Merrell are aiming the whole Chameleon range at the burgeoning lightweight market, with an athletic, lightweight construction but still with sufficient protection. At 736g for a pair they firmly tick the lightweight box, but can they deliver on the protection claim?
There are a lot of interesting design inclusions in the Chameleon 7, from the Flexplate to the moulded TPU heel counter. The thick upper material requires a little breaking in but we're only talking a few miles, at which point they give enough to be comfortable.
The upper has good structure to it, this is bolstered by a moulded TPU heel counter that extends up to the top lacing eyelet, providing excellent ankle stability when you consider that this is a relatively lightweight shoe.
The upper has mesh inserts to maximise breathability, the shoes on test have a gore-tex liner which knocks the heat and sweat levels up a notch, but this is a fair pay off if most of your walking is done in damp conditions. We haven't yet worn the Chameleon 7s in the height of summer but during the test period they breathed well enough for us, and thanks to the liner kept our feet dry through a particularly wet spring. If waterproof shoes aren't your thing Merrell offer non gore-tex options across the whole range.
The insole is Merrells own and is well cushioned for maximum comfort without loss of precision. The footbed has a pronounced arch, in line with most other Merrell shoes we've tested. This is something I always struggle with but if you're looking for a shoe with great arch support then Merrell have got your back.
Rather than use a traditional shank to prevent the sole from twisting Merrell have gone for a 'FlexPlate'. This runs the length of the shoe and provides varying flexibility from stiff at the back to very flexible at the front. This is a great success and we've found the Chameleon 7 to be very stable underfoot without feeling like a dead weight.
The Vibram TC5+ outsole has an interesting and unconventional lug pattern utilising oval shaped rubber 'pods' rather than the more usual shapes you might find on the underside of your shoe. This supposedly helps to reduce weight, in use we found them to work excellently across varied terrain. There's a token climbing zone at the front and although you might not be scaling vertiginous cliffs in the Chameleon 7s they're perfectly adequate for medium difficulty British hillwalking.
Durability is provided by a protective rubber toe cap and the aforementioned upper material, which is a mix of high quality nubuck, suede leather and mesh.
The traditional lace closure system runs smoothly, and effectively cinches the shoe in, cradling your foot without too much bunching of material. The toe box allows a natural splay of the toes without succumbing to sloppiness.
Overall the Chameleon 7s are very good general use outdoor shoes. Innovative technology has been utilised in their construction but we're not sure any of them, or indeed the sum of them justifies the £145 RRP price tag. Having said that, Merrell shoes can often be found heavily discounted online, if you can get them for a song then you're in for a comfortable and supportive hiking experience.