While this article is a review of Asolo Flame boots, it’s also an overall guideline at what to look for in a good pair of basic hiking boots.
The composite leather, nylon, and Gore-Tex upper of the Flame is lightweight, but provides excellent protection for the foot
When most people are shopping for active footwear for the outdoors they typically look for the lightest, lowest, softest, and most breathable option. Thinking that “lighter is better” they often end up opting for a trail runner or walker. They assume boots are too stiff and heavy to be comfortable and probably overkill for a hike. This is not the case and a good pair of boots are what’s really called for.
The job of good general purpose outdoor footwear is to protect the foot’s musculature from fatigue, injury, and shock. Boots with higher ankles prevent and limit ankle rolls by wrapping and supporting the joint as well as protecting the top of the foot from injury. The lug soles of a boot provide better traction than most shoes, preventing slips and falls. Enclosed boots without mesh keep out sandy debris and makes sure the foot stays dry in case of wet environments. All of these things are lacking in most low shoes, but provided by a stiff, but lightweight boot. For all of the reason above I’ve been running a pair of Flames for the last three years for all hikes and light weight (40 pounds or less) backpacking expeditions.
The Asolo Flame has a very stiff shank and supporting EVA mid-sole which provides great support to the foot and ankle. A simple test of a boot’s rigidity and support is to attempt to twist it on axis against itself. If the boot can ‘twist’ down the sole it may lack support. If you can fold the boot in half over itself, especially folding in half at the center of the sole, the boot probably lacks support. The only bending or movement on the Flame is where it is supposed to be: at the toe joint around the ball of the foot to the toe box, at the end of the 3/4 length shank. Think of the shank as a platform that keeps your foot supported no matter what you are walking on. When traversing uneven terrain with additional pack weight on the human body, the musculature, tendons and ligaments of the feet and arches can fatigue and become prone to injury. When weighted with a pack, your arch has to work harder all the while your foot structure is more spread out and flattened by the additional weight carried.
If a stiff sole sounds uncomfortable, I highly recommend trying a pair of over the counter orthotics- especially if you have high or flat arches, heavy pronation, supination, or other foot issues. There is also a good chance that you could benefit from custom running orthotics to help keep your foot in its natural position. Orthotics will help the arch to work and stay supported in a good position.
I was once hiking in running shoes on a well groomed trail, with a fairly light pack weight of 30 pounds. Even though I stay in shape and have relatively healthy feet and arches, I experienced an arch strain. I stepped on a small rock with the ball of my foot and felt a stretch through the arch. I immediately thought that if I was in a boot with a stiffer sole, and a hard shank to support my feet from being stressed and stretched, I would not have been injured. The next day I limped and hopped six miles down a mountain with my foot in intense pain whenever I moved. On any deep backcountry mission that could have been a risk to life.
The composite leather, nylon, and Gore-Tex upper of the Flame is lightweight, but provides excellent protection for the foot. Design elements such as a rubber toe box protects against impacts and scrapes, while the cut provides ankle support. The material selections provides abrasion resistance and durability, and the Gore-Tex provides the boot’s waterproofing.
Low-top trail or walking shoes may seem like a lighter and more comfortable option, but having a boot that provides ankle support and bracing will help prevent and limit the damage done by rolling an ankle. During my time as an outdoor guide; slips, trips, and ankle rolls are the most common concern with clients. Having proper footwear is a must to go on our trips. Ankle sprains are more common and more damaging when carrying the weight of a backpack, especially on uneven terrain, which is pretty much most of the trails in the world. While not classified as a backpacking boot, the Flame still has the necessary ankle wrapping and hightop support.
Another feature of the Flame is Aso-brake technology in the soles which provides traction on uneven and downhill terrain. I can only subjectively compare my Asolos to other boots I’ve owned, like the basque sundowner, various Welcos, Hanwags, and other common and popular boots. But I have to say that the Asolos feel like the grippiest boots I’ve owned, and I noticed it from the first hike wearing them. The Flames just seem to have more traction than any other boot I’ve tried- whether I’m side hilling, hiking on wet, slick trails or standing on slippery rocks.
While a more breathable, non-waterproof set of footwear sounds appealing at times, I find that almost year round I need waterproof boots. Though some could argue the Flame’s Gore-Tex liner may hinder some breathability. Having a waterproof boot means that no matter any unforeseen events like rain or snow, mud trails or shallow creek crossings- my feet are going to stay dry, which means safe. If your footwear remains wet and the skin of the feet softens, you are subject to an increased chance of abrasions. Serious problems can then arise with chafing, blisters and foot rot. Especially dangerous in colder climes are cold and wet feet which can lead to frost bite and other injuries. If you have particularly sweaty feet, I’d recommend getting waterproof footwear and adopting a regimen of changing your socks on a regular basis to keep the skin dry and tough.
Overall, the Flame is an excellently constructed and designed boot for 90% of hiking and light backpacking activities. It’s amazing how light the Flames are compared to how supportive they are, with excellent traction and a streamlined natural non-bulky or boxy feel. Even though they are rated as hiking boots, they have replaced my excellent Hanwags for all but the heaviest or harshest backpacking environments.