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Tested: Spring 2015 in-line footwear styles that make the grade

Which spring 2015 footwear styles actually lived up to manufacturer promises?

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SNEWS readers hear about the latest and greatest new gear long before it ever hits retail shelves. But which products actually live up to the manufacturer’s lofty promises?

In this first installment of our new series, Tested, we partner with our sister brand and the gear pros at Backpacker to bring you field reviews of 2015 in-line footwear SKUs that are selling to consumers now.

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Brooks PureGrit 3
What SNEWS said then: “Brooks launches its Pure Grit 3 (MSRP $120) with aggressive lugs and a plate in the forefoot to improve the shoe’s torsional rigidity. The rubber comes up over the toe and the lateral side for added protection against rocks.” [January 2014]

Backpacker’s verdict: The PureGrit’s flexible, 14mm EVA midsole changes right along with the hard and soft surfaces, the fast and slow gaits. How? Its cushioning comes from a proprietary material that adapts its density with every footstrike, becoming firmer with harder footstrikes (like running fast, or on concrete) and cushier on softer footstrikes (like running slowly, or on dirt trails). The rounded heel creates a natural, rolling gait. One ultrarunner loved the feel during a 22-mile training run over a combo of granite and dirt singletrack in Northern California, noting that they felt firm and responsive early in the run, and soft and cushioned later, when he slowed down. [April 2015]

Arc’teryx Bora 2 Mid
What SNEWS said then: “The centerpiece is a seamless, one-piece laminated upper that is wrapped around and an EVA midsole, then connected to a Vibram outsole. Hardly any glue or tape is used in the construction, which aids breathability and minimizes failure points, according to the designers…..Retail buyers at the event applauded Arc’teryx for the different design and approach, but added, as with any product, consumer testing and feedback would be the ultimate verdict.” [June 2014]

Backpacker’s verdict: The Bora 2 Mid consists of a hard, weather-resistant outer shell (or upper) and interchangeable midlayers (liners) that you adjust according to conditions, which means you don’t need to clog your closet with multiple pairs of boots. A single piece of polyurethane-coated nylon bolstered by two layers of thick TPU film creates a durable, water-resistant outer shell. Laminated construction eliminates seams (which add weight and can be weak points), and the upper’s nylon threads are dipped in polyurethane, increasing abrasion resistance. After a 100-mile, on- and off-trail hike in the Sierras, the uppers were unscathed. Gripe: Most of us found the boot hot. An insert (with Gore-Tex liner) boasts EVA insulation and a higher cut. We stayed warm during an unexpected Sierra snowstorm when temps dropped below 30°F. Bonus: Both liners have reinforced soles so they can double as camp shoes. [April 2015]

Salewa Alp Flow Mid GTX
What SNEWS said then: “Salewa expands its use of Surround technology into hiking with the Alp Flow Mid GTX (MSRP $239), with lateral ventilation ports, an Ortholite and ballistic mesh upper and its customizable footbed, 3F System. ‘There’s air sucked in from the outside, and air pushed out,’ said Jim Lamancusa, director of sales and marketing for Salewa. ‘The insole we use for the outflow acts as a bellows, so when you step down it lets moisture-laden air out of shoe, and we you step up it rebounds and sucks in dry air.'” [September 2014]

Backpacker’s verdict: We put these boots on fat feet, skinny feet, and everything in between, and everyone said the same thing: “Like a glove.” The reasons? To-the-toe lacing lets us adjust volume as needed throughout the foot, the roomy toebox (way roomier than other Salewa’s we’ve tested) gave everyone plenty of wiggle room, and a special adaptive foam in the heel pocket conforms to all ankles and absorbs any excess space that can cause friction. Several of us stopped toting camp shoes because they seemed like dead weight when we had these on our feet. (Full disclosure: One tester out of 7 inexplicably got a heel blister.) The soft EVA midsole is buttressed by a hard plastic insert that adds torsional stiffness. We carried packs weighing up to 50 pounds while sidehilling and off-trail hiking in the Sierra, and we never felt shaky. The Alp Flow Mid uses Gore’s new Surround tech, but we were split on its success in this boot. The upper uses leather and lots of rubber, which may inhibit ventilation. Hundreds of miles of hiking didn’t put a dent in them. One tester even rubbed the boot for 15 minutes on sharp limestone to see if he could rip off the rubber exoskeleton. No dice. [April 2015]

Merrell Capra Sport Low
What SNEWS said then: “As consumers seek a wider variety of activities — both on-trail and in the urban outdoors for done-in-a-day pursuits — reflectivity, light-hike and speed-hike genres are taking center stage. Merrell breaks into speed-and-run hiking with the Capra Sport collection (MSRPs $130-$190), incorporating a tapered toe-box, plus more of a running midsole for stability and take-off, and mesh uppers laid with molded polyurethane skeletons for durability.” [September 2014]

Backpacker’s verdict: A lot of hikers buy waterproof shoes “just in case.” But that strategy can backfire in summer because a waterproof membrane can lead to sweaty feet, and sweaty feet can lead to blisters. Our dogs never overheated in the Capra, even on 100°F hikes in Nevada’s Sierra Buttes, thanks to a nonwaterproof, airy-weave mesh upper. The well-cushioned heel tapers down to lighter cushioning in the toes, giving the Capras a soft, comfortable stride. We thought of them as a pair of running shoes with a boot sole. But don’t overdo the weight: On a 32-mile hike to Nevada’s Paradise Lakes, a 52-pound pack proved too much for the Capra’s EVA midsole. “My feet were screaming by the end,” our tester says. “These are best with loads under 40 pounds.” The Vibram Megagrip outsole features a tacky compound that makes the entire sole ideal for scrambling. We felt goat-like in all sorts of terrain, including wet rocks and slimy roots on coastal hikes in Maui. The only time we noticed slipping? On steep gravel or scree, most likely due to the shallow lugs. The soles start out laterally stiff and take some breaking in to loosen up. Wear them for a day or two around the house before longer hikes. [April 2015]

The North Face Ultra Cardiac
What SNEWS said then: “With neutral cushioning, The North Face introduces the Ultra Cardiac (MSRP $120) with a breathable FlashDry upper, resilient Pebax Cradle heel counter and 8mm offset Vibram rubber outsole.” [September 2014]

Backpacker’s verdict: If trails are only part of your itinerary, get this versatile shoe. A plastic insert wraps around the heel cup, providing a firm platform and heel protection for hard surfaces, while the single-density midsole supplies enough cushioning for long runs. After a 20-mile run (18 road miles and only 2 on trail), one ultrarunner said, “The Cardiac has just enough cushion to take the sting out of running on concrete, yet it doesn’t sacrifice responsiveness on rocky trails.” The mesh upper kept our feet cool and dry during hot runs. It dries fast, too: Our feet were dry within a half-mile of a creek crossing in 80°F temps. Multi-directional lugs bite into dirt and rock, but they’re low-profile enough that they don’t feel like cleats on pavement. The forefoot mesh gives way to a soft, cushioned tongue and ankle cuff. “My feet swell on long runs, and the padding kept the laces from digging into the tops of my feet,” says one tester. Gripe: Toe protection is minimal. [April 2015]