The Best Hiking Shoe Review

What’s the best men’s hiking shoe? We tested eight of the most popular hiking shoes across various terrain and conditions throughout the country. From winter hiking in the Sierra, chasing fall foliage in variable weather in the Whites of New Hampshire, and muddy suffer-fests through the rhododendron forest of the southeast, these shoes have seen almost everything you can throw at them, giving you confidence to pick a shoe that will make your adventures possible.

Unlike heavier full-cut backpacking boots, we looked for lightweight, comfortable, and nimble shoes that still have the support to handle burly trails and medium pack weights. Take a look at our Buying Advice and decide which category of shoes matches your adventures best. After that, also take a look at our Men’s Hiking Boots and Men’s Trail Running Shoes reviews.

In addition to focusing on weight, comfort, and support, we also looked at the traction, waterproofing, durability, and versatility of each shoe we tested. To learn more about the criteria for evaluation, check out our Buying Advice.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Tommy Penick ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab June 28, 2013

Top Ranked Hiking Shoes - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX
The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX
Read the Review
La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0
La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0
Read the Review
Patagonia Drifter A/C Gore-Tex
Patagonia Drifter A/C Gore-Tex
Read the Review
Keen Targhee 2
Keen Targhee 2
Read the Review
Merrell Moab Ventilator
Merrell Moab Ventilator
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award       
Street Price Varies $78 - $130
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $100 - $150
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $130 - $165
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $72 - $120
Compare at 6 sellers
$90
Compare at 9 sellers
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50% recommend it (1/2)
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100% recommend it (2/2)
Pros Lightweight, waterproof, supportive, comfortable, no break-in period.Roomy toe box, protective, better for heavier pack weights.Snug fit, great traction.roomy toe box, good featuresGood value, plush, lightweight.
Cons Less breathableStiff, break-in period, lack of traction on wet terrain.Bulky sole.some fit issuesLacks support, mushy feeling uppers.
Best Uses Light backpacking, day hiking, cooler weather hikingBackpacking, hiking.Hiking.Hiking, backpacking, day hikingLight hiking, canyoneering, desert hiking.
Date Reviewed Feb 27, 2014Jun 28, 2013Jun 28, 2013Jun 28, 2013Jun 28, 2013
Weighted Scores The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 Patagonia Drifter A/C Gore-Tex Keen Targhee 2 Merrell Moab Ventilator
Weight - 20%
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8
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Comfort - 25%
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9
Stability - 20%
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Traction - 15%
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Versatility - 5%
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Water Resistance - 10%
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Durability - 5%
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Product Specs The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 Patagonia Drifter A/C Gore-Tex Keen Targhee 2 Merrell Moab Ventilator
Weight (Per Pair) 1.11 lbs 2.01 lbs 2.12 lbs 2.1 lbs 1.87 lbs
Sizes Available Sizes 8-13 Sizes 6-13 Sizes 8-14 Sizes7-11.5, 12-17 Full sizes Sizes 7-14
Upper synthetic, mesh Nubuck Leather/ 100% recycled Nylon Mesh/ Uretech Nubuck leather/nylon mesh Nubuck and textile Leather/nylon mesh
Midsole Dual-density, molded, EVA CRADLE GUIDE⢠midsole platform Dual-density ECO Trailon/ 2mm LaSpEVA/ TPU shank EVA/recycled EVA EVA EVA
Lining GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort Range waterproof, breathable membrane Gore-Tex/Dri-Lex Bristol 40% Recycled Nylon Polyester mesh KEEN.DRY åà waterproof breathable membrane Nylon mesh
Sole Vibram Vibram River with Impact Brake System Vibram rubber/recycled rubber Non-marking rubber Rubber
Comments Comes in full cut boot

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0
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Keen Ambler
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Patagonia Drifter A/C Gore-Tex
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Keen Targhee 2
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Merrell Moab Ventilator
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Performance Comparison
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Tommy Penick tests out the traction of the Merrell Moab Ventilator.
Credit: Tommy Penick
Weight
Weight is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a shoe that you’ll be using for hiking or backpacking. One pound on your feet is equal to five pounds on your back (more on this in the Buying Advice), so it is crucial to find a light shoe to give you the most time on the trail without fatigue. Additionally, when we are looking for the best shoe that will let us have fun adventures this means running off to a nearby rock colony or hopping rocks across a creek. In contrast to a heavy, full leather-backpacking boot, we wanted our hiking shoe to be fun and springy.

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Tommy Penick tries out the La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 in a surprise snow storm while backpacking in early October in the Whites of New Hampshire
Credit: Tommy Penick

The lightest option is the The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX, which was one of our testers’ favorite shoes. The ultra low weight of the Hedgehog Guide (coming in at a stunning 1.11 pounds a pair) left our feet happy by the end of long trail days and gave us the stamina to make the extra push. The shoe instantly feels light when it is picked up and also according to our scale, but it feels even lighter on the foot. The lightweight upper materials, matched with a strong but lightweight sole, lets this shoe easily excel past the rest of the field. Coming in a close second at 1.87 pounds per pair, the Merrell Moab Ventilator is also a very light option for those looking to save weight, although it does lack a waterproof membrane and a stronger construction that the Hedgehog Guide boasts. We factored each shoe’s weight as 20 percent of its total score.

Comfort
Comfort obviously is an important feature in a shoe, but sometimes it is difficult to tell if a shoe really is comfortable from just trying it on in a store. Many shoes wear in differently, and we all know there is nothing worse than a shoe that was insanely comfortable in the store but after 100 miles feels like you’re wearing a brick. It is important to note that comfort will be subjective, based on the shape of your foot and your needs.
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North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR III
Credit: Tommy Penick

The North Face Hedgehog Guide again took home the prize with the best fit on our testers’ feet, as well as excellent breathability and footbed support. After long outings, our feet still felt great coming out of the Hedgehog Guide. The Patagonia Drifter was another very comfortable shoe. It had an aggressively shaped toe box that seemed to cradle the foot in a secure yet comfortable way. We weighted each shoe’s comfort rating as 25 percent of its total score.

Support
We judged this category based upon the shoe’s ability to not fold laterally across uneven terrain, and how much strength the shoe had against heavier pack weights and pressure. Thinner soled shoes inherently do worse in this category, but it is important to consider your individual needs. Will you be using a hiking shoe as a lightweight alternative to a backpacking shoe, and subjecting it to long distances with heavier pack weights? Or do you need a burly day hiking shoe? While support is a very important category, you need to think critically about your uses, and how much support plays into your own decision.

The Salomon Exit Peak Mid 2 GTX was an outstanding shoe in this category, with a solid sole and stiffer uppers, while still flexing naturally with each step. We weighted each shoe’s support rating as 20 percent of its total score.

Traction
Traction obviously can be the difference between a nice, dry, clean creek crossing, and being covered in mud and blood. It’s a huge confidence booster in any shoe to know that you can depend on the traction. Whether it’s on steep, loamy climbs out of river gorges in the Appalachians or across flat slick rocks in the Sierra, traction is crucial. We tested each of these shoes on steep rocks as well as muddy hills. While these two types of traction are generally separate, we did our best with assigning a score to each shoe that encompassed all types of traction.
Click to enlarge
Credit: Tommy Penick
The Patagonia Drifter took home the prize for traction, as it excelled in both muddy slogs and smooth rocks. The large lugs that wrap around to the edge of the sole provided our testers with confidence in otherwise sketchy situations where traction is the difference between a nasty fall and a fun day. The Salomon Exit Peak’s unique tread pattern reminded us of a car tire, with deep horizontal lugs. This shoe excelled in muddy conditions and did well on rocks, too. We weighted each shoe’s traction rating as 15 percent of its total score.

Versatility
This category differs from others because it is less performance based and very subjective. Many people purchase a hiking shoe rather than a trail runner or a hiking boot because it can serve many different roles. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on a shoe, it might as well work for you in multiple situations. To test this category, we made our testers take each shoe for a trail run, as well as on a separate occasion, use the shoe with a heavy pack weight to test both ends of the spectrum. A trail run in most of these shoes is in no way suggested nor endorsed by OutdoorGearLab, but our curious testers decided this would be a good idea. Additionally, style and appearance played into this category. Were we comfortable wearing it in a meeting, or out on the town? Or did it look like we were a tired through hiker bumping into town for a well-deserved burger? While some shoes will perform in some settings, others will exceed in the opposite places.

We found that La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX was a casual enough shoe to pull off wearing to work and to casual events, while still being a very robust and technical shoe. However, it was a bit clunky on our trail run test. The Keen Ambler also was a shoe we could throw on our feet to take care of everyday items as well as hit the trails after taking care of business in town. It was light enough to throw around in more athletic situations. We weighted each shoe’s versatility as 5 percent of its total score.

Water Resistance
Though water resistant shoes are not always the obvious choice for some individuals seeking out canyoneering or warm weather hiking that involves wading, our testers thought it was a great feature on many shoes in snowy environments or casual wear through dew covered fields, or even in light stream crossings.
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The Keen Targhee does alright in the water too.
Credit: Tommy Penick
We were really impressed with the waterproofing of the Salomon Exit Peak Mid 2 GTX which we could hardly even get muddy. Despite jumping in puddles like little kids or intentionally taking the nastiest line through melting snow and mud, the shoe still looks practically brand new. The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX also was a very impressive competitor. Also the Keen Ambler, much to our surprise since it appears to be such a casual shoe. We weighted each shoe’s water resistance as 10 percent of its total score.

Durability
We did our best as testers to smash these shoes into every rock, run through every puddle, pull on every thing way too hard, and generally abuse them to see how they held up. Amazingly, the entire field fared well to our abuse, but the heavier shoes with thicker uppers tended to hold up better than their mesh counterparts. While shoes built with more mesh, such as the Keen Targhee or the Merrell Moab Ventilator, won’t hold up to smashing your foot into sharp rock cracks, they did still perform well in terms of holding support and sole thickness throughout the testing.

La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 was a standout, handling sharp rocks and abrasions surprisingly well. On the flip side, La Sportiva does take a substantial time to break in due to its thick skin. Additionally, we thought the Salomon Exit Peak was a great contender in this category, and with deep lugs in the sole, we discovered the Salomon Exit Peak would serve its owner for many miles to come. We weighted each shoe’s traction 5 percent of its total score.

Editor’s Choice Award
The recipient of the Editor’s Choice Award goes to the The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX, which is an all-around stunning shoe. Between its ultra-low weight, great support, superior waterproofing, and all-around comfort and maneuverability, it became second nature for our testers to reach for the Hedgehog Guide when heading out on any adventure.
Credit: North Face
Top Pick for Heavier Loads
The La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 provided substantially more support than any other shoe in the category and functioned great as a shoe for heavier loads, while still being reasonably light weight compared to a full hiking boot. With a slightly higher cut than other hiking shoes, it held the ankle well across burly terrain.
Best Buy Award
The Keen Ambler, which we found on some deal sites for a stunning $65, is a killer value compared to the rest of the shoes tested, which fall in solidly above the $125 line. The Ambler is a comfortable and casual shoe that fit our testers' needs for a lightweight shoe for situations that didn’t require too much support.
For a complete list of all of our hiking favorites, click here Dream Hiking Gear List.

Tommy Penick
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