Is there a hiker in America who doesn't want to climb Mt. Rainier? Apparently not, judging by the avalanche of applications we received for our 10th annual Be a Gear Tester Contest. We took the winners there last August, outfitted them from gloves to gaiters, and put them through mountaineering boot camp. Result? They all topped out at 14,410 feet under sunny skies--proving that any fit hiker with good gear and a break in the weather can climb Mt. Rainier.
Keep cold toes warm with these well-insulated boots.
On Rainier and other big mountains, extreme cold can end your trip in a hurry. But you won't turn tail with numb toes if you're wearing these plastic double boots. The waterproof shell and insulated liners make them ideal for cold-weather living, because you can remove the inner boots to wear in your bag. One tester reports: "They fended off brutal temps, then provided plenty of stiffness for cramponing up slopes lacquered in ice." The downside? They're heavier than the insulated leather boots, and not as comfortable on the march or as agile on rocks. If you're renting from the Summit Haus, this what you'll get (3 days/$35). $269; men's 4-14; 5 lbs. 6 oz. (size 9) (800) 258-5020;www.koflach.com.
AKU Baltoro GTX
Get all-purpose performance for a great price.
These boots are stiff enough for crampon duty, grippy enough for high-mountain trekking, and cheap enough to justify to the spouse. On a warmup day, we scrambled across the rocky snout of the Nisqually Glacier, and Jamie said of the Vibram soles, "I felt like I had sandpaper on my shoes." That, plus a deep-lugged tread, makes them better suited to mixed terrain approaches than the more ice-oriented Asolos and Koflachs. Thinsulate insulation will keep toes warm down to 20°F, at least, and a Gore-Tex liner keeps them dry if you end up slogging through wet snow. Downside: The stiff, all-leather uppers break in slowly, and some heel slip caused blisters. Best for medium-width, medium-volume feet. $269; men's 7-12 ½, 13; 4 lbs. 12 oz. (size 8) (877) 864-7249;www.aku.it.
Asolo Summit TH
Climb rocks, ice...anything with these nimble boots.
Rick was a little concerned when we asked him to make a last-minute switch to brand new boots. Recipe for disaster, right? Wrong. "I never had a hot spot, blister, or even a sore area," he said after more than 16,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Credit the precise fit and the pain-free break-in of the leather uppers. The combination of hiking comfort, a stiff sole, and Thinsulate insulation makes the Summit a good choice for general mountaineering, but ice climbers will also love the close fit and low-bulk sole. For the money, these boots ought to have a water-proof/breathable liner. Best for narrow- to medium-width feet. $385; men's 5½-12; 3 lbs. 13 oz. (size 8) (877) 888-8533;www.asolo.com.
Outdoor Research Verglas
Save weight and money by shedding features, not protection.
These simple gaiters are tough enough for Rainier, light enough for three-season use, and cheap enough to buy for a trip this weekend. The upper is made with waterproof/breathable Ventia fabric, and seals tight with a wide hook-and-loop strip. Durable 500-denier Cordura in the lower section wards off rock scrapes, and snugs to your instep with a tough rubber strap. For extended hard-duty use, stick with OR's heavier Crocodiles, which have sturdier fabric in the leg section. $39; S-XL; 7 oz. (L) (888) 467-4327;www.orgear.com.