Hi-Tec V-Lite Altitude Ultra

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

It may look like a traditional mid-height leather hiking boot. But Hi-Tec’s V-Lite Altitude Ultra was built with a plasma-based process developed for military clothing worn in a chemical attack.

New this month for $135, the boot incorporates something called ion-mask technology, a proprietary treatment that infuses leather with fluoro carbon before coating the boot in a polymer layer 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Sounds fancy. But the result is a fairly humble one: The ion-mask process keeps water out while allowing the foot to breathe inside.

Waterproof-breathable footwear is nothing new in the outdoors industry. But Hi-Tec (www.hi-tec.com), which partnered with a U.K.-based military-defense company on the project, touts ion-mask as a better breathable solution that’s also more environmentally benign than competing chemical-based treatments.

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Hi-Tec’s V-Lite Altitude Ultra

My test involved several autumn hikes, one a six-hour killer on trails and through the woods near Minnesota’s St. Croix River. The boots kept my feet dry in wet grass and while tromping through the standing water of muddy trail puddles.

Despite a warm day, clammy feet were not a problem. The waterproof treatment born of chemical warfare seemed to do the trick, allowing moisture from my feet to escape past microscopic pores and polymer, though keeping the rush of water out when I tromped in a stream.

As the name implies, the V-Lite Altitude Ultras are fairly light weight — about 1.4 pounds per foot in my gargantuan size 13s — and they walk with an easy stride. The liberal outsole flex is more akin to that of a trail-running shoe than a stiff hiking boot.

A light Vibram tread underfoot consists of a streamlined series of knobs, lines and rubbery stars. Traction is adequate for most environments, though the tread is too light on steep terrain with snow, ice, mud or slippery rocks.

To me, the Altitude Ultras, which come in men’s and women’s builds, felt made more for speed, less for support on the long haul. They fit my foot fine and were comfortable for six hours on the move during a day hike. But with a larger pack — or for more rugged terrain — I would want something with a bit more beef.

My verdict: The Altitude Ultras are a neat new take on the waterproof-breathable front, keeping my feet from clamming up. Boot build and design is made for day hikers and causal backpackers, not hard-core wilderness explorers. At $135, the price is fair if you need to keep your feet dry or safe, perhaps, during a chemical attack.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

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