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.