Why did I review the Dunham Contrail-Mid? Three reasons: Dunham boots are among the lightest available, I like a mid-height boot for off-trail stability, and Dunham boots are available in extended sizes and widths. Assuming that many of our readers have the same needs, I gave the Contrail-Mid a thorough testing and report my findings here. Dunham has lofty claims for the Contrail’s comfort and performance; so how did they survive some serious off-trail hiking and bushwhacking?
- Very comfortable, little or no break-in required
- Excellent traction
- Excellent stability
- Sturdy rubber toe bumpers
- Available in extended sizes and widths
What’s Not so Good
- Not waterproof as claimed
- Tongue gussets can cause sore spots
- Toe area is a little too pointed, causing some toe scrunching
- Too many side seams make them vulnerable to seam failure
|2005 Cloud Contrail-Mid|
|Men’s mid-height waterproof light hiking boot, size 11.5 EEEE tested (size 11 UK, 45.5 EUR)|
|3 lb 2.5 oz/pair (1.43 kg), manufacturer specification 2 lb 14 oz/pair (1.3 kg) for size 9.5|
|Upper is full grain waterproofed leathers and synthetics|
|Dryworks lasted waterproof membrane, Rollbar motion control technology, Tru-Trak multi-directional traction outsole, Absorb shock absorption system, gusseted/fully padded tongue and collar, extended rubber toe bumper, polyurethane midsole, extended sizes and widths|
Forty-eight years of backpacking have caused my feet to spread out a little – size 11.5 EEEE. Because of my wide feet, finding hiking boots that fit is a major challenge. I have found many manufacturers’ “wide width” not all that wide, at least not for me. But Dunham’s 4E width gives me the width I need (they even have a 6E width available in some models). For hikers feet challenged in other directions, they also have lots of narrow widths and extended sizes.
While a low-cut trail runner shoe is fine for ultralight on-trail backpacking, I much prefer a light mid-height boot for off-trail hiking and bushwhacking. A mid-height boot is still on the lighter side, and (if the midsole is stiff enough) provides the extra support and foot protection I need for scrambling, steep descents and sidehills, and crossing slide-rock slopes.
The Dunham Cloud Contrail-Mid after four months of hard use. The outsole is Dunham’s proprietary Tru-Trak.
The Contrail-Mid is part of Dunham’s Cloud luxury boot series, and is claimed by Dunham (a subsidiary of New Balance) to provide “luxury comfort – superb fit, cushioning, stability, versatility, and protection – with little or no break-in time.” Sounds like the perfect boot, and at 25 ounces per boot in my size they are fairly lightweight too.
How close does the Contrail-Mid come to “luxury comfort”? Pretty close. I found the sizing accurate, the fit good, and the comfort very good with little break-in required. The collar and tongue are adequately padded to provide all-day comfort. One caveat: the gussets on the sides of the tongue created sore spots on my ankles when they were turned inward. Once I discovered the source of the problem, I made a point to turn the gussets out and the problem disappeared. Also, the toe box is a little more pointed than usual, which squeezed my toes somewhat, especially when I used thicker footbeds.
The Contrail-Mid has a moderately stiff midsole (left) that gives it good stability for hiking off-trail. The toe has an excellent rubber toe bumper (right), but the toe area is a little too pointed, which results in some toe squeezing.
The Contrail-Mid has a moderately stiff urethane midsole (see photo), which provided a good balance of walking comfort and off-trail stability. I found the boots adequately stiff to utilize smaller toeholds for climbing and effectively edge on sidehills. Their lacing system allowed me to easily adjust looseness or tightness across my instep for hiking uphill or downhill, respectively. When traversing sidehills or descending steep downhills, the tightened boots effectively kept my toes from jamming.
Dunham’s Tru-Trak tread is not as deep as many Vibram treads, but it definitely provides good traction. Over four months of testing, I hiked in the Contrails over all types of wet and dry surfaces, and was very pleased with their traction. I found that I could depend on them to get a good grip in mud and snow. The tread cleaned out fairly well, but not as well as Dunham’s Waffle Stomper tread. On slickrock, the Tru-Trak outsoles stuck me to the rock like Gorilla Glue.
The Tru-Trak outsole provided excellent traction in mud and snow (left). On steep slickrock (right), it stuck like glue.
The Contrail-Mid has Dunham’s proprietary Dryworks waterproof moisture management membrane system. So how waterproof are they? Nada, or close to it. I found that the boots would resist wetting from brief shallow immersions or short-duration wettings (like wet vegetation), but they readily wetted through from longer exposure to water. When I wore them (with gaiters over the tops) in rain, snow, or wet vegetation, I consistently got wet feet. In warm weather they dried out fairly well overnight.
If the tongue gussets are folded inward (top left), they rub the skin on my ankles raw, so I made a point to fold them out (bottom left). Dunham claims the Contrail is waterproof, but the Dryworks membrane consistently wetted through with any extended exposure to water.
I would rate the durability of the Contrail-Mid as average. Although the boots have an excellent rubber toe bumper that effectively eliminates toe wear, the leather and synthetic panels are showing some deterioration from repeated wetting and drying. Dunham claims that the Contrail has a minimum of seams, but in fact they have a lot of seams. Since thread wear is the nemesis of hiking boots, especially the side seams, I would say these boots are quite vulnerable. I did not have any seams come apart in my rough off-trail testing, but I would still advise coating the seams with McNett SeamGrip liquid urethane (or equivalent) to make the seams more durable.
The Contrail-Mid after four months of hard use. I wore short gaiters over the tops a lot to keep debris out, so the uppers are in excellent condition. The toe bumpers have protected the toes very well, but the leather in the toe area has deteriorated. The side seams held up, but they are vulnerable to failure if you do too much scree-skiing.
Overall, the Dunham Contrail-Mid comes through as a lightweight, mid-height, comfortable hiking boot that provides good foot stability and protection for off-trail or on-trail hiking. I found their claims to be accurate, except for the waterproof part.
Dunham (and New Balance) boots are available in extended sizes and widths to fit most feet. For wide or narrow feet, Dunham boots are a good alternative to custom-made boots.
Recommendations for Improvement
I found a lot to like about the Dunham Cloud Contrail-Mid. They are loaded with features to provide support and comfort. The improvements I would like to see are:
- Upgrade the Dryworks waterproof moisture management system so it is a more effective waterproof/breathable system. The present technology is water-resistant, but not waterproof.
- Revise the gussets on the tongue so they do not fold inward and irritate ankle skin.
- Broaden the toe box slightly to eliminate toe squeezing.