Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gear Review: Keen Koven WP Hiking Shoes

Keen Koven WP hiking shoes in grey

While this is only a first-impression review after one trail test (but LOTS of neurotic home wearing), I think the Koven WP (waterproof) might just be the sturdy Keen hiker that had heretofore been eluding me for years. I tested them out today on a quick 3.2-mile day hike on wet rocks, slippery roots, and a half-mile section hiking through a creek.

Even though I love most Keen footwear (I even write haikus to their wonderfully unchanging Newport H2 sandals), I have had trouble getting a good fit from any of their sturdier hiking shoes. My usual size 12 is a bit too short resulting in smashed toes on descents while 13s are just loose enough for blister inducing heel slippage. Keen stops their half sizes at 12 and above like many manufacturers. The Koven seems to hit the sweet spot, however, in my usual size 12. Here are my initial impressions:

Keen Koven WP hiking shoes from bird's eye view
The Kovens felt great right out of the box, and I had no issues, hot spots, or discomfort on my hike today. These mid-weight hikers felt secure, stable, and comfortable with solid arch support and cushioning. Thankfully, the toe-flex across the top of my foot is comfortably pliable with plenty of give, which was a worry because other Keen hikers have given me problems in that department.

In short, these shoes feel great. The following statement will probably sound laughable in a world obsessed with ultralight and minimalist philosophies, but I almost felt like I could comfortably do some trail running in these.

The 4mm lugs on the Koven soles provided enough traction and grip to keep me trekking steadily through slick, muddy terrain full of rocks and roots. They also did a pretty good job of finding some grip on the impossibly slick, mossy limestone creek bed I trekked through. The waterproof membrane performed perfectly as I made sure to submerge my foot a few inches in the creek water several times for multiple durations. The shank in the shoe definitely provided good stability over rocks and roots without being overly stiff. Lastly, the breathable waterproof membrane combined with a lot of mesh venting in the design kept my feet nice and cool on a warm, humid day that left every square inch of my t-shirt completely soaked with sweat.

Close up shot of Keen hiking shoe soles
The 4mm lugs on the Kovens offer solid traction and the shank provides stability without being overly stiff.
Detail of Keen Koven WP shoe
Keen's "Keen.DRY" membranes provide excellent 
waterproofing and good ventilation.
Of course, I can’t speak to the durability of these shoes after one trail test. I have found in the past, however, that all of my Keen shoes, especially hikers, employ very durable and well-crafted uppers. The Kovens, with their mix of leather, sturdy mesh, and what appears to be a synthetic “heel guard” material (nice touch, Keen!) seem to uphold the excellent build quality I’ve come to expect from this manufacturer. I also love the wide, durable rubber toecap that is a hallmark of Keen shoes. The one area where I think all Keens could find improvement is the durability of the sole. I have found that the lugs and soles of most Keens are only average performers in terms of durability. Perhaps this is a compromise to save a bit of weight? Speaking of, for the gram counters out there, my size 12s weighed 2 lbs., 5 oz. for the pair. I am happy to trade a few ounces of weight for stability when it comes to backpacking footwear. The Kovens also hit a sweet spot in that department for my preferences.

As I continue to wear these shoes and get more trail time with them, I’ll update this section in particular.

My initial impression is that my years-long quest is finally over, and I have finally found a mid-weight Keen hiker that fits my foot well. I hope Keen will continue to make this model. These shoes are comfortable out of the box, appear very well made, perform solidly on rugged terrain, and seem to offer excellent ventilation even with a waterproof liner. I would recommend these for day hikers and lightweight backpacking trips, especially in wet weather.

So, after six weeks or so, I've had these Kovens on many day hikes short and long. This past weekend, I just finished a 15 mile backpacking overnighter with some VERY rocky, rugged terrain and significant elevation changes. I'm happy to report the Kovens have held up extremely well. Despite having trouble getting a good fit in my size with other Keen hikers, the Kovens have proven to be perfect - no toe-bunching on descents or any other issues. The waterproofing is also impressive. I stood in a river halfway up the shoe for a long time photographing a waterfall and the membrane never saturated or soaked through. I am very happy with these shoes. Now, please keep this model in production, Keen, rather than just manufacturing for one season!

NOTE: The Kovens also come in standard model without a waterproof membrane for those who prefer maximum ventilation.

WHERE TO BUY (I have no affiliation with Keen or other retailers)
Direct from Keen for $110; or Amazon for $110

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1 comment:

  1. Do you find the toe box to be small? I've had a pair of the Kovens (size 12) for about three weeks (as around towners) and am still trying to determine if I should have gotten 13s. Not uncomfortable, just kind of noticeable how small the toe box seems.