Wolverine boots are pushing footwear design into new territory with the Fortis mid-high hiking boot designed with the company’s Individual Comfort System (ICS). It was this technology that, among other innovations, grabbed our attention at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show this year. Since late summer 2009, we’ve taken the opportunity to hike and backpack with a pair of Wolverine Fortis boots on several trails and under varying conditions.
The Fortis’ construction includes some of the highest quality materials available, including waterproof GORE-TEX boot liners, and full-grain leather and Cordura uppers. These are materials that are sometimes taken for granted as they have almost become the standard. But if you are in the market for a new pair of boots, these are the features you’ll be looking for.
The Fortis boots required little break-in time, and they fit exactly as expected with no surprises. A well-designed eyelet and hook lace system doesn’t tear apart the boot laces, and allows you to snug-up your feet for most any terrain you’ll likely navigate.
Boot tongues are generously padded for foot-top comfort, and attached up to about mid-ankle. The tongue folds and lace system keep the boot top fairly well sealed from water intrusion through the boot lace system. As with any boot type you choose to own, if you are expecting real wet weather or significant stream crossings, a pair of boot gaiters in combination with the Fortis boots will keep your feet dry and confidence level high.
Padded boot collars at the top of each boot are easy on the lower calves. A concave drop-away on the collar allows the back of the upper ankle/lower calf a full range of vertical motion.
Individual Comfort System (ICS)
Yet, with all the above high-end boot making materials and construction design, the Fortis ICS technology is what really separates this boot from the majority of contemporary hiking boots with regard to dialing in foot comfort specific to you. Individual Comfort System means you can physically change the boot suspension at the heels with four primary settings and four sub-settings. Simply snatch out the removable insole, turn it over, and remove the amber-colored composite disk. Instructions are clearly visible; each insole is identified as Right or Left foot.
For example, you like a firm boot but you have an outward pronation (your shoes wear at the outside of the soles because that’s your natural walking gate). To increase foot support and stability with an outward pronation, you simply remove the ICS disc and line-up the amber-colored disk-setting between the firm setting “F” and the “O” setting for outward pronation. We were impressed just how intuitive the custom adjustments are once you remove the insole and turn it over.
The ICS disc is secured into the insole via interlocking teeth-like structure much like a mechanical gear-set meshes one to the other. That’s it. Re-insert the insole into the Fortis, adjust the other boot, and you’re ready to go. The entire ICS adjustment process takes no more time than lacing up the boots in the first place. However, with this kind of adjustment capability you can truly tailor your fit to your needs. Keep in mind: Each boot should be set at the identical calibration on the ICS disk.
OVER ALL IMPRESSIONS
The Wolverine’s Fortis was an excellent hiking boot, not only for the ICS customization capability, but for the entire package. You can wear the Fortis day-to-day whether you are walking, hiking, or driving to your destination. They are light on the feet and extremely comfortable with one pair of socks, padded or not.
The boot laces are slightly long, and they don’t double wrap around the top of the boot very well. So the slack in the laces sometimes tend to catch and untie. This is minor, and a double knot is the fix.
In addition to countless daily wear sessions, the Fortis (size 14’s) was worn on sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Angeles National Forest of California and a long (almost 20 mile) one-way backpack trip in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. Now, the Fortis is not specifically a backpacking boot (one with very firm outsoles, midsoles, and firm ankle support structure. But they are very much a sound consideration if you want a sturdy three-season hiking boot where you may call upon them for backpacking with a light to moderate weight load.
That said, the backpack trip in New Mexico was a hike where the water load in the Gregory Peak backpack (heavy-duty military version) in addition to gear that was distributed to support a group of 16 souls, made for a 60 pound pack on day one. The trail elevation ranged between 6,500 and 8000 feet above sea level on rocky, loose soil, and stream-side terrain. Each Fortis was set on Firm, and for the entire trip, including the energy run-down just before settling into camp for the night, my Fortis-shod feet where the very least of my aching bones.
Fortis is not recommended as a long-haul weeklong backpacking boot, nor does Wolverine market them as such. But these boots did extremely well under the weight of a heavy backpack on a two-day trip, on the feet of a 200-plus pound individual.
Fortis is, however, highly recommended as a seriously well-built boot using cutting-edge innovation in design and best practices for making a hiking boot in general. At a suggested retail price of $200.00, the Wolverine Fortis’ are high-quality, customizable, and comfortable three-season boots. Bring on the rain and rocks. Bring on those elements that attack your feet on the trail. Fortis appears to be a hiking boot that is up to a challenge. They worked well for us.
By Rick Shandley