Best Overall Model
Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
: 3.3 pounds | Upper
: Nubuck leather and textile
Beefy yet nimble
Stable and speedy
Excellent water resistance
Many seams could present durability issue in long-term
On the heavier side
Not for light hiking
A legend in its category, the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX wins our Editors' Choice Award for yet another year. Consistent in its performance, it offers top-notch quality to the hiker that desires a waterproof boot with great support and ankle protection, while remaining one of the lightest boots for its class. Nimble and flexible, though supportive, this boot blends all of the traits we look for in an all-encompassing model.
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. For all-around backpacking and hiking utility, we have tried to find a better model for several years and failed. The Salomon Quest is the real deal.
Read review: Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Keen Targhee II Mid
: 2.4 pounds | Upper
: Waterproof nubuck leather
Exceptional toe and foot protection
Low stability for less-than-robust ankles
Great boots are not always the most expensive, and the Keen Targhee II Mid is the best example of this. Featuring excellent construction with quality leather materials and a rock-solid sole that chews up the trail miles, we love to hike in these boots. Comfortable out of the box, they also do not sacrifice anything when it comes to fit, and they are an attractive option for those with wider feet.
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 warranted. But for the price, we couldn't ask for a better boot.
Read review: Keen Targhee II Mid
Best for Lightweight Hiking
Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX
: 2.28 pounds | Upper
: Leather and textile
More comfortable than most
Impressive durability for the weight
Less traction on wet rock
Not as rugged as many heavier models
We don't always need a big, beefy boot made of full-grain leather to take out on a hike. For day hikes and light backpacking trips where added support is beneficial but not as critical as comfort and weight, then look to the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX boot. It is a taller version of the venerable hiking shoe of the same name and maintains its trail-ready performance with some added ankle protection.
This is a great boot for light-duty use, from short walks to overnight backpacking trips with lightweight gear. It performed well in all of our metrics but did not have as much off-trail traction as some of the burlier hiking boots. We recommend it primarily for on-trail use for best performance.
Read the review: Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX
Best for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha
: 2.5 pounds | Upper
: Waterproof Leather
Supreme comfort in the footbed and upper
Lightweight yet great stability
Unique lacing system increases adjustability
Funky looks not for everyone
HOKA ONE ONE has made huge impacts in the trail running shoe category for some years now, and their forays into the hiking shoe and hiking boot categories have been no less dramatic. Combining the stability and traction of a hiking boot with the ultra-plush comfort of a running shoe, the Sky Kaha model is the most comfortable shoe we reviewed.
With a cushioned midsole and a rockered profile, this boot is trail-ready and can handle light to medium-sized loads while still providing adequate ankle support. It is not as capable at off-trail travel as some of its competition, but a waterproof membrane will keep it dry in all but the most severe trail conditions.
Read the review: HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha
Best for Scrambling
Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
: 2.7 pounds | Upper
: 1.8mm Suede Perwanger
Good all-around performance
High price tag
Requires continued maintenance of leather outer
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is our go-to boot for technical scrambling and off-trail travel. It is essentially a lightweight mountain boot, but it does so well that the average hiker can also benefit from its superior performance. It's full-leather upper offers excellent durability, while the supportive Vibram sole gives a stable platform. Impressively waterproof, it is ready to handle the most challenging terrain you might encounter, even being able to pair with a light crampon for use on firm snow on an early season hike.
This boot is amazing in technical and rough terrain, but it gives up some comfort in favor of this specific performance. The rigid sole does not bend as easily as others, making it harder to walk up smooth slabs of rock. 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.
Read the review: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
We continue to put the best boots (nine pictured here) out there toe to toe to find out which ones are the top performers.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel of testers is led by Ryan Huetter, a full-time AMGA/IFMGA 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 II, 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.
Ready to put down some miles? We hiked hundreds of miles to test these boots for you.
The single most important factor when deciding on a hiking boot is comfort. Gone are the days of painfully breaking in heavy leather boots. With many more synthetic materials being utilized today, hikers can choose from a wider range of boots that have much better comfort in the uppers as well as underfoot with more cushioned midsoles. With an ever-growing number of hikers questing on many of our nation's popular thru-hikes, a comfy pair of boots is the first step in preparing for such an endeavor. The HOKA Sky Kaha 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
We noted three primary attributes when considering comfort.
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.
It is worth spending the time to find out a bit more about your own feet, as we all have different foot volume and arch height, and these traits change as we age. Certain models fit low, medium, or high volume feet the best. Insole thickness and shape will also have a lot to do with initial comfort impressions. Sometimes that space can be reduced or taken up with an aftermarket insole, though we tend to recommend finding a boot that fits as good as possible first and then fine-tuning the fit as necessary.
How the ankle collar feels, and how the lacing system works
The Salomon Quest cruises through a high altitude desert, with enough breathability to keep our feet from sweating too much. This boot also held up very well throughout all our tests, showing virtually no signs of wear at the end of our trial.
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 Salomon model featured our favorite lacing systems. 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
Hiking in the dry high desert, you want to be sure your boot is breathable.
Blisters form due to heat and friction, and damp skin has lots of friction. 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.
Our testers put each model through the wringer, measuring their level of breathability in all types of terrains and climates.
Overall, the HOKA ONE ONE and Salomon models are the clear comfort champs, thanks to their soft and flexible materials that still impart good stability. Comfort scores contribute 25 percent of each product's total score.
The biggest reason to wear a hiking boot rather than a trail runner or a hiking shoe is for the increase in stability. The higher the ankle is cut, the more resistance the boot will provide to rolling ankles. These boots also have thicker and more supportive soles, giving added protection against sharp rocks, a notable weakness in a lighter shoe. Looking at stability, our review team considers torsional stability in the sole, height and security of the ankle cuff, width of the sole, and stiffness below the footbed to determine the rating for this metric.
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 Lowa Renegade 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 one of the tallest ankle collars at 6.5 inches. We also measured the width of the sole at the forefoot. A wide forefoot provides a more stable platform and resists rolling.
Consider edging ability when looking for a boot to travel through rocky terrain.
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 Lowa Renegade 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.
Hiking through the bog was a great way to test waterproofness and mud traction in general. Pictured here is the Editors' Choice winner, the Quest 4D.
Traction is an important consideration when looking at boots, and the type of traction offered by the boot will impact its usefulness in certain terrain types. Solid traction means increased safety, as we don't want to be slipping around all over the place, especially not when we are in consequential terrain like the side of a mountain or an exposed trail above a steep drop. The lug pattern and shape impact the sole's grip by biting into the surface as well as providing surface area contact. A boot with heavy-set, deep lugs may chew through mud and snow, but will not do as well on smooth rock slabs as a boot with lower-profile, smooth lugs.
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 came in at the top of the pack in this category.
Off trail rock scrambling provides a great test for traction and stability.
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. It is perhaps the best boot in this review for technical rock climbing, with a sticky climbing zone in the toe and a sole that ascends steep rock with ease.
Our expert testers putting the boots traction performance to the test in loose scree conditions.
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.
We took each model on a long snowshoe hike to help determine which were most comfortable.
While these are different traction scenarios, we assigned all the products an overall traction score. 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.
A lightweight trip along the Sierra High Route was a great place to let the X Ultras run.
Weight is an important factor, as the heavier the boot is, the less efficient you will be throughout a long day hiking. In general, lighter is better, but only up to a point. You have chosen a hiking boot for its improved stability, support, and traction over the lighter hiking shoe or trail runner models, so don't give up too much of these key traits just to get the lightest boot possible, as there will be diminishing returns. When looking for your next pair of hiking boots, don't just look at the weight alone. Weight is better seen as a tie-breaker once you narrow down your options.
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, and we awarded this model the Top Pick for Lightweight Hiking Award, as it is such a well-rounded performer in all of our metrics, even though it was bested in the weight metric by Hoka. 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 hauling considerable weight, burlier mid and high-top boots are going to be the safest option. We awarded 15% of the total score to weight.
No footwear remains waterproof forever, but we expect the waterproof lining of this boot, the Keen Targhee II, to give way before most of the other competitors.
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 Quest 4D 3 comes in with a height of 4.5 inches.
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 Lowa Renegade.
Most of the boots were waterproof enough to handle the usual wet crossings you find out on the trail. Individual scores are highlighted in the table above.
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. 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.
Reviewer Ross Robinson rock hopping across a river that carved out the Colca Canyon in southern Peru, one of the deepest canyon systems in the world.
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 or Lowa Renegade, the better it would perform when pitted against rough wear.
Skiing down massive scree fields? Light and mid-weight boots will not last as long under this kind of abuse!
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. The Arcteryx Acrux TR uses a specialized SuperFabric that is essentially a synthetic membrane that is combined with an epoxy-based resin, which held up much better than we would have expected from the first glance. We can't say that it gives us a lot of confidence, though.
After a full season of use, boots that at first seem tough can already show heavy wear.
No boot is immune to damage, but we rated the St. Elias 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 Ventilator boots scored the lowest scores in this category. We assigned durability 10% of the total score, admitting that a season of testing is a short amount of time to flush out the exact differences in longevity.
Noting that any boot will be susceptible to normal wear and tear, there are important things that we can do to improve the lifespan of our footwear.
Applying waterproofing sprays or seam-sealer is beneficial to maintain the longevity of the water-resistance of your new boots.
A pair of good hiking boots can make all the difference in the enjoyment of a trip. Constantly treating blisters is no way to relax in the wilderness. Luckily, gone are the days of rigid leather boots that take years to break in - we now have amazingly comfortable boots to choose from. Unfortunately, we also have way more types of hiking footwear to consider, so hopefully this review has left you with more information to make this important purchase with. You are now much more educated in the decision making that goes into choosing the right boot, so enjoy browsing this selection and put yourself into a nice new pair of boots, and have fun taking them out onto the trails.
We hope this extensive review helps you find the perfect boots and allows for many miles of happy trails in them!