Happy trails: Hiking boot makers focus on natural fit and better grip while going lighter

Consumers continue to ask for lighter weight, more comfortable and versatile hiking footwear that reliably performs on varied terrain — and they’re getting it. Just when you might have thought the only thing left to do would be to add wings, boot brands are delivering innovations in fit, traction and weight savings.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

Consumers continue to ask for lighter weight, more comfortable and versatile hiking footwear that reliably performs on varied terrain — and they’re getting it.

Just when you might have thought the only thing left to do would be to add wings, boot brands are delivering innovations in fit, traction and weight savings.

Several companies emerge from the lab with techie new styles that enhance natural foot movement. One of the largest launches is Merrell’s M-Connect Series, which continues the barefoot trend, drawing on both the company’s existing technology and a collaboration with the University of Virginia to study flexibility, stability and traction. The series includes the ProTerra Mid and Sport hikers (MSRPs$120/100), which incorporate patent-pending technology that fuses the foot cage into the mesh upper, allowing the foot to move more naturally. Unlike barefoot runners, however, they have more cushioning, with a 4-millimeter heel-to-toe drop.

Teva was busy in the lab, too, collaborating with sports-science and human-performance specialist P3 to devise its TevaSphere technology, built around a unique spherical heel and pod-arch system. In styles like the multisport Trail eVent (MSRP $140), the heel provides lower ground contact, for more natural point of impact, and the lightweight arch construction gives support and stability while allowing the foot to move more freely. Teva’s intent is to “address the shortcomings of both minimalist and over-supportive athletic shoes” according to Brand President Joel Heath.

Keen launches a significant, category-crossing line, Keen. CNX, characterized by low-profile styles with that weigh 10 ounces or less, with minimally constructed uppers and streamlined footbeds. The multisport Tunari and Haven CNX (MSRP $110), appropriate for light hiking, include flex grooves on the outsole for better ground contact.

The North Face highlights its new Cradle Guide Technology, designed with better cushioning for impact and biomechanics that enable a more efficient, natural stride. Some existing styles have been upgraded with the technology, which also appears in new mid and low hikers like the lightweight Blaze (MSRP $80-$90) and more rugged Wreck (MSRP $ $140-$150).

Columbiasunk time and dollars into trying to achieve an optimum balance of weight and stability combined with intuitive fit. Its multisport Conspiracy OutDry (MSRP $135) “embodies a year of research, design and engineering with a focus on creating symbiotic efficiency between the foot and the shoe,” said company spokesman Andy Norhoff, and weighs in at a mere 10.2 ounces.

Zamberlan addresses the demand for lightweight footwear with its new speed hikers, the 130 SH Crosser GT RR (MSRP $150) and 230 SH Crosser Mid GT RR (MSRP $170). An exclusive Vibram sole package includes a TPU heel counter and arch support plus two dual-density EVA midsole sections.

Multitasking shoes continue to appeal, say footwear makers. At Oboz, “the multi-sport category is strong, and the category is a stalwart in the market,” said Josh Fairchilds, vice president of development and manufacturing. “The sheer versatility of these types of shoes makes them a great value.” The fast and nimble Traverse Low (MSRP $125 ) uses a new weight-shaving outsole and midsole combo, and its deep lugs actually use less rubber to trim off more bulk.

Likewise, Scarpa adds styles to its multisport line; the lightweight Epic Pro (MSRP $139) has a dual-density midsole sturdy enough to support backpacking as well as a protective TPU forefoot plate and sole. And Timberland’s (#32113) Earthkeepers Intervale Leather Ventilated (MSRP $90) blends multisport performance with eco-conscious features like fully recycled PET webbing on the upper and an outsole containing 42 percent recycled rubber.

Design cues still come from other performance footwear, like trail runners. For GoLite Footwear’s Lime Lite XT (MSRP $115), which tips the scale at 10.9 ounces, “we fused the best construction attributes of a hiking/approach shoe with the best of trail running,” said Jody Linehan, director of product management. It has a new version of GoLite’s distinctive Gecko outsole, dotted with 300 varied lugs, that now accommodates 270 degrees of flexibility through the midsole.

According to Peter Sachs, general manager for Lowain the U.S., quality can still override price for knowledgeable hikers. “Despite the economy, customers seem to be willing to pay for technology that makes boots more comfortable, fit better, lace easier and allow for minimal of break-in time,” he said. Case in point: Lowa brings back the Zephyr GTX Mid (MSRP $195), but has significantly retooled it to be more flexible. The reengineered Monowrap PU frame is injected around the sides of the shoe, allowing for a lighter-weight upper and a shorter, three-fourth’s-length stabilizer.

Other examples come from AKUand Salewa. AKU’s SL Sintesi GTX (MSRP $250) provides foot-hugging fit via a precision lacing system, an anatomically shaped lasting board and the company’s internal midsole system, which puts the midsole inside the boot, keeping the foot low to the ground for improved traction. The low-profile WildFire GTX (MSRP $175) from Salewa has a footbed that allows customized fit, an injected shell construction that’s lightweight yet durable and a Vibram outsole with a proprietary design for control and edging on technical terrain.

Thelow-profileVenturist (MSRP $110) from Vasque offers custom-like fit at a lower price point; it’s built on a high-performance, slightly asymmetrical last and includes a conformable foam footbed that continually adjusts to the foot.

Improved traction, whether through lower lug heights that put the foot in better ground contact or outsole modifications, is another focus. Adidas Outdoor’s Terrex Fast series of shoes and a mid-cut boot (MSRP $135-$185) have low-profile lugs and outsoles made of a rubber compound developed by Continental, the tire company.



The distinctive outsoles of two Garmontapproach shoes, the Claw GTX (MSRP $160) and Claw Vented (MSRP $130) incorporate Hypergrip’s fiberglass-enhanced IceLock lugs, first used in Garmont’s winter boots.

HikingFootwear_Garmont_ClawGTX.jpg

With no extra bells and whistles or reinvented footbeds, Danner introduces its St. Helens line of low and midcut Gore-Tex-lined light hikers (MSRP $110-140, photo, left), with 12 styles divided between men’s and women’s fits. The line includes Danner’s lightest-weight hiking footwear to date, with enhanced breathability and targeted cushioning in the midsole, and at a more accessible price point than other styles.

HikingFootwear_Danner_St_Helens.jpg

Several hikers receive makeovers for Spring ’13. La Sportiva’s Hyper Mid GTX (MSRP $180) is an all-leather version of the Xplorer Mid GTX. Patagonia’s Nomad 2.0 (MSRP $200) and Drifter 2.0 (MSRP $160) now come in full-grain, waterproofed leather, while the low-profile Cragmaster A/C (MSRP $150) is available in breathable mesh. In the nostalgia category, Hi-Tec brings back the original light hiker from 1978, the Sierra Lite, for women (MSRP $70), updated with attention-getting colors and a removable sockliner, padded collar and moisture-wicking lining.

--Cindy Hirschfeld

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