Kayland Apex Trek
Choose this nimble, wicked light boot for high-elevation trekking, scrambling 14ers, and three-season mountaineering. It boasts excellent fit with a stable heel cup, ankle support that's supple for easy striding, and a toe box that's roomy but trimmed close on the outside so it's not clunky. Locking laces at midfoot allow fine-tuning fit, and there's plenty of support for the heaviest loads. An eVent membrane offers unparalleled breathability and generally reliable waterproofing (one tester said hours of wet-snow slogging left the insides damp). The tread grips well on everything from rubble to snow, and when serious traction is required the Trek accepts semi-automatic crampons. We also like the Apex Rock ($300), a stiffer, stickier boot that's more climbing-oriented. Both are best for medium-volume feet. $270; 3 lbs. 6 oz.
Want a premium rough-terrain boot that won't set you back three bills? Even on off-trail rambles with a heavy load, testers reported total comfort through 12-hour days, thanks in part to just-right ankle and tongue padding and a leather lining that conforms to your foot (wet-weather caution: the leather lining dries slowly). Traction rules on gravel, scree, and snow, and the wrap-around rubber rand survived a trip through Teton talus with hardly a blemish. They lack a waterproof membrane, but that makes them slightly cheaper and slightly more breathable. Plan a few days of break-in time. Best for medium-volume feet and slightly wide heels. $199; 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Best for Mountaineering
Our Northwest editor pulled these boots out of the box for a climb of Rainier's Emmons Glacier. He didn't suffer so much as a hot spot over several miles and thousands of feet of on- and off-trail hiking and glacier climbing. "They fit like slippers," he said. The last cradles the foot, while lace-locking eyelets let him adjust the fit for uphill or downhill travel. Those attributes, along with a good rocker, facilitated an almost natural stride on trail–despite the boot's stiffness–and all-day comfort while kicking steps in snow. With PrimaLoft insulation, they're best for temps from the teens to the 40s, but the highly breathable eVent waterproof membrane kept our tester's socks dry on a 12-hour day with highs in the 70s. An integral soft-shell gaiter keeps snow out. Best for medium-volume feet. $400; 3 lbs. 15 oz.
How much do you value your toes? The price of these expedition boots pegs their worth at $85 per digit, and we're not arguing. Our Rocky Mountain editor lived in the Manaslus for 23 straight days on Mt. McKinley last year. He says they're everything expedition boots should be: insulated and supportive without being too heavy, stiff, or sweaty. A wide fit makes them warmer and more comfortable than standard expedition boots on low-grade mountaineering routes like McKinley's West Buttress, yet the Manaslu doesn't feel floppy. An integral Gore-Tex and Kevlar gaiter–with a double-elastic seal at the knee–traps heat and repels all snow. The outsole edges well and has slight flex, so it's not too blocky when you're walking on firm surfaces. Best for medium-volume feet. $850; 6 lbs. 15 oz.
La Sportiva Trango Extreme EVO Light GTX Duratherm
A descendant of the Editors' Choice-winning Trango S (4/04), this supremely comfortable lightweight adds a warmth and weatherproofing boost. You still get a snug last and closely scultped forefoot for great toe feel on rock; a bit of rocker for all-day striding, and enough stiffness for some vertical cramponing. It's not a full-on winter boot, but there's enough insulation for days like the -17°F windchill freezer our testers endured on Longs Peak. Best for narrow, low-volume feet. $390; 3 lbs. 10 oz.
Lowa Korba GTX
Hard miles ahead? This boot is made for rocky terrain and off-trail bashing with loads as heavy as you can handle. Leather-and-Cordura uppers and midsole protection are like armor, and the waterproofing impeccable: During an October rainstorm on Vermont's Long Trail, our tester might as well have been walking down a river. Still, his feet stayed completely dry in these Gore-Tex-lined boots. Traction also was superior in the wet stuff, even on slick friction slabs. Fit is slightly wide throughout. Small hikers will find these boots stiff, but they flex for bigger people. Plan a few days of break-in. Best for high-volume feet. $230; 3 lbs. 5 oz.
Lowa Ranger GTX
Every tester who pulled on this boot had the same initial reaction: excellent fit. After hiking in them, they had more praise. Arch and heel support is topnotch, as is the to-the-tiptop lacing, which aids stability and keeps out debris. The full wrap-around rubber rand protects the boot from the worst bashings. Feet stayed dry through all-day rainstorms thanks to a Gore-Tex liner. The boots can handle on-trail loads of 45-50 pounds, but lateral stability isn't good enough for the heaviest loads off-trail. Breathability is mediocre (we had sweaty feet on warm days) and the laces loosen easily. Plan a few days of break-in. Best for medium-volume feet. $250; 3 lbs. 7 oz.