The Best Trail Shoes of 2013
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Adidas Terrex Fast X GTX
We put this waterproof-breathable hiker through its paces on everything from rainy multi-day excursions to sunny day hikes in the Sierras. An all-star in every application, it has a stiff sole with enough support for edging on tricky sidehills. And it never missed a step through creek crossings, scree fields, and sprints down cinder cones in California’s Lassen National Park. The main reason: the outsole features rubber from European tire company Continental that Adidas claims is 30 percent grippier than any other outsole material on the market. After months of use, one tester summed it up best: “I have yet to find another shoe that offers this much comfort and support in a package this light.” We also tested (and loved) a midcut version of the shoe, which provided enough support for full-on backpacking. 1 lb.
Salewa Firetail GTX Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Alpine climbing.
THE TEST: Vibram outsole with a dedicated climbing zone? Check. Rough-and-tumble nylon-mesh upper? You bet. Climbing-shoe lacing and narrow toe box? Done and done. Our tester took the waterproof-breathable Firetail GTX up to the Grand Teton’s high camp in Wyoming without feeling so much as a hot spot on the way. He expected a comfortable hike, but what he didn’t expect was to leave his climbing shoes behind for a summit push that involved 5.8-rated pitches.
THE VERDICT: It’s probably too overbuilt—and too stiff—to serve as most people’s everyday hiking shoe, but it blows away the competition on technical terrain. 14.4 oz.
Merrell Proterra Sport Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Those looking for big-time grip in a lightweight package.
THE TEST: “The sole offered easy forefoot flex and no heel slippage,” one tester reported after a trek through Mount Hood National Forest. The Proterra Sport’s grip is outstanding, thanks to a low-to-the-ground design—it’s lightly cushioned and nearly flat, like a minimalist running shoe—and inverted outsole lug pattern, which kept its hold on rocky and scree-choked trails. As airy as the shoe is, the tight mesh is surprisingly water resistant. Want more ankle support? The Proterra Sport comes in a midheight, too.
THE VERDICT: Incredible trail feel; fits average-to-wide feet best. 13.5 oz.
Columbia Conspiracy OutDry Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Light trail running; fast-packing trips.
THE TEST: Only comfy shoes made our cut, but if we had an award for extraordinary out-of-the-box comfort, the waterproof-breathable Conspiracy OutDry would win it. Much of the cush can be credited to the shoe’s multidensity midsole foam: it’s stiffer near the outsole for support but softer near the footbed for comfort. Watch out on wet terrain, though. During an overnight 14-mile hike on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast trail, one tester reported that the shoe became slick on creek crossings: “Stay the hell off of wet granite.”
THE VERDICT: The best-in-test shoe for riding the line between hiking and trail running. 10 oz.
Ahnu Kirkham Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Casual trailwear and crosstown treks.
THE TEST: We came to think of the Kirkham as the all-wheel-drive wagon of the hiking world—it’s as much at home on pavement as it is on dirt. The full-grain leather and suede upper shrugged off scrapes with rocks and other debris on Northern California trails, and the lugged outsole provided solid traction on everything but wet rocks and loose scree. But what our testers really appreciated was how well it worked as their everyday walk-the-dog, kick-the-can, go-to-work shoe.
THE VERDICT: Good looking and sturdily constructed. The Kirkham is virtually indestructible but can also be a bit stuffy on hot days. 14.7 oz.
Timberland Earthkeepers Intervale Ventilated Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Short, fast day hikes.
THE TEST: “Felt great out of the box,” wrote one tester. The easy break-in is probably due to the fact that the Intervale’s materials are, in a sense, already broken in—the laces and lining are upcycled from plastic bottles, and the outsole is 42 percent recycled rubber. The mostly leather Intervale handled day hikes and light trail runs in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge with ease, providing great trail feel. When mileage hit double digits, though, enthusiasm waned: the soft sole and flexible uppers are better suited to afternoon hikes.
THE VERDICT: Pared-down, go-fast shoe with casual looks. 11.2 oz.
Oboz Missoula Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Travel days, mellow trails.
THE TEST: Most of the shoes here look the part—they proudly say, I’m going hiking. Which is precisely why we like the skateboarding-inspired Missoula so much. Its shallowly lugged outsole is way grippier than it looks and performed especially well on snow-packed and icy trails and roads. The beefy midsole has an appreciable amount of arch support, and—Tom Cruise types take note—makes you about an inch taller than you really are. Perforations in the forefoot let some heat escape, but not much: like with the Ahnu, the leather uppers get toasty on hot days.
THE VERDICT: All-season, everyday drivers. 13.6 oz.
Scarpa Rapid LT Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Sneaker lovers; rocky, technical trails.
THE TEST: Evolved from Scarpa’s trail-running shoes, the Rapid LT is a light hiker with the soul of a sneaker and the performance chops of an approach shoe. We found this lightweight, low-cut jack-of-all-trades perfect for short hikes to the crags—a fold-down heel helps it pack small once it’s time to throw it in your bag. But you needn’t be an alpine climber to dig the Rapid LT; it was nimble (to-the-toe lacing makes for an ultrasecure fit) and protective enough to handle hiking and trail running on Hawaii’s broken-glass lava beds.
THE VERDICT: One of the most versatile shoes here. Fits narrow feet best. 10.9 oz.
TrekSta Alta GTX Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Heavy loads; snow and ice.
THE TEST: Two things separate the Alta GTX from all the other tan boots on the shelf. First: the bulbous, lumpy toe box, which looks weird (and feels weird at first). But, as advertised, the anatomical shape makes for a comfier ride, especially downhill. Second: the outsole’s lugs, embedded with micro-glass filaments that, according to TrekSta, create “slip-stopping surface tension.” It sounds like B.S., but testers agreed that the Alta GTX was noticeably grippier than the competition on virtually every slick surface.
THE VERDICT: The pronounced arch takes some getting used to (expect hot spots). Otherwise, best-in-class fit and bite. 21 oz.
Aku SL Sintesi GTX Trail Shoe
BEST FOR: Backpacking off-trail.
THE TEST: Handcrafted in Romania, this waterproof, breathable, completely bombproof boot features an internal layer of EVA foam for impact protection and mountaineering-style lacing beginning at the toes. The result is a fit that feels broken in out of the box. We took them for scree-filled scrambles and off-trail bushwhacking in Northern California’s Trinity Alps—and couldn’t have been happier. “They felt like steel-toed boots, only lighter,” said one tester, noting that the suede upper and rubber-wrapped toe and heel shrugged off the occasional rock punt.
THE VERDICT: Seriously tough. Great support for a relatively lightweight boot. 22 oz.