Footwear Frenzy: Salomon Quest 4D Forces Review

Overview

As any other gear junkie I have given up the hope of ever finding that one pair of shoes capable of doing it all. A Jack-of-all-trades does not exist. Your low-cuts will be unable to go into rough or wet terrain; your trekking boots will be unnecessarily heavy and stiff on tarmac or easy trails; and your backpack will become uncomfortably heavy while wearing shoes with too little arch and ankle support. Then there’s the never-ending discussion of waterproof vs. water-repellent – and then I’m not even mentioning mountaineering boots.

I work for an outdoor company and served in the military before that and therefore I have collected my fair share of outdoor footwear throughout the years. I own two pairs of low-cuts, two pairs of mids and two pairs of high-cut trekking boots. None of these are up for anything, and only one pair comes remotely close.

That would be the Salomon Quest 4D Forces. Designed as a full-mission profile boot for military use in warm and dry climates, this boot has a lightweight construction, while still being relatively high-cut and offering enough rigidity and torsional strength for a wide variety of terrain and loads. Its look and build are slightly more aggressive and sporty than many of its German competitors, which has some advantages and disadvantages – but more about that later.

Construction

The main components of the upper are rubber, suede leather and 1000D Cordura. The sole is made from a sandwich of rubber layers, mostly molded EVA and Contagrip outsole material. In the upper, the suede leather and Cordura work together to create a surprisingly water-repellent outer layer. Hiking through very wet terrain in Abisko, Sweden, I was genuinely surprised with the time it took for my feet to get slightly wet. Granted, I was wearing waterproof gaiters at the time but these did not cover the lower front part of my feet. And the lack of Gore-Tex or full leather upper also made sure that my feet could ventilate excess heat and moisture effectively – meaning they were dry relatively fast.

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The sole is sturdy enough to give support and stability on rocky terrain, but flexible enough to be comfortable. The molded EVA and Contagrip outsole give a large amount of suspension without going soft.

Now, there’s one main drawback to how Salomon and many other lightweight bootmakers make their footwear, and that is the lack of cemented construction. This is a very traditional and labor-intensive (and thus expensive) way of constructing boots in such a way that the upper is a completely separate part of the boot. This means that the sole can be replaced, giving the boot longer life and a better fit. With the Quest 4D, this is not possible and that is a true shame. Once the outsole has been used up, it is time to buy new ones and depending on the amount of use that might be quite fast, especially if you happen to be in the military.

Features

There are some important differences between the Forces and regular version of the Quest 4D, as military use often asks for specific details. The lace hooks have been replaced with loops. This ensures no wires, ropes or lines can snag into the boot’s laces – important during fast roping, parachuting or rappelling. The outsole has been slightly altered to make such activities easier. The mesh polyester on the regular version has been replaced with 1000D Cordura, a tougher and more water-resistant nylon variant.

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Other than that it has the same bells and whistles as most other trekking boots. A gusseted tongue, shaft loops to make donning and doffing easier, a rubber toecap to protect the leather against rock and scree, lace locks – and exceptional grip.

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Two features are relatively unique: they’re lightweight and flexible, while being relatively stable. These truly are get-up-and-go and almost as easy to wear in as a pair of running shoes. This is interesting because usually this means that large or heavy backpacks can become uncomfortable and problems with knees and ankles are bound to pop up sooner or later. I’m sure that above a certain weight that will also happen with these boots, but I was surprised at how well they got along with my 15kg backpack in rough Swedish terrain while ascending and descending.

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Fit

These boots have a normal, maybe slightly roomy, fit. My feet are slightly wider than average and with most brands I’m between UK 8 and 9, meaning I usually need an 8,5. I have owned a pair of Salomon boots before, which I got in 8,5. Those turned out slightly too small so I sold them. I got the Quest 4D in a size 9 and so far that seems to be spot on for me. My heels are locked in place and my toes have enough wiggle room without sliding sideways or forward. One thing I will say about the fit: the shaft is very aggressive. After only one day of use I decided to stop using the highest lace loops because I could feel my shins hurting. Skipping them solved that issue. Shin issues aren’t funny and should be avoided at all costs.

Details

Most details have already been mentioned. The most important reason for me to get these was the fact that they are more or less the only full-mission profile boots without Gore-Tex that Salomon makes. Gore-Tex has its drawbacks. It’s waterproof but that often comes at a price, especially in dry and warm weather, as the membrane’s air permeability only allows for so much water vapor to go through. I wanted lightweight and flexible, yet sturdy boots for summer use in the mountains. The fact that these are spacer mesh lined instead of waterproof is great. And when your feet do get wet, they ventilate well enough to quickly walk them dry.

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Usage

So far I have used these on day hikes, training rounds with intermediate-sized packs and a short overnight camping trek in Sweden. They performed well enough on all occasions, although I think they will truly shine during a summer cabin-to-cabin trek in the Alps, which my girlfriend and me will undertake next month. While I was positively surprised with how well they managed wet and rough terrain in Abisko, I would take a heavier boot for a longer trek there. They would offer slightly more stability and durable comfort than these Salomons do, even though they surprised me in the way they were able to handle themselves given the rough and uneven terrain 250 kilometers into the polar circle.

Pros

Lightweight yet sturdy

Flexible

Comfortable

Breathable yet surprisingly water-resistant

Snag-free lace loops

Strong outsole with grip on rough terrain

Ankle support

Cons

Outsoles cannot be replaced

Aggressive cut on the shaft

Lace loops and lacelock system take some time to get used to

Overall

These are a great pair of boots for those looking for shoes strong enough to tackle rough terrain every once in a while, but also like speed and agility. I would not recommend them for full-on mountain trekking but with an intermediate size (say 40-50 liters) pack in summer time or otherwise dry weather these will work great. They offer ankle support, flexibility and ventilation while being reasonably water-resistant and quick drying. A definite recommendation if they suit your needs. They are also available in a Gore-Tex version if you need waterproof boots.

Further reading

http://www.salomon.com/us/product/quest-4d-forces.html?article=381595

http://www.leafgear.com/en/salomon-quest-4d-forces.html

 

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Having a taste: Fjällräven Classic 2015

 So obviously it has been a little quiet here for a while… That is, however, with a very good reason. My employer saw fit to dispatch me, and a few of my colleagues to Abisko in Northern Sweden, to show some of our new products and colors for Fall/Winter 2015 to the finishers of one of the world’s most beautiful long-distance treks: The annual Fjällräven Classic.

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Running a long 110KM from Nikkaluokta to Abisko, the Fjällräven Classic follows a part of the well-known King’s Trail in Swedish Lappland. For many it is an introduction to long-distance trekking, to others it is just practice. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that it is not an easy road. Trails with large and small stones and rocks make sure the walkers need to think about where to put their feet and the absence of huts or cabins means that camping out is the way to go, so participants need quite a large and heavy pack to make the multiple-day walk enjoyable and comfortable – although some people prefer to do it trail-running in less than 24 hours, most trekkers do it in three to five days.

Personally, walking the Classic is definitely on my to-do-list, but I was there to work – kind of.

Being there was first and foremost about tasting the atmosphere of Northern Sweden. About talking to people, whether they were passers-by, long-time trekking enthusiasts, newcomers, other Fjällräven employees of every part of the company, and to existing or prospective customers – in short, it was a networking event set to the backdrop of one of the most impressive and beautiful areas in Europe, maybe even the world.

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Luckily we also had time to get out there. The surroundings of the Abisko Tourist Station are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen: Wild rivers, large lakes, and long-stretched plains, hills and mountains – even a very scenic sauna down by a lake which we were lucky enough to get to use. Although we didn’t have the time to get far enough away from civilization to get that typical sense of vastness and solitude I associate with long-distance trekking, it was awesome and beautiful nonetheless.

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I would definitely love to visit the place in my actual spare time once or twice again: once just to finish the Classic and again to enjoy the surroundings on my own or with a close group of friends. If you ever have the time to go, please do. It’s up North, so even in summer months you need to take the necessary stuff to enjoy the outdoors even when it’s a little colder. During the darker months, you can also get a good view of the Northern Lights. Getting there is not very straightforward (we had to fly from Amsterdam to Stockholm and change to a domestic flight to Kiruna, and drive for an hour and a half) but it was totally worth it!

Further reading

 http://www.fjallraven.com/classic

http://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/en/Discover-Sweden/Facilities-and-activities/Lappland/Fjallstationer/STF-Mountain-station-Abisko/

http://www.visitabisko.com

After Action Report: Berget 13, 23-27 June 2015

A little over half a year ago my team decided to attend one of the biggest Airsoft events in Europe, the annually held Berget in Sweden. At first we were psyched – we knew the logistics would be difficult, but we were sure it would be manageable. A large playing area in beautiful Sweden, a lot of vehicles and anti-tank capable infantry… Which Airsofter wouldn’t be interested?

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The reality would prove to be a little different. Coming from The Netherlands and driving to Sweden means you have to take your Airsoft replicas through Germany. The Germans are quite uptight about these things. Generally speaking, full auto airsoft replicas are illegal if they shoot over 0,5J of kinetic energy. That means that most replicas used by Dutch players are illegal. We had heard of a permit to take such replicas through Germany to be used in other countries, so we applied for such a permit with the German municipalities through which we would enter and leave the country.

It got denied.

This sucked. It meant we had to fly over Germany in order to get our rifles to Sweden. Of course we could have chosen to just take them along in the car. All countries on our intended route are European Union countries and partake in the Schengen agreement. But there’s an actual risk of imprisonment so this wasn’t an option for us. Do so at your own peril.

Another option was shipping your gear to Berget directly, but most of us weren’t exactly charmed by the idea of packing thousands upon thousands of Euros of kit into a box and shipping it to somewhere outside of our own control.

So the logistics plan boiled down to this: Two members would drive with all our kit, food and drink, and three members would fly with the team’s replicas. We would link up in Copenhagen and drive the rest of the way to Sweden.

Three of us checked in at Eindhoven Airport, with six replicas. And three of us checked out at Copenhagen Airport, again, with six replicas. But to say this was easy would be lying.

Transavia, the carrier handling our flight, was not very experienced checking in weapon-like items and sporting rifles. After the customs personnel at Eindhoven checked if everything was in order (our permits, the state and actual replica-ness of our rifles), the personnel at the check-in counter forgot one crucial step: turned out we had to fill in some documents about our rifles. We would find out the hard way at the gate.

Even before we wanted to board our plane, our names were called over the intercom. The personnel at the gate mentioned said documents and tried to arrange them at the last minute. They failed. They then made the call to let us board anyway. The alarm went off when two of our three boarding passes were scanned. They let us board anyway. Once we were in the plane, it took an awful long time for the plane to leave. The Commander let us know over the intercom that two passengers were too late and that their luggage would be offloaded. Luckily we were sharp enough to ask one of the stewardesses if that happened to be ours, due to the alarm. Turned out it was. The Commander made the call to let the luggage be boarded again, and then we left.

We weren’t exactly sure if our rifles would be unloaded in Copenhagen.

Luckily they would be, but searching for the correct desk took a little time. After signing some documents it was all good. We picked up our rifles and left for Arrivals, where our two other team members stood waiting. We loaded the rifles into the car and left for Sweden: another 1000k drive to our destination.

The first Gorilla Taktikz Road Trip was a fact and it was awesome.

When we arrived at Berget itself, check-in was fairly well arranged. After chronoing our replicas and hooking up with another Dutch team with which we would form a squad, we proceeded to our base and set up shop – not without problems. Command and Berget did not account for different tent sizes, which meant that way too many people would be packed into a single 25 person military tent. In the end we ended up 24 people in a single tent – tight but manageable.

After waiting about 24 hours and walking around the immediate area of our base, it was time for game on, which was planned for 2100 hours on the 24th of June. Suffice to say the entire game was not as good as we had hoped about half a year ago, but better then we expected about a month ago. This was mainly due to one factor: The sides were awfully unbalanced.

Blue, our side, was made up of mainly infantry with a small mechanized detachment. Red, on the other hand, was mainly mechanized with a large infantry part as well. Berget, in its infinite wisdom, supplied anti-vehicle capability in the form of a laser controlled AT simulator, but these had to be bought by players, rather than that they were handed out by the organization to offset the large mechanized advantage of the Red side.

This meant that, by and large, any single engagement we were involved in unfolded as follows: we would push hard, and push Red back with heavy casualties on both sides. Our aggressiveness was at times unparalleled. But then, Red could simply ride in fresh reinforcements by vehicle while we had to hoof it back to the last Control Point in Blue hands – often a multiple-K walk. Not a problem physically, but a tactical and strategic nightmare because it made it virtually impossible to stay in control of a fight. Anti-vehicle capability was severely limited on the squad, platoon and company level, which made it difficult to disable the main enemy advantage – until the last day. Somewhere on Friday afternoon the game masters decided to give the morally depleted Blue side their bit of fun and let Blue command drop some artillery on the Red base, disabling most of their vehicles for an extended period of time.

This gave Blue the freedom of movement to push up to the central town of the game map, Krasnovo. Suffice to say our last mission was the most fun we had all week. It had everything: a small unit infil with just the five of us; fighting off a contact with just the five of us; a link-up with the main force marching upon the town; pushing into the town with a force on company strength; and some good CQB action inside buildings. We stayed in the field a lot longer than expected. This, for us, made Berget a little bit better.

Saturday morning we decided to leave early and have a rest over night in Stockholm. We had some excellent burgers and beer in this beautiful city and drove on to Copenhagen Sunday morning. The three of us checked in and boarded our plane, which we accomplished without a single hiccup (Copenhagen, I guess, being much more used to sporting and hunting rifles than Eindhoven). Our luggage was offloaded in Eindhoven and there was no Customs official present at that time so we decided to go home. End of story.

So my personal feeling about Berget boils down to this:

It is not the event I first expected it to be. The almost total lack of role-play; the lack of serious milsim elements; the heavy imbalance of factions which the registration system allowed for; the large amount of beginning or inexperienced players with kit not seriously up to the task… All of this makes me think twice about attending again. This is compounded by the logistic difficulty and monetary cost of actually getting there: the strict German laws around Airsoft replicas make it a pain to travel to certain countries in Europe.

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But it wasn’t all pain: The beautiful Swedish landscape and the sheer size of the game area makes it… well, not actually worth it, but I do not regret going. The feeling of actually operating on your own, walking your own patrol and making your own tactical decisions is awesome, a feeling unavailable in the Netherlands.

Also, this was an actual road trip. I believe I speak for all attending team members when I say that we grew as a team and got to know each other a little better – and had a lot of fun to boot. The real steel MSA Supreme I acquired along the way is just a small plus…

So, are you thinking about attending Berget? Keep in mind that it takes a lot of effort getting there and that it is not without a doubt you will get cool missions and have a good time – I know horror stories of people being on base security for three days: just a little too milsim for my taste. You might have an awesome time as well. Or, like us, you might end up having some boring moments and some awesome moments. It’s all in the game. Which is fine. But you have to decide for your own if it is worth the 4000K round trip.

For me personally, just the once. It was an experience I enjoyed at times but it will be a one-time thing. Next stop: Copehill Down, Stanta or Catterick in Great Britain.

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Prepping for Berget: Homemade MREs

Preparations for Berget have begun in earnest. Berget is one of the biggest annual Airsoft events in the world, with over 1000 participants on a large and complicated area. It takes place in Sweden, one of the most rugged countries in Europe.

Before charging my batteries and packing every little thing I want to take with me (which, lord knows, is way too much…) I have prepared my food rations. Rather than opting for the all-in-one solution of taking Meals Ready to Eat from a military source, I have chosen to prepare my own. I know from experience that 1) the MREs are way too big for me; 2) take too much time to prepare; and 3) I don’t like the taste of much of its contents.

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Combining stuff I bought at my local supermarket and outdoor equipment store leads, in my opinion, to a superior alternative. An MRE should be quick or easy to prepare and  should have some high-calorie and high-energy contents such as chocolate, dextrose sugar, meat and cookies.

The most important part is the freeze-dry meal for the evening. I particularly like the Adventure Food meals. They have a wide variety of meals which are not too salty – a pitfall of many other freeze-dry meal producers.

Another important part is the biscuits. Fruit biscuits from Globetrotter are my choice. They taste nice and aren’t too dry, which makes them good at any time of the day. They also have a high energy content, which is slow to release as well. That makes them perfect for outdoor activities.

The breakfast remains the most important meal of the day. Expedition breakfasts are nice, but can be a bit much all at once in the morning, and are quite expensive. I have chosen to incorporate two typically Dutch breakfast treats: Kruidkoeken. This roughly translates into Spice Biscuits, but that doesn’t really do them justice, as they’re not crunchy and not spicy… These are particularly nice with a little butter on top but can also be eaten straight out of the package.

The rest is nice to have: Some sausages, noodles, chocolate candy bars, dextrose energy and coffee. Depending on the weather, also take some salt and isotone powder with you. These might be important to keep your salt and electrolyte levels up when temperatures rise. Make sure to pack all the contents into a single bag – having all this stuff separately in your backpack can be a pain…

It’s highly likely that this is too much for a day still. But running out of energy sucks so it’s better to pack a little too heavily than just a little too… lightly.