The world of boots is a vast and deep one. If you’re already “into them” then you know.
If you’re just getting into boots, you’ll know soon enough. From different applications ranging from fashion to survival, to different construction methods and materials, to varieties of soles and ankle heights, the selection can be dizzying.
Don’t worry, this review isn’t a 5,000 word explainer on all the different types of boots, YouTube does that better anyways.
This is instead a first-hand review of the “Danner Light” boot by Danner boots in the Cascade color way.
These boots were purchased approximately 1 year ago and since then they’ve seen a wide variety of “action”, enough so that this author has formed a pretty solid opinion on them..
Why Invest in Quality Boots?
When it comes to boots, your primary application is going to dictate where you begin your search.
Looking for officially-certified, steel-towed work boots? Need a pair of light-weight hikers for long expeditions? Or do you simply need something reliable, long-lasting, and comfy for work around the garage?
Thankfully, Danner has a pair for all of these applications.
Personally, this author was looking for a boot that could function as a reliable hiker (residing in the Pacific Northwest dictates that) but is comfortable/versatile enough to be worn out and about on more urban trails if necessary..
A “quality” boot is like a best friend. Really quality ones are hard to come by, and things can be a little awkward in the beginning, but once things get broken-in a bit they last a lifetime.
Having a boot that is up to the task of damp, uneven forest floors, or rocky jagged mountain hiking trails was the primary goal, but this was to be done without sacrificing “usability”.
Originally compared were Red Wing Heritage Mock Toes vs. Danner Bull Runs. They looked supremely comfortable and were on the more affordable end of both makers menus.
However, doing a bit more research into hiking trips ultimately swayed me towards something with a more robust sole.
The Danner Bull Run and Red Wing Heritage both look wonderful, and I’d still like to pick up a pair for around the garage/city, but they had to take back seat to something that more easily tackled forest trails.
Having footwear that can stand up to the rigors of wild nature without falling apart after a few years was the ultimate goals, especially when spending $200+ on a pair of boots.
I considered briefly Timberland’s “Earth Keepers” and Eddie Bauer’s Severson Mocs.
The Earth Keepers had pretty decent reviews on forums like Reddit and I’ve bought multiple outfitter goods from Eddie Bauer in the past that held up pretty well.
Ultimately though, what swayed my decision making in the end was something I hadn’t even considered when beginning my boot-shopping journey.
Buying USA Made Re-Craftable Boots
I know Eddie Bauer makes (or at least used to) quality gear. But after reading the Seversons were made in Vietnam and reading up a bit more on the brand led to a pretty depressing journey of how the once revered Seattle-born outfitter has changed hands a half dozen times and is now owned by some private equity fund.
Private equity funds ruin everything. They are predatory in nature, scoop up legacy brands, lower costs/quality, and make more money, often selling them shortly thereafter.
The cost cutting can involve switching production locations, altering production methods, and firing expensive workers, like Americans for example.
Both Eddie Bauer Seversons and Timberland Earth Keepers are made overseas.
Yes, this is the reality of the world we live in today, and if you’re budget is maxing out at under $200 they’re both solid options.
But, as Gandhi said, we should “be the change we wish to see in the world”, and I for one wish more things were still made in America, to high quality standards.
This led me to put off my purchase a little longer, save up some more money, and go all in on Danner’s “made in America” line.
Supporting a Local Company
Residing just outside of Portland, Oregon, and reading how Danner still makes a select variety of boots IN PORTLAND. This pretty much sealed the deal.
We can’t on one hand complain about everything getting outsourced and our crappy paying jobs (looking a you Wal-Mart) on one hand, but then keep expecting to buy the cheapest possible crap on the other hand.
Plus, buying something so utilitarian made locally makes for a hell of a story to tell whenever anyone asks you about your boots (which, if you drop for the Danners, they will).
So, yeah, if you’re on a budget, nothing wrong with buying to your price point, you should get a decent few years out of both Eddie Bauer and Timberland offerings, they’re storied brands, big businesses with entrenched quality control procedures.
However, if you want something a little special, that is re-craftable and thus could last you a lifetime, then I suggest saving up a little more and going for some Red Wings or in this case, Danners.
Introducing The Danner Light Cascade
After spending waaaaay too much time clicking through the Danner online store, Googling Danner boot reviews, and stocking the brand on Instagram, I finally decided the Danner Light model was the one for me.
The Vibram 148 Kletterlift sole was built for the Pacific Northwest backtrails. The ankle support/height was just enough to provide support without being overly-movement constraining or awkward to wear when popping in the shop to pick up supplies.
The color options were all utterly gorgeous. The Cedar Brown and the Khaki Brown hark back to the glory days of public forestry and look like something my grandpa would have bought when he was “a wee young lad”.
Ultimately though, it was the Cascade variant, with the light brown premium leather upper and dark navy 1000 Denier nylon that both walked the walk and talked the talk, of fashion.
The ankle is officially measured at 6″ which is a great happy-medium between more casual sneaker-inspired low-cuts and the lumberjack/foreman style high-risers.
The Cascade is unique in the Danner Light lineup in that it isn’t Gortex lined and is therefore not as water resistant as other Light models/color ways.
This was a huge draw, admittedly after the insane color/style, in buying the Cascades over the other Light models.
Gortex vs Dri-lex: Choosing Your Boot Material
Most of Danner’s hardcore outdoor range feature Gortex liners. Why? Because getting your feet wet is one of the quickest ways to turn a magical outdoor adventure into an absolute nightmare.
Wet feet aren’t just uncomfortable, they can lead to blisters and fungal growth, which can have lasting negative impacts long after your weekend adventure.
Further, if you’re out for longer than a weekend or in geographic areas with severe temperature swings, getting your feet wet can be seriously dangerous in terms of maintaining body temperatures.
Gortex is engineered to keep moisture out, which make sit perfect for these serious applications in which getting your feet wet is undesirable.
The drawback though is that Gortex isn’t the most breathable material, meaning summer/warmer day hikes you’re likely to get sweatier feet than if you were wearing a boot without a Gortex liner.
This is where the Cascade comes into the picture with it’s Dri-Lex liner, which is engineered with an opposite philosophy in mind to Gortex in that it focuses on dissipating moisture away from the foot vs keeping moisture out.
So in basic terms, this means the Cascade is more suited to warmer temperatures and summer months as opposed to the Gortex lined versions of the Danner Light.
Yes, you can still wear your Dri-Lex boots in the winter and you can still wear your Gortex boots in the summer, these are just two subtle differences in construction technology I wanted to point out because it isn’t made readily obvious on Danners website.
1-Year Review: Looking Back
Having worn these boots on and off for a year I can confidently say I am 100% satisfied with my purchase.
Granted, I picked up my boots during Danner’s Black Friday sale (one of only two they do a year for non-military shoppers) so I didn’t pay full retail, but if I had, I would still have been fully satisfied with my investment.
Below I’ll break down my experiences I’ve had with my boots:
Break-In Period: Surprisingly Painless
If you’ve researched boots online you’ve undoubtably come across some real horror stories regarding brutal “break-in” periods where the boots are made out to be like cheese-graters for your feet.
Naturally, a rigid leather boot with a shanked sole is going to take longer to break-in than a synthetic sneaker. This is probably the source of most horror stories; first time boot buyers thinking they’re going to fit the same as their Yeezy’s or Jordans.
With a pair of quality socks the break-in isn’t bad at all. You can adjust how tight you lace up your boots as the leather breaks-in and loosens up around your ankle.
The longest part of my break-in was just getting the tongue to sit flat, it took maybe a month of lacing up the ankle to get the inner tongue-folds to sit flatter on a comfortable part of my ankle.
Overall the experience of breaking in the Danner Lights was a breeze. If you want to take it slow try wearing them for a few hours at home, then work your way up to a day or two a week, and before you know it they’ll be fitting like a glove.
Real World Applications: Cubicle to Mountain Trails
I’ve worn my Danners in a wide variety of settings. From Target to outdoor events to even office environments they felt at home everywhere.
Yes, I realize you don’t buy boots to wear at the office, but if you bought them for hiking and you can’t hike Monday-Friday why NOT wear them to work once an a while?
With the Cascade’s breathability highlighted above my feet never once felt overly constricted or hot/sweaty while wearing them for 8 hours a day in a cubicle.
I have to admit, and warn you though, if you’re wearing your Danner’s out to stores or to work be prepared to be approached by strangers and coworkers who are interested in them.
Even living 20 minutes outside of Portland I had multiple co-workers ask me where I got my boots, attracted purely to the aesthetic.
I had a guy come up to me in Target while picking up some quick supplies and said his girlfriend told him he’d bette ask me where I got them before I walked away.
Fact is, I’ve received more compliments with my Danners than any other footwear type I’ve ever owned.
This includes new/limited Adidas, Reebok, and Vans sneakers, a variety of Aldo dress shoes, and other cheaper boots like Eccos and Wolverines.
TL;DR Danners are stunners, as much fashion statements as real hard-working adventure tools.
It’s not all concreate and vinyl flooring mind you. I’ve taken my Danners “off-road” on multiple trails around Oregon.
Surface types have ranged fro planked walk-ways to varying sizes of gravel, to wood chips to bare dirt, pine needles and wet sharp mountain-side traprock.
They’ve performed flawlessly in all applications.
If I know I’ll be walking primarily on highly groomed trails I may just rock my sneakers, but if I’m walking on un-even pine forest floors or medium-large river rock beds I’m definitely lacing up the Danners as the shanked footbed evens out all the ground abnormalities that would usually make hiking any length of time a major pain in the ass (or ankles).
My Danner boots were the most expensive footwear purchase ever, even at the Black Friday discounted rate (I believe I paid $270something vs the regular $360 retail).
Whenever spending “record amounts” on something, regardless of the application (first big ass TV, first car that wasn’t a shitbox, first tailored suit, first adult watch etc) I get real nervous.
I was brought up in a working class house, a High School teacher mother and a mechanic father. Spending extra on “premium” was reserved for the occasional birthday milestone or Fathers Day treat.
Whether because of this or my own stinginess I get real apprehensive when making big purchases and often experience at least a brief moment of “omg what have I done” immediately after purchasing.
When my payment was processed when I placed my order on Danner.com I felt this wave of “shoppers shame”, no doubt.
However, once they arrived, taking them out of the box, the smell of the leather escaping, the heft in my hand, lacing them up, and subsequent outings, adventures and compliments, ultimately, have made my satisfaction with my purchase only continue to grow.
After a years worth of diverse applications I can confidently give the Danner Light boots two full-thumbs up.
If you are looking for a versatile boot that is comfortable enough to wear in urban environments but is still equally eager to tackle serious country trails, then these boots are for you.
If you stick to paved paths, occasional wood chippings exclusively, then they might be a little over-kill.
If you’re not into the outdoors but spend more time around town, in sheds/garages and want the lasting power of leather but don’t need all the hiking tech, the Bull Run (or Red Wing moc toe equivalent) may be more up your alley.