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Original Issue

Light on your feet

What does a hiker do first after a hard day on a mountain trail? It's 10 to 1 he kicks his boots off. The fact is, the climbing boot is an uncomfortable walking shoe; most are stiff and heavy, and bruises and blisters often detract from an otherwise exhilarating day. For years, smart climbers have worn running shoes to reach the difficult part of a climb, then have donned their rock-climbing boots. Shoe manufacturers have now combined the best of shoe and boot to create a product especially for hikers and backpackers. The result is snappy-looking footwear that tips the scales at only 26 to 35 ounces per pair, two pounds less than the average pair of climbing boots. And, according to Bob Culp, a mountaineer who runs a climbing school and an equipment shop in Boulder, Colo., the new shoes "practically walk out of the store on their own." One warning: Don't plan to scale K-2 in them—these shoes are more suitable for scrambling over scree, rocks or dirt trails. But they have a good climbing-boot sole with traction that, according to a veteran hiker from Boulder (near where these photographs were shot), "feels like four-wheel drive."

No, that's not the Jolly Green Giant Going Hiking at right; the shoe is Nike's 35-ounce leather, nylon and Gore-Tex boot ($63).

Culp storms the Bastille, a cliff in Eldorado Canyon, to check out Nike's 32-ounce, leather and nylon day-hiking shoe ($50).

Representing the flyweight division, this 28-ounce contender from Rocky Boots has a running shoe's mid-sole and wedge with a lug sole ($80).

For the upwardly mobile woman, Rocky Boots makes the 26-ounce Scrambler, which feels like a running shoe, works like a hiker ($80).

The pick of the peaks, this New Balance boot combines nylon, leather, a pigskin lining and Vibram soles—all in a 30-ounce package ($80).