Keen vs Merrell: Battle of the Hiking Boots Giants

Keen vs Merrell—if you’re a hiking enthusiast who hits the trails frequently, chances are you’ve come across these premier hiking boot manufacturers.

When you visit an outdoor and sports store, it’s common to find shelves brimming with options from these two industry giants. A quick internet search reveals copious message boards and forums buzzing with Keen vs Merrell debates.

I’ve seen so many of these conversations that I wanted to look into it myself. I am going to check out what’s good and what’s not so good about both brands.

Keen vs Merrell: Battle of the Hiking Boots Giants

After more than a decade of hiking, I’ve learned that hiking shoes are the most crucial piece of equipment defining the comfort of my outdoor adventures.

Here’s the reality: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all hiking shoe or boot that suits every outdoor enthusiast because no two pairs of feet are exactly alike. However, there is an ideal model for each hiker. The objective is to find the hiking shoe that perfectly suits your feet’s anatomy and caters to your hiking style and terrain preferences.

At the end of the article, I will share how my wife and I deal with the hiking boots selection.

About Keen

Keen Inc., established in the early 2000s by Martin Keen, is a newer face in the world of outdoor footwear but has quickly carved out a significant presence. With its headquarters in Portland, Oregon, the company has diversified its product range to include various types of footwear catering to different activities.

In its nearly two-decade existence, Keen has earned a strong reputation among outdoor enthusiasts for producing quality hiking boots that combine innovation with function. 

Moreover, Keen stands out for its global philanthropic initiatives. The company’s commitment to positive social and environmental impact resonates with consumers who not only seek performance in their gear but also align with their values. Keen’s approach to business and the community at large contributes to its growing acclaim in the industry and among consumers.

About Merrell

Founded in 1981 by Clark Matis, John Schweizer, and Randy Merrell, Merrell has established itself as a manufacturer of quality hiking boots. Matis, an award-winning cross-country skier, Schweizer, an employee in a ski company, and Merrell, a skilled craftsman creating custom boots, joined forces to produce high-quality hiking boots renowned for their performance and design.

Merrell’s dedication to creating boots that could withstand the rigors of the trail while also offering comfort and style contributed significantly to the brand’s rapid growth and popularity. 

Today, Merrell continues to be a trusted name among hikers and adventurers across the globe, offering products that cater to a wide range of outdoor needs.

Keen vs Merrell: A Price Point Overview

When deciding between Keen and Merrell for hiking footwear, price is a major factor to consider. Both brands have options for various budgets, but they also differ in pricing based on the models and features they offer.

Keen is known for sturdy and comfy footwear, particularly with its signature toe protection. Prices for Keen shoes begin at a moderate level, with more technical, high-end models commanding higher prices.

KEEN Men's Targhee 2 Low Height Waterproof Hiking Shoes, Bison/Brindle, 11
KEEN Men's Targhee 2 Low Height Waterproof Hiking Shoes

Merrell provides a wider variety of shoes, from trail runners to casual hikers. Typically, Merrell’s entry-level shoes are slightly less expensive than those from Keen. However, prices for their most advanced shoes are generally on par with Keen’s high-end models.

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The price also depends on what you need the shoes for. Both brands offer choices that are relatively affordable as well as quality options for the more serious hiker. Keep an eye out for sales or older models for potential savings.

In summary, while Merrell might have more low-cost options to start with, Keen’s prices are a bit higher from the outset. Ultimately, the best value comes from weighing the price against what you get in terms of features, comfort, and longevity.

KEEN Men's Ridge Flex Low Height Waterproof Hiking Boots, Bison/Golden Brown, 10
KEEN Men's Ridge Flex Low Height Waterproof Hiking Boots

Keen vs Merrell: Materials Comparison

The choice of materials in hiking footwear impacts comfort, support, and durability. Both Keen and Merrell are known for their use of quality materials designed to stand up to the demands of hiking enthusiasts.

Merrell shoes feature Vibram TC5+ outsoles, widely respected for their durability and excellent grip on varied surfaces. For midsoles, they utilize EVA for cushioning, essential for long treks. The uppers are made from a synthetic mesh with seamless overlays for a balance of breathability and protection. Inside, Merrell hiking shoes are equipped with M-Select Fresh shoe linings that include breathable mesh, helping to keep feet cool and reducing odor.

Keen, on the other hand, emphasizes foot ventilation with a breathable mesh lining in their hiking shoes. Their non-marking rubber outsoles provide solid traction while preserving the trails and indoor surfaces. Keen also opts for low-density EVA midsoles, focusing on minimizing shoe weight for a lighter step. The synthetics used in their upper structures ensure the mesh is lightweight yet breathable, adding to the overall foot comfort.

When considering Keen and Merrell for your hiking needs, look at how each brand’s material choices suit your particular requirements for hike performance, foot comfort, and trail conditions. Both brands offer unique advantages through their innovative use of materials, catering to different preferences in the hiking community.

Merrell Women's Siren Traveller 3 MID Waterproof Hiking Boot, Brindle/Boulder, 5
Merrell Women's J035344 Hiking Boot

Keen vs Merrell: Waterproofing

When it comes to waterproof hiking footwear, both Keen and Merrell have developed their technologies to keep feet dry and comfortable in wet conditions. Merrell utilizes their M-Select Dry technology, which is designed to allow internal moisture to escape while blocking external water from entering. This balance means Merrell’s shoes are not only waterproof but also maintain breathability for the wearer’s comfort.

Similarly, Keen has introduced their Keen. Dry technology is a waterproof membrane that operates on the same principle: it lets vapor out without letting water in. Keen’s innovation provides a robust waterproof solution that also ensures that the shoes remain breathable, an essential feature for active hikers who might experience diverse weather conditions.

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Both brands offer a high level of waterproofing, ensuring that whether choosing Keen or Merrell, outdoor enthusiasts can expect to keep their feet dry when navigating through water-intensive trails. The comparable effectiveness of Merrell’s M-Select Dry and Keen’s Keen.Dry technologies provide peace of mind that quality waterproofing is given, whichever brand you opt for.

Keen vs Merrell: Outsoles

When comparing the outsoles of Keen and Merrell, it becomes evident that both brands prioritize traction and stability, but they take different approaches to achieve these qualities.

Merrell Vibram Outsoles:

Merrell has gained acclaim for its utilization of Vibram outsoles, crafted from high-quality rubber. Renowned for their exceptional durability, these outsoles stand as robust performers across various terrains. Their slip-resistant nature ensures a secure grip, providing the necessary stability even on uneven surfaces.

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Merrell goes a step further for winter sports enthusiasts, offering Merrell hiking boots with Arctic Grip outsoles designed for superior traction on snow and ice. The inclusion of color-changing thermochromic lugs adds a distinctive touch, indicating the ground’s temperature while enhancing functionality.

Merrell Men's Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot, Walnut, 11 2E US
Merrell Men's Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot

Keen All Terrain Rubber Outsoles:

Keen equips its footwear with the All Terrain Rubber outsole, which delivers commendable traction and grip. However, it falls short of the durability benchmark set by Vibram Outsoles. While initially providing satisfactory performance, the Keen outsole tends to wear out more quickly, necessitating potential replacements in a shorter span. This characteristic could impact the overall cost of ownership, as the need for regular replacements may lead to additional expenses.

In summary, Merrell’s Vibram outsoles establish a standard of durability, slip resistance, and stability that is widely recognized. On the other hand, Keen’s All Terrain Rubber outsole offers solid traction but may require more frequent replacements.

Keen vs Merrell: Insoles

When it comes to insoles, both Keen and Merrell offer noteworthy features that cater to diverse foot shapes and preferences.

Merrell Kinetic Fit: The Merrell Kinetic Fit boasts exceptional comfort, providing a footbed with an intuitive shape meticulously contoured to mimic the natural curves of your foot. Its ergonomic design goes beyond aesthetics, delivering a shock-absorbing cup that not only enhances stability but also prioritizes your comfort. The result is a harmonious blend of support and cushioning, ensuring a delightful experience for your feet.

Keen Metatomical Footbed: Keen takes a customizable approach with its Metatomical Footbed, offering sole various versions to accommodate different arch types – low, medium, and high. What sets Keen apart is the replaceable nature of these footbeds, allowing you to tailor your footwear to your specific needs. The flexibility to choose and interchange footbeds ensures that Keen caters to individual preferences, promising a personalized and comfortable fit.

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In the realm of insoles, both brands exhibit a commitment to foot comfort, with Merrell emphasizing a contoured and shock-absorbing design, while Keen shines with its versatile, replaceable footbeds tailored to various arch types. The choice between the two may ultimately hinge on your personal preference and the level of customization you seek for your footwear.

Keen vs Merrell: Design and Style

When it comes to design and style, both Merrell and Keen offer distinctive features that cater to a range of preferences, ensuring you not only stay comfortable but also make a statement with your footwear.

Keen: A Focus on Foot Comfort and Protection:

Keen designs are easily recognizable with their emphasis on foot comfort and protection. The models are characterized by a wider fit, providing ample room for your feet to spread naturally. This broader design contributes to a more comfortable walking experience, especially for those with wider feet.

Additionally, Keen is renowned for its toe protection feature, visible in the form of durable rubber toe caps. This design element not only adds a rugged aesthetic but also ensures that your toes remain shielded during various outdoor activities.

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Keen’s commitment to functionality is seamlessly integrated into its design, making it an ideal choice for those who prioritize foot comfort and protection in their footwear.

Merrell: Diverse Designs for Every Style:

Merrell takes a diverse approach to design, offering a wide range of styles to suit various tastes. From casual everyday wear to performance-oriented hiking shoes, Merrell provides options that appeal to different style preferences.

While Merrell maintains a commitment to functionality, evidenced by features like Vibram outsoles and Kinetic Fit insoles, the brand’s extensive design options make it a versatile choice for individuals seeking both performance and style.

In the realm of design and style, Keen stands out with its wider fit and robust toe protection, ideal for those who prioritize foot comfort and durability. Meanwhile, Merrell offers a broader spectrum of designs, ensuring that regardless of your style preference, you can find footwear that not only looks good but also incorporates the necessary features to keep your feet supported in various activities.

How I Deal With the Selection Between Merrell vs Keen

As promised, let me elaborate on how my family navigates the decision between Keen and Merrell.

As you can see, there isn’t a substantial difference between the two brands in terms of incorporating the latest technologies and innovations, waterproofing and odor control. Both brands manufacture high-quality boots and sandals that are ideal for hiking and backpacking.

For my wife and me, the decisive factor boils down to design and style.

In my case, I have exceptionally wide feet, rendering Merrell hiking boots unsuitable for extended trips. The tight fit causes discomfort, making it painful to hike for more than an hour, and I often end up with blisters between my toes. Additionally, I find Merrell less accommodating on challenging terrain due to their thinner outsoles, which makes me more susceptible to feeling sharp rocks.

Keen’s hiking boot model emerges as the perfect choice for me. Most Keen models fit my feet like a glove, requiring no break-in period even for long hikes on the day of purchase. I particularly appreciate the distinctive toe-protective feature present in all Keen models – the rubber toe caps. This safeguards my toes when navigating rocky terrain while photographing. Furthermore, I prefer the higher heel position and wider lace in Keens.

On the other hand, my wife constantly opts for Merrell. Firstly, she has narrow feet, and Merrell’s models tend to fit her perfectly. Secondly, she dislikes the design of Keen footwear. Although comparable models from both brands weigh the same, my wife perceives Keen models as much heavier due to their design, which drives her crazy.

In summary, our choice between Keen and Merrell hinges on our individual foot shapes, comfort preferences, and stylistic inclinations, showcasing how personal considerations can play a significant role in selecting the right footwear for our outdoor adventures.

My Choice of Hiking Shoes

For the past 5-6 years, I’ve consistently relied on the same Keen model, the Targhee, as it suits me perfectly. Although Keen updates the Targhee approximately every year – they are currently on version 3 – the fit remains unchanged. This consistency allows me to confidently purchase them online without the need to try them first.

I exclusively opt for “low-height hiking shoes” over boots, as I find boots to be constraining during hikes.

In my collection, I always keep two versions of the Targhee – one waterproof and another with enhanced breathability. This ensures that I am well-prepared for various weather conditions and terrain challenges.

My Wife’s Choice of Hiking Shoes

After testing numerous brands and models over the years, my wife has decided to stick with the Merrell Moab model.

In contrast to my preference for low-height hiking shoes, she appreciates hiking boots. For the waterproof version, she opts for the Moab Hiking Boots, and for lighter hikes, she prefers the Moab Hiking Shoes. Consistently choosing the same model enables her to achieve the exact fit with each new purchase.

Final Thoughts | Merrell vs Keen

In conclusion, the decision between Keen vs Merrell ultimately revolves around the unique aspects of our feet, our comfort priorities, and our personal style preferences. This comparison highlights the nuanced nature of selecting the best hiking footwear, emphasizing that what works seamlessly for one may not necessarily suit another.

Whether it’s the glove-like fit and toe-protective features of Keen or the tailored design and comfort of Merrell, finding the perfect pair of hiking boots is a personal journey. So, the next time you embark on your outdoor adventures, consider the intricate interplay of these factors to ensure that your chosen pair of hiking boots not only complements the terrain but also caters to your individual needs and preferences.

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