I’m struggling to name many products which have had the impact of the Brasher Hillmaster GTX: A boot that was designed in 1994 and which has sold over a million pairs since. 1994 to you and I may only be 15 years, but the outdoor industry is like dog-years, if you can’t show several years of innovation per season, you’re a dinosaur. For a product to survive 3 years is extraordinary. For it to survive, and sell, as long as the Hillmaster is gobsmacking.
So it was with some trepidation that I slipped on my first ever pair of Hillmasters and went for a walk. Would they be everything I hoped, and would I be a good enough tester to do the legend justice?
The first thing I noticed is that they needed breaking-in. I’m obviously too used to boots which are soft enough to put on and then go trekking, and to be taken back a few years to a boot which is stiffer and less forgiving was a surprise which I suppose I should have been expecting. However, that’s not necessarily a negative thing. A boot which is broken-in to the precise shape of your foot is a wonderful companion.
The overall impression from the Hillmaster on their first outing was one of ‘armour’. My feet felt protected inside a tough shell. I felt like kicking things for a laugh.
A couple of miles on the GearWeAre test trail in damp conditions showed that the soles of the Hillmaster weren’t quite as grippy as I’d hoped. I felt myself slide around on a few damp rocks here and there, which was a bit of a worry. As I moved on to a muddy trail they performed much better though, and seemed to resist clumping too badly in sticky stuff.
The ankle and tongue of the boot are padded with a thick, soft foam and lined with leather, which makes for a very comfortable walking experience. I wore thick woolen socks and had the boots TIGHT – as I would have 15 years ago – and they gave me no problems.
The cut of the ankle is quite low, so there’s minimal support for your ankle. I’m not sure this is such a problem, since the boots are clearly designed for walking, rather than mountain or trekking purposes. They’re not crampon compatible.
The leather of the upper is quite thin and flexible around the forefoot, but reinforced by a hard toe-box and heel-cup, so sharp rocks shouldn’t penetrate through to your skin too easily, and kicking errant boulders won’t break your tootsies.
A full Gore-Tex membrane means that the boots are waterproof and since the tongue is sewn-in up to the 4th lace eyelet, you can ford shallow streams with confidence. As for breathability, well they’re full-grain leather so you will get sweaty eventually. Wear a good woolen sock to wick any moisture up and out at your ankle.
Looks wise, the Hillmaster is reassuringly classic. I feel comfortable around them, like I do when engulfed by a wingback chair with a tankard of ale. They look ‘proper’
I’m going to take the unusual step of NOT rating the Hillmaster GTX boots… yet. The more I wear them, the more I think that they’re a boot which needs more wear to prove themselves. I think they’re a long-term companion, and as such I’ll revisit this review as the months progress.
Brasher have produced an interesting short video about the history of the company, and what makes a Brasher boot different from other companies. It does a good job of explaining why the Hillmaster looks and performs like it does. Brasher strived to create a crossover between the classic hobnail, sturdy mountain boot and a modern, comfortable trainer. I think they succeeded.
SUMMARY: The Hillmaster GTX is a 15 year old design, with over a million pairs sold to date. Crap products don’t sell in those numbers, so take that as testament to their appeal. They’re not for mountain or trekking use, but for the vast majority of walkers, they would be a superb boot. As ever, try some on before you buy – Brasher fit isn’t for everyone!