Dan Human shares what he has learned from several thousand miles of backpacking, hiking and paddling.
Keen Gypsum Boot Review
With out-of-the-box comfort, outstanding support, and creek parting waterproofing, the Keen Gypsum answers my call for a new hiking boot. Though my shoe rack runneth over, as a compulsive hiker, I'm always on the prowl for a new boot for backcountry adventures. In this review of the boot, I'll give you an honest breakdown of its performance over the last few months.
I must admit that I'm a bit of a Keen addict, owning more pairs than any man really should. When I saw the Gypsum pop up on their website, I knew I had to make it mine. I lusted over it, like a lonely man with a mail-order bride catalog.
You see, Keen is one of those companies you have no choice but to love. From their environmental advocacy to their recess initiatives, they are more than a shoe company to many people. Keen offers insight into the way life should be lived.
The Gypsum comes in two styles: low and mid. As I prefer the flexibility of a low-cut shoe, in this test I only review the low version of this boot. There is likewise a women's style of this shoe. As my feet will never have the anatomical distinctions of a woman's foot - I didn't test that one either.
The question is, will this boot hold up to my abuse and become my new favorite hiking companion for tackling the trails?
Gypsum Specifications and Features
- Materials: Waterproof leather and breathable mesh nylon upper
- Weight: 2 lb 5 oz
- Usage: Hiking, light backpacking
- Sizing: The Gypsum generally runs 1/2 size smaller than standard.
- MSRP: $130.00
- Keen.Dry waterproof breathable membrane
- 4mm lug outsole
- Non-marking rubber sole
- Torsion stability shank
- TPU heel stabilizer
- Keen.Zorb Strobel absorbs impact
- Removable footbed
Gypsum vs. Targhee
I've been wearing the Keen Targhee for about six years now, wearing through multiple pairs on my treks in the great outdoors. At first look, the Targhee and the Gypsum look similar, but there are some differences that I found.
Some reviewers call this new offering from Keen, the Targhee III. I like to call the Gypsum a beefed-up version of the Targhee. You see - the Gypsum has been hitting up the gym and drinking protein shakes by the gallon to get this beefy.
When I first tried on the Gypsum, I could tell three major differences between it and the popular Targhee.
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- The stiffness of the upper.
- The rigidity of the midsole.
- The construction of the tread and heel cup.
Though the Gypsum is heavier than the Targhee, you get a boot that offers more stability and durability.
If anyone has ever had problems with the sole delamination on the Targhee, the Gypsum's outsole is designed with tenacious durability. With several months of use, there is no sign of chunks of tread coming unglued.
I still love the lightweight responsiveness of the Targhee, but for a heavier-duty hiking boot, I would opt for the Gypsum. Of course, you could always be like me and buy them both.
Those of you that follow my product reviews, know that I extensively test each item before reviewing it. I've walked in this boot for five months in various conditions, temperatures, and activities.
Though developed for hiking, Keen makes a funky looking shoe that fits my personal style. Even on their website, the boot selection guide shows you how their shoes look with jeans. As we all know - we don't wear jeans for hiking. If you don't know why we don't wear jeans, check out my article "Why Cotton Will Kill You on a Hiking Trip."
Plus, I live in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area and we have fantastic winter weather. During the winter, which can last from October to May, our footwear must adapt to the climate.
Though we don't always need insulated boots (as mucking through the mall with a pair of Sorel Pac boots is not comfortable) our shoes must be waterproof and have great grip on snow and ice. I think that a hiking boot like the Gypsum fits the bill quite nicely.
As someone moderately obsessed with hitting the trails a couple times a week, I purchased this shoe primarily for day hikes. Though I own several mid-height hiking boots, I generally prefer the open flexibility of a low hiking boot.
According to my trail logs, I have logged about 270 hiking miles in these boots. Most of my day hikes are between 8-12 miles, though I will pull a 20-miler every now and then.
Some of the places I hiked were:
- Niagara Gorge
- Royalton Ravine
- Zoar Valley
- Iroquois Wildlife Refuge
- Finger Lakes Trail
- Conservation Trail
- Allegany State Park
For those of you not familiar with the distinction between hiking and backpacking. Backpacking is just like hiking, except that you carry overnight gear and camp out instead of returning home.
I had to wait until the snow cleared the forests to use a low and uninsulated boot like this for backpacking. I used the Gypsum on a three-day trek along the Finger Lakes Trail.
Over those days in the woods, I walked about 35 miles through wet and muddy spring paths. Judging by the winter deadfall along the way, most of these hadn't seen trail maintenance yet.
I carried a small pack with about twenty pounds of gear, food, and water. Now that the snow is melting from the Adirondacks, I plan on using the Gypsum for hiking up there next.
How Does the Boot Perform?
What kind of fit does it have?
I wear a lot of Keen shoes for one reason, and that is because I love the way they fit my feet. I have a medium arch with a wide squarish forefoot. My foot width ranges from EE to EEEE, depending on style and brand.
Though I know some people with standard width feet wear Keens, they tend to fit folks with wide feet the best.
Most people agree that this boot fits about 1/2 size smaller than your regular size.
Is it comfortable?
Though you know immediately while trying on the rainbow of boots at your local outfitter whether it is comfortable or not, it's hard to know how comfortable it will be at the end of a twenty-mile hike.
The compression molded EVA midsole is fantastic for long hikes absorbing the shock of repetitive foot strikes. Though I usually switch out my insoles, I am still using the footbeds that came with the Gypsum. They seem to do a pretty good job of cushioning my feet.
Is it supportive?
Though many people don't look for stability in a low hiker, a lower boot can offer a great amount of support and protection as long as your heel is locked securely into place.
Keen's innovative lacing system pulls a webbed heel strap that secures your foot to the heel cup. Even while walking on rough rocky terrain, I have no fear of ankle inversion.
The thermoplatic urethane plates provide torsion control while hiking on rough and uneven terrain. I can't side-cut too many hills in most light boots, but I was able to push on (without pain) in the Gypsum.
Is it waterproof?
Shrouded in Keen.Dry technology, the Gypsum is both waterproof and breathable.
I was able to submerge this boot multiple times in ankle deep water without getting wet. Granted, all boots will soak through eventually - a hiking boot is not a wading boot. My main concern in waterproofing is that it keeps me dry while walking through wet grass, the occasional puddle, and moist mud. If I'm going to cross a stream, I'll switch into my Crocs.
Though the boot breathes well, all boots with a waterproof barrier are going to be a little warmer than those without. As a sweaty-footed individual, breathability is always a concern. Still, even after a long day of hiking, my socks weren't soaked from my own sweat - so the boot gets props for breathability too.
Is it grippy?
Like all Keen boots (at least the ones I have tried) the tread offers excellent traction on rock, mud, and even ice.
While hiking in the Niagara Gorge, I like to smear my way up and down rocks angled at a fairly high pitch before hopping to the next boulder. One wrong step and you are looking at a broken ankle or a swim in the Niagara River. Luckily I didn't fall or go swimming.
However I don't think the harder and more durable tread on the Gypsum is as grippy as that on the Targhee - there is always a trade off.
Is it durable?
Though a high-end full leather hiking boot will last you for years, most of those you can't wear out of the box. However, when you wear a lightweight boot you can't expect it to last more than a few years.
I have been getting about a year and a half on a pair of Keen Targhee boots before retiring them to lawn mowing duty. I can see myself getting a longer hiking life out of the Gypsum.
The classic keen rubber toe guard is great for rock kickers and root trippers. Just having that protective rand, a signature of their classic Newport sandal, can save you from a stubbed toe. I tend to think that it contributes to the overall durability of the boot too.
The nubuck leather uppers have proven quite durable with only one mar in the leather. I think I scratched it on an old piece of barbed wire. However, the damage is only cosmetic. It makes me look tougher while using this boot casually.
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In five months of mucking about in this boot, I am quite happy with the Keen Gypsum. It is waterproof, durable, comfortable, and offers the support I need for long days on the trail.
I am so pleased with the low cut version of the Gypsum that I plan on purchasing the mid-version too.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Will the Keen Gypsum hiking boots stretch a little bit more after a while?
Answer: Yes, I did find the Gypsums to stretch a little bit after wearing them for a while and breaking them in.
© 2012 Dan Human
KLohry on September 11, 2020:
I bought a pair of these and after less than 40 miles of hiking in the Colorado Rockies, they started to delaminate in the arch. Thankfully, I had purchased them at REI and was able to return them. But they were super comfy, just not too sure about the durability
ann on August 13, 2018:
Hows the gypsum on backpacking carrying 20 lbs?
Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on March 10, 2017:
Another excellent article. And I love Keens. Definitely going to get a pair for upcoming hiking adventures.
Thanks for the great info.
Zhou dao Lung on September 23, 2016:
Bought the Gypsum.
I am a lite hiker so mostly wore them as a casual shoe.
After 1.5 years, the lugs are almost smooth, the heel cup is worn and collapses into my heel and 3 lace loops torn through.
Tough hiker. Don't think so.
Jeth on September 22, 2014:
I purchased a pair of Keen Targhee 2s about 6 months back. My experience is similar o many others here in that the soles rapidly began to part company with the uppers and are showing signs of wear- far too soon in my opinion for a "hiking boot" that has seen daily use but little heavy duty action.
BUT, the biggest issue for me was having bought a pair of boots to keep my feet dry working outdoors to discover that they were as waterproof as a paper bag... First outing walking in moist grass with no rain and no puddles/stream crossings or any real exposure to water and I had wet feet.. Thanks Keen for 6 months of suffering with damp feet..
They do look great, they are very comfy, but they are totally useless for intended purpose.
Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on November 17, 2012:
You are quite welcome. After wearing these boots for a year, the Gypsums are still going strong. I'm about to order a second pair.
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on November 17, 2012:
Thanks for the advice. My husband wear the Gypsums for work everyday.
Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on October 18, 2012:
Mmmm, the one thing I can tell you is that our feet and boots change over time. The calluses on our feet can erode or change in a manner of months. What use to be an area of impenetrable thick skin is now a site for hot spots.
Boots also change, through swelling, shrinking, and stiffening. My friend had a pair of asolos that one day were no longer comfortable no matter what we tried. He ended up getting new boots.
Thanks for reading andyglean!
Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 30, 2012:
I've had great luck with Keens over the years and so have many other people. Try them on and see if your feet love them.
Thanks for stopping by Bankscottage!
Mark Shulkosky from Pennsylvania on April 30, 2012:
Since you know I hike rather than backpack, I'll have to give the Keen's a try. I prefer low cut anyway and wear them all the time. I walk a lot a work so hiking shoes seem to make sense to me. Also, since most of my hikes are day hikes, the low cut shoes usually serve me well.
Another useful, quality Hub.