Time-Tested Gear: Boots

BACKPACKER testers have endured numerous blisters over the years finding the best boots on the shelves.

Tried and True
Danner Light/Light IIVeteran Pick
Trail ShoesFrom the Vault
Stream StandingEditors’ Choice Hall of Fame
Kayland ZephyrField NotesExpert WisdomBest of BACKPACKER

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Danner Light/Light II | Trail Shoes | Stream Standing? | Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame | Field Notes | Expert Wisdom | See all Time-Tested Gear

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Tried and True
Danner Light/Light II
Since 1981, this company has been bragging that these waffle stompers require no break-in. Still, our 2010 tester braced herself for blisters. After all, these are serious mountain boots—with an upper of full-grain nubuk leather and 1,000-denier Cordura for hand-me-down durability, Norwegian welting for a wide, stable platform underfoot, and a stiff sole package for support. But after a 50-mile hike through Rocky Mountain National Park, she says, “Despite no break-in time, the first mile in the Light IIs felt just as good as the last—terrific.” Back in 1982, these were the only pair out of 21 samples that survived our abrasion test, in which we repeatedly scuffed boots against gritty boulders to see how they held up. With six inches of ankle support, a Gore-Tex liner, and a polyurethane/fiberglass midsole that provides ample support for monster loads on rough terrain, these boots are true classics. $235; 3 lbs. 13 oz. (men’s 9); danner.com.

Danner Light/Light II | Trail Shoes | Stream Standing? | Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame | Field Notes | Expert Wisdom | See all Time-Tested Gear


Teva Forge Pro (Courtesy Photo)
Veteran Pick
“In 1994, I switched from heavy-duty leather boots to low-cut, lightweight trail shoes for all of my mild-weather treks—even with big loads. They lack ankle protection and stiff support, of course, and I trashed a pair of shoes each season while guiding youth treks (not the
most eco-friendly choice), but my feet have been happier ever since. My current fave:
Teva Forge Pro.” $110; 1 lb. 15 oz. (men’s 11); teva.com. —Dennis Lewon

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Danner Light/Light II | Trail Shoes | Stream Standing? | Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame | Field Notes | Expert Wisdom | See all Time-Tested Gear

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From the Vault
Our boot testers can often be found standing in streams for oddly long stretches (like with this Raichle on a 2004 trip to New Zealand). It’s a simple, effective way to test waterproofing, especially around the tongue gussets.

Danner Light/Light II | Trail Shoes | Stream Standing? | Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame | Field Notes | Expert Wisdom | See all Time-Tested Gear


Kayland Zephyr (Photo by Steve Howe)

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Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame
When we find a boot that: A) fits six different testers straight out of the box; B) requires no break-in; C) has enough support for 50-pound packs in rough terrain; D) has waterproofness and traction worthy of a Welsh winter; and E) is light and comfortable enough for a dayhike—we stop looking. That’s the 2009 award-winning Kayland Zephyr in a nutshell. $200; 2 lbs. 7 oz. (men’s 9); m’s 8-14, w’s 6-10; kayland.com.

Danner Light/Light II | Trail Shoes | Stream Standing? | Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame | Field Notes | Expert Wisdom | See all Time-Tested Gear

Field Notes
“No matter how desperate you are for dry boots, never place wet leather close to a raging campfire. Shoes don’t have to get burned to cause problems. On a 1997 trip in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers, I thought my boots were far enough away, but the heat caused them to shrink by at least half a size. For the next four days, I battled blisters the size of golf balls on both heels.” —Kristin Hostetter

Danner Light/Light II | Trail Shoes | Stream Standing? | Editors’ Choice Hall of Fame | Field Notes | Expert Wisdom | See all Time-Tested Gear

Expert Wisdom
1. Fit, fit, fit. If it pinches or squeezes even a tad in the store, it will torture you on the trail. Try on many makes and models—fit differs—and when in doubt, go up a half size.
2. Feet swell, so try on boots at the end of the day. Also, bring your hiking socks to the store.
3. Get quality insoles. Ditch the flimsy ones that come standard and replace them with something supportive, like Sole’s Softec Ultras ($40, yoursole.com).
4. Invest in good socks. They should fit snugly (no wrinkles) and have good underfoot cushion. Great bet: Darn Tough Wool Boot Sock ($20, darntough.com)
5. Preserve leather with Granger’s G-Max Universal Footwear Waterproofer ($10, grangers.co.uk).