Montrail Mountain Mist XCR OVERALL 3.5
This nimble trail runner ably crosses over to moderate backpacking duty.
Surprise, surprise: Here’s a hardy trail runner–the best in this pack at moving fast–that’s also great for dayhiking, backpacking, even scrambling off-trail. One tester took these straight out of the box on a 6-day trip in California’s Trinity Alps and found them comfortable from the first step. Versatile, too: "They handled snowfields, steep, muddy hillsides, and slippery rocks, all with a 40-pound pack." This review’s lightest shoe marries plush cushioning and excellent torsional stability with good forefoot flex and rocker. Some of us carried 40 pounds comfortably, thanks in part to a plastic exoskeleton that supports feet from the laces to the ankle. Credit also goes to gel cushioning in the forefoot and a full-length plastic midsole plate.
Waterproofing proved reliable, and breathability is among the best in the bunch. In fact, the shoes never felt damp during back-to-back 16-mile summer dayhikes in Glacier National Park. But the toebox’s tight fit was uncomfortable for some testers, and while the snug collar keeps out sand and stones, it’s so snug you have to force your foot through. Also, after a few hundred miles, seams and toe rands on some testers’ shoes began to unravel. Best for narrow, low-volume feet. $125; 1 lb. 15 oz.; men’s 7-12, 13, 14, 15, women’s 5-11 (800) 647-0224; www.montrail.com.
Vasque Breeze Low XCR OVERALL 3.3
For narrow-footed hikers, this durable shoe offers excellent support.
The favorite of two of our female testers, the Breeze’s stiffness and support with 40-pound loads ranks among the best in the test, outdone–but just barely–by only Garmont and Merrell. From the Desert Southwest to Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, we tramped through boggy tundra, crossed countless streams, ventured onto harsh off-trail terrain, and dealt with steady rain and hot sun, among other climatic challenges. The verdict: The Breeze is unfailingly waterproof, as durable as any, and blessed with highly breathable leather/mesh uppers. The outsole offered superior traction on all surfaces, especially on downhills thanks to its sharp heel brake. But the shoe’s narrow last pinched (and sometimes blistered) the toes of testers with average to wide feet, and our third female tester found the heel too roomy. It’s also the heaviest shoe we tested, and the stiff sole requires more break-in time. $125; 2 lbs. 8 oz.; men’s 7-12, 13, 14, 15, women’s 5-11 (800) 224-4453; www.vasque.com.