Let's be clear: Gear testing has its glory moments, but putting your feet through the new-boot grinder to find blisterproof footwear is not one of them. Unless the new boot in question is the Zephyr. It worked for nearly every trip and load–out of the box–with the support and stability for carrying 50-pound packs in rough terrain, and a low-bulk design for fast striding on dayhikes.
How does Kayland achieve the superior versatility? For starters, a polyurethane exoskeleton enhances both durability and stability without adding much weight. And a secure heel cup, reinforced by the exoskeleton, locked our feet in place. Fit and all-day comfort are improved by a series of small but smart details: the forefoot has plenty of wiggle room for swollen toes; the lace holes link to the exoskeleton, so it's easy to either suck in or let out the sides of the boot to adjust width without adding pressure points; the gusseted tongue never budges; an ergonomic pad at the Achilles notch gives the midcut Zephyr the ankle support of a higher-cut boot on uphills, but it flexes on the way down for comfort; and an EVA midsole and plastic shank provide just-right cushion and support. It all adds up to this: "The Zephyrs are by far the most comfortable boots I've worn all year," said one tester. "It's almost like they propel you forward when you walk."
To complete the package, the Vibram sole's aggressive tread grips like a crampon–testers scrambled surefooted over rain-slick rocks in Wales while others slipped. And the eVent liner provides dependable waterproofing with superior beathability. Bonus: Testers who usually use aftermarket insoles reported that the insoles included with the Zephyrs are so supportive that there was no need to replace them. Best for medium-volume, medium-width feet. $190; men's 8-12, 13; women's 6-10; 2 lbs. 7 oz. (men's 9); kayland.com