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Originally published Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 12:06 PM

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Getting in Gear: lightweight boots for muddy spring hikes

Dan A. Nelson reviews lightweight boots for mud-slickened spring trails: the Kayland Zenith and Garmont's Zenith Hike GTX (men's) and Amica Hike GTX (women's).

Special to The Seattle Times

quotes There are thousands of boots for the mud and rain, most of us just want a gortex or... Read more
quotes @dunndh1: most of us want what we want and for me it isn't trail runners. Get over it. Read more

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With spring here, hiking opportunities are reopening in the foothills of Western Washington as well as in the sage-covered coulees of the Columbia Plateau.

Early-season hiking, though, means mud-slickened trails and lingering snow on higher routes. Firm footing is vital as you navigate those slippery surfaces.

With that in mind, we set out to find the best lightweight hiking boots suitable for exploring Washington's spring-ready trails. The Kayland Zenith easily earned the title of "best boot" from both our male and female testers.

Kayland kept weight off the boots by creating an upper made of stout nylon, with strategic use of leather for extra support and stiffness where most vital. The design gives the Zenith rock-solid ankle support in a boot that weighs just 3 pounds per pair (for men's size 12).

During testing, we found the moderately soft Vibram outsole provided solid grip on both the rain-slick basalt of Frenchman's Coulee and the slippery mud of Middle Tiger Trail in the Issaquah Alps. An eVent liner makes the boot waterproof while still highly breathable, so you'll be comfortable in the sloppy wet spring conditions in the foothills, as well as on hot afternoons in the deserts of Central Washington.

A lining of Cocona — a material made using carbonized coconut husks — wicks moisture away from your skin while providing a natural antimicrobial quality to fight odor buildup.

The Kayland Zenith sports a medium-volume fit, with a somewhat narrow heel cup and midwidth forefoot. A range of male and female testers, including some who are traditionally difficult to accommodate, praised the fit. The boots sell for $164. For more information, see www.kayland.com.

Remarkably, the other boot that drew praise from testers was also named Zenith. The Zenith Hike GTX (men's) and Amica Hike GTX (women's) from Garmont provide similar performance as the Kayland boots, but the Garmonts fit a wider foot, especially in the heel.

The Garmont boots feature a slightly stiffer midsole than the Kaylands. This earned them higher marks from testers during use in the soft mud and snow found on the Pilchuck Trail. In those conditions, the stiffer midsole provided needed stability underfoot while kicking steps in the soft surfaces. A Gore-Tex liner provides waterproofness, while a full rand — a band of rubberized material circling the foot just above the sole — protects against scuffing and wear that can lead to leaks.

The Garmont boot weighs a touch more than the Kaylands (3 pounds, 4 ounces, for men's size 12) but still qualifies as a "lightweight" boot. The sales prices are $149 (Zenith Hike GTX) and $154 (Amica Hike GTX). For more information, see www.garmontusa.com.

Freelancer Dan A. Nelson, of Puyallup, is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. For the purpose of review, gear manufacturers lend products, which are returned after a typical use of four to six weeks. There is no payment from manufacturers, and they have no control over the content of reviews. Contact Nelson with gear-related questions at gearguy@adventuresnw.net.

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