Even light hikers need stiffeners in the sole; these plates act like a secondary skeleton to support your foot's 26 bones. But the steel shanks of yesterday's wafflestompers are long gone, replaced by updated designsusing various combinations of pliable foam and lightweight synthetic platesthat create unique blends of flex, cushion, stability, and protection. The best new midsoles reflect the way these shoes are really used: to hike fast, scramble up peaks, and stroll to the pub.
Variations in laststhe forms around which shoes are shapedmake it hard to always achieve perfect fit. But hiking-shoe manufacturers have taken a page from snowboard boots, which use thin steel cablescalled the Boa lacing systemthat snake through the guts of the shoe and wrap your foot for an otherworldly snug fit. After testing, we deemed prototypes not yet ready for prime time, but expect to see refined versions soon.