A product review of Livigno and Bologna hiking boots by Berghen.
Memory is an untrustworthy friend. At least it is for me. But I’m sure I remember my first pair of hiking boots lasting for years and years. I felt quite sad when I eventually had to replace them. Not so in recent years. Each of my last two pairs have lasted barely two years. And that’s not because I have chosen cheap brands or increased my annual hiking distances.
As my and Liz’s current hiking boots were clearly fast approaching the end of their lives, I asked my hiking/blogging friend Guido what brand he prefers. “I’m very happy with my Berghen boots,” he replied. I’d never come across Berghen before, so I looked them up. I was quite surprised when I discovered their country of origin.
Berghen: Boots from Belgium!
My first thought was that the name “Berghen” refers to “bergen”: the mountains. But it actually refers to the Vankeerberghen family who in 1993 decided to develop a hiking shoe brand that would be manufactured exclusively in Europe. It’s still a family company, with Jean-Jacques Vankeerberghen its CEO. And there’s a lovely synchronicity between their name, their products and their mountain logo.
The company says it focuses on quality of materials, robustness and design, and a competitive price. They offer a complete range of hiking boots from level A to C for the whole family. Their objective is “to enable families to enjoy nature in complete safety thanks to its water-resistant and breathable membranes, adherent Vibram soles and a very comfortable footwear.” It sounded a brand worth trying.
Made in Europe
I was intrigued by their “Made in Europe” claim. As I couldn’t find the details of what this actually means, I contacted the company and got this reply from Brand Manager Caroline Bouckaert:
“All our shoes are ‘designed’ by me in collaboration with our specialist teams in Italy (Montebelluna region). These present us the most suitable materials for our shoes as well as the new colors available. For small quantities of production, this is done in Italy but most often our manufacturers have their own factories in Romania where the shoes are made. The manufacturing is done entirely in Romania, from the cutting of the parts, to the assembly of the upper and the assembly of the sole. For Berghen there is no question of using tricks to put “Made in Europe” on our shoes. Some brands assemble their uppers in China and mount the soles in Europe and can affix the Made in Europe. This is not our case. We know how to trace our products at all times and can guarantee that they are made in Europe.”
The Berghen website
Berghem.com is available in four languages (EN, FR, NL, GE) and is clearly laid out and easy to use. Under the tab “Technologies & Tips” they give a helpful explanation of “How to choose your hiking shoes” with descriptions of the main categories A. B and C:
Having identified your category you can then look through the models. These can be filtered on size, price and a few other characteristics. What immediately attracted me was that when I added my size and category to the filter, I had a choice, but not an overwhelming choice. In fact I had 11 pairs to choose from, which was perfectly manageable. (When I come across an online store with pages and pages of products, I quickly become overwhelmed and find it easy to postpone that particular online shopping spree). On the Berghen website, clicking on a product photo for more details takes you to the usual product and ordering information you expect from an online store.
At this point I wondered if Berghen would be interested in offering me a free pair of their boots in return for a product review. After all, Discovering Belgium continues to grow in popularity, especially this year with COVID closing fitness centres and sports clubs and driving more people to get their exercise by walking and cycling.
I wrote an email to the company explaining that the blog now regularly gets over 20,000 views per month, and that a new post can reach over 1000 readers on its first day. I received an instant reply from Chloé expressing interest in a partnership, and said they would send not just me but Liz too a pair of our choice to test them. We placed an order on a Sunday afternoon at 4 pm, and received our boots on Tuesday morning at 11 am, so in less than 48 hours. That was already a good start!
Our choice of Berghen boots
I selected a pair of LIVIGNO WP Black hiking boots.
These are described as unisex mid-top waterproof leather hiking boots, ideal for wet, dry and uneven terrain. Main characteristics are:
- Vibram® Civetta dual-density outsole for good grip and excellent mud evacuation. Its asymmetrical design encourages proper foot movement thus reducing fatigue
- Good shock-absorption on asphalt thanks to anti-shock insert in the heel
- Berghen®-Tex breathable and water resistant membrane. Wicks away sweat and offers excellent resistance to external moisture.
- Water-repellent York leather upper
- Solid and comfortable
- Excellent ankle support
- Removable insole
- 696 g (1/2 pair 41EU)
Liz selected a pair of Bologna Leather Caffé low-top shoes.
These are described as ideal for everyday wear in all circumstances, extremely light, and ideal for walks on gentle terrain. Main characteristics are:
- Vibram® Tubava multi-layer lightweight outsole for unparalleled grip and excellent durability. Designed for stability and comfort while hiking.
- Berghen®-Tex water-resistant and breathable membrane. Wicks away sweat and offers excellent resistance to external moisture.
- Water-repellent, full grain smooth Crazy leather upper
- Cemented construction, guaranteeing better durability, morphology resembling the foot and resoling possible
- Light, solid and comfortable
- Removable insole
- 395 g (1/2 pair 41 EU)
You can see that we both chose classic leather waterproof models. This was due to bad experiences with hiking shoes that look more like trainers, with “breathable and waterproof mesh.” I’ve had too many experiences walking through wet grass and coming home with wet feet. Even when the specs described them as water-resistant or waterproof.
How did we get on?
Extremely positively! In short, we both love our new Berghen hiking boots and could not be happier with them! Of course, we have only had them for a month and have only covered a few hundred kilometres (hikes as well as our daily after-dinner local walk), so we can’t comment on long-term durability yet.
I in particular was a bit apprehensive about sizing. I’m generally size 45 but some brands of shoe seem to make a very small 45, so I have to move to 46. But these size 45’s fit perfectly.
We both find our boots extremely comfortable, and provide a soft, cushioned yet supportive walking experience. We have tested them in various terrains, up and downhill, on road and thick mud, in wet grass and puddles. They always came through with flying colours. We are particularly impressed with their waterproofing. No wet feet!
Contrary to what you might think, I find them breathable. My most recent hike was 14 km on quite a warm day in the Ardennes, yet never once did I feel my feet were overheating.
The only negative aspect was to do with the laces of my Livigno boots. While Liz’s Bolognas had circular multi-strand laces normally associated with hiking boots, my Livigno boots only had “normal” flat, un-reinforced laces. I was surprised by this, so contacted Chloé at Berghen who replied immediately, thanking me for my remark and saying that the product specs have changed. In the future, Livigno boots will also be shipped out with stronger, circular laces.
After five months of use, I am still very pleased with my Livigno boots. However, after just three months of daily use, a problem developed with Liz’s Bologna boots. She started returning home firstly with a slightly damp left foot, and than a definitely wet left foot. After four months she had to try and avoid going through wet grass otherwise she would return with two wet feet. This was the problem:
The stitching in the same place on both boots was defective. This was disappointing and surprising. I contacted Berghen and they said it was a manufacturing error and agreed to replace the boots, which was great news.
However, they then said that when I returned the boots I had to provide proof of purchase. I reminded them that I hadn’t purchased them but had got them for free in return for a review. But I got this reply:
“We have a regulation to follow for our different services and unfortunately in this case, without proof of payment it is impossible to provide a return label.”
So, unable to return them for a new pair, we got them repaired at our own cost. Liz is now happy to have dry feet on her rambles. Apart from the stitching going up the Swanee, and the administrative obstacles, she still loves her Berghens and finds them the most comfortable hiking boots she has had.
Berghen hiking boots130/150 EUR
- Ease of ordering & delivery
- Very good value for money
- Extremely comfortable
- Excellent water resistance (only Livigno)
Less strong points
- Poor quality laces (Livigno)
- Poor stitching (Bologna)
- Not waterproof (Bologna)