Are you ready to hit the trails and conquer the great outdoors? Before you embark on your next hiking adventure, it's crucial to find the best hiking shoes that will keep your feet comfortable and supported. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or new to the sport, this article has got you covered. We'll delve into the age-old debate of hiking shoes versus hiking boots and provide you with valuable buying advice. We'll also introduce you to some top-rated options, including the best comfortable, supportive, and waterproof lightweight hiking shoes. Get ready to step into adventure with the best hiking shoes for your next expedition.
Things to Consider Before Buying Hiking Shoes
Before purchasing hiking shoes, it's important to understand the differences between hiking boots, hiking shoes, and trail runners. To gain more insight, I spoke with Kim Kelley, a member of REI's virtual outfitting team. Here's what I discovered:
Hiking Boot, Hiking Shoe, or Trail Runner?
Choosing between hiking boots, hiking shoes, and trail runners is a matter of personal preference. Some individuals prefer the secure fit of hiking boots, while others enjoy the athletic feel of trail runners. Hiking shoes provide a balance between foot and ankle support like hiking boots and the lightweight, athletic profile of trail runners. Ultimately, the choice comes down to your comfort level and personal preferences.
Contrary to popular belief, the upper part of a hiking boot doesn't prevent ankle rolling. The firmness of the shoe's base is what actually provides ankle support. If you're considering transitioning from hiking boots to hiking shoes, you can test the ankle support by trying to twist the base of the shoe. If the shoe moves easily, it may not offer as much ankle support.
During long hikes or backpacking trips, it's common for the arch of the foot to become fatigued, leading to conditions like plantar fasciitis. Overpronation, where the foot leans or collapses inward, can contribute to this issue. Individuals experiencing pain or discomfort while walking may benefit from using insoles like Superfeet or Currex, depending on the strength of their arches.
Read Next: Best Insoles for Hiking
When choosing hiking shoes, it's crucial to have some space between your toes and the front of the shoe. Aim for approximately a finger's width of space between your toes and the tip of the shoe. In most cases, this will require selecting a half size larger than your regular shoe size. However, it's essential to consider that many people, particularly women, rely on shoe sizings they received when they were younger and may not account for natural foot growth over time. If you have wide feet, it's worth considering wide hiking shoes. Getting your foot professionally sized, either in-store or through REI's Virtual Outfitting, is an important step in selecting the right hiking shoe.
In the past, one significant difference between trail runners and hiking shoes was the size of the lugs on the outsole. However, many trail runners on the market now have substantial lugs that offer similar functionality to traditional hiking shoes or boots.
Durability is an important factor to consider when choosing between hiking shoes and trail runners. Hiking shoes generally last between 500 to 700 miles, while trail runners have a shorter lifespan of 300 to 500 miles. Several factors can influence durability, including the quality of rubber, sole, midsole, and uppers (leather versus mesh). Additionally, the wearer's weight and frequent hiking conditions can affect the longevity of the shoes.
Should I Get a Hiking Shoe or Hiking Boot?
Hiking Shoe vs. Lightweight Hiking Boot vs. Trail Runner vs. Mountaineering Boot
Hiking shoes are suitable footwear for day hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. They offer a combination of benefits from trail runners and hiking boots. While hiking shoes are more agile than lightweight hiking boots, they may lack some protection and warmth.
Hiking boots provide excellent weight support and traction for climbing rocks and navigating challenging terrain. The lugs on the rubber outsole of hiking boots help with uphill climbing and braking when going downhill. Hiking boots offer foot protection, warmth, and crucial ankle support. Think of them as the 4WD for your feet.
It's important to note that hiking boots are warmer than other hiking footwear options, such as trail running shoes, approach shoes, hiking shoes, or hiking sandals. While hiking boots offer ventilation, they are better suited for colder weather and backcountry hiking that involves snow, muck, and mud.
During the summer, poorly ventilated hiking boots can lead to sweaty and smelly feet, increasing the risk of blisters. Many people associate hiking boots with blisters due to poor ventilation, but choosing boots with excellent ventilation reduces the chances of developing blisters. The best hiking boots offer support and traction in all seasons.
It's essential not to confuse hiking boots with mountaineering boots. Mountaineering boots are designed with more insulation, stiffer soles for crampons, and a higher build quality, making them more expensive.
Moisture and rough terrain may lead to blisters. But with some easy self-care, you can avoid them. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
Before purchasing hiking shoes, consider the following criteria that every good pair should possess (in addition to an affordable price):
Comfort is crucial when selecting hiking shoes. While some shoes may require a short break-in period, they should ultimately mold well to your feet and not cause any issues after a few miles. Look for models that provide ample cushioning and a good fit. Watch out for complaints of heel rubbing, blisters, hot spots, or pressure points.
Quality is essential, especially when investing in hiking shoes that typically cost at least $100. It's reassuring to have shoes that will last. Look for signs of poor construction in reviews, such as broken grommets, torn laces, sole separation, or any other red flags indicating subpar quality.
Hiking shoes we considered used laces and quick-pull lacing systems. Laces were flat or round and came at different lengths. So while lacing won't make or break your decision on a shoe, it may influence which model you choose. Photo by Steve Redmond.
While not a crucial factor for everyone, an unfavorable lacing system can discourage wearing hiking shoes or lead to improper usage. Poorly laced shoes can pose safety risks, such as ankle rolling. Ensure that the lacing system feels comfortable and provides a snug fit. If you experience pressure points on the top of your foot, you can skip a set of eyelets to relieve the discomfort.
Contrary to popular belief, hiking shoes can provide adequate arch support similar to hiking boots. The EVA midsole between the outer sole and upper offers cushioning, support, and stability. If you require maximum support, consider wearing hiking boots.
Hiking shoes should offer toe protection to guard against painful encounters with tree roots and sharp rocks on rocky trails. Additional side, ankle, and underfoot protection are beneficial when hiking in rough terrain. If you prefer the concept of hiking shoes but desire more ankle protection, lightweight hiking boots may be a suitable option.
We noted the outsole material used on each of the hiking shoes we tested. Some use name-brand rubber, like Vibram or Michelin, whereas other companies use their own proprietary rubber. Photo by Steve Redmond.
When hiking on loose or wet rock, reliable traction is essential for maintaining stability. While shoes play a role in providing grip, proper foot positioning is necessary to ensure traction. Look for shoes praised for their ability to grip the trail and avoid models with poor traction.
Nobody wants sweaty feet on the trail, so it's vital for hiking shoes to have some form of breathability. However, waterproofness and breathability often conflict with each other. Highly breathable shoes might not be waterproof, and vice versa. In almost all cases, a certain level of waterproofness is necessary, especially if you'll be hiking in damp conditions or crossing creeks. Adequate breathability ensures comfort during summer hikes. If breathability is a priority and stability can be compromised, trail running shoes may be a suitable alternative.
We tested the waterproofness of each pair of hiking shoes in creeks and on beaches. Photo by Steve Redmond.
The need for waterproof shoes depends on the hiking climate. In warm, dry climates, waterproof shoes might cause overheating and aren't necessary. However, if you'll be in damp environments or crossing creeks frequently, waterproof shoes are a smart choice to prevent soggy feet. It's important to select shoes with reliable waterproofing that has passed real-world tests. Keep in mind that most individuals purchasing hiking shoes are searching for waterproof options. If you prefer a lightweight hiking shoe without waterproofing, consider trail running shoes instead.
Our two top winning hiking shoes, the Hoka Anacopa (left) and La Sportiva Spire (right) are both excellent and highly recommended, but differ in price. How much you should expect to pay for a hiking shoe depends on what you want the shoe to do for you. Photo by Steve Redmond.
What to Know About Hiking Shoes
When it comes to choosing the right hiking footwear for you, there are several factors to consider: shoes, boots, or sandals? Waterproof or breathable? Lightweight or heavy-duty? With the wide range of options in terms of price points, styles, and features, it can be overwhelming. That's why experts like Saylee Tulpule, DPM, from Foot and Ankle Specialists of the Mid-Atlantic, recommend brands like Merrells, Salomon, Hoka, and Oboz. Trying on and purchasing footwear in-store is also recommended to ensure a perfect fit.
Wesley Trimble, former Communications and Creative Director at the American Hiking Society, emphasizes the importance of comfort, health, and safety when it comes to footwear. He advises taking personal needs into consideration since everyone's feet and requirements are different. For those with a history of ankle rolling, seeking footwear with ankle support is crucial.
Type of Hiking Shoe
When choosing between hiking shoes, trail running shoes, hiking boots, or sandals, Trimble suggests selecting footwear that provides adequate support based on the intended terrain, distance, speed, and weight being carried. For moderate day hikes, trail runners, low to mid-top hiking boots, or shoes specifically made for hiking are recommended. However, for rugged trails or heavy gear, a stiffer boot is the better choice.
Dr. Tulpule points out that hiking shoes are lighter than boots and have a lower ankle cut, allowing for more ankle flexibility. Hiking shoes also dry faster and are easier to break in. They are more durable and provide better stability compared to sneakers.
Footwear construction and materials have improved in recent years. Here's a breakdown of materials into three key areas:
- Uppers: Leather uppers are still used in heavy-duty hiking boots, but modern boots often combine leather, synthetics, meshes, and waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex®. Insulation like Thinsulate is recommended for colder climates.
- Midsoles: The shock absorption of midsoles varies based on the terrain. Shoes and boots commonly use either squishy EVA or rigid polyurethane.
- Outsoles: Most hiking boots and shoes have rubber soles, but the selection depends on the desired activities. Tread stiffness and sensitivity should be considered.
Hiking footwear can vary in weight from 7.5 oz to 19 oz per foot. Trimble suggests opting for the lightest and most flexible shoe or boot that is still supportive and durable enough for the intended trails and terrain. Lighter options minimize fatigue and allow for a more natural gait.
Waterproofing versus breathability is a key consideration. While waterproof shoes can be great in specific situations, they are not as effective as many people think. Moisture from sweat or water entering the shoe can make feet damp for longer periods. Breathable uppers are actually more beneficial than traditional waterproof hiking shoes.
Dr. Tulpule agrees that waterproofing can impede breathability and quick drying. The waterproof membrane of hiking shoes can be helpful in wet conditions, such as winter hikes. But overall, breathable uppers are better for hiking.
Stability and Support
Arch supports, soles, uppers, tongues, and laces all contribute to hiking shoe stability. The level of stability and support needed depends on the intended use. For moderate day hikes, trail runners, hiking shoes, or low to mid-top hiking boots are recommended. Those carrying a lot of gear across hazardous terrain should opt for a more supportive and stiffer boot.
It's important to consider medical history as well. People prone to rolling ankles might benefit from higher uppers, while those with weak knees may require extra rigidity for prevention. If in doubt, asking knowledgeable retailers for specific footwear recommendations is wise.
More Hiking Shoes to Consider
While the following hiking shoes, sandals, and boots didn't top any categories, they are still worth considering:
- Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe: These shoes offer good support and breathability, but they may feel heavy and stiff even after breaking them in.
- Teva GEOTRECCA Low: These lightweight low-tops are suitable for well-maintained trails, but the stiff tongue may cause discomfort without longer socks.
- Danner Mountain 600 Hiking Boots: These boots are sturdy, supportive, and well-cushioned, but they can feel hot during hikes in warmer weather.
- Saucony Xodus Ultra Trail Shoe: These shoes provide great cushioning, lightweight design, and breathability, but they run narrow and may require ordering a larger size.
- Chaco Z Cloud: Despite their quality and durability, the high arch-support bumps can be uncomfortable, and the long straps may dangle over the sides.
- Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal Sandals: These sandals offer excellent comfort, fit, traction, and durability, but the choice of using velcro closures instead of buckles may affect their longevity, and a slight lump in the heel may cause minor irritation.
(Note: The rewriting of the specific URLs within the HTML links is not provided as it falls outside the scope of the task.)
Best Hiking Shoes: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Altra Lone Peak 7
- Weight: Men’s: 21 ounces, Women’s: 17.4 ounces
- Stack height: 25mm
- Heel-to-toe drop: none
- Lug height: 6mm
- MaxTrax outsole
- Available in regular and wide
- Wide toe box increases stability
- Substantial lugs for improved traction
- Rock plate can inhibit ground feel
- Heel doesn’t lock in as securely
The Altra Lone Peak 7s combine the best features of responsive trail running shoes with the serious bona fides of a true hiking shoe. This shoe is a great choice for everything from long distances to day hikes to trail runs. It starts with a zero-drop in the stack height (meaning there’s no height difference between the front of the shoe and the back of the shoe), which promotes striking on the midfoot. Yet, they still provide enough cushion for committed heel strikers. The Lone Peak 6s also have an unusually wide toe box that allows your toes to splay as you hike, improving ground feel and promoting stability.
The Altra Lone Peaks is the perfect shoe for rocky trails. Laura LancasterTo protect the foot from sharp rocks and other trail hazards, the midsole is equipped with comfortable cushioning and a solid rock plate. One OL staff member was impressed by the substantial lugs on the Lone Peak 6, which performed well on a steep pass covered with wet leaves, “I felt in control even in the moments I slowed down out of caution,” they said. Read the OL Gear Team’s full review: Altra Lone Peak 6 Review: We Put the Best Hiking Shoe to the Test.
- Weight: Men’s: 20.8 ounces, Women’s: 16.6 ounces
- Stack height: 25mm
- Heel-to-toe drop: 5mm
- Lug height: 6mm
- Vibram XS Trek EVO rubber outsole
- Available in regular only
- Wide toebox
- Moderate cushion
- Great heel lock
- Durability in harsh terrain
- No wide option
This trail runner is the perfect bridge from a hiking boot to a lightweight hiking shoe. The wide toebox allows for excellent toe splay favoring stability and balance on rocky terrain. It breathes easy and the thick lugs and cushioning outsoles make for a an extremely comfortable trail runner out of the box. If you’re interested in a minimalist shoe, but concerned about making the jump, this shoe can also be a transition between a hybrid shoe like the Danner and a zero drop shoe like the Altra or Vivobarefoot. Its lower stack height and heel drop is just minimalist enough to ease your feet and gait into new footwear while the heel lock keeps you feeling secure. There is no wide option, but the toebox has a good amount of room.
The replacement Ultraventure 2 sits behind the damaged one. The mesh sustained a large rip after a run in with a branch and there is more ripping on the ankle and outsole. Ashley ThessIf you’re frequenting talus fields or scree-filled slopes, you might run into durability issues. I did 100 miles above alpine in these shoes and came home to rip one on a dirt trail day hike. While I certainly put this shoe through the wringer, it was only 5 months old and in the vicinity of 200 miles. It shouldn’t have damage to the extent noticeable in the photo. However, the Topo team did replace my pair after the rip and the replacement is still my go-to shoe.—Ashley Thess
Best Hybrid: Danner Trail 2650 Campo GTX
- Weight: Men’s: 24 ounces, Women’s: 19 ounces
- Stack height: 32mm
- Heel-to-toe drop: 8mm
- Lug height: 4mm
- Vibram 460 outsole
- Gore-Tex option
- Available in regular and wide
- Great fit
- Protects the foot like a traditional hiking shoe
- Fast break-in period
- Heavier than a typical trail runner
- Substantial heel-to-drop promotes heel striking
It can be tough to transition from the durability and secure fit of a heavier hiking boot or hiking shoe to lightweight trail runners, which aren’t always built for the heavy loads some backpackers carry. In preparation for an upcoming thru-hike, one tester took the Danner Trail Campo 2650 GTX on a series of day hikes that totaled fifty miles around Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. She found that the integrated tongue of the shoe improved the overall fit, locking her heel into place and giving her the stability she was accustomed to from hiking shoes. Strategically placed leather panels on the upper also helped protect her toes and Achilles area, while the ventilation in the Gore-Tex kept her feet from overheating.
But they were more akin to trail runners when it came to comfort, “I did not have to break them in at all—they felt great on the first hike,” she reported.
- Weight: Men’s: 18.4 ounces, Women’s: 15.7 ounces
- Stack height: 6.5mm
- Heel-to-toe drop: none
- Lug Height: 4mm
- Firm ground outsole
- Available in regular only (although they run wide)
- Short stack height and zero heel drop make this a true barefoot shoe
- Durable lugs and reinforced upper
- The upper requires some break-in
- Does not provide as much ground feedback as others
Most minimalist trail runners are breezy, barely-there affairs, with only the thinnest membrane between your feet and the ground. And while that works well for low-key trail runs, the Vivobarefoot Primus FG can tackle more challenging backcountry conditions like slickrock, volcanic pumice, or the scorching desert floor at midday.
I wore these on a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail and was impressed by their durability. At the end of the trip, there were no holes in the upper and the seam at the feather edge was intact. While the lugs were worn to a nub at the forefoot, there were no significant signs of wear on the outsole itself. Despite being on the heavy side (although still substantially lighter than a standard trail runner), the Primus FG still performed like a minimalist shoe and promoted a mid-foot to forefoot strike that kept my foot low enough to the ground to negate any concerns of ankle roll. They also dried fast after stream crossings.
One word of caution is that this shoe should only be worn on the trail by people already accustomed to minimalist footwear, as an undeveloped arch is at risk of developing plantar fasciitis without the support of a standard trail runner or hiking shoe.
Read Next: Best Minimalist Hiking Shoes and Trail Runners
Most Comfortable: HOKA Speedgoat 5
- Weight: Men’s: 20.6 ounces, Women’s: 17 ounces
- Stack height: 32mm
- Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm
- Lug height: 5mm
- Vibram Megagrip outsole
- Gore-Tex option
- Available in regular and wide
- Improved stability from previous models
- Excellent traction in wet, slippery conditions
- Can feel heavy
- Narrow toe box doesn’t allow the foot to splay naturally
The substantial cushion on the Hoka Speedgoat 5 will catch your eye immediately. This feature makes this shoe the go-to for a wide range of people, from day hikers to trail runners to thru-hikers. But the stack height belies the mild heel-to-drop on this shoe, which promotes a mid-foot strike (as opposed to a heel strike), which lessens the impact on the rest of your body—especially if you’re carrying a heavy load down a steep trail.
Compared to previous versions of the Speedgoat, the 5s have slightly less cushion but are substantially more stable. An OL staff member noted that, in combination with the Vibram outsole and 5mm lugs, these shoes were excellent on their state’s varying terrain. Whether backpacking or trail running, “from solid trail to steep skree fields…my foot felt secure and supported,” they said.
Best Sandal: Teva Hurricane XLT2
- Weight: 1 pound, 2 ounces
- Hook-and-loop closure
- EVA footbed
- Nylon shank
- Rubber outsole
- Recycled polyester webbing
- Life Naturals anti-odor
- Out of the box comfort
- Easily adjustable
- TevaForever recycling program
I’m on my second pair of Tevas and they’re my favorite hiking sandals. At 18 ounces they’re lightweight enough to backpack with as camp shoes while also providing the support and traction necessary to hike around once you’re ready to ditch your sweaty boots or trail runners. The nylon shank that supports your arch is flexible and great for anyone with low to medium arches. These have a roomy fit with plenty of toe splay and I love the lightweight feel when scrambling over rocks or trudging through deep sand. I backpack with these frequently in wet or sandy conditions, even 19 miles in a day.
Tevas’ versatility makes up for their longer dry time. Ashley ThessThe rubber outsole and deep lugs add protection and grip for stream crossings. However, they are typically still damp by the time I get to camp because they take a while to dry. The hook and loop closure make them easy to adjust, take off, and put back on quickly. You can also incorporate socks or neoprene booties if necessary. Once your Tevas have finally bit the dust, you can recycle them through the TevaForever program instead of sending them to a landfill.—Ashley Thess
Read Next: Best Hiking Sandals
- Available Sizes: Men’s 7-15, women’s 5-11
- Materials: Injected EVA foam
- Weight: 14.6 ounces
- Moderate arch support
- Can be used for river crossings
This is the do-it-all camp shoe. First off, it’s comfortable and roomy. At the end of the day, when your feet have been banged up by a full day of backpacking, the smooth, cushioned sole of these shoes, coupled with its wider-than-usual interior will feel good to your feet. They are easy to slip on and off, a boon during that midnight bathroom break. The inclusion of a true back heel (unlike the Crocs Classic) makes the Merrell Hydro Mocs secure enough for all but the gnarliest river crossings. (Indeed, it was the winner of our best camp shoe award when we tested the best water shoes for hiking.)
They are even affordably priced, one of the few camp shoes we looked at to come in at well under $100. And you can feel good about their eco bonafides, as 10 percent of the shoe is made from Bloom, a foam derived from algae. The algae was harvested from waterways around the world where an excess in algae (which can occur as a result of both rising temperatures and agricultural runoff) has the potential to result in toxins entering waterways.
Read Next: Best Camp Shoes
Best Budget: Merrell Moab 3 Ventilator
- Weight: Men’s: 31 ounces, Women’s: 17 ounces
- Stack height: 25mm
- Heel-to-toe Drop: 11mm
- Lug height: 5mm
- Vibram TC5 outsole
- Gore-Tex option
- Available in regular and wide
- Low price
- No break-in period
The Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes: Comfortable, Supportive, and Waterproof
We have conducted thorough tests on over twenty-four of the most popular hiking shoe models to determine their stability, support, waterproofness, and durability. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
Over the course of the past four years, we have carefully examined numerous hiking shoes, selecting more than twenty-four models to put to the test and review. In order to present our updated list for the best hiking shoes of 2023, we have eliminated discontinued items, replaced some previous winners with newly-tested hiking shoes, and retained certain classics that continue to be worth considering. We have chosen waterproof hiking shoes that are suitable for day hiking and light backpacking, including everything ranging from a few miles of urban hiking to a few days in the backcountry.
Our list of the best hiking shoes includes two winners, two runner-up winners, and ten other top contenders. While our top two winners prioritize different qualities and characteristics, they are equally suitable for most hiking activities. Above all, they possess the most important features: a comfortable fit, stable foothold, durable construction, and the ability to keep your feet dry.
Whether you are searching for agile and nimble footwear, or rugged hiking shoes for steep and rocky trails, here are fourteen of the best hiking shoes and lightweight hiking shoes that are currently available on the market.
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|HIKING SHOE||BEST FOR||CHECK PRICES*||WEIGHT PER PAIR (WOMEN'S)||WEIGHT PER PAIR (MEN'S)||UPPER MATERIAL||WATER PROOFING|
|La Sportiva Spire Low GTX||Light backpacking and technical terrainRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb 8.2 oz||1 lb 12.8 oz||Mesh, polyurethane Techlite toe and heel||GORE-TEX Surround|
|Hoka One One Anacapa Low GTX||All day comfort and supportRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb 8 oz||1 lb 12 oz||Nubuck leather||GORE-TEX|
|The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelight||All-around for urban and day hikingRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb 4.6 oz||1 lb 8.3 oz||CORDURA ripstop mesh||3-layer FutureLight|
|Salomon X Ultra 4||Traction, support, and comfortRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 9.6 oz||1 lb. 11.2 oz||Synthetic/ textile||GORE-TEX|
|Hoka Kaha Low GTX||Comfort, high cushionRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 11.6 oz.||2 lbs. 1.6 oz.||Nubuck leather||GORE-TEX|
|Keen Targhee III Low WP||Wide feetRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 9.2 oz||1 lb. 14.8 oz||Oiled nubuck leather||KEEN.Dry|
|Merrell Moab 3 WP||An affordable hiking shoeRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 10 oz||2 lbs. 1 oz||Suede leather, mesh||Waterproof breathable membrane|
|Oboz Sawtooth II Low Waterproof||Backpacking and light loadsRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 12.4 oz||2 lbs. 2.8 oz||Nubuck leather||B-DRY|
|The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack II WP Low||NimbleRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 8 oz||1 lb 13 oz||Polyurethane-coated leather, synthetic nubuck||DryVent|
|Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX||Fast and lightRead review||Women's Men's||1 lb. 8 oz||1 lb. 11.9 oz||Warp-knit textile||GORE-TEX Performance Comfort|
Best Value: The Merrell Moab 3
- Weight US 12 Men: 17.56 ounces / 1.098 pounds / 497.8 grams
- Waterproof: No (GTX Available)
- The Good: Affordable with comfortable fit.
- The Bad: Below average traction, protection, and stability.
I was particularly interested in testing the Moab 3 because I am a loyal fan of Merrell and I was aware that these shoes were highly popular.
They offer decent protection, a Vibram sole, and relatively comfortable uppers. However, they are less stable and nimble compared to other shoes tested.
The Merrell Moab 3 is considered a flagship shoe for Merrell and has significantly contributed to the brand's success over the years. The Moab 3 retains its traditional design features, although it has undergone upgrades. Fans of the Moab 2 will find little to complain about when transitioning to the Moab 3. Read the full review for test data.
- Purchase the Merrell Moab 3 (Men)
- Purchase the Merrell Moab 3 (Women)
Best Walking Shoe: The NorthFace Vectiv Exploris Futurelight
- Weight US 12 Men: 15.76 ounces / 0.985 pounds / 446.8 grams
- Waterproof: Yes
- The Good: Excellent for walking on flat, even ground.
- The Bad: Not suitable for scrambling over obstacles or backpacking due to lack of stability.
This design is ideal for walking long distances on relatively even surfaces. However, while testing these shoes on trails in Tuscany, I found them to be less stable compared to the other four shoes I tested. It is possible that hiking with rocker outsoles requires practice, as I felt more prone to turning my ankle on uneven or rocky terrain.
It is important to note that these shoes are incredibly comfortable for walking. I have the dark gray and black version and used them multiple times on wet, cold days in Florence, Italy. They have an effective waterproof system.
I recently used these shoes to traverse from the slopes to the parking lot during a week of skiing in the Italian Dolomites. While they worked well in the snow, they would have been more suitable with gaiters for deeper snow.
Due to the thicker convex midsole, they also performed well in terms of underfoot protection during testing, second only to the Adidas Terrex Swift R3.
Finally, I am pleased with my purchase of these shoes and will likely use them for winter hiking due to their waterproof feature. I have already hiked 25 miles in them and still do not feel completely stable. I am curious to see if, with further use, I will become more accustomed to the rocker outsole. Read the full review for test data.
Best Overall Comfort: Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
- Weight US 12 Men: 18.55 ounces / 1.16 pounds / 525.9 grams
- Waterproof: Yes
- The Good: These hiking shoes are a hybrid of approach shoes and hiking shoes, with stylish Italian design and an incredibly comfortable fit.
- The Bad: They are not as stable as the Salomon X Ultra 4 or the Adidas Terrex Swift R3.
I recently relocated to Italy and wanted to try out an Italian brand for hiking. Salewa, based in the alpine region of Italy bordering Austria, was my top choice. Out of all the shoes I tested this year, the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX provided the most enjoyable walking and hiking experience. They are incredibly comfortable.
Similar to the other shoes I tested this year (excluding the Merrell Moab 3), the Salewa Mountain Trainer Light GTX is an excellent shoe suitable for hiking enthusiasts and experienced hikers in various hiking situations, including backpacking.
Although the Salomon X Ultra 4 is a more refined and complete hiking shoe, it is also more expensive than the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite and not as comfortable.
If you're tired of choosing from the same brands every year, I highly recommend trying Salewa. They have a reputation for their alpine trekking footwear, and that reputation shines through in these agile and comfortable hikers. Read the full review with test data.
Best Protection/Traction: Adidas Terrex Swift R3
- Weight US 12 Men: 16.71 ounces / 1.04 pounds / 473.7 grams
- Waterproof: No (GTX available)
- The Good: These shoes offer relatively good comfort, excellent traction, and reliable protection.
- The Bad: They require more break-in time compared to other shoes tested, and they are heavier and less refined than the Salomon X Ultra 4.
The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 performed exceptionally well in my head-to-head testing this year, competing against five popular hiking shoes. I also tested this pair against four others last year, and they did impressively well. It's no wonder why these shoes have a devoted following among hikers and individuals involved in sports like frisbee golf or paintball.
The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 is a durable and substantial hiking shoe that excels on long hikes while carrying a moderate backpack. However, I wouldn't describe them as "Swift" as their name suggests. They don't have the characteristics of a trail runner/hiker hybrid shoe.
These shoes do require some break-in time. When I tested them last year, I experienced some heel slip due to the rigid Continental outsoles. However, I no longer experience this issue, and I have never developed blisters from the heel slip.
On steep descents, the slightly pointed toe box can be a bit cramped for my small toe.
These are minor considerations. The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 holds its own against excellent hiking shoes from more established hiking footwear companies. I am excited to see what Adidas has in store for the future. Read the full review with test data.
How Much You Can Expect to Pay for Hiking Shoes
The price range for the hiking shoes we tested is to $255. Specialty gear can be even more expensive. Interestingly, many of the top-performing models we reviewed fall within the mid-range price category. Trimble points out that this is mainly because high-end hiking shoes are typically designed for specific terrains. As a result, mid-range hiking shoes are sufficient for most people's needs.
Hiking Shoes vs. Boots
One of the primary distinctions between hiking shoes and boots is their height. Shoes are below-the-ankle, while boots offer full ankle support and high-top construction. Although ankle support is sacrificed, shoes compensate with lighter weight and immediate comfort.
Hiking shoes are ideal for day hikes on smooth trails, as well as fast and light hiking. For longer backpacking trips with heavier packs, full hiking boots are worth considering. Nonetheless, we know thru-hikers who swear by lightweight hiking shoes and day-trippers who won't leave without their boots. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.
While there isn't a single best hiking shoe for everyone, we have categorized our list to help you find the best hiking shoe for your needs.
In recent years, hiking shoe technology has shifted towards low-profile and lightweight designs. Advanced materials and soles allow for thinner and lighter shoes without compromising performance on the trail. The benefits of lightweight shoes become even more apparent during long hikes and thru-hikes.
While some heavy hiking boots can weigh over 4 pounds per pair, hiking shoes typically weigh around 2 pounds or less. If you prefer a faster pace on the trail or plan to engage in trail running, lighter shoes are definitely the way to go.
It is true that reducing weight sometimes leads to decreased long-term durability. However, many shoes on our list are more than capable of withstanding the test of time, just like their heavier counterparts.
Thanks to modern materials and design improvements, you don't have to sacrifice durability to enjoy lightweight comfort.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort is the most crucial factor when it comes to active footwear. Everyone's feet differ in shape, with varying widths, arch heights, and heel volumes. A shoe that feels comfortable to one person may not be the same for another. Ill-fitting shoes will likely cause blisters and discomfort.
When selecting hiking shoes, there's no substitute for trying them on and paying attention to how they feel during activity. Most people prefer a fit that minimizes empty space without squeezing or compressing the feet or toes.
If your foot moves excessively in the shoe, you're likely to develop blisters. Generally, hiking shoes offer better comfort than hiking boots. It's possible to find a pair of hiking shoes that can be worn comfortably all day long.
There are pros and cons to choosing "waterproof" hiking shoes. While they keep your feet dry and comfortable on muddy and wet terrain, they can be less breathable and warmer. Wet feet are more likely to develop blisters and other foot issues.
Most waterproof hiking shoes feature a membrane (such as GORE-TEX) in their lining that prevents water from entering the shoe. Additionally, many hiking shoes have a durable water-repellent coating that can be reapplied as needed.
While prioritizing dry feet is important, it's crucial to remember that keeping moisture out also means keeping it in. Waterproof shoes can become hot and sweaty in warm or humid conditions. It's worth noting that even labeled as "waterproof," all hiking shoes will eventually soak through if fully submerged or extremely wet.
Durability and Materials
The upper and outsole are the two areas of a hiking shoe that experience the most wear and tear. The upper determines the shoe's waterproofness, durability, and breathability.
Most hiking shoes feature uppers made of nylon, mesh, leather, or a combination of these materials. Nylon is lightweight and breathable, but it may not hold up well to abrasion. Mesh is the least durable but highly breathable, making it suitable for the shoe's tongue. Leather is less breathable but more durable, commonly found in heavy-duty hiking shoes.
While heavier hiking shoes often excel in durability, many lightweight options are also impressively long-lasting. Softer rubber outsoles will wear out faster than denser, firmer ones.
Stability and Support
A shoe's support comes from its components, including the sole and midsole. Ideally, the shoe should provide firm stability in the middle of the foot while offering slight flexibility near the toes. This allows for proper support without hindering toe movement.
Most hiking shoes have low-cut ankle collars. If you require extensive ankle support, hiking boots may be a better choice.
The lacing system can greatly impact your hiking experience. Having a comfortable and secure fit, along with avoiding constant loosening, is essential on the trail.
Some shoes feature a single-pull lacing system. Despite its delicate appearance, we found no issues with long-term durability. Many testers find this system allows for a customized fit and quick adjustments.
However, quick laces may not offer the same level of customized tightness throughout the foot. If you prefer different tension levels across your foot, traditional lacing systems are recommended.
Quality hiking shoes have a firm and grippy outsole on the bottom. While Vibram is a popular outsole manufacturer, some footwear brands produce their own.
A sturdy outsole distinguishes hiking shoes from sneakers or tennis shoes. A good hiking shoe will maintain reliable traction on various surfaces, from loose scree to slick rock.
Many hiking shoe soles are designed for specific terrains. For hiking through unstable surfaces like deep mud, opt for soles with firm, large rubber lugs. Soft and sticky rubber soles with a flat toe edge are ideal for scrambling and smearing on rock slabs. Entry-level hiking shoes often feature versatile soles that perform well on multiple hiking surfaces.
A shoe's breathability depends on its construction materials. Open synthetic mesh and woven nylon areas enhance breathability.
On the other hand, large sections of leather and waterproof membranes like GORE-TEX reduce breathability. Breathable shoes provide a cooler and less sweaty experience during rigorous hikes.
However, breathable shoes are more prone to soaking through when hiking in rain or traversing puddles. Waterproof shoes may feel hot and sweaty at times, but they offer protection against mud and moisture reaching your socks and feet.
The price of hiking shoes varies, and it's possible to find a quality pair at an affordable price. Many reasonably priced hiking shoes are excellent and long-lasting. However, lower-priced shoes may lack certain features such as a waterproof liner or a Vibram sole.
The typical price range for modern hiking shoes is around to $200, with some exceptions. After extensive testing, we concluded that the cost of hiking shoes does not necessarily indicate their performance.
The best hiking shoes are those that fit comfortably and allow you to enjoy your time on the trail. While durability, support, and traction are important, none of that matters if the shoes cause discomfort.
Furthermore, no single pair of hiking shoes is the absolute best for every situation. Each shoe has its own set of strengths and weaknesses based on materials, design, and tread pattern.
The hiking footwear trend has shifted away from bulky high boots to more agile lower-cut hiking shoes. Hiking boots are heavier, and excessive weight on your feet can be uncomfortable after a full day of hiking. Swapping a 4-pound pair of boots for a 2-pound pair of hiking shoes can greatly improve performance.
While some hiking boots have rigid soles that restrict proper foot flexion, many are constructed with non-breathable materials that make feet susceptible to sweating and blistering. However, hiking boots are still a great choice for those who prefer ankle stability and underfoot stiffness.
Hiking shoes resemble trainers or tennis shoes in shape. The difference lies in their durable construction and specialized outsoles designed for gripping dirt, rocks, and mud. Compared to boots, hiking shoes feel light, nimble, and offer somewhat less support.
Are hiking shoes suitable for every terrain? While most sneakers are designed for artificial surfaces like asphalt or cement, they often lack the necessary support for hiking on uneven terrain. Sneakers typically have flimsy soles and are less likely to withstand abrasion on rough trails.
If you mostly walk on flat trails in urban parks or backyards, sneakers will suffice. However, for longer hikes and especially backpacking, hiking shoes are the superior choice.
What about wearing barefoot shoes for hiking? Barefoot shoes are designed to allow natural foot flexion, providing a similar experience to walking barefoot. With thin and flexible materials, barefoot shoes enable you to feel the trail's texture beneath your feet.
The tissues in your feet directly respond to the trail, adapting and contracting accordingly. However, transitioning to barefoot shoes requires some adjustment, especially for individuals accustomed to boots or hiking shoes. Overdoing it too soon can lead to discomfort or injury.
Barefoot shoes lack insulation and do not protect your feet from sharp objects on the ground. Additionally, they may wear out more quickly. While experienced hikers have successfully made the switch to barefoot shoes, we generally advise against them for beginners.
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In conclusion, when it comes to finding the best hiking shoes for your outdoor adventures, it's important to consider various factors such as comfort, support, waterproof capabilities, and traction. With the plethora of options available in the market, it can be overwhelming to make a decision. However, by carefully considering your own preferences and needs, you can find the perfect pair that will provide you with the ultimate hiking experience. So, lace up those shoes, hit the trails, and let your feet take you on a journey to discover the beauty of nature. Happy hiking!