[big load, big terrain]
Superstiff boots like these usually require break-in before you tackle a serious route with a heavy pack. So a tester laced up the Mountain Cascades (out of the box), loaded a pack with 50 pounds, and tackled a 3,000-foot ascent in Rocky Mountain National Park, complete with boulder fields, slimy creek beds, steep traverses, scree, and fifth-class scrambling. His report: “They’re perfect for big, unpredictable mountain adventures, and despite the underfoot stiffness, the fit was so good that my feet felt fine even the first day out.”
The split-grain leather and poly/nylon upper contours around widely varying foot shapes, with a roomy toebox and a snug midfoot and heel. Webbing lace loops in the forefoot and locking metal hooks from the arch up let our tester crank his heels into place, preventing toe bang even when he ran down the last mile of trail on Colorado’s 14,265-foot Quandary Peak. The midsole—made of polyurethane with a plastic protective plate—is the stiffest we tested, providing total underfoot protection and any-load support (plus it’s semiautomatic crampon-compatible).
The Vibram sole has a smooth toe pad for smearing, and sharp heel-braking lugs with mountain-goatlike traction; it gave our tester “surprisingly precise foot placement and edging.” Water never penetrated the Gore-Tex lining, and though there’s no insulation, testers reported the boot felt warm in high-elevation snow. $249; 3 lbs. 6 oz.; m’s 7.5-13, w’s 5-9