Cool and breezy autumn is the perfect season for hiking in the countryside, yet many consumers overlook the importance of being well-equipped. The Consumer Council jointly tested 11 waterproof hiking boots and 13 hiking backpacks with International Consumer Research and Testing (ICRT) and found that their water resistance performance varied vastly. The water resistance performance of over 50% of the hiking boot models was far from satisfactory. The 3 worst performing models were found with water entry within an hour in the water immersion test, and some models increased their weight by as much as 30% after the immersion, which may affect hikers’ experience and safety during a hike. In addition, 2 hiking backpack models failed to resist rain when their rain covers were not put on and the belongings inside got wet. When going for a hike, consumers should make appropriate preparations based on the difficulty of the selected trail and the weather conditions, including picking suitable gear and bringing along sufficient supplies, to ensure safety while enjoying the hike.
Waterproof Hiking Boots
The Council tested 11 models of mid-cut waterproof hiking boots, with prices ranging from $599 to around $2,300. Among the models, 3 adopted the proprietary waterproof membranes of their manufacturers while the remaining 8 claimed to be constructed with Gore-tex membrane. The uppers of 4 models were mainly made of synthetic fabrics, and the remaining 7 models were made of leather or suede. The test items covered water resistance, slip resistance, breathability, shock absorption, durability, and the practical assessment of panellists.
The waterproof efficacy of a pair of hiking boots is crucial when hiking across hills and wading rivers, in addition to unexpected weather conditions. In the water resistance test, each model was immersed in 60mm deep water for 6 hours in total, and the test would be terminated if water was found entering the models during the time period. The test result revealed that water entered the left shoe of 3 models after being immersed in water for less than 1 hour, while the right shoe of 2 of these models were also found with water entry after 2 hours. The performance of these 3 models were below par and therefore scored only 1 point. The right toe cap of another model was slightly damp after being immersed in water for 4 hours, and water entered its body and left toe cap after 6 hours; thus this model scored only 1.5 points. Although no water was found entering 2 other models in the test, their weight increased by 26% and 30% respectively after the test due to the weak water repellent ability of the uppers, so they were rated with lower scores. Among the models, only 2 had no water entry at all and their weight almost remained unchanged, hence they received the highest rating of 5 points.
As hiking boots need to be worn for a long period of time, their durability and breathability are also critical. The durability test result showed huge variance among the models, with overall ratings ranging from 2.5 points to 5 points. According to the test standard, the inner fabric near the heel area of the models were put under dry and wet rubbing tests for 51,200 times and 25,600 times respectively, and 1 model failed to effectively endure dry and wet rubbing, as its inner fabric showed obvious wear in the middle of the test. Moreover, the outsoles of 3 models were easily abraded and were rated 1 point to 1.5 points for this test item. For another 3 models, the testing cuts on the outsoles propagated significantly after 30,000 repeated folding, thus scoring only 2 points or less. The shoelace hole of 1 model showed noticeable fraying after rubbing by its shoelace back and forth for 20,000 times and received only 2.5 points.
For breathability, multiple fabric pieces of 4cm diameter were cut from various areas of each model and placed on a glass jar with desiccant beads for 23 hours, then the weight change of the desiccant beads was measured. The result was satisfactory in general, with 2 models performing well in breathability and received the highest rating of 5 points.
The outsoles of hiking boots are normally built with distinct lug patterns for better grip on the trail. The test measured the friction coefficient of the models on dry and wet ceramic tiles (simulating smooth rock or tree root surfaces), and on clay bricks (simulating solid dirt road surfaces). The result revealed that the models generally had better slip resistance on dry surfaces than on wet surfaces, scoring 4 points to 5 points. However, the models performed relatively poorer on wet surfaces and scored only 2 points to 4 points.
Furthermore, the test simulated the force of the heel pressing against the insole at 50N (Newton) on each model, and gradually increased the pushing force to 5,000N to estimate the deformation of the heels. The result showed the capacity of shock absorption between the models varied, ranging from 3 points to 4.5 points.
When tanning leather, carcinogenic hexavalent chromium might be produced due to improper handling. In the 7 models mainly made of leather, just 1 model was not detected with hexavalent chromium, while the remaining 6 models were detected with concentration from 0.4mg/kg to 1.4mg/kg, though the levels did not exceed the upper limit (3mg/kg) of the EU Regulation.
The Council also tested 13 hiking daypacks with claimed capacity from 22L to 30L and prices ranging from $449 to $1,659. 7 of them came with rain covers. The test items covered storage utilisation, water resistance, durability, reflective design, manufacturing quality, cleaning convenience and the practical assessment of panellists.
The models were fully filled with paper and cotton when performing the water resistance test. Then they were showered with “simulated rain” at 10L/m2 on their surface for 30 minutes, and the bottom of the models were immersed in 1cm deep water for 10 minutes in order to evaluate their water resistance performance. The performance of 3 models were relatively inferior when their rain covers were not put on and the belongings inside got wet, among which 1 model showed obvious water entry in its main compartment and the side pocket, thus scored 1.5 points only. One model with no rain cover installed and 7 other models with their equipped rain covers put on could resist rain effectively, thus scoring 5 points in the corresponding test items.
Hiking backpacks should be durable and have sufficient capacity to store the considerable number of items required while hiking. A weight equivalent to 9kg was placed in the backpack models, which were then dropped for 20,000 times with their top handles and shoulder straps bearing the weight. The models with zippers also underwent 15,000 times of repeated opening and closing test. Test results showed satisfactory overall durability of the models, with none of their top handles and shoulder straps found broken or torn, nor any zippers damaged. However, the strap adjustment buckles in 2 models failed to clamp securely, causing the length of their shoulder straps to slowly extend to their maximum length by the end of the test.
As for storage utilisation, the measured storage volume of all models complied with their claims, among which the volume of 5 models were even 5L more than their claims. Nonetheless, after the main compartment was fully packed, the volume of other compartments in 2 models were compressed and reduced. Another model was not equipped with a walking pole attachment, thus if a walking pole cannot be shortened to fit in the backpack, it would be difficult to carry it.
Moreover, the reflective design on 3 models were prominent enough to keep the user easily visible in dark environments. 10 models scored 4.5 points or above for cleaning convenience as they were easier to clean after being stained, but consumers should be aware that some models were not suitable for machine wash as stated in their user manuals.
Consumers should pay heed to the following when purchasing and using waterproof hiking boots and hiking backpacks:
- Low-cut hiking shoes are generally lighter and suitable for everyday commute in the city, while mid- to high-cut hiking boots provide a higher degree of protection. When buying new shoes, consumers should reserve around half an inch in fitting as buffer, to avoid toe injuries due to the compression of the toe cap when walking or descending;
- If going for a hike in the rainy season or going on a stream hike/wet trail, consumers may consider hiking boots with waterproof designs. Maintain the boots according to the instructions. Do not apply waterproof wax on the uppers to avoid affecting their breathability;
- If the uppers and outsoles of the boots are stained with mud or sand, consumers may wipe the mild stains with a damp cloth or a brush, or soak them in mild liquid soap. The insoles and shoelaces should be removed, cleaned and dried separately. Do not blow dry at high temperatures or expose them to direct sunlight;
- Backpacks with less than 30L capacity are generally suitable for daily use. Consumers should try on the backpack in person and pick the right size for themselves during purchase;
- Backpacks with bright colours are easier to be seen and the reflective stripe patterns will enhance visibility in dark environments;
- The total backpack weight should not exceed a quarter of the user’s weight. When packing items into the backpack, heavy objects should be placed closer to the upper back. Users should also pay attention to their posture when putting on and taking off a backpack to prevent back injuries.
Consumer Council reserves all its right (including copyright) in respect of CHOICE magazine and Online CHOICE.