One stroll through any outdoor store is all it takes to confirm a simple and apparent fact: retro gear is in again. Dipping into the wells of history for design inspiration will never get old, especially if your archives run as deep as Portland, Oregon’s own Danner. Since 1932 the footwear brand has been crafting long-lasting, hard-wearing boots for a range of outdoor and everyday uses, meaning they’ve got no shortage of rad old styles waiting to be brought back to life. For their newest hiker though, they didn't have to dig too deep to find one capable of addressing the needs—in both function and style—of a modern outdoor life.
The boot in question? The recently resurrected Free Spirit.
First debuted in 1988, the original Free Spirit—then called the Free Spirit Cross Hiker—helped establish the notion that hiking boots aren't just for scrambling up mountains and tromping through the desert, that they're fit for daily treks in and around town, too. The idea of everyday GORP is a widely accepted concept now, yet too many sidewalk-friendly hikers fall apart on terrain more rugged than a gravel path. Not the Free Spirit, though.
Lately we've been testing a pair in northern Vermont, a region where it's possible to journey from a downtown apartment to a lakeside beach or forested trail in a morning or afternoon without a car to get you there. The ground can change from asphalt and concrete to rocks and mud in a matter of minutes, which makes versatility a key factor in footwear choice for a post-work walk in the woods.
The revamped Free Spirit has proven perfectly adept at navigating such terrain transitions. It might look vintage, but the tech under the laces is anything but.
The Free Spirit utilizes Danner's custom Vibram Overlook Outsole, which has Megagrip tech for traction everywhere—and above that, there's a dual-density midsole that's firmer around its exterior edges for added support and stability. An OrthoLite footbed tops out the boot's base unit, which is so dang comfy out the box we found ourselves forgetting that, technically, we were wearing a hiking boot.
But it's the Free Spirit's upper that draws the most attention. And rightly so. The suede and rugged textile upper (with a GORE-TEX membrane for peerless waterproofing) is handsomely old school in all three colorways. And that '80s aesthetic comes with durability to match. GORE-TEX's reputation needs no testing, but we stomped our pair through a few puddles just in case.
Nowadays, there's a specific piece of gear for every activity, particularly when it comes to hiking footwear. If you aren't careful, you might find yourself under a mountain of shoes you only wear a few times a year for special occasions. And none of us have the closet space for that. There's something to be said for good old-fashioned versatility, and the Free Spirit says it well, and with a hell of a lot of style, too.
The Free Spirit is available in three colorways for men for $200.