When you’re hiking, camping or just enjoying the great outdoors, your footwear can make or break your experience. Many people wear inappropriate shoes for outdoor activities and end up with blisters, sore feet and general discomfort. While it’s tempting to just throw on whatever pair of shoes you have handy, there are some things to consider when choosing footwear for outdoor activities.
The most important thing to remember is that your feet are likely to swell during an outdoor activity. This means that your shoes should be comfortable enough to accommodate this swelling without becoming too tight. It’s also important that the shoes fit well so that they don’t rub against your ankles or cause blisters on the top of your foot.
Here are some tips for choosing good shoes for outdoor activities:
Have a pair of socks with you – You might think it doesn’t matter because socks are just socks, but they do make a difference! You should always have a pair of dry socks in case your feet get wet in stream crossings or other situations where water might get inside your shoe (which could lead to blisters). Dry socks also help prevent chafing between the toes and make sure nothing rubs against them!
Best Shoes For Outdoor
The best shoes for walking do not necessarily have to be in boot form. There are a number of benefits that walking boots can bring but in some cases a walking shoe, or trail shoe – when the cut is below the ankle – can be the better option for the hike you’re planning.
Consider the nature of your trek and the type of terrain you’ll be crossing.
The main benefit of hiking in boots over shoes is that they bring superior stability, so if you’re walking over extremely uneven terrain, or if you have weak ankles, boots might be your best bet. Boots are also often the better option if you are hiking in deep snow or brush, or in bog, mud, sand or scree, and want to keep your feet clean, dry or free from any niggling debris.
The advantage that walking shoes or trail shoes have over boots tends to be their lighter weight. The average weight of a pair of walking shoes is around 750g whereas the average weight of a pair of boots is around 1200g, and carrying less on your feet can really make a difference over long distances, in the end meaning less exertion and more energy saved.
What Are The Different Types of Walking Shoe?
When it comes to the different types of walking shoes, at one end of the scale there are waterproof membrane-lined, strong and durable shoes that are essentially hiking boots without the ankle, then at the other end of the scale you have what might actually be specifically classed as a trail running shoe.
“Our selection of the best walking shoes on test here all range in weight and style. Some of them have waterproof linings and other don’t…”
It is not uncommon for hikers to opt for a non-waterproof, trail running shoe when the landscape isn’t too technical and/or when it’s dry and hot.
Some hikers will even opt for a trail running-type shoe when the conditions are extremely wet, since it is more of less inevitable that moisture will enter the shoe at some point in the day. This is because once water gets into a membrane-lined shoe, it tends to linger there for a long time, whereas non-waterproof shoes will be able to drain easily and ultimately dry faster when the conditions improve.
What different types of walking shoe should all have in common, albeit to varying degrees, is their grip off-road. Shoes for hiking, like walking boots, need to offer good traction and should be able to give the wearer confidence that they will not slip.
Our selection of the best walking shoes on test here all range in weight and style. Some of them have waterproof linings and others don’t, and while some of them are made specifically for walking in, there are also some that will have been primarily designed with runners in mind but that will still suit a ‘fast & light’ hiker.
Best Walking Shoes – Our Favourites
- AKU Rock DFS GTX – Best Walking Shoe
- Danner Trail 2650
- CimAlp Drop Control – Best Value Walking Shoe
- Adidas Terrex Free Hiker
- Arc’teryx Norvan SL GTX
- Salewa Alp Trainer 2 Gore-Tex
- The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelight
- Altra Lone Peak 5.0
- Black Diamond Technician
- Merrell Moab Speed GTX
BEST BUY: AKU Rock DFS GTX
Best for: Trail hiking, approach hiking, scrambling
Key attributes: Innovative design, good quality materials, comfortable sock-like fit
The AKU Rock DFS GTX is rather unique. It features a double lacing system that, according to the Italian brand, “allows you to adjust the comfort and precision of the fit in the different phases of use: a traditional lace for maximum comfort while walking and a fast lacing to increase sensitivity in the climbing phase”. This essentially means that you’ve got a walking shoe and an approach shoe all-in-one.
Gimmick or game-changer? We’d say the latter. The lacing system really is convenient and effective. And, aside from that lacing system, the Rock DFS is simply just a decent shoe, with a nice protective but slightly flexible midsole, a climbing zone at the toe to help with scrambles, good waterproof Gore-tex protection and a very grippy Vibram sole.
One other feature worthy of mention is the tongue. This has the same supportive ‘sock-like’ fit as many of AKU’s boots, like the Tengu range for example. It creates a close-fitting and comfortable upper without any of the creases or folds that can sometimes cause rubbing and hotspots.
Overall then, we’d say this is an extremely versatile shoe – it’s the kind of thing made for anything from long-distance trail hikes, hut-to-hut treks and even some graded scrambling too.
Available in men’s and women’s fits / available as a mid cut / upper: suede 1,6 mm + microfibre + air8000 / Vibram® approcciosa megagrip outsole / double density EVA + PU midsole / ortholite hybrid partially recycled insole / 4mm lugs.
Danner Trail 2650
Best for: Long-distance hiking, lightweight backpacking
Key attributes: Comfortable, lightweight
Lightweight, comfortable and pretty darn cool looking in our opinion, we’re big fans of these new trail shoes by U.S-based brand Danner. Named in reference to the 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, these are designed with long distance walkers specifically in mind with loads of padding underfoot thanks to the three layers of varying density in the sole, including EVA foam and a removable ortholite insole.
There’s also good support at the back of the heel thanks to what Danner call their EXO Heel System. This also serves to pocket your heel and prevents it sliding about.
Other things we dig include the quality suede leather and the Vibram outsole with multi-directional lugs for a bit of grip on dusty or muddy trails.
Also available in a women’s version / EVA footbed / TPU shank / waterproof option available / mesh-lined / Vibram 460 outsole / removable ortholite footbed / 8mm heel-toe drop.
Adidas Terrex Free Hiker
Best for: Fast hiking
Key attributes: Lightweight, well-cushioned
The Free Hiker is arguably one of the biggest releases from Adidas Terrex this season; a hiking boot that features their trademark running technology – Boost. Boost is essentially a foam-based midsole that offers large amounts of cushioning with quite a springy feeling whilst you’re walking. It makes for an impressive amount of comfort on the trails that you’ll be thankful of after a few miles in your legs.
Also underfoot, you’ve got a Continental rubber outsole with 5mm lugs that wouldn’t look out of place on a trail running shoe. It’s these lugs that give some great traction over the trails. Another similarity to a trail shoe is the weight of the Free Hiker – 382g – something that you’re again going to appreciate as you start logging those miles.
Sizes 5 – 14 (UK) / available in men’s and women’s / Primeknit upper with abrasion-resistant weldings / Continental rubber outsole / Boost midsole / midsole drop: 10 mm (heel 33 mm / forefoot 23 mm) / moulded TPU toe cap / heel cap for stability on the heel.
CimAlp 864 Drop Control
Best for: Trail and fell running
Key attributes: Innovative, protective, stable
The clever 864 Drop Control shoe is a progressive, forward-thinking, trail running product that’s all about improving performance and preventing injuries. Coming with three pairs of insoles (8mm, 6mm, 4mm), the 864 Drop Control will help you to evolve your technique and run with a more natural stride. It might seem seriously geeky but if you’re dead serious about trail running, you’ll appreciate what this brings to the mix. Thanks to its durable upper and protective and robust chassis, this will also be suitable for ultra-light hikers, and speedy trekkers.
The concept allows for runners to gradually reduce the height of the heel (aka the drop), and work towards landing midfoot. Landing midfoot improves natural damping, and encourages a more efficient, natural, stride, in the long term potentially minimising the risk of stress injuries. By providing three soles – with varying drop levels – CimAlp are helping runners to optimise their technique in stages. It’s important to do this in stages because large, dramatic, changes in footstrike can increase the load on different, unprepared, tissues and potentially lead to injury.
Sizes men’s UK 6.5-12 / Vibram Megagrip sole / Heel cup / Reinforced & ultra-resistant stone guard / Breathable upper mesh / Seamless inner structure to avoid friction / Lycra tongue with storage for laces.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL GTX
Best for: Approach, fell running
Key attributes: Lightweight
As the SL in their name points out, these are some super, super light shoes. They’re actually primarily designed as shoes for climbers who want to run between their climbs, or run rather than walk on their approach to a wall. In fact, there’s a little loop on the back of them so you can clip them onto your harness.
As is the case with many of the other shoes on this page, while these might be designed primarily for running, they’ll still suit hikers, particularly those who are conscious of keeping their gram-count down wherever possible.
One of the most interesting things about the Norvan SL is that it uses Vibram’s new Litebase technology. This sees a 40-50% reduction in rubber thickness when compared to standard Vibram soles, which in turn results in a 25-30% decrease in the overall weight of the shoe, and all without any difference in the lug depth or thickness.
Available for men and women and in half sizes / TPU plate at the forefoot / Vibram MegaGrip outsole with Litebase / 3.5mm lugs / 7mm drop / mesh upper.
Salewa Alp Trainer 2 Gore-tex
Weight: 370g (women’s)
Best for: Hiking and trekking
Key attributes: durable construction, quality materials, comfortable build
Light but protective and supportive, grippy over a variety of terrain and comfortable over long distances too, whether it’s a morning of scrambling or a whole day on a trail, the Alp Trainer 2 is right at home in whatever situation.
The Alp Trainer 2 comes armed with all the features you’d expect from a walking shoe, such as a grippy and robust Vibram outsole and waterproofing courtesy of a Gore-tex liner. At 964g per pair, they’re lighter than much of the competition, making them a solid choice for adventurous peak baggers, scramblers, hut-to-hut hikers and long-distance trekkers.
The women’s version of this is made with a women’s specific last designed to properly cater for female feet. A men’s fit is also available and there’s a mid cut variation for those who prefer a higher ankle.
Available in men’s and women’s versions / reinforced rand / Flex Collar / Gore-tex membrane / Vibram sole / Eva foam midsole / heel stack height 30 mm / toe stack height 20 mm.
Inov-8 Trailroc G280
Weight: 280g (per shoe)
Best for: Trail running
Key attributes: Durable, lightweight
This is a shoe for trail, mountain and fell running in hard and rocky terrain. It features a super-durable graphene-based outsole with 4mm chevron shaped lugs for traction. The midsole features a full length lightweight shank to provide a little bit of rock for energy return and to block out any sharp and hard stuff underfoot. The upper has a tough, durable and structured feel to it but without making the Trailroc feel heavy or too stiff and constricting. It’s mostly mesh with plenty of PU lamination and a protective toe bumper.
Available for men and women and in half sizes / 8mm drop / 6mm footbed / 4mm lug depth / Power Flow midsole / 20mm heel / 12mm forefoot / Meta Plate shank / Tri-C Sticky sole compound.
The North Face Vectiv Exploris
Best for: Trail walking
Key attributes: Very breathable, excellent ride
The North Face’s Exploris boasts some impressive innovation here. First up, there’s the high tech Futurelight waterproof membrane, then there’s the energy saving/speed boosting Vectiv carbon plate in the mid sole – both big innovations that have really been turning heads within the outdoor world.
What’s particularly impressed us about the Futurelight membrane is its breathability. It’s made through a process of nano-spinning, which results in a fabric that has a super high moisture vapour transmission rate and much better eco-creds than more standard membrane fabrics (at least the ePFTE ones anyway).
The Vectiv carbon plate, which was originally unveiled in The North Face’s Vectiv trail shoe collection, brings a number of benefits, the most notable one being increased energy return with each stride. Basically, it propels your feet forward, ultimately helping you to go for longer. On top of that it also provides a decent amount of protection from sharp roots and rocks.
This particular version of the Exploris comes with a smart suede upper with PU overlays for protection around the base of the upper and on the toe. The outsole has 4mm lugs with a large central cutout to increase traction and save weight. It’s not the most aggressive of soles but our testers found that it’ll do the job on all but the super slippery and muddy stuff.
Futurelight waterproof membrane / Vectiv carbon plate / high moisture vapour transmission rate / eco-friendly membrane fabric / suede upper with PU overlays / 4mm outsole lugs with large central cutout / synthetic version available using cordura ripstop nylon.
Altra Lone Peak 5.0
Best for: Thru-hiking and trail running
Key attributes: Wide toe box, ‘barefoot’ design
The thing about the Altra Lone Peak series that perhaps makes it so endearing to trail runners its shape. It features a close-fitting heel and midfoot but then it also has what you could say is an unusually large toe box. It looks almost laughably big but it really comes into its own on days with big mileage, where your feet will start to swell a touch and splay out.
The Lone Peak 5.0 is a neutral shoe in that there’s no ‘drop’ – meaning there’s no slope or offset from the heel to the toe. Running in this, you’ll therefore find that it promotes a mid to forefoot landing, thus reducing the amount of pressure and shock going into your heels.
The stack height is still pretty high though. In fact at 28mm it’s the thickest midsole that we’ve seen so far within the Lone Peak’s lineage. The midsole has been swapped too, now featuring an Altra EGO foam for better longevity and responsiveness, whilst the outsole has slightly wider lug patterning for better mud-shedding abilities.
The main thing to note about the upper on the Lone Peak 5.0 is that it comes with laser perforated holes to promote drainage. Similarly handy details include TPU reinforcements at the toes and around the heel for protection, a little finger tab to help pull the shoes on and off, and then, as on previous versions, there are hoops and Velcro for attaching mini gaiters.
Close-fitting heal and midfoot / large toe box / no drop / mid to forefoot landing / 28mm stack height / Altra EGO foam midsole / hidden mesh sole unit for foot protection / 4mm chevron lug patterns / laser perforated holes in the upper / TPU reinforcements at the toes and heel / finger tab / hoops and Velcro attachments.
Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoe
Weight: 340g (per shoe)
Best for: Approach, scrambling
Key attributes: Supportive, durable
This is a fairly serious approach shoe, one that leans heavily towards climbing. It’s the kind of shoe that you’d want for those approaches that are short but serious; where you need something very precise for edging but also need underfoot protection for scrambling, along with a bit of cushioning underfoot for the sections where you’re walking on rocky trails.
At 340g per shoe the Technician Approach is very lightweight for its category. That’s largely due to its thin upper which is made from what Black Diamond call EnduraKnit. This isn’t to say it’s flimsy up top though. You could still expect it to shrug off any rough rock, and you’ve also got that solid toe bumper and PU rand to help with longevity as well. What’s particularly impressive about the toe bumper is that it’s shaped to give a clear line of sight for precise foot placement. It also tucks underneath the EVA in the midsole to add a bit of extra stiffness.
Sizes men’s UK 5-13, women’s UK 3-8.5 / One piece EnduroKnit upper / BlackLabel-Mountain rubber outsole / Rubber toe protection / EVA midsole for stiffness and comfort / Graduated fit system / Lightweight, moulded TPU midfoot strap and lace lock
Merrell Moab Speed GTX Shoe
Best for: Trail hiking, three-season use
Key attributes: Good eco aspects, light but sturdy
Merrell have developed a new iteration of their classic walking shoe, designed for those who prefer to feel light-footed and agile on the trail. It’s a hybrid-type trainer, one with the comfort of a running shoe or sneaker but the protection of a walking shoe. At just 315g, it’s 130g lighter than the previous Moab, but during our tests, we’ve found it just as stable, comfortable and protective.
Most impressive, however, are Merrell’s new sustainability efforts, aiming to lower the overall impact of their products on the environment. They’ve swapped out a bunch of materials for recycled ones including the laces and the mesh lining, for instance, which use a material produced from recycled plastic bottles. The footbed additionally uses a 50% recycled top sheet material and the Vibram sole is made from a minimum of 30% recycled rubber.
There’s both a mid cut and a low cut model, as well as a version without the waterproof protection of the Gore-tex membrane. All models come with 4mm Vibram Traction Lugs, an EVA foam midsole, built-in rockplate for underfoot protection, removable PU foam insole, cushioning around the ankle and then a big rubber cap to protect the toes.
Recycled laces and mesh lining / 50% recycled footbed / 30% recycled Vibram rubber / low cut and mid cut version available / 4mm Vibram Traction Lugs / EVA foam midsole / built-in rockplate / removable PU foam insole / cushioned ankle / rubber toe caps / standard fit / Gore-tex liner.