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Making tracks on the fast trek

June 21, 2004|Roy M. Wallack

If you want more nature in less time, try fastpacking. Also known as speed hiking, it's a high-adrenaline, one-day blitz of fast striding, some trail running and climbing that has simple requirements: an ambitious goal (such as crossing the Grand Canyon in a day, or up-and-back to the dirt portion of Mulholland Drive in West L.A. before lunch), a light pack for food and water, and a flexible, protective pair of fleet footwear. Here are four trail shoes designed to get you through the forest -- fast.

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The running specialist

Montrail Hardrock: A heavily armored trail-running shoe

Likes: Versatile, flexible and extremely light (14 ounces) for fast running. A plastic bumper protects toes; a plastic plate under the rubber lugs protects the bottom of the foot from sharp rocks. A center section of soft rubber aids rock-climbing traction, and mesh panels keep the foot cool. Comfortable on all-day speed hikes.

Dislikes: The low-profile lugs simply are not as protective as boot-based speed hikers. The lack of a heel loop (like the other three), makes it harder to hang up to dry or lash onto a pack. The lack of an attached tongue allows trail debris to seep in.

Price: $90. (206) 625-5000 or montrail.com

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The climbing specialist

Nike ACG Air Teewinot II: A do-it-all runner, hiker and climber

Likes: The dual-lacing system allows unique adjustability; the separate forefoot laces can be loosened for comfort as the foot heats up and expands -- or tightened for improved traction during rock climbing. The "sticky" rubber and wide, flat edge of the forefoot sole allow good toeholds in rocks. Comfortable at a fast pace. Weighs 16 ounces.

Dislikes: The sole's subtler lug pattern has less traction than the others during running on loose terrain.

Price: $85. nike.com

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Fastpacker epitome

Merrell Pulse: A hiking boot that feels like a running shoe

Likes: Durable nubuck-pigskin upper and heavily studded rubber sole protect the foot and provide good traction at all running and walking speeds. Sewn-in tongue keeps rocks out. Weighs 17 ounces. Clean look, with cool race-car-like portholes.

Dislikes: None

Price: $85. (888) 637-7001 or merrell.com

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Walk fast, but don't run

Vasque Breeze: High-top hauler built for striding

Likes: Stays cool due to mesh windows on leather upper. Light for a high-cut boot at 21 ounces. Rocker sole is fine for speed hiking. The stiff sole and high ankle support a much heavier load than other test shoes, including enough for an overnight hike. Foot stays fresh and protected.

Dislikes: The stiff sole and high ankle make running difficult.

Price: $110. (651) 388-8211 or vasque.com

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-- Roy M. Wallack

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