Non-GTX hiking boots

Higher and Drier: Best Breathable Hiking Boots

Filed under: Footwear  Hiking 

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When it’s hot and dry, you want footwear that breathes. That’s the time to leave the waterproof fabric at home. We tested a slew of breathable hiking boots to find the best on the market now.

Danner Mountain 600 Enduroweave womens

Perhaps the biggest conundrum within the outdoor gear world is waterproof-breathable. Keeping water at bay while allowing the body to vent is a lofty goal that often proves elusive.

But advances in tech continue to add breathability to membranes that still manage to keep rain, puddles, and shallow river crossings at bay. So which options are best when the mercury climbs?

We put 12 styles of women’s and men’s hiking boot styles to task. The result is a guide that allows you to find an option for backpacking exploits and adventure travel for summer and beyond.

Saguaro desert cactus

Hiking Boot Appraisal: 5 Factors

To evaluate the contenders, we considered five factors.

1. Fast, secure fit out of the box

Synthetic uppers allow an instant read on a low or mid-height hiking boot’s ability to shape to the foot. Leather, with some ability to stretch, can conform over time and may require more miles to adapt to individual foot shapes.

The combination of both synthetics and leather, found in many of the models we tested, balances immediate comfort against longer-term durability.

2. Protection against sharp surfaces and impact

Abrasion of hiking boot uppers in rocky or tight, wooded terrain is one challenge. Guarding against sole bruising over scree, gravel, and sharp outcroppings is another.

A hiker’s outsole and midsole build determine how well bruising is avoided and feet stay guarded over the miles ahead. In general, more impact resistance comes with either heavier materials or a stiffer build.

Peter Reese hiking in the desert

3. Walkability on the trail

Some hiking boot styles travel well over flat, fast, and unobstructed trails. Others perform best when scrambling becomes a part of the mix. A select subset proves capable on a wider range of path, trail, and off-trail conditions.

In most cases, walking on tough trails requires mental energy and foot-placement chess, especially when shouldering heavier loads on multiday exploits.

4. Versatility beyond the moment

Footwear and apparel are often purchased with an objective or specific trip in mind. Testers took a look at each selection’s capability to either (a) take on varied trail conditions or (b) step into everyday (even urban) settings.

If local trail conditions indicate one pair is most ideal, that’s a solid starting point. Should regional, national, or international hiking beckon, a hiking boot adaptable to a mix of scenarios is a wise choice. Or perhaps purchasing multiple styles.

5. Long-term value

Far from disposable, the women’s and men’s hiking boot models under test were explored for the potential to travel 250 miles or more before showing appreciable signs of wear.

While each hiker’s weight, stride, and carried load is unique, no low or mid-hiker should threaten failure in the near-term.

Breathable Boot Roundup

Lowa Zephyr Mid TF (men’s only): $190 ($64 on sale)

Lowa Zephyr hiking boot

No wonder similar Lowa models get spec’d for military use. Capable with moderate weight over tough terrain, Zephyr pushes back against obstacles. More plow horse than thoroughbred, sharp rocks and ankle-twisting trails get served by the design (dubbed “Monowrap Stability Frame”).

Chunky without being clunky, this one commands attention and is anything but stealth in appearance once off dustier trails. Moderate payloads fit the 2-pound 13-ounce pair that shield feet from slashing rocks.

Best scenario: Moderate distances over hot, dusty trails with broken surfaces.

Top attribute: Protection against sharp surfaces and impact.

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Vasque Clarion 88 (men’s only): $150

Vasque Clarion 88 hiking boot

Cutting a classic line, Clarion 88 trims the weight of beefier Vasque hiking boot models by landing at 2 pounds 12 ounces. It grabs the last from the Sundowner as it layers mesh with waterproof suede leather.

A TPU heel cup adds structure to a mid-height model. It works more for daylong outings than extended mileage with loads over 20 pounds. True to size, Clarion 88 is a winner for immediate walkability over moderate terrain. And the price pushes the top end for a non-endurance build.

But the look owns the eyeballs of millennials and boomers alike.

Best scenario: Low- to mid-mileage treks with packs under 35 pounds.

Top attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box.

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Oboz Sawtooth Low (women’s & men’s): $110

Oboz Sawtooth hiking boot

Low but not slow or soft, the under-2-pound Sawtooth slices through harsh terrain better than most mid-height hiking boots. The leather-and-textile hybrid upper defies abrasion, and the outsole design has enough rocker to make walking easier on rollers and steeps.

This model runs about a half size large, comes out of the box ready to hike, and promotes more foot freedom with a wider toe box and a heel cup that combats shifting even on daunting descents. Call it a solid choice for anything except strolling through paved pathways.

Alternative: The women’s hiking boot Luna model takes a few ounces off if maximum durability isn’t a priority.

Best scenario: Mid- to high-mileage backpacking journeys with loads up to 50 pounds.

Top attribute: Versatility.


Arc’teryx Acrux SL (men’s & women’s): $170

Arc'teryx Acrux hiking shoe

Higher and drier is where this hiking boot model lives: anywhere in the world agility and support is needed. Testers loaded it for mid distances and moderate weights with the only concern being the pair’s low upper height.

Experienced and athletic trekkers are the best bet for a water-repelling pair that breathes well considering the PU-coated nylon yarns used. The “Adaptive Fit Lite” construction gives Acrux a more slipper-like feel that resists the incursion of dust and debris. Fit runs fairly true in this nimble, durable style that testers plan to translate into a touring shoe in Italy this fall.

Alternative: Step into the new Konseal (full review here) for a more flexible upper.

Best scenario: Multisport and international travel combined with technical day trips.

Top attribute: Versatility.


Astral Tri Merge (women’smen’s): $140

Astral Tri Merge hiking boot

From the river-borne, whitewater-bred lineage of Astral flows a growing line of landlubber shoes and boots. More like something out of the NBA with a fast-drying canvas upper, this hiking boot model bounces down the trail with enough lateral stability to carry moderate loads.

More impervious to thorns than open mesh uppers, the Merge capitalizes on a stabilizing heel counter and high-friction outsole to negotiate off-camber trails. This is one for adventure travel, particularly where getting wet is part of the program. And looking good après has its own rewards.

Alternative: For anytime casual wear, there’s no walking past the brand’s Brewer 2.0 or Brewess 2.0.

Best scenario: Low-mileage day trips including international ridge hopping.

Top attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box.


Danner Mountain 600 EnduroWeave (women’s & men’s): $160

Danner Mountain 600 Enduro Weave hiking boot

Five years ago, every footwear and apparel brand cut panels of wool into their designs to capture the lumberjack-and-jane trend. Danner is never so obvious nor rarely a follower thanks to an expanded urban to expedition hiking boot line.

EnduroWeave jumps on the Mountain 600’s popularity with a breathable upper that’s more Euro than the brand’s Wisconsin heritage. Leather-avoidant hikers relish the carbon-treated textile that extracts weight (women’s tip at 27 ounces per pair) even as the Vibram SPE midsole and Fuga outsole glom on to slick, sketchy trail conditions. Testers styled it and scrambled it with little visible wear and lots of post-hike foot comfort.

Best scenario: Low-mileage group hikes (to get credit for a good call on looks and weight) and transitions to post-outing beverages.

Top attribute: Walkability on the trail.

Danner Mountain 600 Enduro Weave hiking boot
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Adidas Terrex Swift R2 (men’s only): $135

Adidas Terrex Swift R2 hiking shoe

The Continental outsole tips the hand early for this pair as one hiking boot in the evolving Terrex line. Never mistaken for a running shoe, Swift R2 excels in nasty conditions including moving across side hill seeps and slick rock. Feet are protected like few other models under test with a toecap crafted for apocalyptic rock falls and narrow canyons.

Tensioned speed lacing allows fast on-trail adjustment even as the padded collar minimizes Achilles trauma. Not for bouncing along tourist paths, this hiker craves bigger challenges and carries the load in multiday backpacking scenarios. Tight mesh uppers keep abrasion resistance high but can’t undo the weight of the Traxion outsoles at over 27.2 ounces per pair.

Best Scenario: High mileage on marginal trails.

Top Attribute: Long-term value.

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SCARPA Rapid (women’s & men’s): $120

Scarpa Raid hiking shoe

This model skirts the line between hiker and trail runner, with a solid build to deliver the former (hiker) and not quite enough rocker to excel at the latter (trail runner). Here’s where the warm-weather hiker wins toes-down with a fluid, multisport approach to a low-cut design. Suede and a recycled polyester mesh upper hold together well across mixed terrain with a weight-trimming notched outsole.

Sufficient torsional stability prevents ankle twists. Normal feet (if they even exist) will like the heel cup and moderate toe box volume that turns quickly and tightly around corners. Scarpa’s lacing system again proves to be a favorite over a tongue that doesn’t bunch or pinch. And the weight is surprisingly refreshing at 22 ounces per pair.

Best scenario: Low-to-moderate mileage with lighter packs, scrambling across technical terrain

Top attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box.


Helly Hansen Loke Dash (men’s & women’s): $120

Helly Hanson Loke Dash

Almost like a Flyknit upper shoe, Loke Dash sprints where others saunter and accelerates when others drop back. These shoes are more for warm weather and moderate terrain than alpine extremes. Loke plays tricks on the feet of hikers with superior lacing tension, a debris-shedding ankle cuff and outsoles that give gravel and pebbles nowhere to hide.

Those with more sensitive feet will struggle with the lack of a stone guard plate. Another model that travels well between trail and train station, Loke takes international and adventure travel in stride. A removable EVA footbed is a bonus that saves $30 or more in a pair that walks tall in less demanding conditions.

Best scenario: Frequent, short hiking outings with light loads when powered by athletic wearers.

Top attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box.


Ridgemont Heritage Boot (men’s only): $169

Ridgemont Heritage boot

Much of what is happening with this single-piece, full-grain leather upper hiking boot is nothing new. Except that Ridgemont turns the clumsier, bulkier profile of classic hikers into a streamlined model that uses sustainable tanning and advanced manufacturing.

Heritage is infused with touches like metal D-rings and a waxed canvas collar. Despite a waterproof liner, this model behaves more like a non-Gore-Tex boot in managing temperature and moisture.

Lower lug height is enough to capture traction on less extreme trails in a boot that looks the part as the miles add scrapes, scratches, and character. Color splashes keep things light visually, though this hiking boot lands at 46 ounces per pair.

Best scenario: Regular day hikes to nearby and regional trail systems with light loads and barbecue in the offing.

Top attribute: Long-term value.

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Chaco Teton (men’s only): $150

Chaco Teton Chukka

Chaco turns waxed cotton and full-grain leather into an abrasion-resistant upper that’s somewhere between fur trapper and fly fisher. Instead of searching for hardtack like an old-timer, grab an energy bar and explore hills and valleys with lightweight freedom.

The Chaco brand experience on the world’s waterways means traction on slick surfaces along with enough stiffness to walk in them all day. Lacing is fast and sure on top of a removable PU footbed and nonmarking black outsole.

With an attitude that rises above the day’s challenges, the Teton reaches for the sky with rugged good looks. And it has a firm connection to the ground below.

Best scenario: Occasional hiking, high-mileage walking, and adventure travel.

Top attribute: Walkability on the trail (and beyond).

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Under Armour Verge 2.0 Low (men’s only): $101

Under Armour Verge 2.0 hiking shoe

Under Armour has made major investments to show up in performance categories outside of traditional athletics. The Verge 2.0 indicates the brand is having some success, as the Michelin outsole itself is lugged for braking during technical descents.

The quick-drying upper stays cool (even in the black model tested) with a comfortable, extra-wide tongue that remains in place. On the high end for an all-synthetic low hiker, the ESS rock plate provides more protection than many in its class.

Significant rocker makes Verge 2.0 more comfortable at speed rather than walking. Sizing runs true in a medium wide hiking boot weighing in at 24 ounces per pair.

Best scenario: Conditioning for epic backcountry journeys, taking training outside during warmer months.

Top attribute: Walkability on the trail.

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