Merrell partners with Unlikely Hikers to make more Inclusive Hiking Boot

Merrell + Unlikely Hikers = Inclusive Hiking Boot?

An inclusive hiking boot? What’s that you might ask!

There is a growing movement to open up the outdoors to hikers and adventurers of all shapes, sizes, genders, and abilities.

Jenny Bruso is a pioneer in this field, founder of Unlikely Hikers. More than just a hiking group, it’s a movement:

Unlikely Hikers is a diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson. We’re an Instagram community, a nationwide hiking group and a podcast! The outdoor industry and media has, for too long, displayed a very narrow definition of who is “outdoorsy” that isn’t representative of most of us. We are people of size, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary. We are people with disabilities and people who utilize the outdoors to aid our mental health. We talk about access, politics and conservation while we honor the land and its Indigenous stewards. We don’t conflate these experiences, we explore and build community at their intersections. We all have a story! If you see yourself as an Unlikely Hiker, then you are.

Jenny Bruso

Merrell are one of the most well known outdoor brands, celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion they have pledged to help build an inclusive and sustainable outside environment for future generations to enjoy. Collaborating with Jenny and the Unlikely Hikers is their first step along this path.

Image of Jenny Bruso and some Unlikely Hikers

Enter the Zion Mid Waterproof x Unlikely Hikers

The Merrell Zion x Unlikely Hiker is a genderless boot with a sneaker-like fit. It is available in wide widths and hard-to-find sizes, “because one size doesn’t fit all”.

It is based on Merrell’s classic Zion range, which are somewhere between a trail running shoe and hiking boot.

Zion x Unlikely Hiker Features:

  • M Select™ DRY BARRIER impermeable membrane seals out water and lets moisture escape
  • Full grain and mesh leather upper
  • Metal hook and lacing eyelet for secure lacing
  • Bellows tongue keeps debris out
  • Protective rubber toe cap
  • Integrated webbing stability arm and lacing system
  • Breathable mesh lining
  • Kinetic Fit™ BASE removable contoured insole for flexible support
  • Merrell Air Cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
  • EVA foam midsole for stability and comfort
  • Lightweight FlexPlate™ technology provides torsional rigidity
  • Vibram® Megagrip surfaces

It’s a nice looking boot, and looks like a great entry level hiking shoe.

Unlikely Hikers Inclusive Hiking Boot

You know what they say about big feet…

Yes, you need big shoes!

Definitely a good move from Merrell to include a larger range of sizes and widths within their catalogue. I have friends at the extreme ranges of shoe size, and it can be a real struggle for them to find quality hiking boots.

I was puzzled that while the press release states that the Zion x Unlikely Hiker is genderless, on the website they have a women’s and men’s version. Surely this doesn’t fit with the Unlikely Hiker manifesto?

After a bit of investigation, I discovered that in the US, they have a different sizing for men and women. I.e. a women’s 8 is different to a men’s 8. How confusing and unnecessary!

In the UK and EU these could presumably be a truly unisex shoe. One has to wonder why most, if not all, sports shoes aren’t unisex. Many items it makes sense to have different versions for men and women to accommodate different body shapes. Backpacks for women for example that account for wider hips and slender shoulders. Shoe fit however, depends simply upon length and width.

Inclusive Hiking Boot, Exclusive Pricing?

The Zion x Unlikely Hiker looks like a great shoe, and I have to give kudos to Jenny Bruso for all the work she’s done to introduce so many people to the joy of hiking.

I did notice however, that the Unlikely Hiker is the most expensive of the Zion range, at $160. (It’s actually one of the most expensive boots on the Merrell website).

Most of the Zions are priced between $100-140. The men’s Zion Mid Waterproof is 150€, which is the model upon which the xUH is based.

Now one could certainly argue that this is a new model, and also it’s available in two different widths which means more variations/stock to hold. But it seems a little strange to me that the “inclusive hiking boot” should also be the most expensive hiking boot.

High Priced Grear is a Significant Barrier to Entry

Patricia Cameron is one of the founders of Blackpackers, another grassroots organisation working hard to make outdoor recreation more accessible and inclusive.

One of the oft-neglected pieces of the inclusion and equity equation in the outdoors is a hard look at economic access. As a Black American, I’m well aware of the wealth disparities between black and white populations in the U.S. That’s why I founded Blackpackers, to provide outdoor adventures and gear-lending services at low or no cost.

Patricia Cameron

She points out that “At the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, it would take a worker two full eight-hour days to afford new hiking shoes from most major outdoor brands.”

Actually, it would take 22 hours to earn these particular boots. That’s 22 hours after you’ve paid for your rent, food, commute, etc.

I commend Merrell on producing a boot in a larger range of sizes. This is certainly important and will be much appreciated by people with uncommonly sized feet. I also commend them for working with Unlikely Hikers and using more diverse models in their photo shoots.

But can you really consider it an “inclusive” shoe while being priced at the high end of the spectrum? Particularly as foot size and shape is something that people of all races, genders, sexualities and body shapes have in common.

Budget Gear is Inclusive Gear?

One could argue that actually, companies such as Walmart and Decathlon have done more for diversity and inclusion by producing gear that’s affordable for all.

The big outdoor brands justify their higher prices on the grounds of more ethically sourced materials, better paid workers, the cost of R&D, and that more durable products over the long-term will cost less.

These points can’t be discounted. There are clearly downsides to very cheap gear. On the flip side though, I think many of the very high prices we see associated with outdoor gear would have Thorstein Veblen raising an eyebrow.

Now I don’t think that Merrell are one of the high end prestige brands with crazy prices. They make high quality hiking boots from $100-170, which is on the lower end of the spectrum. But the question still remains why the “inclusive hiking boot” ends up being at the very top of the range?

The outdoor sports industry are happy to include anyone, regardless of race, gender or body shape, providing they are from the affluent middle classes…