Merrell Footwear Refuge Core Ventilator

It crushed the competition in terms of support.

Brand: Merrell Footwear

Model: Refuge Core Ventilator

[maximum support]

A rule of thumb for choosing hiking footwear: Get the lightest boots that can manage the conditions and load you expect. Good advice, but err on the flimsy side of light, and you can expect sore feet after a 15-mile hike with a weekend pack. With the comfort of a light hiker but the guts of a midweight, the Refuge Core provides rock-solid insurance that you won’t make that mistake. We tested it in both mid- (pictured) and low-cut versions, and it crushed the competition in terms of support, thanks to a combination of both common and distinctive features.

The midsole has a shock-absorbing layer of EVA cushion and a broad nylon plate under the arch (both common). Uncommon: Stiff external molding locks the heel in place, where an underfoot air pad increases support and cushion. And rubber reinforcements on the cuff tie into the laces and enhance ankle stability (all smart additions that are worth the minor weight). The nubuck and suede upper was instantly comfortable for all testers, and showed little wear after hikes in Colorado’s Indian Peaks, New England, and New Zealand.

The Vibram sole’s low-profile, runnerlike tread provides smooth trail striding, and gripped well on everything but loose gravel (where they tended to slide). After carrying 30 pounds on Vermont’s Long Trail, one tester said, “I love the fit and feel—wide in the toe with a cush, flexible midsole.” $135; 2 lbs. 1 oz.; m’s 7-15

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