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Trail runners 2004 — Montrail, La Sportiva, Vasque

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The amalgamation of hiking boot and athletic running shoe about a decade ago produced a new shoe category called trail runners. Today, that niche is splintering into even narrower divisions as athletes begin to use trail runners for more than just running down paths in the woods. I recently tested three unique new designs:

Montrail’s Susitna XCR shoes ($125, www.montrail.com) are made to keep your feet dry at all costs. With a single layer of Gore-Tex fabric on the outside of the shoe, they repel water while maintaining adequate breathability. The inner shoe, which is made largely out of mesh, ties with laces before being zipped closed under the Gore-Tex shell.

 Susitna XCR

To complete the package, Montrail includes short rubberized gaiters to seal off the shoe. I tested them climbing Boundary Peak in Nevada last month, running down the approach trail, kicking steps up a chute and trudging through snow for three hours to the 13,141-foot summit. At the end of the day, my feet were dry and feeling good, and I was very impressed with Montrail’s design work.

La Sportiva’s Colorado Trail AT shoes ($85, www.sportiva.com) also have a link to the climbing world, as they’re designed for use on rocky trails and talus. The company uses a soft, sticky rubber on the sole for impact absorption and grip. The sole’s solid edge works for moderate rock climbing, letting you step and balance on small footholds.

Colorado Trail AT shoes

On the trail, the La Sportiva shoe runs well. While they won’t protect your foot like a hiking boot, the shoe does have a rubber bumper on front. They are also padded in crucial areas to prevent injury.

Vasque’s Litespeed shoes ($85, www.vasque.com) are the speediest in this review. Their build is much closer to that of a running shoe than the Montrail or La Sportiva models, letting you run efficiently on dirt or pavement. The yellow mesh fabric used over most of the foot is so light and breathable that you’ll literally feel the wind on your feet as you run.

Litespeed shoes

For most of my test runs I loved the Litespeed’s ultra-breathable, lightweight design. However, one day running along the shore of a lake I noticed that sand passes right through the mesh. This — along with their non-water-resistant design — sealed the verdict for me that the Litespeeds are best for sprints through the park, not long backcountry journeys, and definitely not for mountain climbs.

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