Any Alaskan will tell you: If you’re going to invest in one piece of outdoor gear, get a solid pair of boots, because if your feet aren’t comfortable here, you won’t be either. The trick is keeping your toes content while bumbling through uneven tundra, up and down steep scree slopes, or slogging through the rainforest, usually carrying a pack. You simply need a quality, well-designed pair of hiking boots to explore all of what Alaska has to offer—most of which is off-trail. The good news is you have plenty of great options.
Our local experts put some of the best all-around hiking boots on the market to the test for three months hiking in the Chugach and Kenai Mountains—looking for which boots kept their feet the most comfortable (and dry) from the day they took them out of the box. These five came out on top.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Danner Crater Rim
Hand-made in Portland, Ore., and worn by the American Special Forces in Afghanistan, Danner’s Crater Rim boots were exactly what our testers expected—tough as a bull’s horn. Weighing in at an, admittedly, hefty 3.6 lbs., they’re ostensibly designed to take a beating, fit comfortably, and—most importantly— protect your feet; all key attributes when hiking anywhere in Alaska. Along with being 100% waterproof, the boots have a high-cut, full rubber “rand” that wraps the boot’s leather upper (protecting it) and is stitched and glued on (not just glued). Meaning: You can stub your toes on as many rocks as you like and it won’t peel off. Bonus: The Crater Rim’s simple construction lends itself to being easily repaired by any cobbler, and comes in half sizes and a range of widths, so you can ensure a proper fit. $300, danner.com
Lowa Renegade GTX
Comfortable right out of the box, the Renegade GTX is a perfect mix between form and function: easy on the feet, confidence-inspiring on uneven terrain, and hard to bust. The sides of this burly, waterproof boot are injected with polyurethane, which, in effect, wraps the wearer’s foot in a lightweight, supportive, semi-rigid frame. Pefect, our testers found, when negotiating the otherwise ankle-twisting tundra and loose rock of Alaska. Bonus: Perforations in the Renegade’s footbed along with the breathable GORE-TEX membrane helped keep our testers feet slightly less sweaty when wandering the wilderness. $225, lowaboots.com
ECCO Biom Hike
Light (2.75 lbs.) and fast, the ECCO Biom Hike adds a new twist to traditional boot design–literally. Made with a flexible Polyamid and glass fiber shank (that thing that gives the sole of your shoes rigidity), this boot achieved more of a running shoe-like stride, which proved exceedingly comfortable to our testers when carrying lighter day-trip to weekend overnight loads. They also appreciated the fact that the sole maintained great traction on slippery rocks when wet. Bonus: The ECCO Biom Hike is 100% waterproof and, interestingly, made of lightweight yak leather. $255, eccousa.com
One of the lightest boots we tested (1.25 lbs.), the Durand proved more than capable of handling Alaska’s terrain without breaking the bank, or our testers stride. Made with a new direct-injection construction technique that fuses waterproof leather and a breathable mesh liner directly into the extra tough polyurethane midsole, this waterproof GORE-TEX boot kept our testers’ toes from being stubbed or crushed by rocks. Bonus: The boot is made entirely in Keen’s Portland, Ore., factory. $180, keenfootwear.com
BEST BARGAIN: Ahnu Coburn
Bang for your buck, it’s hard to beat the Coburn. The lightest boot we tested at 1.13 lbs., the Coburn is simple (read: classic-looking), but effective: completely waterproof, exceedingly comfortable, and rigid enough to handle carrying a medium-sized load over uneven terrain without weighing you down or decimating your wallet. Made with tried-and-true durable leather and a snug, low profile fit, these “light hikers” worked well for our testers in all conditions, climbing or descending. Bonus: The non-mark lugged sole works well on wet and snow-covered terrain. $175, ahnu.com