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What’s on your feet is by far your most important part of your hiking gear.
However, choosing the best hiking shoes for your needs can be confusing with the wide variety of styles and construction.
So, how do we find the right pair of hiking shoes without spending a fortune? Even if we do buy expensive hiking shoes, how do we know they’re worth the money?
These are fair questions and I aim to tackle these for you as we progress through this review.
Ladies: We created a separate list of hiking shoes specifically for women.
So what are the top hiking shoes?
Best Hiking Shoes
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Rated Men’s Hiking Shoes For 2021
- Merrell Men’s Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe
- Adidas Men’s Outdoor AX3 Hiking Shoe
- Columbia Men’s North Plains Waterproof Trail Shoe
- KEEN Men’s Targhee II Hiking Shoe
- Vasque Men’s Juxt Multi-Sport Shoe
- Salomon X Ultra 3 GORE-TEX Hiking Shoes
- The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX
Hiking Shoe Reviews
Best Men’s Hiking Shoes
The Merrell Moab 2 hiking shoes for men have a lot of great features going for it. One of the most important is that has a moisture-wicking mesh lining.
Ultimately, this means that even if you’re stomping around in damp and wet areas, your shoes are going to dry quickly.
There’s odor prevention as well, so when you have been in the shoes for hours and sweating, it’s not going to have a lingering smell to them.
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The vibram sole has a very grippy tread for good traction so you won’t slip even in the wettest of conditions or steep inclines plus there is a cushioned heel that is shock absorbing.
Even if you’re on rough terrain, it’s not going to take a toll on your feet. With this lightweight shoe you can hike in any condition and the shoes are going to hold up to anything you throw at them.
The Merrill Moab is our top pick for men’s hiking shoes.
Women’s Model: Merrell Women’s Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe
- Vibram sole for traction in slippery conditions
- Water-resistant leather and mesh upper
- M Select Fresh prevents odor buildup
- Rubber toe cap
Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes
The Adidas Outdoor hiking shoe is a very economical option when you want a quality hiking shoe.
The AX3’s are very light weight at less than 10 ounces per shoe, making them a good choice for men’s lightweight hiking shoes.
With the integrated molded sockliner, I found these to be the best hiking sneakers that I tested. In fact you can get away with not having to wear socks if your so inclined.
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The comfortable textile lining is designed to fit a man’s foot and you have the air mesh, which cools your foot down and makes it easy for the shoes to dry out if they are exposed to any moisture.
Maybe the best feature of the Adidas AX3 hiking shoes is the aggressive tread pattern, I really don’t remember slipping at all with these outdoor shoes.
They will give you confidence to hike in slippery and muddy conditions. Multiple colors are available and the synthetic blend of material makes them extremely durability so they will last you a long time.
The Adidas AX3’s hiking shoes are excellent lightweight hiking shoes and should be on your short list.
Women’s Model: adidas AX2 CP Hiking Shoes Womens
- Molded sockliner for a better comfort and fit
- Lightweight EVA midsole for cushioning
- Mesh construction
- High traction rubber for grip in wet conditions
Best Budget Hiking Shoes
The North Plains Waterproof Trail Men’s hiking shoes by Columbia are a little higher priced, but they are definitely designed for hiking in all conditions.
The combination of suede leather and textile construction gives them unmatched durability and water resistance plus they are easy to clean no matter how muddy you get them.
And trust me, where I took them got REALLY muddy.
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I personally have pretty wide feet, and and have trouble getting hiking shoes to fit comfortably. If you have wide feet, the North Plains are a good choice.
Video: Overview of the Columbia North Plains.
The rubber sole has an aggressive tread to be able to handle hills, mountains, rocks, and other elements.
The Omni-Heat insulation is designed for comfort as well as to avoid too much heat building up inside the shoe. This allows you to hike for hours on end without your feet getting too hot.
Your feet are going to stay dry within the shoes because they can breathe and let the moisture evaporate. The innovative design of the North Plains shoe will keep you feet comfortable for all day hiking. If style is at all important to you, they also come in wide variety of colors.
Women’s Model: Columbia Womens Plains Ridge
- Breathable and waterproof hiking shoe
- 600 g Omni-Heat insulation
- Lightweight leather/mesh upper
- Techlite midsole for support
Best Waterproof Hiking Shoes
With a below the ankle cut and waterproof breathable membrane, you’re going to find a balance of trail runner and traditional hiking boot here.
While they’re shorter and slimmer than traditional hiking boots, they also borrow a full toe cap and KEEN.DRY waterproofing.
The soles are built around 4mm deep directional lugs, meaning the rubber is molded specifically to bite into rock, scree, dirt, and mud to provide good traction no matter if you’re walking up or downhill.
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I like the contoured heel lock which is designed to help lock down the heel when you lace the top eyelet. This is ideal for people who struggle to find a good heel fit on an outdoor shoe.
Sloppy heels mean your foot can move around inside the boot which will almost instantly result in major blisters! With leather uppers and hydrophobic mesh lining, the thick rubber sole on this shoe is likely to wear out long before the rest of the boot.
Overall these are the best outdoor shoes for those looking to gain some of the stability offered in a traditional hiking boot, while keeping the size and weight closer to a trail runner.
Women’s Model: KEEN Women’s Targhee II Hiking Shoe
- Large lugs for grip in muddy terrain
- Leather and textile blend for breathability
- Large rubber toe cap
Best Hiking Shoes Under $100
The Vasque Juxt men’s hiking shoes are shaped like a climbing shoe with the protection and traction of a rugged hiker.
With nearly toe to ankle lacing, it’s taking advantage of lessons learned in the climbing world where shoes lace as far as possible to fit the foot more like a glove.
With a pointed tow and some rubber around the toe cap, there’s some potential for mild approach shoe and bouldering use.
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These shoes are not waterproof and they measure up just below the ankle. That means they’re borrowing characteristics from just about every class of outdoor shoe on the market today.
They are a lightweight shoe ideal for the hiker who needs a trail runner for weekend getaways, an approach shoe for canyoneering and climbing, and the traction of a rugged hiker for when conditions might get nasty.
I’d recommend this shoe for those within a day’s drive of just about every type of terrain conquerable.
Women’s Model: Vasque Women’s Grand Traverse
- Suede leather uppers for water resistance
- Highly tunable lacing system for a good fit
- Molded EVA and TPU Plate midsole for stability
Best Backpacking Shoes
These are lightweight Men’s hiking shoes made by a company that knows how to make performance footwear.
With a nearly full mesh construction and skeleton lacing for support, this shoe features Gore-Tex for the ultimate in water resistance. Great for those looking for a lightweight trail runner hiker.
Because of the aggressive tread on the bottom, you’ll find that this shoe is able to provide excellent traction to tear up dirt, scree, and mud.
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It’s really meant to provide as much stability as possible in a dedicated running shoe.
The only drawback I find with it is a minimal toe cap which can really suck when you stub your toe on a rock when hiking or running.
I personally like the way Salomon designed the ankle pocket. With an extra low cutout to provide room for the ankle bones on each side, it’s much more likely to fit someone like me with more pronounced ankles.
Women’s Model: Salomon Women’s X Ultra Prime CS
- Synthetic mesh upper for lightweight and breathability
- OrthoLite cushioned insole
- Contagrip outsole for superior traction
Most Comfortable Hiking Shoes
With names like The North Face and Gore-Tex, it’s hard for most hikers to turn down a shoe like this. With a full toe cap, roomy toe box and rugged lugs, this shoe is made to be as robust and protective as a trail runner can be.
I like the overall low profile and minimal design. It’s a more traditional lacing system than the Salomon X Ultra so I wouldn’t expect quite as snug of a fit.
My only beef with the shoe is the choice of waterproof membrane in combination with a low-cut trail runner.
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Rarely is this a useful combination. Because the cut is so low, water is likely to get in over the sides of the shoe if you’re walking in any standing water.
In case of rain, the shoe is much too minimal to be protected adequately with gaiters. This makes for a lose-lose situation and the waterproof membrane really only serves to make the shoe hotter.
This would be a good choice for spring and fall trail running when temperatures are cold enough that wet feet can be a problem.
Women’s Model: North Face Womens Hedgehog Fastpack Gtx
- GORE-TEX membrane for breathable, waterproof protection
- Compression-molded EVA midsole for cushioning
- PU-coated leather and mesh for durability
Hiking Shoes Comparison Table
|Hiking Shoe||Uppers||Soles||Weight (pair)||Waterproof||Rating|
|Merrell Moab||Leather/Mesh||Vibram||30 oz||No||4.5 / 5.0|
|adidas Outdoor AX3||Textile/Mesh||Rubber||25 oz||No||4.3 / 5.0|
|Columbia North Plains||Suede Leather/Textile||Rubber||27 oz||Yes||4.2 / 5.0|
|KEEN Men's Targhee II||Leather/Textile||Rubber||31 oz||Yes||4.3 / 5.0|
|Vasque Juxt||Leather||Synthetic||29 oz||No||4.5 / 5.0|
|Salomon X Ultra 3||Textile/Mesh||Rubber||26 oz||Yes||4.3 / 5.0|
|North Face Hedgehog Fastpack||Textile/Mesh||Rubber||31 oz||Yes||4.6 / 5.0|
How to Choose a Pair of Hiking Shoes – Buyers Guide
- Water Resistance
- Toe Protection
- FAQ About Hiking Shoes
- Best Hiking Shoe Brands
Comfort is a very obvious and important factor when it comes to footwear for backpacking trips because having uncomfortable shoes will ruin your hike. Plus, sometimes hiking can get difficult especially over technical terrain, and when it comes to steep inclines and rocky paths, being uncomfortable can end up being dangerous.
Hiking is one of the easiest ways to relieve stress and get some good exercise in while you’re enjoying mother nature, but if you’re in an uncomfortable hiking shoe you won’t feel motivated to push yourself to continue or to go back out and do it again.
Finding shoes with a protective, roomy toe box is the first step along with good arch support. The Merrell Moabs are some of the best in this regard. While we didn’t review any La Sportiva shoes, the Wildcat Trail Running Shoes are a good choice as well.
The saying goes that “one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back” and it couldn’t be more true.
According to many studies, empirical evidence, and a large body of writing, “Weight on the feet is disproportionately more exhausting than weight carried on the torso.”
Why is this so?
Because once under motion your torso, backpack, and body remain under motion during normal hiking conditions. Your feet, however, do not.
When walking, your feet must constant accelerate and stop with every step and, if you remember from physics class, it takes a lot more energy to get something started moving than to keep it moving.
Every time you pick up and put your feet down, any extra weight on them is going to make it harder and harder to do so – expending more energy.
Don’t believe me?
Log a 25-mile long-distance hike with beefy over-the-ankle hiking boots on your feet and then compare it to a 25-mile day with a well-fitting pair of lightweight hiking shoes.
You’ll feel the difference. No matter what type of footwear you decide is appropriate for you, lighter is always better!
The cold hard truth is, waterproof shoes are going to be less breathable. The factors that make them waterproof also make them less breathable, there is no way to get around this.
Now some shoes do a better job than others at some level of breathability. The North Face Men’s Ultra 109 GTX Hiking Shoes are a good compromise for being waterproof and some level of breathability.
If your feet tend to get hot and sweaty you will be better served with a mesh or combination or mesh and leather upper. Not only do you get the advantage of lighter weight but are significantly more breathable.
The fact is, even if you go with waterproof shoes, if you step in any bigger puddle, water will seep in through the top of the shoe. If you really want waterproof hiking footwear, go with a boot that is higher and over your ankles.
Many will swear by the ankle support qualities of high cuff boots. These boots, which come up above the ankle, can be laced tightly to snugly help surround the ankle with boot material.
This, in my experience, is more likely to just help you avoid scraping your ankles on a stick or rock than to actually help support the ankle.
Of course, if you have chronic ankle problems, I would suggest you simply go with whatever your doctor recommends or work with a physical therapist to find a good solution.
For me, however, I rarely roll my ankle and even in the worst situations it doesn’t injure or hinder me greatly so ankle support is a non-factor in my choice of footwear even for long-distance hikes.
Traction is how well your shoe grips the ground. When it comes to climbing hills and uneven terrain, the traction your shoes have will help keep you safe.
Ideally an aggressive tread pattern on your shoe to provide excellent traction, keeping you from slipping and possible injury.
It’s an important aspect to consider in any hiking shoe as it aids performance and makes your backpacking trips safer and easier. While not the most important aspect of a hiking shoe, its among the most important.
The definition of versatility is basically being able to go with the flow, which is surprisingly very important when it comes to hiking because you don’t typically know what to expect. If you are into jogging, having trail running shoes that can also function as hiking shoes is a good way to go.
Different trails are going to produce different hikes, so having a shoe that can walk through anything is important for those hikers that like to try everything and always want to be safe and ready for what comes at them. The Adidas AX 2 Outdoor Shoe are a good versatile choice for hiking and trail running.
Many new hikers are obsessed with waterproof gear.
Waterproof backpacks, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, tents, shoes, boots, and everything else under the sun. Waterproof footwear has several huge and glaring drawbacks and we’ll talk about a few of them here:
Water can still come in from the top of the boot where your foot goes in. If you step in water deeper than the boots cuff (river crossing or deep puddles) or if rain leaks down your legs or rain pants (almost guaranteed) then your waterproof boot is now a swimming pool for your foot.
Even breathable waterproof footwear will retain moisture and standing water for hours or even days.
Waterproof membranes simply suck once water manages to get inside the boot – they just hold in the water and make your foot marinade in nasty foot water as your skin becomes dangerously macerated.
Waterproof membranes are fragile and breakdown quickly under abrasion and movement.
In a shoe or boot critical wear points are subjected to constant flexion and abrasion from your foot, rocks, dirt, pebbles, and other grit both inside and outside the shoe.
Almost without exception the waterproof membrane will break down before the boot does and now you’re left with a functionless waterproof piece of footwear.
The only time I use or value waterproof hiking boots is in shoulder season conditions where trails may be muddy, snowy, or icy. In these conditions getting your feet wet can be dangerous or harmful and staying dry and warm as long as possible is always prudent.
In these conditions, it is necessary to consider some method by which to keep your feet safely warm and dry – either waterproof socks, vapor barriers, trash bag liners, or waterproof footwear.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of a hiking shoes is the lacing setup of the shoe. Cheaper shoes tend to have a poor lacing setup that are not only harder to adjust to get a proper fit but also not stay adjusted and loosen up as you hike in the them.
The primary factor in the lacing setup of the shoe is the laces themselves. A poor quality lace can be easily replaced with better ones. So if you notice them constantly loosening up, invest in some better laces.
Pro Tip: Look for shoes where laces reach higher up the shoe like the Columbia Men’s North Plains Waterproof Trail Shoe, this gives you more options for a better fit.
Toe Protection / Toe Cap
A cap on the front toe box of the shoe will provide protection for your toes when you inevitably kick a rock or boulder. This thick piece of rubber will save your toes when you do this.
The Keen Targhee are a perfect example of a boot providing a toe cap with maximum protection. If you don’t plan on hiking rocky terrain you can probably forgo this feature as it does add some weight to the boots.
Hiking Shoe Upper Materials
Let’s cover the most common materials that make up the uppers of hiking shoes.
Similar to suede leather, nubuck is a full grain leather that is water proof, durable and flexable but requires a “break in” periods so don’t rush out on a 20 mile hike in your brand new boots.
Full Grain Leather
Probably the most common material for hiking shoes, full grain leather is extreamly durable and resists abrasion. With it’s durability it is used in boots designed for longer backpacking trips and where superior water resistance is needed. Full grain leather boots also require a break in period. If you want leather, go with the KEEN Men’s Targhee II Hiking Shoes.
Split Grain Leather
Split grain leather is just like it sounds, the leather is split in half and the rougher part of the leather removed. Used in lightweight hiking shoes and often paired with a synthetic material to provide water resistance.
There are a variety of materials making up the synthetics. Most common being nylon and synthetic leather. The advantage of synthetic is less expense and more flexibility and shorter break in period.
One of the more popular materials used in hiking shoes because of its lightweight and wicking abilities. Mesh is less durable than many of materials however so take in account the hiking conditions you will be in. Mesh will not hold up to abrasion well. If you want the lightest weight possible, mesh is the way to go! The Salomon Men’s X Ultra Prime Hiking Shoes are a good example of mesh.
FAQs For Waterproof Hiking Shoes
Q: Will waterproof hiking shoes keep my feet dry?
A: The answer is, it depends.
Assuming the waterproof hiking shoes are not worn out will keep your feet dry as long as you’re only walking thru puddles. So as long as the puddles are not deeper than the top of the shoe you will be fine.
However, if you are trying to cross a stream or step in a deep puddle you are guaranteed that the water will come in around the top of the shoe. Also if it starts to rain, water will make it’s way into the shoe.
Wearing gaiters or cinching your rain pants around your ankles will help for a while but eventually water will find it’s way in.
Q: What season is best for waterproof shoes?
A: The shoulder seasons are the most important times for wearing waterproof shoes.
During these seasons, it can be cold enough that it is dangerous to have cold feet but too warm to have snow. Typically this is October to Mid December or March to Mid April. During these times of the year, the cold rain can give you hypothermia.
During these times of the year have waterproof hiking shoes can make a difference if the ground is wet but it’s not raining too hard and they can prevent having cold, wet feet.
Keep in mind if your feet do get wet in these seasons it is important to do everything you can to get your feet dry and warmed up ASAP!
Q: Is Gore-Tex the best waterproof breathable membrane?
A: Once upon a time Gore-Tex was the only waterproof breathable fabric. However after the patent ran out most all footwear manufacturers have come up with their own brand of WPB membranes that are as good or better than Gore-Tex.
While Gore-Tex is the oldest WPB available, I think eVent might have the best performance of them all. You just have to consider what’s more important marketing and reputation or performance!
Q: My hiking shoes are not waterproof, can I improvise?
A: Absolutely, there is a simple trick that I have used before to help my hiking buddy from having frostbitten toes on a cold Spring hike.
His shoes were wet and feet getting cold because of wet snow. That night his shoes froze up solid and his toes were getting dangerously cold the next morning.
So to save his last pair of dry hiking socks, I put a plastic grocery bag that we had with us over his socks. This keeps the socks dry and feet warm! So even though his shoes were still wet, he was able to keep his feet dry and thus warm!
Q: What are the most important features of waterproof shoes?
A: Other than the waterproof membrane the most important thing is a tongue that sewn up as far as possible. This is one of places that water will sneak into your shoes by getting in around the edges.
Look for a gusset of “wing” that goes up as far as possible on the tongue so the hiking shoe can keep the water out and stay waterproof! A good pair of hiking shoes will have a gusset that is just about to the top of the cuff. A poorly designed waterproof shoe will have a lower gusset and therefore more easily allow water in.
The other main weak point will be where the soles meet the uppers. If this area is not sealed properly and have reinforcing stitching it will separate over time and allow water in.
Hiking Shoes vs Hiking Boots
Before heading out on your hiking trip one of your first and most important decisions will be whether to go with hiking boots or shoes. Both have major strengths’ and weaknesses.
The biggest difference between a shoe and a boot is its height. Backpacking boots will cover your ankle and offer more stability against rolling an ankle plus the fact that its higher gives you more protection from water coming in the top and seeping into the shoe.
If your carrying a heavier load over technical terrain, a hiking boot is probably your best option, especially if you need more arch support. On the other hand for day hikes with a light load, a hiking shoe is almost always a better choice.
Best Hiking Shoe Brands
As you might imagine trying to figure out what the best brands of hiking shoes are is pretty subjective. However, there are a few brands that everyone knows and people who do a lot of hiking can agree on:
- Merrell – Merrell is one of my all time favorite brands for shoes. All they make are shoes and they have been doing it for over 20 years.
- Columbia – Columbia in my opinion is the best value proposition there is. Their gear is always of good quality at a reasonable price.
- The North Face – The North Face, certainly one of the best known outdoor gear brands, they make great stuff but is not the same value as Columbia.
- adidas – Adidas is well known for the sneakers and running shoes, with the introduction of the AX2 they now have a competitive hiking shoe.
- Vasque – Probably not as well known as the brands here but Vasque has a quality lineup of hiking shoes.
- La Sportiva – Well known for making shoes and have a huge lineup of shoes for almost any purpose you can imagine.
- Salomon – Salomon has been making quality outdoor equipment since 1947 and now have some of the finest hiking shoes and backpacking boots on the market.
FAQs About Hiking Shoes
Q: Do I need waterproof hiking shoes?
A: Many newer hikers seem obsessed with waterproof shoes. The problem with waterproof shoes is they have to be less breathable so they are waterproof but your feet will necessarily be warmer and not allow perspiration to evaporate as well. Plus the fact that shoes are lower cut so water will easily come in over the top anyway.
Q: What is a “gusseted” tongue?
A: While not critical, have a gusseted tongue where the sides of the tongue are sewn to the interior of the shoe will help keep water out of the shoe.
Q: How important is a “toe cap” in a hiking shoe?
A: Short answer, very! You will inevitably kick a rock or log while hiking. The toe cap protects your toes from bruising. The cap also keeps the shape of the front of the shoe.
Q: What are hiking shoes made of?
A: I like a combination of leather and mesh. This combination provides the support and durability needed with the breathability and lightweight of a mesh.
Q: What are “lugs”?
A: Lugs are the indentations on the bottom of your shoe. These indentations provide the traction on uneven terrain to prevent slipping. The rougher the terrain you hike on, the bigger the lugs you should get in your shoes.
Q: How tight should my hiking shoes fit?
A: Hiking shoes should be snug all around but not TIGHT anywhere. Keep in mind that the shoes will stretch out somewhat as you wear them.
Q: Are sneakers good for hiking?
A: If you are just doing day hikes on flat, even trails you may get away with it. Overall hiking shoes are made for hiking all day on terrain that is not flat and even. If you encounter rocks and mud, sneakers will not work well. These are the conditions that hiking shoes are designed for.
I hope this guide was helpful for finding a good pair of hiking shoes to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a pair of shoes I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.
Have fun and be safe out there!