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 2020, 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. If you prefer an over-the-ankle style, check out our article on the best hiking boots.
Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Great mix of lightness, on-trail performance, and durability.
What we don’t: Gore-Tex model runs warm.
The Salomon X Ultra 3 is our top lightweight hiking shoe for 2020, combining a feathery feel with impressive on-trail performance. As with the previous model, the third edition puts it all together: the shoe is competitively light at 1 pound 10 ounces (for a men’s size 9), the tread design offers impressive grip in just about all conditions, and the stable chassis and cushioned interior are great for long trail days. All told, we highly recommend the X Ultra for day hikes, quick summits, and even lightweight backpacking.
Salomon drew heavily from their trail running expertise with the X Ultra 3’s design. The single-pull laces are fast to use and provide a secure fit, and the shoe is far more nimble than traditional hikers like the Merrell Moab 2 or Keen Targhee III below. But you don’t sacrifice protection like with a trail runner—Salomon includes a substantial toe cap and enough cushioning underfoot for hauling a pack. We found the fit runs narrow in the toe box, but the good news is that the low-top GTX version is now offered in wide sizes. Tack on the non-waterproof “Aero” model, and the X Ultra 3 stands out as the best all-around hiking shoe line on the market... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Salomon X Ultra 3 See the Women's Salomon X Ultra 3
Best Budget Hiking Shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 15 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 ultra-rugged hiking shoes, but there is a lot to like about Merrell’s flagship Moab 2. What has made this shoe so popular over the years? A lightweight but planted feel, a comfortable fit, and an attractive price point. Merrell updated the Moab a couple of years ago including a more durable upper and greater cushioning in the heel of the footbed, but the formula largely remains the same. For day hikers sticking to established trails, the Moab 2 is a great value.
In terms of downsides, on rocky and muddy trails we found that traction and stability fall short of a performance shoe like the Salomon X Ultra 3 above. And despite a competitive 1-pound 15-ounce weight for a pair, the shoe feels a little slow and cumbersome compared with some lighter models. But these are small complaints about an otherwise fantastic shoe, and we highly recommend the Moab 2 for day hikes and lightweight backpacking. Keep in mind that we included the non-waterproof “Vent” here, but Merrell also makes a waterproof version that costs $120 and weighs slightly more at 2 pounds 1 ounce per pair... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Merrell Moab 2 See the Women's Merrell Moab 2
Best Ultralight Shoe for Thru-Hiking
Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
What we like: Super light but with plush cushioning.
What we don’t: Not very protective and the wide fit isn’t ideal for difficult terrain.
Running-centric brand Altra is an uber-popular option for thru-hikers and minimalists, with a strong line-up of heavily cushioned yet lightweight shoes. Their flagship trail runner is the Lone Peak, and for fall of 2019, Altra released the “4.5.” Changes include an upgraded midsole and simplified upper and lacing system, but the formula largely remains the same. In use, we’ve found that the Lone Peak is decently tough, provides solid traction, and the thick cushioning isolates you from harsh impacts underfoot. Given its low weight of just 1 pound 5 ounces per pair, the Lone Peak is a consistent favorite on the AT and PCT.
There are a few important things to keep in mind when choosing a trail-running shoe like the Altra Lone Peak for hiking. First, you get less protection at the toe and along the sides of the foot than the more hiking-centric shoes on this list. Second, the shoe flexes more than a traditional hiker and won’t be as comfortable on steep climbs and over rocky terrain. Third, the Lone Peak has a wide fit, particularly in the toe box. If you have narrow feet, we recommend looking for a different trail runner such as the Brooks Cascadia below.
See the Men's Altra Lone Peak 4.5 See the Women's Lone Peak 4.5
Best Hiking Shoe for Off-Trail Scrambling
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
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.
As with most approach shoes, the La Sportiva TX4 does have limitations. The dotty tread grips exceptionally well on wet and dry rock and even impressed us with traction on snow, but it will fall short of a true hiking shoe in dirt and mud. Further, some hikers—mostly those of the fast-and-light variety—might find that the stiffer sole feels clunky and inflexible. But overall, don’t be dissuaded by the approach shoe label: the TX4 is a worthy companion for long days on the trail. And keep in mind that La Sportiva does make this shoe in a number of versions, including the mesh TX3 (more breathability) up to the burly TX5 (a full-on hiking boot)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's La Sportiva TX4 See the Women's La Sportiva TX4
Best of the Rest
Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
What we like: Great stability and traction for rough trails.
What we don’t: A little heavy for a performance-oriented shoe.
The North Face may list the Ultra 110 GTX as a trail-running shoe, but we think it checks all the boxes for a quality lightweight hiker: it has a stable platform, good foot protection, and durable construction. We were big fans of the old Ultra 109 GTX, and the 110 addresses our primary complaint: tread life. Whereas the 109 wore down in less than one season of use, the updated rubber is much more aggressive and is holding up far better on the rocky and rough trails of the Cascade Range.
One of the Ultra 110’s closest competitors is the Salomon X Ultra 3 above. The North Face shoe is a little stiffer and more stable in technical terrain, grips just as well as the Salomon, and undercuts it in price by $30. On the other hand, the Ultra 110 weighs 2 ounces more per shoe and feels a little clunky by comparison. In the end, we give the slight edge to the nimbler X Ultra 3, but The North Face has a real winner in the Ultra 110 GTX... Read in-depth review
See the Men's North Face Ultra 110 See the Women's North Face Ultra 110
Weight: 1 lb. 8.6 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Light and tough.
What we don’t: A bit stiff.
Adidas has expanded its hiking footwear line substantially in recent years, and the updated Terrex Swift R2 GTX is very capable on the trail. The sleek design and single-pull lacing system are reminiscent of a Salomon shoe, but at 1 pound 8.6 ounces, the R2 is even lighter and tougher than the X Ultra 3 GTX above. The sole feels like a hiking boot, toe and protection around the side of the foot are impressive, and the Gore-Tex lining provides waterproofing without feeling swampy. That’s a winning formula for Adidas and has made the Terrex line quite popular.
Why is the Adidas Terrex Swift R2 ranked here? We found the shoe to be on the stiff side—it loosened up a bit after a couple of days of backpacking in the Utah Canyon Country, but remains noticeable. In addition, although the Lace Bungee system is functional and we haven’t had any issues with it, it’s definitely not as smooth or easy-to-use as Salomon’s tried-and-true Quicklace. In terms of support and stability, the R2 is cut fairly low, but Adidas does make the shoe in a Mid GTX version (1 pound 13.2 ounces for the pair)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Adidas Terrex Swift R2 See the Women's Adidas Terrex Swift R2
Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX model available)
What we like: Comfortable, grippy, and looks good for use around town.
What we don’t: The large and unnecessary piece of rubber on the heel.
Danner is best known for its work boots, but the long-time footwear brand has made a nice transition to hikers of late. The Trail 2650 has a lot going for it: it’s comfortable right out of the box, grippy with a Vibram outsole, and impressively light at 1 pound 8 ounces per pair. And this shoe manages do what most hiking shoes don’t: look good in the process. All in all, we’re impressed with the direction that Danner is headed, and the Trail 2650 is one of the more versatile options on this list.
The version of the Trail 2650 included here isn’t waterproof, but Danner also makes a GTX version for $170 and 1 pound 11 ounces per pair, along with a Mid GTX for those who want more ankle support. Our only real gripe with this shoe line is the rather massive piece of rubber on the heel that seems to go above and beyond the necessary levels of protection (and adds a bit of weight that won’t help you much on the trail). But that’s a small complaint about an otherwise comfortable and modern lightweight hiking shoe.
See the Men's Danner Trail 2650 See the Women's Danner Trail 2650
Weight: 1 lb. 13.6 oz.
Waterproof: No (waterproof model available)
What we like: A nice update that modernizes the classic Targhee design.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Merrell Moab above without enough to show for it.
Not to be outdone by Merrell’s update to their signature Moab shoes, Keen released a new Targhee late last year. The changes weren't groundbreaking but do 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. The Targhee Low Vent still won’t be confused with an aggressive model like the Salomon X Ultra 3 above, but its tough leather construction, reasonable weight, and well-cushioned interior make it a great casual hiker.
Among day hiking options, the Keen Targhee Low and Merrell Moab 2 are two of the most popular on the market. Both are very comfortable right out of the box, offer plenty of 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 mesh used on the Moab, but the Keen isn’t as good of a value at $130. That price difference and the wide fit are what push it slightly down our list, but you can’t go wrong with either model.
See the Men's Keen Targhee Low See the Women's Keen Targhee Low
Weight: 1 lb. 8.4 oz.
What we like: Light, tough, and extremely well-built.
What we don’t: Pricey and a bit stiffer than some more heavily cushioned models.
Arc’teryx has been experimenting with footwear for years, from the Bora2 hiking boots to the Norvan trail runners. But until last year, the legendary Canadian brand had yet to release a true hiking shoe. Enter the new Aerios FL, which is superlight at just over 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.
In terms of performance, we recently took the Aerios FL on the multi-day Escalante Route through the Grand Canyon, which included off-trail scrambling with a loaded pack. The shoe felt a bit stiff at first—particularly under the heel—but it broke in nicely and ended up being comfortable during long days on the trail. It also was light on ankle support in a couple of spots, but still did a great job covering ground over a variety of tough terrain. Overall, we came away impressed: the Aerios is an excellent lightweight shoe for day hiking and likely will be a favorite among the minimalist backpacking crowd. For more ankle support, Arc’teryx also makes an Aerios Mid (1 lb. 10 oz. and $185)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Aerios FL See the Women's Arc'teryx Aerios FL
Weight: 2 lb. 2.8 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-WP available)
What we like: Sturdy, grippy, and quite comfortable.
What we don’t: A little slow and ungainly in this crowd.
Based in Bozeman, Montana, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Oboz footwear is noted for its stability and traction. Their Sawtooth II Low—updated for 2019 and also offered in a mid-height boot—clearly is built for the rough trails you’ll find in the Rockies. It’s not the lightest shoe around and isn’t recommended for the fast hiking crowd, but we’ve found it to be a nice solution for folks looking to upgrade in stiffness and support from their Merrell Moabs.
Part of this sturdiness can be attributed to their proprietary heel counter, which holds its shape well and keeps you steady even over uneven terrain. That extra support, however, does give it a clunky and slow personality. We also found that the waterproof BDry version runs very warm—we were overheating even while backpacking in moderate temperatures. Thankfully, Oboz does offer the Sawtooth II in a non-waterproof model (for $30 less). Overall, the Sawtooth may not be sprightly, but it’s well-built, has a solid base, and feels secure on your feet... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Oboz Sawtooth II See the Women's Oboz Sawtooth II
Weight: 1 lb. 7.7 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: A nice option for fast-moving day hikers.
What we don’t: Less of a backpacking-ready design than the X Ultra 3 above.
Merrell’s original Moab FST line failed to resonate with lightweight hikers, but the outcome has been better for the Flex MQM. This shoe resembles a slightly built-up trail runner with a thin mesh upper, nimble feel, and 1-pound 3-ounce listed weight (our men’s size 9s were heavier at 1 pound 7.7 ounces). But as we found on an ultralight backpacking trip in Utah’s Canyon Country, the MQM is at home on the trail with good toe and heel protection, a roomy toe box, and a secure fit.
We think the MQM Flex is a great choice for ambitious day hikes or possibly short ultralight backpacking trips, but it isn’t as well rounded as the Salomon X Ultra 3 above. To start, even with a sub-30-pound load, we did have some foot soreness from the rocky trails and the shoe wasn’t as stable on uneven ground. Further, the tread is pretty shallow and we already are seeing signs of wear, so it likely won’t last as long as many of the options above. But there’s a lot to like with the MQM Flex, which combines the accommodating fit of the popular Moab 2 in a fast-moving package... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Merrell MQM Flex See the Women's Merrell MQM Flex
Weight: 1 lb. 5.4 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: Latest version drops weight and boosts traction.
What we don’t: Unproven durability with the new streamlined design.
Already in its 14th generation, the Brooks Cascadia has developed a loyal following among trail runners and backpackers alike. Some versions have been better received than others (the 10th generation, for example, had its share of detractors), but the plush and cushioned underfoot feel and long-lasting traction make the Brooks a compelling hiking shoe. The design was updated in mid-2019, and notable changes include a streamlined upper, redesigned outsole that grips better in wet conditions, and a significant 2-ounce drop in weight per pair.
It's worth noting that rather than phasing out the old Cascadia 13, Brooks has opted to continue selling it alongside the latest “14.” Priced at $100, the prior version saves you $30 and shares a number of features including a rock plate, good stability (for a trail runner) even when wearing a pack, and a roomy toe box. But the new shoe has a springier, lighter feel, and the aforementioned upgrade to a tackier tread makes it more capable over rocky and difficult terrain. In the end, we think the Cascadia 14 is worth the added cost for serious day hikers, backpackers, and thru-hikers.
See the Men's Brooks Cascadia 14 See the Women's Brooks Cascadia 14
Weight: 2 lb. 3 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Tough build, comfortable underfoot.
What we don’t: Lacing system could use an upgrade.
With a stable platform and lightweight upper, the Vasque Breeze 3.0 is a thoroughly modern hiking shoe. The substantial Vibram rubber and wide base is a big contributor, providing reliable traction and plenty of support for carrying a loaded down pack. In many ways, it feels like a beefed-up version of the Merrell Moab 2 above. And as we've come to expect from Vasque, the Breeze's construction, fit, and comfort are all excellent.
Mesh panels have been creatively distributed throughout the Breeze 3.0's upper for moderate breathability, despite the Gore-Tex construction. It's still not cool in the summer, but they've clearly made an effort for it to be tolerable. Vasque also retained a lot of protection for the toes and heel—plenty sufficient for established trails and even mild off-trail use. Our biggest complaint is that the lacing system isn’t up to the same caliber as the rest of the shoe and doesn't secure very well over the top of the foot, nor are the eyelets as strong as many of its competitors. Fix that, and this otherwise solid shoe will move up the list.
See the Men's Vasque Breeze 3.0 See the Women's Vasque Breeze 3.0
Weight: 1 lb. 14.3 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Super comfortable, grippy, and well built.
What we don’t: Very pricey and heat molding only is available in certain locations.
We don’t always jump on new technology just for the sake of it being new, but Italy-based Tecnica really is onto something here. Their new Plasma line of hiking shoes is heat molded, meaning that just like your favorite ski boots, a 15-minute process in the store warms the liner and footbed to shape them around your foot. The results are extremely impressive: the Plasma S is one of the most comfortable pairs of hiking footwear we’ve ever worn, plus they are tough, grippy, and provide good support. Shortly after the purchase, we flew to Peru for 10 straight days of hiking and they performed nearly flawlessly (we brought heavier boots for a high-altitude trek but decided to stick with the Tecnicas instead).
This unique shoe isn’t without limitations, however. At $180, the Tecnica Plasma S is the priciest hiker on this list (only Arc’teryx’s leather Acrux SL costs more, and that’s technically an approach shoe). And perhaps more importantly, the heat-molding process currently only is available at six REI stores: Seattle, San Francisco, Tustin, Denver, Bloomington, and Washington DC. If you live close, we’d highly recommend giving this shoe a try. And Tecnica does make the Plasma S in a non-Gore-Tex version for a more reasonable $150, which also saves you about an ounce in weight.
See the Men's Tecnica Plasma S See the Women's Tecnica Plasma S
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
What we like: Versatile for hiking and scrambling.
What we don’t: Not as durable as a typical approach shoe.
Similar to the La Sportiva TX4 above, Vasque’s Grand Traverse blurs the lines between an approach shoe and hiking shoe. And the Vasque is even more tuned than the La Sportiva for trail use: it’s reasonably light, grips exceptionally well on rock, and is quite comfortable. Moreover, the Grand Traverse is flexible and breathes well with heavy use of mesh along the shoe’s upper, making it the preferred option for warm and dry conditions.
Among our grouping of lightweight hikers, the Grand Traverse does have a few notable downsides. While traction is brilliant on rock, it falls short if the trail is wet and muddy. Also, the thin upper material is not all that durable, although it does stack up well compared with the trail runners on our list. And in general, approach shoes tend to be stiffer than other hiking footwear, which can impact comfort on longer hauls. But if you like to mix scrambling or low grade climbing into your hiking adventures, give the Vasque Grand Traverse a serious look... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Vasque Grand Traverse See the Women's Vasque Grand Traverse
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
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 Wildcat’s 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.
One warning in turning to a true trail-runner style for hiking: the minimalist toe cap does not offer nearly as much protection as a traditional hiking shoe. Further, the La Sportiva's thin mesh upper is more prone to tearing than an option like the Altra Lone Peak above. But despite a few sore toes and a couple pairs that didn't last as long as we hoped, the Wildcat remains a favorite for trail runs and day hikes throughout the summer months... Read in-depth review
See the Men's La Sportiva Wildcat See the Women's La Sportiva Wildcat
Weight: 1 lb. 8.6 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Light and modern with a running shoe-like feel.
What we don’t: Unimpressive in both comfort and durability.
Salomon’s ever-expanding hiking footwear line added the lightweight OUTline boot and shoe collection last year. And on paper, there was a lot to like with the low-top model: its 1-pound-8.6-ounce weight easily undercuts the X Ultra 3 above, the shoe has a modern aesthetic that crosses over reasonably well to daily use, and its build quality appeared to be up to the French brand’s typical standards. Moreover, when we first tried it on, the OUTline immediately stood out with its running shoe-like feel.
Despite the positive first impressions, however, the OUTline disappointed in some key areas. First off, the fit is on the narrow side throughout, so even those with average-width feet could run into issues here. In addition, both of our testers dealt with quite a bit of foot soreness due to the minimalist cushioning. It’s worth noting we were hiking on relatively rocky trails, but they certainly weren’t overly technical, and we were only carrying light daypacks. Finally, the toe cap started to peel back on one pair only 13 miles into its test. The nimble build may do the trick for short day hikes, but we’ve concluded the OUTline isn’t Salomon’s best offering... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Salomon OUTline See the Women's Salomon OUTline
Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Reasonably light, stable feel.
What we don’t: Not as comfortable or capable as the Ultra 110 above.
Fastpacking is at the core of the lightweight footwear movement: it’s all about covering as much ground as possible while carrying the least possible weight. The North Face isn’t shy about targeting this group with their Hedgehog Fastpack shoes. Is the Hedgehog best for fastpacking? We’d say no. But the shoe is nicely made and actually has a wider appeal to the general hiking crowd with a light feel, good support, and Gore-Tex waterproofing. The mix of leather and tightly woven mesh is quite durable as well.
If your focus is an ultralight or long-distance trip, we still prefer the performance and better cushioning of our top-rated Salomon X Ultra 3 over the Hedgehog. Further, The North Face's own Ultra 110 above is more comfortable and offers greater stability with a heavy load. But the Hedgehogs are well made, offer good traction in mud with their Vibram rubber, and are plenty tough for days on the trail... Read in-depth review
See the Men's North Face Hedgehog See the Women's North Face Hedgehog
Weight: 1 lb. 5.2 oz.
What we like: A mountain-ready shoe for the fast-and-light crowd.
What we don’t: Not as stiff or protective as other hiking shoes.
Arc’teryx's growing footwear line has generated a lot of buzz for its outside-the-box designs. The unique Konseal FL doesn’t really fit into one particular category: it's a hybrid that combines the support, traction, and close fit of an approach shoe, with the agility and spring of a trail runner. Throw in a Vibram Megagrip sole that is similar to La Sportiva’s top models, a heel brake that offers nice bite on wet terrain, and a low weight of 1 pound 5.2 ounces per pair, and this is a serious all-mountain hiker that appeals to the fast-and-light crowd.
What are the shortcomings of the Arc’teryx Konseal FL? With a trail runner dose of cushioning, you’ll gain bounce and save weight but sacrifice some of the stiffness and protection of a true hiking shoe. Further, with a nylon mesh upper, you don’t get the same durability, waterproofing, and precision fit as a suede or leather shoe. But for technical hiking and those counting ounces, it’s an intriguing option. Take note that the Konseal FL also comes in a GTX model for $185, and the new AR version (also $185), a suede shoe built to carry heavy loads while tackling technical terrain.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Konseal FL See the Women's Konseal FL
|Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX||$150||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 10.8 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Synthetic|
|Merrell Moab 2 Vent||$100||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 15 oz.||No||Leather / mesh|
|Altra Lone Peak 4.5||$120||Trail runner||1 lb. 5 oz.||No||Mesh|
|La Sportiva TX4||$140||Approach shoe||1 lb. 10 oz.||No||Leather|
|The North Face Ultra 110 GTX||$120||Hiking shoe/trail runner||1 lb. 15 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Leather / mesh|
|Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX||$135||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 8.6 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Synthetic|
|Danner Trail 2650||$150||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 8 oz.||No||Leather|
|Keen Targhee III Low Vent||$130||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 13.6 oz.||No||Leather|
|Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX||$170||Hiking shoe/trail runner||1 lb. 8.4 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Synthetic|
|Oboz Sawtooth II Low BDry||$140||Hiking shoe||2 lb. 2.8 oz.||Yes (B-Dry)||Leather / textile|
|Merrell MQM Flex||$110||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 7.7 oz.||No||Mesh|
|Brooks Cascadia 14||$130||Trail runner||1 lb. 5.4 oz.||No||Mesh|
|Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX||$150||Hiking shoe||2 lb. 3 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Leather / mesh|
|Tecnica Plasma S GTX||$180||Hiking/approach shoe||1 lb. 14.3 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Synthetic|
|Vasque Grand Traverse||$120||Approach/hiking shoe||1 lb. 10 oz.||No||Leather / mesh|
|La Sportiva Wildcat||$110||Trail runner||1 lb. 9 oz.||No||Nylon mesh|
|Salomon OUTline Low GTX||$130||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 8.6 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)|
|North Face Hedgehog Fastpack||$120||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 14 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Leather / mesh|
|Arc’teryx Konseal FL||$155||Approach shoe||1 lb. 5.2 oz.||No||Mesh|
- Hiking Footwear Types
- Stability and Support
- Lacing Systems
- Hiking Shoe "Upper" Materials
- Midsoles and Cushioning
- Outsoles and Traction
- Toe Protection
- Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots
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 Salomon X Ultra 3 are stiffer and more substantial than a trail runner for carrying a light load over mixed terrain, but not feet 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.
If moving fast trumps all else, choose a trail runner. These shoes are gaining popularity for being the ultimate lightweight option, even becoming a common sight on the PCT and AT. In fact, one trail runner, the Brooks Cascadia, became so popular on the PCT at one point that fellow thru hikers would look for the signature tread pattern to verify which path to follow.
But these types of shoes are really not intended as backpacking footwear, and even Brooks made an effort to clarify the Cascadia was not designed for thru-hiking. Trail runners are flexible and super comfortable, but don’t provide much ankle support when you’re carrying a heavy load, and have minimal toe and underfoot protection. For fast day hikes 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 you can check out our favorite trail-running shoes for a complete breakdown.
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.
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. Many 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.
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 2 Ventilator and Keen Targhee Low 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 3, Arc'teryx Aerios FL, or The North Face Ultra 110 for great all-around options that are equally adept at conquering summit peaks and multi-day backpacking.
Once you narrow your hiking footwear search, you may be considering the GTX question: do I 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 Merrell and Keen shoes on this list.
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 Vasque Grand Traverse and Merrell Moab 2. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Some models, including the Salomon X Ultra 3 and Adidas Terrex Swift R2, 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 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. Tecnica is one brand that breaks from the norm completely with an innovative heat-moldable upper that mimics a ski boot in providing a customizable snug fit. 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 the Salomon X Ultra 3, which is made of tightly woven synthetic upper that has comparable levels of durability to some Nubuck leathers.
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 Oboz Sawtooth.
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.
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 breakdown overtime, much like a road-running shoe. In general, you pay more for an improved midsole design and a higher quality EVA compound.
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.
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 2 boots and shoes.
Salomon is one brand that doesn’t outsource their traction needs. Instead, they use their in-house ContraGrip brand 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 3 hiking shoes to the burly Salomon Quest 4D 3 backpacking boots.
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.
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.
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 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.
In 2020 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 3. 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 dominate to take over the market.
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