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We have tested hiking boots for a decade, with 55 unique models bought and pitted head-to-head. This updated review analyzes 16 of the best models available today. Our review team is a group of avid hikers, excited to share their experiences with you. This team of alpine guides and backcountry enthusiasts spent months hiking through mountains, deserts, and forests on the trail and off before scoring, ranking, and passing final judgment on all models we tested. The resulting review has in-depth details on specific performance areas and recommendations for your hiking goals and budget.
Many seams could present durability issues over the long-term
On the heavier side
Not best for light hiking
The Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex is the real deal, and we consider it to be the epitome of what a hiking boot should be. In this total package, you are treated with cushioned comfort, excellent stability, and some of the best waterproof credentials in the business. This boot is for hikers who want to do long and demanding backpacking trips in difficult terrain, carrying a heavier pack. With the tallest ankle cuff height of any boot in our review and an innovative support structure, we feel these are the most stable backpacking boots out there, and the height also gives them an advantage in water resistance.
We wholeheartedly recommend this boot as the best overall option if you want the ultimate in performance. It excels on long hikes thanks to a customizable fit that adapts to the shape of your foot, it has the support you need when carrying an overnight backpacking kit, and its traction ensures that you won't be caught slipping. It weighs more than many in this review, though that weight is worth such a performance upgrade, in our opinion. The only aspect where this boot doesn't excel is with dumping heat and excess perspiration on hikes in hot and arid climates. We have been thoroughly impressed with previous iterations of this boot, and we can confidently say that Salomon has once again created a world-class hiker in the Quest 4 Gore-Tex.
The Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof is a comfortable and affordable hiking boot that feels good right out of the box. Testers were blister-free over dozens of miles, and the arch support is some of the best in the category. The insole and EVA midsole provide excellent cushioning, and the padded tongue minimizes chafing during ankle flexion. The suede and mesh upper don'tlook waterproof, but in reality, it offers above-average protection through shallow water crossings and mud. We also appreciate the traction pattern on the sole, which reduces build-up in mucky conditions.
We think the Moab 2 Mid offers a terrific mid-height option, but they don't provide the same support as a high-ankle boot. In addition, the suede and mesh upper have less rigidity than other models with nubuck or thicker nylon. And, despite their shorter height, the thick cushioning made for some especially sweaty feet on warm days. Though we didn't necessarily notice a huge difference, these boots are in the middle of the pack for weight, even though they don't provide as much ankle coverage. However, all things considered, the out-of-the-box comfort, solid all-around performance, and approachable price point make these shoes an excellent value.
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is a pared-down mountain boot, making it an optimal choice for off-trail travel, mountain scrambling, and carrying heavy loads. It has excellent stability, giving you the confidence to edge or smear up the steepest terrain you might encounter on a challenging cross-country hike. The Vibram sole is sticky while staying durable, and the full-grain leather upper will take a lot of abuse before it starts showing signs of wear.
That said, this boot's rigid midsole knocks some points off of its comfort score. It has a rockered sole, which will make it walk better than the average mountain boot, but it will not be as soft a ride as can be found in less stiff boots. You should check this out if you are into off-trail travel, carrying overnight packs, and scrambling up 3rd and 4th-class terrain.
Weight (per pair): 1.85 pounds | Upper: Leather and textile
REASONS TO BUY
More comfortable than most
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as rugged as many heavier models
The Salomon X Ultra Mid 4 Gore-Tex is one of the lightest hiking boots we have worn. These boots keep the same mid-ankle support that we expect for off-trail travel and excursions with heavy packs while shaving nearly a half-pound from the previous model — through some kind of black magic, we can only assume. These boots use the same ADV-C Chassis and ActiveSupport technologies as the low-top shoe version of this model, and we find that the support they offer is exceptional, wrapping securely around the foot to create a stable platform that resists rolling. They are waterproof thanks to the Gore-Tex liner, making them perfectly suited for nearly all terrain types and environments.
Think of this boot as a bridge between the lightweight world of trail runners and hiking shoes and the heavy-duty traditional hiking boots. They are at the lightweight end of the boot spectrum, retaining some of the added stability and support that this category is known for, while cutting huge amounts of weight and remaining as flexible and agile as a running shoe. The sole might be thinner than some folks will want in uneven terrain, but that is a trade-off we are fine with on lightweight hikes. These are going to be best for the hiker who really wants the weight savings of the shoe but still needs the support of a boot.
The La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX is our favorite boot for coming out of water crossings unscathed. The Gore-Tex Surround lining and nubuck leather upper kept our feet dry, and the boot itself dried quickly after splashing through streams. The gusseted tongue also helped with water repellency. These are also one of the lighter pairs in this category, which definitely saved our feet after long miles. The Vibram sole has pleasantly grippy lugs, and the heel has some rock to it that makes it easier to brace and brake on downhills.
This boot's stability was a little disappointing. Even though it has extra cushioning on both the inside and outside of the ankle, the upper still gives way under torsion. We also found the lace hooks curiously and frustratingly difficult to use. It means that the laces stay really secure, but we've never really experienced issues with lace hooks on other models, so we aren't sure why La Sportiva went with the hard-to-use redesign here. In any case, for those who will be stomping through puddles and making their way across streams, brooks, and shallow rivers, this model is our first choice.
Our expert panel of testers is led by Ryan Huetter, a full-time AMGA/IFMGA certified mountain guide 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, living and backpacking in Thailand, Peru, and Germany, with at least 500 miles hiked in each country. Rounding out this powerhouse duo is Ben Applebaum-Bauch, another thoroughly seasoned backpacker and hiker. Ben has guided trips all over the Appalachian Trail, including the 100-Mile Wilderness, and climbed more peaks than he's managed to count. Thanks to this impressive test team, we feel confident in our assessments and the advice we provide to help guide you to your next best hiking boot.
Our hiking boot testings is divided across six rating metrics:
Comfort tests (25% of overall score weighting)
Stability tests (20% weighting)
Traction tests (15% weighting)
Weight tests (15% weighting)
Water Resistance tests (15% weighting)
Durability tests (10% weighting)
Over a decade, we've tested 55 pairs of hiking boots. 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. This review draws on hours of research followed by months of testing, more than 350 miles of collective hiking, and specific tests. Comfort is king in any footwear, so we weighted it heaviest. The score in the Traction metric combines our experience hiking in each boot for up to 20 miles, as well as an average of each product's scores on specific dry rock, wet rock, scree, mud, and scrambling tests.
Analysis and Test Results
We believe that all good hiking boots can be effectively assessed using six key traits. We developed a scoring system based on weighted metrics to rate each boot objectively. After spending countless hours hiking in each model, taking diligent notes about their performance, we tally up the scores to give you a clear understanding of each model's performance. Boots that score well across all metrics are given top awards, while others may do admirably in one or two categories and are awarded for their specialized performance.
Value is an important aspect to consider, as you want to get the best boot that will suit your needs for the lowest price. We think of value in terms of how much performance you get for each dollar spent. There are some very competitively-priced boots in our review, and we give them accolades for bringing great comfort and performance.
We find that as price increases, the best gains come in the stability and durability metrics. You'll pay more for high-quality materials that are well crafted, and these boots usually last longer. You can get a good boot that will provide stability for a reasonable price, but we found the most expensive boots in our review to be the best at tackling rough off-trail, especially with lots of weight in the pack. For instance, the Scarpa Zodiac GTX is really expensive but also perfectly suited to cross-country hiking and peak-bagging. That said, if you want to spend a lot less, the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof delivers solid all-around performance for a very reasonable price, as does the Salomon X Ultra Mid 4 Gore-Tex.
The most critical 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 and more cushioned midsoles underfoot. 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 Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX is comfortable for a midweight boot and feels great from day one, requiring no break-in period, as is the Merrell Moab 2 Mid. The lightest models, such as the Hoka Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX, 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.
We noted three primary attributes when considering comfort.
How the foot feels in the footbed
How does the boot feel when laced up and standing? When laced, are there any pressure points, and how large is the toe box? When you step on that pointy rock on the trail, does your foot feel it? After several hours of hiking, which models still made our feet feel great? The Salomon X Ultra Mid 4 and Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof are among the most comfortable straight from the box. The Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex did the best job keeping our feet happy after many miles and hours with a moderate pack, though many other models were not far behind.
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 well as possible first and then fine-tuning the fit as necessary.
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 Salomon models 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 Merrell Moab 2 has a shorter cut with less ankle protection but is still quite comfortable.
How well the boot breathes to keep you cool and dry
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, and foot powder. Our perspective? Choose a boot with better breathability from the get-go. Wearing boots with a waterproof membrane (even a breathable one) always limits the ventilation ability of the footwear.
Overall, the Salomon and Merrell models are 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 increased 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, as well as the width of the sole and stiffness below the footbed to determine the rating for this metric. This review covers boots that barely rise above the ankle to much taller ones that provide unparalleled ankle support. Your needs may not require the full-on stability of a high-top model, and a mid-cut boot may give a better blend of flexibility, mobility, and support.
Also, consider that for many of the lighter weight models, such as the Hoka Speedgoat, 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 GTX Mid 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 Salomon Quest 4 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.
Finally, we grabbed the sole by the heel and toe and twisted side to side to get an idea of torsional stability, which is the boot's ability to resist the twisting of the sole on uneven surfaces. Better torsional stability translates to less foot fatigue on rough terrain, especially when carrying a load. Overall, we awarded the Salomon Quest 4 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 thanks to its plastic/urethane shank. Also notable is the Scarpa Zodiac Plus and La Sportiva Trango Tech.
Traction is one of the most important aspects of a hiking boot, but a lot goes into determining what qualifies as good traction. There are a few things to consider regarding a boot's ability to keep from slipping. The amount of stiffness that a boot offers, usually in the form of a shank, gives it more purchase when you can only get the toe of your foot onto an edge or if you need to kick steps up loose scree or snow. Secondly, the type of rubber compound used will impact how well the sole grips. Softer rubber will smear and deform against a smooth slab of granite, though this softer rubber will suffer longer-term durability issues. Harder rubber won't smear nearly as well, though it will give more bite into soft slopes and resist wear. Lastly, we consider the tread shape and patterning. Shallow lugs, the "teeth" on the bottom of the sole, will give more surface area contact and engage better with smooth terrain, while deeper and more spread out lugs will grip better in mud and snow, making them better for off-trail use.
During our backcountry exploits, across 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 as no surprise that the models made by the companies known for their quality rock climbing footwear rose to the top regarding traction. The Scarpa Zodiac Plus came in at the top of the pack in this category, though the La Sportiva Trango Tech GTX is nearly as capable and flexes slightly better in the forefoot, making it the better choice for smearing on rock slabs. The La Sportiva TXS GTX is another good option and might be an attractive middle-ground between comfort and traction. It blends some of the qualities found in these other climbing-oriented boots but makes them more approachable to the average hiker.
Moving on to loose terrain, we tested these boots in off-trail travel on High Sierra backpacking routes and alpine climbing approaches and descents. We found a narrower midsole offered better edging performance on looser ground, 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 on the toe and a sole that ascends steep rock with ease.
With a deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, we had many opportunities to test these boots in snow and mud as well. The best performers had stiffer soles for edging and serrated lugs to kick steps in mature summer snow and dislodge mud. The Quest 4 was a favorite of testers, followed by the Scarpa Zodiac Plus yet again.
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 in their respective reviews, as some sole types were high performers in certain terrain types but did not compete as well in a range of environments.
Weight is a factor to consider when choosing a hiking boot, as it translates directly into efficiency. It will be more efficient over the course of a hike (which for day-hikes has been estimated at between 6,300 and 10,500 steps on average) to lift less weight with each step. That makes intuitive sense, though there is a limit to the amount of weight savings a boot can have before there is a decrease in stability and performance on more aggressive terrain. We give 15% of our total scoring to this metric, recognizing that it is important but shouldn't be the single determining factor in choosing a boot.
The Hoka Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX is the lightest product we tested at 1.74 pounds for a US men's size 11 — a weight that was unheard of just a few years ago in this category. That said, while the Salomon X Ultra Mid 4 weighs slightly more with a verified weight of 1.85 pounds, it is much more capable as an all-around boot, from day-hikes to thru-hikes. There are certainly some trade-offs to going with the lightest possible boot, namely support and durability. Think of these boots as being a bridge between heavy-duty boots and more minimal hiking shoes.
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. 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 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. Most models use a Gore-Tex brand membrane, while Keen uses a proprietary Keen Dry membrane.
First, we measured what we call the "flood level" of each boot. A typical design feature of hiking boots is a gusseted or bellows 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 we could wade into with each boot before it flooded in over the top. The overall top-scoring Quest 4 Gore-Tex comes in with a height of 6 inches.
Second, we took each boot through a 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. There were varying degrees of performance. Taking the top spots are the La Sportiva Nucleo High II and Lowa Renegade, followed by the Salomon Quest 4, Merrell Moab 2 Mid, and others.
No waterproof membrane that is used to protect the foot can withstand continuous exposure to water. 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 Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX; with its heavy use of nylon mesh in the outer, it dried out in an impressive 30 minutes after being sopping wet. The Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX was also notable in this metric, with a PU leather upper that resisted inundation and quickly dried after being submerged.
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 a small fortune.
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. Throughout our hiking experience, we consistently find that the lighter-weight boots, utilizing lightweight materials, often begin breaking down ahead of the heavier-duty models we have tested. It's a general rule but one worth considering when looking into long-term value.
No boot is immune to damage, but the St. Elias and Quest 4 stood out as the most durable pieces we reviewed thanks to their reliance on thick leather outers rather than flimsy synthetic materials. 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.
If you want to get out and go hiking, your footwear choice is one of the most important decisions that you can make. While many are trending towards lighter shoes that eschew stability and comfort for dramatic weight savings, this can harm how much you enjoy your trip. Lightweight backpacking has its place, but if you are new to hiking or plan to carry a big pack, you should consider the benefits of a solid pair of sturdy hiking boots. Offering additional support that the lower-cut models simply cannot, investing in a good pair of boots ensures your trip against pain and discomfort, fatigued feet, and rolled ankles.
Ryan Huetter, Ross Robinson, and Ben Applebaum-Bauch
We selected the top hiking shoes and put them to the test...
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