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Walking tall in the boot business

Finding boots that fit is Dan Holz's specialty.

As manager of the footwear department at outfitter REI's flagship store in Seattle, Holz has fit thousands of people, whether they needed boots for walking the dog or climbing Mount McKinley.

How to conduct the quest for the perfect boots?

Holz says first find a store with a wide selection, to increase your chances of getting a snug fit and finding qualified salespeople. Some questions to ask before you visit: How many brands do you stock? (A good store should offer a half-dozen or more.) Do you employ a boot specialist? Do you stock Superfeet, Shock Doctor or similar insoles?

Next, match the boot to the kind of hiking you plan to do. Boots come in three basic varieties: low-cut and lightweight; high-cut and lightweight; and heavyweight boots, which are usually high-cut.

Low-cut, lightweight boots, which don't rise much higher on your ankle than regular shoes, are a good option for hikers who stick to well-maintained trails. They weigh about two pounds a pair and cost between $75 and $110. Holz's favorites are Merrell Chameleon II Ventilator, Merrell Pulse II Low and Lowa Tempest II Lo.

Holz says it's important to try on different brands: "What works for someone else won't necessarily work for your feet."

For more ankle support on rocky trails, choose a high-cut boot that covers your ankle. High-cut boots weigh more, usually from 2 to 3.5 pounds a pair. "They're great all-purpose boots for most hikers," Holz says. Asolo Fugitive is his favorite (the women's version is called the Stynger); he also likes Lowa Renegade II.

High-cut lightweights cost $125 to $175, and should last two to five years, depending on how much you hike. The upper of most lightweight boots is a combination of nylon and leather.

Going backpacking for a week, including some time on rough trails? You need the protection of heavy boots, which weigh more than three pounds a pair. Holz recommends the Asolo TPS 520 and Montrail Torre Gore-Tex, both of which have all-leather uppers. Beneath the leather is a layer of Gore-Tex, to protect you from water, and under the Gore-Tex is a nylon layer for comfort.

If you hike mostly in dry areas, you may want a boot without a Gore-Tex layer because the added insulation could overheat your feet.

Heavy boots run $150 to $250, but they're also the most durable, says Holz, and will likely sustain 10 years of hard use.