I’m constantly in search of gear that helps me streamline my life—the one-and-only backpack, or shell jacket, or pair of sunglasses. Maybe you travel frequently, maybe like to work and play in the same day (and the same clothes). Maybe you live out of your van and don’t have space for more than one pair of shoes per season. If that sounds like you this winter, check out the Danner Mountain Light Boot.
With a classic mountaineering boot style and a leather upper with a Gore-Tex membrane, the Mountain Light is built to last and to withstand the elements, from rainy urban days to snowy hikes. For such a sturdy boot it’s surprisingly lightweight (hence the name), with a Vibram Kletterlift outsole that’s pleasantly grippy on just about everything (I did slip on solid ice, once, but I think that was my fault). The tongue and lacing design is ingenious: it’s all one piece that folds comfortably in on itself, leaving no space for wetness to get in. They’re not insulated, so if you’re working long hours outside in seriously frigid weather, these might not be the boot for you. I find the lack of insulation a positive, as crazy-warm shoes make my feet sweat even on cold hikes, yet even in below-zero temperatures I didn’t have any issues with warmth. I live in Bellingham, Washington, and these boots are awesome in the wet, mild weather.
When I first got the boots, I was a bit worried about the fit. They run very narrow and fairly long, and as someone with a wide forefoot (and some serious ski-induced bunions, god help me), I was concerned that the fit would make them impossible. But after just a few weeks of wear, the leather has stretched out comfortably to suit my foot shape. Despite the fact that they aren’t actively painful, though, I think the shoe would benefit from a wider toe box. I like my boots to fit snug through the heel and midfoot, with plenty of room at the forefoot for fast downhills, sore toes, and cozy socks.
Despite my reservations (and in truly reckless testing fashion) I brought them along for a weeklong trip to Wyoming as my only shoe (other than ski boots, that is). I’d be doing it all—air travel, hauling luggage around a snow-bound town, getting to and from in-bounds and out of bounds skiing, eating fancy dinners, and hiking wet, snowy trails. I needed them to be versatile, a crossover shoe from town to trail, and comfortable enough to feel good on ski-sore feet.
It wasn’t all cushy, waterproof, relatively stylish goodness. Though the shoes are supportive and soft from the outset, the breaking-in process wasn’t easy. The top of the heel was stiff and painful at first, because the height is a bit awkward. They’re fairly short for a weather-ready boot, and the top cuff hits right where my heel straightens and bends. That said, as they broke in the issue faded—but I’d like a slightly higher rise, for comfort and to help keep snow and rain out.
Where these boots truly shine is in their crossover capability. I couldn’t bring a heavy-duty hiking boot, a lightweight around-town boot, and a cushy comfort shoe to wear home from the mountain in a carryon, and the Mountain Light is an awesome compromise that works well in all those situations. So if you’re looking for a boot to summit Rainier in, look elsewhere. And if you’re looking for something that won’t break the bank, definitely look elsewhere—these puppies retail for $380. That price includes a lifetime warranty, repairs, and impeccable construction. For a boot that will carry you through decades worth of wet winters, it might just be worth it.