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A sturdy base for the hike

April 21, 2008|Roy M. Wallack

If walking's not exactly the calorie-burning, heart-rate-rocking fitness adventure you were hoping for, consider adding two things: a mountain and some hiking shoes. Whether you tramp up the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains for a couple hours or tackle the John Muir Trail in the Sierras for several days, the journey will go more smoothly if you're wearing footwear designed for the task. With rock-stopping soles and burly, supportive exteriors, these four models offer great value for a variety of hiking styles and conditions. And the views aren't so bad, either.

-- Roy M. Wallack


Already broken-in

Lowa Jannu Mid: Sturdy, mid-ankle, suede leather boot that can handle day hikes and backpacking on Mt. Whitney.

Likes: Burly but doesn't feel like it. Immediately comfortable, with no break-in period, unlike many other serious hiking boots. That's due to a wide toe box, padded leather lining around the ankle and a shock-absorbing polyurethane insert under the heel. Feels lighter and faster than its 1 pound, 10 ounces (size 9.5). The stiff sole from Vibram, the world's most prestigious sole maker, offers great foot support, rock protection and fatigue resistance even if you're carrying a heavy pack on a multi-day trek.

Dislikes: A deep-mountain boot such as this will make you cry for waterproofing when you hit stream crossings or snow. (A similar Lowa model with Gore-Tex, the Khumbu Mid GTX, is $20 more.)

Price: $170. (888) 335-5692;


Getting a good grip

Scarpa Zen: Low-cut, suede, part-hiker, part-"approach" shoe built for hiking and scrambling up steep slopes and over boulders.

Likes: Light, fast and feels tough enough for light backpacking, even though it's just 1 pound (in size 9.5). The combination of close-to-the-toes laces (like those found in climbing shoes) and a semi-stiff Vibram sole with special "sticky" rubber and a grippy honeycomb tread pattern gives it good nonslip control in dicey conditions.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $120. (866) 998-2895;


For the trail runner

Five Ten Camp 4: Low-cut, multipurpose trail shoe for hiking and trail running.

Likes: Comfy, fast and agile. Great fit due to a wide toe box and close-to-the-toe lacing. The latter, paired with the sticky-rubber sole, make it a good bouldering shoe. The lightweight (1 pound, 1 ounce in size 9) and flexible sole begs for a fast pace. A great trail runner.

Dislikes: Too flexible to support serious backpack loads without foot fatigue.

Price: $ 109.99. (909) 798-4222;


High-top lightweight

Ob{omacronl}z Yellowstone: The econo-SUV of hikers, with mid-cut nubuck leather and waterproofing.

Likes: Feels like something new: a high-top trail runner. Because of its fairly light weight (1 pound, 3 ounces in size 9) and a very flexible sole with rounded edges, I became confident enough to run off-trail in it. The ankle protection and "Be-Dry" waterproofing keeps feet dry and ankles unscratched.

Dislikes: The flexible, rounded sole doesn't seem too stable. Lightweight, day backpacking, OK; heavy, loaded backpacking, no.

Price: $119. (406) 522-0319;


Irvine-based endurance cyclist and runner Roy M. Wallack is the coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." Reach him at

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