Vasque is a big name in the outdoor footwear market, and we had a chance to talk with company reps at the Outdoor retailer show in July. One of the things we talked about was their new models coming out this winter. Well, it’s that time and we had a chance to take a look at their new Breeze Low GTX crossover shoes.
I have a lot of trouble finding shoes that fit. I have wide feet and generally need a roomy toe box. Even some wides don’t seem to cut it for me. Nowhere is it more important to have a good fitting shoe or boot than in the outdoors. There’s nothing worse than to be spending a day on the trail, or in the midst of a backpacking trip, and have shoes that don’t fit right. At the least you end up with discomfort that can spoil an otherwise great day in the woods, and you run the possibility or blisters and other conditions, which can put an end to a trip or make the rest of it a grueling ordeal, not a restful break from the daily grind. Enter the Vasque Breeze Low GTX. Not only is it a shoe that fits, buts it’s one that’s made for the trail and is geared towards the outdoors enthusiast.
When my editor first asked me if I wanted to check out a pair of Vasques I was interested, but slightly hesitant. As mentioned, I have a tough time finding shoes that fit right. I’ve had a number of companies’ wides that still ended up being too tight for me and that haven’t been workable. A pair of shoes is a little different than other gear. If I get a pack that isn’t working out for me, I can pass it along to another reviewer to check out and see how they like it. With shoes, and the fact that they’re individually sized, you’re pretty much stuck. Just the same as if you bought them and found they don’t work out. Trust me, I’ve done that a number of times before. So, when the box from Vasque showed up at my door, I was interested, but I was a little anxious about how things were going to work out. My review shoe is a Vasque Breeze Low GTX. The Breeze Low GTX is a trekking shoe designed for backpackers who want a sturdy shoe with good traction, but without the weight of a full hiking boot.
They are made with a Vibram Contact Lite sole and a Gore-Tex upper and feature Vasque Spine Technology (VST). VST is a cushioning used to provide comfort and stability over uneven terrain according to Vasque. It works through a combination of patent-pending “shock attenuation technology” along with the anatomical shape of the heels top plate. Essentially, it reduces the impact of your heel as you walk, especially on rugged terrain, while keeping the foot stable in the shoe. The shoes weigh in at only 1lb 15oz, which is over a pound less than the hiking boot that I typically wear. They come in a pretty broad range of sizes with the men’s shoe tested being available in men’s medium sizes 7-12,13,14,15, and wide sizes 8-12,13. Half sizes are available as my shoe is a 10.5W. The color listed for this model is coffee/spice. I’d have guessed coffee color to more brownish, but these look pretty gray to my eye. Maybe I drink different types of coffee than the designers! There is a brown accent color to them however, which offsets the gray nicely. They’re a subdued shoe that should go well with a wide variety of outdoor clothing.
Okay, so I did my research on the shoes and learned a bit about how they’re made and what they’re intended to do. Actually having the shoes in hand let me get a better impression of the construction and features. Right off the bat, they appear to be a solidly made shoe. They’re light, but feel sturdy and the reinforced upper looks like it will stand up to a good deal of abuse. Everything on them is double stitched and the eyelets are integral to the design. No additional metal eyelets to pull out or break. The front of the toe is reinforced with a heavy rubber toe guard. The sole also wraps upward slightly at the front of the shoe providing more protection and traction for when you have to dig in with your toe on a slope. This is a feature that I’ve come to greatly appreciate on boots and hiking shoes. It not only protects your toe, but also reinforces the shoe at a point where it’s likely to see a lot of wear, especially when scrambling over rocks, or doing light climbing. The rear of the shoe features a nylon pull strap to help you tug the shoe onto your foot. The Vibram sole looks like it will provide good traction but isn’t so aggressive that it looks likely to pick up and hold mud. A sole packed with mud not only adds weight, but somewhat defeats the purpose of being grooved or patterned in the first place. This one looks good to go though. The laces on the Breeze Low GTX look typical for a hiking shoe. Nothing fancy, but perfectly adequate.
So, the specs look good, and the shoes looked good in person, but none of that matters if they don’t fit! With some trepidation, I slid the shoes on my wide duck feet, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised when my foot slid right in and nestled down comfortably into the shoe. Wow, a wide that actually fit correctly! Kudos to Vasque for providing a properly sized shoe with a roomy toe box for those of us that are podiatrically challenged. Aside from the basic fit, the Breeze Low GTX also provides good arch support and, while low, seems to provide a stable platform and support for the ankle as well.
For testing, I wore the Breeze Low GTX shoes for a period of about two months. I mixed my use between daily wear, camping, and hiking. In day to day wear, I found that the shoes were akin to wearing a tennis shoe in terms of weight and comfort, but with better traction, especially when it was raining or muddy out. The Breeze Low’s were comfortable walking around or standing for long periods of time on concrete, likely do to the cushioned VST system. Concrete is pretty unforgiving so it looks like this Vasque shoe might not be a bad choice for the urban jungle as well as the woods! On the trail, though, is where I think you really see the benefit to the shoe. True to their claims, the light weight of the Breeze Low GTX shoes made hiking pretty pleasant. Again, it was like wearing a tennis shoe in terms of weight but you could definitely tell the difference when it came to traction and stability on the trail. I had much better traction and ankle support than I would typically have with my current running shoes or cross trainers, but at a significant weight savings over my hiking boots. With a pack added to the equation you begin to reap the benefits of the VST system and its cushioning heel. When you add the additional weight of your gear you’re foot is hitting the ground with more force every time so anything that helps lessen that impact is a bonus, especially as you start to rack up the miles.
The Vibram sole worked as I expected in that it provided good traction on less than ideal trails, and slippery leaves, but didn’t tend to clog or become caked with mud. A few stumbles over some rocks vindicated my love for the reinforced toe too. The laces, while appearing pretty average in my intial inspection, worked out well. Once knotted, they stayed tight and knotted. My other hiking boots, while I like them a lot, tend to come undone and require frequent stops to tighten or re-tie them. That can range from annoying to troublesome if they happen to be loose when you slip and need the stability of a properly snug shoe. Overall trail performance was very good. I might still opt for a full boot in cold or fouler weather, or if carrying a heavy load, but for day to day use, day hiking, or backpacking with a reasonable load, I think the Breeze Low GTX’s worked out just fine.
The Vasque Breeze Low GTX seems to be a solid product well geared towards its intended market as a lightweight, rugged trekking shoe for folks who don’t want the weight of full sized hiking boot. It’s a good three-season shoe that can handle damp and mud, and rugged terrain. Online prices seem to range from around $100 to $130 depending where you shop but anything in that range is pretty reasonable in my opinion for a well fitting, rugged shoe, featuring a Gore-Tex upper and Vibram sole. For folks with wide feet like me, their true sizing is a major bonus, and even for folks with normal feet the features and performance make them well worth checking out.