Merrell Chameleon Wrap Mid Gore-Tex
Over the past year, several testers have said this versatile shoe has become their go-to footwear for scrambles, dayhikes, and light-load overnights. The soles are flexy and sticky enough for trail running or canyoneering, yet there’s enough arch and ankle support for 30-pound packs. Gore-Tex waterproofing held up to frequent stream crossings and multiday rainstorms. Breathability is also excellent–good enough for warm desert days. Testers liked the moderately high-volume toe box combined with a medium- to low-volume mid and rear foot. The combination keeps feet secure. Downside: They’re not as light as most in this category. Best for medium- to high-volume feet. $140; 2 lbs. 12 oz.
New Balance 920
We’ve tried many water shoes, but this amphibious hybrid is the first we’ve seen that’s a true trail animal. After numerous forays around Capitol Reef National Park, our Rocky Mountain editor says that what sets this shoe apart is its trail-runner fit and cushion. And unlike most mesh hybrids, this one has a fabric backing that repels all but the finest dust, making it well-suited to sandy slot canyons and side hikes on river trips. Outsole ports drain water quickly and the mesh uppers absorb no moisture–the shoes dried in 20 minutes of hiking following a wet run through the Sulphur Creek Goosenecks. Sole stickiness gets a B: It’s good but not outstanding. Caution: The standard foam insert is basically flat, so most users will want an after-market footbed. Bonus: Available in men’s and women’s widths. Best for medium-volume feet. $90; 1 lb. 8 oz.
In the realm of do-it-all low-cuts, this one stands out for its all-day hiking comfort and ability to handle off-trail terrain. It has the underfoot support and cushion for light-load backpacking, good torsional rigidity for crossing rough terrain, and an easy stride for big-mileage days. Smooth rubber under the toes gripped well when we scrambled on talus blocks, while the well-spaced lugs elsewhere provided good traction on loose scree and packed-dirt trail. Although the outsole rubber is harder (read: less sticky) than you’ll find in some other scrambling shoes, it’s also more durable. That, plus all-leather uppers and a stout rubber toe cap, assure several seasons of abuse. Best for medium-volume, slightly narrow feet. $120; 1 lb. 15 oz.
The North Face Smedge
Have it both ways with this category-blurring shoe. After a hike up the classic Keyhole Route on Colorado’s Longs Peak, our tester said, “I liked the balance they hit between scrambling and hiking; I smeared up slabs with great confidence, but found them more comfortable for striding hard for miles than the typical ‘approach-style’ low-top. My feet felt great after 15 hours.” Credit a fit that offers hiking-shoe stability in the heel and midsole (good enough to carry 25-30 pounds), and trail-runner flex in the forefoot. Plus, down-to-the-toes lacing allows precise fit adjustments. The sticky outsole, with smooth rubber under the big toe and shallow lugs, is better for smearing on dry rock than for traction on mud or pea gravel. Best for medium-volume feet. $90; 1 lb. 11 oz.
Best for Kids
Our young testers hiked in these waterproof suede-and-synthetic mid-cuts from Idaho’s Sawtooths to the Scottish Highlands. Unlike many children’s faux hiking models, these have the support and comfortable fit of quality boots. Our kids splashed through puddles and mud without getting wet feet, and breathability was good enough to prevent sweat-caused blisters. The boots survived a full season looking hardly used; younger siblings will put more miles on them. Best for medium-volume feet. $60; 1 lb. 9 oz. (kids’ 13)
Kayland Crux Grip
Our tester spent days at Idaho’s City of Rocks trying to make these scrambling shoes slip. No dice. Even on routes where he normally prefers true rock shoes, the glue-like outsole hung on tight. The midsole has enough torsional rigidity and support to hike for miles with 40 pounds of gear, he reported. To-the-toes lacing and good flex offer better sensitivity than many approach shoes. Suede and nylon uppers, plus a fat toe rand, promise a long life. Bottom line: The Crux is a great pick for Sierra-like scrambles with long approaches or easier climbing routes like the Grand Teton’s upper Exum Ridge. Best for medium-volume feet. $105; 1 lb. 11 oz.