Looking to hit the trails this season? Don't underestimate the power of the right footwear. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or just starting out, finding the best low top hiking shoes can make all the difference in your adventure. From lightweight options for summer to budget-friendly picks, we've scoured the market to bring you this ultimate guide. Get ready to step into comfort, durability, and performance as we dive into the top contenders, compare their features, and highlight the advantages. Lace up and prepare for a journey tailored to your needs – let's hit the trail together!
Best overall low cut hiking shoes
Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX Read the full review of Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX
Comparison of the 7 best low cut hiking shoes
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Big and bulky shoes are no longer in style. Low-cut hiking shoes are the new trend, and for good reason. They offer all the best features of traditional hiking shoes or boots, such as waterproofing and off-road traction, without the added weight and bulkiness.
Continue reading to discover the advantages of low-cut hiking shoes, learn how to transition from boots, and find other helpful information about the best low-cut hiking shoes.
Danner Trail 2650 ($170)
Available In: Men’s, Women’sCategory: All AroundWeight: 9 oz per shoeHeel-toe Drop: 8 mmVersions: Campo, GTX, Trail Mesh, Mid
Pros: Offers exceptional all-around performance with a stylish design.Cons: Runs narrow.
It's not easy for a hiking shoe to make an impact, but Danner has achieved it with the Trail 2650. Known for their high-quality boots, Danner has entered the world of hiking shoes with great success. The name 2650 signifies the number of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, showcasing its durability and reliability. The Trail 2650 excels in all categories, combining lightweight agility with a tough exterior for rugged trails. The snug fit becomes more comfortable with use.
The Danner Trail 2650 provides immediate comfort and a plush midsole for cushioning, while also offering excellent support. Though they run slightly narrow, they are suitable for backpacking and provide a secure fit. Traction is impressive, particularly on dirt and gravel. The Trail 2650 is built to last, with durable leather uppers that can handle rough use. The Gore-Tex version provides superior water resistance, and the regular version is still moderately water-resistant. While lower to the ground, they still perform well in shallow water.
What surprised me the most about the Trail 2650 is its cushioned and minimal midsole design, with an 8mm heel-to-toe drop. It offers a comfortable and supportive experience right from the start. In terms of style, these hiking shoes are fairly attractive and can be worn casually as well. They even held up well during yard work.
Overall, the Danner Trail 2650 is a versatile hiking shoe that excels in all aspects.
Fit: Snug fit that loosens up with use. Available in wide versions.
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Best budget low-cut hiking shoes
Adidas Terrex AX4 Full review of Adidas Terrex AX4
Merrell Moab 3 ($140)
Available In: Men’s, Women’s
Category: Heavy Duty HikerWeight: 11.6 oz per shoeHeel-toe Drop: 11.5 mmVersions: Waterproof, GORE-TEX, Ventilator, Mid
Pros: Classic and well-priced hikers that fit great and have remained popular.Cons: Lacks modern features.
In the world of hiking shoes, the Merrell Moab 3 is a classic. It is known as the "dad shoe" of hiking and has played a significant role in defining the hiking shoe category. The Moab 3 has a traditional design with a large heel-to-toe drop, a sturdy appearance, and all the classic features of a hiking shoe, including leather uppers, thick laces, an extra-large toe rand, and a durable outsole.
The Moab 3 has stood the test of time and remains a popular choice. It is a shoe that I personally used as my only footwear during a 6-week backpacking trip in Southeast Asia, where I encountered jungles, smoky cities, and various trails without any issues. Even after a decade, the Moab 3 is still being sold in almost every REI store in the U.S. and fits well for most people.
Compared to more cushioned models, the Moab 3 may not be as comfortable, but it is robust enough for backpacking. Its design focuses on stability and is suitable for backpacking and hiking on solid ground, providing ankle support. The classic Vibram outsole offers decent traction on most trails, although it may not be the best on the market.
However, like many classic models, the durability of the Moab 3 may decrease over time. While it may not have the same longevity as older generations of hiking shoes, it still offers decent durability. Although I did not test the waterproof version, it is recommended for backpacking or wet environments.
If you prefer a classic hiking shoe that is not overly expensive but made with rugged materials, the Merrell Moab 3 is a good choice. It may not have all the modern features of other models, but it gets the job done.
Fit: The Merrell Moab 3 generally fits well for most people. It has a slightly wider fit, especially in the toe box, compared to narrow-fit shoes. Trust the website for accurate sizing information.
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Lems Primal Pursuit ($130)
Available In: Men’s, Women’sCategory: Light HikerWeight: 10.3 oz per shoeHeel-toe Drop: 4 mmVersions: Low, GTX Low, GTX Mid, GTX Spike
Pros: Lightweight with a barefoot feel and stylish design.Cons: Not suitable for longer, more challenging hikes.
The Lems Primal Pursuit is a unique combination of style and minimalism in an all-around hiking shoe. It falls into the "casual" category and performs well on easy day hikes, but it is not designed for rugged and challenging terrains. These shoes are extremely lightweight and provide a true barefoot feel, as they are inspired by the concept of barefoot walking and the overall philosophy of the Lems brand.
Personally, I have not developed a love for zero-drop shoes, as they have a specific impact on my calves and gait. However, this is more of a personal preference rather than a reflection on the quality of the shoe. The Primal Pursuit shoes provide a true on-trail experience, with minimal cushioning.
In terms of comfort, the Lems Primal Pursuit is in the middle ground. Comfort is subjective, but when compared to other heavily cushioned shoes in this guide, they offer less padding. These shoes are more suitable for lightweight hikes rather than backpacking treks. They are lightweight and provide medium support for trekking.
The traction of the Primal Pursuit is surprisingly good considering the relatively shallow lugs and the absence of an aggressively designed outsole. They maintain grip on muddy trails, but I would be cautious about using them for extended wet hikes on rocky or shale terrains. The breathability of the shoe is excellent, which may slightly affect its durability. The thin mesh upper is susceptible to scuffing, although the vegan-leather parts of the upper are well-made. It is important to note that this shoe is not waterproof, so it offers minimal protection in wet environments.
Furthermore, these shoes are well-suited for various activities beyond hiking. They can be worn to a co-working space, taken on mid-day hikes with your dog, and even worn for a dinner afterward. However, it is worth mentioning that your feet and calves may feel slightly fatigued after prolonged use. Overall, if you enjoy zero-drop shoes, the Lems Primal Pursuit is a great choice.
Fit: Fit is a subjective factor, but these shoes tend to have a wider fit, particularly in the toe box. Lems has a good reputation for accurately describing the fit of their shoes, so it is advisable to refer to their website for sizing information.
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Altra Lone Peak 7 ($150)
Available In: Men’s, Women’sCategory: Light HikerWeight: 11 oz per shoeHeel-toe Drop: 0 mmVersions: All-WTHR Low, All-WTHR Mid, Hiker, Alpine
The Altra Lone Peak 7 is renowned as the zero-drop shoe for thru-hikers. It is widely favored by those who prefer a "barefoot" hiking experience during long journeys on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Appalachian Trail (AT), and Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The Lone Peak 7 provides ample cushioning for a minimalist shoe, remaining lightweight, breathable, and surprisingly durable for trail running shoes. These were my first introduction to zero-drop shoes many years ago, and while they performed well during another trip to Southeast Asia, my calves required some adjustment to the zero-drop style.
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Oboz Sawtooth Low ($160)
Available In: Men’s, Women’sCategory: Heavy Duty HikerWeight: 15.6 oz per shoeHeel-toe Drop: Not ListedVersions: Waterproof, Mid
Oboz comes from Montana and is a well-established outdoor shoe company. They specialize in heavy-duty boots for serious outdoor trekking, and they have created the Sawtooth Low as a more streamlined hiking shoe. The outsole of this shoe is an impressive design achievement, and it boasts unmatched durability. Prepare to feel the weight of this shoe with every step.
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Keen Targhee III Waterproof ($155)
Available In: Men’s, Women’sCategory: Heavy Duty HikerWeight: 16.12 oz per shoeHeel-toe Drop: Not ListedVersions: Mid, Vent
Another well-known and enduring choice is the Keen Targhee, which is often compared to the Merrell Moab as a reliable hiking shoe option. Keen started as a company known for rugged water sandals, but the Targhee has become a popular choice in outdoor stores for good reason. They are well-crafted, durable, comfortable, and have a wide appeal, although they tend to run slightly narrow. These shoes are another heavy-duty option that will provide excellent support and moderate comfort for long distances.
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Advantages of low-cut hiking shoes
For those who are skeptical of hiking shoes or firmly in favor of hiking boots, it may not be immediately clear what benefits low-cut hiking shoes offer. Depending on who you ask, the advantages can seem endless. At this time, however, we will focus on six of the most notable advantages of low-cut hiking shoes below.
One of the biggest advantages of low-cut hiking shoes is their weight. They are lighter than traditional hiking boots, thanks to their reduced material and absence of a tall boot-like cuff.
Hiking shoes also reduce weight in other ways. They often incorporate lightweight materials in the upper part of the shoe, use lighter foam in the midsole, and have slightly thinner outsoles, resulting in overall weight savings.
Low-cut hiking shoes are known for their sensitivity. They provide a greater level of ground feel and feedback because they are closer to the ground. This is due to their thinner midsoles and outsoles.
Hiking shoes do not have thick rubber outsoles like some hiking boots, and the foam material used in their midsoles is less rigid compared to that used in hiking boots. These qualities contribute to the sensitivity of the shoe and often result in increased flexibility.
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Despite their lightweight and sensitive nature, low-cut hiking shoes still offer excellent traction. Traction refers to the friction between the shoe and the walking surface. Good traction provides a secure grip.
Over time, the rubber compounds used in hiking shoe outsoles have improved. Hiking shoes are known for their lightweight rubber outsoles that offer both durability and traction.
Lug profiles have also become more specialized. The lugs on shoes are similar to the tread on car tires and should be matched to the hiking and terrain conditions. For example, Salomon now creates outsoles specifically designed for different types of terrain, including road, mud, winter conditions, water, and all-terrain.
Despite their use of lighter materials, low-cut hiking shoes can still be highly durable.
Hiking shoes can achieve a balance between lightweight and durability. For example, the Salomon X Ultra incorporates durable TPU synthetic materials, an advanced chassis, and a protective toe guard for added durability.
Another example of durability in hiking shoes is the Keen Protect technology found in the Keen NXIS Evo WP.
Low-cut hiking shoes are known for their versatility. Their low-cut design and sneaker-like appearance make them suitable for urban environments as well. They blend in better than bulky hiking boots.
As a result, many people now use hiking shoes for both outdoor activities and everyday wear. Hiking boots are reserved for more specific adventures.
Low-cut hiking shoes are available in a wide range of prices, fitting every budget. Depending on the desired features and type of shoe, prices can range from around $40 to over $200.
Best low-cut hiking shoes for summer
Read the Full Review of the Merrell Moab 3
Top Lightweight Hiking Shoes: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Oboz Katabatic
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 12.7 ounces (men’s), 9.8 ounces (women’s)
- Available Sizes: 8-14 (men’s) and 5-12 (women’s)
- Four color options
- Non-waterproof and waterproof options ($20 more)
- Mid-ankle option available
- Breathable mesh
- No wide options
- Not a Vibram outsole
The arch support in the Oboz Katabatic provides out-of-the-box comfort that lasts, even with a heavy pack. Justin La VigneWhile they don’t use a Vibram outsole, Oboz has their own Trail Tread, which has an aggressive multidirectional lug pattern comparable to Vibram outsoles. I always maintained my grip, even on wet, rocky, and rooted trails. Its relatively low heel-to-toe drop of 8mm gives a nice sense of stability to this shoe as well.
Green bonus: They are designed in Bozeman, Montana, and Oboz will plant a tree for every pair of shoes sold.
Best Budget: Merrell Moab Speed
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 9.2 ounces (men’s), 8.5 ounces (women’s)
- Available Sizes: 7-15 (men’s), 5-11 (women’s), and kids’ sizes available
- Four color options for women, Five for men
- Non-waterproof and waterproof options ($30 more)
- Wide width available for both men and women
- Affordable regular price ($130), but often on sale
- White color choice gets dirty quickly
- Difficult to fit to your feet
The Merrell Moab Speeds are durable and affordable. Justin La VigneThe newest version of the Moab Speeds steps up the game with its Vibram outsole that now incorporates partially recycled rubber, as well as the 4mm traction lugs. The bellowed tongue effectively keeps out debris, which is a huge plus as most of the hiking we do in Alaska involves traversing willows and alders, and low-top shoes typically pick up hitchhiking plants.
They are often on sale, and at the time this article was written, they were $40 off the MSRP. But even at the regular price of $130, these shoes offer an ideal price for the durability they provide. Bonus: They are vegan, so now I’m wondering, can you eat them?
Best for Wet Conditions: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II GTX
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 14.1 ounces (men’s), 12 ounces (women’s)
- Available Sizes: 6-15.5 (men’s) and 5-11 (women’s)
- Leather option
- Waterproof Gore-Tex protection
- Non-waterproof option available
- Wide options available for men and women
- Only one color option
- Not true to size
Similar to the mid-ankle version, the stiff rubber that forms the raised grippy lugs offers excellent traction on slippery surfaces. Kelley did note that she tends to see these lugs wear down quicker on harder surfaces and talus-type surfaces like granite.
Although all the shoes in the test come in a waterproof version, these stand out because of their Gore-Tex shield material, while still providing good breathability. I wore these on several wet frontcountry trails, and with gaiters, my feet remained completely dry after a full day of hiking in the pouring rain. Pro tip: I would recommend going a half size up.
Best Bounce: Hoka Speedgoat 5
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 10.3 ounces (men’s), 8.5 ounces (women’s)
- Available Sizes: 7-15 (men’s and women’s)
- 17 color options for women, 15 color options for men
- Wide options available
- Ample cushioning
- A wide range of color options
- Winterized option available
- Outsole can deteriorate quickly on rocky surfaces
- Bounce in step reduces ground contact
Categorized as a trail runner, they also work well as a lightweight hiker. For two years, I have been loving (and abusing) my Speedgoat 4s. I am sold on the comfort. In fact, this is the first shoe where I didn't need to replace the manufacturer’s insole with an aftermarket one. However, after hiking about 50 miles on lava rock in Hawaii, my Vibram lugs look like my dog chewed them off. The newest version is ½ ounce lighter and has improved traction, making them even better.
Best for Trail Running: Altra Lone Peak 7
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 11 ounces (men’s), 9.2 ounces (women’s)
- Available Sizes: 7-16 (men’s) and 5.5-12 (women’s)
- Eight color options
- No wide options
- Not ideal for carrying heavy loads
They have a wide, rounded toe box that offers great comfort and space for your foot's metatarsals to spread out, naturally absorbing the impact of your foot landing. Most other shoes scrunch the toes in a pointy toe box.
Thanks to the zero drop from the forefoot to heel, trail runners achieve a mid or forefoot landing, which promotes a more stable gait and better connection to the ground.
However, the downside is that they "offer little in the way of medial support, and using them for longer distances or with heavy weight can lead to foot injuries such as plantar fasciitis," according to Kelley. She recommends adding an aftermarket insole like Superfeet if you plan to hike longer distances or carry more than 10 or 15 pounds on a day hike.
READ NEXT: Altra vs Hoka
Most Durable: Scarpa Ribelle Run XT
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 12.5 ounces (men), 10.4 ounces (women’s)
- Sizes: 7.5-14 (men’s) and 5-10 (women’s)
- One color option
- One color option
- No large sizes available
Most Comfortable: Topo Ultraventure 3
- Models for men and women
- Weight Per Shoe: 10.2 ounces (men’s), 8.3 ounces (women’s)
- Available Sizes: 8-13 (men’s) and 6-11 (women’s)
- Three color options
- Wide toe box
- Great cushioning and fit
- No wide options
- Mesh can tear easily
As further testament to their cushioning, comfort, and support, New Hampshire tester Kristen Coats has a neuroma in her foot, but said that with Topo’s larger toe box, her nerve tissue does not become inflamed.
"After trying a dozen other brands, and finding some that worked, I tried the Topo brand and haven't looked back," she says. "I can finally run on trails and roads pain-free, and have conquered many peaks all over the world with Topo. In fact, I recently ran my best half-marathon and 5K race in my Topos."
The Best Men’s and Women’s Hiking Shoes
We have extensively hiked with the Spire in peak-summer temperatures and the rainy Pacific Northwest (PNW), and we have found that the combination of breathability and waterproofness is among the best we have ever experienced. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
La Sportiva Spire Low GTX: The best hiking shoes for light backpacking and technical terrain
men’s and women’s
Weight (men’s): 1 lb 12.8 oz (per pair)
Weight (women’s): 1 lb 8.2 oz (per pair)
Upper Material: Mesh/polyurethane Techlite toe and heel
Waterproofing: GORE-TEX SURROUND waterproof breathable membrane/textile
Midsole Material: Vibram XS Trek rubber
What we liked: versatility, stability, support, ability to handle most terrain and conditions, technical and breathable, collar height prevents water from entering during creek crossings
What we didn’t like: unavailability in wide sizing, slightly higher price compared to other options
The men’s and women’s La Sportiva Spire GTX is our top choice for the best hiking shoe due to its exceptional overall performance. It combines lightweight movement with stability and support, making it suitable for a wide range of situations.
The Spire GTX offers the agility of trail runners with the protection and support of lightweight hiking boots. It excels in versatility and comfort, featuring sturdy outsoles that can handle long days on rocky and technical terrain, as well as breathable synthetic uppers that are ideal for hiking in hot weather. We found the Spire to be our preferred shoe for walks in muddy conditions and our go-to option for hiking with a heavy backpack or child carrier.
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The La Sportiva Spire GTX is our top choice for the best hiking shoe due to its exceptional overall performance that combines lightweight movement with stability and support. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
We have extensively hiked with the Spire in peak-summer temperatures and the rainy Pacific Northwest (PNW), and we have found that the combination of breathability and waterproofness is among the best we have ever experienced (please note that non-waterproof trail shoes will always be more breathable than waterproof trail shoes).
Made entirely of synthetic materials, this shoe allows water vapor on the inside to escape through the footbed and midsole, keeping feet free from sweat, while the Gore-Tex Surround membrane prevents moisture from entering.
We appreciate the slightly taller height of the shoe, which allows for more creek crossings without water breaching the top. The collar height also prevents ankle rolls, and the padding around the heel prevents blisters from rubbing.
The extended gusseted tongue keeps water and debris out, and the lacing system ensures a snug fit.
The lugs on the Vibram XS Trek soles of the Spire are some of the most aggressive we have seen, providing excellent traction and protection from sharp rocks and obstacles. Photo by Steve Redmond.
The lugs on the stiff Vibram XS Trek soles of the Spire are highly aggressive, offering outstanding traction and protection against sharp rocks and obstacles.
The supportive cushioning combined with TPU inserts in the midsole provides stability, while the prominent heel brake ensures controlled movements during challenging descents.
After several months of testing, we have not encountered any durability issues with the abrasion-resistant mesh upper. However, we have noticed that the fabric and thin film are more susceptible to nicks and tears compared to shoes with thicker material. Nevertheless, critical areas are reinforced for added protection and durability. The hard material on the heel and toe box offers extra shielding and safeguards against trail abrasion.
Although the Spire is not available in wide sizing, it has an average fit that should work for most foot shapes. It is worth mentioning that customer reviews on popular retailers indicate that the Spire fits well for individuals with narrow feet, but those with wide feet may need to consider other options. Despite being among the more expensive options, we believe the exceptional performance of the Spire justifies its price. If you are seeking a hiking shoe that provides support, protection, and stability while transitioning from a hiking boot, the Spire is a worthwhile investment.
The Hoka One One Anacapa Low GTX have everything that people have come to love about Hoka shoes-- cushion, propulsion, and support. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
Hoka Anacapa Low GTX: The best hiking shoes for all-day comfort and support
men’s and women’s
Weight (men’s): 1 lb 12 oz
Weight (women’s): 1 lb 8 oz
Upper Material: Nubuck leather/GORE-TEX textile
Waterproofing: GORE-TEX waterproof/breathable laminate
Midsole Material: Compression-molded EVA
What we liked: comfort, cushioning, propulsion, support, lightweight, combats foot fatigue, heel geometry helps with heel-to-toe transition, feels like you can hike farther, sustainability (PFC-free)
What we didn’t like: price, extra bulk takes getting used to
The men’s and women’s Hoka Anacapa Low are the best hiking shoes that strike a perfect balance between hiking boots and trail running shoes. They offer the signature Hoka comfort, cushioning, and propulsion, enhanced with rigidity and thoughtful design features that set them apart. As one of our top choices, these shoes provide unparalleled all-day comfort and support, making them suitable for various trail terrains or urban exploration without compromising on comfort.
Hoka is renowned for producing lightweight and comfortable footwear, and the Anacapa stays true to this reputation. The rockered sole reduces foot fatigue, provides all-day support, and the extended heel geometry aids in smooth heel-to-toe transitions (although it adds some bulk and requires initial adjustment).
Once you become accustomed to the rockered shape and extended heel, you will feel like you can hike longer distances with less effort. Additionally, the shock-absorbing soles ensure that you won't be rushing to remove your shoes after a long day.
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The Hoka Anacapa's Vibram sole is sticky and offers a comfortable and stable ride, with added rigidity for enhanced confidence on the trail. Photo by Ebony Roberts.
Right from the start, we noticed that the Anacapa's Vibram Megagrip soles provide exceptional grip. They created a suction cup-like sound as they held onto the hardwood floors while wearing them indoors, and they helped us maintain traction on slippery, moss-covered rocks outdoors.
Compared to the Hoka Kaha hiking shoes we tested, the midsole of the Anacapa is firmer, resulting in slightly reduced bounce. However, they retain the comfortable and stable ride that Hoka is known for, with additional rigidity that enhances confidence on the trail. The base of the shoe is noticeably narrower than the Kaha, making it more agile.
The pull tab is one of our favorite features of the Anacapa as it makes slipping your foot into the shoe incredibly easy while providing support for the Achilles, reducing heel slippage. Aside from providing immediate comfort, we believe that the cushioned pull tab makes the shoe more responsive to individual movements by twisting with your steps.
The lacing system is well-designed, with an added eyelet positioned further back on the shoe. This allows for different lacing techniques and enables a personalized fit for your foot.
The waterproofing system of the Anacapa performed exceptionally well in our testing, keeping our feet dry during water crossings and hikes in rainy conditions thanks to Gore-Tex and a PFC-free weather-resistant treatment.
We did not encounter any durability issues, and the leather and mesh upper held up well against abrasion. Leather covers high-impact areas such as the sides and back, while a rubber toe cap provides an additional layer of protection. The gusseted tongue effectively keeps water and debris out, and the padding is comfortable without being overly bulky.
For those seeking sustainable options, the lightweight leather is Leather Working Group-certified, the polyester is made from recycled materials, and the sock liner is fifty percent soy-based.
We consider Hoka's lightweight shoe as a top choice for various hiking activities, including urban walking on hard pavement, hot summer hikes in backcountry settings, carrying a heavy load, and navigating challenging switchbacks. Additionally, we believe the Anacapa can also serve as a trail running shoe and an excellent travel companion for day hikes (we will definitely bring them on our next trip). If you are in search of a lightweight hiking shoe that can handle a week of backpacking without being excessive for a leisurely day hike, the Anacapa fulfills all the criteria of a good hiking shoe.
The Vectiv Exploris shoes feature Ghillie lacing—a criss-cross lacing system that stays tightly cinched while you hike. Photo by Steve Redmond.
The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelight: Great all-around hiking shoes for urban and day hiking
men’s and women’s
Weight (men’s): 1 lb 8.3 oz
Weight (women’s): 1 lb 4.6 oz
Upper Material: CORDURA ripstop mesh
Waterproofing: 3-layer FUTURELIGHT waterproof, breathable membrane
Midsole Material: Rocker geometry midsole
What we liked: versatile street style for a mix of city and outdoor adventures, rockered sole provides extra propulsion, suitable for a variety of trail conditions, reliable lacing system
What we didn’t like: shoes run tight, not as durable as other options
The men’s and women’s The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelights are responsive and lightweight hiking shoes with a rockered sole that propels you forward on the trail and reduces strain on your legs during long hikes. While we consider the Hoka One One Anacapa a superior choice for most individuals seeking a rocker shoe, we recommend the Vectiv Exploris for those who may prefer alternatives to Hoka but still desire propulsion and precision. The Vectiv Exploris can be compared to some of the best trail running shoes suitable for hiking, as it offers a solid combination of cushioning and support for various trail conditions.
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The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelights are responsive and lightweight hiking shoes with a rockered sole that propels you forward on the trail and saves your legs on long hikes. Photo by Steve Redmond.
The Vectiv Exploris shoes feature Ghillie lacing—a criss-cross lacing system that weaves the lace through the material of the shoe instead of single punched holes. Combined with flat laces, this system ensures a tight and secure fit while hiking. Another advantage of this lacing system is that it allows for different levels of tightness and looseness across different sections of the foot, providing a personalized fit.
The gusseted tongue also prevents water and debris from entering the shoe through the lace holes and adds to the snugness and comfort.
What You Should Know About Hiking Shoes
When it comes to hiking footwear, there are many factors to consider, such as whether to choose shoes, boots, or sandals, and whether you want them to be waterproof or breathable, lightweight or heavy-duty. With various price points, styles, and features to choose from, it can be overwhelming.
Saylee Tulpule, DPM, from Foot and Ankle Specialists of the Mid-Atlantic, recommends trustworthy brands like Merrells, Salomon, Hoka, and Oboz. She also advises trying on and potentially purchasing in-store to ensure a perfect fit.
Wesley Trimble, former Communications and Creative Director at the American Hiking Society, agrees that comfort is just as important as the health and safety aspects of footwear. He emphasizes the importance of considering personal needs and mentions that those with a history of ankle rolling should prioritize ankle support when choosing footwear.
Types of Hiking Shoes
When deciding between hiking shoes, trail running shoes, hiking boots, or sandals, Trimble recommends selecting footwear that provides adequate support for the terrain, distance, speed, and amount of weight you will be carrying. For moderate day hikes, he suggests trail runners, low to mid-top hiking boots, or shoes specifically made for hiking. However, for rugged trails or heavy gear, a stiffer boot is more suitable.
Dr. Tulpule adds that hiking shoes are generally lighter and have a lower ankle cut, allowing for more ankle flexibility. She also states that hiking shoes dry faster than boots and are easier to break in. True hiking shoes are more durable and offer better stability compared to sneakers.
Footwear construction and materials have improved significantly in recent years. Let's break down the materials into three key areas:
- Uppers: While full-grain leather is still used for heavy-duty hiking boots, it is no longer the dominant material. Modern boots use a combination of leather, synthetics, meshes, and waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex® to balance weather-resistance and breathability. For colder climates, insulation like Thinsulate can keep your feet warm.
- Midsoles: The midsole provides shock absorption. A general rule of thumb is to choose a stiffer midsole for extreme or uneven terrain and a softer one for casual walking or jogging. Most modern shoes and boots use squishy EVA or more rigid polyurethane midsoles.
- Outsoles: Most hiking boots and shoes have rubber soles. The key is to select the right tread based on stiffness, sensitivity, and your desired activities. Rigid soles with large treads are suitable for traversing ice-fields but not ideal for trail running.
The weight of hiking footwear can range from 7.5 oz to 19 oz per foot. As Trimble suggests, it is generally recommended to opt for the lightest and most flexible shoe or boot that still provides sufficient support and durability for the intended trails and terrain. Lightweight and flexible options reduce fatigue and promote a more natural gait.
Trimble emphasizes the importance of considering waterproofing versus breathability. Keeping your feet as dry as possible helps prevent blisters and foot ailments. However, it can be counterintuitive to choose waterproof footwear in some cases. There are different types of waterproofing technologies, with waterproof/breathable membranes being common. It's important to note that once feet get wet from sweat or outside water, waterproof footwear retains moisture longer than well-ventilated, non-waterproof options. Breathable uppers are often better than traditional waterproof hiking shoes.
Dr. Tulpule agrees that waterproofing is beneficial in wet conditions, such as winter hikes. However, she explains that waterproof membranes can impede breathability and quick drying. Overall, breathable uppers are preferred over traditional waterproof hiking shoes.
Stability and Support
Various factors contribute to the stability of hiking shoes, including arch supports, soles (outer and midsole), uppers, gusseted tongues, and laces. The level of stability and support needed depends on how you plan to use them. For moderate day hikes, our experts suggest trying trail runners, hiking shoes, or low to mid-top hiking boots. For carrying heavy gear across challenging terrain, a more supportive and stiffer boot is a better choice.
It's also important to consider your medical history. If you have a tendency to roll your ankles, higher uppers can provide added stability. If you have knee problems, extra rigidity can help prevent twisting. When in doubt, ask for assistance from knowledgeable retailers who can guide you in finding the right footwear that fits well and suits your specific needs.
Hiking Shoe Buying Advice
Hiking Footwear Categories
For the majority of day hikers, as well as some backpackers and thru hikers, a hiking shoe that falls just below the ankle is the ideal choice. Shoes like the Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX are stiffer and more substantial than trail runners, making them suitable for carrying a light load over mixed terrain without feeling excessively heavy like full-on boots. Hiking shoes often have a tougher construction than trail runners, featuring more leather and durable nylon rather than mesh. They also provide protection against obstacles like rocks and roots with rubber toe caps and medium-stiff midsoles. Hiking shoes can also be worn as everyday shoes, although the outsoles tend to wear out more quickly on pavement.
Testing Arc'teryx's Aerios FL in the Grand CanyonTrail Running Shoes
For those who prioritize speed, trail runners are a great option. These lightweight shoes have gained popularity among thru hikers on trails like the PCT and AT. However, it's important to note that trail runners are not suitable for off-trail or backpacking purposes. While they are flexible and comfortable, they do not provide adequate ankle support when carrying a heavy load and offer minimal toe and underfoot protection. For established trails or experienced minimalist trekkers, trail runners can still be a good choice. This article also includes hybrid trail running and hiking options, but for a more comprehensive list, see our article on the best trail running shoes.
Trail runners are lightweight but lack stability and protectionApproach Shoes
The third option is more specific to climbers and hikers who need a grippy shoe for steep rocky terrain. Many rock climbers use approach shoes for the hike in before changing to climbing shoes. Approach shoes are easy to identify with their large rubber toe rand and sticky, low-profile rubber compound for maximum grip on rock. While they can be comfortable for day hikes, especially crossover styles like the La Sportiva TX4, they are not typically recommended for daily use. The treads are not as secure on muddy hiking trails and they are not as comfortable for long trail days. However, if your hikes involve scrambling or low-grade rock climbing, approach shoes are an excellent choice.
The La Sportiva TX4 provides excellent traction on rock
Arguably, one of the most significant advancements in hiking shoe technology is the move towards lightweight designs. Thin but tough fabrics and a shift from higher-cut boots to low-top shoes have made covering long distances much easier. It's no surprise that most thru-hikers now prefer hiking shoes over traditional leather boots. The shoes featured in our list weigh 2 pounds or less per pair, while heavier backpacking boots can weigh nearly 4 pounds. The difference in weight is especially noticeable when worn. While lighter shoes may sacrifice long-term durability, there are still high-quality hiking boots available for those who prefer the extra support. For most hikers, a lightweight shoe is a better choice for day hikes, peak bagging, and minimalist overnight trips. As long as the rest of your gear is equally lightweight, there are minimal sacrifices involved.
Lightweight shoes like the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II allow for quicker and easier movement
Stability and Support
As gear becomes lighter overall, hiking shoes are moving away from the traditional stiff construction of hiking boots and leaning towards flexibility and agility. However, all hiking footwear still retains a degree of stiffness to provide support through built-in shanks or internal supports. This sets hiking shoes and approach shoes apart from highly flexible cross trainers or road-running shoes.
For day hikes on flatter or less technical terrain, we highly recommend lightweight and semi-flexible hiking shoes. The Merrell Moab 3 and Keen Targhee Low are excellent options for these uses. As trips become longer and backpacks heavier, a more substantial shoe is preferable. The Salomon X Ultra 4 and Arc'teryx Aerios FL 2 GTX are great all-around options that excel in both summit peaks and multi-day backpacking.
Adidas' Terrex Swift R3 offers excellent stability in a lightweight package
When considering your hiking footwear, you may be wondering whether you need waterproofing or not. Waterproofing can provide extra protection when hiking in mountainous areas, including creek crossings, surprise rainfall, or encountering snow during early season treks. However, it's important to note that waterproofing adds weight and significantly impacts breathability. Not all waterproof designs are perfect either. While Gore-Tex models tend to work well, many in-house designs also perform similarly in terms of keeping water out (breathability is a different story), such as the Oboz Sawtooth with BDry technology.
Testing waterproofing on Washington's Olympic PeninsulaWhether you need waterproofing depends on personal preference and the conditions you hike in. If you hike only in the summer or live in a warm and dry area, non-waterproof shoes are generally recommended. The La Sportiva Wildcat and Merrell Moab 3 are excellent highly ventilated options. However, if you venture into alpine regions or need the added protection and insulation that waterproofing provides, it may be worth considering. Luckily, most shoes on our list come in both waterproof and non-waterproof versions, with waterproof options typically costing $20 to $30 more.
The North Face's Vectiv Exploris features their in-house Futurelight membrane
Waterproof liners, even high-quality Gore-Tex ones, do not breathe as well as non-waterproof versions. Just like waterproof jackets, waterproof and breathable membranes limit a shoe's ability to efficiently wick moisture away from your sweaty feet. However, not all non-waterproof shoes are equal in terms of breathability. Footwear with thinner fabrics and a higher proportion of mesh will have better moisture transfer and airflow, keeping feet cooler and drying out wet socks more quickly.
Mesh upper materials greatly improve comfort in hot conditionsGore-Tex Surround, designed to offer 360 degrees of breathability by venting out the insole of the shoe, is an intriguing concept but can be expensive. While it has been well received in certain models like the La Sportiva Spire, its performance still falls short compared to shoes made primarily of mesh. Regardless of your final decision, we encourage you to consider non-waterproof footwear before choosing your next pair of hiking shoes.
Laces and the accompanying system of hooks and eyelets play a crucial role in fit and comfort, yet are often overlooked. Shoes with poor lacing systems that constantly loosen during a hike can lead to discomfort and blisters. It's important for the lacing system to secure your heel well, preventing hot spots and blisters caused by the repeated up and down motion of walking. If the laces themselves are the problem, they can easily be replaced with high-quality alternatives. However, if the design of the lacing system itself does not provide adequate foot support, it's best to explore other options.
Laces on approach shoes extend to the toes for customizable fitSome models, like the Salomon X Ultra 4, feature a single-pull lacing system. This design is convenient and has proved to be just as durable as traditional laces. However, it's important to note that the fit cannot be adjusted separately between eyelets, resulting in an equal tightness across the entire foot. Those with sensitive feet may prefer to avoid quick lace designs.
Salomon's speed laces are fast and evenly cinch for a secure fit
Hiking Shoe "Upper" Materials
While not the most exciting topic, examining the construction of hiking shoe uppers can provide valuable insight into their performance. The materials used directly affect a shoe's durability, water resistance, and breathability. Most hiking and trail shoes are made with a combination of nylon, mesh, and leather to strike a balance between cost and longevity. Here, we outline the pros and cons of the most common materials used in hiking footwear.
Synthetic Nylon and Mesh
Woven synthetic materials, often nylon, along with open synthetic mesh panels, are commonly used to enhance breathability. These materials are not known for their durability but excel in reducing weight. Exceptions include shoes like The North Face's Vectiv Exploris, which features tightly woven synthetic uppers comparable in durability to some Nubuck leathers.
The open, breathable mesh upper of the La Sportiva WildcatNubuck Leather
Nubuck leather is commonly found on heavier duty hiking shoes. This type of leather, which has a brushed finish resembling suede, is lighter and more flexible than traditional glossy full-leather options. It is also more durable than most synthetic materials. However, it falls behind in terms of breathability. Thus, it is common to find a combination of leather and nylon mesh in hiking shoes for abrasion resistance and breathability, as seen in the Merrell Moab and Keen Targhee Vent.
Resting at an alpine lake with the leather Danner Trail 2650
Midsoles and Cushioning
The midsole plays a crucial role in cushioning your feet, absorbing impacts, and providing additional protection from sharp rocks. Midsoles can range from very thin in minimalist trail runners to stiff and substantial in hefty hiking shoes. Common midsole materials include EVA, TPU, or a combination of both.
Foam EVA midsoles are commonly used in running and hiking footwear. This cushy material absorbs impact and is lightweight. While nearly all the shoes on our list feature some form of EVA, the proprietary versions can vary from super soft to mildly stiff. For tougher terrains and long-distance hikes, we prefer a firm and supportive midsole rather than excessive cushioning. Extra soft midsoles can also break down over time, similar to road-running shoes. Generally, higher-quality midsole designs and EVA compounds come at a higher cost.
La Sportiva's Ultra Raptor II features a thick EVA midsole for all-day comfortTPU
Thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, is a durable plastic commonly used in performance-oriented lightweight hiking shoes. TPU midsoles are less cushioned than EVA midsoles but offer enhanced durability and load-bearing capabilities. They maintain their shape and resistance to compression better than EVA. TPU frames or shanks are often used in combination with EVA for stability and toughness, while EVA is added for extra comfort.
A quality midsole improves comfort when carrying a heavy backpack
Outsoles and Traction
One of the main reasons to choose a hiking shoe over casual footwear is improved traction on difficult terrain. Hiking and trail running shoes excel in rocky, slippery, and steep conditions in a way that casual shoes cannot. Vibram is a leading brand in outsole technology, renowned for providing solid grip and traction in various terrains. However, not all Vibram models are the same, as the rubber compound is tailored to specific footwear and brands. Some models feature larger lugs for mud, while others prioritize sticky rubber for scrambling over rocks. There are also entry-level options that perform well on easier trails, such as those found on the Merrell Moab 3 boots and shoes.
We were impressed with the traction from the Danner Trail 2650's Vibram outsole Salomon uses their in-house Contagrip compound for all their hiking and trail running models instead of outsourcing their traction needs. The quality and performance of this compound are comparable to Vibram offerings. From fast-and-light X Ultra 4 hiking shoes to burly Salomon Quest 4 backpacking boots, Salomon delivers a well-rounded outsole.
The X Ultra 4 features Salomon's versatile Contagrip rubber
Hiking trails, even well-maintained ones, are filled with rocks, roots, and other hazards. That's why we recommend hiking shoes with some form of toe protection. Lacking any protection on the front of your shoes can result in painful impacts when you look away from the trail to enjoy the scenery. Hiking shoes typically feature full rubber toe caps, while trail runners may have a more minimal version or none at all. This is one of the compromises made when choosing minimalist shoes. Approach shoes, on the other hand, offer exceptional toe protection with their wraparound rubber rand at the front of the shoe.
Toe protection on the Merrell Moab 3
How Much You Can Expect to Pay for Hiking Shoes
The hiking shoes we tested range in price from to $255, with specialized models costing even more. Interestingly, many of our top-performing models fall within the mid-range price point. This is because higher-end hiking shoes are often designed for specific terrains. Consequently, mid-range hiking shoes are sufficient for most people.
More Hiking Shoes to Consider
If you're looking for hiking shoes, sandals, or boots, here are some options worth considering.
- Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe (men’s and women’s): We were impressed with the support and breathability of these hiking shoes. However, they felt heavy and stiff even after a week of breaking them in. Additionally, the arch-support was too high and the cushioning was lacking, which resulted in lingering soreness.
- Teva GEOTRECCA Low (women’s and men’s): These lightweight low-tops were great for well-maintained trails and offered excellent traction on dirt, sand, and rocky terrain. However, the stiff tongue tended to rub against the foot and ankle, so make sure to wear longer socks, especially during the breaking-in period.
- Danner Mountain 600 Hiking Boots (women’s and men’s): These boots provided sturdy support, even on challenging terrain like boulders. They were well-cushioned and easy to put on and take off. The only downside was that they made our feet hot even in 40-degree weather. So, while they are great for winter hiking, they might not be the best choice for summer or for people with sweaty feet.
- Saucony Xodus Ultra Trail Shoe (women’s and men’s): These shoes offered excellent cushioning and were lightweight and breathable. However, they are quite narrow, so if you plan to wear ankle socks or no socks, you might want to consider ordering a half-size larger. We also experienced some rubbing and chafing on the heel, which we solved by wearing longer or higher socks.
- Chaco Z Cloud (women’s and men’s): While these sandals were of high quality and durable, we found the high arch-support bumps uncomfortable. Additionally, the long straps dangled over the sides when fully tightened.
- Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal Sandals (women’s and men’s): These sandals offer great comfort, fit, traction, and durability for hiking and other activities. They strike the right balance between heft and bulkiness, providing flexibility and stability. Our only concern was the choice of velcro closures instead of more durable buckles, and a slight lump in the heel that caused minor irritation.
In conclusion, when it comes to finding the best low top hiking shoes, there are a variety of options to choose from. Whether you're looking for overall performance, budget-friendly options, or lightweight designs, there is a hiking shoe out there that will suit your needs. From the durability of the Danner Trail 2650 to the affordability of the Merrell Moab 3, these shoes offer a range of features to enhance your hiking experience. So, lace up your shoes and hit the trails with confidence, knowing that you've found the perfect companion for your outdoor adventures. Happy hiking!