If you are looking for a quality Made in USA hiking boot with an old school design than two boots worth considering are the Merrell Wilderness and Danner Mountain Light hiking boots. We put these two boots head to head and explore the differences in construction, fit and features so you can choose the best one for you.
|Merrell Wilderness||Danner Mountain Light|
|Weight||56 oz per pair||58 oz per pair|
|Fit||Fit true to size for most.||Go half size down in EE sizes.|
|Liner||Tesivel 3-bar knit lining||Gore-Tex lining|
|Outsole||Vibram Roccia||Vibram Kletterlift|
|Made in USA||Yes||Yes|
|Price||Check the latest price on Amazon||Check the latest price on Amazon|
Merrell Wilderness vs Danner Mountain Light
The Merrell Wilderness hiking boot is Merrell’s flagship boot that was first introduced in 1981. Today Merrell prides itself in offering this iconic boot that still honors it’s original heritage design and features. The Merrell Wilderness boot is made in Michigan.
Danner is a brand known for their handcrafted outdoor, tactical and lifestyle boots. The Danner Mountain Light is one of their iconic offerings that still is made to it’s original 1979 specs. Danner has recently released the Mountain Light II that features some slight changes to the last. Today Danner still proudly manufactures it’s Mountain Light line in Portland, Oregon.
Quality and Materials
When it comes to quality and craftsmanship both boots get an A+. Unlike many modern hiking boots that often are made of cheaper materials, the Merrell Wilderness and Danner Mountain Light are made to last for years of hard wear.
Both the Merrell Wilderness and Danner are made with full grain leather uppers that are notorious for their tough break-ins. What we really like about Danner is the resilient leather they use in their Mountain Light boots that holds up well when abused. Merrell also uses a very heavy and thick leather in their uppers that are meant to mold to your feet over time.
One difference between the Merrell Wilderness and Danner Mountain Light is the materials used in the lining of each boot. Danner opts-in for a Gore-Tex lining that is waterproof while still being breathable. Merrell instead features a Tesivel 3-bar knit lining in the Wilderness boot. Tesival 3-bar knit lining does an excellent job at wicking moisture to help keep your feet dry but does little to stop water from getting into the boot. If you are looking for a fully waterproof boot than the Merrell Wilderness may not be the best choice (more on this below).
Differences in Construction
The main difference between the Merrell Wilderness and the Danner Mountain Light is their different approach to boot construction. The Merrell Wilderness uses what’s called Norwegian welt. Norwegian welt construction is when the leather upper is turned outward to sit on top of the sole. What you get is an exposed stitch construction that looks rugged and has better waterproof protection than a regular welted shoe.
The Danner Mountain Light on the other hand features a stitchdown construction which is a bit different to the Norwegian welt described above. In stitch down construction, a row of stitching goes through the upper and the outsole. Much like the Wilderness’ Norwegian construction, you’ll notice that Danner features an exposed stitching that gives it it’s robust heavy duty look.
The great thing about the construction in both the Merrell Wilderness and Danner Mountain Light is that they are both repairable. Danner prides itself in offering a recrafting service for many of their boots making it possible to send in a pair of Danner Mountain Light’s in for repair. One con with the Merrell Wilderness is that the brand does not offer such a simple in-house repair program like Danner. But because of the nature of it’s construction, you can find an independent cobbler that can work with Norwegian welts for a resole if needed.
But are they waterproof?
It’s worth discussing the waterproofness of each boot in a little more detail. Although the Merrell Wilderness is made of waterproof leather and features a Norwegian welt, it’s not fully waterproof. For one the liner used inside the Merrell Wilderness hiking boot is not waterproof. This liner is great for keeping moisture out but does very little to protect water from coming into the boot. Another note on the Wilderness’ Norwegian welt, this type of welt is better for water protection than most but some leakage may still occur. If you plan on using the Merrell Wilderness for quickly walking through shallow puddles you will fine, but water will get into these boots if these boots are submerged.
The Danner Mountain Light does better with waterproofing their boot. Their Gore-Tex liner is great for both keeping water out and breathability. You should be fine walking through wet terrain as long as the water is below the tongue line. This gives you about 3 inches of water protection.
Merrell Wilderness vs Danner Mountain Light: Outsole
Another difference worth exploring is the choice of Vibram soles used in the Merrell Wilderness and Danner Mountain Light. The Danner Mountain Light uses a Vibram Kletterlift. This outsole is a “heritage” sole that is made of a robust rubber. It’s main feature is it’s Megagrip compound that allows for really great grip on both wet and dry surfaces.
The Merrell Wilderness takes a slightly different approach with it’s use of the Vibram Roccia outsole. This outsole focuses on high shock absorption, cushioning, and comfort. This is the same boot sole used in Timberland classic work boots.
Fit and Sizing Comparison
Merrell Wilderness boots are reported to fit true to size for most users. Merrell keeps their sizing simple and only offers regular M width sizes. Those with wider or more narrow feet may need to size up or down.
Danner’s Mountain Light on the other hand are available in two varieties. The Danner Mountain Light is made on a wider last and is only available in EE sizes. The Danner Mountain Light II is available in both a regular and EE size. Danner recommends that you go a half size down in their EE sizes for a more comfortable fit. Danner Mountain Light’s tend to fit more on the narrow size so it’s EE sizing may not fit like a regular wide boot. To learn more about these sizing differences make sure to check out our Danner Mountain Light vs Mountain Light II write-up.
Color and Style Options
Danner offers a wider variety of leather and suede options with their Mountain Light line of hiking boots. Merrell on the other hand only offers 3 color options with the Wilderness made in USA boot: Brown, black and suede gray. If you are looking for more color variety than the basic black and brown than Danner has more to choose from.
Merrell Wilderness vs Danner Mountain Light: Which is better?
Choose Merrell Wilderness…. if you value craftsmanship and want a surefooted boot that will fit like a glove after the initial break-in period. Merrell’s attention to detail does not disappoint and the option to resole when needed is big plus.
Choose Danner Mountain Light…. if you want a classic heritage hiking boot with more waterproof capability and the option of using Danner’s in-house repair service. Danner’s Gore-Tex lining fills in where the Merrell Wilderness falls short when it comes to waterproofing. For the style conscious, Danner also offers more leather and suede color options.