Merrell Chameleon 5 Mid Ventilator GTX

by backpackingbongos

During the warmer months I have to say that I am now a convert to unlined trail shoes.  There is nothing better than the freedom of splashing through bogs without worrying about keeping your feet dry.  They are lightweight and give freedom of movement, your feet soon dry once out of the wet stuff.  In the snow and ice of winter however I prefer the complete opposite.  Nothing beats clomping around in a pair of sturdy traditional leather boots.  This means that there is still a chunk of the year when neither really fit the bill.  This is where I feel a good pair of mids fit in.

With the sole of my trail shoes threatening to desert the uppers, I quickly took up the offer from Merrell to test out their new Chameleon 5 Mid Ventilator GTX.  I have to admit that Merrell have always been in the back of my mind when choosing new footwear.  This is probably down to gear snobbery as I have always thought of them as the sort of brand Blacks and Millets stock.  I have my reasons to be snobbish about Blacks but this is not the time………..

Anyway, out of the box and onto my feet it was like pulling on a favourite pair of slippers.  Having a narrow ankle I often find footwear is a little loose in this department.  However the Chameleon 5’s were reasonably snug, although not the sort of snugness you get with trail shoes.  The toe area has loads of room for me to wiggle my toes.  There is a good amount of padding around the ankle and on the tongue without being over the top.

My first impression when I took them out of the box is that they are rather cheap looking.  To me they look like something you could pick up from TK Max for £20 rather than a pair of premium priced hiking boots (the RRP is £140).  Looks aren’t everything though.  The pig suede leather has several mesh cut out panels for ventilation and is backed up by a Goretex lining.  A plastic arm wraps around the ankle to provide some support and to maintain the heel shape.  This is connected to the laces so you can get a nice snug fit.  Anyway no point in describing what they look like as you can just look at a picture.

P1050850

On first examination I thought that the lugs on the Vibram sole look a little bit shallow and the heel does not have a deep ‘bite’, something I like to have when descending.  The best test of a sole unit however is on the hill.

P1050860

Their first outing was on a three-day backpack across the Moelwyns.  The feeling of wearing a favourite pair of slippers continued and I walked for three days without any rubbing or discomfort.  The cushioning under foot is great, nice and soft but without being spongy.  They would be ideal for yomping for miles along hard packed paths and tracks.  The Moelwyns were absolutely saturated after a few days of heavy rain.  With the aid of gaiters they kept my feet dry, the Goretex not letting in any water.  Although waterproof they did prove to be rather warm and sweaty on a humid August weekend.  I can’t imagine those mesh panels did much to aid ventilation, especially when backed by Goretex.  To be honest I feel that they would be much better without a waterproof lining.  I find lined boots far too warm and in my experience the lining fails all to quickly.  I have never had any last more than six months.  Only time will tell with these.  On the plus side the sole unit gripped the sopping wet grass like a limpet.

The second outing was a few days walking the grassy hills of the Southern Uplands.  Once again they proved to be ridiculously comfy.  There was a problem though with the inner sole.  It is so thin and unsupportive that I don’t know why Merrell bothered putting it in.  On the second day in the Tweedsmuir hills it was wet, both from the sky and the ground.  My left boot filled with water, whether from a leak, a foot in a bog or water running off my waterproof trousers I don’t know.  The inner sole started to shift about within my boot, gradually trying to work its way out.  I had to stop a couple of times in the rain and re-adjust it, no fun when it is wet and windy on a hill.  It was about as effective as a soggy bit of cardboard.  Merrell you really do need to address this.

The third outing was a four-day backpack across the Cairngorms.  They handled the varied terrain well.  This alternated between good paths, soggy moorland and boulder fields.  They gave me real confidence crossing boulder fields with a heavy pack.  Admittedly the rock was dry but they gripped really well.  To be honest I did not even think about them during the four days.  Always a good sign.

I’ll pop back in six months and let you know if they are still in one piece.

So, overall what do I think?

Pros –

As comfy as they come.  I can wear them for days without thinking about them.

For me a good fit (although we are all different).

Great cushioning underfoot.  I did a 23 kilometre day in the Cairngorms taking in two Munros and lots of trackless ground.  The soles of my feet did not get the usual pounding.

A good grippy sole on wet grass.

Cons –

The crappiest inner sole you could possibly imagine.

The Goretex lining makes them sweaty and means water that gets in can’t get out.

They stink already!

Price.  A RRP of £140 is far too steep.  Knock off £40 and they would be great value (you can find them for around £100 on the internet).

Note:  These were given to me to test by Merrell.  However I was free to write anything that I wanted.

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14 Responses to “Merrell Chameleon 5 Mid Ventilator GTX”

  1. Hi James, Good review. I was fortunate enough to have also been provided a pair for review recently. I say fortunate because I think they are excellent. I changed the insole for superfeet a week after I reviewed them The insole, if that’s what it is called fell apart. I have had no leaks as yet and I’m well over 200 miles in them. I wear them everyday simply because they are so comfy. I agree with pretty much everything you have said. I would have another pair that’s for sure.

    • Hi Alan. I will have to pop over to your blog to read the review that you did. Good to hear that you are getting on with them. Lets hope that Merrell improves the insole.

  2. I’ve had similar problems with mid weight boots in the past. In my case a pair of Soloman Quests. Supremely comfortable, but leaked after only around 40 km of walking and like yours they used to smell bad. I think the smells of the bog water they absorb stays with them.

    The other issue I used to have with them was when it came to cleaning. For some reason most of my walks end up with my boots getting caked in mud, but the structure of these midweights makes them very difficult to clean.

    I currently use a pair of Scarpa Sl Activ heavy weights and have a love-hate relationship with them. I love their grip, their ease of cleaning and the fact that they have never leaked on me. As an added bonus I never get bruised toes from them too!

    But, the Scarpa’s weigh a ton. I can feel the effect of their weight at the end of the day, it really does make a difference. I’d like to go mid-weight again, but I’d much rather have dry feet!

    Unlined trail shoes sounds interesting though. Are these worn with specialist socks, or without socks at all?

    • I do find that the lighter the footwear the more my feet thank me. When I wear unlined trail shoes I wear a pair of x-socks, with a Merino blend. As they are shaped for left and right feet they fit really well. They also dry quickly when wet.

  3. My problem with unlined trail shoes is that yes, they do dry out quickly, but only if you’re walking in dry conditions and get them wet only occasionally. I spent my summer hols in Knoydart and on one day’s hiking it rained none stop with puddles and rivulets and dripping plants everywhere.

    If I’d worn trail shoes rather than boots (Scarpa Terra GTX)

    http://www.scarpa.co.uk/trek/terra-gtx/

    my feet would have been wet for over eight hours which may have resulted in blisters or soggy skin.

    What I would like to see is a waterproof hiking boot a bit like the Terra GTX but unlined. I know a leather boot is only as waterproof as the leather and dubbing applied but it is lighter than a Goretex lined boot and Goretex can fail. Why don’t manufacturers seem to make plain old leather boots any more?

    • Hi Darren. I did the TGO Challenge this year in unlined trail shoes (inov8’s). It was wet for days on end and on one day I even walked through snow in them. Although my feet were wet all day I did not get the same ‘prune’ effect that I get with wet feet in boots. I think that the mesh means you get a bit of air flow. I do however try and air my feet during lunch though.

      My Meindl boots are plain old leather without any lining. Still keep my feet dry.

  4. I looked at the low version of these a few weeks ago when choosing a new pair of walking shoes. As you say, the initial comfort is very good. I also tried the Chameleon 2 as well.

    But in this instance I went for the Scarpa Vortex because a) they were a much less bulky shoe, b) they were just as comfortable but in a different way and c) they looked much better – and part of what I wanted was a reasonable-looking shoe for off the hill.

    My current “mid” boots are Brasher Kanika GTX, which I’m finding very good. I got them for £50 in the sale and thought if I get anything more than a year out of them it’d be a bonus. And it’s so far, so good – I wear them almost all the time now unless I expect either very easy or quite wet/tough conditions, and have done hundreds of miles in them – and they’re still going strong. They’re perhaps a bit more “boot” than “mid” but for what I want them for (basically a cheaper boot to save my pricey Meindl Burmas and give lighter weight and comfort in the Spring/Autumn) they do the job admirably.

    • Jules I have the Meindl Borneos, great boot for winter. A £50 pair of boots is always a bonus! Thanks for your comment.

  5. An interesting review James. Your comment about gear snobbery is also interesting, especially when you mention Millets. In France over the years I have noticed everyone from rock climbers, to gnarly old mountain guides proudly wearing Millets clothing. Over here of course they have a completely different image, and image of course is the thing that appeals to most people.

    As for boots, my own experiences this year have not been too good as far as leaking goes. A pair of Mammut GTX’s only lasted four months before leaking and I am just about to send back the pair of Meindl GTX boots that started leaking a couple of months back – I only got them in April. The insoles incidentally move about when wet in my Meindl’s as well. Such problems really do make me wonder just who tests this kit and how long it is tested before going into full production. Perhaps it is a case of cost cutting after pre-production kit has been tested, but either way problems such as rubbish insoles seem easily avoidable.

    • Hi David. I think that the brand Millet over in France is different from the shop Millets over here. I may be wrong, anyone else know?

      Rubbish inner soles really annoy me. Most brands seem to ruin a good pair of boots by not bothering inserting a decent one. Its cheeky to charge a high sum for a pair of boots and then expect you to go out and pay £30 for a good set.

      • Dohhh just checked and you are of course correct James. I have had a whole life thinking they started off as the same brand. Just a pesky S difference. As they say you learn something new every day.

  6. Some years ago I tried a pair of Meindl Lite..or something or other…which fitted this category of fabric mid boots. They were great – fit, comfort, lightweight, good Vibram sole – except for the damn Goretex. They felt peculiarly hot and clammy, got wet inside, didn’t dry for several days and smelt as rank as ammonia as the bacteria had an orgy.

    I’ve been waiting years for someone to produce a lightweight leather boot with no damn Goretex. As we know -no one does. I still have a serviceable pair of HiTec V-lites which CT rated highly in an old TGO. They are superb in every way except they’re not durable and the low grade leather is hard to keep waterproof. Nikwax lasts a few days, but if its very wet less, which is not good enough for multi day trips. When they wear out I’ll be stuck. There is simply no solution for those like me with the above experiences.

    I want some boots like the Brasher Supalites but with no damn Goretex. The rest of the time I like Keen sandals.

    • I had a pair of unlined Brasher Superlites that were happily on my feet for a 9 month trip around India many years ago. Do they not do them anymore? They were a nubuck type material. Still got them but the sole is sadly worn away.

      And yes, the smell of wet Goretex boots. Nice…………………..

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