Spring is in the air. The warming sun, blossoming trees, migrating birds, and fresh trails all beckon. But do not put on your nice sneakers. Spring also brings in slick surfaces, muddy fields, and puddles from all that good rain. No wonder there are so many shoes made for this season.
But what to look for? First, we can dispense with the selling points that aren’t so necessary. “Lightweight” is a great feature – but it’s also something that just about any shoe worth its, well, weight can brag today. So if you’re buying a brand name, it’s probably lightweight. “Breathable” is also par for the course, even for most waterproof shoes today. And rugged? Let’s just say there’s underfoot protection in your biggest boot or even your lowliest outdoors sandal these days. What you should look for is a style preference. A high boot is for extra ankle support and protection for off-trail hiking, a low shoe for those who like to move light and fast, or a more minimal sandal for water sports or a barefoot feel underfoot. Here are some of our favorite new picks for your spring kicks.
As iconic an outdoor shoe as there ever was, Danner was the first to introduce Gore-Tex’s waterproof-breathable membrane into its hiking footwear. While the Mountain Light II retains the company’s classic aesthetic thanks to a one-piece leather upper, a combo of D-rings and speed hooks for lacing, and that same Gore-Tex liner, there are plenty of less-obvious modern amenities just out of sight. A molded polyurethane heel counter holds the foot secure while a Vibram outsole securely grips what’s underneath. Stitchdown construction between its upper and outsole allows this boot to be resolved for years to come, cutting down on waste and the time it takes to break into a new pair.
Coke or Pepsi, Chevy or Ford, and high- or low-top hiking shoes: All are equally contentious opinions. For the heritage hiker or for those with ankle issues, a high boot like the Ridge Flex Waterproof is often preferable. But just because you go the traditional route does not mean you can not benefit from space-age materials that cut the weight without sacrificing support. Five-millimeter lugs dig and grip whether you’re headed up or descending in a hurry, while the speed-lace webbing allows for a fast, precise fit. A waterproof, breathable membrane, along with a water-resistant finish, keep feet dry from external moisture, while a partial mesh upper allows a surprising amount of breathability on even the hottest days.
A longtime trail running favorite, Hoka has expanded into the light-and-fast hiking space with boots like the Anacapa. Falling somewhere between a high- and low-top, it feels as light as the latter with surprising ankle support to rival the former. Known for its feather weight and plush cushioning, the company has added multiple environmentally gentle components, including a soy-based sicklier and a non-PFC water-repellent treatment to its leather upper. The crown jewel is still that plush midsole foam, which softens even the hardest trails and most quad-burning descents for comfort mile after mile.
You could be excused to for thinking that Halden Mid by Forsake is a sneaker. In fact, you’d be half right. Listed as a hiking sneaker boot, this waterproof shoe offers the durability and support of a hiking boot with the comfort and style of your favorite pair of high-tops. The outsole is low-profile enough to be comfortable on pavement, but offers plenty of grip when you go off-road. A gusseted tongue, waterproof-grade full grain leather, and waterproof / breathable membrane blocks wet weather and spilled drinks, and the dual density footbed keeps feet comfortable on any terrain.
Somewhere between the most rigid trail runner and an ultralight, ultra-flexible minimalist shoe resides the Wildcross. A favorite among the core trail running community, the company packs a lot into a midweight package. Deep, sharp lugs are great in soft mud, while the upper hugs the foot well for confidence in every stride (credit its Quicklace system, which allows tightening with a jerk). A coarse mesh is breathable and yet prevents most grit from sifting through.
For many, the best hiking shoe is a trail running shoe due to their light weight and nimbleness underfoot. For this reason, the Catamount by Brooks is a worthy contender. Its full-length sticky rubber outsole, reinforced with a modest rock shield under the mid- and forefoot, is designed to move through your stride for day trips that require miles covered in a hurry. In addition, the thick, springy midsole adds a measure of comfort to long days on the trail. Its lugs aren’t the deepest and there’s no waterproof protection, but many will appreciate the added maneuverability when chewing up the trail.
Light and Breezy
A favorite of rafting guides and other amphibious professionals, the Original Universal Sandal is nearly ubiquitous in the outdoors – and for good reason. Its critically placed straps hold the foot while allowing maximum breathability and drainage when fording streams. In camp, intrinsic breathability feels awesome after a long day in sweaty socks. The webbing also comes in a host of colors for ultimate personalization.
True, you may be born to run, but plenty of people get injured jumping headfirst into minimalist jogging. With that caveat, the Mountain Goats feel awesome even if you’re not logging miles. Their thong-like design stays in place, while a semi-aggressive tread pattern handles most trails with ease. Bonus: Due to the lack of just about everything else, there’s little to chafe or abrade delicate skin. There’s no toe guard, so watch out for roots and protruding boulders, but this may be the ultimate in avoiding tan lines outdoors this summer.