Why: Of the 100-plus boots we trail-tested last year, these Gore-Tex hikers offer the best blend of all-day comfort, off-trail durability, and big-load support. Testers raved about the last, which exhibits several classic signs of careful craftsmanship. The first is a deep, firm heel pocket that locks down skinny heels, eliminating the pressure and rubbing that causes blisters. This allows Raichle to open the forefoot just a bit to accommodate wider feet and give everyone's toes some wiggle room. Then comes a one-piece, full-grain upper that's supple in an old-fashioned way-it molds
to every curve of your foot without the creases and folds that afflict too-soft leather. The XT's sole also hits a sweet spot: It's rigid enough to handle 50-pound loads and rugged cross-country routes, but there's also enough longitudinal flex and cushion for big-mile trail days. And if you get stuck crossing talus slopes, no worries; the XT may be the most nimble boot in its class, and its rubber toe cap will fend off the sharpest rocks.
Who: Anyone hiking rough trails with big loads should consider this boot. Fit is forgiving for all but the widest feet.
How Much: $189
Sizes: men's 7-12 1/2, 13, 14; women's 5 1/2-10 1/2;
Weight: 4 lbs. (men's size 9)
Contact: (800) 451-5127; www.climbhigh.com