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Studded Boots for Hikers: Icebug's SPEED-L BUGrip Boots

Warmth, comfort, and superb traction

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

By

Speed-BUGrip-Black.jpg
Photo (c) Icebug

I know Icebug as a brand of studded winter-running shoes -- so I was surprised to find that they offer a wide range of footwear, from running to casual to walking/hiking boots. Given Icebug's excellent reputation in running circles, I jumped at the chance to review a sample of the footwear that's essentially a hiking boot and ice gripper in one -- the Icebug SPEED-L BUGrip (The men's version is the SPEED BUGrip).

Here's a quick summary of what I did and didn't like about the boots, followed by a full review:

Pros

  • Integrated carbide steel studs
  • Comfortable, stable
  • Warm (insulated to 5 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Light (a ladies size 7 weighs 14.75 ounces)
  • Waterproof

Cons

  • Thinking... thinking... nothing yet.

How Does it Fit and Feel?

The Icebug SPEED-L BUGrip feels like a sneaker -- that is, soft and comfortable, with an ample toebox -- which is pretty impressive, given that it has a fairly rigid sole. That rigidity keeps you from feeling any pressure from the studs integrated into the outsole, and helps the whole thing feel stable and comfortable underfoot. My heels are fairly narrow, but as long as I snug the laces down, they'll stay put in the SPEED-L.

Worth noting: The SPEED-L has one set of the usual lace-locks near the ankle cuff, but the second set (below those) have the lace running through an integrated grommet. I like this quite a bit; you get the same effect as the lace-locks, but don't have to worry about catching the laces on the bottom set of hooks, which are usually harder to snag than the top set.

If I were to really nitpick, my only gripe would be that the SPEED-L's ankle cuff is too wide to offer me much support. This is a common issue for me with mid-cut boots, so I don't think it's actually the boots -- I just have skinny ankles. That said, if you're looking for the type of serious ankle support you'd get in a backpacking boot, these are not the footwear for you.

Are They Warm?

No doubt some of the SPEED-L's "soft and comfy" feeling comes from the fleece insulation that's advertised as good down to +5 degree Fahrenheit (-20 Celcius). Truth in advertising; I've had these boots out in temperatures down to -5 Fahrenheit with nothing but a light wool sock, and felt perfectly comfortable.

The SPEED-Ls run true to size or a little large, so there's plenty of room to wear a heavier sock if you need it -- but do keep in mind that sometimes overdoing it with the socks can actually leave your feet colder.

How's the Traction?

We had a perfectly lovely winter full of ice storms and slippery trails -- until these boots arrived, at which point all the ice was promptly buried under a foot of snow. Go figure. So I took them running on a hot-mopped frozen lake instead.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't make the Icebug boots slide at all. The traction from the carbide studs integrated into the sole is so good that it earned these boots an entry in my list of the best ice grippers for hikers.

Also worthy of note: Icebug footwear is purposefully overbuilt with extra studs -- so even if you lose a few through the course of normal use, that amazing traction will not diminish. They say they use a special rubber compound for extra traction and, after the results of my test on the ice rink/lake, I can only agree that it adds to the overall efficacy.

Other Impressions

Icebug's SPEED-L BUGrip is nice and light for an insulated winter boot; a single women's size 7 weighs 14.75 ounces on my scale. A healthy rocker (upturned toe) makes them very easy to walk in.

The BUGrip studs are only partially fixed in place, so they can partially retract (or more accurately, they're partially pushed in) when you walk on hard surfaces like concrete. The idea is to give you the traction when you need it, while saving the studs -- and the walking surfaces -- in other conditions. Upon some careful poking and prodding of the SPEED-L boots I'm testing, it looks like a few of the studs are permanently fixed, while the others retract as needed.

Last but not least, the SPEED-L BUGrip is waterproof to a rating of more than 10,000mm. (Click the link for more information about waterproof ratings.) However, they're also very breathable. I've had them out in temps of up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit -- with the same wool socks I was using at temps of -5 -- and have yet to feel the merest trace of too-warm or sweaty feet.

(Whether or not to buy waterproof boots can be a nuanced decision in the summertime, but it's pretty much a no-brainer in the winter.)

The Final Word

Overall, insulated winter boots tend to be stiff, clunky and heavy; so finding one that feels like a sneaker and (mostly) walks like a boot is remarkable. I rarely give unreserved, unqualified recommendations, but I can feel one coming on now.

I heartily recommend the Icebug SPEED-L BUGrip boots to those of you in winter climes who aren't carrying heavy packs.

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Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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