Selecting footwear is one of the most important gear decisions that an outdoor enthusiast can make. I am approaching this review from the perspective of bowhunting elk in mountainous terrain, but my history with backpacking and trail running have always demanded that I pay careful attention to how I protect and care for my feet.
When it came time to prepare for my elk hunts, I knew that I needed to critically analyze what type of footwear I was going to use. Part of me wanted to go with trail-running shoes – and as a trail runner, I had plenty of options to choose from and experience to lean on – but I knew that carrying a week’s worth of gear on my back, and potentially packing out an entire elk in the steep, unforgiving terrain of the Colorado wilderness would require more support.
I considered, analyzed, and tried a lot of boots, but kept coming back to the LOWA Tibet. LOWA was established in 1923, in Jetzendorf, Germany, and the Tibet is still handcrafted in Germany to this day. LOWA describes the Tibet as, “Ideal for carrying heavy (50+ lbs.) loads, over long distances in rugged terrain and extreme weather conditions.” Yeah, I would say that sounds like elk hunting!
In this review I want to detail the materials, construction, and design features of the LOWA Tibet boots. I’ll also cover a few practical ways that they have impressed me over the past year, and a couple of things to look out for if you’re considering the LOWA Tibets. But first, I want you to know that this review has been a long-time coming. I didn’t get these boots last week, or last month, and walk around the neighborhood to “test” them out.
I have worn the LOWA Tibets on trips in 4 states, through temperature ranges of 20-90 degrees, from sea level to 11,000′ in elevation, and have carried over 80lb loads with these boots. They have been on my feet for extended, week-long trips, and for long 12+ mile day-hikes that climbed several thousand feet of elevation. They have seen dry and dusty conditions, as well as rain, sleet, and snow. Suffice to say, I’ve tested them thoroughly.
Materials & Construction
The LOWA Tibets feature and high-grade nubuck leather upper, with a patented, seamless GORE-TEX liner. The outsole is Vibram Masai. Inside the boot is a full-length, full-width 5mm nylon stabilizing shank for support and rigidity in the toughest terrain.
I mention each of those materials and construction features specifically, because they are the exact features that have made a difference, for me, in how this boot performs in real world use. The leather has been incredibly durable through a variety of conditions and terrains, and combined with the seamless, waterproof GORE-TEX liner, the Tibet has kept me dry all of the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m hiking through wet brush, crossing creeks, or enduring an hours-long downpour – my foot have always been dry in the Tibets.
I’ve had some breathability and overheating issues with other GORE-TEX boots in the past, but the Tibet actually does quite well in warmer temperatures. They claim to have a Climate Control system with micro-perforations to let air in the boot, while releasing moisture out of the boot. I can’t say that I know how they achieve this, but the Tibet does keep me cooler than other full-leather, waterproof-lined boots that I’ve worn in the past.
Finally, the shank and outsole have been proven to be huge assets in my hiking and hunting. The LOWA is a stout, solid, and sure-footed platform that excels in off-trail terrain. A lot of boots – and even shoes – will perform on a trail; but covering miles and miles off-trail in the mountains, under the load of a heavy pack, will stress your footwear and your feet. The ridigity of these boots is an enormous asset when climbing up and down, or side-hilling across steep ridges.
It’s critical for a boot to have great source materials and piece them together with solid construction, but the seemingly-small design details matter, too. There are numberous design details that LOWA got right with the Tibet, such as the high-walled rubber rand, but two design features really stand out for me – the lacing and the tongue.
The tonue itself is made of a thick, yet not-too-thick padding. There’s always a balance between providing comfort and protection without creating bulk, and LOWA nailed it. Moreoever, the shape of the tongue fits the foot with anatomically correct contours. A small detail that provides all-day comfort.
On the front of the tongue is a unique stud that integrates into the lacing system. This integration keeps the tongue secured in place, and centered where it should be on your foot. Again, a small detail that has noticeable benefits.
In the video below I discuss one of my favorite features of the LOWA Tibet – the lacing system. Lacing is such an over-looked aspect of boots, but it makes such an enormous difference in allowing the boot to fit to your unique foot, keep that foot locked in place to prevent blisters, and provide comfort for long days of hiking.
On the Ground
We’ve have looked at materials, construction, and design features, but what really matters is how these boots perform on the ground. I’ve touched on some of my experiences already, but let me reiterate the practical, functional, tangible benefits of these boots.
Here’s a few of the ways that the LOWA Tibet have impressed me…
- Support under loads: As a hunter and a backpacker, I often hike with a lot of gear loaded up in my backpack. I started testing the Tibets by climbing some mountains in the Smokies with 60lbs in my backpack, and they did great. The ultimate test came on my Colorado elk hunt, where we spent several days covering mile-after-mile of steep terrain, often without trails, while carrying all of our backpacking and hunting supplies.
- Waterproof. No, really…: I’ve worn these boots through creek crossings, hiked through wet brush and undergrowth, and have hiked through rain, sleet, and snow. The LOWA Tibets have always kept me dry. I should also note that I usually treat my boots with additional, aftermarket waterproofing, but to put the Tibets to the test I never treated them with any product. They are waterproof out of the box.
- Tackling terrain: The LOWA Tibets aren’t acceptable in tough terrain – they are excellent. The Tibets make an excellent climbing platform. Often times, when climbing up steep mountains in Colorado, I would find myself marveling at the rigidity and support of the Tibet. Instead of flexing my ankle and foot to get the entire boot sole on the mountain, I would just plant my toe and step up; it’s like the Tibet is a plank for you to step on. The Tibet also stands out when side-hilling across steep slopes. Many boots “roll” in these conditions, but, once again, the rigidity of the Tibets provide a much more solid platform, even when the ground under your feet isn’t solid.
- All-day comfort: Frankly, I’ve been amazed that my feet can withstand spending 12-hours hiking through the mountains, with a 40lb load on my back, and still be somewhat pain-free. There’s no doubt that the LOWA Tibets have prevented foot fatigue and soreness on long, high-mileage days. In fact, I recently tested another boot and noticed that my feet were much more fatigued half-way through the day than they were compared to the LOWA Tibets, and by the end of the day my feet were quite sore in the other boot I tested.
What You Need to Be Aware Of
As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of this boot. But, on the flip side, I always strive to be 100% honest in my reviews and try to note some of the ways that a product can improve. I have critically analyzed the Tibet and there’s honestly only one thing I would change: the stock insole.
The insole that comes with the Tibet isn’t all that bad, but it doesn’t provide the level of comfort or support that I look for. And isn’t that I feel the Tibet’s insole is inferior to other stock insoles of other boots – even other high-end boots – but is doesn’t match up to many of the fantastic aftermarket, specialized insoles that are available on today. It’s kind of a bummer to pay top-dollar for a boot and turn around and “upgrade” the insole, but that’s pretty much the way it goes, and that isn’t unique to LOWA.
Honestly, if I wasn’t planning on spending so many long days under a heavy pack, then the stock insole would have been perfectly fine. But I tested the Tibets with and without my aftermarket Synergy Footbeds from Lathrop & Sons, and the performance of that insole was worth the upgrade for me.
Besides that, the only word of caution I would give you is make sure that the LOWA Tibets fit your feet. Everyone has different feet, and certain brands just don’t fit certain people as well as others. You can’t expect miracles from these boots if the don’t fit your feet well. But if they do fit your feet, then absolutely put the LOWA Tibet on the top of your list.
When it comes to a hardcore boot that will handle heavy loads and tough terrain, the LOWA Tibet is what you’re after.