The 10 Best Hiking Shoes of Summer 2012
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Danner Crater Rim
One size does not fit all in clothing, and that includes shoes, too. Which is why Danner still cobbles boots in its Oregon shop in half sizes and a range of widths to ensure a precise fit—which can be a revelation. (Turns out one of our testers wears a size 9½ E, not the 10 he’d always believed.) The Crater Rim is based on a Danner-made boot popular with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and it’s easy to see why: the nubuck upper is durable but supple; the high-cut, full-wrap rand provides protection against rocks, cactus, and puddles; and the aggressively lugged Vibram sole sloughs off pebbles, slop, and snow. We took the Crater Rims straight from the box on a taxing scramble up a creek (the Gore-Tex lining had no trouble with the soaking), then over a steep, eroded anaconda of switchbacks. We had nary a hot spot or blister that day, nor in all the miles in the months after, proving once and for all that size—and materials and construction—does matter. 1.9 lbs
SUPPORT: 5 (OUT OF 5)
Adidas Terrex Fast R
BEST FOR: Rocky trails. THE TEST: “Wet, dry, hard or soft trail—they never lost traction,” one tester raved. How? Adidas teamed up with Continental (the tire company) and essentially slapped a mountain-bike tire to the bottom of its first trail shoe, with diamond-shaped knobbies for exceptional grip. But the real tech is supposedly in the high-tech heel pad, which hides two overlapping plates in the midsole, a design Adidas says adds stability by slowing the transition from the initial heel strike to the toe-off. We don’t know about all that, but the Fast R did have a nice balance and stride, even in steep, rutted terrain. THE VERDICT: A three-season shoe up for just about anything. 13 oz
BEST FOR: Desert dwellers. THE TEST: With lots of cooling mesh and a one-hand speed toggle for the laces, the lightweight Colorado is a sport-sandal-running-shoe mashup. The minimalist upper is all about heat dispersal, but it’s mated to a moderately lugged sole that we found plenty grippy and a deep heel cup that kept our ankles from rolling. While the airy mesh made for cool feet on sweaty hikes, it let in some grit on sandy trails. And the soft toe box means you either have to tread carefully in rocky terrain or risk jamming your toes. These minor gripes aside, testers loved the Colorado for moving fast in hot weather. THE VERDICT: This summertime day hiker can double as a runner in a pinch. 14 oz
BEST FOR: Lightweight protection. THE TEST: Ankle turners, rejoice! Vasque has stitched the platform of a beefier boot onto the body of a lightweight, breathable hiker. The result is a shoe that’s stout and stable but, at just 13 ounces, hardly hefty. “This is no jacked-up SUV,” one tester commented. “And you don’t feel any rocks through the sole.” Credit the molded TPU plate that runs three-quarters the length of the shoe. Yet this isn’t some boardlike Frankenshoe. The plate is as flexible front-to-rear as it is torsionally rigid, so while our feet tracked solidly with each strike, we could still open up a comfortable stride. THE VERDICT: Punches above its weight. 13 oz
Chaco Bulloo Vade
BEST FOR: The performance- and fashion-conscious. THE TEST: Drawing on its experience making high-traction sandals, Chaco has built a trail shoe that grips the rough with the tenacity of a pit bull. The low-volume Vibram sole might look wimpy, but on northern New Mexico trails it stuck to sandstone slickrock—wet or dry—like a rock shoe. We worried that all the suede in the upper might be hot, but the mesh underlay vented well on searing hikes. Best of all, you can easily wear the low-key styling from trail to town without feeling like some high-zoot adventure racer. Bonus: the square shoelaces really work; they never came undone. THE VERDICT: A hot-weather hiker that can double as your adventure travel shoe. 15 oz
Scarpa Moraine Mid GTX
BEST FOR: The one-pair hiker. THE TEST: “They just fit me,” was a common refrain, with testers exclaiming how secure the instep felt. That snug feel comes from the suede rib cage that wraps from the sole to the eyelets to enclose your foot like a clamshell. The result, we found, was ankle stability for rough trails rivaled only by the Salewas and the Vasque Velocity. With Gore-Tex lining and rugged metal upper eyelets that lace fast like the ferrules on a fly rod, this shoe is packed with features—especially for the price. If you have paddles for feet, though, you should look elsewhere; the fit is narrow. THE VERDICT: Meet the mid-hiker that feels like a slipper. 15 oz
Salewa MTN Trainer GTX
BEST FOR: Scrambling and alpine climbing. THE TEST: Born out of the Italian discipline of via ferrata—climbing routes equipped with cables and ladders—the MTN Trainer is at its best on actual rock. The heavy-duty suede was plenty protective in scree fields, and the full-wrap rand even allowed for passable toe jamming. The combination of a stiff midsole (some will find it too firm for everyday trail use), laces that run clear down the toe box (to ensure a tight fit), and the crisp corner of the sticky Vibram sole (front lugs are recessed) makes for great support and edging on micro-lips and fins of rock. THE VERDICT: Deft enough to tempt adventure climbers away from bringing rock shoes on semitechnical routes. 1 lb
Much like a climbing shoe with a “slingshot” heel rand, the MTN Trainer and Beartooth keep your foot from slipping inside the shoe with bands on both sides of the foot that pull the laces and your instep down and back toward the shoe’s heel.
BEST FOR: Backpacking. THE TEST: If you’ve got big plans and a fancy new multi-day backpack, you’d be wise to complete the package with a burly, high-cut, waterproof-breathable boot like the Beartooth. With reinforced nubuck uppers, stainless-steel hardware for the laces, and a meaty, self-cleaning lugged sole, the Beartooth is a monster truck of a boot. Our favorite feature was the webbing strap that connects the heel cup to the laces, which cinched our heels into the back of the boot for a locked-in feel and zero blisters. THE VERDICT: It’s hard to imagine needing beefier boots than these. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine them ever wearing out. 2 lbs
Crispi Monaco GTX
BEST FOR: Nasty weather. THE TEST: Like the Danner Crater Rim, this Italian-made hiker has a nubuck upper, a 360-degree rand, and a nearly seamless Gore-Tex lining. Upshot: it’s a boot fit for foul weather. But toasty toes are only half the cold-weather equation. The proprietary Vibram sole has deep-lugged, asymmetrical outer edges for sure feet in snow and muck and fewer, shorter inner knobs for great flexion and sensitivity. On a winter hike up Glorieta Baldy, a steep, loose grunt in northern New Mexico where conditions ran from sun-exposed slop to ice-spackled slickrock to crunchy snow, the Monacos never slipped. THE VERDICT: Enough protection to wear well into winter, but they’re a bit warm for quick midsummer jaunts. 1.2 lbs
Unlike conventional rawhide leather or sued, nubuck, as seen here on the Monaco and the Gear of the Year-winning Crater Rim, is sanded to produce a smooth, soft, and pliable surface that holds water-repelling treatments such as Nikwax longer than other leathers.
Timberland Lite Trace Mid
BEST FOR: Getting there first. THE TEST: At a gossamer 13 ounces, the Trace was the lightest midcut shoe in the test. Timberland defies gravity by inserting a lightweight foam in the midsole more commonly found in track flats and by slimming the upper, a seamless construction that laminates the exterior, waterproofing, and interior into one ultrathin layer. Considering how light it is, we were impressed with the Trace’s guts. It locked testers’ ankles as securely as much heavier-duty hikers, even with a 30-pound pack shouldered. The downside? The upper is like a pincushion for thorns, and the flexy toe box caused hot spots for at least one tester. THE VERDICT: The dream shoe for fast packers, just mind the sharp stuff. 13 oz