Our picks for 2012's best pairs

Credit: Gary Davidson

Chaco Vade Bulloo

$130; 1.7 lbs, 770 g; 
chacos.com



Our testers loved these shoes for the same reason they love Chaco sandals: comfort. For the Vade, Chaco uses the same arch, midsole and heel risers as it does for its popular sandals, plus a quality footbed (rare in light hikers) to cradle, align and support every bone in the foot. And there’s a mud-loving outsole, a mesh-rich upper and a sturdy toe bumper.
Credit: Gary Davidson

Columbia 
Master Fly

$110; 1.1 lbs, 503 g; columbia.com



The Master Fly brings the minimalist shoe movement to the hiking trail. Weighing less than most runners, the shoe has very little drop between the heel and forefoot, a thin midsole and a soft, sneaker-like upper. Here’s a review from one tester: “Super grippy. Lightweight. They fit like a rock shoe, except comfortable.” But those who need lots of support should look elsewhere.
Credit: Gary Davidson

Helly Hansen Kikut 
Reboot Low

$130; 1.7 lbs, 785 g; 
hellyhansen.com



If you like a soft ride, this may be the shoe for you—two densities of foam in the heel give the Kikut a nice squishy cushioning. Plus the deep lugs underneath bite firmly into mud, and the Helly proprietary waterproofing will also keep your socks dry. The giant HH logo on the side may offend some, but we like these sharp shoes.
Credit: Gary Davidson

Hi-Tec Sierra Lace

$140; 1.7 lbs, 778 g;
 hi-tec.com



With their unique style—a polished, full-grain leather upper and a white rand—these are the shoes to take travelling. Though you might not want to hike 20 K in them, the low profile and soft padding breezed through an easy 10 K, and the anti-odour, wicking liner and small vents kept our dogs comfortable in a wide range of temps.
Credit: Gary Davidson

La Sportiva 
Xplorer Mid

$180; 1.8 lbs, 834 g; 
lasportiva.com



The Xplorer is like several hikers in one. The to-the-toe lacing and the super grippy Vibram sole can easily handle scrambling. Meanwhile the midcut height, a heel shank and EVA cushioning will support your feet through long miles under a heavy load. And when it comes to cruising on a day hike, these shoes roll along smartly, weighing less than many lower-cut models.
Credit: Gary Davidson

The North Face 
Havoc Mid GTX

$170; 2.2 lbs, 918 g; thenorthface.com



This is one of the few low-cut hikers we’d use for backpacking. A rigid heel cradle, supportive upper and protective midsole can handle the roughest terrain with a weekend load. And multiple densities of outsole grip tenaciously. The rubber toe rand and the leather forefoot stand up to abuse, and a Gore-Tex liner keeps your feet dry. Of course, all that performance means a little more weight.
Credit: Gary Davidson

Salewa Firetail

$150; 1.5 lbs, 679 g; salewa.com



Salewa says it likes to focus on fit, and this shoe would suggest that’s true. The Firetail comes with multiple footbed widths, to-the-toe lacing and a cinching system that pulls from all sides so that just about anyone can make this shoe fit perfectly. The approach-style soles are soft, and a breezy mesh upper and multiple densities of support and cushioning add to the off-road performance.
Credit: Gary Davidson

Salomon Synapse

$130; 1.5 lbs, 698 g; 
salomon.com


Salomon wants you to eat up trail miles like Jennifer Pharr, who wore the Synapse to break the Appalachian Trail record. A mix of trail runner and light-and-fast hiking boot, the Synapse feels like a runner, but is optimized for off-road walking. A curved outsole and proprietary midsole features help propel the foot, while a supportive upper and wide base provide stability on rough trails.
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