We tested the Best Hiking Shoes of 2021

The Best Hiking Shoes of 2022

Stay comfortable and agile on the trail with the best hiking shoes for men and women. From day trips to thru-hikes, we’ve got you covered.

Summer means long days, warm temps, and miles on the trail. And while we love a good pair of hiking boots, a hiking shoe is ideal for many trail adventures. They’re light and easy to move in, and they keep your feet cool. You’ll give up a bit of ankle support with a shoe, but many find the increased comfort and performance are worth the trade-off.

Our included specs chart allows for quick and easy comparison, while our comprehensive buyer’s guide
and FAQ section will let you know exactly what to look for as you consider your options.  Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Hiking Shoes of 2022

Best Overall Hiking Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 6 — Men’s & Women’s

Altra Lone Peak 6 Trail-Running Shoes

Another update to the legendary Lone Peak ($140) adds even more fame to this cherished classic. An absolute staple in the long-distance hiking and trail running communities, the Lone Peak is the pioneer of Altra’s brand and defines its unique style.

The new Lone Peak 6 still gives us that spacious, zero-drop experience we’ve grown to love, and we were grateful they didn’t change too much from previous models. It boasts the most room in any toe box you’re likely to find, and the foot-shaped last gives it an organic feel, allowing your toes to splay out naturally while hiking long miles. The update also comes with a wide version, for those who really need it.

The upper has evolved a bit in this new iteration. Altra added a simplified but functional heel overlay, and an additional midfoot lacing system that work together to provide a more accommodating, customizable fit. The Quick-Dry Air Mesh fabric seems to be a little tougher than before, and affords quick drainage and solid breathability, with additional holes in the toe and medial side.

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The Lone Peak is a time-tested classic for backpacking and thru-hiking; (photo/Emily Malone)

The Altra EGO technology of the midsole claims to add a little more responsiveness to each step, and we definitely noticed a difference compared to previous models. Something about it feels like a cushier, yet still responsive ride, and we’re fans of how well it carries over technical terrain.

The only complaint we can think of comes from others’ reviews of the wide version, as we only tried the regular width. From what we hear, the wide version is too wide and feels quite sloppy and unstable even for those who generally go with a 2E width.

All in all, the Lone Peak remains a top pick for die-hard hikers looking for a reliable shoe with a natural feel. The wide toe box and zero drop profile take a little getting used to, but give you more of a connection with the ground you’re moving over, and help prevent blisters with plenty of room in the toebox. It still is, and will probably remain, a king in the backpacking and thru-hiking community.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 5 0z.
  • Material: Quick dry air mesh
  • Best use: Thru-hiking
  • Top attribute: Wide toe box, zero drop
Pros:
  • Improved upper from previous version
  • Lighter than previous models
  • Solid drainage
  • Roomy toe box
Cons:
  • Wide version may be too wide/unstable for most people
  • Minimal cushion

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Best Budget Hiking Shoes: Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Low — Men’s & Women’s

merrell moab 2 ventilator low

It’s no surprise the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator ($110) is one of the top-selling hiking shoes. The side ventilation keeps feet cool during warm-weather hikes, and the leather and mesh hold up well through rocky scrambles, long day hikes, and multiday adventures.

We like that they provide some of the stability and traction generally found in a hiking boot with the low-top freedom of a shoe.

The toebox was wide enough that our testers didn’t experience any uncomfortable rubbing. But they are a bit stiffer, and we recommend slowly amping up your mileage. Give them time to break in, and you could have a great hiking shoe for seasons to come.

These aren’t the lightest hiking shoes available. And on technical or wet terrain, they didn’t perform as well as shoes like the SCARPA Rapid, but the Moab 2 Ventilator are winners for day hikes on regular trails. They’re also available in a waterproof version. Overall, they’re one of the best hiking shoes for regular use on moderate to easy terrain.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 15 oz.
  • Material: Suede leather and mesh
  • Best use: Day hikes
  • Top attribute: Durable, solid value
Pros:
  • Good value
  • Impressive traction and stability for a low-cut hiking shoe
  • Breathable
Cons:
  • A bit heavy
  • Requires a break-in period for peak comfort

Check Men’s Price at AmazonCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Best Hiking Shoes for Style & Function: Danner Trail 2650 — Men’s & Women’s

Danner Trail 2650

Danner is known for making high-quality, long-lasting hiking boots. And this is true of their hiking shoes, too. Inspired by the terrain of the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Trail 2650 ($190) is built to go the distance.

The mesh liner helped keep our feet cool and aided in breathability on hot summer hikes. In addition to the stylish looks, we really appreciate the fantastic grip these provided. We found them comfortable out of the box and suitable for all manner of day hikes.

Some testers wished they had more arch support, while others found them a perfect fit. This is a matter of personal preference and foot shape. The Trail 2650 shoe comes in several versions, including waterproof, mesh, and mid styles. Check out our full review on these Danner styles.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 8 oz.
  • Material: Leather
  • Best use: Day hikes, dry summer adventures, town-to-trail excursions
  • Top attribute: Out-of-the-box comfort, breathable, stylish
Pros:
  • Stylish
  • Breathable
  • Grippy outsole
Cons:
  • Expensive compared to other options

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Best Water Hiking Shoe: Astral TR1 Water Hiking Shoe — Men’s & Women’s

astral tr1 water hiking shoe

If you like exploring slot canyons or trekking through soggy rainforests, a good pair of quick-drying hiking shoes is essential. North Carolina-based Astral is known for making bomber life jackets. And it’s bringing this same water-centric focus to shoes.

Whether you’re a paddler who also plans to hike or a hiker who happens to be near water, the TR1 shoes ($130) will keep your feet happy.

We like how light they feel on our feet and how easily they shed water. With holes at the front and back, they easily drain water and the mesh dries quickly. Plus, they help your feet breathe and stay cool even on dry trails.

The sticky rubber soles provided plenty of traction even when rock-hopping along the river’s edge. And we like that the wider toebox design of the TR1 gave our feet room to spread out.

The Polygiene-treated insole makes stinky shoes a thing of the past. This is an all-around great shoe for moderate hiking, tropical adventures, and all manner of watersports. If you’re taking a trip to Hawaii, for instance, these could be the best hiking shoes for the job.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 5.2 oz.
  • Material: Ripstop 2-denier mesh with TPU overlays
  • Best use: Desert canyons, tropical trails, and trails with water crossings
  • Top attribute: Easy-draining and quick-drying
Pros:
  • Grippy outsole
  • Roomy and comfortable toebox
  • Great odor control
Cons:
  • Not the most supportive

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Best Travel Hiking Shoes: Lems Trailhead Hiking Shoe — Men’s & Women’s

Lems Trailhead Hiking Shoe

Anyone looking for a single summer shoe will love the Trailhead ($140). With plenty of comfort and style, it can easily transition from travel to trail to a night at the brewpub. Built for the trail but styled for the city, it’s the perfect go-to for adventure travel.

We’ve worn it during long days at the airport, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, and exploring the hills of northern Georgia. Through it all, it’s offered plenty of comfort and support.

The 4mm drop encourages a more natural footstrike without going into extreme minimalist territory. And the wider toebox gives your feet plenty of room to wiggle.

A firm EVA midsole can seem a bit stiff at first, but you’ll reach maximum comfort after a few wears. The firmer foam molds nicely to your feet while providing needed support.

And anyone looking for a leather-free shoe can rest easy wearing this vegan-friendly option. If you have any summer travel plans that involve hiking, biking, sightseeing, or general adventuring, the Trailhead could be the best hiking shoe for you.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 7.4 oz.
  • Material: Microfiber and mesh 
  • Best use: Adventure travel
  • Top attribute: Style and performance
Pros:
  • Stylish
  • Comfortable
  • Supportive midsole
Cons:
  • Requires some break-in time

Check Men’s Price at Black OvisCheck Women’s Price at Backcountry

Best For Approaches: SCARPA Rapid — Men’s & Women’s

SCARPA Rapid

This model ($159) skirts the line between a climbing approach shoe and trail runner, with a solid build to deliver the former (approach shoe) and not quite enough rocker to excel at the latter (trail runner). This is a versatile warm-weather shoe with a low-cut design.

The polyester mesh upper held together well across mixed terrain with a weight-trimming notched outsole. Relative to its robust structure, the Rapid is quite lightweight at 10.4 ounces per shoe (men’s 9).

Sufficient torsional stability prevents ankle twists. Normal feet (if they even exist) will like the heel cup and the moderate toebox 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. For quick jaunts in the mountains or hikes to the crag, the Rapid is an awesome shoe.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 4.8 oz. (pair, men’s size 9)
  • Material: Nubuck, recycled polyester mesh, polyurethane overlays
  • Best use: Low-to-moderate mileage with lighter packs, scrambling across technical terrain
  • Top attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box
Pros:
  • Quick and effective lacing system
  • Versatile
  • Lightweight
Cons:
  • Not the most durable upper

Check Men’s Price at AmazonCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Best of the Rest

Hoka Speedgoat 5 — Men’s & Women’s

HOKA Speedgoat 5 Trail-Running Shoes

With superior traction, durability, and cushion, the Hoka Speedgoat has been a legacy shoe in the trail running and now long-distance hiking community for years. Its newest update, the Speedgoat 5 ($155), doesn’t disappoint and carries on Hoka’s stellar reputation.

While the Speedgoat definitely lets you push the pace, these things truly shine in their durability and unprecedented comfort over the long haul. Though they used to only be worn by trail running aficionados, their reputation has recently seeped into the long-distance hiking community.

One of our testers walked over 5,000 miles in the Speedgoats last year on his thru-hikes of the AT and CDT and won’t hike in anything else now. He squeezed out about 700 miles a pair, and experienced little durability issues.

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One of the authors of this guide putting the Speedgoats through torture and torment on a CDT thru-hike last year; (photo/Chris Carter)

The soles are fitted with Vibram Megagrip and 5mm lugs, somehow providing even more traction than previous iterations. They also shaved off half an ounce. This doesn’t seem like much, but every gram literally counts at the end of a grueling day on the trail.

The new model also features a bolstered heel collar, more comfortable features, and what feels like a more responsive midsole with what Hoka calls a “late stage meta-rocker.” An initial gripe of ours is the new gusseted tongue. It’s kind of short, still super thin, and we liked the previous one better.

We appreciate the protective toe rand that wraps around the front of the shoe. This works well for those who tend to drag their feet as they get tired near the end of a long day. Despite the lighter weight, Hoka still managed to keep the cushion balanced and comfy, and seemed to even improve it a little.

For months-long epics across the country, or weekend backpacking trips to your favorite alpine lakes, Hoka’s Speedgoat 5 will get you there in about as much comfort as you could ask for.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 4.6 oz. 
  • Material: Recycled engineered mesh
  • Best use: Technical trails and long thru-hikes
  • Top attribute: Maximum cushion and lightweight durability
Pros:
  • Fantastic traction
  • Lighter than previous models
  • Superior cushion
  • Durable
Cons:
  • Gusseted tongue is a little short
  • Not as stable due to high stack height

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Salomon X Ultra 4 Low Aero — Men’s & Women’s

Salomon X Ultra 4 Low Hiking Shoes

The Salomon X Ultra 4 Low ($120) is breathable, grippy, and comfortable. If you’re looking for a warm-weather hiking shoe, this is it. The polyester mesh panels help keep feet cool, and at about 1.5 pounds for the pair, they won’t weigh you down.

With the mudguards and extended toecap, we never had any problems with rocks or sticks jabbing our feet. And the lugs proved plenty burly even for technical trails.

The sole of the X Ultra 4 is surprisingly flexible, which our testers enjoyed. But if you’re looking for something stiff, you may want to choose a different shoe.

Another feature you’ll either love or hate is the Quicklace system. Pull the lace, and it locks into the desired tightness. We’ve found it works well and doesn’t need retightening throughout the day. However, it can limit how specific you get on tightening your shoe.

All in all, these shoes offer traction and comfort while keeping feet cool. With this Salomon offering, you get a do-it-all shoe for $120. The women’s version seems to run a bit large, so we recommend going down a half-size.

Designed with relative simplicity with technical features where you need them, we think the X Ultra 3 is one of the best hiking shoes on the market today.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 6.4 oz.
  • Material: Nylon mesh 
  • Best use: Summer hiking and technical trails
  • Top attribute: Breathable and light with plenty of grip
Pros:
  • Highly breathable
  • Good traction
  • Lightweight
Cons:
  • Not ideal for technical scrambling on rock and steep terrain

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at Salomon

Brooks Cascadia 16 — Men’s & Women’s

Brooks Cascadia 16 Trail-Running Shoes

There’s a reason Brooks is on their 16th iteration of the Cascadia ($130): it’s a simple staple in the running and hiking community, and keeps offering reliable durability over the long run.

Another classic trail runner that has eked its way into the hiking world, the Cascadia is being seen on more and more hiker’s feet, from nascent weekend warriors, to thru-hikers going the distance. The latest update keeps everything we loved from prior models, and offers improvements that focus on the cushion and ride of the shoe.

The Cascadia offers stellar protection, with a chunky 29mm heel that tapers down to 21mm in the forefoot, and additional protection from Brook’s Ballistic Rock Shield. They’ve also employed a new midsole called DNA LOFT v2, which offers softer, lighter cushioning than the Cascadia 15.

We found the traction of this model to be even better than prior ones, and the TrailTack rubber outsole instills confidence over loose, wet rocks or scree. Even after heavy use, the lugs held up well, and the shoe as a whole is showing surprising durability.

For long day hikes over rough terrain, or extended backcountry backpacking trips, the Brooks Cascadia 16 would be a solid pick for the task.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 3.1 oz. 
  • Material: Synthetic mesh
  • Best use: Technical, slippery trails
  • Top attribute: Durable tacky outsole
Pros:
  • Stable
  • Cushioned
  • Protective
Cons:
  • Pretty stiff out of the box
  • Relatively heavy compared to some other trail runners

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Merrell Moab Speed — Men’s & Women’s

Merrell Moab Speed Low Hiking Shoes

The closest thing to a bedroom slipper you can hike in, the low-cut Moab Speed ($130) light hiker is breathable, durable, and won’t cramp your style because it’s so darn comfortable from the moment you put it on.

Not every trail outing demands crazy aggressive footwear. For more casual meanders, even when the road is rocky, uneven, or generally variable, this shoe was the ultimate in comfort.

The Moab Speed’s mesh upper is layered to keep out trail debris, including sand, pebbles, and thorns. Then, it’s reinforced with welded-on TPU for structure that feels soft and unrestrictive while keeping our feet balanced over the sole and midsole.

Although this shoe’s cushy EVA midsole looks and feels more like a sneaker, it’s made for the trail. The thickly padded tongue and padded collar protects our feet from getting rubbed by the laces. They also help keep debris out.

A well-protected toecap with a bumper over it not only prolongs the life of these hikers, but it also protects toes. And many parts of this shoe are recycled — including the lining and laces — to reduce the Moab Speed’s impact on the planet.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 7 oz.
  • Material: TPU and mesh
  • Best use: Hiking, mild approaches
  • Top attribute: Grippy and comfortable for narrow feet
Pros:
  • Comfortable
  • Minimal break-in period
  • Sneaker-like styling
Cons:
  • Not the most supportive structure

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Oboz Sawtooth II Low Waterproof— Men’s & Women’s

Sawtooth II Low Waterproof

Are you looking for a hiking shoe that offers more of a traditional hiking boot design? This below-the-ankle pick could be just what you need. The Sawtooth ($140) slices through harsh terrain better than most mid-height hiking boots, and offers stellar water resistance with Oboz’s breathable B-DRY waterproofing material.

The leather-textile hybrid upper defies abrasion. And the outsole design has enough rocker to make walking easier on rolling and steep terrain.

This shoe comes out of the box ready to hike. It promotes more foot freedom with a wider toebox and a heel cup that combats shifting even on daunting descents.

The lug pattern of the Sawtooth II gives plenty of grip, and the toe overlays prevent abrasion. Our testers are happy to report that even after multiple seasons of use, these show little signs of wear. Plus, you can feel good knowing that Oboz plants a tree for every pair of shoes sold. We found this model runs about a half-size large.

Specs:
  • Weight: 2 lb., 2.8 oz.
  • Material: Waterproof Nubuck leather, Oboz B-DRY waterproof/breathable membrane
  • Best use: Mid- to high-mileage backpacking journeys with loads up to 50 lbs.
  • Top attribute: Versatility
Pros:
  • Grippy outsole
  • Minimal break-in period
  • Durable and water-resistant
Cons:
  • Tricky sizing; runs a bit large

Check Men’s Price at ObozCheck Women’s Price at Oboz

Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX— Men’s & Women’s

Adidas Terrex Swift R2

The Continental’s outsole gives away that this shoe from the evolving Terrex line is meant for the trail. Never mistaken for a running shoe, the Swift R2 ($140) excels in nasty conditions, including moving across sidehill steeps 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. A GORE-TEX lining keeps moisture out, but is still breathable.

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.

We’d recommend trying these on before use, but if they fit well, the Swift R2 is one of the best hiking shoes for technical terrain.

Specs:
  • Weight: 1 lb., 11.2 oz.
  • Material: Ripstop mesh with TPU
  • Best use: High mileage on marginal trails
  • Top attribute: Long-term value
Pros:
  • Highly capable on technical and slick terrain
  • Supportive enough for heavy backpack loads
Cons:
  • Heavy

Check Men’s Price at AmazonCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Hiking Shoe Comparison Table

Hiking Shoe Price Material Weight Top Attribute
Altra Lone Peak $140 Quick dry air mesh 1 lb. 5 0z. Wide toe box and zero drop
Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Low $110 Suede leather and mesh 1 lb. 15 oz. Durable, solid value
Danner Trail 2650 $190 Leather 1 lb. 8 oz. Out-of-the-box comfort
Astral TR1 Water Hiking Shoe $130 Ripstop 2-denier mesh with TPU overlays 1 lb. 5.2 oz. Easy-draining and quick-drying
Lems Trailhead Hiking Shoe $140 Microfiber and mesh 1 lb. 7.4 oz. Style and performance
SCARPA Rapid $159 Nubuck, recycled polyester mesh, polyurethane overlays 1 lb. 4.8 oz. Effective for technical approaches and trail running
Hoka Speedgoat 5 $155 Recycled engineered mesh 1 lb. 4.6 oz. Maximum cushion
Salomon X Ultra 4 Low Aero
$120 Nylon mesh 1 lb., 6.4 oz. Breathable and light with plenty of grip
Brooks Cascadia 16 $130 Synthetic mesh 1 lb. 3.1 oz. Tacky outsole
Merrell Moab Speed $130 Suede leather and mesh 1 lb. 6 oz. Comfortable for narrow feet
Oboz Sawtooth II Low Waterproof $140 Waterproof Nubuck Leather 2 lb. 2.8 oz. Versatility
Adidas Terrex Swift R2 $140 Ripstop mesh with TPU 1 lb. 11.2 oz. Long-term durability

Why You Should Trust Us

In our search for the best hiking shoes, we spent months on the trail. From the dry Arizona desert to the hot and humid Appalachian Trail, and the Rocky Mountains, we’ve logged a lot of miles.

The recommendations on this list are the result of intensive testing and thorough observation. “Hiking” is a broad term, and not all people who hike have the same needs. While compiling our recommendations, we considered the intended use of each individual model.

We tested shoes according to their intended purpose. For example, we tested approach shoes while scrambling on talus, walking to the crag, and climbing rock. While testing lightweight and low-profile shoes like the Merrell Moab Speed, we walked on low-grade paths and non-technical terrain.

While testing, we paid careful attention to comfort, stability, outsole traction and grip, and long-term durability.

Our hiking shoe testing process is ongoing. As we continue to wear and assess new models, we’ll update our recommendations for the best hiking shoes on a regular basis.

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From weekend treks in the mountains to multi-month thru-hikes, each of our testers has spent significant time in the shoes highlighted on this list; (photo/Chris Carter)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Hiking Shoes

From day hiking to thru-hiking, the right pair of hiking shoes can become the most beloved and essential piece of gear in your kit. As the primary contact between you and the trail, your shoes make your adventures possible, and it’s imperative that they’re reliable.

While some still prefer the ankle support and robust structure of boots, more and more hikers and backpackers are opting for the weight savings and nimble performance of hiking shoes. For any hiking endeavor, good-quality shoes are more than capable of handling a wide variety of terrain.

Because there are so many styles and variables, selecting the best hiking shoes for your unique needs can be difficult. In this guide, we include everything you need to know to select a pair of shoes that will treat your feet well and instill confidence in your stride.

Hiking Shoes vs. Boots

One of the main differences between hiking shoes and boots is the height. Whereas shoes have a below-the-ankle height, hiking boots offer full ankle support and high-top construction. What you give up in ankle support, you make up for in weight savings and out-of-the-box comfort.

Hiking shoes are great for day hikes, smooth trails, and anytime you want to go fast and light. For bigger backpacking trips with a heavier pack, you may want to consider a full hiking boot. That said, we know thru-hikers who swear by lightweight hiking shoes and day-trippers who won’t head out without their boots. It’s all about preference.

And while there isn’t a single best hiking shoe for everyone out there, we’ve broken down this list into categories to help find the best hiking shoe for you.

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(Photo/Honey McNaughton)

Weight

In recent years, hiking shoe technology has moved toward low-profile and lightweight designs. Modern fabrics and soles manage to be thinner and lighter without sacrificing performance on the trail. For long hikes and thru-hikes, the benefits of a light pair of shoes only grow as the miles wear on.

While many burly hiking boots weigh over 4 pounds per pair, hiking shoes tend to weigh around 2 pounds or less. If you like to go fast on the trail, or if you plan to do some trail running in your hiking shoes, light is undoubtedly better.

Yes, shaving ounces sometimes does reduce long-term durability. However, lots of pairs of shoes on this list are more than capable of holding up just as long as a hefty pair of boots.

With modern materials and advancements in design, you don’t need to give up durability to cut weight and gain comfort.

Comfort and Fit

Comfort is the most important factor for any pair of active footwear. The shape of the human foot varies wildly, and the shoe that feels comfortable to someone else might not be comfortable for you. Feet can be wide or narrow, arches can be high or flat, and heels can be bulbous or low volume.

When selecting a pair of hiking shoes, there is really no substitute for trying them on and paying attention to how they feel in action. Most people will want to seek out a fit that minimizes negative space but does not actively constrict or compress their feet or toes.

If your foot moves in the shoe, you’ll likely be dealing with blisters before long. In general, hiking shoes tend to be more comfortable than hiking boots. It’s totally possible to find a pair that you can happily wear all day long.

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(Photo/Honey McNaughton)

Waterproof

There are pros and cons to hiking in a pair of shoes that are billed as “waterproof.” When hiking on muddy and wet terrain, waterproof hiking shoes help keep your feet dry and comfortable. When your feet are wet, you’ll be more likely to develop blisters and other foot issues.

However, waterproof hiking shoes also tend to be warmer and less breathable. Once wet, waterproof shoes usually take longer to fully dry.

Most waterproof hiking shoes include a membrane in their liner (GORE-TEX is the most common) that keeps water from reaching the inside of the shoe. In addition, many hiking shoes are treated with a durable water-repellent coating, which can be reapplied after it wears off.

While it is good to prioritize dry feet, it is also important to remember that by sealing moisture out, you’re also sealing it in. Shoes with a waterproof liner are prone to becoming hot and sweaty in warm or humid conditions. All hiking shoes will soak through if they get very wet or become fully submerged, even if they’re labeled as waterproof.

Durability and Materials

The two primary areas of a hiking shoe that will suffer most from wear are the upper and the outsole. On the top of the shoe, the upper is the material that determines how waterproof, durable, and breathable the shoe is overall.

Most hiking shoes include an upper made from nylon, mesh, leather, or a combination. Nylon is lightweight and breathable, but it may not hold up well to repeated abrasion.

Mesh tends to be the least hardy, but it is super breathable and makes a comfortable choice for the tongue of a shoe. Leather is significantly less breathable, and it is often found on heavier-duty hiking shoes because it holds up to wear.

Although heavier and burlier hiking shoes often have an advantage in durability, many modern lightweight options are impressively long-lasting, too. Softer rubber outsoles will wear through faster than dense, firm outsoles.

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(Photo/Honey McNaughton)

Stability and Support

A shoe’s support comes from the construction of its components, including the sole and the midsole. These underfoot layers can be thick and sturdy, or thin and floppy.

For hiking, most people prefer a shoe that is stiff and stable through the middle part of the foot, but slightly more flexible near the toe. This allows your foot to feel supported without sacrificing the ability to flex your toes.

Most hiking shoes have a low-cut ankle collar. If you are seeking lots of ankle support, hiking boots are probably a better choice.

Lacing Systems

The way a shoelace can make or break your big-mile adventure. Not being able to find a comfortably snug fit or fighting with constant loosening are both frustrating trail experiences.

Some shoes have a single-pull system. And while it looks delicate and breakable, we’ve had no issues with long-term durability. Many testers find this system allows for a dialed fit, and we appreciate the ability to make quick adjustments.

That said, it’s harder to create a more custom tightness with quick laces. They tend to provide the same tension across the entire foot. If you prefer to create pockets of snugness across your foot, go with a traditional lacing system.

Traction

The bottom of a good hiking shoe will feature a firm and grippy outsole. Vibram is the most common manufacturer of outsoles, although some footwear companies make their own.

A sturdy outsole is a major feature that sets a hiking shoe apart from a sneaker or tennis shoe. On a wide range of surfaces from loose scree to slick rock, a good hiking shoe will maintain reliable traction.

Many hiking shoe soles are designed to specialize in certain types of terrain. If you’ll be regularly hiking through unstable surfaces like deep mud, you’ll want a sole with firm, large rubber lugs underfoot.

If you plan to do a lot of scrambling and smearing your feet on slabs of rock, a soft and sticky rubber sole with a flat toe edge is the way to go. Many entry-level hiking shoes will include a versatile sole that will perform fairly well on any hiking surface.

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(Photo/Honey McNaughton)

Breathability

A shoe’s breathability comes from the materials that make up its construction. Areas of open synthetic mesh and woven nylon will greatly increase breathability.

Meanwhile, large patches of leather and waterproof membranes like GORE-TEX will decrease breathability. A breathable shoe will feel cooler and less sweaty over the course of a rigorous hiking day.

However, breathable shoes are more likely to soak through to your sock when hiking in the rain or trudging through puddles. Shoes billed as “waterproof” may feel hot and sweaty at times, but they also help keep mud and moisture from reaching your socks and feet.

Price

The cost of hiking shoes varies, and it is possible to buy a quality pair without breaking the bank. There are many excellent and long-lasting pairs with reasonable price tags. However, you may find that some lower-priced shoes come with fewer features, such as a waterproof liner or a Vibram sole.

The general price range of modern shoes is about $75-200, although there are some exceptions. After lots and lots of testing, we have determined that the cost of a pair of hiking shoes is not necessarily a direct indicator of performance.

FAQ

What Are the Best Shoes for Hiking?

The best hiking shoes are the ones that fit your feet comfortably and allow you to enjoy your time on the trail. When combing through the options, your first priorities should be fit and comfort.

Durability, support, and traction are important, too, but ultimately none of that matters if the shoes hurt your feet.

Also, no single pair of hiking shoes will be the very best for every application. The materials, design, and tread pattern will add up to a set of strengths and weaknesses in every shoe.

Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots: Which Is Better?

The current momentum in hiking footwear has shifted away from bulky ankle-high boots in favor of nimble, lower-cut hiking shoes. Hiking boots are heavier, and weight carried on your feet can feel very uncomfortable at the end of a full day. Switching out a 4-pound pair of boots for a 2-pound pair of hiking shoes can make a huge difference in your performance.

Also, many hiking boots have very stiff soles that keep the foot from flexing properly. Many boots are constructed with nonbreathable materials, meaning that your feet are more likely to get sweaty and form blisters. That said, hiking boots can be a great option for those who prefer lots of ankle stability or underfoot stiffness.

Hiking shoes are generally similar in shape to a pair of trainers or tennis shoes. The difference is that hiking shoes are built with durable materials and feature an outsole that is made to grip dirt, rocks, and mud. Compared to boots, hiking shoes feel light, nimble, and somewhat less supportive.

Do I Need Waterproof Hiking Shoes?

That depends. Keep in mind that no pair of hiking shoes is entirely water-resistant. Although some are marketed this way, full submersion in a puddle for more than a few seconds will soak through just about any pair of hiking shoes. Also, because they are low cut around the ankle, water is prone to getting in at the top of the shoe anyway.

Still, waterproof shoes do include membranes, like GORE-TEX, that can keep a significant amount of moisture out. When walking through dewy grass or muddy trails, waterproof shoes will keep your socks and feet drier than non-waterproof shoes.

Shoes with waterproof membranes are less breathable. If you will be hiking in hot and dry areas, you’ll probably feel more comfortable in non-waterproof shoes.

Is It OK to Hike in Sneakers?

For the most part, sneakers are designed to perform on artificial surfaces such as asphalt or cement. Many sneakers have flimsy soles and lack the appropriate level of support that is needed for hiking on uneven terrain. Additionally, sneakers are less likely to hold up to the abrasion and wear that is common while hiking on rough trails.

If you plan to mostly walk on flat trails in urban parks or backyards, you’ll probably be just fine with sneakers. However, for hikes of any significant length — and especially backpacking — hiking shoes are a much better choice.

Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Hiking?

Barefoot shoes are designed to allow your foot to flex naturally with every step. Thanks to their thin and flexible materials, barefoot shoes let you feel the texture of the trail in the soles of your feet.

With each step, the tissues of your feet directly respond to the trail, conforming and contracting as needed. As the name suggests, the experience is similar to walking barefoot.

While barefoot shoes are known for helping hikers and runners develop strong feet, they do take some getting used to. If you have been hiking in boots or hiking shoes, the transition to barefoot shoes will need to be gradual. If you do too much barefoot shoe hiking too soon, you may experience discomfort or quickly develop an injury.

Barefoot shoes lack insulation. They also will not protect your feet from sharp objects underfoot and may be quick to wear out. While some experienced hikers have made the transition to barefoot shoes, we generally do not recommend them to beginners.


Hiker walking with trekking poles
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