For digging footing holes in August heat, building fences in freezing February, walking porch roofs, and visiting with clients, the best all-around footwear for me is a 6-inch hiker-style boot. The shorter height breathes on hot days, and if I throw on another pair of socks, my feet stay warm (mostly) in the cold. Hikers—unlike taller, work-only boots—are nimble enough that I can walk fast or stand on a roof, yet they’re still tough enough for jumping on a shovel, standing on extension-ladder rungs, and dealing with the rough conditions that come with building decks and working outside.
Unfortunately, most hikers aren’t bombproof, they’re far from cheap, and even if the maker claims that the boots are waterproof, they’re usually not. So despite their advantages, I resent paying $150 or more for boots that won’t last a year on a jobsite and that allow my socks to get wet.
However, Keen has made a hiker-style boot that addresses my complaints. I’ve worked in Keen’s 6-inch Tacomas in temperatures ranging from 3°F to 93°F and they’re at home—and so are my feet—at either extreme. This is a shovel-ready hiker, with a tread that provides some grip without being so deep it becomes impacted with mud. Beefier than typical hikers, they’re stiff enough to push back when I jump on a shovel or kick a hunk of wood out of the way, but they’re not so stiff that they don’t flex. The breathable leather upper is stamped “waterproof” and so far, it has been.
What may be my favorite part, however, is the over-molded rubber toe. It’s an awesome first line of defense against soaking socks, especially in combination with the waterproof uppers. Not quite a safety toe (which is usually far from comfortable), it’s still a stiff toe box and is great if you’re the kind of carpenter who uses his toe as a lever to plumb something up or to sneak under a sheet of plywood before lifting it.
Finally, the cost is in line with other high-end hikers, which makes both my feet and my wallet happy.
Contributing editor Mark Clement is a deck builder and writer in Ambler, Pa.