The North Face Hedgehog Mid GTX XCR
What, exactly, is a fastpacking shoe? “It’s like a trail runner that borrowed ‘vitamins’ from Barry Bonds,” said our Northwest editor. He described the Hedgehog as the best fastpacker he’s ever tested after a 20-mile Tetons dayhike that featured a 10,700-foot pass and several off-trail miles over shifting scree and big talus blocks. What’s so special? A pronounced flex and rocker give it the feel of a running shoe, while an EVA midsole and a stiffened plastic shank add cushion and protection, respectively. Plus, the height–right at the ankle, between a low-cut and typical mid-cut–achieves a good balance between support and agility. Waterproofing is solid, yet the breathable synthetic nubuck and mesh uppers helped cool our feet (though the uppers would be more durable with leather). Best for medium-volume feet. $115; 2 lbs.
Hi-Tec V-Lite Radar II EV Low
This low-cut impressed four different testers who put it through the paces dayhiking and backpacking in locations from the Appalachian Trail to the Colorado Rockies. Good torsional rigidity and a plastic exoskeleton integrated with the laces keep feet stable with a 25-pound pack aboard, while the forefoot flex and wispy weight provide trail-runner-quality comfort. The eVent waterproof membrane’s breathability was excellent even on 80°F days, and our feet stayed dry through puddles, mud, and high-elevation summer snow. We also like the plastic-enclosed lace hardware–”smooth sliding and easily cinchable,” our gear editor says. Best for medium-volume feet. $105; 1 lb. 12 oz.
Best for Women
Merrell Chameleon ARC Mid Waterproof
From Colorado’s Mt. Zirkel to the Arizona desert, our female testers loved hiking in these mid-cuts. Comfort is instant, and the boot’s flex allows a natural stride. “Great heel pocket–my foot didn’t rub up and down at all, whether the boots were laced tight or loose,” one tester reported. Traction was impressive on steep scree, wet and dry rock, and mud. Overall, it’s a good choice for all-purpose dayhiking and on-trail backpacking with loads up to 30 pounds. Best for low- to medium-volume feet. $120; 2 lbs. 1 oz. (women’s 7)
If one shoe can get you through a summer of of dayhiking, scrambling, and backpacking with loads up to 25 pounds, it’s this low-cut. It’s light and breathable, yet also supportive and tough. The secure heel cup, stretchy gusseted tongue, and roomy toe box keep your foot locked in place while allowing toes wiggle room for all-day comfort. Good torsional rigidity and a three-quarter-length plastic shank offer solid stability and underfoot protection from sharp rocks. The Flow’s outsole is trimmed flush to the uppers, allowing it to excel at fine edging. The tread’s balance of stickiness and shallow lugs give it solid traction on loose trail as well as slabs. Best for medium- to high-volume feet. $90; 1 lb. 15 oz.