Vasque St. Elias GTX Review: A Heavy Hiker

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 
Vasque St Elias GTX Review St Elias on blank background

You know the name Vasque, but with such an extensive collection of hiking boots, how do you know which model to land with? We don’t have to convince you your time is better spent on the trail.

In our Vasque St. Elias GTX review, we’re going to break the popular hiking boot down section by section so you can decide whether this model is worthy of tagging along on your next epic adventure.

The cool weather hiker

Vasque St. Elias GTX

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Bottom line: The Vasque St. Elias GTX is heavy for a hiking boot, and it’s really best suited to fall and winter conditions. The Vibram outsole offers excellent grip, and the break in period is basically non-existent. It’s our favorite winter hiker, but not our top choice for year-round hikers.

Ratings:

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At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Quality of Materials At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Craftsmanship At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Fit & Sizing At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Value for Money At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon

Pros:

  • Fully waterproofed and lined with Gore Tex insulation
  • Rugged full grain leather upper
  • Sturdy compound rubber toe for extra safety
  • Excellent Vibram outsole with tons of traction

Cons:

  • At 1,400g per pair, these boots are somewhat heavy
  • The finishing along the outsole is a bit sloppy and raises questions about durability

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through epic Airbnb cabins nestled in the woods? 

Like, for three hours? 

Of course you haven’t. Me neither. I’d never do that. Cough, cough

It’s called wanderlust, and if it makes you feel any better, I’ve got it too. I’m gearing up for some summer and fall backpacking/camping trips, and I’m on the hunt for the perfect all-round outdoor hiking boot. 

My search led me to the Vasque St. Elias GTX. I’ve been hitting the trails with this hiker for a few weeks now and I’ve learned a thing or two about it’s pros and cons. I’m going to lay out my honest thoughts on this boot so you can decide whether it’s right for you. 

Vasque St. Elias GTX Overview

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot front view

The Vasque St. Elias GTX is the brand’s all-round, middle-of-the-road hiking boot. While Vasque offers lightweight boots, full winter boots, entry-level boots, and more, the St. Elias stands as a solid hiker that’s designed to handle a variety of terrains in a multitude of climates. 

The latest version of the boot (the one I’m reviewing in 2021) is the St. Elias FG GTX. The FG stands for full grain, which is the highest grade for leather. The GTX means the boot is fully lined with Gore Tex, which helps with waterproofing, moisture-wicking, and adds some insulation. 

Things to Consider Before Buying the Vasque St. Elias GTX Boot

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot sole view on trail

The most important consideration to make before getting the St. Elias GTX is what adventure you’ll be taking with this boot. 

At 1,400g total (in men’s 10.5), they’re not exactly lightweight. To me, this weight isn’t an issue, as the longest hike I’ve gone wearing them is six miles. However, this extra weight might be a problem if you’re backpacking.

For longer distances where the weight starts to add up (that’s 10 miles for me, or even two six milers on a two day trip), something more lightweight helps stave off fatigue. For those trips, I have the Vasque Clarion ‘88, which weighs about 20% less but still has many of the same features. 

Vasque St. Elias FG GTX

The Vasque St. Elias GTX is heavy for a hiking boot, and it’s really best suited to fall and winter conditions. The Vibram outsole offers excellent grip, and the break in period is basically non-existent. It’s our favorite winter hiker, but not our top choice for year-round hikers.

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Vasque St. Elias GTX Boot Review

First Impression

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot profile view

The Vasque St. Elias is a classic leather hiking boot with a few modern design quirks that make it look a little less old-school.

I’ve always liked the look of Italian mountain boots, and anything classic and simple is fine by me, so some of the detailing of the St. Elias is a bit “left-field” for my taste. 

For instance, the hardened rubber toe cap is cut in the shape of a mountain (like the Vasque logo), so it’s asymmetrical. I don’t think it looks terrible, but it’s not what drew me to the boot. 

I picked my St. Elias’ in brown, and I like the contrast between the leather and the sole, toe, and hardware. On the side of the upper, the brand has stamped diamonds into the leather, which again, seems a bit over engineered. 

While I’ve mainly discussed the negatives, overall I really like the silhouette of this boot—I think it’s handsome and rugged, and it’s a great look for the trail. I just think Vasque is doing a little too much on the design side.

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot front view with laces

The St. Elias has a full grain leather upper, and features a d-ring, three pass through eyelets, and three speed hooks, which I’m a fan of. Getting this boot on and locking my heel in place is no problem, so I haven’t been worried one bit about my ankles while plowing through some skree. 

The St. Elias FG GTX is fully lined with Gore Tex, which helps keep this boot breathable and does an excellent job waterproofing, so long as you don’t stand in a puddle of water for hours on end. 

Many people misunderstand the concept of waterproofing—there’s really no such thing as a perfectly waterproof boot (unless they’re completely made of rubber). But for hiking boots, if you’re charging through a stream, your foot will likely get wet, even in waterproof boots. 

The Vasque St. Elias GTX did an excellent job keeping my feet dry and sweat-free when I hiked around right after a rain, but if I were to do any sort of stream crossing or splash down in a few puddles, there’s no hiking boot that would keep my feet completely dry.

Leather Quality and Care

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot in water

The leather of the St. Elias is full grain, which is the more durable grade. It’s been treated with weatherproofing, so water just beads up and rolls off no problem. It’s also quite thick at 2.2mm, which is good news for those of us who prize durability. 

It’s highly corrected leather, and it’s not very pliable. Vasque took several measures to reduce the break-in period on the St. Elias, though softening the leather doesn’t seem to be one of them. 

I love that the toe-cap is made with hardened rubber, as that’s always the first place my boots get scuffed up. Otherwise, the leather is more than enough to stand up to whatever rigors the trail throws at me. 

A few months in, I’ll be treating my St. Elias boots with mink oil. It darkens the leather a significant amount, but for hiking boots, I’m not worried about changing shades.

Sof Sole Mink Oil for Conditioning and Waterproofing Leather
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Since water resistance and conditioning the leather are my top two priorities, mink oil is the best tool for the job. 

Sole

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot sole detail on water

The outsole is a Vibram Frontier (a Vasque exclusive), made with Vibram’s XSTrek Compound. After digging around a bit, I learned that Vibram created this special type of rubber for multi-purpose soles, so it performs generally well in any conditions. 

This sticks in line with the St.Elias GTX as an all-rounder. The sole balances grip with shock absorption, durability with support, sensitivity with traction—it’s not designed for any specific activity in mind, which means it’s a terrific compound for a variety of terrains. 

If you’re looking for a hiking boot that can take a moderate incline across scree or pine needles, or just offer a nice amount of support for more casual strolls through the forest, this sole is all about balance. 

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot sole detail

The footbed is a perforated high density foam insole. It has decent arch support, and I like that it’s breathable, but for hikes, I absolutely love my Tread Labs insoles. 

If you’re not a custom insole kind of person, that’s fine—Vasque offers a quality standard insole on the St. Elias, and I was plenty comfortable with the amount of padding around the ball of my foot and heel. 

But seriously, adding in a Tread Labs insole is a game changer if you ask me. Especially if you like to hike summits—the extra arch support on sustained inclines has made a world of difference in my recovery time. 

Fit and Sizing

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot in woods

Vasque boots fit true to size, and they don’t play by those strange rules that most other boot-makers tend to. If you’re a size 11 in sneakers, the size 11 Vasque St. Elias GTX is perfect for you. 

In other words, don’t go a half-size smaller. Get what you normally would with sneakers. 

Like a few reviewers, I felt a little discomfort on my pinky-toe for the first hike. It seems like the asymmetrical rubber toe cap cuts out some of the extra space on the outside of the foot, so there was definitely some rubbing. 

But when I tried the St. Elias for a second hike, I didn’t have any trouble with my pinky-toe, so it seems like it was mostly a break-in issue.  

Break-in Period

Vasque St Elias Hiking Boot walking

The break in period for the St. Elias GTX was a piece of cake, minus the minor rubbing I felt along my pinky-toe. 

While the leather is fairly stiff, there’s so much flexible padding throughout this boot, I hardly had any lingering soreness. And I didn’t get a blister on my first six-miler with them, which is really all I care about. 

Hiking boots are a different beast than the other types of boots I normally wear. With Vasque’s sister brand, Red Wing, I typically expect to wear them for a mile walk and have my feet destroyed. But that’s part of the American Heritage boot process. 

With hiking boots, the maiden voyage is almost always a five+ mile journey, and if my feet rub raw by the summit, I’m literally angry with the brand. How can I hobble down the mountain and keep a smile on my face? 

Well, with Vasque, I’m happy to report none of that nonsense. Vasque reportedly cut down on the break-in period for the St. Elias GTX a lot by adding full grain leather uppers. While I don’t have any experience with the St. Elias GTX prior to the newer model, I can say that there’s hardly any break-in period in today’s model. 

What do Other Reviewers Say?

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At the time of writing, the Vasque St. Elias FG GTX has a 4.2 star average with over 25 reviews. After pouring through them all, I’ve extracted a few nuggets of wisdom.

If you plan on wearing these often (like if you’re an avid hiker), get some extra laces now. The eyelets are excellent for keeping your heel locked in, but the hardware takes a toll on your laces. Many reviewers said the laces go about 6-9 months before they give up the ghost. 

The happiest reviewers are folks who do a ton of outdoor travelling and hike wide ranges of climates and terrains. If you’re interested in the Appalachian Trail, Zion National Park, and Yosemite, the St. Elias is an attractive option because it has no specialty. 

Vasque St. Elias GTX Alternatives

Vasque Clarion ‘88

Vasque Clarion 88 Hiking Boot

The Vasque Clarion ‘88 has a similar build quality and also features a waterproof Gore Tex lining, but it’s much lighter. 

At 570g/boot, it’s 20% lighter than the St. Elias GTX, which makes it a better choice for longer hikes (10 miles and beyond). 

I also like the retro 80s design of the Clarion better—it has nothing to do with the performance, but I just think it looks cool and I’ve been wearing them around town simply for their style. 

Vasque Clarion '88

At a very moveable 570g and boasting waterproof Gore Tex lining, the Vasque Clarion '88 is a great choice for long hikes. The boot also has a pretty wicked 80s design---and while this won't help you on your hikes---it will boost your street cred.

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Danner Trail 2650

The Danner Trail 2650 is more of a hiking shoe than it is a boot, so it lacks the same ankle support that the St. Elias has, but it’s got a Vibram Megagrip sole, which performs better on wet surfaces. 

If you’re regularly hiking near streams and rivers, or around a lot of rocks that are slick with morning dew, the Danner Trail 2650 will help you keep a sure foot. The construction quality is similar between Vasque and Danner, though I think the Vasque St. Elias is a much better looking boot. 

But if breathability and grip are your top priorities, the Danner Trail 2650 is hard to beat. 

Danner Trail 2650

This boot is loaded with features like an external heel counter, 100% waterproof Gore Tex lining, and Vibram’s irregular tread soles, which can tackle any terrain with ease. Plus, it's super light. If hiking is your hobby, you’ll love the Danner Trail 2650.

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Timberland Mt. Maddsen

Timberland 43

Vasque and Danner are in a different category than Timberland when it comes to hiking boots. But if you’re a “sometimes” hiker, or just getting into the hobby and you’re not sure if you’re going to stick with it for a long time, the Timberland Mt. Maddsen is a solid choice. 

It’s not an incredible hiking boot, but the price is right. It’ll certainly last you a full year of moderate trails and it’s fully waterproof.

It’ll have trouble lasting beyond a year of semi-regular wear, and I wouldn’t plan any major backpacking trips with it, but for a good low-cost value pick to see if you actually like hiking, the Mt. Maddsen is a great option. 

Timberland Mt. Maddsen Hiking Boot

The Timberland Mt. Maddsen is light and nimble considering how decked out it is with comfort features. Hikers who need extra arch support will enjoy the insole and shank combination this boot offers---something rare for hiking boots under $100.

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My Thoughts Overall On the Vasque St. Elias GTX

What I Like

  • The St. Elias is fully waterproof and the Gore Tex lining is excellent for insulation and keeping my feet dry at the same time. 

  • The full grain leather upper is thick and durable.

  • I love the sturdy compound rubber toe for its extra protection on the trail. 

  • The Vibram XSTrek rubber sole is a solid performer in a wide variety of terrains and climates. 

What I Don’t Like

  • They’re a bit heavy at 1,400g per pair, so they’re not the best option for 10+ mile hikes.

  • The outsole is cemented on and the finishing was a bit sloppy. 

Who is the St. Elias for?

If you’re planning a trip to every major US national park, you’ll love the St. Elias GTX. It’s sturdy, and more of a balanced “generalist” boot. That means it can handle the dry rocks of Zion, the steep granite of Yosemite, and the damp soft earth of the Appalachian trail all with equal measure.

The Verdict

The Vasque St. Elias GTX impresses me with its versatility. Of the few pairs of hiking boots I own, the St. Elias is the one I’d take with me on a road trip across the US. 

Why? It’s a boot for generalists. 

If I was planning on only hiking Yosemite, I would choose something like the Danner Trail 2650, with its Vibram Megagrip sole. That rubber compound just works better on slick rocks. 

If I was planning a three day, 24-mile backpacking trip, I’d take the Vasque Clarion ‘88. It’s 20% lighter and dries out easier. 

But if you’re looking for a hiking boot that’s ready for any adventure, the Vasque St. Elias is a great all-round choice. 

It’s heavy, sure, but it’s durable and has a lot of ankle support. 

It has a few design quirks that I don’t think are necessary, but overall, I really enjoy the St. Elias and I’m looking forward to another hike in them.

Vasque St. Elias FG GTX

The Vasque St. Elias GTX is heavy for a hiking boot, and it’s really best suited to fall and winter conditions. The Vibram outsole offers excellent grip, and the break in period is basically non-existent. It’s our favorite winter hiker, but not our top choice for year-round hikers.

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For an even closer look at the St. Elias, check out my in-depth video review over on the BootSpy YouTube channel:

FAQs

Is Vasque a good brand?

Yes, Vasque is a good brand. I’ve tried two of their hiking boots, the St. Elias GTX and Clarion ‘88, and I’m a fan of both pairs. While each boot has it’s pros and cons, it’s clear that Vasque is a leader in the hiking space.

Are Vasque boots made in the USA?

The Vasque boots I own were both manufactured in Vietnam. Vasque is owned by Red Wing, which is based in Minnesota. Red Wing produces a Heritage line of boots that are USA produced, but otherwise, most Red Wing production, including Vasque, is done in eastern Asia.

Should you wear two pairs of socks when hiking?

You should only wear one pair of socks when hiking. If you need to wear two pairs, it may be time to look for new, more comfortable boots. Still, if you experience some rubbing, try a thicker wool sock for more protection.

3 Things Every Boot Wearer Should Own

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