Looking to hit the trails and explore the great outdoors? If so, then finding the best arch support hiking shoes is a must. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or just starting out, having the right footwear can make all the difference in your comfort and performance on the trail. In this article, we'll delve into the world of hiking shoes, exploring whether hiking shoes or boots are the better choice, and highlight some of the best comfortable, supportive, and waterproof lightweight hiking shoes available. Get ready to step confidently and comfortably into your next hiking adventure!
What You Should Know About Hiking Shoes
When it comes to choosing hiking footwear, there are many factors to consider, such as the type of shoe, its materials, weight, weather resistance, stability, and support. With a wide range of options available, it's important to find the right fit for your needs.
Saylee Tulpule, DPM, from Foot and Ankle Specialists of the Mid-Atlantic, recommends trusted brands like Merrells, Salomon, Hoka, and Oboz. She advises trying on the shoes in-store 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 choosing footwear. He suggests considering your personal needs and any history of ankle rolling when selecting shoes with ankle support.
Type of Hiking Shoe
When deciding between hiking shoes, trail running shoes, hiking boots, or sandals, Trimble recommends choosing footwear that provides adequate support for the intended terrain, distance, speed, and weight. For moderate day hikes, trail runners, low to mid-top hiking boots, or hiking-specific shoes are recommended. However, for rugged trails or heavy gear, a stiffer boot may be more suitable.
Dr. Tulpule notes that hiking shoes are lighter and have a lower ankle cut compared to boots, allowing for greater ankle flexibility. They also dry off faster and are easier to break in. Additionally, hiking shoes are more durable and provide better stability than sneakers.
Footwear construction and materials have evolved, offering a variety of options. Key areas to consider are the uppers, midsoles, and outsoles.
- Uppers: Leather uppers are still used in heavy-duty hiking boots, but modern boots combine leather, synthetics, meshes, and waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex® for a balance of weather-resistance and breathability. Insulation like Thinsulate is recommended for colder climates.
- Midsoles: The shock absorption of a shoe depends on the stiffness of the midsole. Softer midsoles are suitable for casual walking/jogging, while stiffer ones are preferred for extreme/uneven terrain. It's recommended to try both types before deciding.
- Outsoles: Almost all hiking boots and shoes have rubber soles. Pay attention to the stiffness vs sensitivity of the tread and choose accordingly for your activities.
The weight of hiking footwear can vary significantly. Trimble suggests opting for the lightest, most flexible shoe or boot that provides adequate support and durability for your intended trails and terrain. Lighter options minimize fatigue and allow for a more natural gait.
Waterproofing vs breathability is an essential consideration. While waterproof shoes are beneficial in wet conditions, they may impede breathability and quick drying. Trimble advises that well-ventilated, non-waterproof footwear is often better than traditional waterproof hiking shoes, especially when considering the impact of sweat or water entering the shoe.
Dr. Tulpule agrees that while waterproofing can be helpful in wet conditions, breathable uppers are generally better than traditional waterproof hiking shoes.
Stability and Support
Various factors contribute to hiking shoe stability, including arch supports, soles (outer and midsole), uppers, gusseted tongues, and laces. The right level of stability and support depends on individual needs. For moderate day hikes, trail runners, hiking shoes, or low to mid-top hiking boots are recommended. For hazardous terrain and carrying heavy gear, a more supportive and stiffer boot is preferable.
It's essential to consider personal medical history as well. Those prone to rolling ankles should opt for higher uppers, while those with knee issues may need extra rigidity to prevent twisting. Consulting knowledgeable retailers can help find footwear that fits well and suits specific purposes.
Should I Choose Hiking Shoes or Hiking Boots?
Hiking Shoe vs. Lightweight Hiking Boot vs. Trail Runner vs. Mountaineering Boot
Hiking shoes are versatile footwear suitable for day hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. They combine the benefits of trail runners and hiking boots, offering agility while sacrificing some protection and warmth.
Hiking boots provide weight-supporting traction for rock-scrambling. The rubber outsole with lugs allows for trekking through challenging terrain and provides braking on downhill slopes. Hiking boots offer greater ankle support and protection, making them the preferred choice for more demanding trails.
While hiking boots offer ventilation, they tend to be warmer than other hiking footwear options. In colder weather, their warmth provides comfort during long hikes and in snowy or muddy conditions. However, in the summertime, poorly ventilated hiking boots can lead to sweaty and stinky feet, increasing the risk of blisters. To minimize blisters, choosing boots with excellent ventilation is recommended.
It's important to note that hiking boots are not the same as mountaineering boots. Mountaineering boots are specially designed with additional insulation, stiffer soles for crampons, and an overall more robust build, but they come with a higher price tag.
Moisture and rough terrain can lead to blisters, but proper self-care can help prevent them.
The Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes: Comfortable, Supportive, and Waterproof
We’ve extensively tested over two dozen popular hiking shoes for stability, support, waterproofness, and durability. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
Throughout the past four years, we have thoroughly reviewed numerous hiking shoes, selecting over two dozen of the top models to test on the trails. To update our list of the best hiking shoes for 2023, we have removed discontinued products, replaced some previous winners with newly-tested options, and retained some classic shoes that remain worth considering. Our focus has been on waterproof hiking shoes suitable for day hiking and light backpacking, ranging from urban hikes to multi-day backcountry adventures.
Our curated 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 features, they are equally suitable for most hiking activities. Above all, they excel in the key aspects of comfortable fit, stable traction, durable construction, and keeping your feet dry.
Whether you prefer agile and fast-moving footwear, or rugged hikers designed for steep terrain and rocky ascents, here are the fourteen best hiking shoes and lightweight hiking shoes currently available on the market.
Please note that this article may contain affiliate links which support our website. If you click on these links to purchase gear, we may receive a commission. This helps us to provide reader-supported, unbiased gear reviews that are independently selected by our editors, without any additional cost to you. We appreciate your support for our work and our mission of delivering outdoor coverage for everyone! Learn more.
|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||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||Polyurethance-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|
Understanding the Concept of "Zero Drop"
Photo by Mitch Collins
Most running shoes have an elevated heel, creating a "drop" from the heel to the toe. However, Altras stand out by eliminating this feature. Zero drop design gives their shoes a natural and "barefoot" feel. Combined with a spacious toe box, Altras provide an incredibly comfortable fit.
Consider your walking style for a moment. Take a step across your living room or wherever you're currently reading this. If you tend to run or hike with your forefoot, wearing a zero or low drop shoe allows you to lean forward and flex your ankle, distributing some of the weight from each step and reducing strain on your knees and hips. Does that make sense?
This new ankle motion may feel unfamiliar to feet that aren't accustomed to it, which is why the retailer in Idyllwild recommended Topo shoes with a 2 or 3 millimeter drop to ease into the transition. Apart from thru-hiking, you can also alternate between regular shoes and zero drop shoes for a while to allow your ankles to adjust.
On the other hand, high drop shoes, typically around 10 or 11 millimeters, provide a rest for your ankle as you move, which is particularly beneficial for those who naturally strike the ground with their heels.
Considering the drop of your shoe is especially important if you have plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, as low or zero drop shoes can exacerbate these conditions. Arch support is also a relevant factor, which I will touch upon later. If you are young, agile, and free of these issues, being active in zero drop shoes can strengthen the associated muscle groups and prevent future foot problems.
Merrell Men's Alverstone Hiking Shoes
This hiking shoe feels perfect from the moment you put it on, thanks to its excellent arch support! Surprisingly, the Alverstone is lighter than expected, offering a comfortable fit and great arch support.
adidas Women's Terrex AX4 Hiking Shoes
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Original Price: .99*
These hiking shoes from adidas are a great choice for both comfort and durability. Our whole family wears Terrex because we trust that they will provide the necessary support for hiking in rough terrain. They are not only stylish but also incredibly comfortable. The arch support in these shoes is excellent.
Columbia Men's Redmond III Waterproof Hiking Shoe
These shoes from Columbia are incredibly comfortable, although a bit bulky. They are the perfect choice for hiking. They provide the right amount of support and are stylish as well. The only downside is that they lack padding and arch support.
Merrell Women's Bravada 2 Hiking Shoes
OMG! I absolutely love these shoes! They provide fantastic arch support and outstanding comfort. These lightweight shoes offer superior support and are perfect for hiking.
Merrell Women's Moab 3 Waterproof Hiking Shoes
I absolutely adore these shoes! They are incredibly comfortable, waterproof, and sturdy. I recently did a 22-mile hike in them without any issues. These shoes are the best choice for hiking. They offer perfect arch support and excellent traction.
KEEN Men's Voyageur Hiking Shoes
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Original Price: $144.99-$179.99*
These hiking shoes from KEEN have a great fit and provide excellent support. They are lightweight and comfortable, making them perfect for rough trails. The arch support and wide toe box are exceptional features of these shoes.
Merrell Women's Bravada 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoes
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Original Price: $129.99*
These shoes have a true fit and are suitable for hiking. They have a decent look for hiking shoes and provide a stable base on slippery surfaces like smooth rock. They are comfortable even for wider feet and offer good arch support. Additionally, their fashionable design pairs well with various outfits.
More Hiking Shoes to Consider
Although these hiking shoes, sandals, and boots didn't rank at the top in any specific category, they may still be of interest to you.
- Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe (for men and women): These shoes provide great support and breathability. However, they can feel heavy and stiff, and the arch support and cushioning may not be sufficient.
- Teva GEOTRECCA Low (for women and men): These lightweight shoes offer excellent traction but may cause rubbing in the crook between foot and ankle. They require longer socks for added comfort.
- Danner Mountain 600 Hiking Boots (for women and men): These boots are sturdy and provide good cushioning. However, they can feel hot in warmer weather.
- Saucony Xodus Ultra Trail Shoe (for women and men): These shoes offer great cushioning and are lightweight and breathable. However, they may run narrow and cause rubbing on the heel.
- Chaco Z Cloud (for women and men): These sandals are durable and have good traction but may be uncomfortable for some due to the high arch-support bumps and long straps.
- Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal Sandals (for women and men): These sandals offer comfort, fit, traction, and durability. However, the choice of velcro closures and a slight lump in the heel may cause minor discomfort.
Tips for Buying Hiking Shoes and Boots
Know your foot shape and fit needs
Having your feet measured by a professional is the best way to ensure the right fit for your new hiking shoes. Knowing your foot size and shape, whether wide, average, or narrow, will help narrow down your options. Trying on shoes with orthotics and thicker socks will also give a better idea of the fit. Trying boots on at the end of the day when feet are more swollen will ensure a more accurate fit.
How you tie your hiking shoes can also affect the fit. Avoid tightening the laces too much, as it can lead to discomfort.
Know your support needs
Consider factors such as arch height, pronation, and the weight you'll be carrying while hiking to determine the type of support your feet require. Look for shoes designed specifically for high arches, overpronation, or additional cushioning.
Consider waterproofing levels
Waterproof hiking shoes are great for providing freedom on the trails, but it's essential to find a balance between waterproofing and breathability. Ensure the shoes allow for adequate ventilation to prevent sweaty feet.
Take other environmental factors into account
Consider the terrain and conditions you'll encounter while hiking. If you'll be hiking on rocky trails or slippery surfaces, look for shoes with toe protection and superior traction.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots?
- Should I wear hiking shoes or boots?
- How should hiking shoes fit?
- Are running shoes good for hiking?
Hiking shoes are lightweight, flexible, and comfortable for casual hikers. They have a low ankle height and are more compact and portable. Hiking boots are heavier, rugged, and provide ankle support. They are ideal for serious hikers and technical trails.
The choice between hiking shoes and boots depends on personal preference and the type of trails you'll be hiking. Boots are recommended for challenging trails, while shoes are suitable for recreational hiking.
Hiking shoes should fit snugly around the heel without your foot slipping. There should be enough room in the toes to prevent tightness. Fit may vary depending on personal style.
Regular running shoes lack traction and grip for hiking. If hiking in running shoes, consider trail runners, which offer better traction. However, trail runners provide less ankle support and toe protection. Choose the footwear that suits your needs.
How Much You Can Expect to Pay for Hiking Shoes
The price range for hiking shoes we tested is between and $255, with specialized gear costing more. Mid-range hiking shoes often offer excellent performance and are a suitable choice for most people.
Who We Are
Samson McDougall is a professional in the fields of journalism, copywriting, editing, surfing, hiking, and science. He has written web copy for science museums, sexual health articles for universities, info sheets for pharmaceuticals, and brand messaging for wearable touch therapy. Samson specializes in using clear and accessible communication to simplify complex concepts and spread knowledge effectively.
When it comes to tackling the great outdoors, having the right footwear is essential. And if you're in need of arch support, then look no further than the best arch support hiking shoes. From Merrell to adidas, Columbia to KEEN, there are plenty of options to consider. Whether you prefer a lightweight shoe or a waterproof one, there's something for everyone. So lace up your hiking shoes, hit the trails, and let the adventure begin!