the Zion GTXs to provide the best of both worlds: the snug fit and comfort of a trainer, but all of the protection and prowess of a hiking shoe. Do they succeed? Well, in terms of comfort, it’s a definite yes.

The Merrell Zions were extremely comfortable straight out of the box. Due to their sneaker-inspired design, they fitted like a glove and I immediately felt at ease with them on my feet. They were true to size for me, there was no rubbing or discomfort anywhere, and I was immediately eager to get out in them.

They were very lightweight too (lighter than many other pairs of approach shoes I’ve owned in the past), which made me feel fast, light and nimble on my feet. Although they did feel a tad wider and bulkier than other shoes, perhaps because the design is not particularly streamlined. But all in all I was happy with the comfort.

Merrell Zion GTX: Design Features

There is a fair bit of technology in the Merrell Zion GTXs. They have a Gore-Tex membrane which, as you will know from the well-known brand, offers waterproof and breathable performance. The upper of the shoe is made from a waterproof full-grain leather combined with a ballistic, breathable mesh lining, while the tongue has a ‘bellow’ design – a wide-folding tongue attached at the sides to the upper – to keep debris (and water) out. There is a protective rubber toe cap, keeping your toes safe on rocky terrain and enabling some basic jamming of your shoe into cracks and crevices while scrambling; and the metal eyelets, webbing loops and stability arm are more than adequate for a lacing system.

“There’s enough rigidity to protect you against unhealthy twisting or turning of the foot and ankle.”

In terms of the Zion’s structural composition, Merrell use the same build platform found in their trail running shoes, thus providing the sneaker-like feel. The midsole is made of EVA foam for ‘stability and comfort’, while EVA foam pods are also located in the rearfoot and forefoot for extra cushioning. This so-called Merrell FlexPlate technology integrates ‘a lightweight, full-foot stability plate with strategically placed outsole pods to provide stability, underfoot protection, durability, and integrated grip’, to quote Merrell’s shoe boffins. Or, in other words, the FlexPlate will absorb and disperse shock as you hike over rugged, rough terrain, providing enough rigidity to protect you against unhealthy twisting or turning of the foot and ankle. There is more firmness at the heel and extra flexibility at the toes.

And finally there’s the insole and outsole. The insole is a removable, contoured Kinetic Fit insole, which Merrell says provides ‘flexible support’ to your foot, while the outsole is a Vibram Megagrip sole with a 5mm lug depth. The latter features a new lug layout, with an undercut heel for easier slowing during your descent, a large contact area for toe and heel grip, and stronger lugs along the full length of the shoe for increased stability.


Merrell have certainly peppered a lot of technology gobbledygook into their descriptions of the Merrell Zion GTXs. So let’s try and cut through this ‘spin’ and analyse whether the technology actually performs out in the field. I wore the Zion shoes on several hikes in the Lake District, including a climb of Hopegill Head from Lorton via Ladyside Pike which featured a final scramble over slightly icy, bare rock to the summit, and this proved an excellent testing ground for them.

In terms of negatives, I was left feeling a little bit like the Merrell Zion GTXs don’t quite know what they are. Designed to be the only shoe you need – stylish enough to wear to work or to the pub, suitable for gentle adventures, and durable enough for longer and more rugged climbs – the Merrell Zion GTXs risk being a jack of all trades, but master of none. And on longer mountain climbs in the Lake District I did find myself thinking a more technical approach shoe would be better, such as the La Sportiva TX4 or Mammut Alnasca.

But, if you are looking for a versatile shoe for a range of uses that aren’t too technical or hardcore, the Merrell Zion GTXs do live up to their billing. I was definitely impressed with the Vibram Megagrip outsole. It gripped well over rocky terrain and slightly slippery grass in the Lake District – and, despite the conditions, I never once felt out of control. The Gore-Tex waterproofing also lived up to its reputation, keeping my feet dry over boggy ground and during a light downpour, while the shoe build provided good stability and protection and I was pretty convinced they’d be durable enough for longer-term use. I also liked the higher levels of cushioning under the foot, reminiscent of a trail running shoe, which gave me a slight spring in my step.

All in all, I felt the Merrell Zion GTXs performed positively. They were super-comfy, waterproof, breathable and grippy, striking a nice balance between being robust and nimble.


I Googled Zion and it means ‘land of future promise’ or ‘heavenly kingdom’. I certainly wouldn’t describe the Merrell Zion GTXs as the promised land of the future of hiking, nor do I think people are wearing them in heaven. That’s definitely over-kill. But the sneaker-inspired hiking shoes do have a lot going for them: glove-like comfort straight out of the box, excellent grip, Gore-Tex’s trademark level of waterproofing, and good flexibility for a range of outdoor uses. Zion also means ‘the hill of Jerusalem on which the city of David was built’. That’s apt – because for hiking up hills (and around cities, for that matter) the Merrell Zions are a great choice.

Merrell Zion GTX: Specifications

Vibram Megagrip outsole with 5mm lugs / Gore-Tex membrane / Grain leather and mesh upper / Metal eyelets and webbing loops for lacing / Rubber toe cap / Kinetic Fit BASE removable insole / EVA foam midsole / EVA foam pods in rearfoot and forefoot

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