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I’m an avid hiker, and I may have found my newest go-to boot: the Keen Ridge Flex hiking boot.
It blends classic comfort with cutting-edge design and a reasonable price tag to boot.
Utility and comfort don’t often go hand in hand (or foot in foot, for that matter) but Keen has created something special with their Ridge Flex boots. I’ve already been a fan of Keen boots for a while, since the company is well-known for comfortable outdoor footwear. The cool new Keen Ridge Flex blends the comfort and value of their Targhee boot (a best-seller for more than 15 years) and infused it with their new Bellows Flex Technology, which claims to avoid wear and tear in high-flex areas of your shoe. So when Keen asked if I wanted to give it a try, I eagerly said yes.
And what was the result? Enhanced efficiency and comfort. The Ridge Flex boots feel like lightweight trail runners on your feet, but perform as well as any of my best hiking boots.
Read on for the full rundown.
- Great value: The line starts at $160
- Waterproof and breathable, thanks to Keen.Dry technology
- Supportive without being rigid
- Comes in a high- and low-top option
The iconic Keen Targhee has gone through several iterations over its 15-year lifespan, and each new edition improves on the last. It’s a good boot beloved by value-oriented hikers and backpackers who don’t need an ultra-expensive, high-end hiking boot. The Ridge Flex is the latest version, and I found the Bellows Flex technology to be a game-changer. Hiking feels easier in these boots. They’re tough without being rigid. I’ve worn plenty of cement-block boots in my day, and the Keen Ridge Flex put a smile on my face each time we hit the trail together.
- Can create pressure points if laced too tightly
- Limited colorways
- May not be stiff enough for hikers who need a lot of support
I ended up liking these boots a lot, though the stitching is quite thick where the underside of the tongue connects with the interior of the boot. This happens to be the same point where the topmost lace loop (the main component of the otherwise-awesome heel lock system) puts pressure on your foot when you lace the boot up tight.
This combination causes a noticeable pressure point on the top of the foot that can get painful and abrasive after miles of hiking. I’m sure the longevity of the stitching is why it was made so robust, but I hope Keen finds a way to smooth out that spot in future iterations. I worked around it by simply wearing my boots a bit looser or wearing thicker socks. It could also be related to my foot shape – no way to know.
Bellows Flex Technology
The Keen Ridge Flex boots have been my go-to footwear for the past couple of months here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been a wet and snowy winter, which is why I’ve donned these waterproof boots just about everywhere I go.
From day-to-day grocery-getting and dog-walking to summiting the heights of the snow-capped Cascade peaks, I’ve put a good number of miles on these boots, and I’ve been happy to have them on my feet this entire time.
While these are hiking boots, they’re remarkably comfortable. They feel more like high-top sneakers than heavy-duty hiking boots, so I could see them appealing to buyers who want more protection but don’t like the weight and bulk of traditional hiking boots. In reality, they’re really like a blend of sneakers and hiking boots.
Apparently, that’s because of the new Bellows Flex tech. Inspired by the flexible areas between sections of the Tri-Met buses that travel the streets of Portland, the Bellows Flex tech allows these boots to have the flexibility of sneakers. But the interesting part is that despite more more flexible, they’re also more durable.
That’s because the Keen Ridge Flex boots bend where other boots break, since the bellows on the top part of the shoe are made to move. They don’t crack or give out as you bend your toes and foot over time. The rubber outsole even has grooved slots to help it bend easily; other boots without this might crack when flexed.
And that’s why I enjoyed wearing these in city parks, mountain passes, and everywhere between. They’re that good. The enhanced flexibility is especially helpful on steep ascents and rocky climbs and I found my foot feeling less fatigued than usual.
Other Great Details
If you think this talk of bellows sounds like a boot full of hot air, don’t worry: there are plenty of other noteworthy aspects to these Targhee-plus boots that’ll make you love it.
From the ground up, these dirt stompers are comprised of some of the best materials that the Keen family of footwear products has to offer. The rubber “Keen.All.Terrain” outsole has moderately deep, multi-directional traction points to give you a solid grip on rocks and roots, but they’re not so aggressive as to feel like cleats on hard surfaces such as pavement.
Inside, there’s a removable PU insert with enhanced heel and arch cushion. It did a great job of absorbing impacts and I found it quite comfortable, though some people may prefer the structure and stability of something like a Superfeet or SOLE insole instead. (You could easily swap out whatever footbed you wanted.) A fabric lining encases your foot in a light cushion. It was soft and dried quickly.
The outside is primarily covered in premium leather that looks downright slick and is smooth to the touch. This is paired with a Keen.Dry waterproof and breathable membrane to help your feet stay dry when you sweat.
I also really liked the adjustable heel lock strap system. It wraps around your heel and is tightened with the laces to grip your Achilles tendon, helping it move in tandem with the rest of your foot. And the cushioned fabric around the ankle is comfortably soft. I’ve worn a lot of hiking boots, and too many use stiff and coarse materials around the ankle – but the Keen Ridge Flex got it right.
As for overall weight, each boot weighs 1 pound 5 ounces (men’s size 10.5.) That puts the boots about average in their category for weight, or perhaps slightly lighter than average. Since they’re easier to flex than normal boots, it doesn’t feel like you have to work very hard to move natural; I’d say foot fatigue is not a concern.
I’ve been wearing this boot in a variety of conditions for the last few months – here’s what stood out to me the most about the Keen Ridge Flex Mid hiking boots.
Ideal for a variety of hikers: The original Targhees were the every-person’s go-to adventure boot. The same rings true for the Keen Ridge Flex, and even more so with the enhanced flexibility and comfort.
They’re comfortable enough to wear in town, yet durable and supportive enough for semi-technical trails. If you’re an extreme mountaineer, then yes, you’ll want a more stable boot, but these will suffice for the vast majority of accessible trails that most people will ever hike.
They’re easy on your foot: Keen reports that independent lab tests showed the Bellows Flex tech helps you spend up to 60 percent less energy with each step compared to traditional boots without this new technology. While I can’t replicate the science, I can anecdotally report that I can certainly feel the results.
Walking and hiking in these boots feels easier and more natural. That alone is reason to give them a try, but if you live in an area cold, wet, snowy, or dirty enough to warrant daily bootwear, these will make your life a whole lot easier (and your feet a lot more comfortable.)
The way of the future, for some: I think most people will like these as much as I did, especially considering how versatile they are. They’re my new favorite go-to hiking boot, especially during wet weather. I have no doubt that the Bellows Flex technology is much more than a gimmick – it’s a leap forward in boot design here to stay.
That said, some hikers are sure to feel that the lack of stability and rigidness is a downside, especially if you’re used to heavy duty hiking boots. For reference, I’m 5 foot 10 inches tall and weight around 165 pounds. Larger folks may feel better supported in a more traditionally rigid boot.
Returns and Warranties
Keen has a great return policy – free returns within 30 days. You’ll just go online, print a return label, and you’re good to go. That means you can rest easily with online shopping. If you order the wrong size or just don’t like how they feel once you have them on, send them right back. You don’t even need the original packaging. It’s a good return policy as many brands make you pay to send it back.
If it’s been more than 30 days, just email Keen. There’s no guarantee that they’ll accept it past that point, but they have great customer service and will probably do what they can to make sure you end up with a shoe you like.
There’s also a one-year manufacturers defect warranty, so if you notice the outsole peeling off after a few hikes, just hit ’em up and they’ll get you a fresh pair.
You can probably guess who Keen’s competitors are: Merrell, Danner, and The North Face, among others –— there’s no shortage of hiking boots and shoes on the market. Those three are all great brands and make boots around the same price point, but you won’t get the Bellows Flex technology, and some brands charge more for waterproofing. If you prefer a more work-boot-type look, check out the best 9 work boots.
You can certainly buy cheaper hiking boots from non-name brands on sites like Amazon, but it’s worth considering the cons: I always prefer to spend more upfront (if possible) to have a better-quality item that will last longer and keep materials out of landfills.
I think the Keen Ridge Flex Mid hiking boots are the new normal. For the average hiker, they’re nothing short of a paradigm-shifting advancement in hiking and backpacking footwear.
Keen is so keen on this new bellow technology that they’re introducing it to a variety models across their entire footwear lineup — though I think the tech is going to be most beneficial on boots and shoes with higher support.
I can’t speak to the long-term durability as I’ve only had them for a few months, but they’ve held up well so far without any significant signs of wear. I think they’ll last for a while — and that’s good, because these boots are going to make you want to hike longer and further than you ever have before. I’ll update this review if/when I notice any issues.
Besides that one minor gripe about the stitching, these boots are outstanding, especially at their price point. For a mid hiking boot, the Keen Ridge Flex feels lighter, more comfortable, and all-around easier to walk in than most my other comparable shoes. The mid-hiking boot market is a broad category, but the Keen Ridge Flex boots stand out against the competition in my closet.View the Keen Ridge Flex on Amazon
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Editor’s Note: Keen supplied our writer with a pair of Ridge Flex Mid boots for testing purposes, as is common with practice with gear reviews. However, our writer’s opinions are entirely his own; our writers don’t profit off sales. We strive for honesty and transparency at all times.