Fast forward: Hiking footwear gains traction, plus enhanced comfort, fit and breathability

A look at what's ahead in hiking footwear for 2014.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. 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.

Next year’s hiking footwear has sole. Dual-compound soles, soles made to grip mightily on wet terrain, soles to lessen the strain of descent, soles with drainage holes and brand-exclusive Vibram soles.

Footwear brands are focusing from the bottom up for 2014, but continue to tweak upper components for comfort, support and stability. And versatility remains a trend, with some lightweight, highly breathable mesh styles in the mix.

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“The buzzwords of light and comfortable never go away,” said Sam McCoubrey, general manager for AKU North America. The family-owned Italian bootmaker introduces the suede-and-mesh Fastalpina GTX (MSRP $180), a low-cut hiker that embodies both of these qualities thanks to a custom, lighter Vibram outsole and a hybrid midsole of multi-density EVA and lightweight PU. An external PU cradle on the outsole, adapted from the mid-cut Transalpina boot, adds support and enhances stability.

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At Vasque, “We are seeing a trend in hiking for lightweight, fast footwear that is being used for precise applications, such as hiking all day across multiple terrains or through extremely wet conditions with creek crossings and slick rocks,” said Chris Miller, Vasque’s national sales director. The new Elemental collection addresses both scenarios. The versatile Grand Traverse (MSRP $130) has a dual-compound Vibram sole that enhances both grip and durability, and a webbing yoke that helps snug down the heel.

Patagonia Footwear’s three-style Mountain Mobility collection promises light, fast footwear designed with unprecedented input from the company’s athlete ambassadors. “We’ve created a proprietary dual-zone, extra-sticky rubber sole that delivers extra grip in the forefoot and added durability and traction in the heel,” said product marketing manager Mark Hoffman. Find it in the mesh and synthetic leather Rover (MSRP $125), with a flexible 4 millimeter-drop midsole and to-the-toe lacing.

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At Mammut, “There is a bigger move to expand the line of light hiking and backpacking boots in the less traditional undefined category,” said company spokesperson Timmy Dow. The men’s and women’s Ridge High GTX/Low GTX (MSRP $189/$159), for example, have suede uppers as well as memory foam strategic cushioning. Mammut’s foot-mapping liner addresses different temperature and cushioning needs, three-zone lacing targets support and comfort, and a proprietary sticky rubber-compound outsole helps with grip.

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Fast-and-light styles that emphasize cushioning and surefootedness come from Adidas Outdoors and Ahnu. The mid- and low-cut AX 2 GTX (MSRP $135/$120) has a super-grippy, low-lugged outsole that excels on wet terrain, as well as shock-absorbing and stability technology borrowed from Adidas’ running shoes. Ahnu’s Zero Zero waterproof hiking shoe (MSRP $150), inspired by blind through-hiker Trevor Thomas, provides extra shock absorption and stability with a dual-density EVA midsole and Numentum, Ahnu’s signature technology that centers the foot and promotes balance.

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To reduce bulk, the Zen Pro (MSRP $169), a technical approach shoe from Scarpa, borrows Sock-fit from the brand’s alpine boots — the tongue and a mini-gusset are made from one piece of Schoeller S-Tech elastic fabric. Meanwhile, Salewa shaves ounces off one of its original styles with the new Firetail EVO GTX (MSRP $150), which features a seamless upper with a welded exoskeleton for durability. The versatile shoe can handle everything from technical scrambles to multiday backpacking trips.

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Regarding the trend toward “barely there” footwear, the pendulum is swinging back toward the middle. “Everyone is finding the sweet spot between traditional protective footwear and the minimalist barefoot trend,” said Paul Astorino, product director of footwear at TheNorth Face. The brand’s new Ultra Protection Series, with shoes like the Ultra Hike GTX (MSRP $160), features biomechanics-enhancing Cradle technology, Pebax plates for protection and snappy energy return, and denser tread in high-wear areas on the Vibram outsoles. Non Gore-Tex versions are lined with moisture-managing FlashDry.

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Other low-profile styles that highlight the foot’s natural movement while providing support and cushioning include those in Merrell’s new AllOut collection, which uses a flexible wrap underfoot that enables continuous ground contact, thus activating the body’s natural form for an efficient stride. Foam pads disperse impact and enhance stability, and rubber on the outsole is placed in a circular design so each lug can move in multiple directions. The AllOut Blaze (MSRP $130) comes in mid- and low-cut waterproof versions, as well as a multisport shoe.

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Asolo’s women’s Ember and men’s Quadrant (MSRPs $145), with a foot-cradling last and mesh-and-Schoeller upper, are two of eight new low-cut styles. “This is what the market was demanding last year when we launched our very successful Natural Shape category,” said Asolo’s sales director, Henry Barber. “These designs share the same lasts and technology.” And Salomon updates the natural-motion-enhancing Synapse (MSRP $120) with a more stable midsole and grippier outsole, while the XA Pro 3D (MSRP $130) gets a makeover to improve fit, durability and grip.

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Multisport hikers continue to appeal. Columbia addresses the demand with its Vent series, including the Powervent (MSRP $90), which has a patented midsole with venting ports that drain water and laser-etched lugs for superior traction. And GoLite Footwear rebrands its hikers as the Varios collection, defined as “off-road performance shoes,” said Joe Campisi, director of marketing. The MTNII (MSRP $100) has a non-stretch microfiber upper that holds the foot in place, a resin-impregnated rock plate for torsional rigidity and a 2-millimeter drop that extends through the toe, rather than mid-forefoot, to enhance natural stride.

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Feet get a breather with a variety of new mesh uppers. The men’s Grayson and women’s Zora (MSRPs $120), part of Chaco’s Active Adventure Collection, are highly ventilating, with open-mesh uppers wrapped with leather and jacquard webbing accents. Among 90-year-old Lowa’s many new styles is an update to the venerable Tempest, which now comes in a split-leather and three-dimensional mesh version (MSRP $130) for maximum breathability.

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Oboz debuts the Helium (MSRP $120), made of a highly breathable one-piece mesh upper with a welded overlay for support and sporting a high-friction-rubber outsole.

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Millet’s waterproof mesh Alpine LTK Low (MSRP $129) has a slew of features — TPU-reinforced heel cup, injected TPU full rand, asymmetrical lacing — that provide support and stability.

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The old adage that emphasizes not just summiting but returning safely could apply to a style like La Sportiva’sTrango Cube GTX (MSRP $375), a hybrid mountaineering/backpacking boot with a combination PU/EVA midsole, exclusive Vibram outsole and La Sportiva’s proprietary Impact Braking System, in which lugs on the heel and near the toe are positioned to help braking and decrease impact on the descent.

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The top-of-the-line men’s Altitude Pro RGS WP (MSRP $180) from Hi-Tec uses Vibram’s RollinGait system, which combines a PU midsole and slightly rockered outsole to soften impact and conserve energy, especially on steep downhills.

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Danner’s suede-and-ripstop-nylon Klickitat (MSRP $200) uses a unique Vibram outsole that combines a cup sole for durability in high-wear areas with extra EVA in the heel-strike area for more comfort.

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For a unique take on custom fit, look to Wolverine’swaterproof, feature-packed Bushwack Wild (MSRP $175), which updates the brand’s patented ICS technology that lets the wearer dial in four levels of midsole support via a nitrogen-filled disc in the heel. The system now has a more supportive footbed and lighter disc.

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Last summer’s newsy innovations move forward. A year after launching TevaSphere technology — an outsole with a spherical heel and supportive pods under the arch — Teva introduces the TevaSphere Rally (MSRP $90) with a fast-drying synthetic and mesh upper and the men’s Alterra/women’s Versa (MSRP $70), a supportive hiking sandal. And Keen expands on its streamlined CNX collection with the sleek Madison CNX (MSRP $100). The shoe includes a PU midsole, TPU arch insert, and multidirectional lugs on the outsole for traction on trails and rocks.

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The “new” kid on the block this year is Hanwag, a 90-year-old German company making its North American debut. The all-leather Tudela Mid and Low (MSRPs $275/$225) feature a forefoot flex zone that helps maintain grip on uneven terrain, and the padded leather cuff has vent holes for breathability.

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