The Brasher Hillmaster been the walking boot of choice for many a year and was an instant success when released. It has enjoyed a long run at the top of the walking boot charts with over 15 years of solid performance to its name; however that long run could be threatened by as the more technologically advanced Salomon hiking boots which offer a super lightweight design with outstanding performance.
Olympic gold medallist Chris Brasher designed the Hillmaster GTX boot in response to a lack of suitable comfortable footwear on the market at the time, and it revolutionised walking, offering performance far exceeding any other boot on the market, and outstanding comfort, stability, and traction over soft terrain. It has become legendary, with many walkers rating it as the best hiking boot ever made. 15 years on and it remains a bestseller and its good looks and lightweight design has seen this classic brown leather boot outsell other brands and win its fair share of awards.
However there is now a new boot on the scene which is mounting a serious challenge to its supremacy. Released last year, the Salomon Cosmic 4D GTX as already converted many leather walking boot aficionados and threatening the old order and the Brasher Hillmaster dominance. The French outdoor footwear specialist started life back in 1947 and have won many fans on the continent, however recently they have become an up and coming star with British walkers following the release of the already legendary Cosmic 4D GTX.
In this model Salomon offers a super lightweight boot which is up to the rigours of the British weather and is able to come admirably over a range of surfaces, and has achieved what the Hillmaster did many moons ago and become an instant bestseller. It is time to take a closer look at how the French have started a footwear revolution and how they are winning over British walkers to their technologically advanced boots.
Whilst traditionalists might be instantly turned off by the fabric design, it is worth taking a closer look as the magic lies in the chassis. Just as Chris Brasher got his idea for the Hillmaster from his New Balance trainers, Salomon too have used trainers as the basis for the design of the 4D GTX. The new boots borrow the technology from their successful trail running shoes, and take the 3D chassis and build on this to produce the 4D GTX boot. Located between the midsole and the outsole, the 4D chassis offers superior motion control and stability and improves energy management. The 4D model feature 4 layers of underfoot cushioning, adds extra forefoot protection and a more robust design better suited for hiking, and manages to achieve far superior comfort straight out of the box requiring no wearing in.
While the Hillmaster is undoubtedly an incredibly comfortable boot, Salomon has managed to take more of the softness from their trainers to make for incredible long lasting comfort. The asymmetric lacing system allows for rapid adjustment and the Sensifit system makes for a secure and comfortable fit. A gusseted tongue moulds perfectly around the foot to dissipate the tension from the laces and prevents dirt from entering the boot. Welded seams keep the stitching to a minimum for superior waterproofing even in the wettest weather, and a GORE-TEX lining keeps the boots perfectly breathable and incredibly comfortable over a long hike.
While the Hillmaster offers a lightweight design, Salomon take this to a whole new level and shave off more than half a kilo in weight from what the Hillmaster can offer. Whilst the Hillmaster is far from heavy at 1328g a pair, the 4D GTX reduce this to 750g for a pair of size 9's providing a considerable weight advantage, without compromising stability and grip and improving comfort considerably. For long hikes and steep terrain the reduced weight makes all the difference and at the end of the day the legs and feet suffer fewer aches and pains.
The Hillmaster is well suited to walking in the lake district and peak district and is excellent on softer terrain, however Salomon have engineered a boot which copes equally well on rocky surfaces and soft earth offering more versatility to the walker.
Whilst the Cosmic 4D GTX does not offer quite the same level of protection as the more robust leather construction of the Hillmaster, it is difficult to overestimate the exceptional comfort that the new design provides. The Cosmic 4D GTX has undoubtedly proved a hit as a cross over boot between a lightweight trail running trainer and traditional sturdy leather walking boots.
However whilst lightweight on the feet, they are heavier on the pocket, as the 4D GTX will set you back a pretty penny at a RRP of £145, compared to the Hillmaster GTX at a shade under £110 a pair. Whilst the price tag is a little steep, you do get supreme comfort and an ultra lightweight boot. The only drawback is that as with the Brasher Hillmaster, Salomon has not managed to increase the longevity of the soles, which will wear down relatively quickly after a year of moderate use. Having been on the market for a little under a year the boots have had the chance to undergo a full on test, and a little more wear and tear could have been offered to make up for the difference in price and provide exceptional value for money.
If the price is a little too steep, the Quest GTX model offers a much similar design and the same level of comfort as the Cosmic 4D GTX with a wide colour choice and split waterproof suede and fabric uppers, whilst the weight is still super low at 750g. With a RRP of around £130 it is closer in price to the Brasher boots, however for the sake of £15 its much better to go Cosmic.
Hiking boots have come a long way since Chris Brasher's revolutionary creation and it appears that it may well be time for a change of footwear. There have been considerable technological advances in shoe design over the past 15 years and new materials and technology offer considerable advantages in weight and comfort. Ultimately budget will come into the equation for many purchasers, however Salomon have engineered a boot which gives the Hillmaster a serious run for its money and offers considerable advantages in terms of weight and comfort. It is likely that Salomon could well take up the mantel and serve walkers and hikers even better than the Hillmaster for the next 15 years.