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(The Gear Loop) - You know that rubbery bendy bit you sometimes get in the middle of buses or connecting carriages on trams and trains? Well, in 2021 Oregon-based footwear brand Keen decided to take this and apply it to its hiking footwear.

Built upon the foundations of the trusted fit and comfort of Keen’s much-loved Targhee hiker, the Ridge Flex also feature rubbery bellows to enable more efficient days on the trail and to enhance durability. 

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The hiking boots versions have bellows on the upper and on the ankle, whereas the shoe version featured here has them towards the front of the upper only.

We put the Ridge Flex shoes through their paces to test their credentials and to see if their use of bellows is a game changer or whether it’s an idea best left to public transport.

Our quick take

The Ridge Flex is a well-constructed and sturdy hiking shoe with excellent waterproof credentials. Their use of rubbery bellows is interesting and is said to make progress easier. However, their weight counts against them in this regard and they are a little clunky when it comes to the precise footwork required for any kind of technical terrain. A good choice for casual day hikers but not for those looking to go fast and light or scramble.

Keen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review: does Keen's Bellows Flex tech really work?

Keen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe

3.0 stars
For
  • Sturdy and protective
  • Impressively waterproof
  • Room for toes to move
  • Interesting bellows technology
Against
  • A little clunky
  • Heavy for a hiking shoe
  • Grip could be better on mud
  • Not the most stylish

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In the Loop

A quick look at what you can expect from the Keen Men’s Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe:

  • Weighs 595g per shoe
  • Keen.Dry breathable waterproofing membrane
  • Keen.Bellows Flex technology in the midfoot
  • Keen.All-Terrain outsole for traction on a variety of surfaces
  • 5mm multi-directional lugs
  • Ankle loop for harness attachment
  • Stability shank gives lightweight support
  • Reinforcement at the toes and heel

First Impressions

You can tell these shoes hail from America. They love a large portion size in the States and somehow, these shoes put us in mind of a muscle car. This is because they are a stripped-back version of the Ridge Flex boots, featuring a lower cut that foregoes the rubbery bellows that are present on the back of the boot version.

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 1

Due to this, they have the look, feel and weight of a small hiking boot. Some might find it reassuring to head out in a sturdy, weighty and protective mini boot. Others might wish for something less bulky, a little lighter and more stylish – something you can wear proudly in the pub afterwards. To be honest, we’re not sure the Ridge Flex shoes have apres hike aesthetics.

Whatever your view on it, there’s no doubt that the Ridge Flex is comfortable the first time you lace them up. Keen is well known for crafting footwear that gives plenty of toe room and these are no different. Whether you think this is a boon or something you could do without really depends on the shape of your feet. For those who suffer from toes that get rammed together uncomfortably in most hiking shoes, Keen is here for you.

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 6

Features

Let’s start with the USP, the Bellows.Flex technology. Keen champions two main benefits: flexibility and durability. Thanks to the bellows plate, a Ridge Flex bends more easily in the forefoot, requiring less energy and supposedly making every step along the way feel easier for the hiker.

Meanwhile, the bellows are placed in the forefoot area, the part of the shoe that bends time and time again throughout its lifespan. Where other boots crack and weaken over time, the TPU flex plate just keeps on bending, taking some of strain and hopefully allowing the shoe to last longer.

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 10

There are other Keen technologies at work for waterproofing and traction. The Ridge Flex contains the same Keen.Dry breathable membrane as its Targhee IIIs and NXIS EVO shoes. It’s a membrane that we have found gives superb protection against the elements. 

This enhances what is an already robust leather and mesh upper. Meanwhile, the rubber All.Terrain outsole comes with 5mm multi-direction lugs for gripping a variety of surfaces.

KeenKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 11

There’s a decent amount of cushioning too, thanks to the compression-moulded midsole, while a stability shank works in tandem with this to give a decent amount of protection against sharp rocks and other debris. 

They are also impressively armoured in the toe area thanks to a high-abrasion rubber tip that’s even rugged enough to effectively kick steps into frozen terrain.

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 3

The shoe version of the Ridge Flex is low cut at the ankle, so they are not brilliant if you’re carrying heavy loads over long-distances. There’s also an attachment loop here, which is about as subtle as a slap in the face, looking a bit like an oversized bow you might tie on a Christmas present.

Performance

We experienced a couple of downpours while wearing the Ridge Flex hiking shoes and were very impressed with their waterproof credentials. At no point did we experience any seepage whatsoever. Keen’s proprietary membrane is clearly a keeper.

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 5

We found that the cushioned and protective feel of the Ridge Flex was a positive and they are comfortable enough when walking on your average trail. However, we found them a little bit heavy for hiking shoes. Keen’s claim that the Bellows.Flex technology makes for three-times easier days on the trail is somewhat countered by their weight and we certainly didn’t feel as fleet-footed as we would normally like to be on a day hike.

Fit wise, we experienced no slippage and, as promised, our toes had plenty of room to wiggle around, do the Can-can, or anything else they fancied doing. 

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 8

However, when we launched into rocky terrain that required more precision, we found the Ridge Flex to be a little clunky, particularly towards the front. One downside of loads of toe room is a lack of feedback from this area of the foot, which makes the shoe a little clumsy on scrambling terrain.

Keen’s All-Terrain outsole is designed to give solid traction on rough trails and rocky ground, with a large area of sticky rubber making contact at any one time. The Ridge Flex hiking shoes held their own in this regard. We found no issues when traversing rock slabs and the like. 

The Gear LoopKeen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Shoe review photo 9

To achieve this massive area of rubber on the surface, the lugs are quite large and close together, which leads to dirt getting between them on boggy trails. The lugs aren’t particularly aggressive either, making for a sole that doesn’t perform particularly well when things get really messy.

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To recap

There are plenty of admirable features here, from the robust construction, excellent waterproofing and high levels of foot protection. For day hikers who value a sturdy shoe, aren’t too fussed about speed and won’t be venturing onto scrambling terrain, they’re a solid choice. However, those wanting to be a little nimbler and more precise with their footwork should look elsewhere.

Writing by Alex Foxfield. Editing by Leon Poultney.