Big-boot stability meets approach-shoe agility in these do-everything hybrids. After off-trail canyon-country days comprised of sandy washes, baby-head-littered sidehills, and slickrock passes, one tester proclaimed, “I could cruise, climb, and descend with a 45-pound pack and never fear losing my footing, even after a storm dumped inches of snow.” The versatility alone would make these standout boots, but the universally comfortable fit puts them in a class by themselves.
Here are the four key ingredients. 1) A Y-shaped plastic exoskeleton (reinforced with a tiny steel cable) secures your heel for no-rub striding. 2) The “multi-fit footbed” (picture a thin and thick insole sandwiched together) let our testers adjust the boot’s volume by keeping or removing the thin layer. 3) To-the-toe lacing enabled testers to size the toebox to their liking and easily adjust midday, when feet swell. 4) A thin neoprene ankle collar keeps sand and debris from working into the boot and causing hot spots. A 76-year-old European gear company, Salewa is so confident in the fit system that it offers a blister-free guarantee. If your boot is sized right and “used in an appropriate manner” (pustules from running an ultramarathon in trekking boots won’t fly) and you still get a blister, you get a free exchange.
“It seems as preposterous as if Firestone issued a no-flat guarantee,” says our senior editor. “But after wear-testing three different Salewas this year—a low-top approach shoe, an alpine mountaineering boot, and these trekking boots—I’m a believer. I didn’t have a single hot spot from Rainier to Longs Peak to Capitol Reef.” Fine print: Trail-test as soon as you get the boots—the guarantee is only good for the first two weeks you own them. Waterproofing (the Gore-Tex liner didn’t leak a drop) and durability (Kevlar lines the midsole and bottom third of the boot’s suede upper) are also top-notch. $179; 2 lbs. 6 oz. (men’s 9); m’s 7-12, w’s 6-10; salewa.usBackpacker picked the Oboz Sawtooth as "best for rugged terrain" in its August 2009 Field Test of 'Hundred Dollar Hikers.'