While others try to reinvent light hikers with synthetic materials, Merrell went another route: It transformed the classic leather midweight into a new breed of light hiker instead. At just over a pound apiece, the Phasers are built for light-load cruising, but the sturdy, no-nonsense construction and midcut ankle protection are made for old-school abuse. The uppers aren't cluttered with extraneous stitching or fabric layers that could fray and tear, and nubuck leather reinforcements protect vulnerable areas (like the sides of the ankle). Well-placed seams provide flex points to reduce break-in time to almost zeroI backpacked eight miles in them right out of the box, in north Georgia's Cohutta Wilderness Area, and experienced nary a hot spot. merrellboot.comBonus: The collar's soft, thick padding supports your ankle without rubbing.Bummer: Our narrow-footed testers found the shoe's fit a bit roomy.
LEATHER GOES NEW-SCHOOL