REVIEW: Boreal Aztec Walking Shoe

£120, added Apr/2017, see all Boreal news & reviews
Reviewed by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
This review has been read 3,876 times

A very sturdy waterproof-lined walking shoe, the Aztec is billed as a low-ankle alternative to boots. As I generally prefer to wear either lightweight trail running shoes, or full-on boots (as occasion demands) I'm geneally a little dubious about heavier walking shoes, which would seem to combine the disadvantages of the other two in one. But over several days out this winter and spring, I'm happy to admit that the Aztec has gone some way towards changing my mind. In the right conditions - cool and wet - it is, as promised, a decent alternative to a walking boot.

It's worth noting right away though that the weight is pretty much equivalent to a light boot - I make them 1214g for a pair of size 12/47 - so if you're considering wearing shoes primarily in order to save weight, then these are not the ones. Everyone else, read on...

Warm and waterproof - a good shoe for wet or wintry weather (but not full-on winter walking), 204 kbWarm and waterproof - a good shoe for wet or wintry weather (but not full-on winter walking)
© Dan Bailey

Fit and feel

Board lasting is a construction method that's usually used on sturdy footwear with a stiffer sole - walking boots being the obvious example. Boreal have employed it here, and combined with a sole that's really quite stiff for a shoe, this gives the Aztec an almost boot-like feel on the foot. You certainly know when you're wearing them - not in a bad way, but there's no denying that there's a weighty feel compared with a trail shoe.

The toe shape is broad and rounded, which suits my wide-fronted foot well. There's plenty of depth at the front too, which gives the toes some wiggle room and might be good news for anyone with a higher volume foot. The heel cup is not particularly pronounced or aggressive, and I've had no issue with pressure on the achilles; but the 'Heel Fit System' sculpted padding does a great job of holding the heel securely in place nonetheless, and I've suffered no rubbing even on long days out.

They're a bit chunky for running, but fast moving walkers might like them, 208 kbThey're a bit chunky for running, but fast moving walkers might like them
© Dan Bailey

It probably ought to go without saying - but I'll say it anyway - that with no cuff, the Aztec does not offer the ankle support of a boot. Its stable and supportive platform underfoot does go some way to compensating the lack of protection from twists and sprains, but you do still have to be aware that you're wearing shoes instead of boots, and tread accordingly.

Uppers

A mix of high quality 2mm split leather and tough fabric panels, the upper has a thick, supportive feel. Again this seems rather boot-like, particularly with addition of a robust rubber rand that gives tons of protection to the toes. Lacing is smooth-running, and combined with the soft padded tongue this gives you a good close fit around the top of the foot. Though the laces extend fairly far forward they do not run right down to the toe in the manner of a more technical approach shoe, so you're not going to get the precise sort of fit at the front that you need for scrambling or easy climbing. Then again, a climb-oriented fit might compromise the Aztec's main purpose: it's all about comfort when you're bashing out long kilometres, not precise footwork on the rock.

They take rough ground in their stride, 222 kbThey take rough ground in their stride
© Dan Bailey

Inside is Boreal's own waterproof/breathable Dry-Line FLS lining. Having worn the Aztec on a couple of wet days, and plenty of boggy ground, I can vouch for the fact that it works. Though it's not possible to make an objective comparison, the wet weather performance of this lining feels on a par with other brands. As with all waterproof-lined shoes however, you do need to be aware of the two main downsides: 1. if you manage to flood your footwear - more easily done with a low shoe than a boot - then it is not going to drain or dry readily; and 2. even ostensibly breathable linings are warmer and more sweaty than an unlined equivalent. I have not found the Aztecs unduly sweaty as yet, but then I've not had them out in really hot weather. Having worn them on a warm spring day on the Cornish coast, and then for a few hours indoors while writing this review, my hunch is that - as with all waterproof shoes - they would be uncomfortably sticky on a proper summer day. I'd recommend saving them for the cool, damp conditions they were designed for.

Perfect for coastal paths etc... but maybe not in high summer, 208 kbPerfect for coastal paths etc... but maybe not in high summer
© Pegs Bailey

Sole

Deep tread on the sole, and a breathable mesh lining inside the shoe, 168 kbDeep tread on the sole, and a breathable mesh lining inside the shoe
© UKC/UKH Gear

Key to the Aztec's boot-like feel is its sturdy sole. There's less flex here than you'll find on most walking shoes, but they're not so rigid that they feel clumpy. With loads of lateral stiffness, the sole provides a reliably solid platform underfoot. It may be too stiff and heavy for running, but for walkers it offers plenty of support for the foot on rough ground, or when carrying heavy loads. A deep shock-absorbing EVA insert helps soak up the pounding on hard surfaces too, and having worn the Aztecs on several longs stretches of tarmac, and hard-packed forest tracks, I think they'd be a good choice for anyone who's expecting to do a fair bit of road walking in addition to the off-road stuff. Despite being reasonably heavy, long distances are no problem in the Aztecs. The sort of thing that springs to mind straight away here are trails like the West Highland Way, where there are hard surfaces for much of the time but it's still possible to get your feet wet once in a while.

Underfoot, the Vibram Skyrunning sole has a fairly deep tread for grip on soft, slippy ground, and seems to work well on mud and steep wet grass - both common enough in the British hills, but surfaces that can challenge a typical dry-rock-oriented approach shoe. If your crag walk-ins tend to be on the wet side then this shoe has an obvious advantage over most approach shoes. The heel breast on the Aztec is particularly aggressive, offering loads of traction when you're walking downhill.

Plenty of shock absorption in the sole, 165 kbPlenty of shock absorption in the sole
© Dan Bailey

Summary

With boot-like levels of stiffness and support, but the added comfort advantage of a low-cut ankle, the Boreal Aztec is a robust walking shoe ideally suited to use on less-technical British hill days, moorland walks and lowland countryside. Its waterproof lining is a match for soggy conditions, and helps make this quite a warm shoe that's best saved for cooler weather. The chunky sole gives plenty of grip on rough ground, and loads of support to the foot; yet it's cushioned enough for hard surfaces too. Build quality is high, so the £120 price tag is good value for money. Whether you're a long distance walker carrying a heavy load on moderate ground, or a climber contending with bogs en route to mountain crags, or if you're just after something for the mud of a country ramble, the Aztec is a viable alternative to a summer boot while offering more support than a running shoe.

Boreal say:

Aztec is a 'proper' walking shoe and a very credible alternative to a lightweight boot. Unlike lesser walking shoes it has a fully board lasted construction like a high quality boot giving it greatly superior underfoot protection/support.

Aztec has a deep cleated high quality Vibram outsole with a good heel breast for good traction when descending. The outsole is from the Vibram running collection and is lightweight thanks to weight saving 'cutouts' between lugs.

  • Uppers: Premium quality waterproof 2mm split leather with Teramida SL. Integral padded tongue and rubber toecap for protection. HFS padded heel system for a perfect fit.
  • Lining: Boreal Dry-Line FLS for absolute waterproofness and stay-cool breathability.
  • Midsole: Boreal PXF
  • Sole: Vibram Skyrunning rubber sole with shock absorbing EVA
  • Usage: Approach and cooler conditions. Protection from rain and snow. Paths, trails and off-road. Travel.
  • Sizes: (including 1/2 sizes): 6-12 (men) 4-8 (women)
  • Weight: 1214g/pair (size 47 / UK12, our measure)
  • Price: £120

For more info see borealoutdoor.com

Boreal Aztec prod shot, 96 kb

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