Hiking shoes occupy an interesting position in the outdoor footwear market. They're usually aimed at those walking in mostly-dry conditions, on tracks too rough for lighter footwear but not requiring the full ankle support of a heavier boot.
In recent years, I've regularly had a need for exactly this type of thing. I've walked part or all of three different Camino de Santiago routes in Spain, around a thousand miles all told.
While each walk has been unique in its own way, they all involved days or weeks on dirt tracks, paved roads and rocky trails.
Before the first walk from Granada to Cordoba, I spent a few hours in a local outdoor store and settled on a pair of Merrell Vertis Ventilator hiking shoes. Well over six hundred miles of walking later, I'd worn them out -- and promptly bought another pair.
Having now nearly destroyed the second pair as well, I've certainly spent plenty of time with this particular model of shoe. Here's my experience in detail.
The Vertis shoes closely resemble Merrell's Moab Ventilator range, with a ventilated top layer to allow air to circulate while still having a water-resistant inner membrane to help keep feet dry.
The water resistance is nice, but it's only really useful to stop your feet from getting damp in rain, shallow creeks or similar. Given the shoes don't reach much beyond ankle height, water can still come in over the top reasonably easily.
The sole is hard and grippy, although not especially thick. The rubber toe guards are definitely a useful touch, and there 's sufficient padding around the back, sides and tongue of the shoe to absorb most bumps and knocks.
My particular shoes were a suitably nondescript light brown color, ideal for walking through dirt and mud all day.
Real World Testing
I broke the shoes in for several weeks before setting off on my first Camino, mainly around town but also on a couple of five mile trail walks. They were comfortable from the start, without any foot pain or sign of blisters, and my feet remained cool when the air temperature was around 75 degrees F.
My main walk, however, was much more challenging. Underfoot conditions varied between road, rocks and rutted dirt, both flat and undulating, with occasional stream crossings. One morning, after overnight rain, mud also became an issue. The first day was the longest, at over twenty miles, but no day contained less than fifteen miles on the trail.
Blisters appeared on both heels and the ball of one foot late on the first day, and I developed another one on my toe a few days later. Given the long distances involved, though, I suspect this would have been a problem regardless of the shoes I was wearing. After learning to take better care of my feet by wearing two pairs of socks and coating them in Vaseline, I've never had anything but the tiniest of blisters since.
Other than those blisters, the shoes were comfortable for the entire week. I had plenty of grip, even when walking through shallow water or on muddy trails.
The only real problem I encountered was on particularly rocky surfaces, when the relatively thin sole didn't offer quite as much protection from sharp rocks as I would have liked. I had a little foot pain at the end of each day, but no cuts or bruising.
Spring in southern Spain can get surprisingly warm in the middle of the day, but even when the rest of my body was working up a sweat, the combination of merino wool socks and the built-in ventilation on the Vertis kept the inside of the shoes dry and comfortable.
My second and third Caminos were much longer -- five and three weeks, respectively. Both were in generally dry conditions, although there were a few days of light to moderate rain. The shoes held up well throughout, handling everything from walking miles on the side of a highway to crossing the Pyrenees.
The sole retained its grip even after hundreds of miles of walking, although the insole and back of the shoes started to show significant wear.
Overall, I was more than happy with how the Merrell Vertis Ventilator hiking shoes held up. That's why I bought a second pair after finishing the Camino Frances, and my opinion hasn't changed after finishing the Camino Portuguese.
They are well-priced, and ideally suited to the type of hiking I do. If you're looking for a relatively lightweight hiking shoe that can handle long distances on changeable terrain, they're well worth trying out.