Danner Mountain Light Review: Hitting the trail in style

This Danner Mountain Light Review was written 6 months after purchase. I’ll continue to update my experiences to share how they measure up over time and whether they’re worth the price.

This is not a sponsored post, I purchased these hiking boots myself based on my own research and this Danner Mountain Light review is based on my own experiences and personal opinion. However, this post contains affiliate links. If you click on one of these links and then make a purchase from the linked advertiser site, I’ll make a commission at no extra cost to you. Please read my Privacy Policy for details.

I first started hiking back in 2010 and my first pair of hiking boots were Scarpa’s. They’re a very popular brand in Australia, and comfortable straight out of the box. The GORE-TEX lining kept my feet dry on the rainiest days and the Vibram soles handled rocky terrain with ease. After 7 years of use, the main boot showed minimal signs of wear and tear. But, around this time, both mine, my husbands and a friends Scarpa’s all experienced the same issue with the rubber sole separating from the boot. While this issue can be repaired, it’s not necessarily cost effective if you factor in the price of a replacement.

old Scarpa boots Atlas Introspective

Update: after discussing this issue with a hiking store assistant, this is a fairly common problem that can be avoided by wearing your hiking boots at least once per month. Both your body weight and body heat helps maintain the adhesive. Don’t store your hiking boots for months at a time or in places that experience high temperatures, like the garage. Wear them regularly to walk the dog or do some gardening between hikes.

You may also be interested in my favourite thru-hiking gear and clothing for women.

Leather Hiking Boots

My Scarpa’s took their last hike in South America, and by the end of the trip were held together with superglue & zip ties. So when I started planning for the Cape to Cape trek, the hunt began for my next pair of hiking boots.

I started researching leather hiking boots to see if they would last longer than boots made from synthetic material. I narrowed down the search to 3 boots: the Zamberlan 996 Vioz GTX, Scarpa Terra Gore-Tex and Danner Mountain Lights.

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Of the three leather hiking boots, I liked the Danner boots the best. Scarpa Terra Gore-Tex were a close second. They were really comfortable and provided a lot of foot and ankle support. Read on for a comprehensive Danner Mountain Light review to help you decide if these are the right boots for you.

The light tan leather worked best with my existing wardrobe and while I loved the cool red laces, I also knew that I could swap them out for a neutral colour on days when I didn’t want to make a bold statement. The Danner Mountain Lights also come in a dark brown and black colour-way.

Danner Mountain Light Review

New Danner boots worn Atlas Introspective

Danner Mountain Lights come either unlined or with waterproof GORE-TEX lining. I opted for the unlined version as I live in Australia and am more likely to be hiking in higher temperatures. I gave them several light coats of waterproofing spray which provided some waterproofing without impacting breathability in a warm climate.

Danner Mountain Light hiking boots are made in America from a single piece of leather. This has both pros and cons.

The benefits include: less gaps for water and dirt to enter the boot and the simple construction reduces the risk of wear and tear as there are less joins. On the flip side, some people find the tongue, which is folded from the same piece of leather as the main boot, can take a while to settle and mould to your feet. Some hikers complain that the tongue shifts to the side which can be an issue. I never had this problem and there are slits cut into the tongue to pull your laces through to keep it in place if needed.

Danner Mountain Light review: Hiking & leather boots

Some hikers warn against leather hiking boots for multi day hikes because they are heavier than other hiking boots. I wore these boots on the 6 day Cape to Cape hike in coastal Western Australia and the weight didn’t bother me. They’re not heavier than any other leather boot and were not noticeably heavier than my Scarpas. But, if lightweight shoes are important, Danner Mountain Lights or leather boots in general, may not suit your needs.

Boxed Danner boots Atlas Introspective

Danner Mountain Light Review: The Hollywood origins

During production of the movie, ‘Wild’ starring Rees Witherspoon, based on the incredible memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Danner was approached to create a hiking boot that reflected the image used on the book cover. Danner Mountain Light was the result and a nod to a style they manufactured in the 1970’s. Surprisingly, Strayed, on whom the film is based, didn’t wear Danner boots while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The iconic photo used on the cover of her memoir was selected by her publishing house from stock images. But regardless of it’s Hollywood origins, the film proved to be the perfect marketing vehicle & now the Danner Mountain Light is here to stay.

Expense and cost per wear

All hiking boots are an expensive purchase. I was happy to purchase a boot at the higher end of the price scale, if it could be offset by cost per wear. So it was important to find a boot with both form and function. I needed hiking boots that were practical on the hiking trail, but would also work with my everyday style. I’m all about high quality technical apparel on the hiking trail, but I don’t want to look like a hiker on a trip to Woollies. Danner Mountain Lights ticked the box.

Danner Mountain Light Review: Stitch-down Construction

Danner Mountain light review

Another priority was repairable construction as I’m trying to make better choices about quality when replacing items & upgrading to items that are well made, long lasting and easily repairable.

Danner Mountain Lights have a strip of leather overhanging the sole and attached with stitching. The stitching can be unpicked and re-sewn to a new sole when needed through the Danner Recrafting service. This makes resoling the boots easier without compromising the integrity of the shoe, assuming you take good care of the leather upper. It’s essential that the over-hanging leather at the base in particular, is well maintained, to allow for future repairs.

Danner boots are a premium product, but with wear, the leather develops an attractive patina and because the sole is easy to repair, they can potentially last decades.

Danner boots side Atlas Introspective

Gore-tex lining

I chose unlined Mountain Lights. I live in Australia where we have a mediterranean climate and I wanted the breathability of leather to keep my feet cool. A few light layers of leather waterproof spray kept my feet dry through everyday use and a 6 day thru-hike where we had daily rain. But Gore-tex lined boots provide solid waterproofing, and would best suit those in a wet or snowy climate.

Aesthetic

These boots had a lengthy and arduous break in period. More on that below. Fortunately they fit with my winter wardrobe easily, so I found lots of opportunities to wear them and break them in. They were great for day walks, on the school run and trips down south to the country visiting my family. They pair well with jeans and a woollen jumper in the city.

New Danner boots Atlas Introspective

Function

The primary reason I bought new boots was for an upcoming hiking trip so unless they’re comfortable, sturdy and keep my feet dry on thru-hikes, they’re useless to me. So the ultimate question is: do they have substance as well as style? My Danner Mountain Light review mainly focuses their performance hiking boots as this is their primary purpose. So far I’ve worn them on one thru-hike, the 6 day Cape to Cape hike in coastal Western Australia.

The Cape to Cape was my longest multi day hike so far and covered over 130km, with long stretches of beach sand and time spent in dunes. My feet took a serious battering. By the end of the trek I had blisters, lost toe nails and a previously twisted ankle flared up. This is not something I’ve experienced in my Scarpas on shorter thru-hikes.

But I’m a realist- they’re shoes not miracle workers. The question is, how do the Danner Mountain Lights stack up compared to other hiking boots? My husband hiked the Cape to Cape alongside me in his well worn Scarpas and experienced similar issues. So perhaps the state of my feet has more to do with the unique terrain than the boots.

Clean Danner boots Atlas Introspective

Even with several months spent breaking in my Danner boots, they were still quite stiff when I started out on the Cape to Cape. The following precautions helped: I wore two pairs of thick hiking socks for the first couple of days and took preventative measures using Compeed for blisters. I also used the surgeon’s knot lacing technique which stopped my feet sliding in my boots as much as possible.

I can confirm that I purchased the correct size, so this wasn’t a case of my subconscious trying to recreate the boot-throwing scene. The trail covered many sections of dunes and beach sand so the terrain was unsteady. I probably should have stopped to retie my laces throughout the day.

Ankle Support

The Mountain Light boots have a lower ankle height than my Scarpas and provided less ankle support. I prefer more ankle support when hiking, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Danner Mountain Light review: Size

Sizing seems to be a contentious issue on chat forums discussing the Danner Mountain Light. Unfortunately, nowhere stocks Danner boots where I live, so buying online was my only option. I referenced the size advice on the Danner website and prowled forums and Danner Mountain Light reviews before ordering.

The general consensus seems to be that the Danner Mountain Light runs large and it’s recommended to downsize by at least half a size. I was wary of this, as usually the rule of thumb with hiking boots is to size up. I put several brands into the Danner size converter and was consistently recommended to purchase my usual shoe size. I’m not sure if the discrepancy exists for others due to differences in European / USA shoe sizing, but I purchased my usual EU size, and they were the correct size.

Having worn my Danner boots for over a year now, I wonder if those down-sizing are primarily wearing this boot as an outdoors fashion shoe. For brisk, short walks Danner boots caused no major issues straight out of the box & I’ve read reviews where people have claimed to have no issues breaking in their boots. But most people’s feet swell for longer hikes and there’s no way I could have downsized.

Also important to note, the Danner Mountain Light are a narrow boot with a narrow toe box. I have noticeably less room in the toe in the Danner Mountain Lights compared to the Scarpas. Those with wider feet may find this impacts the sizing and fit.

Danner Mountain Light review: Leather

I was warned the break in period would be brutal. And brutal it was. To be fair, I’ve never worn in full grain leather boots before. You could argue that years of experience with fast-fashion has created unrealistic expectations about breaking in quality leather shoes. Those who routinely wear work boots may not experience the same shock to the system.

Danner Mountain Light review & Breaking-in

I started by wearing my boots around the house hoping that the warmth of my feet would start the process. They were nowhere near soft enough to wear hiking but I didn’t experience any blisters or pain.

I then graduated to short walks around the neighbourhood, but the leather was so stiff that I couldn’t lace them properly without pain. I persevered for short walks. There were no major issues but they weren’t super comfortable yet either.

Once I reached the point where I could lace the boots properly, I went on an hour long hike near my home with up and downhill stretches. I immediately got blisters. My God, the blisters.

I repeated this daily hour- long hike for a few weeks. There’s no beating around the bush, I had to walk through the pain. The ankle cup dug right into my Achilles and was a particular torment. After three weeks of heavy daily wear, the heel finally began to soften enough that I could tie the laces tighter and things improved.

Danner boots back Atlas Introspective

Tips to help with the break-in process

The following things helped a little during the break-in period: wrapping with Compeed tape, wearing two pairs of thick hiking socks and perseverance. But my feet were in a state and there was a lot of just pushing through the pain. The blisters were mostly on my heels. Those who can stretch out the break-in process over a longer period (6 months +) are encouraged to do so, to minimise discomfort.

Wearing my Danner boots in the rain seemed to accelerate the softening of the leather, so don’t shy away from water.

Yes, the break-in is arduous, but necessary. It’s a bit of a trade-off, softer leather would ultimately mean less support. Full grain leather boots reward patience, so consider this an act of rebellion in a world dominated by immediate gratification.

My Danner Mountain Light review & recommendation for those planning on buying these boots is to take it slow. Allow at least six months to break them in if the goal is to wear them hiking. Longer if you can swing it. I bought mine four months prior to a 6 day hike, I was dedicated to breaking them in and it was a push.

Surgeons knot

Once the leather has softened enough to do so, use a surgeons knot to tie the laces.

Red laces damage Atlas Introspective

Danner Mountain Light Review: Wear and Tear

After their first thru-hike, the flat red laces had frayed a bit. The hike involved a bit of rock scrambling, so this is arguably reasonable wear and tear. It’s an inexpensive thing to replace but I would have preferred them to last a little longer before showing signs of fraying. My round Scarpa laces never had this problem, so perhaps switch out the laces for hiking on tougher terrain.

Danner Mountain Light Review: The Verdict

Are these good hiking boots? In my opinion they are. My feet were warm and dry throughout the hike despite daily rain. Some blisters are to be expected when thru-hiking in wet weather and with river crossings. Are they better than my Scarpas? I think I need to reserve judgement for now, the boots may still have a bit of breaking in to do. I’d like to revisit the Danner Mountain Light review in another 6 to 12 months time.

But if pushed, I’d say that the Danner Mountain Lights offer the same amount of comfort as my Scarpas, with the caveat that this is only after a lengthy break-in period.

Hikers knot lacing Atlas Introspective

I paid more for the Danner boots than I did for my Scarpas, in the hope that they’d last longer. So only time will tell if they were a worthwhile investment in this regard.

The Danner Mountain Light review & ultimate question: are they worth the price tag? Only if you’ll wear them a lot and are prepared for the lengthy break in period. I purchased a higher price boot because I wanted a pair that would last the duration. I’ll update my review over the next few years to update you on how well they’re faring.

Danner Mountain Light boots review: are they for you?

For hikers wanting hiking boots to wear on and off the trail and who are prepared to invest the time to break in quality leather boots, the Danner Mountain Lights are the best looking boots on the market. If boots that are repairable is a priority and you don’t mind a lower ankle cut, they are worth a look-in. For those who value quality, and ethically made products, you can purchase with confidence. These boots aren’t made in a sweatshop and only the highest grade materials are used.

Hikers who need ankle support, wide feet or don’t have months to break in a new pair of boots, should consider other styles or brands.

Did the Danner Mountain Light review help you choose your next hiking boots & what travel gear would you like me to road-test next?

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