Hiking footwear is often a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to use heavy-duty hiking boots, while others will only wear the best hiking shoes. Compared to boots, hiking shoes are more flexible and lighter, but they also offer less support. For longer hikes, they can be invaluable since they’re not as heavy as hiking boots, which can allow you to travel farther, in total comfort. But finding the perfect pair of hiking shoes can be a challenge, especially since there are so many styles and brands to choose from. I’ve created a buyer’s guide that includes all of the different features available, how to choose the right hiking shoes based on your hiking goals and needs, and how to find a pair that’s designed to last. I’ve also tested out several pairs, narrowing it down to seven must-have hiking shoes that can really go the distance. Below, you’ll find a comparison chart, which includes each pair, how they rated, and their top features.
Hiking Shoes Comparison Chart
Best Overall-Salomon Women’s Outline GTX W Hiking Shoes
These hiking boots for women by Salomon are lightweight, feature an athletic design, and don’t have the same type of bulk and weight as a traditional hiking boot. The shoes are equipped with a large rubber sole with a thick tread designed with heavy-duty traction in mind. The lugs come in at five millimeters deep, while the thick rubber toe cap is designed to protect the feet from the many dangers and challenges that you’ll come across on rugged terrain. The shoes are made with a Gore-Tex membrane that will prevent moisture from seeping in, while allowing sweat vapor from the interior of the shoe to pass through, so your feet can remain cool and dry.
- Offers excellent traction
- Made with Gore-Tex
These shoes may look like your average running shoes, but they’re so much more. These attractive, slim, and lightweight hiking shoes can easily take you over the most challenging terrain. The inclusion of Gore-Tex material is one of the shoe’s biggest selling points. While for some, the price may be a little steep, the serious hiker should look at these shoes as an important investment, especially considering the durable design and high-quality materials used. The shoes themselves can do wonders in terms of minimizing skin and foot irritation, and can help reduce wearer fatigue, so you can hiker longer and further than ever before.
Best Hiking Shoes for Men-Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe
Designed for the avid hiker, these hiking shoes by Merrell come loaded with all the features and quality materials you could want in a pair of shoes that are designed to take on the challenges of the backcountry. The shoes are made out of suede leather, which is not known for its breathability. The manufacturer has remedied this by including mesh panels throughout the design, allowing sweat to escape to keep the feet nice and dry. To prevent water from entering the shoe, the bellows are made out of closed cell foam material. The shoes also excel in terms of traction, where you’ll notice that the lugs measure in at five millimeters deep. This means they’ll do an excellent job of digging into dangerous and wet terrain, giving you the grip and leverage you need to keep moving.
- Air cushioned heel
- Low price
- Arches are very high
These shoes feature the proper ventilation needed for improved breathability and comfort. The soles are made out of high-performance rubber and offer both slip resistance and stability for durable soles that can handle heavy duty use, when hiking over challenging terrain. The manufacturer also includes targeted heel cushioning, which can help to minimize fatigue, irritation, and blisters. Basically, these shoes are designed to help you go the distance, offering the type of durability you need for longer hikes and treacherous terrain.
Best All-Terrain Hiking Shoes-Columbia Men’s Ivo Trail Breeze Hiking Shoes
These all-terrain hiking shoes are light enough to double as running shoes. The shoes incorporate both mesh uppers and a suede body, so you get the best of both worlds in terms of breathability and durability. The soles also offer enough flex and cushioning to take on challenging terrain. The omni-grip soles consist of non-marking traction rubber that provides the type of versatility you need when you’re hiking through both maintained trails and challenging backcountry trails. The reinforced heel and toe construction provides support and protection from dangerous terrain and the elements. The shoes offer the perfect combination of style and performance and can be used in a wide range of weather conditions and terrain types.
- Non-marking traction rubber soles
- Cannot prevent heel from sliding when hiking down steep terrain
If you’re looking for a type of all-terrain hiking shoe, this latest pair by Columbia is a great choice. The shoes are durable, breathable, and offer a comfortable, flexible sole that doesn’t require much in terms of breaking in. The shoes are designed as all-traction, which means they can handle both wet and dry conditions equally well. These versatile shoes are a great buy if you’re looking for shoes you can wear daily as well as on the trail.
Best Hiking Shoes for Women-Adidas Terrex AX3 Hiking Shoes
Adidas is a brand that most people are familiar with. Their Terrex hiking shoes for women are one of their best-selling models for a reason. They’re lightweight, breathable and made out of synthetic materials. These shoes are designed to handle rugged terrain, yet their lightweight design also tells me they’re made for speed. The outsole is made out of durable rubber and provides excellent traction on wet terrain. If you’re looking for shoes you can wear daily and on the trail, the Terrex is a great choice and one that won’t let you down in terms of performance on the trail.
- Thick outsole
- Not waterproof
These shoes can be worn around the yard, to run errands, and they can also take on the challenging terrain of the backcountry. They’re perfect for running, hiking, and climbing and feature the type of lightweight design that helps to minimize fatigue and irritation. A great choice if you’re looking for a hiking shoe that’s versatile, the Terrex is a must-have for the avid hiker.
Best Hiking Shoes for Winter Use-KEEN Men’s Targhee II Hiking Shoe
These men’s hiking shoes are made out of 100% nubuck leather and feature a waterproof membrane that’s designed to let water out and prevent water from entering the shoe. The shoe’s durable waterproof protection can easily stand up to the toughest weather conditions. These all-terrain hiking shoes provide excellent traction and come equipped with non-marking rubber outsoles that are durable and designed to handle both wet and dry terrain. The shoes offer excellent comfort and support, thanks to the external stability shank that improves torsion control and comfort on uneven surfaces. The heavily cushioned collar helps to minimize discomfort, irritation, and wearer fatigue.
- Waterproof membrane
- Durable design
- Heavily cushioned collar
- Non-marking rubber outsoles
- Long break-in period
These hiking shoes come loaded with all the right features you need during the winter months.
They’re also waterproof, durable, and come with mesh lining that’s designed to keep the feet cool and dry in hotter climates, but the shoes really excel during the winter. If you’re looking for a durable alternative to hiking boots, with comfort as a priority, then these are the hiking shoes for you.
Budget-Friendly-FANTURE Men’s Lightweight Hiking Shoes
These hiking shoes by Fanture are made out of 100% suede leather, complete with mesh uppers. The leather is tear-resistant, designed to handle rugged terrain. The EVA midsole provides high energy return, which increases the wearer’s comfort when you’re hiking over challenging terrain. The shoes are fast-drying and are designed to keep the feet comfortable and dry in wet and humid conditions. The tips of the shoes come equipped with an anti-collision toe cap that’s made out of heavy-duty rubber. This feature alone will be invaluable when you’re hiking over trails that are not well maintained. The outsole is durable and designed for high-performance, offering excellent grip.
- Excellent traction
- Shoes do not provide much arch support
These shoes are perfect for hiking, running, jogging, and climbing. Their lightweight design tells me these shoes are designed with speed in mind, but the lower weight can also help you log more miles per day, when you’re on a long-distance hike. The shoes are a great buy for the hiker on a budget in need of shoes that are built tough and can handle both cultivated and rugged terrain.
Best Hiking Shoes for Summer Use-RAX Men’s Hiking Shoes
If you’re looking for hiking shoes that can keep your feet cool and dry in hotter climates, then you’ll love the latest hiking shoes by Rax. These shoes are made out of quick drying material and come equipped with a heavy-duty rubber toe cap that will protect the feet from rugged terrain. The shoes are waterproof, but offer a highly breathable design that will prevent the feet from sweating in hotter climates. On the soles, you’ll find a triangular hole that is designed to drain any water that makes it’s way into the interior of the shoe. Thanks to the quick drying material, these shoes will keep your feet comfortable and dry and can be worn when crossing shallow streams, or hiking through wet terrain.
- Made out of quick drying material
- Triangular hole on the soles will drain water
- Shoes do not provide arch support
The soles of the shoes are hollow and offer excellent permeability. These are essentially water hiking shoes, so they’re perfect for summer use when you’re crossing streams, rivers, and want to do a little wading in intense temperatures. The shoes are equipped with a rubber outsole that’s slip-resistant, offering the type of traction you need when you’re hiking on both dry and wet terrain.
Hiking Shoes Buyer’s Guide
Hiking shoes are a better choice if you’re not carrying a heavy backpack and you plan on sticking to trails that are well-defined. However, if you’re a seasoned hiker and you have already built up considerable strength in your legs, calves, and feet, then you won’t need to rely so much on your shoes to provide a lot of power and support.
When it comes to hiking shoes, you’ll find a wide variety of styles and materials to choose from including leather with textile, synthetic materials, or suede. Many of these shoes look very much like running shoes, while others look more like very low-cut traditional hiking boots. Models that closely resemble running shoes tend to be more flexible and lighter, which will allow the wearer to move faster, however, this is often a tradeoff for protection and support.
Aside from where you intend to wear these shoes, another important factor to consider is the type of weather you’ll be wearing them in. If you plan on using the shoes mostly in warmer weather and dry climates, then you’ll need a pair that’s lightweight and well-ventilated. These shoes will come equipped with mesh panels located in the uppers which will allow the feet to breathe.
If you plan on wearing your shoes in wet climates or during the winter months, then you’ll need shoes that are waterproof and designed to handle colder temperatures. These shoes will be more forgiving in muddy conditions and in rainy weather. However, shoes with this type of weather protection are often heavier and don’t offer much in terms of breathability, so they can’t be used in warm weather.
These shoes will come equipped with a PU membrane that’s placed between the lining that keeps moisture out but still allows sweat to escape, and an outer layer.
These shoes are usually made out of Gore-Tex, which is the same type of material used in rain jackets and wetsuits.
When you spend hours on the trail, your feet can swell. Because of this, it’s a good idea to purchase a pair of hiking shoes that are about half a size larger than your standard pair of footwear. A good way to test a shoe’s fit is to loosen the laces, place your foot so that your toes are touching the front of the toe box, then see if you can place one finger between the back of the shoe and between the heel. This ensures that the toes won’t slide forward, hitting the toe box when you’re walking downhill.
Break in Time
On your hiking trip you may end up walking hundreds of miles, so you need to wear shoes that will fit comfortably and won’t end up causing blisters. If you want to avoid a painful trip wearing new shoes, then I recommend wearing your hiking shoes daily for a few weeks before your trip. Try to wear them as much as possible to allow them to soften up and work for your feet. If you notice any problems you can take care of them before you head out for your trip.
The most important aspect of hiking footwear is traction. The shoes will take you over rocky ridgelines, wet terrain, slippery crossings, and loose soil. Knowing that your footwear will prevent you from slipping is crucial, especially if you have to handle washed out sections of trails.
Footwear that’s waterproof is ideal for wet weather, but you should keep in mind that waterproof doesn’t mean that water is not entirely unable to penetrate the shoe’s interior. Water can still find a way in during a heavy downpour. Even top of the line shoes will develop holes that can allow moisture to seep in over time. A waterproof treatment is not permanent. Eventually, you’ll need to reapply a waterproof coating to keep your shoes sealed.
Even expensive shoes that are equipped with Gore-Tex liners aren’t that breathable. Basically, breathable membranes can still restrict a shoe’s ability to pull any moisture away from sweaty feet, at least not as efficiently as uppers that are waterproof. If breathability is your priority, then look for shoes that are made out of thinner fabrics, with plenty of mesh panels, which will work to increase airflow and moisture transfer. This will help to keep your feet nice and cool in hot weather and prevent your socks from turning into a soggy mess.
Insoles can help improve your comfort when you’re on the trail. If you suffer from certain foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis, or you need more support or cushioning, then you may need to purchase insoles and replace the stock insoles in your shoes. Keep in mind, these insoles can take up some extra space in your shoes, but they’ll offer the type of extra comfort and support you need.
For many hikers, how much the shoes weigh will also be important. Thin, but tough fabrics and a shift to low-top shoes from over the ankle boots have made it easier to travel longer distances. Some of these shoes weigh as little as two pounds per pair or less, while hiking boots can weigh as much as four to five pounds. After a few miles, the weight is very noticeable.
Support and Stability
These days, modern hiking shoes are moving away from the stiff design of the past, in favor of a nimble feel and a flexible design. Hiking footwear still retains a certain degree of stiffness due to internal supports or built-in shanks. These features are what separates a hiking shoe from a road running shoe. For less challenging terrain and flat terrain, a semi-flexible, lightweight shoe can be the perfect choice.
One of the biggest reasons to upgrade from a flimsy pair of cross trainers to hiking shoes is for their improved traction. Hiking shoes are significantly better at aiding you over steep, slippery, and rocky terrain.
Even a well-maintained hiking trail will be full of roots, rocks, and other types of potential hazards, which is why I recommend using shoes that are equipped with some type of toe cap. If you don’t have any type of protection on the front of your shoes, you can end up seriously injured if you trip and fall. Hiking shoes usually come equipped with a full rubber toe cap, however, some trail runners will have a smaller version or may not come with a toe cap at all. Approach shoes often come with exceptional toe protection, with a type of rubber wraparound band located at the front of the shoes.
The lacing system is another important feature and one that’s often overlooked. If the shoes you purchase have a low-quality lacing system that’s prone to loosening, you’ll find yourself constantly readjusting them on the trail. If the system doesn’t secure the heel well, then you’ll end up with plenty of blisters. Many of the top models come with a single pull lacing system which makes lacing your shoes quickly and tightly very convenient.
The type of material hiking shoes are made out of will have a major impact on their durability, breathability, and their overall comfort. below, you’ll find a list of some of the common materials used.
Mesh and Nylon
Woven synthetic material, usually nylon, as well as mesh panels, are used often to promote breathability. These types of materials also have a reputation for their durability and do an excellent job of minimizing weight.
Made out of full grain leather, with a brushed finish that gives the shoes a suede like feel, this type of leather is commonly seen on heavy-duty hiking shoes. The softer leather is much more flexible and much lighter than traditional leather and more durable than most types of nylon. However, it falls short in terms of breathability. As a result, you can commonly find a mixture of nylon mesh and leather for breathability and abrasion resistance.
Cushioning and Midsoles
The importance of midsoles revolves around the cushioning it provides the feet, working like a shock absorber and providing another layer of protection against rough terrain. Depending on design, some midsoles will be very thin or bulky, while others are stiff. Most midsoles will include TPU or EVA, or a combination of the two materials in their construction.
This type of foam is commonly found in midsoles for hiking and running footwear. This type of cushy material will take a lot of the sting out of the midfoot and heel during impact. It’s also very light. But if you’re planning on logging some serious miles, EVA may not be the best option. Instead, you’ll need a more supportive, firmer midsole. Midsoles that are overly soft tend to break down over time.
This is a type of durable plastic that you can commonly find on high performance hiking shoes. Shoes that are equipped with a TPU underfoot are not very cushy, compared to shoes that are made with EVA, but they tend to last longer and have a reputation for easily handling a heavier load. Additionally, TPU midsoles can keep their shape longer and are not known to compress like EVA can. TPU is more expensive, which is why many manufacturers often use a TPU shank or frame for toughness and stability and add an underfoot made out of EVA to improve comfort.
Types of Hiking Shoes
There are many subcategories of hiking shoes including trail running shoes, approach shoes, and standard hiking shoes. The type you choose will depend on where you hike, the time of year, and the type of terrain you’ll be dealing with.
Standard Hiking Shoes
A standard pair of hiking shoes that fall just below the ankle are often the perfect choice for many hikers. These shoes are more substantial than trail runners and can handle mixed terrain types, but they won’t be nearly as heavy as a pair of hiking boots. These shoes often have a more rugged construction than trail runners and are made out of durable nylon and leather, instead of mesh. Protection from roots, sticks, and rocks come in the form of medium-stiff midsoles and rubber toe caps. These shoes can also be a good option for people in search of substantial shoes for daily use.
Trail Running Shoes
If moving fast is your priority, then go with a pair of trail running shoes. These shoes are very light, comfortable, and very flexible. However, they don’t provide much ankle support, so they’ll be a bad idea if you are carrying a heavy load. Instead, this type of shoe is a better choice for fast day hikes.
These shoes are for hikers or climbers in need of more grip. Many mountaineers will use this type of shoe on a hike for more challenging terrain. These shoes are easy to spot and feature a larger rubber toe cap and a low-profile rubber compound underfoot that’s designed to provide max grip on rocky terrain. These shoes are very comfortable for day hikes, but the treads are not very secure for muddy terrain and they aren’t comfortable to wear for several miles.
However, if your hikes often include plenty of climbing then this type of shoe is an excellent choice.
How much you’re willing to spend on a pair of hiking shoes will ultimately depend on how often you hike and how far. A low-priced pair can still offer the type of quality you’re looking for, but they’re not designed to last season after season and can quickly wear out if you travel several miles a day on a longer hiking trip. Investing in a top of the line pair of hiking shoes will provide superior durability, traction and comfort, and can be an important investment for the serious hiker. On average, you can find hiking boots that range from $54 to $129. Higher priced shoes tend to be made out of more durable materials, so they’re able to handle heavy-duty use and often last significantly longer than lower priced models.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind of Shoes Should Hikers Wear?
Hiking shoes are not as durable as hiking boots but they’re a good choice for many hikers since they’re more compact than boots, lighter, and allow you to travel farther. There are many styles to choose from, which you can select based on where you’re hiking and the time of year.
Is it OK to Wear Running Shoes for Hiking?
For a short day hike, once in a while, yes, but regularly, no. Hiking shoes offer a higher level of protection and cushioning that running shoes do not. Additionally, running shoes also do not offer the same level of traction that hiking shoes do. If you’re looking for shoes you can wear regularly for hiking purposes, avoid wearing running shoes and purchase a good pair of hiking shoes instead.
Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Hiking?
There are some studies that indicate that wearing barefoot shoes can lead to reduced musculoskeletal injuries for runners. However, these shoes do not offer the same type of protection that true hiking shoes do. This includes support and cushioning, not to mention traction. The serious hiker should stick with hiking shoes. For well-maintained trails and shorter hikes, barefoot shoes may be sufficient.
Should You Buy Hiking Shoes a Size Bigger?
You should purchase hiking shoes that are half a size bigger than your feet since your feet can swell during a longer hike. Any bigger than half a size and you will be susceptible to blisters and irritation at the toes and heels since the foot will not be held securely in place.
What Makes Hiking Shoes Different?
Hiking shoes offer plenty of support and cushioning, superior traction that allows them to grip a variety of surfaces, and in some cases, waterproof protection. Others that are designed for warm weather will offer better than average breathability.
Additionally, these shoes are more rugged and durable compared to a traditional sneaker and more flexible in comparison to hiking boots.
Do I Need Ankle Support for Hiking?
If you’re a seasoned hiker who has built up strong muscles in the legs, calves, and ankles, then you will not require as much ankle support as a beginner. However, this can also depend on terrain type or load. If you’re carrying a heavy backpack for several miles or you’re traveling up steep terrain, then ankle support can help to reduce hiker fatigue and soreness.
Should Hiking Shoes be Waterproof?
This will depend on where you hike and the time of year. If you’re hiking near a river, or there’s a chance you’ll need to cross a shallow stream, or you’re hiking during the rainy season, then hiking shoes that are waterproof are a must. If you’re hiking in a dry environment or in warmer weather, then hiking shoes that are waterproof can cause the feet to sweat excessively and can be uncomfortable to wear.
What Socks Do You Wear Hiking?
The type of hiking socks you need to wear can depend on the time of year you hike, the environment, and how much or how little insulation your shoes provide. If you normally wear waterproof hiking shoes, then you can get by wearing mid-weight socks. In freezing temperatures, you may want to stick with heavy-duty socks. For summer hikes and warmer climates, you can wear ankle or mid-length socks. Keep in mind, in warmer conditions, the feet will sweat if you wear warmer socks. In most cases, longer socks are used for warmer weather to protect the ankles and calves from abrasions, scratches, and insect bites.
Should You Wear Two Pairs of Socks When Hiking?
Wearing two pairs of socks when you hike will be overkill in warm weather, or if you have shoes that are waterproof. Wearing more than one pair of socks may be needed if you’re hiking in colder temperatures, a wet environment, or icy conditions. The key will be knowing when to remove one of the pairs to prevent excess moisture, which can lead to fungal problems, if the feet are kept in a damp environment for too long.
The best hiking shoes are designed to take on challenging trails, rocky terrain, slippery, steep trails, and more. Some are very breathable and designed for hot weather, while others come with waterproof membranes that will keep your feet warm and dry in colder temperatures and wet weather conditions. The shoes that made it onto my best of the best list each earned top marks, whether they earned a top rating for their waterproof design, comfort, traction, or most comfortable fit. With my product recommendations and this buyer’s guide, you can do a little research and find the perfect pair of hiking shoes for your next hiking trip, whether you’re handling steep rocky terrain, or traveling through the backcountry during the winter months.