Is it a trainer-like boot, or a shoe with added height? The Dropline Mid defies neat pigeonholing, giving you some of the benefits of both boots and shoes, along with drawbacks of each. Combining a cushioned and bouncy running shoe-like sole with a bit of cuff for ankle protection, they're not quite as nimble as a trail shoe, nor yet as supportive and protective as a traditional boot, but represent something of a compromise. If a habitual boot user wanted to try walking more in shoes, but felt wary of giving up the ankle support, then this could prove a good stepping stone. On the other hand, those who already wear shoes for summer hillwalking might wonder what's to gain from the added height, structure and weight on offer here. I think it's fair to say the Dropline Mid is for the former folk, while the latter might instead look at the low-cut Dropline shoe.
With their bouncy sole and shoe-like forefoot feel, the Dropline Mid tread a similar boot-shoe grey area to La Sportiva's Ultra Raptor Mid, which I reviewed earlier in the spring. Somehow they manage to be lighter that the Sportivas, while also feeling a bit stiffer and more boot-like, which is quite a feat to carry off. However they also cost £60 more, which is pushing things for what you're getting here. Salewa refer to them as mid-cut shoes, but I'm going to call them boots for the rest of this review.
What are they for?
These boots are "built for shock absorbency, support and protection on speed hiking tours in alpine terrain", say Salewa. To me, alpine terrain at the very least means scrambling, scree and the occasional snow patch, so I consider this description misleading. These are emphatically non-technical walking boots, and while I've done some nominal scrambling in them their ideal remit is more straightforward footpaths, gravel tracks and even tarmac. Perhaps Salewa are referring to the manicured trails you often see in Alpine countries, but if so then I think something is lost in translation to the UK context.
While Salewa has an entire 'speed hiking' category for footwear, I'm not sure what the term means, or whether it's necessary to insert a separate activity between walking and running. The speed you hike in the Dropline Mid is entirely up to you: they're light enough for a jog, but of course also suit a steady plod.
Salewa are on more solid ground when they talk about shock absorbency, because that really is what the Dropline Mid do best. I think they would be a great choice for easy long distance trails on hard-packed ground, such as the West Highland Way, and while I said the same for the Ultra Raptor Mid, it's even more applicable here.
Salewa say they weigh 370g for a single size 8 shoe, while my size 12/47 are 942g for the pair. This puts the Dropline Mid in the beefy trail shoe sort of ballpark, while if we're calling them boots then they're certainly at the ultralight end of that spectrum. For the support and protection on offer, I do think they're surprisingly light.
Though the low-cut Dropline shoe is available in a female/low volume fit, only men (or women who get on with more of a 'male' fit) get the option of the Dropline Mid. Overall I'd describe the fit as true to size, with a medium width and volume. I find the upper gives a noticeably close fit around the instep, which feels nice and precise and helps hold the foot in place inside the boot when traversing slopes etc, while the supportive heel cup and internal padding at the rear keep the heel in position with no lift or rubbing. At the very front the shape is a bit pointed for me - my outer toes push out against the sides - but then I do have a wider, squarer foot shape and other users may find the toe a better match.
Much of the upper is a porous mesh, which is reinforced by some rubbery overlay, and a protective rand at the toe. Anchored onto a series of little ribs, the lacing wraps snugly around the foot, pulling the fit in nice and close but without - I've found - digging in anywhere on the bony top of the foot. There's a locking eyelet halfway, so you can vary the tension between the toe and the cuff. I really like the lacing system, but I'm not sold on the oversized tongue. This is quite thin - which is good, because who wants a bulky tongue? - but the top section comes unnecessarily high up the shin, and it's not breathable. I've often noticed the hard edge of the tongue digging into my ankle bone, though this does tend to wear off over the day, rather than getting worse as you might expect.
One of the defining features of the Dropline Mid is, of course, its mid-height cuff. I really don't get this. With its pronounced and unnecessary rear 'spoiler' the cuff is an odd-looking thing, and while there's a little stretchy inner gusset to keep gravel out of your heel, I have found the hollow between gusset and spoiler is perfectly designed to fill with debris.
On the La Sportiva Raptor Mid, the most similar boot-shoe I've recently used, the ankle cuff is soft and padded, and has plenty of give. This offers some degree of protection from twisting your ankles while allowing a good range of movement for precise footwork on rough ground (which is, generally, what's going to stop you rolling an ankle in the first place). However on the Dropline Mid the cuff is hard and comparatively inflexible, which limits ankle mobility and makes its presence felt in terms of comfort (or lack of it). In terms of lateral protection it's not going to be as supportive as a chunkier full-on boot, but it will give you more than a low-cut shoe, so I'm sure some users will find it a benefit. However if you tend to wear trail shoes in summer then the mid-height cuff probably has nothing to offer you.
The Dropline shoe comes unlined, or in the option of a Gore-Tex version; however the Dropline Mid is only available non-waterproof. This seems like a mistake. With all that airy mesh, and no waterproof lining to trap your sweat, Dropline Mid boots are really good for warm, dry weather, and certainly beat any lined boot or shoe for breathability and foot comfort. However they would be cooler still without a chunky ankle cuff, and for summer use I'm sure I'd prefer the low-cut Dropline shoes (I've not actually tried them). On the other hand, in cool wet weather - the default position in the UK hills - waterproof-lined boots begin to come into their own. Go out on a rainy day in the Dropline Mid and you'll soon have wet feet. I like my boots to be waterproof, and my shoes to be cool and breathable, so for me the Dropline Mid drops between two stools. As I said in the intro, it is arguably the habitual boot user that stands to get the most out of this boot - someone who wants the light and breathable upper of a shoe, but still feels they need an ankle cuff.
I've never used Hoka shoes, and though of course they have their fans I'm not tempted to join them. The massive built-up sole of the Dropline Mid seems reminiscent of that style of footwear. With a stack height (ie depth) at the heel of 32mm you feel very tall and elevated from the ground, and since the drop to the toe is only 6mm - quite a minimal difference compared to the overall height - it's a bit like wearing 1970's platform soles made out of sponge. Inevitably there's not much feel for the ground underneath, and when the terrain gets fiddly I find the Dropline Mid very clunky and imprecise. For this reason I would not choose them for rougher hillwalking days.
On the plus side, with the sheer depth of cushioning provided by the thick EVA midsole, impact is simply soaked up, and on hard-packed ground you feel like you're bouncing along. Stony farm tracks can be a bit of a footsore trudge, but not in these boots.
While there's a lot of torsional stiffness for underfoot support, the toe has a springy forward flex, and though I've said they are like platform shoes the pronounced rounded rocker at heel and toe does make for a nice rolling action when you walk. Underfoot, the Pomoca outsole is a series of shallow studs. There's not much tread at all here, and no heel breast to bite on the downhills, so while the grip is fine on dry ground it gets pretty slippy on steep wet grass or mud. You can really eat the kilometres in these boots - just make sure they are easy kilometres, on hard dry surfaces!
For what basically amounts to a pair of trainers with added height and cumbersomeness, £210 seems very pricey. I also think they look over-engineered, a bit of a try-hard. To me eyes the green colourway is fantastically ugly, though the blue pair I reviewed are more understated. Of course that should matter a lot less than how they perform.
When it comes to performance, I find them clumsy and imprecise on rough ground, while the shallow tread is little short of a liability on steep grass and mud - and for these two very good reasons the Dropline Mid is not an ideal choice for harder hillwalking or backpacking on challenging terrain.
On the other hand their extremely thick, cushioned sole becomes a positive advantage if you're pounding along easy hard-packed tracks and trails. With the lightness, breathability and springy feel of a beefy running shoe, the Dropline Mid is at its best when you're striding out for miles and miles in warm dry conditions. For the more typical damp UK day out though, it's a shame that no waterproof version is available, while the low-cut version does come in that option. From my perspective, and I'd imagine that of most shoe wearers, the mid-height cuff offers little advantage to compensate for its drawbacks; however if you're making the transition from heavy old boots to modern light trail shoes then the Dropline Mid could be the ideal gateway footwear. I am still not sure whether to call it a boot or a shoe though.
A soft-landing men's mid-cut shoe – built for shock absorbency, support and protection on speed hiking tours in alpine terrain.
- Drop: 6mm (Heel Stack Height 32mm / Toe Stack Height 26mm )
- Fit: Standard
- Gender: Male
- Made in: Vietnam
- Shoelaces: Tech Approach shoelace
- Single shoe weight: 370 g (size 8 UK)
- Sole segment: Speed Hiking
- Footbed: MFF+
- Lining: Anatomic 3D ankle support, Breathable mesh lining
- Midsole: Performance EVA
- Outsole: Pomoca Dropline
- Upper: Exa Shell Over Injected 3D Cage, Stretchable Air Mesh, Thermoformed high rebound material heel collar, Tpu film
For more info see salewa.com