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 2018, from ultralight options for fast and light trips to more supportive models for carrying a full pack. For more background information, see our 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.
 

1. Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX ($150)

Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX hiking shoesType: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Great mix of lightness, durability, and on-trail performance.
What we don’t: Fit runs a little narrow.

The updated Salomon X Ultra 3 is our top lightweight hiking shoe of 2018, combining a feathery feel with impressive on-trail performance. As with the previous model, which also topped this list, the third edition puts it all together: the shoe is competitively light at 1 pound 10 ounces (for a men’s size 9), the new tread design grips even better 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. The only challenge may be fit—we’ve found the X Ultra 3 does run a little narrow overall—but otherwise we think it’s the best all-around hiking shoe on the market... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Salomon X Ultra 3  See the Women's Salomon X Ultra 3

 

2. Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof ($120)

Merrell Moab 2 WP hiking shoesType: Hiking shoe
Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-WP available)
What we like: Very comfortable and a great price.
What we don’t: It’s not a shoe 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. Updated to the “2” for 2017, Merrell stuck with what has made the shoe so popular over the years: a lightweight but planted feel, a comfortable fit, and a value price. Changes include a more durable upper and greater cushioning in the heel of the footbed. The Moab 2’s still are a great value at $120 for the waterproof model, and the non-waterproof Vent shoe is only $100.

What are the downsides of the Merrell Moab 2? On rocky and muddy trails, we found that traction and stability fall short of a performance shoe like the Salomon X Ultra above. And despite a competitive 2-pound 1-ounce weight for a pair, the shoe feels a little slow and cumbersome compared with some lighter weight models. But these are small complaints about an otherwise fantastic shoe, and we highly recommend the Moab 2’s for day hikes and lightweight backpacking... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Merrell Moab 2  See the Women's Merrell Moab 2

 

3. The North Face Ultra 110 GTX ($120)

The North Face Ultra 110 GTX hiking shoesType: Hiking/trail-running shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
Waterproof: Yes
What we like: Great stability and traction for rough trails.
What we don’t: A little heavy for a performance model.

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 new 110 addresses our primary complaint: tread life. Whereas the 109 wore down in less than one season of use, the new 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

 

4. Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R2 GTX ($135)

Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX hiking shoesType: Hiking shoe
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

 

5. Altra Lone Peak 4.0 ($120)

Altra Lone Peak 4.0 trail-running shoeType: Trail-running shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 4.4 oz.
Waterproof: No (water resistant available)
What we like: Very light with plush cushioning.
What we don’t: Wide fit isn’t great for difficult terrain.

Running-centric brand Altra quickly has established itself as a go-to option for hikers, with a strong lineup of heavily cushioned yet lightweight zero-drop shoes. Their flagship trail runner is the Lone Peak, which also has many loyalists in the thru-hiking and minimalist trekking communities for its combination of weight and comfort. For summer 2018, Altra has released the “4.0.” The main changes include a longer-lasting outsole, a more durable mesh upper material, and upgraded drainage ports around the toes for creek crossings. We’ve found that the Lone Peak is suitably tough for trail use, has solid traction, and the thick cushioning isolates you from harsh impacts underfoot.

There are a few important things to keep in mind when choosing a trail-running shoe like the Altra Lone Peak for hiking. First, the shoe flexes more than a traditional hiker and won’t be as comfortable on long, steep climbs. Second, you get less protection at the toe and along the sides of the foot. And specific to the Lone Peak 4.0, this shoe has a wide fit. If you have narrow feet, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere on this list, including the Peregrine 8 trail runner below. The Altra is roomy and therefore may be hard to control on uneven terrain.
See the Men's Altra Lone Peak 4.0  See the Women's Altra Lone Peak 4.0

 

6. La Sportiva TX3 ($135)

La Sportiva TX3 approach shoes (2018)Type: Approach shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
Waterproof: No
What we like: Approach shoe grip with hiking shoe comfort and weight.
What we don’t: Mesh upper isn’t super durable in the long term.

The La Sportiva TX 3 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 TX3 does equally well moving fast on the trail with its light, breathable, 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 TX3 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. More, the mesh upper of our shoe has started to wear thin in a few areas faster than we’d like. La Sportiva does make this shoe in a number of versions, including a leather TX2 (extra durability) up to the burly TX5 (a full-on hiking boot)... Read in-depth review
See the Men's La Sportiva TX3  See the Women's La Sportiva TX3

 

7. Keen Targhee III WP ($135)

Keen Targhee III Low hiking shoesType: Hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 14.8 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-WP available)
What we like: A nice update that modernizes the classic Targhee design.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Merrell Moab 2 without enough to show for it.

Not to be outdone by Merrell’s update to their signature Moab shoes, Keen released a new Targhee in late 2017. The changes aren’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 III 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 III and Merrell Moab 2 above are two of the most popular on the market. Both are very comfortable right out of the box and 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 $135. That price difference and wide fit are what push it slightly down our list, but you really can’t go wrong with either model... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Keen Targhee III  See the Women's Keen Targhee III

 

8. Saucony Peregrine 8 ($120)

Saucony Peregrine 8 shoesType: Trail-running shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
Waterproof: No
What we like: Lightweight with fantastic traction.
What we don’t: Flexy and not very durable.

Saucony’s Peregrine has stood atop our trail-running shoe round-up for a number of years, but it’s also proven to be a very capable hiker. Arguably the Peregrine’s best feature is its aggressive tread design. The substantial 6mm lugs have fantastic bite, and combined with a nicely cushioned midsole, provide plenty of shock absorption for high-mileage days. As with most trail-running shoes, it’s more flexible than a true hiking model and isn’t as comfortable or stable when carrying a heavy load. But if you don’t need much in the way of ankle support, the Peregrine is well suited for day hikes and fast and light backpacking. 

For running, we prefer the Peregrine 8 over the Lone Peak 4.0 above. But the Altra’s slew of hiking-friendly features—including a gaiter attachment, rock plate, and drain ports—make it the superior all-around hiker. Further, the Lone Peak 4.0’s new mesh upper is more durable for extended trail use. That being said, the Peregrine gets the edge in traction, and its tighter fit in the toe box makes it the better choice for those with narrow feet.
See the Men's Saucony Peregrine 8  See the Women's Saucony Peregrine 8

 

9. Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX ($150)

Vasque Breeze 3.0 GTX hiking shoeType: Hiking shoe
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. 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 manages to retain 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

 

10. Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry ($140)

Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry hiking shoeType: Hiking shoe
Weight: 2 lb. 1.4 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 Low shoe, which is also offered in a mid-height boot, is clearly 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 hiker, but we’ve found it to be a great 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 off-camber and rough terrain. Available in either the waterproof BDry model or a non-waterproof version for $30 less, breathability is decent as long as the temperatures don’t get too hot, thanks to offsetting panels of mesh and leather. Overall, the Sawtooth may not be sprightly, but it’s well-built, has a solid base, and feels secure on your feet.
See the Men's Oboz Sawtooth  See the Women's Oboz Sawtooth

 

11. Merrell MQM Flex ($110)

Merrell MQM Flex hiking shoes (2018)Type: Hiking shoe
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 we expect a better outcome for the new 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 a bit 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

 

12. La Sportiva Wildcat ($110)

La Sportiva Wildcat hiking shoeType: Trail-running shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
Waterproof: No
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 trail 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 thin mesh upper is more prone to tearing than an option like the Lone Peak above. But despite a few sore toes and a couple pairs that didn't last as long as we hoped, the Wildcats remain a favorite for trail runs and day hikes throughout the summer months.
See the Men's La Sportiva Wildcat  See the Women's La Sportiva Wildcat

 

13. Salomon Odyssey Pro ($140)

Salomon Odyssey Pro hiking shoeType: Hiking/trail-running shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 6.6 oz.
Waterproof: No
What we like: Great mix of trail running and hiking shoe characteristics.
What we don’t: Low on traction.

Released last year, the Salomon Odyssey Pro aims to harness the benefits of a trail runner—lightness, cushioning, and comfort—in a capable hiking shoe package. And from our experience, they did a pretty good job overall. The shoe feels extremely light, and the bouncy midsole has the energy and comfort that we love in a design like the Lone Peak above. More, the Odyssey Pro appears ready for abuse with durable uppers and stronger lateral support than a typical running shoe.

The trail runner inspired construction of the Odyssey Pro does, however, come with some downsides. One complaint is that the traction falls short of a standard hiking shoe as well as most trail runners we've tested. Protection is also fairly minimal along the sides of the shoe, which was a problem while scrambling. But overall we will say the shoe has left a strong impression and pulls together many excellent hiking and trail-running shoe attributes... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Salomon Odyssey Pro  See the Women's Salomon Odyssey Pro

 

14. Vasque Grand Traverse ($120)

Vasque Grand Traverse trail shoeType: Approach/hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
Waterproof: No
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 TX3 above, Vasque’s Grand Traverse blurs the lines between an approach 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. More, the Grand Traverse is reasonably flexible and breathes well with heavy use of mesh along the shoe’s upper.

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 hiking shoes or trail runners, 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

 

15. Brooks Cascadia 13 ($130)

Brooks Cascadia 13 trail-running shoeType: Trail-running shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 7.8 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: Super comfortable footbed.
What we don’t: Heavy for a trail runner and not the best value.

Already in its 13th generation, the Brooks Cascadia has developed a loyal following among trail runners and hikers 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 Cascadia was updated in mid-2018, and notable changes include a gaiter attachment and mud guard along the upper to help keep out rocks and dirt. 

The Cascadia 13’s natural competitor on this list is the La Sportiva Wildcat above. Between the two, we prefer the Wildcat for its comparable performance and $20 savings. For the extra money, the Brooks does get you a more durable upper at the compromise of a little breathability, and our Cascadia’s haven’t had the tread wear issues that occasionally crop up with the Wildcat. In the end, the Cascadia is a great shoe for day hikes—and still is relatively popular with thru-hikers—but we think there are better options out there in 2018. 
See the Men's Brooks Cascadia 13  See the Women's Brooks Cascadia 13

 

16. Salewa Firetail 3 ($139)

Salewa Firetail 3 approach shoesType: Approach shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 11.6 oz.
Waterproof: No (GTX available)
What we like: Durable and fantastic for scrambling or rocky climbs.
What we don’t: Not as comfortable for extended hiking.

Salewa has built a reputation around burly footwear and gear intended for harsh alpine environments. So it was fitting that we took their newest approach shoe, the Firetail 3, on a trip over the brutal terrain of southeast Alaska. Through rocky scrambles and rough, off-trail hiking, the shoe proved to be exceptionally durable and stable. And the climbing-style laces that extend all the way to the toes give it a secure and excellent fit. We tested the Gore-Tex version of Firetail 3, but consider the non-waterproof model the better option for most hiking with its improved breathability and lighter weight.

Compared with the Grand Traverse above, the Salewa Firetail is more of a traditional approach shoe in style and performance. The shoe has superior grip on rock and excellent foot protection, but the stiff build can feel heavy and unyielding compared with the light and more flexible Grand Traverse. For easier approaches, moving fast, and well-maintained trails, we prefer the Grand Traverse. But for a burly hiker that can haul heavy loads of ropes and climbing gear over difficult terrain—as well as tackle modest climbs like Telluride’s Via Ferrata—the Firetail 3 is an excellent choice... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Salewa Firetail 3  See the Women's Salewa Firetail 3

 

17. The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX ($120)

The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX hiking shoeType: Hiking shoe
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 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.
See the Men's North Face Hedgehog  See the Women's North Face Hedgehog

 

18. Arc’teryx Acrux SL GTX ($200)

Arc'teryx Acrux SL GTX approach shoesType: Approach/hiking shoe
Weight: 1 lb. 5.2 oz.
Waterproof: Yes (non-GTX available)
What we like: Tough, light, and great breathability.
What we don’t: Overbuilt for day hikes; traction favors rocks over muddy trails.

Throwing out the book on how shoes are built, Arc’teryx's growing footwear line has generated a lot of buzz for its outside-the-box design. Rather than being constructed as a single item, the shoes have two parts: a soft liner and tough outer shell. The liner is essentially a waterproof sock and delivers unparalleled levels of fit and glove-like comfort. Technically the Acrux SL are approach shoes, but they earn a spot on this list as great day hikers with superior traction over the rocky stuff.

Waterproofing duties fall to the liner, and the combination of very limited seams and a Gore-Tex membrane means they’re top performers in terms of water protection and ventilation. The downside is cost: at $200, they're among the priciest on the market. Further, the Vibram tread underperforms on wet leaves and mud. But the Acrux sits atop our list in terms of sock-like comfort and innovation for a waterproof hiking/scrambling shoe... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Arc'teryx Acrux SL  See the Women's Arc'teryx Acrux SL

 

Hiking Shoe Comparison Table

Shoe Price Type Weight Waterproof Upper
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX $150 Hiking shoe 1 lb. 10.8 oz. Yes (Gore-Tex) Synthetic
Merrell Moab 2 WP $120 Hiking shoe 2 lb. 1 oz. Yes (M-Select) Leather / mesh
The North Face Ultra 110 GTX $120 Hiking/trail-running 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
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 $120 Trail-running shoe 1 lb. 4.4 oz. No Mesh
La Sportiva TX3 $135 Approach shoe 1 lb. 9 oz. No Mesh
Keen Targhee III Low WP $135 Hiking shoe 1 lb. 14.8 oz. Yes (Keen.Dry) Leather
Saucony Peregrine 8 $120 Trail-running shoe 1 lb. 4 oz. No Mesh
Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX $150 Hiking shoe 2 lb. 3 oz. Yes (Gore-Tex) Leather / mesh
Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry $140 Hiking shoe 2 lb. 1.4 oz. Yes (B-Dry) Leather / textile
Merrell MQM Flex $110 Hiking shoe 1 lb. 7.7 oz. No Mesh
La Sportiva Wildcat $110 Trail-running shoe 1 lb. 9 oz. No Nylon mesh
Salomon Odyssey Pro $140 Hiking/trail-running 1 lb. 7.2 oz. No Mesh
Vasque Grand Traverse $120 Approach/hiking 1 lb. 10 oz. No Leather / mesh
Brooks Cascadia 13 $130 Trail-running shoe 1 lb. 7.8 oz. No Mesh
Salewa Firetail 3 $139 Approach shoe 1 lb. 11.6 oz. No Mesh
North Face Hedgehog Fastpack $120 Hiking shoe 1 lb. 14 oz. Yes (Gore-Tex) Leather / mesh
Arc’teryx Acrux SL GTX $200 Approach/hiking 1 lb. 5.2 oz. Yes (Gore-Tex) Nylon textile

 

Hiking Shoe Buying Advice

Lightweight Hiking Footwear Types​

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 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. More, 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.

The North Face Ultra 110 GTX (hiking)
Hiking in the North Cascades with The North Face Ultra 110 hiking shoes

Trail-Running Shoes
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.

Hiking Shoes (Saucony Peregrine 8)
Testing the Saucony Peregrine 8 on a backpacking trip in New Zealand

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 TX3, 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 TX3)
La Sportiva's TX3 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. 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.

Lightweight hiking shoes (Merrell MQM)
Lightweight shoes like the Merrell MQM Flex 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 Keen Targhee III or even the La Sportiva Wildcats 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 3 or The North Face Ultra 110 for great all-around options that are equally adept at conquering summit peaks and multi-day backpacking.

Hiking in the Salewa Firetail 3
The Salewa Firetail 3 approach shoe offers excellent support

Waterproofing

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.

Lightweight hiking shoes (mud)
Putting waterproofing to the test on Vancouver Island, BC

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 Vent. 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.


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. 

Lightweight hiking shoe (mesh upper)
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 Synthesis, 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. 
 

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.

Laces Comparison
Laces on approach shoes extend to the toes for easy fit customization

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.

Lightweight Hiking Shoes (laces)
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. Arc’teryx is one brand that breaks from the mold completely with a two-piece design that has a separate rigid thermolaminated outer and a flexible inner liner (we gave their mid-height Bora2 hiking boots a full test). 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.

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 Oboz Sawtooth.

Hiking Shoes (Acrux SL upper)
Arc'teryx's Acrux SL has a unique thermolaminated upper

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 breakdown overtime, much like a road running shoe. In general, you pay more for an improved midsole design and a higher quality EVA compound.

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 2 boots and shoes.

The North Face Ultra 110 GTX (tread)
The North Face Ultra 110 has excellent traction in mud and over rocks

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.
 

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.

Rubber rand approach shoe
The large rubber rand on an approach shoe provides excellent protection

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 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 shoes vs. boots
We prefer a hiking boot when carrying a heavy pack and traveling over difficult terrain

In 2018 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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