The Best Hiking Boots? The Vasque Sundowner Classic Gets My Vote

I just ordered my eighth pair of Vasque Sundowner boots, which have been my go-to boots since I began hiking more than 20 years ago. Here's why I love them and keep coming back for more.

The Vasque Sundowner is an iconic hiking boot, produced virtually unchanged for more than two decades.  As the Vasque website says, it's the "boot that built the brand."

Currently dubbed the Vasque Sundowner GTX (also often called the Sundowner Classic), its distinctive burgundy color and design make it easy to recognize on the trails and on the store shelves.

Its strength is its simplicity. The upper consists of a single piece of leather that molds and shapes to your feet over time and miles. (The more I wear them, the more they feel like hiking slippers custom-molded for my feet.) The boots are lined with Gore-Tex for complete waterproofness. The laces run through indestructible metal loops and hooks. (I've never had one break on any of my boots.)

The standard Sundowner features a mid-volume fit that nicely accommodates my wider forefoot, but is still snug enough in the midsection and heel to hold my lower volume instep and heel in place. (Though I improve the fit using a pair of Superfeet insoles.)

The Sundowner offers an extensive range of sizes and fits. The standard runs from men's size 7 to 15; a wide fit is available in sizes 8 to 13. Size-wise, I find that they run on the big side. I still fit a size 14 pair of Sundowners, even though I need a size 15 in most other brands (including most other Vasque footwear). It's also available in a women's version in sizes 5 to 11 (standard fit) and 7 to 10 (wide). In terms of weight, the Sundowner is pretty average: 3 pounds, 6 ounces per men's pair on average. (And yes, a size 14 weighs more than that!)

Despite all of its advantages, Sundowners have one significant drawback: a significant lack of cushioning underfoot. Compared to most of today's hiking boots, Sundowners offer little in the way of shock-absorbing materials under the heel or forefoot. I address this problem with the use of Superfeet, which provides me with ample cushioning under the heel.

The Sundowner is also available in black and brown, though my one experience with a different color many years ago (black) was poor—it fit differently, and much less comfortably, in the heel. I've stuck with the original burgundy ever since.

With care, a pair of Sundowners can last for years. I've ended up replacing mine because: 1) The sole wears down, especially on the outer heel area due to my pronation and/or 2) The leather starts to split and crack at the flex point across the toes.

Both of these problems could be addressed with better care and maintenance than I provide. You can get them resoled. You can also prevent the leather from cracking by applying some leather conditioner to the boot once or twice a year.

Even with minimal (or no) maintenance, each pair of Sundowners has lasted me between 500 to 1,000-plus miles on the trails, plus many days and weeks of around-town wear during the winter months. 

I'm not the only one who swears by these boots. Check out the abundant rave reviews on Zappos.com, where it earns a consistent five-star rating (and retails for $180).

Learn more about hiking footwear and accessories in these past posts:
Hiking/Mountaineering Boots
Hiking Footwear Face-Off: Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners

New Boots? How to Check (and Adjust) For Fit (2011)
How to Prevent Heel Blisters (2010)
Fitting Hiking Boots for Bunions and Other Wide Foot Issues (2009)
Insoles, Socks, and Other Accessories
Super Laces? (2011) 
Hooray for Superfeet, Part 1 of 2 (2010)
Hooray for Superfeet, Part 2 of 2 (2010)  
General Information

Fun Foot Factoids (2010)
Giant Outdoor Footwear: Where to Find Size 15 (2010)
Are you a Bigfoot? You're Not Alone (2010)

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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