Vasque St. Elias GTX
$190, 3 lbs. 1 oz. (men’s 9)
Sizes: men’s 7-12, 13, 14 medium width, 9-12, 13 narrow, 8-12, 13 wide; women’s 6-11 medium, 7-10 narrow and wide
I typically prefer a lightweight shoe or boot for backpacking with a load of 35 pounds or less. But when I’m carrying well over 40 pounds—as I did on a recent six-day family hike in Sequoia National Park—I want a boot with big support and stability, both to help me avoid a twisted ankle (or worst), and to prevent my feet from feeling badly beat up every day from the pounding of so much weight landing on them. The St. Elias GTX delivered on both counts.
The midsole, which incorporates soft EVA cushioning pods, absorbed most of the shock of landing with all that extra weight on my back. A TPU shank, for support and protection against sharp rocks, and stiff torsional rigidity provide a solid platform when a heavy pack makes you unsteady. And yet, there’s more forefoot flex than in many boots in this category, so it doesn’t feel stiff.
Other details are impressive. The all-leather uppers conform to your foot; combined with the midsole cushion, the boot has a soft feel for its weight. The locking lace hooks at the midfoot let me loosen or tighten the fit around the upper foot depending on whether I was headed uphill or down. The metal hardware allows laces to slide smoothly and ensure years of durability. The tongue and ankle are nicely padded for protection, and the Gore-Tex membrane kept water out when I splashed through shallow creeks. One caveat: these boots are warm, so they’re best for cooler climes. (My feet got hot on warm August afternoons in the High Sierra.) Fit is medium volume, comfortably snug in the heel and midfoot with a little extra width in the toes.
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.