Best Shoes For Hiking

What are the best shoes for hiking?

Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the world. Most people who hike do so for exercise and to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Some people enjoy hiking just as a way to get some fresh air and exercise while enjoying nature.

Hiking can be done anywhere there is a trail, but some places are better than others. The best places to hike are ones that have an abundance of nature with plenty of trees and wildlife. The trails should also be well maintained so that they are easy to follow.

Best Shoes For Hiking

Best Hiking Shoes of 2022

For a lightweight and nimble alternative to boots, we’ve tested and picked the year’s top hiking shoes

Hiking Shoes (Merrell Moab 3 on rock)

PHOTO CREDIT

The momentum in hiking footwear is moving away from bulky boots toward lightweight shoes and even trail runners that are faster and more comfortable. You do lose some ankle support when carrying a heavy pack or traversing rocky trails, but the weight savings and feathery feel are worth it for many. Below are our favorite hiking shoes of 2022, from ultralight options for fast and light trips to more supportive models for carrying a full pack. For more background information, see our hiking shoe comparison table and buying advice below the picks. And if you prefer an over-the-ankle style, see our article on the best hiking boots.
 


Our Team’s Hiking Shoe Picks

  • Best Overall Hiking Shoe: Danner Trail 2650
  • Best Budget Hiking Shoe: Merrell Moab 3
  • Best Ultralight and Cushioned Hiking Shoe: Hoka Speedgoat 5
  • Best Shoe for Backpacking and Technical Trails: La Sportiva Spire GTX
  • Best Hiking Shoe for Off-Trail Scrambling: La Sportiva TX4


Best Overall Hiking Shoe

1. Danner Trail 2650 ($190)

Danner 2650 Trail hiking shoe

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: The full package in a lightweight hiker.
What we don’t: Not particularly stable and might overheat in warm conditions.

The Danner Trail 2650 is our top hiking shoe for 2022, combining a feathery feel with impressive on-trail performance. And with the mileage of the Pacific Crest Trail in its name, it’s also designed to tackle some serious ground. The Trail 2650 is comfortable right out of the box, grippy with a Vibram outsole, and impressively light at 1 pound 8 ounces per pair. Its leather upper is long-lasting and conforms to the contours of your foot, while a mesh liner and textile collar add a nice dose of breathability. And the Danner also manages to do what most hiking shoes don’t: look good in the process. Added up, the Trail 2650 is a versatile and high-performance option, ideal for day hikes, quick summits, and even lightweight backpacking.

 

Best Budget Hiking Shoe

2. Merrell Moab 3 ($110)

Merrell Moab 3 (men's hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 2 lbs. 1 oz.
Waterproof: No (waterproof available)
What we like: Very comfortable and a great price.
What we don’t: Not built for technical terrain.

These may not be your long-distance or fast-and-light hiking shoes, but there is a lot to like about Merrell’s flagship Moab 3. What has made this shoe so popular over the years? Most notably, it’s the lightweight but planted feel, comfortable and well-padded fit, excellent durability, and attractive price point. Merrell recently updated the Moab, including recycled materials, a new insole, and modest updates to cushioning and traction, but the formula largely remains the same. For day hikers sticking to established trails, the Moab 3 is a great value.

Best Ultralight and Cushioned Hiking Shoe

3. Hoka Speedgoat 5 ($155)

Hoka Speedgoat 5 (men's trail running shoe)

Category: Trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
Waterproof: No
What we like: Plush cushioning offers all-day comfort; grippy outsole.
What we don’t: New uppers lack structure; not as durable as a dedicated hiking shoe.

Hoka used to be a niche brand for runners, but that has changed dramatically over the past few years and the brand is now a go-to option for hikers. This trajectory makes sense: More and more people are ditching their burly boots for hiking shoes and trail runners—if you stay mostly on established trails and aren’t scrambling or carrying a heavy pack, a lightweight trail runner can offer the best combination of performance and comfort. And with thick yet supportive cushioning, an impressively grippy sole, and a long track record of success, the Hoka Speedgoat 5 is our favorite shoe in this category.

Best Shoe for Backpacking and Technical Trails

4. La Sportiva Spire GTX ($199)

La Sportiva Spire GTX (hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (Gore-Tex Surround)
What we like: A backpacking-ready shoe that is tough, comfortable, and well-made.
What we don’t: Super pricey and a bit heavy.

Many of the designs on our list are lightweight or almost trail runner-like in nature, but La Sportiva’s burly Spire is backpacking-ready—or just about as close as a hiking shoe gets. It feels sturdy and substantial with good stiffness and a thick midsole, effectively isolating you from rough and rocky trails (La Sportiva even goes so far as calling it a low-cut hiking boot). Throw in excellent protection and grip over a variety of terrain, plus a quality build that we’ve come to expect from this Italian climbing brand, and you have one of the more capable hiking shoes on the market.

Best Hiking Shoe for Off-Trail Scrambling

5. La Sportiva TX4 ($149)

La Sportiva TX4 hiking shoe

Category: Approach shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
Waterproof: No
What we like: Approach shoe grip with hiking shoe comfort and weight.
What we don’t: Leather upper limits breathability in hot weather.

The La Sportiva TX4 certainly isn’t a traditional pick, but boy do we love this shoe. It’s built as an approach shoe, which means that it’s grippy and tough for long hikes to climbing objectives or traveling over steep, rocky terrain. The Vibram outsole, full rubber rand, and smooth area of sticky rubber under the toe make it a great option for scrambling, smearing, and edging on rock. But what we have been impressed with most is its versatility: The TX4 does equally well moving fast on the trail with its light and moderately flexible construction. We even like it for everyday use due to the high levels of comfort and attractive design.

Best of the Rest

6. Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX ($150)

Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX hiking shoes

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 11.5 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: A great balance of weight and on-trail performance.
What we don’t: Tall ankle height can lead to rubbing.

Salomon’s X Ultra has been one of our favorite hiking shoes for years, offering an exceptional combination of comfort, on-trail performance, and durability for everything from casual day hikes to ambitious overnight missions. Last year, they released an update to the much-loved shoe in the X Ultra 4 here. Beyond its sleeker and more modern look, the X Ultra 4 features a revised lacing system and chassis, along with a roomier fit in the toe box. Importantly, the shoe retains the outgoing version’s fantastic mix of agility, durability, and protection, and there’s enough cushioning underfoot for full days with a loaded pack. Finally, at 1 pound 9 ounces for our men’s size 9, it’s competitively lightweight and nimble.

7. Hoka Anacapa Low GTX ($170)

Hoka Anacapa Low GTX (men's hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (Gore-Tex)
What we like: Extremely comfortable, great lacing system and fit, and smooth ride.
What we don’t: Some outsole durability issues and polarizing looks.

The Hoka Speedgoat above has achieved legendary status among hikers (specifically the thru-hiking community), but there are some notable tradeoffs with the trail running design. For those who want a bit more support and protection, Hoka also offers an impressive lineup of hiking-specific footwear, including the Anacapa Low here. The Anacapa (also available in a mid-height version) features Hoka’s well-known springy midsole, a rockered shape for a smooth ride on the trail, and a beefed-up construction that includes durable nubuck leather and a Gore-Tex waterproof liner. The result is a fast-moving shoe that nicely mixes a trail runner-like feel with the added structure of a hiker.

8. Altra Lone Peak 6 ($140)

Altra Lone Peak 6 hiking shoe

Category: Trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 5.2 oz. 
Waterproof: No (waterproof available)
What we like: It’s a thru-hiker favorite thanks to its light feel, cushioning, and wide toe box.
What we don’t: Roomy fit and flexible design aren’t ideal for difficult terrain.

Like the Speedgoat above, Altra’s Lone Peak was designed first as a running shoe and has since become a thru-hiker favorite thanks to its minimalist yet comfortable build. In place of the stiff midsole and reinforced heel common among many traditional designs, the Lone Peak uses thick cushioning to isolate your foot from uneven terrain, resulting in a shoe that’s both lightweight (just 1 lb. 5.2 oz. for a pair) and protective. It’s also extremely comfortable with Altra’s trademark zero-drop design and extra-wide toe box—in fact, this is the shoe we recommend most for hikers that regularly suffer from hot spots and blisters.

9. Arc’teryx Aerios FL 2 GTX ($180)

Arc'teryx Aerios FL 2 GTX (men's hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe/trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (Gore-Tex)
What we like: Light, tough, and extremely well-built.
What we don’t: Pricey and a bit stiff.

Arc’teryx has been experimenting with footwear for years, from the Bora2 hiking boots to the Norvan trail runners, and the Aerios FL is their popular lightweight hiking shoe. Now in its second iteration, the Aerios FL 2 is superlight at just 1.5 pounds for the pair, waterproof with a Gore-Tex membrane, and tough with a burly toe cap and a large swath of TPU around the bottom portion of the shoe. All told, the Aerios likely is lighter than your day hiker, more protective than your trail runner, and more comfortable than your approach shoe. For these reasons, it’s our favorite pair of Arc’teryx hiking footwear to date.

10. Keen Targhee Low Vent ($155)

KEEN Targhee Vent Low (hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 13.6 oz.
Waterproof: No (waterproof available)
What we like: Cushioned and comfortable; above-average build quality.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Merrell Moab above without enough to show for it.

Like Merrell’s Moab, the Targhee is Keen’s signature everyday hiker. Updated a few years ago, the changes weren’t groundbreaking but did a nice job at modernizing the classic design. Most importantly, the super-wide foot bed of the previous model has been trimmed down slightly to give the shoe a slightly less sloppy feel over rocky terrain (it’s still plenty roomy for most folks, though). The Targhee Low Vent still won’t be confused with an aggressive model like the Salomon X Ultra 4 above—in looks as well as performance—but its tough leather construction, reasonable weight, and well-cushioned interior make it a great casual hiking shoe.

Among day hiking options, the Keen Targhee Low and Merrell Moab 3 are two of the most popular on the market. Both are very comfortable right out of the box, offer sufficient support and traction for non-technical trails, and can even do the trick on shorter backpacking trips. The Targhee’s Nubuck leather upper is a little more durable than the Moab’s mesh-heavy build, but the Keen isn’t as good of a value at $155 (the waterproof version is $155 as well). That price difference is enough to push it slightly down our list, but the Targhee’s standout comfort make it a consistent favorite.

11. Scarpa Rush Low GTX ($189)

Scarpa Rush Low GTX hiking shoe

Category: Hiking shoe/trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 12.2 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Trail runner-like agility with a boost in protection and stability.
What we don’t: Low collar lacks ankle support; too heavy for long stretches of running.

The hiking-shoe-meets-trail-runner love story has been unfolding for a number of years, but only recently did Scarpa throw their hat in the ring with the Rush series. Released last year, the Rush Low GTX is a nimble hiking shoe that gives top-ranked models like the Danner Trail 2650 a run for their money in terms of on-trail performance. You get a durable fabric upper with welded reinforcements, burly midsole with EVA foam and TPU reinforcements for cushion and stability (we’ve found it to be more cushioned than the Salomon, especially in the forefoot), and a sticky outsole with a rockered profile that facilitates quick movements. All told, if you’re considering a trail runner but are wary of giving up the support and durability of a hiking shoe, the Rush Low GTX (also offered in non-waterproof and mid-height versions) is well worth a look.

We wore the Scarpa Rush while trekking in southern Patagonia and were impressed with its prowess on everything from hardpacked trail to talus and smooth rock. But as with all hybrid designs, it’s not perfect for either end of the spectrum. First off, the Rush offers minimal ankle support with a fairly low collar, which isn’t great news if you’re schlepping a heavy overnight pack. Second, we found it to be too heavy and stiff for sustained running, although it does feel lighter than its 1-pound-12.2-ounce weight would suggest (the plush cushioning helps). And finally, it’s pricey at $189, and stock is often hard to come by. But for speed-focused hikers and fastpackers, it’s hard to knock the purpose-built design, which offers a boost in support and durability compared to standard trail runners like the Speedgoat and Lone Peak above… 

12. Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro ($150)

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro (hiking shoe trail runner)

Category: Hiking shoe/trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 4.8 oz.
Waterproof: No 
What we like: 
All the benefits of a trail runner—with added durability, support, and protection.
What we don’t: Not the most breathable upper.

If you’re thinking about picking up a trail running shoe like the Speedgoat or Lone Peak above, it’s worth adding the Ultraventure Pro to your short list. Topo Athletic touts this model as the “ultimate hybrid trail shoe,” ideal for everything from fastpacking and thru-hiking to long trail runs. And it certainly ups the ante compared to a typical trail running shoe, with a sticky Vibram outsole and rockplate at the forefoot, stable TPU heel counter, and decently firm ZipFoam midsole. You also get a dual-density mesh upper, which (along with the gusseted tongue and gaiter attachment) is great for keeping out debris during long slogs. Added up, the Ultraventure Pro packs in all of the benefits of a trail runner, but with the added protection, durability, and support of a hiking shoe. For modern, fast-and-light hikers, it’s about as close as it gets to a no-compromise design.

Topo Athletic’s shoes bear a lot of resemblance to Altra’s designs when it comes to fit, but with a few noteworthy differences. While both have roomy toe boxes that accommodate wide or swollen feet, Topo shoes are slimmer at the midfoot and heel, which results in a snugger fit and better performance for most. And unlike the zero-drop Lone Peak, the Ultraventure Pro features a less polarizing 5-millimeter drop. What’s more, you’ll give and take with the Topo Athletic’s upper: The engineered mesh offers a strong dose of durability, but breathability suffers compared to more air-permeable designs like the Speedgoat above. But for a purpose-built hiking shoe that’s as lightweight as most of the trail runners here, the Ultraventure Pro has a lot going for it. 

13. Brooks Cascadia 16 ($130)

Brooks Cascadia 16 trail running shoe

Category: Trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: Latest model is competitively light yet stable and well-cushioned.
What we don’t: Lightened-up build hasn’t proven itself in long-term durability.

Brooks’ Cascadia was one of the first trail runners to really break into the ultralight backpacking and thru-hiking communities. Its mix of weight and comfort were a revelation for those looking to cover serious distances, and the shoe exceeded expectations in terms of durability as well. Now in its 16th generation, the Cascadia remains a fantastic crossover trail running/hiking option: The latest model has a soft, cushioned feel, a rock plate underfoot helps take the sting out of a rough trail, and it’s very competitive in terms of weight at 1 pound 5 ounces for the men’s version (the women’s is 1 lb. 3 oz.). 

How does the Cascadia compare with another darling of the thru-hiking world, Altra’s Lone Peak above? Both offer a nice array of trail-ready features like tacky and aggressive rubber outsoles, drainage ports in the upper, and attachment points for gaiters. One key difference is the Altra’s zero-drop shape compared with the Cascadia’s more traditional 8-millimeter drop (a choice here will come down to personal preference). And while the Cascadia’s toe box is pretty roomy, the Lone Peak has the wide shape that many thru-hikers desire. The flipside is that the Brooks is more stable and would be our pick for technical terrain. In truth, both are quality options, and as we put more miles on the Cascadia, it could easily work its way up our rankings.

14. Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX ($160)

Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX (men's hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 11.9 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (Gore-Tex)
What we like: Sturdy and durable with great traction.
What we don’t: Stiff and less comfortable for moving fast.

With a light but sturdy and supportive build, Adidas’ Terrex Swift R has consistently been a trail favorite. The third generation brought a more traditional lacing system—which we consider a positive as the quick-lace design on the R2 was finicky—but otherwise, they stuck to the winning formula. Its outsole grips well on everything from mud to rock, and the moderately stiff construction makes it a nice pairing for more technical terrain and when carrying an overnight or multi-day load. Finally, we appreciate the tough and long-lasting materials used throughout: There’s no open mesh in the upper like you’ll find on less durable trail runners, and protection is great around the toes and sides of the feet. For hikers wanting a boot-like feel in a low-top shoe, the Swift R3 is a worthy option.

Some of the Swift’s closest competitors include the La Sportiva Spire and Salomon X Ultra above. All the designs balance weight, cushioning, and trail performance well, although the Salomon is the lightest and nimblest of the bunch. For those that like a little more structure and stiffness, the Adidas and La Sportiva have their appeals, but the tradeoff is a longer break-in period and a somewhat clunky feel when you’re trying to move quickly. We also found the R3 runs a little big, which led to a fair amount of heel slippage on extended climbs (some may need to size down). These complaints push the Swift R3 down our rankings, but if it fits you well, the shoe offers a nice combination of durability, support, and price… 

15. The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelight ($159)

The North Face Vectiv Exploris (men's hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 10.3 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (Futurelight)
What we like: Thoroughly modern and packed with trail running-inspired tech.
What we don’t: Not everyone will like the rockered shape; unproven over the long term.

A number of The North Face’s hiking models have throwback styling and fairly heavy constructions, but the Vectiv Exploris is a thoroughly modern and lightweight shoe. Taking inspiration from their Vectiv trail running collection, this hiking-specific variation features a rockered profile for moving fast on the trail, full-length TPU plate in the midsole for stability, and a lightweight yet durable Cordura ripstop upper. In addition, they utilized their in-house Futurelight waterproofing, and the 3-layer construction helps minimize overheating when working hard in mild temperatures. The styling may be a little polarizing—it’s not as around town-friendly as alternatives like the Danner Trail 2650 above—but it’s clear a lot of thought and effort went into the design.

We took the Vectiv Exploris backpacking in Washington’s Olympic National Park and returned with mostly positive impressions. The shoe gripped well on everything from slippery downed trees to mud, and there was little to no break-in period. Further, the waterproof membrane held up extremely well despite the sloppy conditions and numerous creek crossings. The rockered shape did feel a little awkward at first—especially when standing still or walking slowly—but it really came to life and gave the shoe a natural and balanced feel when hiking quickly. All told, the newer design has a way to go to prove itself in terms of durability—plus we’d like to see how it performs on more technical terrain—but the Vectiv’s early report is a good one…

16. Oboz Sawtooth X Low ($125)

Oboz Sawtooth X Low (hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 15.6 oz.
Waterproof: No (BDry available)
What we like: A modern update to a much-loved classic.
What we don’t: Pricier and less breathable than the Moab 3 above.

Based in Bozeman, Montana, Oboz has a reputation for making tough, comfort-first footwear for less than much of the competition. The Sawtooth has long been one of their most popular models for both day hiking and overnights, and this year it received a full overhaul with the latest “X.” Responding to the resounding movement toward lighter and nimbler footwear, the Sawtooth X features a modernized aesthetic and refined fit, along with added Cordura for abrasion resistance. But the original formula remains largely the same, including a roomy toe box and plush interior, Oboz’s supportive O Fit insole, and a tough, durable construction that can handle mile after mile of trail abuse.

What’s not to like about the Sawtooth X? Despite Oboz’s efforts toward streamlining the design, it’s still a fairly heavy shoe and less agile than most. And with a leather upper and plush cushioning, its breathability suffers compared to the lighter, mesh-heavy hikers above. In looking at the Sawtooth X and Moab 3 side-by-side, the Merrell is $15 less and better ventilated, while the Oboz is a bit lighter (by about a half-ounce per shoe) and offers more durability by way of Cordura in the upper. It’s also hard to find fault with the Sawtooth X’s fit, which is built to accommodate medium-to-high-volume feet and has a very minimal break-in period. We have yet to test the newest version of the Oboz, but are intrigued by the design and will update this review as soon as we do. And lastly, the Sawtooth X also comes in a low-top waterproof model ($150) and waterproof and non-waterproof versions of a mid-height boot.

17. Salomon OUTpulse Low GTX ($140)

Salomon OUTpulse Low GTX (men's hiking shoe)

Category: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 8.6 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Lightweight, agile, and grippy, with great crossover appeal.
What we don’t: Doesn’t stand out in support or durability.

Salomon recently added the lightweight OUTpulse GTX boot and shoe to their ever-expanding hiking footwear line. With a hiking-shoe-meets-trail-runner build, the OUTpulse Low has appeal for everything from long day hikes to shorter trail runs. It’s slightly lighter than the X Ultra 4 GTX above at 1 pound 8.8 ounces, and forgoes some of the X Ultra’s stability and cushion with a softer and more streamlined midsole. On the other hand, it’s a step up in support and traction from trail runners like the Hoka Speedgoat or Altra Lone Peak above. All told, the OUTpulse will be the best of both worlds for many hikers, and especially those sticking primarily to established trails. 

But while the OUTpulse Low GTX will get the job done for carrying a light pack on well-trodden trails, we don’t recommend it for particularly technical terrain or overnight loads. Comfort will start to suffer if the shoe is pushed too far, resulting in tired feet and sore ankles. What’s more, the thin, knit-like upper won’t hold up to heavy use, and we question the efficacy of pairing a waterproof membrane with such a low-profile design (water can easily get in at the ankle). But we’re big fans of the OUTpulse for moving quickly on smooth terrain, and with a low weight and modern looks, it has great crossover appeal as well. 

18. La Sportiva Wildcat ($135)

La Sportiva Wildcat hiking shoe

Category: Trail runner
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: Lightweight but stable; long-distance comfort.
What we don’t: A step down in durability and toe protection from a true hiking shoe.

Years ago, we took a chance on the La Sportiva Wildcats as our daily trail runners. Quickly, we transitioned them to their better usage—fast-moving summer day hikes—thanks to the excellent shock absorption and breathability. We’re not alone, as the Wildcat has garnered a lot of praise over the past few years, helping propel trail running shoes fully into the hiking footwear market. The outsole design, optimized for running over varied and rough terrain, is equally at home on the rocky and rooty hiking trails in the Cascades. Notably, we’ve also seen the shoes on a number of PCT thru-hikers.

Hiking Shoe Comparison Table

SHOEPRICECATEGORYWEIGHTWATERPROOFUPPER
Danner Trail 2650$190Hiking shoe1 lb. 8 oz.NoLeather
Merrell Moab 3$110Hiking shoe2 lb. 1 oz.NoLeather/mesh
Hoka Speedgoat 5$155Trail runner1 lb. 4.6 oz.NoMesh
La Sportiva Spire GTX$199Hiking shoe1 lb. 15 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Mesh
La Sportiva TX4$149Approach shoe1 lb. 10 oz.NoLeather
Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX$150Hiking shoe1 lb. 11.5 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Synthetic
Hoka Anacapa Low GTX$170Hiking shoe1 lb. 12 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Leather
Altra Lone Peak 6$140Trail runner1 lb. 5.2 oz.NoMesh
Arc’teryx Aerios FL 2 GTX$180Hiking shoe/trail runner1 lb. 8 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Mesh
Keen Targhee Low Vent$155Hiking shoe1 lb. 13.6 oz.NoLeather
Scarpa Rush Low GTX$189Hiking shoe/trail runner1 lb. 12.2 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Synthetic/mesh
Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro$150Hiking shoe/trail runner1 lb. 4.8 oz.NoMesh
Brooks Cascadia 16$130Trail runner1 lb. 5 oz.NoSynthetic
Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX$160Hiking shoe1 lb. 11.9 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Synthetic
TNF Vectiv Exploris$159Hiking shoe1 lb. 10.3 oz.Yes (Futurelight)Mesh
Oboz Sawtooth X Low$125Hiking shoe1 lb. 15.6 oz.NoLeather/Cordura
Salomon OUTpulse Low GTX$140Hiking shoe1 lb. 8.6 oz.Yes (Gore-Tex)Synthetic
La Sportiva Wildcat$135Trail runner1 lb. 9 oz.NoNylon mesh

Hiking Shoe Buying Advice

  • Hiking Footwear Categories
  • Weight
  • Stability and Support
  • Waterproofing
  • Breathability
  • Lacing Systems
  • Hiking Shoe “Upper” Materials
  • Midsoles and Cushioning
  • Outsoles and Traction
  • Toe Protection
  • Insoles
  • Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots​
     

Hiking Footwear Categories​

Hiking Shoes
For the vast majority of day hikers, and even a good number of backpackers and thru hikers, a hiking shoe that falls just below the ankle is the perfect match. Shoes like our top-rated Danner Trail 2650 are stiffer and more substantial than a trail runner for carrying a light load over mixed terrain, but not feel draggingly heavy like a full-on boot. Furthermore, hiking shoes often have a tougher construction than trail runners, with increased use of leather and durable nylons as opposed to mesh. Protection from obstacles like rocks and roots come courtesy of rubber toe caps and medium-stiff midsoles. Hiking shoes also are great options for folks needing a substantial shoe for daily wear, just be aware that the outsoles will wear faster on pavement.

Hiking shoes (Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX Grand Canyon)
Testing Arc’teryx’s Aerios FL in the Grand Canyon

Trail Running Shoes
If moving fast trumps all else, you should consider a trail runner. These shoes have gained significant popularity over the past few years for being the ultimate lightweight option and are a common sight on thru hikes like the PCT and AT. That said, keep in mind that these types of shoes are not traditional off-trail or backpacking footwear. Trail runners are flexible and super comfortable, but they don’t provide much in the way of ankle support when you’re carrying a heavy load and generally have minimal toe and underfoot protection. For hikes on established trails or for experienced minimalist trekkers, however, a trail runner remains an excellent option. We’ve included a couple great hybrid trail running and hiking options in this article, but for a complete breakdown, see our article on the best trail running shoes.

Hiking shoes (lacing up Hoka One One Speedgoat trail runners)
Trail runners are the lightest option but compromise in stability and protection

Approach Shoes
The third option has a relatively narrow focus: climbers or hikers that need a grippy shoe to tackle steep rocky terrain. Many rock climbers will use an approach shoe on the hike in (hence, the “approach” name), and swap out to a true climbing shoe when the going gets vertical. Approach shoes are easy to spot: They have a large rubber toe rand and a sticky, low-profile rubber compound underfoot for maximum grip on rock. The shoes can be plenty comfortable on day hikes, especially a crossover style like the La Sportiva TX4, but aren’t what we typically recommend as a daily driver. The treads aren’t as secure on muddy hiking trails and they’re not as comfortable underfoot for long trail days. If, however, your day hikes include a lot of scrambling or low grade rock climbing, an approach shoe is an excellent choice.

Hiking shoes (La Sportiva TX4 traction)
The La Sportiva TX4 has excellent traction on rock

Weight

Arguably, the most important change in modern hiking shoe technology is the movement to lightweight designs. Tough but thin fabrics and a shift from over-the-ankle boots to low-top shoes have made putting on major miles a lot easier. It’s no surprise most thru-hikers now choose a hiking shoe over a traditional leather boot. Most of the shoes on our list weigh 2 pounds or less for a pair—by comparison, a backpacking boot like the Asolo TPS 520 tips the scales at nearly 4 pounds. And on your feet, the weight is even more apparent. True, the drop in ounces sometimes impacts long-term durability, but there are still a number of compelling hiking boots for traditionalists and those needing the extra support. For most, a lightweight shoe is a much better partner for day hikes, peak bagging and minimalist overnighters. And as long as the rest of your gear is equally light, there are very few sacrifices.

Hiking away from Cerro Torre (Scarpa Rush hiking shoe)
Lightweight shoes like the Scarpa Rush can make it easier to cover ground quickly

Stability and Support

As a reflection of the push for lighter gear in all facets, hiking shoes are moving away from the traditional stiff construction of a hiking boot in favor of flexibility and a nimble feel. All hiking footwear (excluding some minimalist trail runners) does retain a degree of stiffness thanks to built-in shanks or internal supports. These features are part of what separate a hiking shoe (and approach shoe) from a super flexy cross trainer or road-running shoe.

For day hikes on flatter or less technical terrain, we can’t recommend a lightweight and semi-flexible hiking shoe enough. Shoes like the Merrell Moab 3 and Keen Targhee Low are standouts for these uses. As your trips get longer and your pack gets heavier, a more substantial shoe still wins out for us. Look to the Salomon X Ultra 4 and Arc’teryx Aerios FL 2 GTX for great all-around options that are equally adept at conquering summit peaks and multi-day backpacking.

Hiking shoe (Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX hiking over rocks)
Adidas’ Terrex Swift R3 provides excellent stability in a lightweight package

Waterproofing

Once you narrow your hiking footwear search, you may be considering the GTX question: Do you need waterproofing or not? In theory, waterproofing is a nice security blanket if you’ll be hiking in the mountains. The extra protection that comes with a waterproof and breathable membrane inserted into the shoe is great for creek crossings, surprise rainfall or if you hit snow on an early season trek. But the extra layer adds weight, impacts breathability pretty significantly (discussed below), and the designs aren’t always perfect. We’ve found Gore-Tex models to work consistently well, and many in-house designs perform similarly keeping water out (breathability is a different story), including the Oboz Sawtooth’s BDry technology.

Hiking shoes (hiking on beach with La Sportiva Spire)
Putting waterproofing to the test on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

Whether or not you need waterproofing often comes down to a personal choice. Are you a summer-only hiker or live in a warm and dry area? We’d recommend a non-waterproof shoe in most cases, and some of the best ventilating shoes are the La Sportiva Wildcat and Merrell Moab 3. But if you get into the alpine regions or would benefit from the added protection and modest insulation waterproofing provides, we’d lean the other way. The great news is that most shoes on our list are offered in both varieties. Expect to pay about $20 to $30 more for the addition of waterproofing.

Hiking shoe (The North Face Vectiv Exploris stepping on log)
The North Face’s Vectiv Exploris uses their in-house Futurelight membrane

Breathability

The truth about waterproof liners, even expensive Gore-Tex booties, is that they don’t breathe well—just as a waterproof jacket won’t be as breathable as a comparable non-waterproof version. Simply put, waterproof and breathable membranes restrict a shoe’s ability to pull moisture away from your sweaty feet as efficiently as a non-waterproof upper. Not all non-waterproof shoes should be treated equally, however. Footwear that features thinner fabrics and a lot of mesh will increase moisture transfer and airflow, which will keep feet less sweaty in hot weather as well as dry out soggy socks far more quickly.

Hiking shoes (Salomon OUTline upper material)
Mesh upper materials greatly improve comfort in hot conditions

Gore-Tex Surround, which is designed to bring 360 degrees of breathability by venting out the insole of the shoe, is an intriguing, if expensive, concept. It’s been well received in a few models, including the La Sportiva Spire, but performance will always fall short of a shoe made mostly of mesh (for more, see our in-depth Spire review). No matter your final decision, we encourage you to at least give non-waterproof footwear a thought before selecting your next pair of hiking shoes.
 

Lacing Systems

Easily overlooked, laces, as well as the lacing system of hooks and eyelets, play an essential role in fit and comfort. If a shoe has a poor lacing system that is prone to loosening, you’ll find yourself having to readjust constantly on the trail. If the system itself doesn’t secure your heel very well, the up and down walking motion will create hot spots and blisters. If the culprit is just the laces themselves, it’s an easy fix: There are a number of good quality replacement laces available. But if the system design doesn’t hold your foot very well, we recommend looking elsewhere.

Hiking shoes (laces comparison)
Laces on approach shoes extend to the toes for easy fit customization

Some models, including the Salomon X Ultra 4, have a single-pull lacing system. The design is totally convenient and we’ve had no more issues with durability than a traditional lace. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you aren’t able to adjust the fit between eyelets, so the fit will be equally tight across the entire foot. Those with finicky feet that need to fine tune their laces to be comfortable may be best served avoiding quick lace designs.

Hiking shoes (Salomon QuickLace)
Salomon’s speed laces aren’t for everyone, but they’re fast and cinch evenly

Hiking Shoe “Upper” Materials

Hiking shoe upper material is not the most exciting topic, but checking the construction can give helpful insights into its performance. The type of material used will correlate directly with a shoe’s durability, water-resistance, and ability to breathe. Most often, hiking and trail shoes are made with a mix of nylon, mesh, and leather to balance cost and longevity. Below, we spell out the pros and cons for the most common materials used for hiking footwear.

Synthetic Nylon and Mesh
Woven synthetic (often nylon) as well as open synthetic mesh panels are commonly used to aid breathability. These materials are not as well known for their durability, but they do a great job of cutting weight. Exceptions include shoes like The North Face’s Vectiv Exploris, which is made of tightly woven synthetic upper that has comparable levels of durability to some Nubuck leathers.

Hiking shoes (La Sportiva Wildcat upper)
The open, breathable mesh upper on the La Sportiva Wildcat

Nubuck Leather
Made of full grain leather, but given a brushed finish that has a suede-like feel, Nubuck leather is a common sight on heavier duty hiking shoes. The softer touch leather is lighter and more flexible than traditional, glossy full-leather options, and is more durable than most nylons. It does fall short in breathability, however. As a result, it’s common to find a mix of leather and nylon mesh for abrasion resistance and breathability, including the Merrell Moab and Keen Targhee Vent.

Hiking shoes (resting at lake with Danner Trail 2650 shoes)
Resting at an alpine lake with the leather Danner Trail 2650

Midsoles and Cushioning

Digging a little deeper into the shoe’s construction, we’ll look at midsole construction next. Its importance lies in cushioning your feet, working as a shock absorber from impacts, and providing an additional layer of protection from sharp rocks. Depending on the design, midsoles vary from very thin (minimalist trail runner) to stiff and substantial (burly hiking shoe). Most include EVA, TPU, or a combination of both in their construction.

EVA
Foam EVA midsoles are a common site on running and hiking footwear. The cushy soft material takes some of the sting out of your heel or midfoot impacts and is also extremely lightweight. While nearly all shoes on this list use some sort of EVA, the proprietary versions can vary from super soft to mildly stiff. For logging serious miles on tougher terrain, we prefer a firm and supportive midsole as opposed to too much cushioning. Those overly soft midsoles also have a tendency to break down overtime, much like a road-running shoe. In general, you pay more for an improved midsole design and a higher-quality EVA compound.

Scarpa Rush hiking shoe (Laguna Torre)
Scarpa’s Rush has a fairly thick EVA midsole, making it comfortable for all-day hikes

TPU
Thermoplastic polyurethane, (mercifully) shortened to TPU, is a durable plastic commonly found in performance-oriented light hikers. Shoes that use TPU underfoot are often less cushy than those with only EVA but will last longer and better handle a heavier load. In addition, they’ll keep their shape longer and won’t be prone to compressing like EVA. Because both midsole types have valid applications and TPU is more expensive, it’s common for a manufacturer to use a TPU frame or shank for stability and toughness and add in EVA underfoot to increase comfort.

Hiking shoes (Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX)
A quality midsole improves comfort when wearing a heavy pack

Outsoles and Traction

One of the main reasons to upgrade from a flimsy cross trainer to a true hiking shoe is for improved traction. In a way that more casual footwear can never match, hiking and trail running footwear is leaps and bounds better when the going gets rocky, slippery, and steep. And much in the same way that Gore-Tex dominates the market for mid to high-end waterproofing, Vibram inhabits a similar space for outsoles. Their name is synonymous with solid grip and traction in a variety of terrain. Not all Vibram models should be treated as equals, however, as the rubber manufacturer tailors their designs for the specific footwear and brand. Some have much larger lugs underfoot for serious grip in mud, and others prioritize sticky rubber for scrambling over rocks. There are also more entry-level options that just do well on easier trails, like the lugs you’ll find on the bottom of the Merrell Moab 3 boots and shoes.

Hiking shoes (Danner Trail 2650 Vibram outsole)
We were impressed with the traction from the Danner Trail 2650’s Vibram outsole 

Salomon is one brand that doesn’t outsource their traction needs. Instead, they use their in-house Contagrip compound for all of their hiking and trail running models. We’ve found the level of quality and performance is in-line with the Vibram offerings across the board, from anything from their fast-and-light X Ultra 4 hiking shoes to the burly Salomon Quest 4 backpacking boots.

Hiking shoes (Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX on steep and wet rocks)
The X Ultra 4 uses Salomon’s well-rounded Contagrip rubber

Toe Protection

Hiking trails, even well maintained ones, are full of rocks, roots and other potential hazards, so we almost always recommend a hiking shoe with some type of toe cap. Lacking any protection on the front of your shoes can lead to a trip ruining impact when you inevitably look up from the trail to enjoy the scenery. Hiking shoes typically have a full rubber toe cap, but trail runners sometimes have a trimmed down version or none at all—one of the compromises in opting for a minimalist shoe. Approach shoes, on the other hand, have exceptional toe protection with their wraparound rubber rand at the front of the shoe.

Merrell Moab 3 hiking shoe (toe protection)
Toe protection on the Merrell Moab 3

Insoles

Just like with running shoes, the stock insoles that come with nearly every hiking shoe generally are cheap. For some, this might not make a difference, but for others it’s what separates comfort from misery. Thankfully, removing your insoles is super easy, and replacing them with an aftermarket model that’s specific to your foot size and shape can remedy most shoe maladies. New insoles can provide more or less volume to fill out the shoe, improve the fit under the arch, and increase or decrease the cushion and impact shock. We recommend checking out Superfeet insoles for their wide selection of options and trusted reputation in daily shoes, ski boots, and hiking footwear.
 

Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots

Perhaps the biggest point of differentiation between hiking shoes and boots is height: Shoes have a low-top fit, while boots generally sit above the ankle. Hiking shoes excel on smooth trails where rolled ankles are less of a possibility, if you keep your pack weight down, and for those who want to move fast with less on their feet. Tradition tells us that hiking boots are the better choice for heavy packs and rough trails, and in most cases that holds true today. The tall height, along with laces that hold the shoe snugly around your ankle, offer a more secure fit, greater stability, and more protection. Given the choice, we most often select a hiking shoe for their light feel, but both are viable options for day hiking, backpacking, and non-alpine peak bagging.

Hiking boot (shuttling heavy pack with Lowa Renegade GTX Mid)
We prefer a hiking boot when carrying a heavy pack and traveling over difficult terrain

In 2022 and beyond, we see the lines between hiking shoe and boot categories continuing to blur. They still will be separated by height—although some modern boots only cover part of the ankle—but fewer and fewer boots resemble the heavyweight leather clunkers of old. One example is the over-the-ankle version of our top-rated Salomon X Ultra 4. It’s the exact same shoe with the same defining characteristics—feathery feel, aggressive stance, and supportive fit—but the “Mid” sits slightly higher on the ankle, weighs a couple more ounces, provides a little more protection, and perhaps a modest increase in rollover prevention. Since most folks stick to defined trails, the push for this type of light and fast footwear will continue to take over the market.

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