Lowa Vertex GTX $225
WHY THEY RULE: "Biomex" sounds like genetically engineered food from El Paso, but it's really just Lowa's name for an external ankle support. The hinged, rigid-plastic cuff locked my ankles in place on loose, off-camber taluseven as I teetered under a 35-pound backpack. Indeed, they aced the hairiest stability test I know ofthe skating-rink scree surrounding Arizona's Courthouse Rock. » Uppers are synthetic leather and microfiber with a Gore-Tex bootie. The combination breathed well and shed water flawlessly. » Ankle support is nothing without a sturdy sole, and the Vibram treads both edged and stuck with enthusiasm. » A polyurethane midsole and nylon insole round out the support package, making the Vertexes a sweet fit for extended backpacking. HMMM...For all their technical wizardry, at four pounds per pair, these are not light boots.
The North Face Ultra Gore-Tex XCR $110
WHY THEY RULE: These trail runners are sexy, yes, but also smartTNF crammed 'em with a mountain runner's dream list, including a waterproof-breathable XCR bootie to keep you dry, an Outlast footbed engineered to hold heat and release it when needed and a wider lacing system that ensures dogs' comfort through checkpoint 14 and beyond. » How did the whole package run? I got a satisfying combination of support, cushioning, protection, and stability. » Wait, did we sufficiently gush over the design? Let's not undersell the gold stitching on the black rubber heels or the stitched mudguards over the padded mesh; also of note are glow-in-the-dark trim and navy-on-yellow outsole lugs. » TNF added little shock-corded anchor stations for optional $20 waterproof stretch gaiters. Thus equipped, I postholed through two-foot drifts without soaking my ankles. HMMM...Did TNF size these things for elves? I ordered three successively larger pairs before landing a fit.