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Camping Footwear: Boot Buyer’s Guide

May 24, 2006
Filed under Camping Gear, Footwear

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The Badpak GTX ($150) incorporates a breathable, waterproof Gore-Tex liner and an innovative Ground Control System in the heel to keep you rock-steady on uneven surfaces and descents. The Badpak GTX relies on a Mountain Grip outsole to provide the traction, a compression-molded EVA midsole for cushioning and an Ortholite antimicrobial inlay and moisture-wicking sock liner to maximize long-wear comfort. 800/448-1796; adidas.com

Danner ascends to a new level of hiking footwear with the 453 GTX ($160), featuring Terra Force X (TFX) technology and a Gore-Tex liner to keep feet dry and comfortable in whatever conditions the day brings. The advanced design of the TFX platform provides unrivaled stability, support and excellent heel-to-toe energy transfer, while at the same time supplying increased traction through the midsection of the boot. The 453 GTX shines as a lightweight hiking boot both on and off the trail. 800/345-0430; danner.com

The Vasque Marga Mid ($90) is great for serious hikers. The Marga features split leather and fabric uppers with a compression-molded EVA midsole to provide a cushiony and comfortable fit. These hiking boots also use synthetic heel and toe caps to help resist abrasion, Vibram Skeleton Trek outsole for serious traction and Vasque’s proprietary Keystone Control System to keep the foot securely in place on rough terrain. This shoe is designed for uncompromising trail performance. 800/224-4453; vasque.com

Lowa enters 2006 with several new All Terrain Collection (ATC) boots with the Kerano GTX Mid ($200) leading the way. Hikers who prefer boots with Gore-Tex lining, a one-piece upper, and the Vibram Vialta outsole/midsole package will enjoy the nubuck-constructed Kerano. The midcut boot features Comfort Cuffs and Comfort Spoilers that provide softer, contoured padding to accommodate the back of the Achilles and ankle areas. You also have a choice of liners — Gore-Tex, or the Dri-Lex multizone comfort lining with Hydrofil nylon that wicks moisture and dries quickly. 203/353-0116; lowaboots.com

Teva offers the Philter ($85), part of the company’s high-end Pro Series products. The non-marking Spider Rubber sole is one of the stickiest in the Teva line, providing excellent traction on all surfaces – wet or dry — with good durability. The shoe uses monofilament for mesh, webbing and laces. Water exits quickly and feet stay comfortable surrounded by the Drain-Tech sock liner. For added comfort and support, the Philter utilizes a dual-density midsole and Teva Adaptive Heel Fit Technology that actually forms around your foot as it’s worn. 800/433-2537; teva.com

Hi-Tec is making tracks with its new V-Lite Hurricane eVENT ($100), a cool, multisport shoe that is lightweight, yet durable. It features an eVENT waterproof/breathable membrane to keep your feet cool and dry while the Comfort-Tec Custom insole forms a layer of visco-elastic memory foam to your foot. There’s also a unique exo-skeletal foot-locking system to provide 360 degrees of support and a tri-density midsole to provide cushioning and support where you need it most, helping prevent over-pronation. The exclusive Vibram multisport outsole provides multidirectional traction. 800/521-1698; hi-tec.com

Keen offers its new Humboldt ($104.99) trail-running shoe, just one of three new models for 2006. The Humboldt is ready for all terrain, be it a quick romp through the redwoods or scrambling over scree fields in the Rockies. Keen’s unique multidensity midsole design uses two separate and distinct components in each shoe. The first component, the S3 heel (shock, stability, suspension), provides excellent shock absorbency at the point of impact, a stable lower heel and helps align the foot for optimal contact with the ground with each step. The second component, with four densities for the midfoot and forefoot of the midsole, creates excellent forefoot flex and midfoot support while traveling over uneven terrain. 800/509-5336; keenfootwear.com

L.L.Bean’s Gore-Tex Ridge Runner Hikers Mid-Cut ($89) offer waterproof protection and the light, nimble feel of a trail-running shoe. The synthetic leather-and-mesh upper is tough and lightweight while the waterproof Gore-Tex XCR lining is exceptionally breathable so your feet will stay dry and comfortable through mud puddles and snow. The midsole is made from the same flexible EVA cushioning used in athletic shoes with a supportive nylon shank providing added stability. Vibram rubber outsole provides traction. 800/441-5713; llbean.com

Dunham has numerous new hiking shoes for 2006. Two that caught our eye in its “Fastpacking” line: the Waffle Stomper Terrastryder Mid II ($120) and Terrastryder Low II ($100). In an ultra-light package, these performance-oriented shoes feature a proprietary Vibram outsole with an exclusive Waffle Stomper tread design for good traction, Dryworks moisture management membrane system and ABZORB cushioning for shock absorption. Both the Terrastryder Mid II and Terrastryder Low II are available in various colors and multiple sizes and widths for men and women. 800/843-2668; dunhambootmakers.com

The Montrail Torre GTX ($160) is the company’s best seller for four years now. The key to the all-leather, Gore-Tex-lined Torre GTX is the fit. Unique to hiking boots, the Torre has a durable molded rubber heel pocket component. It also features Montrail’s fit technology, IntegraFit, derived from the digital measurements of nearly one million pairs of real men’s and women’s feet and is the basis for the design of Montrail footwear. IntegraFit creates a smooth, secure and precise fit notable for its roomy toe box, heel lock, firm midfoot support and accurate flex points. The Vibram Explorer outsole offers superior traction and durability, and a cushioned feel due to its integral microporous rubber midsole. 206/621-9303; montrail.com

Columbia Sportswear offers several new footwear products this year, including the Simbo ($80), a rugged “amphibious” hiking/trail shoe designed to be right at home in the water or on land. It features a suede leather upper with ventilation cut-outs and a dual-density molded EVA midsole with nylon shank to provide strength and stability. Bungee cord laces and toggles give the Simbo a custom fit, while a non-marking, Omni-Grip rubber compound and Serdia antimicrobial treatment make it feet-friendly. 503/985-4000; columbia.com

Asolo strides into 2006 with its new Voyager XCR ($150), a great lightweight hiking boot. It features Asolo’s Dua Asoflex EVA midsole that combines a stiff material to keep the foot stabilized and supported while a second, softer material provides shock absorption while walking. The uppers are light and breathable with a Gore-Tex XCR liner for waterproof protection. 877/888-8533; asolo-usa.com

Sixteen years ago the Chaco sandal was born. Today, the company’s unique outdoor “performance” sandals, with BioCentric contour technology, are touted as being the best underfoot. The Chaco ZX1/ZX2 ($95) sandals are new and offer polyurethane (PU) in the midsoles, unique basket-weave strap design and two different sole options. The difference between ZX/1 and ZX/2 is the latter has a toe strap while the ZX/1 has an open design. And for soles, you have the choice of the Unaweep Vibram lug pattern, great for the trail, or the new Diamond Stealth ($10 extra) outsole that features slip-resistant Amphibia rubber, ideal for wet surfaces and rock climbing. 970/527-4990; chacousa.com

Being more aggressive is just what hiking shoe manufacturer Merrell is doing in 2006 with the introduction of the Passage Ventilator Mid ($110), a day-hiker that’s higher-cut for support but still slim and fleet-feeling. The shoe’s concealed in-board EVA footframe cuts the bulk while the velvet-smooth Nubuck leather strapping reinforces a breezy mesh upper that’s stabilized by a thermoplastic molded polyurethane side and ankle supports. Underfoot, a Vibram Day Hiker Plus sole, with larger and deeper braking and traction lugs at heel and forefoot, provides traction for more demanding conditions. 800/789-8586; merrell.com

COMFY FOOTBEDS

Hiking can really take a toll on your tootsies. One way to keep foot stress minimized is by treating them to a comfortable footbed on which to stand.

A new insole design from Shock Doctor is one way to give your feet a break. The new proprietary Ultra Arch Adjust ($35) supports the entire foot and features three easy adjust arch positions using color-coded inserts. This system can be customized instantly to each individual foot. 866/253-1314; shockdoc.com

Campers would do well to look at the Spenco Outdoor Adventure Series Day Hiker insoles, as well. Through innovative footcare design, chemical formulation, and on-trail development with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the Spenco insoles are up to the task of making feet feel good. 800/877-3626; spenco.com

For an exact custom fit, Montrail offers special insoles called Enduro-Soles ($35) that you heat to 225-degress in your home oven. The Thermo-moldable foam inserts mold exactly to your feet’s shape while cooling. 206/621-9303; montrail.com

Others to consider closely: The SoreDawg Competitor ($30 ) is a good insole that combines custom moldability, stability, shock absorption, comfort cushioning, moisture management and odor protection in one product. 603/397-5094; soredawg.com. The Performance Green ($30) insole from Superfeet is a “trim-to-fit” insole built for maximum support, balance and shock absorption. 800/634-6618; superfeet.com

BETWEEN FEET AND FOOTWEAR

Looking for a great pair of hiking socks? Check out these new offerings:

SmartWool, the leading manufacturer in wool-based apparel, socks and accessories, offers a new selection of its Walking Medium ($10-$12), Light Hiker ($15), and Women’s Running Light Mini ($14) series Performance socks that take feet to a new level of comfort. Wool is superior at cushioning, wicking moisture away from the foot, controlling temperature and controlling odor, which is why these specially designed socks will be the first items to be packed by campers. Special cushioning in the high-impact areas and a SmartFit no-slip, no-sag design adds to the high comfort level. 800/550-9665; smartwool.com.

Teko, a very eco-friendly sock maker out of Boulder, Colorado, offers three new styles of hiking-specific socks, each with a different blend of materials. The EcoMerino Wool ($17) socks are designed for light hiking and are made from a blend of Tasmanian Wool (76%), a recycled polyester called Ecopoly (10%), nylon and Lycra (14%). 800/450-5784; tekosocks.com.

Champion’s Advanced Performance socks ($9) feature CoolMax fibers to wick moisture away and Smart Fabric Technology by Outlast that uses nearly microscopic structures to store and dissipate heat for optimum foot temperature regulation. They come in three different levels of cushioning — APLight, APZone and APMax — to meet the de-mands of both men and women at all activity levels. 800/662-6048; championcatalog.com

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

Outsole: Rubber, in various levels of durability and stickiness, is the typical component with lugs (treads) designed to help increase traction. The stickier the compound, the less durable.

Midsole: A strong midsole is critical to boot durability and stability because that’s where the bending and twisting occurs as you step. The midsole can be made from a variety of materials such as Ethyl Vinyl Acetate (EVA) foam, Polyurethane (PU) and Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR). “Compression-molded” EVA midsoles are lightweight, but offer the least cushioning. “Injection-molded” EVA midsoles are a denser version that offers more uniformity from heel to toe. PU midsoles offer better cushioning, shock absorption, flexibility and durability. TPR midsoles are even lighter in weight with both durability and flexibility.

Upper Basics: The upper provides ankle support and the taller the upper, the less chances of sprains. A one-piece upper is usually more waterproof and durable than those made with multiple seams. Full-grain leather — the most genuine type of leather because it has not been altered beyond hair removal — is the most supportive, durable and naturally waterproof upper. A suede or suede/mesh upper provides more flexibility and breathability, but isn’t waterproof.

Interior: Gore-Tex and similar materials help provide waterproofing and breathability. May be an unnecessary expense if boot is already waterproof full-grain leather. Gusseted tongues help to keep out water, stones and debris. Removable insoles help provide comfort, cushioning and additional support. They can also be removed to air out. Padded collars offer a comfortable fit, reducing chances of chaffing.

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