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When it comes to survival-related gear, finding a middle ground is key. Imagine, if you will, trying to use a 2-inch Swiss Army Knife as your only survival tool—it's not going to be anywhere near adequate for chopping through firewood. On the other extreme, you wouldn't carry around a 4-foot sword during your daily commute just in case SHTF. Calling that overkill would be an understatement.
Survival footwear must be considered in the same manner. You're going to be in trouble if you're wearing flip-flops during a life-and-death situation, and strapping on a pair of blast-rated Kevlar combat boots every time you leave the house is almost as impractical. There has to be a middle ground.
This brings us to the subject of today's review: Lugz Empire Hi WR boots. These newly-released Lugz boots are tough, water-resistant, and have a slip-resistant rugged tread pattern. However, they also have a memory foam inner liner for comfort, and they aren't going to look out of place in an urban or office setting (depending on the color you choose). They're designed to be solid work boots, but also don't lack the maneuverability or comfort you'd expect in a daily-use boot.
The folks at Lugz offered to send us a pair to review, so we figured we'd give them a shot. Read on to learn more about these boots, and see what we thought of them.
Before we share our impressions, we'll review some of the specifications of these boots.
Lugz offers the Empire boot in a huge array of variations. First, you'll need to choose from hi-top, mid, or low-top designs. There are also several materials to choose from in each category, depending on your needs: natural leather, ballistic nylon, water-resistant Thermabuck, scuff-proof Permahide, and Durabrush synthetic suede.
Beyond the shape and material, there are more color combinations than we can even list here—everything from ordinary black, grey, and brown to bright red, studded, or even metallic silver and rose gold (yes, really). Needless to say, chrome-finish shoes aren't our style, and certainly aren't practical for survival purposes, so we went with the dark brown finish known as “Chocolate/Bark/Cream/Gum”.
The boot model we chose is known as Empire Hi WR, meaning that it's a hi-top with a water-resistant exterior.
The Lugz Empire Hi WR's upper is constructed of Thermabuck, a water-resistant synthetic material with a fuzzy texture similar to suede. Also like suede, the finish may develop light scuff marks or discolorations as you brush your feet against objects. This is natural, but if it bothers you, you can always remove the cosmetic marks by lightly rubbing with a damp cloth.
The Chocolate-colored Thermabuck is sewn together with white stitching, and includes 7 hexagonal lace eyelets on each side of the padded tongue. There's also a padded black collar at the top of the boot, and brown laces that match the upper nicely. Our hi-top model is about 7 inches tall from the arch of the sole.
The boot's 1-inch rubber platform sole is formed in a two-tone combination of Cream white and Gum tan. Its deep ridges are designed to provide good traction on rough terrain, and the rubber material meets industry-standard ASTM-F1677 Mark II slip-resistant testing. This certification is required for some work environments, but to us, it just means we're less likely to lose our footing on wet concrete or asphalt.
Another nice feature of the Lugz Empire boots is its integration of memory foam into the liner and insole. Lugz calls this patented tech Flexastride, and it's intended for maximum comfort while standing or walking for extended periods.
Now that we've covered the technical specs, we'll move on to our thoughts after wearing the boots.
Putting on the Lugz Empire boots for the first time, we were impressed with the level of comfort and flexibility they provide. From the collar to the toe, these boots had plenty of give, and didn't require a long (and sometimes painful) break-in period like other leather boots we've worn. At the same time, the hi-top design is supportive, and we weren't worried about rolling an ankle while wearing them.
Much of the flexibility is due to the boots' construction, which uses a relatively thin Thermabuck exterior layer wrapped onto a thicker inner material. Constructing the boots from solid leather may provide more long-term durability, but would also require a long break-in period, and wouldn't permit as much flexibility out of the box.
The Flexastride memory foam insole is immediately noticeable—sticking your hand inside the boot and pressing on the sole with your thumb reveals a compressible layer of foam. This squishy memory foam contours to your foot nicely, and is great if your workday requires standing on hard surfaces for hours. The foam insole material was one of our favorite features on the Empire.
The one small downside to Flexastride is something that's common to most memory foam materials: it retains heat. This can be good if you're in a cold environment, but our 80+ degree springtime weather in southern California left our feet a bit sweaty. The shoe's upper portion breathes reasonably well, but the same properties that keep it water-resistant don't allow as much moisture to escape as we'd like (a necessary trade-off).
Speaking of water resistance, it's sort of a running joke that it never rains anymore here in SoCal, so we had to test the hydrophobic properties another way. These boots aren't fully water-proof, so we weren't about to step ankle-deep into a creek, but they do repel normal rain water, mud, and puddle splashes.
Spraying our boots with a hose (don't laugh, it was necessary for the test) showed that moisture beads up and runs off the Thermarest material. The small amount that pooled and was absorbed didn't seep inside the shoes, so we'd call the water-resistance effective.
At an MSRP of $90, these boots are priced slightly below most comparable soft-toed work boots. Only time will tell how well the Thermabuck material holds up to extended wear, but it seems to be durable during our testing thus far.
Overall, we were pleased with our Lugz Empire boots. Sure, they're not military-grade combat boots or specialized hiking boots, but they're a nice middle ground with more day-to-day comfort and flexibility. If you want a pair of boots that looks rugged, resists the elements, and won't leave your feet aching at the end of the workday, the Empire is a solid choice. The supportive, hi-top design will also provide protection for your feet if you find yourself in a survival situation.
For more information on these Lugz Empire Hi WR boots, visit Lugz.com.