I’m a gear snob. I’ll happily admit that I enjoy doing my research – hour upon hour of it – and ending up with different – better – products than the masses of simple consumers who just walk into a store and depend on some half-informed sales assistant to make a choice. As such, I never intended to buy the Lowa Renegade. Whereas the most popular mid-weight hiking boot in the US is probably the Salomon Quest 4D, in Europe it’s almost certainly the Lowa Renegade, instantly making my inner snob think “it’s probably nothing special”.
Introduced in 1997 , it’s an old-school looking boot (thankfully some style updates were made, which means it’s, to my eyes, quite handsome, unlike that 1997 original), with an outer made almost entirely of leather (only the upper edge around the calf is made of fabric). It was to my knowledge the first shoe with Lowa’s Monowrap midsole that rises up to wrap some of the upper and provide extra lateral / torsional stability without sacrificing forward flexibility.* It has a Gore-Tex inner, but can be had with a leather lining instead.
Available in narrow, regular and wide lasts, in a range of colors, it’s so popular on trails around here that I can often tell apart the tracks of its distinctive (and, as far as I know, exclusive to the Renegade) Vibram Evo sole profile whenever I’m hiking on a soft surface.
Early in 2020, I started a non-continuous hiking project across the Netherlands, which means lots of roads alternated by soggy muddy terrain, this being a swamp and all. And it’s not-quite-freezing cold much of the year. As such, I was looking for a waterproof, decently high boot with good shock absorption for long days – and it had to be lightweight to prevent overkill on Dutch trails. My research indicated something like the Lowa Innox might fit the bill (unfortunately most Salomon shoes and boots are too narrow for my feet).
Visiting my local outdoor store – with very knowledgeable sales assistants – I tried every lightweight mid height boot in their collection (that did not include the Innox), but none gave me the heel retention (I have narrow heels and wide forefeet) and shock absorption I was looking for. After repeated rejections of the sales assistant’s suggestions of the Renegade, I finally gave in when there were no more boots left to try… and wow… This. is. comfort! They’re a good bit heavier than what I’d been looking for, but after trying some different insoles to fully lock in my heels, the comfort was so much better than any of the lighter, more flexible boots I had tried before. Yes, they were stiffer, but the rockered outsole is just a dream to walk on, the PU midsole absorbs shocks like a running shoe, and the way it hugged my feet without pinching anywhere was a dream come true. I figured a bit of overkill in terms of weight and stiffness would be compensated for by the additional support when hiking abroad (oh, the blissful ignorance of February 2020…). And that’s how a gear snob totally fell for the ubiquitous, obvious choice.
So how have they been in practice?
Mostly excellent. I’ve walked some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) on these boots so far. My guesstimate is that some 40% of this distance has been on unpaved roads and trails; mostly soggy peat, hard packed sand, soft sand, wet and dry grass, and gravel trails. There’s also been some snow and ice, and a few kilometers of steep rocky terrain. The rest was on pavement, both on dedicated walks and in daily life. I was carrying a 10-15kg (22 – 33 pound) backpack for some 400 kilometers (250 miles), on mixed terrain. So I feel I’ve come to know these boots quite well.
The comfort I felt in the store wasn’t an illusion; I’ve not really needed a break-in time, and starting with a 20+ kilometer walk wasn’t an issue. I’d still have the occasional blister on my heels, but my feet just blister very easily, with all the shoes and boots I’ve ever worn apart from my On Cloudventures which seem made for my heels. Using a liner sock inside my hiking socks has finally solved this issue for me. Beyond that, there were never any hot spots, pinches, chafing, or anything like that. Just lots of fairly flexible leather cradling my feet. Roll-off has indeed been as smooth as it appeared in the store, and shock absorption has continued to protect my overcompression-prone ankles.
My feet don’t really get cold in freezing temperatures when wearing sneakers, so the fact that they never got cold in the Renegades is hardly a surprise. Getting warm and sweaty is a much bigger issue for me, but I’ve only had soaked feet inside once, after a hike on a 30+ degree C day. Goretex boots are just never going to breathe as well as a non-waterproof fabric paneled boot, but these have really surprised me for their ability to keep my feet dry enough to not blister themselves to pieces even on quite warm hikes (25+ degrees C). Having relatively thin leather uppers probably helps beat the expectations here. Overall, so long as the outside temperature is bearable for long hikes, the interior climate of these boots will be fine.
Stability is really good for a boot this weight, although the Salomon Quest 4D will offer yet a bit more of it. The most I’ve asked of these boots stability-wise has been ascending and descending 45+-degree slopes (that turned out to be mountain biking descents rather than hiking trails, minor mapping error…) while wearing a 15 kilo backpack. The fact that my muscles were the limiting factor and not my grip or stability, is a real testament to this boot. And that was after they’d covered some 1,200 kilometers, so the midsoles had already become a bit more flexible than when they were brand new. The only issue I faced stability-wise were some almost-ankle rolls when stepping on pebbles or small rocks on an otherwise flat and even underground; my foot would pivot over it quite suddenly, when this wouldn’t have been an issue in other shoes. Thankfully the supportive upper made sure there was never any damage, even with high pack weights, but on a cliffside it could be risky nonetheless. As noted below under Reliability, my cobbler interprets the wear pattern of the uppers as a sign that the last is too narrow for my foot (maybe all that smooth leather prevented me from realizing this at the shop), so this may have caused the rolling issue; perhaps it wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d gone for the wider last Renegade. OutdoorGearLab noted that the laces popped out of the locking ankle eyelet on steep slopes; I’ve never encountered such issues. They’re not the most fluent to lace up, but once hooked, the laces have always been solid for me. The fact that the hooks continue almost all the way to the top of the boot really help in achieving that stability.
Grip has been amazing on most of the surfaces I’ve walked on. The outsole consists of pretty soft Vibram rubber, with fairly deep lugs. There’re a lot of those lugs though, packed fairly densely together. This helps to distribute the load and provide an altogether fairly large contact patch. Normally that’s great for hard surfaces, whereas on softer or wet surfaces you’d prefer fewer lugs that can really bite into the surface. The Vibram Evo sole on the Renegades have indeed performed very well on rocks, pavement and hard packed sand or gravel. Despite the lug density, wet surfaces such as grass, concrete, or wooden boards have never been an issue though, and neither has hard-packed snow (until it turned to solid ice, obviously). I think this is due to the softness of the rubber. I’d have liked a bit more bite into soft sand, which would require more widely spaced lugs. Grip on thin layers of mud has been fine – I guess the lugs are spaced just widely enough for that – but mud shedding in soggy sticky peat really only happens at the flex point of the forefoot, despite the claims of a self-clearing thread. A more open thread would probably do better there, at the expense of hard surface traction and longevity.
Reliability has been top notch. I haven’t taken care of them that well – I applied some wax just once, and that’s it, despite regularly coating the boots in mud or dust – but until the 1,300km mark they were in absolutely perfect order. Since then, the upper has started peeling ever so slightly from the midsole in two spots, as you can see in the photos below.
As noted above under Stability, my cobbler feels this issue is caused by the last being too narrow for my forefoot, so perhaps this issue wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone for the wide version of the Renegade. The peeling hasn’t affected stability or walking comfort, and it hasn’t gotten worse over the past 100km. It does mean that moisture can come in between the upper / goretex bootie, and the midsole, and create a squeeking sound after walking in a puddle or in heavy rain. Once dry, the squeeking stops. Beyond this issue, all the seams and stitching are perfect, the inner is perfect, they’re still as waterproof as ever (I was concerned about this, as the Renegade has the Goretex liner sown to the midsole rather than having a full “sock” placed inside the boot, so I wondered if a separating of outer and midsole also meant a gap in the Goretex lining. I put the boots in a bucket of water with tissues inside to test this, and not a bit of moisture made it in).
OutdoorGearLab noted in their review that they worry that the upper consisting of so many leather panels means that the seams can be a weak point, but so farI haven’t seen any issues in that regard (it’s just the transition between upper and midsole where the peeling occurs). The leather is a bit more creased than when I bought them, and it doesn’t have the same sheen or water beading as when new (that’s what you get for being negligent on your waxing), but apart from that it looks unbothered by the high mileage. All of the stitching is still spot on, even in the flexing areas.
The PU midsole itself has put up with the many miles without issue, and still absorbs shocks like an unusually clunky running shoe. That’s definitely a benefit over boots with an EVA midsole, which compresses over time.
The midsole offers just about enough trail feel to get a general idea of the topography beneath your feet, which I like, without becoming painful even after very long days on your feet. Comparing the Renegade and the Salomon Quest 4D in store, I got a little more trail feel in the Renegade.
The outsole is a only significantly worn on the very outside of the heels, which is obviously where I strike on landing. Given the many kilometers on abrasive asphalt, this amount of wear is actually much less than I’d expected. Other than the heel strike area, the outsoles are nearly as good as new, which I find really remarkable given the fairly soft rubber and the abrasive surfaces I’ve been walking on. I’m sure the density of the studs, giving a bigger contact patch and therefore wearing down slower, helps. But still the outsole is holding up much better than I expected.
All in all, if this peeling of the upper from the midsole doesn’t become worse, I don’t see why I couldn’t make it to 2,000 kilometers or more in these boots. And perhaps if I’d gone for the wide last version, there wouldn’t have been any peeling to begin with. For such a flexible, comfortable, grippy boot, I consider the reliability truly excellent.
The Renegade’s popularity is well earned, as I feel Lowa really knocked it out of the park in terms of creating a boot that’s super comfortable, not overly heavy, supportive enough for most adventures with up to moderate pack weights, grippy in almost all circumstances, and surprisingly long lasting in terms of uppers, midsole shock absorption, and outsole thread wear.
Its main competitor, the Salomon Quest 4D, offers yet more support (and probably grip in loose terrain) for pretty much the same weight, but has even more seams that could fail and a more open thread profile, so presumably faster thread wear. And depending on your feet it might just be too stiff for long sections of paved roads. Also the midsole is EVA, so will compress more with high mileage than the Renegade’s PU.
I’ll probably be issued a Haix GSG9X sometime soon, so if my Renegades reach the end of their lives, I might give the Haix a go just to see what they feel like. And I’ll try on the wide last Renegade, the latest Salomon Quest 4D, and perhaps a few more competitors, just to see how they feel on my feet. But for anything to stop me from getting a second pair of Renegades as an all-round, daily-life to through-hike, anything-but-alpine-or-tropics boot, it’ll have to be damn impressive. For now, I’m still eating up the trails in my first pair, and long may they continue to do so.
*Later Lowa boots, especially military models such as the Zephyr and the Z6/8/11, have a far more extreme execution of the Monowrap sole; it’s fairly subtle on the Renegade.