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keen-dover-boots-promo.jpg Travis Hessman | NED
KEEN Utility Dover Work Boots: The next evolution in toughness and comfort.

Foot Not Loose: Testing the Most Comfortable, Secure Work Boots

After a grueling work week and even more laborious weekend, testing KEEN Utility's new Dover Work Boots made me want to dance.

I slipped on my pair of Dover work boots the day after I returned from our Manufacturing & Technology 2019 conference where I had walked an average of 11 miles per day in rock-hard, unforgiving dress shoes that had evidently been designed for the feet of another species. My feet were swollen, blistered, and bruised from heel to toe—not exactly the ideal situation to either test drive a new pair of boots or to demolish a cement wall. But, of course, that's exactly what I set out to do.

I am already well acclimated to the particulars of KEEN Utility boots (I normally wear my old pair of Braddocks for these home projects), so I thought I knew what to expect. KEEN is known for its emphasis on fit, specifically for crafting boots that conform perfectly around human feet. So I was expecting the wide toe box, the support everywhere I need it, the perfect fit from the first lace, and all those other perks KEEN has perfected. And I got all of that, plus a little more.

The new Dovers surprised me from the first step. My Braddocks (and every other pair of KEENs I have tried) provide a kind of cloudy comfort and super light weight design that let you almost forget about them once you start moving.


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The Dovers, though, locked my feet and ankles into what really felt like solid, protective support, with a firm toe box and form-fitting soles. When I laced them up, though, these boots felt more like wearing custom-designed armor than just comfortable kicks.

This worried me at first—other boots I have tried like this maintained that rigid, armor feeling every step of the day, which gets awfully tiresome. Protection, in my experience, comes at the cost of utility.

But then I took my first step and, surprisingly, the boots flexed easily and naturally, almost sneaker-like. My ankles moved freely, my toes moved freely, I moved freely, while the boot maintained its firm support.

This is due, surely, to the KONNECTFIT system KEEN developed for this design—a "free-moving cord system that allows a custom, foot-hugging fit every time the boot is laced up," according to the promo material.

In the real world, though, this just meant that my abused feet felt utterly supported. And despite the recent battle scars and bunions, now I was adequately armed—and far more confident—in my skills to take on my upcoming home improvement offensive.


Adventures in Rock Breaking

My goal over the weekend was to demolish and remove a short, 30-foot-long wall of crumbling concrete protecting my lawn from the driveway. To do this, I would start by swinging a ridiculously heavy 35-lb. sledge hammer, and then crouch down to chisel away debris with a 6-lb hammer.

The challenge here was three-fold: I needed to essentially golf-swing the sledge without losing my footing or breaking an ankle. Then I needed to kneel and crawl along the base without fighting the boots to do so. And I needed to haul a ton or so of concrete debris away without my feet resigning in protest.

Actually, there's another fold to this, too. I am generally very good at hurting myself very badly (almost skillfully) on these jobs. During my last demo, for example, I managed to shatter my big toe while removing the very first slab. So the bonus test was to finish this project without permanently maiming myself—a goal that made me especially grateful for the Dovers' carbon fiber toe cap.

For all of these tests, I am happy to report, the Dovers performed brilliantly. Swinging my monster sledge did terrible things to my back and my elbows and my shoulders, but my feet never slipped and my ankles never gave. One particularly poorly aimed swing hit my toe cap almost squarely. Didn't feel a thing.

For the finer chisel work, I didn't even notice the extreme bend I was demanding of the boots until I saw it in the photos. I'd never accomplished this in anything more rugged than Chuck Taylors and I never would have expected it from a pair of work boots.

In the end, I hammered, I chiseled, and I hauled for about 10 hours that day with feet that ached before I even began. Through the course of the project, I managed to hammer my hand at least twice, blow out a callous, strain my back, bruise my knees, scratch up my face with flying debris, and generally pull every single muscle involved. On Monday morning, I hurt everywhere... except my feet.

This was the curious effect of the Dover design, I think. Whereas I usually forget I'm even wearing my Braddocks, I never forgot about the Dovers. They provided a kind of constant support throughout the project—unobtrusive and highly comfortable support, sure, but they also provided the kind of structured backing I need to maintain safety and confidence in my work.

As the sun began to set, I didn't want to stop. I wanted to use these boots to build houses and skyscrapers, cities or log cabins. I wanted finish every project on my list. But that last blow to the hand did me in and I had to pack up the tools and clean up the mess.

And here's the thing that really got me: At the end of a long day of hard work, usually I want nothing more than to kick off my boots, ease into my chair, and never move again. But, despite the work I had done, despite the foot bruises and blisters I'd walked into this job with, I completely forgot to take off the Dovers for at least another hour. Just didn't occur to me. And that is an experience I challenge anyone to duplicate with a fresh pair of boots.

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