La Sportiva Thunder III GTX
$195, 2 lbs. 15 oz. (men’s US 9/Euro 42)
Sizes: Euro men’s 38-47.5, women’s 36-43
Very few backpacking trips put boots to the test like a multi-day hike in the Grand Canyon. On a three-day backpacking trip with my 10-year-old daughter in the Grand Canyon, carrying up to 50 pounds—including, at one point, 17 pounds of water—down and up very steep, rugged trails, the Thunder III GTX boots delivered an impressive combination of support and protection balanced with a surprisingly nimble feel.
Any hike down into the Big Ditch is hard, but the New Hance Trail has a well-earned reputation as one of the toughest coming off the South Rim. We descended a brutal 5,000 feet in five miles the first day en route to a campsite beside the Colorado River. Then, over the next two days, we climbed steadily up to Horseshoe Mesa and ascended the steep Grandview Trail. In terrain like that, you want boots that protect your feet from the pounding of endless descents and all the rocks—but that also deliver adequate ankle support and don’t feel big and clumsy.
The Thunder’s dual-density, compression-molded EVA midsole acts like a fat cushion, while a half TPU shank inside allows the forefoot only slight flex, which translates to the boot, rather than your foot, absorbing much of the abuse of the trail. But thanks to a close fit and narrow platform—unlike with some boots, the outsole is not significantly wider than the uppers—that stiffness was counterbalanced by sensitivity more typical of a lighter boot. That combination resulted in much-appreciated stability when walking down a steep trail carpeted with baseball-size rocks and loose gravel, or when stepping from one large rock to another with a heavy pack. The over-the-ankle collar helped catch me several times when I started to roll an ankle. The widely spaced, moderately deep outsole lugs gripped well in loose gravel and sand.
The leather uppers are well-armored, with a rubber toe bumper, metal hardwear, and tough, nylon mesh in the tongue and around the lace eyelets; after that very abusive hike, the boots show only a few tiny nicks in the leather and the outer edge of the midsole. The Gore-Tex membrane made my feet a little sweaty on afternoons that got up to 60°F, but my socks never got very wet. All in all, this is a well-priced, solid boot for carrying a heavy pack in rugged terrain when you want burly-boot support without the burly-boot feel.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.