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The Best Hiking Shoes of 2019

Wherever your feet lead you  we want you to have the best shoes for the task. Happy feet  happy hiking  happy souls!
Monday November 11, 2019
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Looking for the best hiking shoes you can buy in 2019? We researched dozens of the top models and then bought 15 of the most popular, exciting, and newest models to review in a side-by-side test. There are so many models on the market that it can be hard to know which pair to buy. OutdoorGearLab is here to help! Our expert staff know hiking shoes inside and out, and have spent countless days testing these shoes to ensure that you end up armed with the best information with which to make your purchase.

Related: The Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2019


Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $120 List$142.50 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$170.00 at REI$112.46 at Backcountry
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$169.95 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
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Pros Great value, comfortable, lightweightExcellent comfort and traction, waterproofExtremely comfortable, lightweight, supportiveAggressive traction, great water resistance, versatileVery lightweight, waterproof
Cons Material shows wear after heavy useExpensive, not the most durableNot as cushioned as previous Hoka models, some traction issuesQuicklace system not for everyone, average ankle protectionSoft sole
Bottom Line A cross between a hiking shoe and a trail runner, this model blends comfort with performance at an unbeatable price.The La Sportiva Spire GTX is a hiking shoe built with the comfort of a running shoe.A blend of top-notch comfort with support in a lightweight package that makes them an excellent choice for long-distance hikers looking to shave weight and increase mobility.This shoe is nimble and aggressive for hikers who like to pick up the pace in any terrain.A lightweight hiking shoe that won't weigh you down during long days on the trail.
Rating Categories The North Face Ultra 110 GTX La Sportiva Spire GTX HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
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Specs The North Face... La Sportiva Spire... HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa Salomon X Ultra 3... Arc'teryx Aerios...
Weight of Size 11 Pair 2.07 lbs 2.06 lbs 2.12 lbs 1.95 lbs 1.64 lbs
Upper Mesh Abrasion-resistant mesh Synthetic Textile/synthetic leather Cordura mesh
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular
Waterproof Lining Gore-Tex Gore-Tex Surround eVent Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane Gore-Tex
Flood Level (inches) 4.25 4.75 4.25 4.5 3.5
Last Board/Shank EVA Molded EVA EVA Advanced chassis and molded shank TPU shank
Midsole EVA 5mm Ortholite Insole, Compression Molded EVA, TPU inserts EVA Injected EVA Compressed EVA
Outsole UltraTAC rubber Vibram XS Trek with Impact Brake System Vibram MegaGrip Non-marking ContaGrip Vibram MegaGrip
Warranty Limited 1 year 1 year 45 day 2 years 60 day return

Best Do-It-All Model


The North Face Ultra 110 GTX


Editors' Choice Award

$120 List
List Price
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Weight - 25% 8
  • Support - 15% 8
  • Traction - 15% 8
  • Versatility - 10% 9
  • Water Resistance - 5% 8
  • Durability - 5% 8
Weight: 2.07 lbs | Waterproof Lining: Gore-Tex Extended Comfort Range
All-around performance
Superior traction
Low weight
Average durability
Absorbent mesh upper

The North Face Ultra 110 GTX has once again won our Editors Choice Award. These shoes are truly outstanding. Not only do they give top performance in all of our testing metrics, but they do so consistently, and at an unbeatable price. They are such a bargain that we almost considered giving them the Best Buy Award too! With a burly sole, they can punch through all kinds of challenging terrain, but they do not weigh you down like a heavy-duty shoe. Instead, they are built on a trail runner last and are as nimble and light on the foot as a gym shoe.

The Ultra 110 did have a few issues after long-term testing. We saw the material begin to soften and wick moisture, and there were some concerns over the lacing system wearing out. Overall, however, this is a great shoe at an unbeatable price, and we awarded them our Editors' Choice Award again.

Read review: The North Face Ultra 110 GTX

Best Bang for the Buck


Vasque Juxt


Best Buy Award

$110 List
See It

65
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 8
  • Support - 15% 5
  • Traction - 15% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 6
  • Water Resistance - 5% 1
  • Durability - 5% 6
Weight: 1.9 lbs | Waterproof Lining: None, no gusseted tongue
Low weight and high breathability
Ideal for dry climates
Excellent price for a great shoe
Not for wet environments
Vulnerable stitching

Another veteran of the OutdoorGearLab Award podium, the Vasque Juxt, takes home the prize again for being the Best Buy. 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.

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 problems 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

Top Pick for Aggressive Hiking


Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX


Top Pick Award

$112.46
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 8
  • Support - 15% 7
  • Traction - 15% 9
  • Versatility - 10% 9
  • Water Resistance - 5% 8
  • Durability - 5% 6
Weight: 1.95 lbs | Waterproof Lining: Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane
Excellent all-around traction
Waterproof
Performs well on all trails
Unique lacing system not everyone's favorite

The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is one of the top performers in challenging conditions. It is a popular shoe with everyone from day hikers to long-distance hikers, and for good reason. This durable and capable shoe eats up the miles, whether on or off the trail, and thanks to effective waterproofing and a hardcore sole that bites into whatever terrain you encounter, they rise to the top in usefulness. They are also incredibly comfortable, being easy to wear on a long hike even when brand new. We favored these shoes most when carrying moderate pack weight of up to about 35 pounds, but wanted something a little bit more substantial if hauling much more than that.

Some might not like the diversion from traditional laces, but we enjoyed the convenience of the Quicklace system. Its durability, though, is an issue, as it has the potential to rub a hole in the upper after long-term use. This model lacks a little in overall support, so if you're hiking with a decent sized pack, TNF Ultra 110 is a better option. Otherwise, if you're looking to move fast on the trail, this is your shoe.

Read review: Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX

Top Pick for Comfort


HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa


Top Pick Award

$170.00
at REI
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 25% 8
  • Support - 15% 9
  • Traction - 15% 6
  • Versatility - 10% 6
  • Water Resistance - 5% 8
  • Durability - 5% 6
Weight: 2.12 lbs | Waterproof Lining: eVent Waterproof Membrane with Full Bootie Construction
Unrivaled comfort
Supportive
Lightweight and breathable leather
Average traction
Modest durability
Expensive

The HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa is so plush it feels like you are walking with pillows strapped to your feet. This comfortable ride makes pounding out miles on firm surfaces like granite and even hardpacked trails a lot less daunting. The rockered sole promotes a nice even gait once you get used to it, and the upper is made of a mesh and leather combination that does not constrict your foot. We found these shoes to be quite waterproof, and recommend them to anyone who needs extra cushioning from the impacts on joints that hiking can cause.

The biggest issue we had with the Sky Toa is the average traction and the soft RMAT material in the center of the sole. The outer lugs offer reasonable grip, but the softer inner lugs are not defined enough to grip in loose terrain and are soft enough to allow sharp rocks to poke the heel and arch area of the foot. Lastly, the price is also an obvious barrier to entry with this shoe. If you can afford it, your feet will be in high comfort.

Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa

Top Pick for Lightweight Hiking


Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX


Top Pick Award

$169.95
at Amazon
See It

75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Support - 15% 6
  • Traction - 15% 5
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 5% 7
  • Durability - 5% 6
Weight: 1.64 lbs | Waterproof Lining: Gore-Tex
Supremely lightweight
Reliable waterproofing
Comfortable on trail
Potential longterm durability issues
Not impressive in off-trail traction

The Arcteryx Aerios FL GTX is a new addition to this year's review and immediately impressed reviewers with its unbelievably low weight. Right out of the box these shoes are very comfortable and provide an easy and blister-free day of hiking on the trail. Equipped with a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane they can withstand prolonged exposure to water, they are also quite breathable. We could hike for miles on dusty trails without getting sweaty feet.

These are great shoes to consider for most trail conditions and even some off-trail situations, but they do not have the same support offered by a more durable hiking shoe such as the X Ultra 3 GTX. These do best with lower pack weight, on day hikes and on hikes where you want the miles to fly by without paying attention to how much your shoes are weighing you down.

Read review: Arcteryx Aerios FL GTX

Top Pick for Scrambling


Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX


Top Pick Award

$136.95
(32% off)
at Amazon
See It

61
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 5
  • Weight - 25% 3
  • Support - 15% 10
  • Traction - 15% 10
  • Versatility - 10% 4
  • Water Resistance - 5% 5
  • Durability - 5% 9
Weight: 2.78 lbs | Waterproof Lining: Gore-Tex
Very supportive
Excellent traction
Long term durability
Heavy
Expensive

The Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX is the burliest shoe in this review. It is made out of full-grain leather, has a robust waterproofing, and can stand up to years of abuse in demanding mountain conditions. It seems far less a hiking shoe than a lightweight boot, and it is obvious that Garmont was inspired by mountaineering boots when they developed this model. It provides top-level traction in virtually any terrain type, and its stability makes it one of the best shoes to consider for carrying lots of weight.

This is also the heaviest shoe in our review, which is one of the reasons for its excellent durability rating. This weight can come at a cost, given that it is over a pound heavier than the lightest shoe we reviewed. This is less an everyday hiking shoe and more a niche shoe that excels in mountain environments but may be too stiff and uncomfortable for the average trail hiker.

Read review: Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX


On the trail in the Keen Targhee III.
On the trail in the Keen Targhee III.

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 trail is his daily commute. Being tied to the outdoor industry, Ryan is able to 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.

We tested these shoes in all types of conditions  from wet trails to dusty playas.
From boulder hopping to sand to mud  the 110 maintained excellent traction.

There are an absurd number of shoes out there on the market that could be considered hiking shoes, and so we started by having our review staff research the scores of potential candidates, seeing how they rank in popularity as well as researching new models by visiting trade shows and conventions to get the first crack at interesting hiking shoes that are just getting into stores. Throughout months-long testing periods, our reviewers hiked for many miles in a wide range of conditions, with daypacks and overnight backpacks, to discover where each shoe is most comfortable, and where it meets its limits. We then establish ranking criteria and a scoring system, so that besides just getting to wear these shoes while we are out on the trail for work and play, we also can have some baselines from which to review these shoes from critically. While out hiking around, our reviewers take notes and compile the subjective evaluation of the product. We also conducted a series of predetermined tests to have more objective data to include in our ultimate review.

Related: How We Tested Hiking Shoes

Analysis and Test Results


After concluding testing, we tabulated the results and scored each product across our performance metrics. Products with a high overall score are good candidates for all-around prowess, while some of the lower-scoring models might excel in one area over others, making them perfect for some applications while lacking general application capabilities. As you read through this review, focus on the aspects that matter to you and your hiking goals most. For example, if you hike primarily in desert terrain, skip over the water resistance metric.

Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Shoes


Value


Many purchase decisions require us to prioritize one consideration over another. For example, with hiking shoes, you might prefer something that is lightweight, but chances are it won't be as supportive as a result. If you're wondering about the tradeoff between the price and our estimate of the value of the product, this review can help. Our Best Buy winner, the Vasque Juxt, gives the best performance for the lowest dollar amount, yet it lacks a waterproof lining. For just a little bit more dough, you can hike away in our favorite pair overall, The North Face Ultra 110 GTX. Throughout years of testing, we acknowledge that high-quality models start around a hundred bones, but you don't have to spend much more than that to get a quality pair.

A glimpse at some hiking shoes we've tested over the years.
A glimpse at some hiking shoes we've tested over the years.

Comfort


Comfort is the number one metric that we assess, and for a good reason. A pair of hiking shoes that don't feel good on your feet is a surefire way to ruin an otherwise fun trip (or ruin your hiking partner's trip too!). We packed up an extra-large kit of Moleskin and hit the trails with these shoes to see how they stacked up against each other in overall comfort. A lot of factors go into determining how shoes feel on your feet, including the amount and positioning of padding, the lacing system used, the volume of the last, and the flexibility of the materials used.


When testing for this metric, we took extensive notes on the comfort-affecting features of each shoe. We considered the padding in the upper and the tongue, checked the feeling when laced and standing, and how long the break-in period is, if any. We walked on flat and rough trails in each to see how well they handled each, noting any soreness or tiredness our feet developed. The roominess of the toe boxes, arch support, rockered soles, and overall protection were all scrutinized as well.

Out of sight  out of mind. We liked the easy stowing of the laces in the elastic tongue pocket.
Out of sight, out of mind. We liked the easy stowing of the laces in the elastic tongue pocket.

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. 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.

We hiked over sharp  uneven rocks to test the support given by the shoe's midsoles.
We hiked over sharp, uneven rocks to test the support given by the shoe's midsoles.

Overall, the Hoka One One Sky Toa was the top performer when judged on comfort. The layered midsole is plush without feeling like a pair of moon boots and absorbed the shocks and impacts of footfalls on hard granite surfaces. It has a wide toe box that is snug but not constricting and a tall cuff that wraps securely around the ankle with soft padding.

Weight


Light is right for footwear. One of the benefits of a hiking shoe over a full boot is the ounces, if not pounds, that it sheds from every step, while still providing a bit more stability and durability over a trail runner. To accurately compare the different models, 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 2.78 pounds. That pound difference might not seem like much on paper, but we noticed it underfoot. The Arcteryx Aerios FL GTX is the lightest pair that we tested, though it's worth noting that it isn't as comfortable nor as suportive in the midsole as other pairs. On the opposite end, the Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX is the heaviest pair that we tested, but also the most stable and clearly built with longevity in mind.

We can't believe how lightweight the Aerios shoes are.
We can't believe how lightweight the Aerios shoes are.

While weight is an important trait, you do not always have to choose between weight and performance; The North Face Ultra 110 GTX model, our Editors' Choice winner, weighs a hair shy of 2 pounds but is among the more comfortable, stable, and supportive options. Our Best Buy winner, the Vasque Juxt weighs just over 2 pounds and is equally nice underfoot. Most of our favorite shoes hover right around two pounds.

Traction


Traction is incredibly important to hikers, and it doesn't matter whether you are walking around the local trail system or out on a fast-pack. If you are slipping, then you are going to have less confidence and be less efficient in your movement. A hiking shoe's traction is derived from the outsole of the shoe. The outsole is the bottom of the shoe, and it is typically comprised of a rubber compound and then shaped into a pattern called lugs. While many shoemakers use well-known rubber blends from companies such as Vibram, others use an in-house compound. The softer the rubber, the stickier it often is, though the durability will be diminished. The shape of the lugs matter, for these bite into the surface of the terrain and provide traction as well. The deeper the lugs, the more they will bite into soft surfaces like mud and snow, but the shallower ones will be more effective on rock slabs, as they have more surface area. The Garmont Dragontail GTX and the Salewa Wildfire Edge represent the two ends of this spectrum of lug shape.

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 on, making a dime-edge seem like a much broader ledge to use as a foothold. The Wildfire Edge has an edging plate that makes it a very effective climber.


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 Dragontail MNT 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 had 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.

These hiking shoes have above average traction performance.
These hiking shoes have above average traction performance.

We also hustled up slopes of loose sediment in our traction tests, in which the more aggressive tread of the Salomon and The North Face models 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 deep and multi-directional lugs of the Salomon X Ultra 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.

Oops! We sank in over our cuffs while testing traction on muddy surfaces. Here is the North Face Ultra GTX on the left and the Adidas Terrex Swift on the right.
Oops! We sank in over our cuffs while testing traction on muddy surfaces. Here is the North Face Ultra GTX on the left and the Adidas Terrex Swift on the right.

Matching shoes to your most common trail conditions helps you achieve the most out of your outsoles. Consider the ground you hike most often.

Trailside boulders are just too tempting to resist. If this speaks to you  aim for a shoe with good traction on dry rock like this Vasque model.
Trailside boulders are just too tempting to resist. If this speaks to you, aim for a shoe with good traction on dry rock like this Vasque model.

Finally, we walked up and down some gentle snow-covered slopes warmed into a slushy state by the midday sun. The Garmont and North Face models 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. On top of our specially designed tests, we also factored our experiences on and off the hiking trails into the traction score.

On rough and chossy terrain  appreciation for great foot support and stability grows. This model from The North Face handles such terrain very well.
On rough and chossy terrain, appreciation for great foot support and stability grows. This model from The North Face handles such terrain very well.

Support


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 up front. 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.


If ankle protection and support is a key concern for you, consider a pair of hiking boots. While not always the most comfortable option for day hikes, if it stops you from rolling your ankle the extra weight and warmth might be worth it.

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 HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa are some of the stiffest in a group of contenders that varies widely in this aspect. We were pleased that all products reviewed flexed sufficiently in the forefoot.

Consider the Safien a casual hiking shoe that can head to the local boulders and hike over some rough trails and then go for a trail run once you're done with your circuit.
Consider the Safien a casual hiking shoe that can head to the local boulders and hike over some rough trails and then go for a trail run once you're done with your circuit.

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, Merrell, and The North Face 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 Keens, 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.

An array of insoles from pairs we tested.
An array of insoles from pairs we tested.

The Dragontail GTX excelled in this metric, topping the charts as the most stable under any conditions imaginable. This is truly a mountain boot disguised as a hiking shoe, and is the most confidence-inspiring when carrying heavy loads into the backcountry. That said, if we are considering the need for such stability, we may be looking at one of the lighter weight hiking boots rather than the heaviest weight hiking shoe as a compromise. The North Face Ultra 110 is a notable performer as well. The Hoka Sky Toa offers above-average support and stability for its weight.

Downward slope? Don't mind if I do speed on when wearing The North Face Ultras.
Downward slope? Don't mind if I do speed on when wearing The North Face Ultras.

Versatility


How many things can one pair do? Several considerations went into our Versatility scores. Some of these shoes are comfortable on flat trails and rough terrain, and some handle moderate loads without wincing. We value a shoe that is comfortable for short day hikes and also supportive enough for light backpacking trips.


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.

Running down the steep and loose Baxter Pass Trail in the Sierra Nevada  we were happy to have such stable footing thanks to the Impact Brake System.
Running down the steep and loose Baxter Pass Trail in the Sierra Nevada, we were happy to have such stable footing thanks to the Impact Brake System.

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, The North Face Ultra 110, and Garmont Dragontail models, which have great ankle and foot support.

You don't have to be climbing gnarly alpine routes to apprecite the extra support and heft of the Dragontail MNT GTX -- they excel at general off-trail travel as well.
You don't have to be climbing gnarly alpine routes to apprecite the extra support and heft of the Dragontail MNT GTX -- they excel at general off-trail travel as well.

While out on the trail, we wanted to see how each shoe did while jogging with a light pack. "Fastpack" hiking is gaining in popularity, and while all-out running is not usually part of the program, a fastpacker's needs often more resemble those of trail runners rather than backpackers. This trend is reflected in the market, as many hikers available look like beefed up trail runners. Several shoes in this review feel natural at a running gait, but none combined nimble running ability with powerful support better than the Salomon X Ultra and La Sportiva Spire. It is also a bonus if you can wear your hiking shoes on the trail and in casual settings, too. The North Face Safien GTX is a shoe with a subtle, casual style that allows it to be easily mistaken as a running or gym shoe, and does not stand out when just running to the store in a pair of jeans to grab a few extra bars before you head out.

Stomping through puddles is a simple pleasure in this pair from The North Face  which has a Gore-Tex waterproof liner.
Stomping through puddles is a simple pleasure in this pair from The North Face, which has a Gore-Tex waterproof liner.

Water Resistance


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. (Usually a designation in the name like "GTX" for Gore-Tex or "dry" give 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 induced any leakage. After five minutes, we removed the shoes to see if any water made it inside.

Most manufacturers produce waterproof and non-waterproof versions of their hiking shoes. If you don't need the protection, the non-waterproof versions are almost always cooler, more breathable, and cost less.

The La Sportiva Spire GTX emerged from the water on top of all other models. It has a relatively tall flood height among the shoes we tested (4.75 in.), kept our feet dry through the waterproof test, and resisted absorbing water into its leather and synthetic upper.

These shoes are up to nearly any task. Let your pup lead the way  as these shoes can handle dry and sloppy trails equally well.
These shoes are up to nearly any task. Let your pup lead the way, as these shoes can handle dry and sloppy trails equally well.

Similar water resistance effectiveness came from the Salomon, Adidas, and The North Face models, passing the waterproof test but having lower flood heights. Any water these models did soak up dried quickly.

Fording small creeks like the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek  our feet stayed dry. Even when water got in  these shoes dried out very quickly.
Fording small creeks like the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, our feet stayed dry. Even when water got in, these shoes dried out very quickly.

A few seconds after stepping into the water in the Juxt, our feet were soaked. 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.

Post waterproof test results: The Moab 2 leaked.
Post waterproof test results: The Moab 2 leaked.

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, Salomon, Adidas, and Asolo products soaked up the least water and dried faster than the others.

If heavy dew and water crossings are common where you hike, consider choosing a dark color option for your shoes. This allows them to dry quickly under the sun.

Durability


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 craftsmanship, materials, and design an important part of choosing a pair that ages well.


While we didn't test the entire lifespan of each product, 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 read online reviews and talked to fellow hikers on the trails about their shoe experiences.

The exposed stitching on the heel is vulnerable to damage when scraping against rocks.
The exposed stitching on the heel is vulnerable to damage when scraping against rocks.

The burly Garmont Dragontail struck us as the most durable pair of the test bunch. The high-quality stitching, large rubber rand extending up the upper, and abrasion-resistant, full-grain leather of the Garmont lend their service to many seasons of use. They barely showed any signs of the abuse we put them through even after three months.

Washing off the Moab 2s after a particularly muddy trail.
Washing off the Moab 2s after a particularly muddy trail.

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 are 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.

Our Editors' Choice Award winner sets the highest bar for performance overall.
Our Editors' Choice Award winner sets the highest bar for performance overall.

Conclusion


Hiking is one of the great ways to get out and reconnect with nature. But if you are constantly dealing with sore feet, blisters and sweaty socks, then you are going to have a whole lot less fun while you are out on the trail. No matter if you are a casual day hiker or an intrepid adventurer who is out on a weeks-long thru-hike, you can benefit from a good pair of hiking shoes. Lighter than boots but more supportive than trail running shoes, this category is one of our favorites to review, as there are so many to choose from before settling on the perfect pair for your needs. So our expert reviewers took the time to research all the options, see which ones fit and which ones got left behind, and share our findings with you. So go out, get fitted with a nice new pair of hiking shoes and hit the trails, knowing you made the right choice.


Ross Robinson and Ryan Huetter