It’s fairly universal that people’s hands and feet get cold when hiking, snowshoeing or playing outdoors. Yes, I have Raynaud’s syndrome, but I don’t imagine all the world’s insulated boots are created just for folks like me. That’s good news and bad news. It’s bad because it means lots of outdoorists are struggling to overcome cold feet. It’s good because it means we have myriad options at our disposal. The unintended consequence of that, though, is a lot of uncertainty about which insulated boots work best. I’m continuing to evaluate boots to help remove that guesswork, the latest pair being the new KEEN Durand Polar Shell boots.
KEEN is a local company for me, so I keep tabs on what they’ve got cooking. Before this past Fall, I had no idea the Durand Polar Shell boots even existed. I knew KEEN had plenty of hiking footwear, but their insulated option was a revelation. With millions of people struggling to keep their feet warm, I suppose this it a “niche” boot that made sense to create.
As I first laced them up, I couldn’t help but notice the label saying 200 grams of KEEN Warm insulation would keep my feet warm in temperatures down to -25 Fahrenheit. Yellowstone may hit those temps in January, but the mercury just doesn’t dip that low here in the Northwest. So, I was stoked. With that rating, I was bound to keep my toes toasty.
Throughout Fall and some early Winter hikes in the snow, my feet stayed much warmer than they would have in non-insulated boots. They didn’t keep my feet as warm as the Baffin Zone Men’s boots I reviewed last year, but I was happy with them for the first 90 minutes in the snow. After that, my toes started to get a bit tingly, but not to the point of pain that I sometimes experience due to Raynaud’s. They kept my feet warmer, yes, but I’d give the overall insulation nod to the Baffin Zones.
Like most of their footwear, the KEEN Durand Polar Shell boots use the company’s proprietary KEEN Dry waterproofing. Keeping skin dry is important to staying warm (moisture wicks away heat), so having waterproof boots is just as important as having insulated ones. I first donned the Durand Polar Shell boots for some Fall hikes. In Portland, that meant taking them out amid record-setting rainfall. My feet stayed bone dry through multiple outings, even after intentionally splashing through puddles to see if I could sock my socks. The wrap-around rubber that goes halfway up the foot surely helped in that regard.
I haven’t tested them for a full year, so I can’t vouch for whether that waterproofing holds. The KEEN Marshall WP hiking shoes I reviewed in 2015 began soaking through around the edges, and I had to retire them after 14 months. That was really disappointing. I’m not sure if it was a fault of the shoes or of the KEEN Dry membrane itself, so it may not happen after a year of use with these KEEN Durand Polar Shell boots. But the experience was demoralizing enough that I’ve kept it in the back of my mind with these Durand Polar Shells.
Breathability was also an issue with the Marshalls, but it seemed improved in the Durand Polar Shells. With any insulated hiking boot, if you stay active long enough, things are going to get a little warm down there. The Marshalls ended up making me feel like I had jungle foot, even though they weren’t insulated. The KEEN Durand Polar Shell boots, on the other hand, have 200g of insulation and only gave me a little moisture between the toes. It was nothing like the breathability issues I experienced in the non-insulated KEEN shoes. I did notice more moisture with the Durands than I did with Baffin’s boots, but not to the point of discomfort.
Two features of the KEEN Durand Polar Shell boots that I really appreciate are their ruggedness and the inclusion of hooks to attach gaiters. Whereas the Baffin Zones have a soft shell, the Durand Polar Shells are basically half rubber and half tough suede. Hiking over tough brush and boulders, I never felt that wood, thorns or sharp rocks would penetrate the exterior.
Likewise, the little hooks at the front of the laces allow you to clip your gaiters into place just above your toes are a nice touch. This really minimizes the risk of snow (and thus moisture) sneaking into the boot through the tongue. It’s also a great complement to the kick plates on the heel, and the combination makes the Durands a solid boot for snowshoeing.
Still, between the extra warmth and slightly better breathability, I’d rate Zones higher than the Durands for winter outings. The Durand Polar Shell boots also required more break-in time, and even in a Wide size were snug for my “duck feet.” Maybe I’m too sensitive about footwear after living for almost four decades with frigid feet. Lord knows my wife teases me incessantly about being so picky…. The Durand Polar Shells are a solid boot, and if you’re one of the KEEN faithful you’ll likely be pleased. But I care more about long-term comfort than a specific label, and the Polar Shells simply didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped.
The KEEN Durand Polar Shell boots were provided for review. All opinions and words are my own and honest, and the article above contains no affiliate links.
KEEN Durand Polar Shell Boots
- Insulation keeps feet warm, at least for a while
- Waterproofing performed great during my tests
- Little gaiter clips are a nice stability feature
- The durable exterior lives up to the Shell moniker
- Not quite as warm as a few other boots I've tried
- Very stiff to begin with, took many miles to break in
- Even in Wide, it wasn't as roomy inside as the non-wide Baffin Zone boots