Good footwear is a prime requisite for outdoor photographers, and especially for anyone who puts in a lot of trail (and off-trail) miles in the course of nature and landscape photography. Finding just the right combination of comfort, fit, support, and style can be tricky, and I’m happy to have found a trail shoe that works extremely well for me so I decided to write this review of the Patagonia Drifter A/C.
I’ve long been a fan of Merrell lightweight mid-cut hikers and low-cut trail shoes, but I find that because they don’t have a full length shank there is not enough protection for my forefoot on rocky trails. Searching for an alternative, I’ve tried on a bunch of mid-high boots – Oboz, Keen, Vasque, Salomon, and Zamberlan, and have actually bought a couple of these brands, but until a few months ago I couldn’t find any that really fit my foot (a little narrow but with high instep) and had decent cushioning (something my feet demand).
On a visit to Bend, Oregon, I stopped in to the Patagonia company store, spotted the Drifter A/C, tried on a pair, and was surprised at how similar the fit was to the several Merrell’s I’ve owned. The main difference I noticed was a much a stiffer sole. But even with the stiffer sole, there was a good amount of cushioning on a heel strike. A big plus for the Drifter: the Vibram soles have nice, deep lugs with good spacing, which I judged would work well on loose dirt, mud and wet rock.
My only hesitation about the Drifter Mid was that the waterproofing wasn’t tried-and-true GoreTex. With all the hiking I do in the Pacific Northwest, I need waterproof boots and GoreTex has proven itself over the years. Interestingly, the low cut version of the Drifter is available in a GoreTex version, while the mid cut is not.
Despite my hesitation about the waterproofing. I latched onto a pair of Patagonia Drifter A/C Mid boots, looking forward to a lot of trail miles. And with virtually no break-in period, these boots quickly became my favorite footwear.
So, you want to know, how did they perform?
The clerk in the Patagonia store told me that the Drifters were in fact designed by Merrell. I can believe that, not only because of the right-out-of-the-box comfortable fit, but because the laces constantly come untied, just like those on my last two pairs of Merrells. Do yourself a favor if you buy these boots and replace the laces right away with a good boot lace like those from REI. Either that or always double knot your laces.
Little details that set these boots apart: The speed lacing system works well, with just the right amount of spacing between lugs. The tongue padding isn’t too thick. The loop at the rear of the boot is large enough to easily get a finger through when pulling the boots on. The rubber “bumper” extends about halfway back the boot, which is good for both waterproofing and protection from sharp rocks. I like the conservative colors and subtle styling – I’m not at all a fan of blaze orange boots with the name and model plastered all over them. Workmanship on the boots is excellent.
I did find that the thin foam of the insole collapsed in short order, so I replaced them with ProFoot insoles (which I find much more comfortable than SuperFeet insoles). In Spring, I put the boots to test with regular 3-5 mile dayhikes, and a few 8-15 milers, and was totally sold on the Drifter’s for comfort and support.
Unfortunately, after about 3-4 months of moderate use, the waterproofing on my boots failed. A leak developed just above the rubber above the forefoot flex point, and my left foot got wet just walking through a meadow wet from dew (not actually immersing the boot in water).
I sent the boots back to Patagonia and asked for a replacement. They quickly agreed to replace the boots, but told me they were out of stock and didn’t expect a new shipment for several months. As this was in the Spring and I needed new boots for summer hiking, I opted instead to get the Patagonia Drifter A/C low-cut shoe with Gore-Tex waterproofing. I have now put many miles on those Drifter trail shoes and can honestly say they are outstanding. I’ve worn them on backpacking trips, dayhikes and just as everyday shoes. In the past I’ve worn mid-cut boots when hiking, but these low-cut Drifters have enough support for carrying a pack, they’re extremely comfortable to wear, and they were cooler than mids for summer hiking. Plus, and very importantly, the Gore-Tex lining has kept my feet dry.
I like these Drifters so much that when I found another pair of the mid A/C on sale at an outdoor gear store, I immediately snapped them up. I thought I was set for the fall-winter-early spring hikes, with the mid height providing a little more warmth and protection from wet trails. Unfortunately, the new Drifter mid waterproofing failed in short order. A mis-step while crossing a creek put my foot into water just barely over the lowest lacing point for not even a couple of seconds and my foot was instantly wet. I’ve stepped in rivers and walked on beaches with other similar waterproof boots and stayed dry. Despite the Patagonia customer service rep’s assurance that their proprietary waterproofing is just as good as GoreTex, experience has shown otherwise. I cannot figure out why Patagonia doesn’t offer the Mid with Gore-Tex, but I sure wish they did.
So, after having the waterproofing fail twice, I’m really disappointed in the mid height version, but bottom line, I wholeheartedly recommend the low cut Patagonia Drifter A/C GoreTex trail shoe. I’m wearing them now, and I’ll be on a trail with them again tomorrow.
Disclosure: the links in this post to Patagonia and Merrell are for information and convenience only – they are not paid links and I am not sponsored by either company. The links to products on Amazon are affiliate links, and I might make a few pennies if you buy something as a result of clicking on them, but that’s certainly not the purpose in posting this gear review.