Last summer I bought what ended up being one of my favorites shoes ever; the Astral Brewer. All of the limitations, and virtues, I noted in my review last summer have held true. The lack of a little extra structure in the sides of the forefoot has gotten me pinched on numerous occasions. The lack of a heal counter hasn’t been an issue while walking, but has threatened to pull the shoe off a few times in both mud and thick brush. The rubber is very good, but the tread can be sketchy in mud and downright scary on loose over hardpack. And while the upper fabric has manged over the past year, it doesn’t have much life left.
And I don’t really care, because the combo of zero drop, the right stiffness, and plenty of toe room is simply sublime, and simply not available in many other shoes.
So I invested in the TR1 Merge, Astral’s midtop hiking shoe. The tread pattern is more aggressive, the midsole 5mm thicker, the toe and heel have a rand, and the upper has a bit of padding in the ankle and tongue. Weight, for my size 12, is 14.1 oz per shoe.
The Merge does not have a heel counter, but on first glance the rand and doubled fabric provides a nice degree of stability the Brewer lacks. It will be interesting to see if this breaks down at all. I’m quite excited about the lightly padded ankle coverage, in a nonwaterproof package that doesn’t pretend to roll abrasion protection into the ephemeral notion of “support”. I’m bummed by the thin stripes of pure foam in the sole, as the non-rubber areas of the Brewer have made for a few pokey experiences with cactus.
Overall, I could hardly be more excited. Shoes over the past 5 years have only seem to come with more and more compromises for backpackers who like stout, minimalist shoes. Exceptions are a big deal.