The Best Hiking Boots of 2019
|Price||$172.46 at Amazon|
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|$219.95 at Backcountry|
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|$123.69 at REI|
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|Pros||Comfortable out of the box, fast and nimble, great stability, support, and water resistance||Best choice for rock and snow travel, durable, breathes well||Amazing comfort, stable, great traction||Comfort of a trail runner with more support and stability, good all around performance||Comfortable collar, great support and stability, lightweight for its class|
|Cons||Potential durability issues with many seams, not as good for warm or hot environments||Wider fit, not the best lace locking system||Not as capable in off-trail terrain, rockered sole feels unnatural at first||Not as breathable in warm conditions, not great traction on smooth rock||Not our favorite lacing system, lots of upper seams|
|Bottom Line||Our Editors' Choice Award winner blends comfort, stability and traction in a boot that fits well right out of the box and provides top-notch performance.||For rock scrambling, alpine approaches and moderate snow travel, the Zodiac GTX is a light weight mountain boot disguised as a hiking boot.||Feels like you are wearing pillows on your feet. With cushy soles and hi-cut protection, they are a great choice for those who value comfort on the trail.||This boot brings the comfort of a trail running shoe but adds in the support you would expect from a hiking boot, resulting in a capable performer in all trail conditions.||This boot is a midweight hiker that weighs just under 3 lbs, while its high collar provides excellent stability and water resistance.|
|Rating Categories||Quest 4D 3 GTX||Zodiac Plus GTX||Sky Kaha||X Ultra Mid 3 GTX||Renegade GTX Mid|
|Water Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Quest 4D 3 GTX||Zodiac Plus GTX||Sky Kaha||X Ultra Mid 3 GTX||Renegade GTX Mid|
|Weight per Pair (size 11)||3.3 lbs||2.66 lbs||2.5 lbs||2.28lbs||2.90 lbs|
|Boot Type||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight/Lightweight hiker||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot|
|Width Options||Regular||Regular||Regular||Regular||Narrow, Regular, and Wide|
Best Overall Model
Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
This is once again our Editors' Choice Award-winning boot. It's tailor-made for backpacking trips thanks to its support and comfort. This boot earned top marks in all of our review metrics and wowed reviewers with its consistent performance in a range of conditions. Surprisingly, for its height and weight, the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is nimble on the foot and feels great right out of the box, not a trait we would typically associate with this type of boot.
The Quest 4D is not a lightweight boot, so it is best suited for those trips where extra support and stability is needed. It also has several exposed seams, so long term durability may be an issue, but we took this boot through the wringer for yet another year and were impressed enough to give it our top award.
Read review: Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Keen Targhee II Mid
You don't have to spend a lot of money to find a good hiking boot, and the Keen Targhee II Mid is a great example of this. This boot delivers quality construction with a nubuck upper and is comfortable out of the box with good traction and solid stability for its height. It's also relatively light underfoot, which becomes more noticeable as the miles accumulate.
This model was not the best at keeping the water out, as we had some issues with leaking near the toe box, but in all but the wettest conditions, these should hold their own just fine. We also felt insecure when off-trail with a heavy pack, and in these conditions, a taller boot with more support is indicated. But for the price, we couldn't ask for a better boot.
Read review: Keen Targhee II Mid
Top Pick for Lightweight Hiker
HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha
HOKA ONE ONE is best known for their running and hiking shoes, but immediately upon trying on the new Sky Kaha boots, we were impressed. These boots are the pinnacle of comfort and feel like wearing moon boots. The thick, layered foam midsole absorbs trail impacts, and cushions the knees and ankles. These boots are a great choice for those who spend most of their time on trails, whether in wet or dry conditions and want to treat their feet to a much more comfortable experience.
It takes a bit of time to get used to the rockered sole, as you can feel in the backseat when hiking uphill. The plush soles are also wide, making them feel unstable when in more technical scrambling. These are more useful on the trail than off.
Read the review: HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha
Top Pick for Scrambling
Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is a mountain boot on a diet. This durable, full-leather boot has a stiff sole that makes it perfect for technical edging on off-trail scrambles. It has a low weight considering that it is such a stable and capable boot in varied terrain, and its Vibram sole provides some of the best traction of any boot that we tested. For those hiking during the early season, this boot can reliably accept a strap-on crampon for additional purchase.
This is an excellent boot for rugged hiking, but is too much for the average day hike, and eschews comfort for stability. It doesn't "smear" well when walking up slabs, but if you're looking for a cross-over hiking/mountaineering boot that you use on the long trail approach and more technical 3rd and 4th class terrain when peak bagging, the Zodiac Plus is worth checking out. For more of a mountain boot, Scarpa makes the Zodiac Tech. It has a welt for a semi-automatic crampon, a stiffer sole and an integrated cuff to keep out snow and dirt.
Read the review: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel of testers is led by Ryan Huetter, a full-time AMGA certified mountain guide since 2011 with a bachelor's degree in Outdoor Adventure Management. Ryan uses hiking boots extensively, which are a crucial professional tool, hitting the trail almost daily, and logging thousands of trail miles in the last ten years. He is joined by Ross Robinson who has hiked and backpacked the world for over a decade. He has lived and backpacked in Thailand, Peru, and Germany, with at least 500 miles hiked in each country. Ross is a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab, and led our hiking boot and hiking shoe testing from 2014-2017. Since 2014 Ross has personally tested more than 50 boots and shoes over 1000 trail miles.
Our testing took place in some of the most rugged and iconic mountain ranges in the country including the High Sierra, the Cascade Range, volcanoes and deserts of southern Peru, and the desert country around Moab. The review drew on 20 hours of research followed by months of testing and 350 miles of hiking. For example, the score in the Traction metric is an average of each product's scores on dry rock, wet rock, scree, mud, and scrambling.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Boots
Analysis and Test Results
We believe that all good hiking boots can be effectively assessed using six key traits. By developing a scoring system to quantify performance in each one of these metrics, we can objectively identify the strengths and weaknesses of each pair of footwear. Comfort, stability, water resistance, traction, weight, and durability are the metrics our testers used, and each metric was assigned a percentage of their total score. This will help you, as the consumer, to make an educated choice on your hiking boot purchase. Below, we elaborate on each one of these test metrics.
Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Boots
The price of some models can be shocking, but the most expensive boots did not automatically rank the highest following our rigorous testing. We mostly preferred models in the middle of the price range of boots tested. The Keen Targhee, which earned our Best Buy Award, comes in well below average on price, yet offers compelling performance that outpaces about half the competition. The Editors' Choice Salomon Quest outperforms every other product at only a bit higher-than-average price. The most expensive boot in this review, the Arcteryx Bora2 Mid GTX only offers average performance.
Comfort is king when it comes to footwear, and nowhere is this more important than crushing miles on the trails and off. Due to the trend of lighter hiking boots, many are comfortable out of the box, which is exciting news, as more and more people are questing on many of our nation's most popular thru-hikes, and a comfy pair of boots is the first step in preparing for such an endeavor. The Salomon Quest 4D defines initial comfort. The Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX are comfortable for midweight boots, and feel great from day one, requiring no break-in period that has been typical. The lightest models, such as the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat WP, are unbelievably comfortable while on firm trails and paved paths. However, the weight savings derived from a thinner sole means that foot comfort is compromised while on uneven and rocky terrain.
How the foot feels in the footbed
How does it feel when laced up and standing? Are there any pressure points when laced, and how large is the toe box? Does your foot feel it when you step on that pointy rock on the trail? After several hours of hiking, which models still made our feet feel great? The X Ultra Mid 3 and Moab Ventilator 2 are the most comfortable straight from the box. The Quest 4D 3 did the best job keeping our feet happy after many miles and hours with a moderate pack.
How the ankle collar feels, and how the lacing system works
We noted the number and type of lacing eyelets, how the heel box holds the back of the foot, and whether there's any slippage. The Asolo Powermatic and Salomon models featured our favorite lacing systems, with the La Sportiva TRK close behind. The fit and construction of the ankle collar are super important when logging many miles or traveling steep grades. The Targhee II and Moab Ventilator 2 have shorter cuts that deliver minimal ankle stability but are quite comfortable.
How well the boot breathes, keeping you cool and dry
Blisters form due to heat and friction, and damp skin has lots of friction. Over the year hikers have developed many tricks and techniques to keep blisters at bay including Mole Skin, duct tape, foot powder, and other black magic. Our perspective? Choose a boot with better breathability! Wearing boots with a waterproof/breathable membrane always limits the ventilation ability of the footwear, though we found models like the HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha to be impressively breathable despite having such a liner.
Ankle stability is the main benefit of boots compared to hiking shoes or trail runners. Hikers who choose boots rather than a low-cut hiking shoe do so for ankle support and torsional stability. Models with a mid-height, or full cut, reduce the chance of taking missteps and twisting ankles. During long days carrying a pack, this support keeps the ankles and feet from tiring. When choosing a boot for stability, first keep in mind that a boot that fits your foot well is necessary for stabilizing your ankle and foot. Try on several models, noting how well your heel and forefoot stay put in the footbed.
Also consider that for many of the lighter weight models such as the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat Mid WP, the stability of the boot relies upon the compression gained from a sound lacing system. Soft and supple materials that do not have much structural integrity on their own become more rigid and supportive when wrapped tight around the ankle while other boots like the Asolo Power Matic 200 GV have thick leather that offers much more structural support. For those who are experiencing the aches and pains of life on the trail, such as those hiking in retirement, stability will be an essential asset.
In addition to the many miles we hiked, we took a couple of measurements to quantify how well each product supports the ankle and resists lateral rolling. First, we measured the height of the ankle collar from the footbed to its tallest point of the instep. The Quest 4D 3 has the tallest ankle collars at 6.5 inches, followed by the Powermatic 200 at 6.25 inches. The La Sportiva TRK measures 5.5 inches, a notable height for their mid weight. We also measured the width of the sole at the forefoot. A wide forefoot provides a more stable platform and resists rolling. The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX, by contrast, measures only four inches, making it more susceptible to rolling but giving it higher performance in edging ability.
Finally, we grabbed the sole by the heel and toe and twisting side to side to get an idea of its torsional stability, or the boot's ability to resist twisting of the sole on uneven surfaces. Better torsional stability translates to less fatigued feet on rough terrain, especially when carrying a load. Overall, we awarded the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX a top score in this metric. It ticked all the boxes (tall ankle collar, wide forefoot, torsional rigidity) in the lab, and gave us tons of confidence to speed through rough terrain. The Asolo Powermatic also received accolades in this metric, which comes as no surprise with a plastic/urethane shank, as these mid and heavyweight models focus on stability and support. Also notable is the Scarpa Zodiac Plus. The least stable by this test was the Keen Venture and the Speedgoat Mid.
When you place your foot on the trail or a rock, you want it to stay put. Each product we tested has a unique lug pattern and sole shape, and different performance characteristics. Considering what type of terrain you might predominantly encounter will do a lot to inform your choice in sole type. Thick, deep lugs with sharp angles like found on the Scarpa Zodiac Plus will improve traction on mud and snow, while narrow and rounded lug patterns will offer better surface area contact with the ground, an essential trait on granite or sandstone slabs.
During our backcountry exploits, in a wide variety of terrain types, we were able to test for traction on wet and dry trails, damp and dry rock, snow, and mud. It should come to no surprise that the models made by the companies that are known for their quality rock climbing footwear rose to the top in regards to traction. The Scarpa Zodiac Plus and La Sportiva TRK came in at the top of the pack in this category.
Moving on to loose terrain, we tested these boots in off-trail travel on High Sierra backpacking routes and alpine climbing approaches and descents. In the looser ground, we found a narrower midsole offered better edging performance, rolling over less when plowing through scree and hopping over talus. Our favorite pair to take into the boulder fields and scree slopes were the Scarpa Zodiac Plus boots, with their blend of stiffness and a nimble sole.
With a record-breaking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, we had lots of opportunities to test these boots in snow and mud. The best performers had stiffer soles for edging, and serrated lugs to kick steps in mature summer snow, and that indeed dislodged mud. The Quest 4D 3 was a favorite of testers, followed by the Scarpa Zodiac Plus.
While these are different traction scenarios, we assigned all the products an overall traction score. In the individual reviews, we discuss how each one performed during the traction tests, as some sole types were high performers in certain terrain types but did not compete as well in a range of environments. We weighted traction 15% of the total score.
All else being equal, lighter footwear is better. You expend considerable energy lifting an extra half pound with each step. Hiking specific boots are heavier than hiking shoes and are worth the extra weight when support and stability are a priority. Midweight hikers have designs that focus more on stability, ankle protection, and durability — they don't just focus on shedding weight. Your goal when selecting a hiking boot is finding the lightest model that meets your needs for stability and support. We based our weight measurements on the size 11 (US) pairs we used in our testing.
The HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat Mid WP is the lightest product we tested at 1.68 pounds, a weight that is unheard of in this category. The Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX weighs in as second lightest, with most other models falling just shy of three pounds per pair. These lightweight hikers are quite exceptional when the terrain does not demand as much stability and support.Those with more backpacking experience and robust ankles can often get away with a lighter weight hiking boot, provided that they are not carrying loads more than about 30 pounds, but for beginner and intermediate backpackers, and especially those carrying considerable weight, mid and high-top boots are going to be the safest option. We awarded 15% of the total score to weight.
We all want dry feet when hiking. Dry feet are key to avoiding blisters, and staying warm when hiking in the cold and wet. And wet feet are far from comfortable. Almost all of our test models feature some waterproof/breathable fabric membrane, except for the Merrell Moab Ventilator which we chose to test for use in hot and dry climates. Most models use a Gore-Tex brand membrane, while HOKA ONE ONE uses an eVent fabric, and Keen uses a proprietary KEEN.Dry membrane.
First, we measured what we call the "flood level" of each product. A typical design feature of hiking boots is a gusseted tongue. Not only do the gussets keep rocks and debris from entering the shoe, but the waterproof membrane also extends through this gusset. We measured the depth of water one wades into with each boot before it floods in over the top. The Asolo Power Matic 200 GV had the highest flood level at 5.7 inches, with the Quest 4D 3 scoring second highest with a height of 4.5 inches. The La Sportiva TRK has a height of 5 inches, yet the Gore-Tex lining only protects up to two inches, making it useful in the shallowest of wet crossings.
Second, we took each boot through the stream test. Fording streams is a better test than standing around in the water, which is a task a rain boot would be better suited for. The apparent lack of waterproofness in the Moab Ventilator took it out of contention in this metric, and others had varying degrees of performance. Most impressive were the Salomon Quest 4D 3 and the Asolo Powermatic. We had the most trouble with La Sportiva TRK, which let water into the toe box within seconds of being submerged to ankle level.
No waterproof membrane that is used to protect the foot can withstand continuous exposure to water, and all will eventually wet out, so we also considered the ability of the boot to dry out once fully inundated. We loved the tall flood height and supreme waterproofness offered by the Arcteryx Bora2 Mid GTX, but we ended up with so much water sloshing around between the inner bootie and outer shell that we constantly had to stop and dump it out. The best performer here was the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat Mid WP, with its heavy use of nylon mesh in the outer it dried out in an impressive 30 minutes after being sopping wet.
No boot will last forever, especially with heavy use. Synthetic fibers will fray and begin to wick moisture, soles will delaminate and wear thin, and the boot will lose structure and become soft. That is the trade-off for getting to wear boots that are made of modern materials. Many hikers praise their boots purchased decades ago that have endured 20 years while failing to mention that the pair weighs four or five lbs, and may have cost 600 bucks in today's dollars.
We were happy to find that all of the models in this review held up well through the months-long testing period. No boot suffered damage to the point of losing function. That said, we expect any hiking boot within the price range of these models to last a couple of seasons of on and off use. Materials used vary from mesh to full-grain leather, and we found that the less reliant on synthetic materials a boot is, such as the Vasque St. Elias FG GTX, the better it would perform when pitted against rough wear.
While our review boots did not specifically begin to break down within our relatively short testing period, we researched reviews and talked to users to see how the models made of the lighter weight materials fared over time. We found the durability of the La Sportiva TRK exceptionally poor, as the synthetic materials used on the upper began to peel and delaminate over a single season, prompting a warranty request.
No boot is immune to damage, but we rated the Asolo and Zodiac as the boots that stood out as the most durable pieces we reviewed thanks to their reliance on thick, durable leather outers rather than flimsy synthetic materials. The Merrell and La Sportiva products scored the lowest scores in this category. We assigned durability 10% of the total score, admitting that a six-month testing period is a short amount of time to flush out the exact differences in longevity. As we note in our Buying Advice article, though, there are several simple ways to prolong the life of your footwear.
We hope that this review leaves you better informed about the type of hiking boot that will suit your needs. Before starting to try pairs on, consider the environment you will be hiking in - that will help you decide whether you need attributes like a waterproof membrane or deep lugs for traction. Then consider the types of hikes you want to go on, and match the support and stability needed to the boot. It is helpful to visit a local retailer to get assistance in trying boots on, but realize that these sales staff may put you into a boot that is not intended for the hiking style you are interested in.
Be willing to take the plunge into the exciting and liberating world of ultralight gear, but don't let the trail runner evangelists sway you into a boot that is too light for you. We have highlighted some models that blur the line between weight and support. Hiking is meant to be a way to relax and connect with the natural environment, not to stress about blisters and foot pain.
— Ryan Huetter and Ross Robinson