"I asked about Montrail, and he frowned and said they had "too much curvature". I wish I'd asked what he meant."
He likely is referring to the narrowness of the instep, which forced feet inward like a chinese girl with bound feet. For someone with a wide instep (like me), this had led to a bruised instep after aggressive walking (or heaven forbid) actual running. However, I just purchased a pair of wide-cut Montrail Hardrocks that have worked extremely well for me with a pack.
In the outdoor footwear industry, we sometimes refer to "shoe companies" versus "gear companies". The difference is simple. Dd the company start by designing and selling shoes or did they "branch" over into it. What branching over ususally mean is they designed a shoe and have some "show company" built it to their specs. This is because the cost of starting up a shoe manufacturing are HUGE and it usually takes years to recoup the investment. I know REI contracts out (with Merrell, Vasque, and Raickle) and I am almost certain North Face does as well. Columbia probably sort of does now that it owns Montrail, and they likely build their Columbia models in the same facility.
When I think of "shoe companies" in terms of the outdoor market, I think Montrail, Merrell, Vasque, Lowa, Raichle, Chaco, Teva, Garmont, Tecnica, Scarpa, Salomon, and La Sportiva. They may not make the best running shoes, but their trail runners are often specifically made for the UL hiking community.