March 2008 Boots Review: Light Duty Boots

Best All-Around

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.

Best Buy

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)

Bargain!

Montrail Flow

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.

Garmont Dragontail

This all-purpose scrambler performs well on both rough rock and smooth trail. "The tread kept me from sliding on steep, loose terrain, while still providing a solid smear on slabs," said a tester after scrambling the South Teton in these lightweights. A roomy toe box and good forefoot flex provide comfort on long approach hikes, yet the Dragontail still has plenty of sensitivity for edging or hopping across talus. The shoe has enough torsional rigidity for off-trail hiking, and underfoot support is adequate for light-load backpacking. The padded, close-fitting collar protects the ankle and keeps out debris. The sturdy leather uppers produce impressive durability for a scrambler, but they're not as breathable as shoes with more mesh. Best for medium-volume feet. $130; 2 lbs.

Hi-Tec V-Lite Recon EV Mid

Get ankle protection in a nimble, lightweight package with this mid-cut. The Recon offers good toe room, and a close fit from the mid-foot to the heel enhances the sneakerlike performance, as does the extremely flexible midsole. After numerous hikes and trail runs, testers said the outsole stuck well on slickrock and packed-dirt trails. The eVent waterproof membrane breathes supremely well. The Recon is ideal for carrying up to about 25-pound loads in hot environments where you'll encounter lots of stream crossings. Caveats: There's little cushion or underfoot protection against rocks. And we saw early wear in the uppers and the EVA midsole; they won't last long in a rough (read: off-trail) environment. Best for medium- to high-volume feet. $110; 1 lb. 14 oz.

Keen Shellrock

This is one of the most versatile low-cuts we tested. After logging more than 100 miles from the Cascades to southern Idaho's high desert, testers were unanimous: The Shellrock is light and flexible enough for dayhiking and occasional trail running, and, thanks to a well-formed heel cup and a partial shank, has the support for fastpacking with 20-25 pounds. Fit is comfortably snug from heel to midfoot, with Keen's signature wide forefoot for maximum toe wiggling room. A zone of sticky rubber on the outsole grips well on talus and steep slabs. Downside: There's little underfoot protection from rocks. Best for medium-volume feet. $100; 1 lb. 10 oz.

Lafuma Sky Race OT

Dayhikes and trail runs in Colorado's Front Range proved this low-cut is a solid multi-sport shoe with excellent waterproofing from Nextec's Outdry lining, a waterproof/breathable membrane laminated directly to the uppers. Unlike interior liners, this construction prevents the uppers from soaking up moisture–thus eliminating water weight. We submersed the shoes in a creek for five minutes and stayed totally dry inside. On the move, breathability was good but not superior to other membranes. Lafuma's dual-lacing system allows you to adjust the forefoot fit independently from the ankle; we liked the flexibility, but had to retighten the upper lace frequently. The midsole is moderately cushioned, making the Sky Race best for dayhikes and ultralight backpacking. Best for low- to medium-volume feet. $130; 2 lbs.

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.

Scarpa Zen

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

Vasque Breeze

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)

Stickiest Scrambler

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.