Danner’s Latest Boot Is a Goldilocks Blend of Style and Performance

We spent a week with the Danner Free Spirit to see how it stands up to rugged trails and city streets.

danner shoes
Gear Patrol Studios
  • Brand: Danner
  • Product: Free Spirit
  • Price: $200
  • From: danner.com

        There was a time when hiking boots were strictly objects of function. They were utilitarian, and reserved solely for days spent on the trail chewing up the miles, and crunching the leaves beneath your feet as you do. Danner's latest reissue, the Free Spirit, originally comes from an entirely different era — the '80s. The hiking boots of the '80s were less function and more style. Sure, they could knock out miles on the trail, but that wasn't their sole function. This new Free Spirit on the other hand, straddles both eras. It brings the style of an 80s boot with the capability of a no-nonsense, eight-hours-on-the-trail hiking boot. To find out if that rings true on more than just paper, we spent a week with them on our feet.

        From the Brand

        "In the late '80s, hiking boots stepped off the trail and became fashionable as well as functional. The Free Spirit combines a retro look inspired by that era with modern tech for a hiker you can pair with a daypack or your favorite pair of jeans."

        danner shoe close up on laces
        Gear Patrol Studios
        danner shoes
        Gear Patrol Studios

        What We Like

        Out of the box, it's immediately apparent where this boot draws its inspiration from. The original Free Spirit Cross Hiker (as it was called in the '80s) featured a similarly bright blue nylon upper paired with a more muted tan leather overlay. It's a stylish combination, and one our tester found paired nicely whether on the trail or munching miles on the pavement in more urban environments.

        man stepping in puddle wearing danner shoes
        Gear Patrol Studios

        The 1980s Danner Free Spirit Cross Hiker can be seen in print advertisements from the time being touted as one of the lightest weight waterproof hiking boots money can buy, and that same ethos is reflected in this reissue. The modern Free Spirit features the gold standard in waterproof membranes — Gore-Tex. It's sewn into the lining of the boot using a one-piece construction to ensure protection from puddles and mud. In practice, our tester found that not only did the boot live up to its waterproof claims in terms of the liner, but the nylon and leather upper is also water resistant and beads water as soon as you take your foot out of the puddle you just stepped in.

        danner shoes
        Gear Patrol Studios

        But what good is a waterproof boot if you slip every time you step in a puddle? The modern Free Spirit features a welcome upgrade over its retro counterpart in the grip and sole departments. The boot makes use of Danner's custom-made Vibram® Overlook outsole built with Megagrip — which is a fancy way of saying you'll be hard-pressed to find a surface you won't have traction on; Our tester certainly was. It didn't matter if it was loose rock, dirt, rain-washed streets, smooth and slick exposed rock faces or grass and loam — grip was there when it was needed.

        With such impressive grip, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it comes at the cost of comfort, but that's where you'd be wrong. In testing, we found that the Free Spirit's dual-density midsole was comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time without fatigue — and without sacrificing performance. The midsole is comprised of a firm outer layer that offers plenty of support and stability while the center of the boot underfoot is made up of a softer durometer rubber to keep things comfy.

        It all comes together in a boot that's equal parts style and function. Whether you're heading out on the trail or your task list is less exploration and more satisfying expectations at the office, the Free Spirit can be a worthy partner in both.

        man wearing danner shoes
        Gear Patrol Studios

        Who It’s For

        If you count yourself among the many outdoor enthusiasts that prefers their boot look as good as it performs, the Free Spirit is for you. Or, if you're trying to pare down what's in your closet, the Free Spirit allows you to have one boot where in the past you may have had two.


        For our tester, the verdict of this boot lies in its excellent ability to pay homage to the original while upping the performance and bringing it inline with modern standards. Where many reissue boots start to get out of their depth as soon as the trail gets rough, the Free Spirit bucks the trend. At its core, it's a utilitarian trail-ready hiking boot — it just happens to be wrapped in a stylish outer skin.

        Price: $200

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