Just because you’re hiking does not mean that your feet must be covered in Gore-tex. It is a truly wonderful, near-magical substance, but when it’s hot, it can make your feet feel like they’re hunkered down in a sweat lodge. When plodding through arid, rocky, hot environments, or just places where you know you won’t encounter enough moisture to bother your feet, the breathability of non-waterproof hikers is a welcome, um, breath of fresh air.
For me this summer, that fresh air has come wafting through the mesh uppers of the Vasque Breeze III ($150). They make a GTX version of the Breeze too, but the plain-old Breeze III’s are tough, comfy, and some of the grippiest trail boots in my arsenal. I just returned from a trip in the Tetons, banging and scraping the Vasques through rocky, hot, unforgiving trails by day and posting up at a bar in Dornan’s by night, feet comfortable and dry the whole time.
From the bottom, the Breeze IIIs start with a custom Vibram Megagrip outsole with a traction pattern that looks like the mouths of a bunch of little sucker fish in the center of the sole, with big, angular lugs on the sides. That combo produces astonishing grip on slick granite and loose dirt and sketchy shale alike. Confidence-building grip.
The mid-sole features the standard EVA layer for cushioning and comfort, beneath a TPU (stands for thermoplastic urethane, by the way) shank for stability and rigid strength. You get nubuck leather uppers with plenty of airy mesh panels, all wrapped in tough rubber toe cap and a rigid, stable heel cup.
Like most modern, lightweight hiking boots, they’re wearable right out of the box. The days of long break-in periods, at least for pliable hikers like this, are long gone. I’ve found the Breeze IIIs to stride perfectly between rigid enough to offer all the protection my feet need, while being soft and comfortable enough to make 12-15 mile trail days a non-issue for my feet.
On steep descents, my foot remained locked into the shoe, with no toe-crushing forward sliding that can be commonplace on mid-height hikers. Climbing, with those wonderful outsoles, is mountain-goat like. The lightness of the boot (2 pounds, eight ounces) makes scrambling easy, a rarity in hikers of this size. The fit tends to be a bit on the narrow side, but they fit true-to-size on my size-12 planks.
There’s a small issue though—I’d replace the laces the boots ship with with round laces if possible. The flat laces tend to slip out of the speed-lace eyelets at the top of the boot. It hasn’t been a major issue for me, but occasionally, the whole knot I’d tied has popped right out of the eyelets, annoyingly. Cranking the laces down helps, but there’s something a little off about the open eyelet shape. A minor problem for otherwise well-constructed boots.
$150 • BUY
More fair weather hikers we love
The Oboz Scapegoat mids are tough, breathable, and, coming from Oboz, some of the most well-made hikers on the planet. $145
At only 1 pound, 15 ounces, the Salomon X Ultra Mid Aeros have a mouthful of a name, but no weight penalty on the foot. $130
Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi—strange styling, unbelievable comfort. You either love or hate the thick Hoka midsoles, but these hikers are supremely comfortable while shedding water and weighing next to nothing. $230.