Patagonia has long served consumers with thoughtful and intuitive clothing options that can, in simple alliterative terms, be described as functional fashion. Design and quality so good and so specific you can pick them out in a crowd. They’ve done this for decades with their apparel and it seems, as their footwear options gain momentum and similar recognition, their boot line is following in kind, including the new Bly Mid Gore-Tex hiking boot.
What’s in a name?
First things first, about the name: Bly. This is Patagonia’s nod to journalist and famed female explorer Elizabeth Jane Cochrane whose pen name was ‘Nellie Bly.’ While most of Bly’s life was notable, two adventures standout: her 1887 assignment where she committed herself to a women’s insane asylum undercover and an 1889 circumnavigation of the world that lasted 72 days, six hours and eleven minutes. Bly was recognized for her writings on issues affecting women’s rights and injustices. She was also known for controversial stories that always sold papers.
In my opinion, I think Bly was admirable: a normal gal who did extraordinary things. After spending some time walking in Patagonia’s Bly boots, I applaud the creative team for an apt name.
What about the boot?
Patagonia designed the Bly Mid GORE-TEX boot with the environment in mind. For those of us that make purchase decisions based on our desire to protect the environment and minimize impact, Patagonia did a fairly good job to make me consider this boot. I like that they opted to use materials for construction made from recycled goods including: using Vibram’s Ecostep outsole, 30% of the rubber is recycled; adding a POLI-CORK foot-bed, which combines cork and carbon and is made from mostly recycled materials; complimenting with 100% recycled laces; and utilizing a breathable polyester mesh lining at the cuff and on the tongue, also made from stuff that existed in a prior form.
I give kudos for the use of full grain leather on the exterior of the boot, and I liked the rubber rand, or exterior molding, that kept my foot dry and protected the leather from sustaining too many rub marks. Based on appearance and construction alone, the Bly is a solid waterproof hiking boot.
What about performance?
While I hate to admit I don’t have a lot of patience but this offers you some background information as to why I liked the Bly. Here it is again: I’m impulsive and I don’t like to wait. I also don’t like to break boots in. I once took a brand new pair of backcountry ski boots on a month-long expedition to Russia. At the end of the first day I wasn’t sure I’d be able to ski downhill or get the boots back on my feet. It was an excruciating 30 days and in the end I lost four toe nails and developed a high tolerance to any type of foot pain.
I had ignored the golden rule about boots: Ye shall break them in before ye shall use them on anything substantive. Fortunately for me, the Bly, like its namesake, shows a similar disregard for rules.
These boots were comfortable right out of the box. I slipped them on and ran out the door for a three mile hike with my golden retriever. Despite the traditional look of a mid-weight hiker–height offering ankle protection, stable construction, and made of leather–these boots felt like my favorite minimalist running shoe. They were comfortable and cushy. Patagonia’s women’s specific midsole with Air Cushion Plus provided, um, cushioning and exceptional protection–shock absorption and distribution that protected my foot from each rocky heel-strike.
I took these boots on a particularly long snowshoe slog, breaking trail for most of the eight miles to reach the summit of a 9,300 foot peak. Knee deep at times, the mixed conditions produced various strains on my foot and the boots. Heavy snow packed on the back of the snowshoes but the boots handled the added weight: my feet felt strong and connected enough to shoulder the extra load. The boots dealt with steep, powder-covered slopes that delivered the added frustration of one-step back for every two-steps forward. They were put to the test during a horrifically long side-hill excursion to gain a better view. (Things always appear closer than they are.) My ankles (and, by extension, my knees) stayed supported and in a safe position as the snowshoes torque-d the heck out of each boot. And, perhaps most importantly, my feet remained warm and dry. In the end, I was blister and injury free and not squirming to get into my restriction-less flip-flops. One takeaway from this test: Confidence these boots would handle any multi-day backpack with a fairly heavy pack.
But how do they look?
I admit the point of being outdoors is to see and not be seen but these boots are good-looking. The asymmetrical and slightly pointed toe-box design coupled with stitching details in the leather offer a retro-look with style that is endearing. And styling that is perhaps much like what Nellie Bly might have worn during her own adventures.
Overall I liked these boots. They were great out of the box, handled well in a various conditions–over land and snow, and kept my feet dry and appropriately warm (or cool – they were great with sweaty feet too). They still look brand new despite being beat up on several occasions and I feel like they will last a long time. The price is what you might expect for a boot of this caliber, set at $190. They’re certainly worthy of that kind of investment.
The one draw-back for the Bly is width. They run a bit narrow and I had to size up to accommodate my, how do you say this nicely, large volume forefoot. I might even consider purchasing a larger size in the future. Though Patagonia identifies them as medium in width, I would make sure to try them before purchasing.
Find a fit that works, plunk down the cash, and buy these boots. Particularly if you are a normal gal who thinks adventure makes life extraordinary.