The Danner Free Spirit boots are intended to evoke the days of yore, when boots were made for walking, and the skies were wide and free... or something like that anyway. That said, there’s a decidedly modern theme running alongside the retro schtick, with technical materials rubbing shoulders with suede and tri-density open-cell polyurethane. But can the Danner Free Spirit boots deliver practicality as well as good looks, to be considered one of today's best hiking boots for men? Read on for the full Danner Free Spirit boot review to find out…
Danner Free Spirit hiking boot review: design and build
The first impression of the Danner Free Spirit boot is that it is retro indeed, combining durable suede with lightweight textile panels – both in a nod to the past, but also plenty of practicality in the present. The ankle is deeply padded in a comforting way, and the five metal lace loops set into the suede capture both an older style of boot, as well as the laces themselves, of which you get two sets with the boots - one flat, one round. A slight oddity is the stitch-down construction method of the heel, which Danner claims aids stability, but certainly adds to the distinctive look.
While there’s plenty of the old-school in the design language of the Danner Free Spirit boots, thanks partly to the brown suede and green mesh colourway, there’s also more modern materials on show too. The inevitable Gore-Tex liner is present and correct, as is a tri-density OrthoLite footbed for extra comfort. The midsole isn’t as old-school as you might expect, with a dual-density that's firmer around the edges for stability and softer in the middle for improved traction, at least in theory. Finally, a Vibram Overlook outsole with Megagrip technology graces the underside, promising decent grip via a complex pattern of triangle lugs.
Danner Free Spirit hiking boot review: comfort and performance
Comfort levels are excellent out of the box, thanks to the suede/mesh combination, the mesh panels across the toe area and around the ankle bone allowing wide movement without needing to be broken in. There’s extra flex built into the top of the ankle above the heel, the achilles area, but still plenty of support around the rest of the ankle. Indeed, support levels are those of a much more robust boot, old-school lacing allowing easy tightening throughout the length of the foot, and a surprisingly stiff sole unit doing solid duty on the underside. That stiffness is also aided by the stitched heel - maybe not by the stitching itself, but the protective mini plastic heel rand certainly delivers. The Danner Free Spirit boot feels light in the hand and on the foot too, in spite of weighing in at 525 grams per boot - no heavyweight, but not featherlight either.
The actual undersole is a slightly mixed bag, but it’s certainly not the fault of the Vibram Megagrip, which is sticky as ever. We’d never have thought it, but the softer central part of the midsole does indeed feel more positive and grippy than the outside, which is great on uneven, rocky surfaces like a boulder-y path. Megagrip is very much at home on rock and hard surfaces too, so hillside paths to city streets alike, you’re in good hands. The difficulty comes on slicker, organic surfaces, where the low-profile tread can struggle to maintain traction in some situations. To be fair to Danner, most boots will struggle with steep wet grass at some point/angle, so the fact that these do too isn’t surprising, but the minimalist tread of the Danner Free Spirit does encourage it slightly more than more aggressive lugs.
Danner Free Spirit hiking boot review: verdict
Danner has intentionally designed the Danner Free Spirit boot to be something of a lifestyle crossover, and indeed directly references this in the marketing materials. That’s no bad thing, and certainly not unusual for outdoor brands, assuming there’s no compromise on performance. To be fair, Danner has managed a good balance here, there’s a lot of solid build quality underneath the retro looks, and the Gore-Tex and Megagrip are just as performant here as in any other boot. With a deeper, more aggressive tread pattern it would be more of an all-rounder boot, but it would lose the clean lines and retro cool that are clearly a core part of the design language.
Overall though, there’s a lot of positives to the Danner Free Spirit boot, whether you take a lifestyle or entirely technical standpoint. Or, to put it another way, if you're looking for a retro walking boot that actually delivers, you’re in the right place…