Step It Up With the Tor Ultra Hi Trekking Boots
By Daniel Hui
Meeting up with a friend for an impromptu day hike gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my new Tor Ultra Hi waterproof boots from Hoka One One.
On Your Mark
I wasn’t previously familiar with the Hoka brand for hiking boots. The company is relatively young and their primary focus has been on high-performance running and trail shoes. Yet given Hoka’s proclivity for rugged outdoor destinations, it’s not surprising that hiking and backpacking covers the same ground, both literally and figuratively, as trail running.
At first glance, the trail running pedigree is immediately visible in the design of the Tor Ultra Hi boots. Hoka One One’s website says their goal was to combine “running shoe cushioning and supportive trekking uppers,” and overall I’d say they succeeded. More on that below.
The Tor Ultra’s quality is also reflected by their appearance. The pair I tested was black and grey with red and orange highlights (black/flame) but they also come in an equally flashy grey/cyan version sporting blue and green highlights. Either model might be a bit garish for the hiker accustomed to traditional brown leather boots, but I didn’t mind the vivid color because I cross-over into the road runner category and am used to having brightly colored shoes for high visibility.
The testing ground for the boots was Trough Creek State Park in James Creek, Pennsylvania — chosen for its relatively central location between two friends living on opposite ends of our massive state of Pennsylvania. The park itself offered several trails varying in length and difficulty, and we were able to hike most of them during our day-long excursion.
The Weight is Over
One of the first things I noticed when I put on the boots was their light weight. At 17 oz. each, they are much lighter than a typical pair of hunting or work boots and significantly lighter than hiking boots I’ve worn in the past.
Normally, a lighter-weight shoe would raise some concern for someone with a heavier-than-average frame like mine, but Hoka’s emphasis on stability engineering was apparent. The VibramMegagrip outsole is paired with blended high-performance rubbers in the midsole to maximize both traction and a cushioned step, and the overall rocker design didn’t hurt either: I could not detect any compromises in terms of support in the heel or ankle throughout our hike. This was especially true during the numerous elevation changes on the more difficult Terrace Rock, Copperas Rock, and Boulder trails.
When the Rubber Hits the Road
Several portions of the hike required careful navigation of slippery, uneven surfaces, like when I ventured out onto the charming Rainbow Falls — and long uninviting stretches of rocky terrain, as on the aptly named Rhododendron trail. However I never slipped, rolled my ankle, or felt any discomfort in the well-cushioned sole, as has been the case with previous boots that I have owned.
I even traversed a creek via a large fallen tree without much difficulty, confirming that the grip was great, and the sturdy boots were nimble enough to easily navigate a swinging suspension bridge.
The ultimate payoff for all the rugged climbing we did was some magnificent vista views of the surrounding area, which consisted of Great Trough Creek as it runs through the Terrace Mountain Gorge and the surrounding Rothrock State Forest.
With the boots providing consistent performance throughout the 4.5 miles or so that we hiked, we were able to extend our trekbeyond our initial loop and check out more trails in the park. Highlights included an abandoned ice mine, the ruins of an old dam, the remains of the Paradise furnace, and a fascinating cemetery nestled deep within the woods and lost in time.
In terms of overall fit, I will put out a disclaimer that the shoes I tested were a size too small for me. I normally wear an 11 ½ running shoe, and I usually go with a 12 in boots to accommodate thicker and more padded socks.
I tried to compensate for the smaller size by wearing a much thinner sock than I would typically wear for hiking, and all things considered, I didn’t have any major problems with the fit. I did notice some cramping in the toe area as my foot shifted forward during terrain descent. On the other hand, I found the heel portion of the boot to be quite roomy even though the boots were a little tight on me otherwise.
Stretch Before and After
I also found the boots to be surprisingly flexible, with my ankles enjoying a full range of movement. As such, I did not have any problems with the fact that the boots were brand new. These are boots that did not seem to require any breaking-in and, for me, were good-to-go right out of the box. My takeaway from all this is that standard boot sizing should apply, so go with a pair a half-size larger if you are planning to wear thick wool socks.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
On that surprisingly warm and humid late-August day, breathability of the boot was more of a concern than, say, in the middle of winter. In this regard, again I found the engineering of the shoe to be above average: My feet were adequately ventilated and never overheated.
Sometimes, good breathability comes at the expense of water protection, but I will say this is an area that I did not test extensively. The boots do feature eVentliners, a waterproof material with mixed reviews and common in outdoor gear. The trails were primarily rocky and the ground mostly dry, for once. We did venture into shallow creeks to pester crayfish hiding under rocks, but the water was never deeper than the rubber outsole. I’ll be curious to see how much protection the eVent provides in ankle-deep water.
The Thrill of Victory
In terms of form and function, my first experience with the Hoka One One brand definitely proved that they deliver all the important features I demand of a boot: providing adequate comfort and support while earning high marks for being noticeably lightweight, breathable, and flexible.
The Agony of Receipt
Whether that engineering justifies the price is debatable, and you can certainly find some degree of these features for less money in other brands, but I do appreciate the quality of the Tor Ultra Hi, as well as that additional visual flair that emphasizes that the company is trying to give us something a little different.
With a MSRP of $230, the boots are not inexpensive. But as of January 9, both REI and Moosejaw.com are selling them for about 25% off; and Trekkinn.com, which is currently selling Tors at $108.45 a pair, offers an even deeper discount of $99.41 each if you buy two or more pairs.
A Safe Bet
It should be noted that the company does have a 30-day guarantee that allows you to return the boots for a full refund if you are dissatisfied.
So, if a discounted price and the overall look suit you, I would certainly recommend trying a pair on, making sure they fit properly, and giving them a test run.
Check them out at http://www.hokaoneone.com/
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