The Quest for the Best Men's Hiking Shoes of 2017
From budget-friendly options to top-of-the-line hiking shoes, our experts evaluated over 60 models and tested the top 10 side-by-side to help you find your perfect match. Covering hundreds of miles, our lead tester hiked trails of varied terrain and climbed ridges on Colorado 14'ers to push these products to their limits. Besides crushing mileage in these products, we also designed tests to find out which ones provide traction and stability when needed most, and which ones remain comfortable over long distances. Whether you prioritize versatility or desire the most lightweight model, our tests and analyses will guide you to the right product for your hiking endeavors.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
We updated this review to provide analyses of the top models available this Spring. The three award winners offer excellent performance for a variety of hikers, such as those seeking overall prowess or top value. Our favorite shoe for long distance support is now discontinued but remains for sale at various retailers. The testing process revealed that judging performance by the price tag is inaccurate, with the two most expensive models placing in the bottom half of the competition. For clarity in our metrics, we inserted graphs and charts to highlight the individual scores in each key area.
Best Do Everything Hiking Shoe
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
If you want a shoe that does everything on the trail, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is the best model available on the market today. Its ability to switch between long hikes and trail running makes it an excellent choice if you want to do both. Threading the needle between the two categories, the Ultra 109 features a narrow profile for a snug fit commonly found in trail running shoes. Yet it is burly enough to eat up miles of rough hiking terrain, providing ample traction and stability. The Ultra 109 goes hiking, light backpacking, or trail running equally well, and if we were going on a trip with only one pair of shoes, this would be it.
Great do-everything shoe
Slim toe profile
Excellent all-around traction
Good torsional stability
Not the most durable
Read full review: The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Keen Targhee 2
The Keen Targhee 2 provides great day hiking performance at an affordable price and takes home our Best Buy award this year. Aside from its supreme comfort, the Targhee handles wet trails and mud with ease and breathes well. We noted impressive foot support from this light shoe, improved by its secure lacing system. The mid-cut version of the Targhee took home awards in our reviews of hiking boots for both men and women. Keen clearly makes a great product in the Targhee, both in mid and low cut versions — see our full Keen Targhee II Mid hiking boot review.
Great traction and comfort
Great foot support
Extra toe protection
Webbing lace eyes can wear
A bit wide for narrow feet
Read full review: Keen Targhee 2
Top Pick for Backpacking
La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0
For folks that desire more foot support for backpacking or rough terrain, the La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0 is the best of the bunch. We often chose this shoe for long days with some ridge traversing or rock scrambling terrain. The ECO is comfortable to hike in after a brief break-in period and one of the higher scorers in water resistance. This is our shoe of choice for backpacking with light to moderate loads. While this model has just been discontinued, it is still found at several retailers. If it fits your needs, better buy it now!
Great foot support
Heavy and stiff
Read full review: La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0
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Analysis and Test Results
Individual reviews for each product discuss best uses, detail the score in each performance metric, and compare and contrast each model to similar products. You'll find a description of the evaluation metrics below and the top scorers in each.
Types of Hiking Footwear
Salomon XA Pro 3D, make excellent crossover shoes for hikers. These running shoes work great for some, but others want more support and durability. Enter the
Shoe vs. Boot
Six of the shoes tested are available as mid-height boots, which begs the question: Should I choose a low-cut shoe or mid-height boot? On average, the products tested weighed in at five ounces per pair lighter than their boot brothers. A couple ounces per shoe isn't cause to drive your decision, and the price difference is small as well.
Hikers with ankle issues know that ankle stability is the primary reason to choose a boot over a shoe. Mid-cut boots stabilize and support the ankle, especially in rough terrain or when carrying a backpack, the way no low-cut shoe can.
Boots also provide more protection from mud, snow, and water, and they are a necessity for rough terrain with heavy loads. Hiking boots are also warmer than a low-cut shoe.
Best Uses for Hiking Shoes
"Hiking" covers a whole range of fun-on-your-feet adventures, including day hikes requiring minimum essentials. These could be leisurely strolls on maintained trails or many miles covered at speed in rough terrain and everything in between. Hiking also encompasses short backpacking trips with light or medium loads or long fastpacking trips where paring down the weight becomes a priority.
If you usually carry a light pack or none at all, or if you've built strong ankles and good agility with miles of hiking, these low-cut shoes are for you. Enjoy the lightness, comfort, and agility that defines them.
A Note on Pack Weight
We often refer to light, medium, and heavy loads for hiking and backpacking. Light refers to everything up to 20 lbs. This should cover day hikers and some of the ultralight backpacker and thru-hiker folks. By medium loads, we mean 20-35 lbs. It's a noticeable amount of weight to carry, and footwear offering good foot support is important. Anything more than 35 lbs is heavy. Most folks want boots for these loads.
Day hiking is where hiking shoes shine. When the plan is to start and finish on the same day, the essentials carried can be minimal. A water bottle in hand, a rain jacket tied around your waist, and a camera in your pocket. Or a small pack with extra clothes, maps, camera gear, snacks, and water is still quite light. For these hikes, comfort and weight are of primary importance to most of us. All the shoes reviewed here are good choices for day hiking. Consider the terrain and conditions you commonly hike and choose from the shoes that match your needs. Your final choice will depend on personal preference and what shoe fits you the best. The Keen Targhee 2 in particular is an excellent and popular choice for day hiking.
Our testers have spent a lot of time evaluating these shoes on hikes to the summits of Colorado's mountains. Ten miles round-trip, 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, and five hours on the go was an average trip. These trips are not running adventures, though sometimes a flat section encourages you to step on the gas for a few minutes. Fast hiking refers to being ambitious about the amount of ground you want to cover in a day.
The foot support offered by hiking shoes is a better choice for most than the lightweight cushioning offered by trail runners. The La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0 became our go-to shoe for fast hiking that covers a lot of off-trail terrain or involves scrambling. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX fit the ticket for mostly good trail, where the urge to run a little takes over.
Backpacking with Light or Medium Loads
Hiking shoes are perfect for carrying medium and lighter packs on maintained trails. Hikers that occasionally head out backpacking for a few nights generally pack light, and the support and durability offered by a low-cut model is a perfect choice. Experienced backpackers with strong ankles can cruise through rough terrain in shoes designed for hiking as well and find medium pack weights reasonable with the support provided. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, our Editors' Choice winner, is an excellent shoe for multi-day backpacking trips, as are the La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0 and The North Face Hedgehog Hike GTX.
If you take a trip on the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail, you'll see most thru-hikers wearing low-cut hiking shoes, with trail running shoes the second most popular choice. Thru-hikers (those who are hiking extreme distances) place a premium on weight and comfort when choosing a shoe vs. boot and enjoy more foot support and durability than trail runners offer. The lightweight Keen Targhee 2 and the Merrell Moab Ventilator are popular shoes for thru-hiking and long trips with light loads. The Targhee 2 has excellent foot support for a light shoe, and the light Moab Ventilator is minimalistic, prioritizing weight and breathability.
Criteria for Evaluation
Check out the rating table below to see where each hiking shoe in our lineup ranked in the overall score.
Whether you're spending hours or weeks on the trail, nothing is more important for enjoying your on-foot adventures than happy feet. Many factors influence comfort: the amount of padding in the upper, how well the shoe fits your foot when correctly sized, and how easily the lacing system adjusts fit.
We noted how the foot feels in the footbed and how the upper feels on the foot, especially where the top of the shoe meets the ankle. We also noted how the lacing system works and how easy it is to help fine-tune the fit. Finally, we noted how well each model breathes. Dry feet are comfortable feet, and a good design keeps feet dry when splashing through puddles and breathes well on warmer days. We tested two products that are not waterproof and therefore breathe much better, the Vasque Juxt and Merrell Moab Ventilator.
We found the Keen Targhee 2 was the most comfortable model. The Keen's upper hugs the foot, and the lacing system is top notch. The Targhee fits an average to wide foot well, and folks with slimmer feet may find a more comfortable fit with the La Sportiva FC ECO or North Face Ultra. More than any other metric, a shoe's comfort depends on a good fit.
Light is right for footwear. Lifting an additional half pound with each step is noticeable, especially as the miles pass. Choosing the lightest footwear with enough stability for your ankles and feet should be a top consideration. Hiking shoes fit a sweet spot between boots and trail runners; boots are heavier but provide significantly better ankle stability, and trail runners aren't as durable or supportive of the foot.
The Moab Ventilator and the Vasque Juxt are the lightest shoes tested, weighing 2.1 lbs per pair. The Lowa Renegade GTX Lo is the heaviest model tested, which translates to high scores in durability and support. To ensure accuracy in our comparison, we weighed each of the models we tested, all size 12s, on a digital scale. We weighed each with the insoles and laces supplied by the manufacturer.
How much support a shoe gives you is in large part a function of the thickness and materials of the midsole, the thickness of the sole, and the shape of the last. A shoe that is stiff through the midfoot but flexible up front helps keep feet happy on long hikes. Our tested models range from the Lowa Renegade, with a full nylon shank and substantial PU midsole, to the light and flexible Merrell Moab Ventilator. The Renegade's underfoot components are identical to its popular mid-height, hiking boot brother. The Renegade provides torsional stability and is stiff enough in the midfoot for all-day hiking with moderate loads.
The Keen Targhee 2 and North Face Hedgehog Hike are notable for providing good support considering their light weight. They also provide good torsional stability. It's surprising how much performance Keen packs into the Targhee 2, given its low price.
At the other end of the support continuum is the Merrell Moab Ventilator. With only a nylon shank in the arch and a less dense EVA midsole, it doesn't offer much foot support t, but it is light and comfortable for day hiking.
On a good day hiking, we expect our foot to stay put every time we take a step. The products tested were asked to handle everything from mud and slushy snow to rock slabs and loose gravel. While most of the models tested feature carbon rubber Vibram soles, each has a unique sole shape and tread pattern of lugs. We put these shoes through four side-by-side tests to rate traction. First, we took several laps up and down a steep granite slab to test the limits of friction. The Salewa Wildfire GTX and its sticky rubber sole, designed for this type of terrain, performed best. We dumped water on this same rock and logged some more laps. The Keen Targhee 2 was a great performer on wet granite.
Gently sloping trail surfaces with grape-size loose gravel can be smooth sailing or frustratingly slippery. There's a gravel fire road near our lead tester's place that's perfect for finding shoes with the best grip. The La Sportiva FC Eco and Keen Targhee 2 were top performers on gravel. Finally, we tested how well each shoe performs in slippery mud. The Keen Marshall WP and Moab Ventilator work great on muddy trails.
Overall, we awarded the top traction score to The North Face Ultra 109. In our individual reviews, we detail each shoe's performance in each traction test.
Several considerations went into versatility scores. Some of these shoes were comfortable on flat trails and rough terrain. We value a shoe that is comfortable for short day hikes and also supportive enough for light backpacking trips.
That said, some are seeking a specialist shoe. Do you want one do-it-all shoe or a quiver of options for different adventures? If you are new to hiking, it's likely that a versatile, do-everything shoe will fit your needs. But, if you have specific priorities and a bigger budget, two or more pairs of specialized shoes could give you focused performance. Keep in mind that a shoe designed for hiking is only part of your adventure footwear quiver, which might already include boots and trail running shoes.
We made it a priority to run a few miles with a light pack while wearing each shoe because we suspect some of you will want to use these models for fastpacking adventures. The North Face Ultra 109 and Adidas Outdoor AX 2.0 GTX felt natural to run in when terrain and energy allowed. Some of these shoes, the Lowa Renegade especially, look great and can double as casual footwear while working, gardening and around town. With a lot of color options, you can usually pick something not too flashy.
While many of these shoes are available without a waterproof membrane lining, all the test models, save the Merrell Moab Ventilator and Vasque Juxt, feature a waterproof membrane. While Keen uses its proprietary KEEN.DRY membrane in its waterproof footwear, other manufacturers feature GORE-TEX waterproof breathable membranes. If you live in a sunny, dry climate, or avoid mud and rainy weather when hiking, a shoe without a waterproof membrane will be more breathable and more comfortable.
After a couple months of hiking, we splashed around in Colorado's Poudre River in each shoe to check for leaks. Our feet got soaked in the non-waterproof Moab Ventilator and Juxt of course but stayed dry in all the rest except the Adidas Outdoor, which leaked a little around the tongue. The full leather Renegade took the top score for water resistance.
All of these shoes benefit from a leather or fabric conditioner applied to the upper. Nikwax has a range of products that are great for treating the mixed material uppers of these shoes. A leather or fabric treatment keeps water from soaking the shoe's upper materials. Even when water is stopped by the waterproof liner, it makes your shoe heavy and hinders breathability. The Keen Marshall and The North Face Ultra soaked up the least water and dried faster than the others.
If heavy dew and water crossings are common where you hike, consider choosing a dark color option for your shoes. This will allow them to dry quickly when it's sunny.
The are many trade-offs when designing hiking footwear. A focus on making lightweight, comfortable shoes necessarily means that durability is less of a focus. A heavier, full leather shoe, like the Lowa Renegade will, last longer than an uber light one, like the Moab Ventilator. These shoes received the highest and lowest scores awarded for durability. The Renegade is an investment but will last practically forever. The affordable and light Moab Ventilator wears out faster than most shoes.
Generally speaking, we have been impressed with the durability of all the models tested. The all-leather Lowa Renegade provides years of fun for most hikers and received our highest durability score. Upper details applied over the mesh portions of the Salewa Wildfire and Keen Marshall help protect the lightweight mesh from abrasion. Most of these lightweight models were more durable than expected, due to well-designed details that protect lightweight materials.
Regularly cleaning and treating your footwear greatly increases its life expectancy. Mud and sand left on the shoe's upper will create premature wear. Warm water and a soft brush are your best tactic for cleaning. Nikwax offers a line of leather and fabric conditioners, including products for suede leather and synthetic fabrics. Common wear areas, like the flex points on the forefoot and seams that are prone to scuffing, can be reinforced. Applying Gear Aid Seam Grip or a similar sealer will keep out dirt and sand, prolong use, and has the added benefit of keeping water out.
Do yourself a favor and visit the Care and Feeding section of our hiking boot review for more information on cleaning, treating and extending the life of hiking footwear.
Gaiters - Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters and the Salomon Trail Gaiters are both great traditional style gaiters. The products in this review work well with more minimalist gaiters, like the Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters. Colorful minimalist gaiters from Dirty Girl Gaiters are popular among thru-hikers and trail runners.
Insoles - Superfeet Green Premium Insoles to be comfortable, providing good arch support, and helping with foot ache at the end of a long day hiking.
Socks - Hiking Sock Review for more info.
The variety of hiking footwear for outdoor folks these days is a blessing. With high traction soles and waterproof uppers that support the foot while freeing your ankle, hiking shoes are the choice of many hikers today. But you may need the support and ankle stability that a boot provides, or you may enjoy pushing the capabilities of light trail running shoes. We cover the best uses and defining attributes of these types of outdoor footwear above, and delve into the fine details in our Buying Advice article, where fitting and sizing is also detailed.
— Brandon Lampley
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