FROM STICKY RUBBER to mega-size midsoles, footwear for the outdoors has evolved.
For decades, hiking boots had a monopoly on backcountry footwear de rigueur. But then trail-running shoes hit the scene, and soon after, a minimalist movement took footwear by storm.
The fallout was a shake-up of the shoe world, and hikers today have a dozen categories from which they can choose. There are toe-shoes, lace-free “slippers” and sandals that can go from the water into deep woods.
Boots still have a place. More commonly, a category of “light hikers” has emerged as a low-top alternative preferred for versatility, protection and comfort on the trail.
Find your style and then hit the trail. We live in an era of options, with footwear made for any condition when it’s time to lace up and go.
INDUSTRY STANDARD: Salomon X Ultra 2
As hiking shoes go, Salomon makes some of the most popular. The X Ultra 2 is light but supportive, and Salomon’s cinch-on lacing system is the best in the industry. Overall, the shoes balance protection on the foot with speed on the trail, beefing up a trail-running template with aggressive tread, a bump-absorbing chassis and a toe cap up front. $120, salomon.com
WRAP-ON FOOTWEAR: Vibram Furoshiki
A new concept in footwear, the Furoshiki from Vibram wraps on using a fabric fastener to envelop your foot. Stretchy fabric on the upper lets you pull, tighten and adjust the shoes for a custom fit. A thin Vibram rubber sole gives protection and grip. Take them in a backpack for overnight trips; they weigh almost nothing and will feel great for camp tasks after a day on the trail. $110, vibram.com
NEW-SCHOOL HIKER: KEEN Versatrail
Hike rough trails or wear these colorful kicks around town. As the name implies, KEEN designed its Versatrail to be versatile. A “light hiker” style, they exist between a boot and a trail-running shoe, including a flexible sole, comfortable fit and EVA foam on the back of the heel for protection and support. A thin tongue, bungee laces and a mesh synthetic upper make on-and-off a cinch. $120, keenfootwear.com
UPDATED CLASSIC: Oboz Bridger Mid BDry
Leather uppers and the look of a classic hiking boot hide upgraded technologies, including a waterproof/breathable membrane and, for protection, a lightweight TPU forefoot plate. Oboz Footwear’s Bridger Mid BDry boots come stock with metal hardware, a cushy ankle closure and a purported “no break-in time” for out-of-box wear. Bonus: At about 19 ounces per boot, the Bridgers will feel feathery compared to your old clompers. $165, obozfootwear.com
GRIP AND RUN: Five Ten Aescent
Five Ten is known mostly for its rock-climbing shoes. The Aescent borrows Stealth Mi6 sticky rubber from the company’s climbing line, creating a tacky, grip-anything dot-matrix sole underfoot. It has a leather upper and street-style looks that cloak the technical facets. From trail running to third-class rock ascents, this is a true multisport shoe. $120, fiveten.com
HIKING SANDAL: Xero Shoes Z-Trek
Rubber tread, a 10mm-thick sole and sandal straps comprise the Z-Trek, a “trail-friendly sandal.” Made by Xero Shoes, this airy footwear embraces an ethos of minimal support to encourage natural biomechanics as you walk. They weigh about 6 ounces each, and the brand gives the sole a 5,000-mile warranty. Just don’t stub your toes along the way. $60, xeroshoes.com
MEGA-CUSHION BOOT: Hoka Tor Ultra
A recent phenomenon, hikers and trail runners have hopped onto the “maximalist” movement, in which thick-sole shoes offer the ultimate cushion and protection from the terrain underfoot. Hoka was a pioneer in this category, and the Tor Ultra is the company’s high-top offering. The uber-boot includes a waterproof upper of leather and nylon, a Vibram outsole with light tread and a copious dual-foam midsole that cushions any blow. $230, hokaoneone.com
Professed shoe addict Stephen Regenold writes about footwear and outdoor gear at gearjunkie.com, a publication he founded in 2006.
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