The 5.11 Norris Boot Review
“I think you should try to put one in the cannon.”
It’s not often that your mother-in-law is also your chief enabler-in-law. Before we left for the European in-law vacation, I told Debbie (of Thanksgiving Mailroom 2018 fame) that 5.11 sent me a pair of Norris boots to try out this summer. Like any good mother-in-law, she’s my biggest fan, and she was thrilled about the prospect of being at the center of a bona fide TFB product evaluation.
The Norris in Luxembourg.
The 5.11 Norris Boot takes on The Griswold Family European Vacation:
To put things into context, last Independence Day holiday, Lindsay and I went to Alaska; camped at the foot of Denali; hiked over 100 miles; traveled by car, bus, boat, train, and floatplane; and encountered a few dozen grizzlies in Katmai National Park. We love hiking. So I used that opportunity to test the Altama OTB High shoe-boot-things that have become popular in the gun community. I bought them. I yet again hijacked a gun blog to describe my personal opinions about men’s clothing.
This year, we have a competitor moving into the Altama’s space – that space being the esoteric “Tactical Chuck Taylor” market – in the 5.11 Norris boot. TFBTV covered the Norris at SHOT last year (video here).
Under the Adolphe Bridge in Lux City.
Alaska 2018 was quite a trial for the Altamas, but for the Norrises, we have a much more dangerous and more emotionally draining trial: A trip to Europe with my in-laws around the Labor Day weekend. Knowing this, 5.11 still threw the Norris onto the Clark Griswold crucible.
Full disclosure, 5.11 sponsors TFBTV from time to time and we have a good working relationship. I also happen to like their gear, regardless, and most 5.11 stuff I have I paid for out of my own pocket (although an occasional coupon code would be nice, if anyone at 5.11 is listening).
Stunting on no-boots tourists with the Norrises at Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany.
And Ms. Debbie would check on the Norrises every morning. “Did you get any blisters, James?”, “How’d they do yesterday?”, “Have they been comfortable so far?” She even expressed slight disappointment on those few days where I’d switch it up and wear regular sneakers instead of the boots; “What, no boots today?” And when we went to Luxembourg and toured the casemates of the Bock – Europe’s most vaunted fortress – Ms. Debbie thought it would be a fun idea to take a boot and jam it down the barrel of a cannon. I agreed. Debbie’s oldest daughter (i.e., my wife, Lindsay) was less enthusiastic about our inserting footwear into museum exhibits.
View of Luxembourg’s Grund neighborhood from the Bock fortress, or what remains of it. This fort was so formidable that the European powers agreed to destroy 90% of the fortifications in and around Luxembourg rather than continue to fight over the strategic stronghold.
All told, I walked 249,732 steps in the ten days we spent in Europe. Nearly a quarter million steps in ten days is 126.4 miles – approximately 13 miles a day. Here’s how it went:
Enter the Norrises:
I received a pair of the new boot-sneakers the day before I left on my trip. I opted for size 10.5, but being someone who is always between medium and large, 10 and 10.5, Cardi B and Nikki Minaj – in retrospect, I would have gone 10 instead of 10.5 unless I planned on wearing hiking socks all the time, in which case these would have been perfect. So I would say these fit fairly true to size, but if you are also a 10.25 like me, I’d size down a quarter fit. I did not opt for black, but that’s what I got. If I was presented the choice, I think a green pair would have been the better option, as the greens are almost khaki, and probably more versatile than their dark dyed brethren, not to mention less contrasting against dirt and dust.
They look good, and that’s the point. I applaud 5.11’s constant dedication to developing men’s styles outside of tactical dadcore, even if that dedication is likely less profitable and thus encompasses only a few items in any given 5.11 lookbook. The ladies definitely have a broader swath of cloth to choose from in terms of 5.11 apparel that would pass as contemporary streetwear and not off-duty copwear. I should note, though, as I type this, I’m wearing the surprisingly fashionable and functional Defender Flex slim fit jeans that I bought, again, with my own money during a 5.11 sale a couple of months ago. Side note, these are some of my favorite pants, period, and this is coming from a guy who would rather delete his own summer jams 2019 Spotify playlist than get caught wearing cargo shorts. I think I have three pair of Defender slims now.
The Norris in the Bavarian Alps.
Getting to the specs, the Norris is “stacked with tactical intelligence”, as 5.11 marketing enthusiastically puts it. It features a Vibram Marbrani outsole. I know the name “Vibram” because they made the weird foot gloves that people actually believed were better than running shoes circa 2014. Thankfully, I haven’t seen anyone jogging in rubber toe condoms for a long time, but I’m glad to see 5.11 collaborating with a company that has a degree of name recognition. I can’t decide if “Marbrani” sounds like pasta or a curry, but I looked up “Marbrani outsole” to see what I was working with. The only results were what looked like a supplier catalog and…5.11 boots. So I still don’t know what it is, but it looks and feels alright, and other reviews on the internet praise the “XS Trek” (I’m assuming the tread pattern) outsole’s traction in wet conditions.
Wet stone and damp canal boat decks were no challenge for the Norris in Amsterdam, Bruges, or Lucerne.
The Norris is ASTM certified [According to Wikipedia, “ASTM International, formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials, is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.”] for puncture resistance and built with a Welmax board that allegedly resists 1,200 newtons of puncture force. I think that means if you weigh 270 lbs. or less, if you step on a nail, your Norrises won’t be compromised, but I’m sure one of my engineers is going to explain the full import of that statement in the Disqus comments below.
5.11 says that “Ortholite® technology cushions your feet in total support and comfort.” I don’t know what “Ortholite” is, but for some reason it makes me think of the fat guy from Beatlejuice. Anyways, the boots were comfortable enough, but having never received a pedicure or foot rub, I don’t know enough about foot comfort to opine intelligently about whether or not they are more comfortable than anything else from the bulwark of shoes scattered on the floor in my closet. If I had to guess, I’d say perhaps that the Altamas are more traditionally “comfy,” but they are also softer, lighter, and have a different task in mind. My house slippers are similarly more comfortable than my Altamas, but I didn’t bring those camping in Denali. The Altama OTBs (Over the Beach) are made for more maritime environments, and even suitable for total submersion. They probably have to be a little bit more flexible. The Norris is more surface-oriented and geared towards support, protection, and durability – and they excel over the Altamas here. The upper/cuff of the shoe is as rigid as my Methodist Reverend Uncle John’s morals, providing more support than the Altamas, but you also know the rigidity is there when you supinate/pronate your ankle, much like that stiff-collar feeling in your neck when you move your head too much in a freshly-starched dress shirt.
Enough about specs, let’s take performance over nearly 25,000 steps per day on the European family vacay. The high day was 37,114 steps – just shy of 19 miles – on our first full day in Brussels. To be fair, on one or two days, I wore sneakers, so conservatively, let’s subtract 20% from the step count and say I walked 100 miles in the Norrises, at least.
Big walk energy in Brussels (per my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus).
Granted, I didn’t use the boots in a very high-stress environment, but walking 10 to 20 miles a day for 10 straight days is no joke, even in an urban setting. Together, the Norrises and I walked through Europe. We started with big miles in Munich, walking almost all day through the city on the first day (with a 300-step-climb of St. Peter’s tower thrown in) and the second day walking the English Gardens. Both evenings, we rewarded ourselves with a few liters of blonde and a couple of roasted chickens at the oldest beer hall in Munich, the Hofbrau Haus. We met Bloke on the Range in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Light duty work in Lucerne, Switzerland at the Gutsch Hotel.
The Norrises shrugged off light precipitation when it started raining after schnitzel at the Old Swiss House. The tread handled smooth, wet stone of Lucerne’s old town with ease. I, on the other hand, did not handle it so well. We ducked into the Kapellbrücke on our way to the Hotel Gütsch funicular to get out of the wet. One of the more engaging and challenging stops on the trip was our aforementioned walk through the casemates of the famed Luxembourg Bock fortification, and the old town beneath the Bock. The casemates are essentially a series of tunnels carved through a mountainside cliff overlooking Luxembourg City. A series of switchbacks and staircases will take you down to the Grund, a Luxembourg neighborhood in the valley below the Bock. It’s a steep walk up and down the side of the cliff face.
The Norris towards the end of the trip, overlooking Grand Place in Brussels. Walking 100 miles through intermittent rain on dirty European streets means these nasty Norrises need a wash.
Brussels is mostly flat (minus the elevation change between upper town and lower town) and well developed, so we put in a lot of miles. Bruges’ old cobblestone streets, pushy cyclists, and mobs of tourists tested the Norrises, as did the 366 step climb of the landmark Belfry. Amsterdam was also easy to walk, and the 5.11 boots were steady getting in and out of canal boats. And of course, we made a stop in Thionville, France to see the Maginot line and visit the site where my grandfather-in-law fought to liberate the town, serving under the 90th Infantry Division in World War II.
The Maginot line, France.
That said, the Norris boots were excellent. Walking a considerable distance in the Norrises proved to be no trouble at all. All the marketing buzzwords and “tactical intelligence” aside, the important takeaway is that these are shoes that look good but are also packed with features that enhance their performance, safety, and durability. Being in the minority of the tacticool/gun crowd that has been inside of a Saks (voluntarily), I can’t overstate my appreciation for 5.11’s placing the Norris at the confluence of design and performance, as the two are typically mutually exclusive.