We have been testing hiking boots for almost a decade, with over 80 models tested. This 2020 review provides in-depth coverage for the 16 best models currently available. Our review staff is a group of avid hikers and they want to share their experiences with you. This team of alpine guides and backcountry enthusiasts spent months hiking through mountains, deserts and forests, both 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, as well as recommendations for your hiking goals and budget.Related: The Best Hiking Boots for Women of 2020
The Best Hiking Boots for Men of 2020
Best Overall Model
Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
The Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is the benchmark in this category and is once again our Editors' Choice Award hiking boot. It has long defined what boots can and should aspire to be, providing users with top-of-the-line performance across every single one of our review metrics. While other models come and go, the Quest 4D has been there year after year, atop our winner's podium, a testament to the enduring ability of this quality boot. With ample comfort and support, the Quest 4D is a backpacker's dream, and it lets you carry heavy weight with confidence. Those venturing off the trail will be happy with the Quest's traction and durability, and in wet weather, this boot was almost without peer. Built for hiking and built to last, the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is the real deal.
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
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
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. While there are lighter boots in our review, they did not provide as much well-rounded capability and are mostly suited to on-trail adventures while the X Ultra 3 Mid has better traction, is more supportive, and is more durable.
This is a really great boot for the value it provides. It did well in all of our testing criteria and did not have any major downsides. We feel that in loose terrain it did not do as well as some of its competition, but for lighter-duty hiking use, which is what most of us likely do, this boot gives phenomenal value for money and is a great choice for long-distance hikes as well as for local walks around the park.
Read the review: Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX
Best for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Kaha GORE-TEX
HOKA ONE ONE has become the beginning and end of the conversation about comfort in hiking shoes and boots. Hokas are now known the world over for their supreme cushioning, which made a name in ultra-running but now has been translated into highly effective trail-ready boots. The Kaha GORE-TEX is their flagship hightop hiking boot and it is a dream to walk around in. With a rockered sole and ample foam cushioning the foot from impact, it is at home on firm trails but is also loved by many as a work boot for those standing around much of the day on concrete. This boot now includes the well-known Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable liner to ensure that your feet stay dry in wet conditions. It offers excellent stability and durability so when you buy these boots you can be assured they are built to last.
This is a great boot for lighter-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: HOKA ONE ONE Kaha GORE-TEX
Best for Scrambling
Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
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
Why You Should Trust Us
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. 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.
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 Kaha GTX defines initial comfort. The Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX is comfortable for a midweight boot and feels great from day one, requiring no break-in period. 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.
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 among the most comfortable straight from the box, while the Kaha GTX is off the charts in this aspect. The Quest 4D 3 did the best job keeping our feet happy after many miles and hours with a moderate pack. Also worth noting is the Altra Lone Peak 4 Mid RSM, which has both a zero-drop sole height as well as an extra-wide toe box that allows the foot to spread out and relax, an especially nice feature when the miles are stacking up and your feet are beginning to swell in an otherwise snug-fitting boot.
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 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
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 Altra Lone Peak 4 to breathe quite well due to an advancement in the waterproof fabric they use in their upper.
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, 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 2 GTX, 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.
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 foot-fatigue 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 Altra Lone Peak 4 Mid due to its wide toe box and lack of any torsional stability.
The amount of traction your hiking boots provide you is one of the most important aspects of a boot's performance, and the type of sole you decide on is going to have a lot to do with the type of terrain you are planning on traveling through. Consider the difference between a Formula 1 race car and a dirt bike. The types of tires used in these two (very fun to drive) vehicles are quite different and specialized for the type of surfaces they operate on. Hiking shoes are no different. Soles can have softer or denser rubber compounds, which will conform better to different terrain types. Softer smears on rock better, while harder rubber edges better and resists wear. We also look at the patterning of the lugs. While a boot with many very deep lugs on a narrow mountain boot will excel in loose rubble (our dirt bike), the broad, shallower lugs found on a wide boot will provide more surface area to contact firm trail surfaces (our Formula 1 car). Now, you don't always have to choose one or the other. You can have it both ways, but when researching these models do recognize that some are much more specialized than others and, depending on your application, might be the better tool for the job.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Weight is an important factor. 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 2 GTX is the lightest product we tested at 1.74 pounds, a weight that was unheard of a few years ago in this category. The Altra Lone Peak 4 is only slightly heavier and is second lightest. While the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid weighs more than both of these models, it is much more capable as an all-around boot, from day-hikes to thru-hikes so we have awarded this model the Top Pick for Lightweight Hiking Award, as it is such a well-rounded performer. In all of our metrics, it did exceptionally well even though it was bested in the weight metric by others. 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.
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 Altra 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.
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 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.
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.
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. Lots of reviewers online noted that the Altra Lone Peak 4 does not hold up well to longterm abuse, which is easy to understand due to the lightweight fabric upper. The Arc'teryx 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.
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.
Nothing quite beats strapping a pack on and getting out into the wilderness. Up until fairly recently, hiking boots were heavy and cumbersome, requiring lots of time to break in but giving years of durability back in return. Now we have a lot more options to slip into lighter, more comfortable and less rigid boots, but there sure are a lot of those options out there. You might browse an online retailer and see dozens of boots, so which ones do you choose? We spent countless days hiking on and off trail in all of the models that we have included here in this review to best equip you with the information to get out there and buy yourself a pair of the best hiking boots that will suit your specific needs. Happy trails.
— Ryan Huetter and Ross Robinson