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March/April 2001




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Gear Guide
  Foot Specialists

If you're looking for new hiking shoes these days, the choices can be bewildering. You can choose from a wide variety of hiking sandals, adventure-travel shoes, day hikers, and—the newest type—fast packers.

The way to narrow your options and still benefit from this diversity is to pick the lightest, most breathable shoe for what you plan to do. There's one caveat, though: Fit is more important than any lugged sole or speed-lacing system—and even more critical than weight—so spend a lot of time trying on shoes before you buy.

All prices in U.S. dollars.

The Overnighter

Considering the classic designs of its stablemates, the Vasque Orion (men's and women's, $150; 800 224 4453 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.vasque.com) is surprising for its unusual look. Under the hood, it's built to carry you on lengthy day hikes and short backpacking trips.

The boot uses Vasque's Variable Footbed System, offering a choice of three foot beds for a somewhat customized fit. The well-designed insole is supportive under the arch and flexible in the forefoot; it's also torsionally stable, so your foot won't roll from side to side inside the boot.
 

Shoes That Squash

So-called adventure-travel footwear is a booming category. With its accordion design, the lightweight Timberland Packable (men's and women's; 800 445 5545 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.timberland.com) can do what no other shoe in its class can manage: collapse nearly as flat as a sandal. Yet the Packable still provides the comfort and traction needed for day hikes—as long as you're on moderate terrain.

The foldable heel counter isn't as burly as a conventional boot's, so you give up some ankle support. The Packable comes in both slip-on ($70) and lace-up ($80) styles.
 

Boots Made for . . . Everything

While many boots this year are highly specialized, Merrell's Chameleon Dry Waterproof (men's and women's, $135; 888 637 7001 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.merrellboot.com) is refreshingly versatile.

The boot is stable enough for moderate backpacking yet also comfortable and lightweight enough for speed. It's built with waterproof Nubuck leather on the outside and a waterproof membrane on the inside. And the Chameleon will hold your feet snugly, thanks to an external wishbone-shaped heel counter, an innovative lacing system, and lots of well-placed padding.
 

The Toughest Sandal

Sandals don't get more trail-worthy than this. A new lugged, hiking-boot-style outsole gives the Chaco Z/2 Walkabout (men's and women's, $90; +1 970 527 4990; www.chacosan.com) more cushioning and shock absorption than other sandals—including Chaco's water-oriented Z/2, which has been extremely popular since its introduction in 1997.

All Z/2s have a fully adjustable toe loop that provides exceptional forefoot stability. The anatomically shaped foot bed is soft, comfortable, and remarkably stable in the heel area.
 

Speed Hikers

Looking, appropriately, like a pumped-up running shoe, the Hi-Tec Deviant (men's; 800 521 1698 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.hi-tec.com) is designed for fast packing, or speed hiking. As long as you don't load on too much weight, the Deviant provides enough support, particularly under the arch and behind the heel, to tackle rugged trails.

The boot's uppers, a combination of Nubuck leather and wide swaths of mesh, make the Deviant surprisingly breathable for a supportive hiking shoe, as well as notably light—at 16.5 ounces [0.47 kilogram] in a size nine, it's one-third the weight of many boots. And, at $70, it's a bargain.

—Howard Rothman

Photographs by David Bishop
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