Brand: Merrell Footwear
There’s nothing better than a wintry mix of icy-wet rock and half-frozen mud—with a dusting of light snow for good measure—to test a boot’s traction. The Col passed with top marks, thanks to a Vibram sole with sharp-cut lugs that grip and brake effectively while also quickly shedding mud and dirt. “I spent a whole day up to my ankles in slippery mud, and I was the only one in the group who never fell on his rear,” reports a New Hampshire tester. “And I still had dry toes at 4 p.m.”
The proprietary waterproof/breathable liner proved totally reliable during months of testing. And the underfoot support and protection match the tread: capable of handling rough conditions. A full-length nylon shank and firm polyurethane heel insert help offset rough-trail pounding, while the rest of the midsole has EVA cushion for maximum trail-striding comfort. The full-grain leather upper, with wrap-around toecap and sturdy metal hardware, looks new after all the abuse.
Caveat: While the traction and support are big-trip ready, the relatively short ankle cuff makes the Col best for hikers who don’t need extra joint support when carrying 30-plus pounds (and who won’t be crossing deep streams).
Bummer: The membrane is not as breathable as the best. $145; 2 lbs. 11 oz.; m’s 7-12, w’s 5-11