Sturdy Boots Without the Burden
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Outside magazine, April 1996
Sturdy Boots Without the Burden
Lightweight, trailworthy hikers for both fast-moving day hikes and overnight jaunts
Horrific tales of foot agony in decades past are the best argument for today’s lightweight hiking boots, so here’s mine: In 1974, I climbed Washington State’s 7,965-foot Mount Olympus. The approach was a long one–nearly 20 miles–and hiking boots were big, heavy, and awkward, with inch-thick lug soles and beefy welt stitching. As I was trekking in, hordes of climbers were
Fortunately, the gory days are over. Running-shoe technology has influenced hiking footwear, and the notion that comfort and light weight are transferable to the trail has endured. In recent years, manufacturers have spun out dozens of lightweight boots that are ideal for a fast-moving day hike and the occasional overnight backpacking trip.
I’ve come up with ten hikers that are heavier than approach shoes but lighter than multiday backpacking boots. Some are best for day trips; others are capable of weekend jaunts. Most combine leather with fabric to strike a compromise between weight and durability. None will be quite as tough–or as much of a burden–as long-haul stalwarts.
These boots are built like running shoes–that is, the uppers, soles, and midsoles are bonded together with cement or injection molding, not the stitching that used to be the hallmark of “real” boots. It’s a simpler, lighter construction that reduces cost and fatigue. Most of these boots have midsoles of polyurethane, which cushions better than the rubber-and-leather sandwich
Despite their relatively comfy running-shoe influence, most of these boots require at least a little breaking in. And special attention to fitting will pay off–beyond minor rubs and pinches, if a boot hurts you in the store, it’ll hurt you more on the trail. Now, on to our boots. All weights are per boot in a men’s size nine.
At $65, Hi-Tec’s Sierra (one pound, seven ounces) is affordable even at tax time. It’s a comfortable, agile boot for light loads, with a steel-shank-reinforced fiberboard insole for moderate support and an EVA midsole for a lot of cushioning. The waterproof-breathable Sympatex lining is a bonus at this bargain price. On the trail, the Hi-Tec grips
The aptly named Tecnica Hurricane ($89; one pound, one ounce) feels fast–and it is, with a smooth-striding polyurethane midsole and plenty of flex for covering miles. At the same time, its sturdy polyurethane midsole and suede uppers are supportive enough for carrying a load, while a carbon-rubber sole does a good job of deflecting stones. The
The Raichle Hudson II ($100; one pound, one ounce) is perhaps the most environmentally conscious boot in this lineup. Like several other makers, Raichle uses recycled rubber in the sole and insole. But it also employs fabric made from scrap cloth and recycled soda bottles, and the outsole’s relatively shallow lugs are easy on the trail. You can
The One Sport Serac ($115; one pound, nine ounces) is certainly substantial for the outlay, with Vibram soles, waterproof nubuck leather outers, and a well-padded tongue and ankle collar. I particularly like its all-leather toe construction with small 1,000-denier nylon patches on the side panels for a minimum of seams. Its full-length nylon insole
Take the tiny logo off its heel and the Nike Air Karakor WS ($120; one pound, 11 ounces) might fit into the lineup of Vasque or Raichle. It has that classic look, with unadorned full-grain leather uppers and a businesslike black synthetic-leather rand. It performs like a big boot, too, with plenty of support, stability, and grip. Any cushioning
Of all the good shoes in this review, the new Vasque Alpha GTX ($120; one pound, five ounces) is easily the best buy, with the cut and heft of a boot selling for much more, plus a Gore-Tex bootie identical to that found in Vasque’s more expensive shoes. Vasque brought the price down by using first-split rather than full-grain leather, less
The well-bred, Italian-made Asolo AFX 520 ($135; one pound, six ounces) is another of my favorites–a substantial, handsome boot that’s both comfortable and secure-feeling. It’s an all-leather boot, with uppers made of a single piece of durably beefy full-grain leather. That necessitates a bit more break-in time, but not much, and it quickly
Danner’s Gemini ($155; one pound, eight ounces) feels like a lot of boot when you heft it, with full-grain nubuck leather, Cordura patches on the side panels, and a substantial heel counter. But on your feet, it’s like the proverbial glove: snug and supple. The soft, padded tongue helps seal the boot around the shin but doesn’t pinch or rub. The
The Salomon Adventure 8 ($165; one pound, six ounces) has support and stability enough for serious trips. But it feels so good that I wear it on day trips too–in fact, it’s my favorite boot from this batch. What really sets it apart, aside from its moon-boot looks, is the near-custom fit that comes from a lace-up inner boot and zip-over outer. The
A few years back, a high-school-era ankle injury began to haunt me on trails, so I appreciate a boot with lots of stability. I walked with confidence in the La Sportiva Sherpa ($209; one pound, ten ounces). This is nearly a full-bore backpacking boot: essentially one piece of full-grain leather with Vibram soles and a Gore-Tex bootie. Despite its
Douglas Gantenbein writes frequently for Outside’s Review pages and weighs in as the Interactive Gear Guy for Outside Online