Hiking shoes are our jam. We've trail-tested 53 pairs in the last 9 years. This review compares 16 of the best hiking shoes of 2021. Our experts covered hundreds of miles combined in these shoes, from dry, high alpine hikes to wet and muddy paths. Day hikes and multi-day adventures informed us on key performance areas like traction, all-day comfort, support, and more to bring you relevant comparisons. In several applications, hiking shoes can be the better choice than hiking boots, but choosing the ones to suit your needs isn't a cakewalk. Our review guides you to the ideal shoe for your foot, whether you want the lightest pair, a trail-running hiker, or just a screamin' deal.Related: Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2021
Best Hiking Shoes for Men of 2021
|Price||Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Check Price at REI|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$159.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|Check Price at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Pros||Excellent performance, lightweight, great traction, water resistance, support||Excellent comfort and traction, waterproof||Extremely comfortable, lightweight, supportive||Supportive, great traction, lightweight||Very lightweight, waterproof|
|Cons||Cuff can be uncomfortable on ankle for some, Quicklace lacing not everyone's favorite||Expensive, not the most durable||Not as cushioned as previous Hoka models, some traction issues||Stiff, lacing is hard to tighten||Soft sole|
|Bottom Line||This is the definition of a solid hiking shoe, and is a perfect choice for those not wanting to compromise on off-trail performance||This hiking shoe combines comfort with incredible on-trail performance better than any other||Ideal for fastpacking missions with a great combination of comfort, support and performance||This is a supportive hiking shoe that is perfect for scrambling and peak bagging||Superlight hiking shoes that offer excellent waterproofness and comfort|
|Rating Categories||Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex||La Sportiva Spire GTX||HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex||Mountain Trainer Lite GTX||Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX|
|Water Resistance (5%)|
|Specs||Salomon X Ultra 4...||La Sportiva Spire...||HOKA ONE ONE Toa...||Mountain Trainer...||Arc'teryx Aerios...|
|Weight of Size 11 Pair||1.76 lbs||2.06 lbs||2.03 lbs||2.16 lbs||1.64 lbs|
|Upper||Synthetic, textile||Abrasion-resistant mesh||Synthetic||Synthetic||Cordura mesh|
|Waterproof Lining||Gore-Tex membrane||Gore-Tex Surround||Gore-Tex membrane||Gore-Tex Extended Comfort||Gore-Tex membrane|
|Flood Level (inches)||3.25 in||4.75 in||5 in||3.5 in||3.5 in|
|Last Board/Shank||ADV-C chassis||Molded EVA||EVA||Nylon||TPU shank|
|Midsole||EnergyCell||5mm Ortholite Insole, Compression Molded EVA, TPU inserts||Rubberized||EVA||Compressed EVA|
|Outsole||Contagrip MA rubber||Vibram XS Trek with Impact Brake System||Vibram MegaGrip||Pomoca MTN trainer Lite||Vibram MegaGrip|
Best Overall Hiking Shoe
Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex
The Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX hiking shoe is built to chew up even the roughest trails you have your eyes set on. These shoes are made especially for rugged terrain where high-performance ability on a variety of surfaces is required. Built on an AVD-C Chassis, the support offered by these low-top hikers is top-tier, and the combination of SensiFit technology and Quicklace lacing system allows the shoe to conform to your foot. By cinching and uncinching the laces, these shoes are quick to put on and take off, convenient to swiftly shake out any intruding sediment, and when getting in and out of a tent. We love how confident our footwork feels thanks to the deep-set lugs on the outsole, and what a difference solid waterproofing thanks to a Gore-Tex membrane can make to our hiking comfort. For all of these attributes, it is surprising that the X Ultra 4 GTX shoes come in at such a low weight, a measly 1.75 pounds. This new iteration of a well-known and well-regarded classic shaves off nearly a quarter pound per pair. As a bonus, the price tag is moderate compared to the other options available.
Our testers like the convenience of the Quicklace system, but we realize it's not for everyone. Traditional laces allow hikers to fine-tune the fit in various areas of the upper with tying techniques that these laces cannot. Still, we liked the uniformly snug fit the laces allow, and since few people actually take the time to make micro-adjustments with traditional laces, we think this is a very minor issue. Additionally, the first time we wore these shoes, we noticed that the ankle cuff is slightly higher than on most hikers in our line-up. To reduce ankle rub, we wore thinner socks and then had no further issues. As with all shoes, individual fit can lead to a different experience. We feel that there is something in this shoe for everyone to like, though it is stiffer than others and feels a bit much for simple walks. Compared to the top shoes we've tested, though, our testers are convinced that this is the most full-package, low-cut hiker on the market, and readily recommend it as the best option available.
Read review: Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex
Best Bang for Your Buck
The Vasque Juxt has impressed us for years with its performance per dollar ratio. This inexpensive model is comfortable, supportive, and is a recommended shoe for those hiking in dry environments like the desert. The outsole is grippy and offers excellent traction on dry rock, and the leather upper is more durable than many synthetic materials while still maintaining a lighter-than-average weight. We love this shoe as a do-it-all day hiker for warm-weather activities like desert hiking that do not require a waterproof membrane.
Our main concerns with the Juxt revolve around their lack of waterproofing. Most models in this review have some kind of sewn-in waterproof/breathable membrane, while this one has none. If you're heading for mostly dry trails, this may not be a problem for you. Another issue is the less durable craftsmanship around the shoe's upper. We found a few issues with the stitching and might not recommend this model for heavy use in very abrasive environments. For trail hikes, from short to long, though, it's tough to finder a better price on the market.
Read review: Vasque Juxt
Best Waterproof Bargain
The North Face Ultra 111 WP
The North Face Ultra 111 WP is our favorite waterproof option for those seeking a pair of hikers on a budget. It is hard to find a shoe with a waterproof liner as capable as this model without spending a lot more money. Comfortable as a pair of running shoes, these hikers are great for days spent trail running but are also supportive enough to hike with moderate loads on overnight excursions. We were especially impressed with this shoe's traction, and feel that it does an exemplary job at gripping both wet and dry terrain.
We find the Ultra 111 to be well-rounded and capable at everything from day hikes to lightweight backpacking trips, though it lacks some of the stability that stiffer or higher-cut models do provide. They use a lot of mesh and synthetic materials and we have had some durability issues with past models from The North Face. They are not made for years of abuse, but for such great overall performance that includes a solid waterproof liner, we think they are a great value.
Read Review: The North Face Ultra 111 WP
HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex
The Hoka One One Toa is the epitome of comfort. Built on a highly cushioned midsole, Hoka hiking shoes feel luxurious on the feet even after a long and taxing day pounding out miles on the trail. They are a mid-cut shoe, so they offer a lot of additional support for the ankle that many other lower-cut models do not, giving them an edge up for packing with a bit more weight. They are incredibly waterproof thanks to an inner Gore-Tex membrane, but also breathe effectively so they can be used when conditions are drier as well.
The RMAT sole of the Toa GTX feels wide and offers a lot of surface area traction, so they are well-suited to trail use, though they feel a bit out of place when in lots of loose sediment. While this can be a detraction from certain kinds of terrain, their plush midsole and EVA shank help to deflect a lot of the impacts experienced on the trail. They are a perfect solution to the aches and pains of long days on hard, unforgiving surfaces.
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex
Best for Lightweight Hiking
Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
The Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX is the lightest hiking-specific shoe we have ever reviewed. They are virtually unnoticeable when on the foot, which was a blessing as we embarked on a 19-mile hike to test these shoes out. Surprisingly nimble, the featherweight shoes also give decent support and traction, not to mention being exceptionally waterproof and breathable. Our feet were hardly even sweaty even after hiking in dry and dusty conditions.
The Aerios are ridiculously light, but in achieving this weight, they do lose some long-term durability. We put them to the test and hiked about 300 miles in them before they became too soft to be useful for trail hiking anymore. The outer of the shoe still looked surprisingly good, but the structure of the midsole and the heel cup had broken down enough that they were not as supportive as they once were. This still seems like a reasonable lifespan for such a niche hiking shoe, and we look forward to buying our next pair to test.
Read review: Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
Best for Scrambling
Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
The Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX is another shoe that our testers have held onto, refusing to give it back. We feel that the Mountain Trainer embodies the important elements in a good hiking shoe. It is light, hovering around 2 pounds, comfortable in all conditions, has great waterproofing, and is super durable. Our lead tester has abused his pair on long-distance trail hikes in the mountains and the desert, has used them as approach shoes to access rock climbing venues, and even found them to be supportive enough to be good work shoes. This is one of the best models we tested for scrambling around in the mountains, climbing off-trail and up to summits that involve 3rd class terrain.
The Mountain Trainer Lite GTX is one of the stiffer soled shoes in our review, a trait that many will benefit from, but they are not nearly as flexible and easy to walk in as some of the other, lighter shoes that more closely resemble a running shoe. We also find them to be a bit uncomfortable at first, as the more rigid material breaks down, but they are not nearly as difficult to break in as an old school boot. These are a great choice as an all-purpose hiker, but we recommend them for those who might want to venture onto challenging off-trail routes.
Read review: Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
An Excellent Runner-Up
La Sportiva Spire GTX
The La Sportiva Spire GTX has been another favorite of our reviewers. This capable hiking shoe performs admirably on all types of trails, from on-trail walks to long-distance through hikes over rough cross-country routes. Supportive and comfortable, we are also impressed with their weight. While there are certainly lighter models out there that we showcase for their weight, at 2.06 pounds per pair the Spire GTX gives us a lot of hiking performance and has great scores in waterproofness.
The Spire GTX is a shoe we would recommend to people who want a great waterproof shoe, who have narrower feet, and who would rather have a traditional lacing system rather than speed laces. This is an expensive shoe, and so it does not earn our highest award, though it is still a fantastic hiking shoe. This shoe hangs right with the performance of the Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex, and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend either pair to our hiking friends.
Read review: La Sportiva Spire GTX
Why You Should Trust Us
This review was tag-teamed by Ross Robinson and Ryan Huetter. As a seasoned world traveler and backpacker, Ross gets around on foot quite often. It's a big part of his lifestyle, whether in the granite peaks of his home in California's Sierra Nevada or during his many forays abroad. He has lived and worked in places like Thailand, Peru, and Germany, and has made tracks for at least 500 miles in each. Ross is joined by Ryan, a full-time mountain guide who spends more than 200 days a year hiking, climbing, and recreating on and off-trail. As a IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide through the American Mountain Guides Association, Ryan is an outdoor professional. Hiking on a trail is his daily commute. Being tied to the outdoor industry, Ryan can hear about interesting products as they come to market and then hear firsthand accounts from clients and other guides to include in his product research.
Since the category of hiking shoes (or shoes that could easily be hiked in) is broad, our review staff and editors spend a great deal of time sifting through the countless models of shoes out there before settling on the top models for our reviewers to test. This starts with a lot of research, both in person at trade shows and retailer events as well as online. Once we select our test shoes, chosen based on what models seem interesting, exciting, or are highly regarded. We then buy each pair and ship them out to our expert review staff, who spend untold hours hiking around in these shoes. We hike for our living, so it is an enjoyable task, though we use our predetermined metrics to judge each pair and see how they perform against each other. Once we have walked many miles in each one of these hiking shoes, then we tally up our results and write the thoughtful, in-depth reviews that you as an OutdoorGearLab reader have come to know and expect.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
We tested these models of hiking shoes thoroughly, taking meticulous notes along the way so that we could score them all using a set of pre-defined testing metrics. Each shoe was scored on a scale of 1 through 10 on each of these metrics, which are weighted in importance, resulting in an overall score. While it is useful to look at this score to see which models were the best across all metrics, therefore becoming our highest award-winning shoes, you should also pay attention to how each shoe does based on a specific application. Some might not score as well overall but are so good at for specialized use that they win a top-pick award for this performance.
Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Shoes
Many purchase decisions require us to prioritize one consideration over another. For example, with hiking shoes, you might prefer something lightweight, but chances are it won't be as supportive as a result. If you're wondering about the trade-off between the price and our estimate of the product's value, this review can help. One of our favorite value options, the Vasque Juxt, gives the best performance for the lowest dollar amount, yet it lacks a waterproof lining. For those of you who want this added weather protection but still want to save some cash where you can, then look to The North Face Ultra 109 WP, which we gave the nod for its value as a waterproof model. The Ultra 109 represents the best price-savings on a high-performance model with waterproofing that we have seen in years. Throughout years of testing, we acknowledge that high-quality models start around a hundred bucks, but you don't have to spend much more than that to get a quality pair.
Comfort is king when it comes to all hiking footwear. There is simply no reason to choose a shoe that does not feel great right out of the box. Everyone's foot is different, and we tend to recommend ordering a few different shoes and keeping the ones that fit the best. Luckily, we are past the days of excruciating break-in periods, these shoes are made from lighter and less rigid materials that allow them to be ready to hit the trail from the moment you lace them up.
When we test for comfort, we take extensive notes on how the shoe feels. Right out of the box, we start scrutinizing things like material stiffness, ease of entry and removal, lacing systems, and roominess. A shoe should not need to be broken in if it is made from synthetic fabrics such as mesh and PU coated nylon, as is now quite common. The material should wrap around the foot without feeling bulky or clunky, and it should not have any stiffness that causes any discomfort while walking, such as a tongue that cuts into your ankle. We consider the entire shoe and cover everything, including the way the cuff feels around the ankle, the width of the shoe, the insole quality, and arch support, the size of the toe box as well as any improvements to comfort and protection such as a molded toe cap or bumper.
The way shoelaces are secured can affect your comfort, so we considered the ease or difficulty of fine-tuning the fit. We enjoyed the ease and high functionality of speed lacing systems that require no knot-tying, as found on the Salomon and Adidas models. Most models we review do not have the lacing hooks that hiking boots normally do, but a couple of the shoes with taller cuffs, such as the Hoka Toa GTX, has a couple of pairs of hooks to help securely wrap around the ankle. To test shock absorption in each model, we jumped down off a boulder onto a flat rock landing and noted how much impact was felt in our feet and knees.
Finally, we looked at how well each model breathes. Dry feet are comfortable feet, and a good design keeps feet dry when splashing through puddles and breathes well on warmer days. We took each model to the local gym to walk on a treadmill at the same speed (3 mph), same incline (moderate), and for the same distance (1 mile) in the same socks (no fear, we cleaned them between trials). Afterward, we noted how hot our feet were, then removed the shoes to check for sock dampness and sweat accumulation on our feet. The products without a waterproof membrane, the Vasque Juxt and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator, turned out to breathe the best, as expected. Of the shoes with waterproof membranes, the La Sportiva Spire GTX breathes the most, likely thanks to the added air ventilation below the insole. Some users will need to choose a shoe with a waterproof lining based on where they go hiking (wet environments), but if you live in an arid climate, then consider one of these shoes without a liner so that your feet will breathe better and not get as sweaty and damp.
Without a doubt, the Hoka One One Toa GTX is the most comfortable in our review, as it provides luxurious comfort with a thick cushioned midsole that helps shield your feet from the jarring impacts of firm surfaces like rocks and packed down trails. Our testers didn't need to break them in; they were comfy from day one to day…still counting.
Light is right for footwear. One of the benefits of a hiking shoe over a full boot is the significant weight shed from every step while still providing a bit more stability and durability over a trail runner or tennis shoe. To compare the different models accurately, we weigh each one ourselves, all size 11 US, on a digital scale straight out of the box.
The different pairs ranged between 1.64 and 2.46 pounds. That pound difference might not seem like much on paper, but we noticed it underfoot. The Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX is the lightest pair that we tested, though it's worth noting that it isn't as comfortable nor as supportive in the midsole as other pairs. Furthermore, after moderate use over a year of use by our lead tester, it lost much of this support as the midsole material broke down. The Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex only weighs a touch more at 1.76 lbs and offers more longevity and stiffer support. We think this balance of low weight and support is unmatched in all models we have tested, and a big reason the X Ultra wins favor among our testers. On the opposite end, the Oboz Firebrand II B-Dry is the heaviest pair that we tested, but also the most stable and clearly built with longevity in mind.
While weight is an important trait, you do not always have to choose between weight and performance. The La Sportiva Spire GTX weighs a hair over 2 pounds but is among the more comfortable, stable, and supportive options, too. The Vasque Juxt weighs just over 2 pounds and is equally nice underfoot. Most of our favorite shoes hover right around two pounds. More than two pounds and the shoe will likely boast better durability thanks to heavier, natural materials, as well as improved support thanks to a more burly midsole construction.
Traction is an incredibly important trait to consider in a hiking shoe. The amount of grip that the shoe's outsole provides is a direct relation to how secure we will feel in our footing, no matter if we are walking the dog on a local trail or if we are out scrambling up peaks deep in the backcountry. The basis for a shoe's traction is the outsole. Made from rubber compounds and molded into different shapes called lugs, the sole of the shoe is what gives us traction.Depending on your application, you may want a shoe with softer or harder rubber. Soft rubber will conform better to smooth surfaces such as rock slabs, while harder rubber will resist deformation and bite into loose terrain better while also lasting longer. Some companies outsource their rubber selection to well-known companies like Vibram, while others choose to go with an in-house or proprietary rubber blend.
Lug pattern and shape will also impact your shoe's ability to hold on to the terrain you are on. Wide and shallow lugs give more surface area contact, making them more appropriate for packed trails and firm surfaces, while deeper and sharper cut lugs will provide a better grip on loose trails, mud, and snow.
Midsole inserts that are made of a molded plastic also contribute to a shoe's traction by giving the user a more stable and secure platform to edge upon, making a dime-edge seem like a much broader ledge to use as a foothold. The Salewa Wildfire Edge has an edging plate that makes it a very effective climber. Other models, such as the Oboz Firebrand II Bdry, utilize a nylon shank that produces similar stability underfoot that is more generally useful without being so specialized as to be as good at climbing as a more niche model.
Each model was tested side-by-side on five separate surface types to come up with the shoes' overall traction score. We even wore different shoes on each foot when trekking through the test areas to have direct comparisons in their purchase ability. First, we walked up and down dry granite slabs. Most models performed well in these scenarios, while the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX and Spire GTX stuck best to the steepest slopes. All three pairs have lugs that allow for lots of surface area contact. The Salewa Wildfire Edge has the best ability to edge and smear, thanks to its lower profile, even smooth sole, making it the best for technical rock climbing. In our wet rock test, we walked back and forth across the same wet rocks in mountain brooks and streams. The Salewa models impressed us on both wet and dry rock.
We also hustled up slopes of loose sediment in our traction tests, in which the more aggressive tread of the Salomon X Ultra 4 dug in better than the rest. On the eastern side of the Sierra in Spring, we found a trail covered in mud from the thawing snow. Again, the X Ultra's deep and multi-directional lugs cut through the mud most efficiently, finding hidden rocks or more stable soil to gain purchase. We also preferred the shoes with heel brakes when descending loose and sloppy terrain, keeping us from sliding out much better than the outsoles without it.
Finally, we walked up and down some gentle snow-covered slopes warmed into a slushy state by the midday sun. The Salomon X Ultra model kicked in steps in the snow the best going up. Coming down, we again fell for outsoles with heel brakes, which tended to catch a sliding foot. The La Sportiva Spire GTX also did well in the snow. We also factored our experiences on and off the hiking trails into the traction score on top of our specially designed tests. Overall, the Salomon X Ultra showcases the best all-around traction, while the Salewa Mountain Trainer and Wildfire Edge prove to have the most purchase on rock, a boon for rugged alpine travel.
How much support a shoe provides is based on several factors, including the thickness and materials of the midsole, thickness of the outsole, the shape of the last, and, to a lesser extent, the insole. An ideal hiking shoe is stiff from heel to midfoot but flexible upfront. Most models reviewed included a shank between the midsole and outsole, which increases stiffness and protects you over rough terrain. Stability is also affected by the forefoot width and the height of the ankle collar.
To investigate stiffness underfoot, we tested the lateral torsion of each model. Reliable torsional support reduces the risk of injury in uneven terrain and when carrying a load. Holding the front of the shoe in one hand and the heel in the other, we twisted the shoe, similar to wringing out a towel. The more twist resistance indicated greater rigidity in the sole. This rigidity improves a shoe's support when moving through talus and rough terrain or scrambling and hopping boulders. The Keen Targhee II and Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX are some of the stiffest in a group of contenders that varies widely in this aspect. Those who desire hefty underfoot structure may also find the Oboz Firebrand II to be a helpful model. We were pleased that all products reviewed flexed sufficiently in the forefoot.
We also measured the forefoot at its widest point on each product. Wide bases provide a stable foundation for powering through each step. The Hoka One One and Merrell models tied for the broadest forefoot at 4.75 inches. We also measured the height of the ankle collar (from the footbed to the highest ankle point) to check ankle stability. While ankle protection is more of a thing with hiking boots, we still appreciate a pair of hiking shoes that offers more stability than a typical trail runner.
Lastly, we also considered the quality of the insole. It appears that some manufacturers view the insole as just an opportunity to add cushioning and improve the fit of the footbed. We appreciated manufacturers that took the insole as an opportunity to add support to the heel and arch. The stiffest insole award goes to the Keen models, while the Salomon, Vasque, and Merrell products also beefed up their insoles by adding a second, more dense layer of foam to the back half of the foot. This extra support does not take away from comfort in the footbed in any case. While many hikers see buying third-party insoles as automatic, hiking shoes are not cheap, and we like insoles that aren't, too.
The Mountain Trailer Lite and the Targhee II excelled in this metric, topping the charts as the most stable under any conditions imaginable. These are great hiking shoes for those who might feel the need to carry heavier packs or who require more ankle support. Low-cut shoes that wrap around the bottom of the ankle can provide that much more stability and we tend to favor them when hiking on rough and uneven terrain where the risks of twisting an ankle are higher.
Shoes are shoes, and you could feasibly get by using one pair to do everything from going to work, walk the dog, hike the Colorado Divide Trail, and even run a marathon. The question is how well they will do in these varied applications. A good hiking shoe, in our minds, will be able to handle all moderately difficult hiking trails with ease, with and without a backpack, and some off-trail travel in more demanding terrain. A few of these models may be able to moonlight as a casual shoe around town, or as a trail-running shoe for wet and sloppy conditions.
Do you want one do-it-all shoe or a quiver of options for different adventures? If you are new to hiking, it's likely that a versatile, do-everything shoe fits your needs. But, if you have specific priorities and a bigger budget, two or more pairs of specialized shoes could give you focused performance. Keep in mind that a shoe designed for hiking is only part of your adventure footwear quiver, which might already include boots, trail running shoes, approach shoes, etc.
At a bare minimum, a product in this category must handle several miles with a light daypack stuffed with a water bottle, snacks, an extra layer, and a camera. All models we reviewed pass this low standard. During testing, we also packed a midsize pack (30-40 liter volume) with 15-20 pounds and hit the trails in the contenders. After a few miles, the added weight of a pack separated the rest of the "pack." Our favorites for moderate backpacking trips are the Keen Targhee II and Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX models, which have great ankle and foot support.
Many models also bear a strong resemblance to trail running shoes. Some of the shoes we tested, such as the La Sportiva Spire GTX, TNF Ultra 111 WP, and the Scarpa Rush GTX could easily be taken out on your favorite trail run, making them highly versatile. The thing that sets them apart from your average trail runner is the added support and traction, and especially the waterproof liner, a less common attribute in trail shoes. These models tend to be our favorite choices for trips that will involve a lot of miles, such as a fast-packing adventure on such iconic summertime trails as the Wonderland, the JMT, and the Long Trail.
It's no secret dry feet provide more comfort and warmth than wet ones. Moisture and water in the footbed also increase the likelihood of blisters. The trade-off for solid waterproofing is lower breathability, warmer feet, and a higher price tag. Most of the shoes we reviewed had a waterproof liner, except for the Salewa Wildfire Edge, Vasque Juxt, and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilators. Many of the models that we tested come in both standard and "waterproof" options (a designation in the name like "GTX" for Gore-Tex or "Dry" usually gives it away). Popular liners include options from Gore-Tex or eVent, while some manufacturers, like Keen, use a proprietary membrane. We chose to test the waterproof versions as much as possible because the average hiker encounters wet conditions often, from water crossings to muck and slush to precipitation and more. Unless you're only hiking in Death Valley - and hey, even they get rain sometimes - it usually makes sense to have a pair with a waterproof liner.
To score the contenders in this metric, we considered their flood heights, how readily the upper absorbs water, and performance in our waterproof challenge. After a couple of months of hiking, we headed to a small mountain stream in the Eastern Sierra. Checking for leaks, we splashed around in water deep enough to cover the forefoot. We walked around and flexed the forefoot to see if the added stress caused any leakage. After five minutes, we removed the shoes to see if any water made it inside.
The Hoka Toa Gore-Tex emerged from the water on top of all other models. It has a relatively tall flood height (5 inches) among the shoes we tested, kept our feet dry through the waterproof test, and resisted absorbing water into its synthetic upper. This shoe's height straddles the line between low-cut shoe and mid-cut boot.
Similar water resistance effectiveness came from the La Sportiva Spire GTX, Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex, The North Face Ultra 111 WP, and Scarpa Rush GTX models, passing the waterproof test but having lower flood heights than the Hoka Toa. Any water these models did soak up dried quickly.
A few seconds after stepping into the water in the Juxt, our feet were soaked. The same went for the Moab 2 Ventilator. Not having a waterproof membrane, this was expected, and we only put them through this liquid suffering for equality's sake. Two shoes with waterproof membranes, however, did leak — both the Keen Targhee II and the Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof. Our feet remained dry for a few minutes in both, but they couldn't survive the full five minutes underwater. The Keen leaked more than the Merrell, while the Merrell absorbed more liquid into its mesh-heavy upper. Water resistance declines with use and time, but we expected more from these two models after only 15-20 miles in each pair.
All of these shoes benefit from a leather or fabric conditioner applied to the upper. Nikwax has a range of products that are great for treating the mixed material uppers of these shoes. A leather or fabric treatment keeps water from soaking the shoe's upper materials. Even when the waterproof liner stops water, it makes your shoe heavy and hinders breathability. The La Sportiva and Salomon products soaked up the least water and dried faster than the others.
The are many trade-offs when designing hiking footwear, and the cost for a more durable shoe is commonly more weight. When a manufacturer focuses on making lightweight shoes, durability is less of a focus. Full leather uppers tend to be more durable than synthetics but also weigh more. Rubber-covered toe boxes also increase durability in that high-wear area, yet again add to the shoe's weight. Durable, dense rubber soles are also heavier than softer rubber. Your footwear takes more punishment than any other kind of hiking gear you wear, making craft, materials, and design an important part of choosing a pair that ages well.
While we didn't test each product's entire lifespan, we put a minimum of 15 to 20 miles on each shoe and checked them at the end of the testing period for any signs of weakness or wear. We looked at protection in high wear areas, rubber density of the sole, materials and construction of the upper, quality of stitching, and other unique characteristics of each shoe. We also talked to fellow hikers on the trails about their shoe experiences.
The burly Oboz Firebrand II B-Dry appears to be the most durable pair of shoes we tested. It has a burly outsole, uses much more robust materials for the upper, and stacks a whole lot of material into the shank to create the support and stability it imparts to the wearer. It will last you a long time, but the added weight penalty might not be worth it for everyone. We found the Keen Targhee II and theSalewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX to blend durability and weight for more approachable longevity.
Cleaning and treating your footwear increases its life expectancy. Mud and sand left on the upper create premature wear. Warm water and a soft brush is your best tactic for cleaning. Nikwax offers a line of leather and fabric conditioners, including products for suede leather and synthetic fabrics. Common wear areas, like the flex points on the forefoot and seams that are prone to scuffing, can be reinforced. Applying Gear Aid Seam Grip or a similar sealer keeps out dirt and sand, prolonged use, and has the added benefit of keeping water out.
Few things make us happier than a good pair of hiking shoes. These capable low-cut models provide all the traction, comfort, and versatility that a pair of boots might, but at a much-reduced weight. For most of us who don't tend to carry big, heavy packs out onto the trails, these are the perfect ticket to having an enjoyable hiking experience. They are more comfortable, they breathe better while still providing waterproofing, and they take virtually no time to break in and get used to. Do yourself a favor and slip into a nice new pair of hiking shoes, we expect your feet will thank you.
— Ryan Huetter and Ross Robinson