Hiking shoes are our jam. We've trail-tested 49 pairs in the last seven years. This review compares 15 of the best hiking shoes of 2020. 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 cake-walk. 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.
The Best Hiking Shoes of 2020
Best Do-It-All Model
La Sportiva Spire GTX
The La Sportiva Spire GTX is this year's Editors' Choice Award winner, and for good reasons. It is the shoe our reviewers refused to give back once they were done testing it. This shoe is light on the feet at only 2.06 pounds, but they still boast some of the best waterproofing available with a Gore-Tex Surround liner. We could not get this to soak through despite our best efforts. The traction offered is outstanding in both wet and dry environments, making this a very versatile shoe for all kinds of trail conditions.
The Spire is quite comfortable even in warm temperatures thanks to this innovative membrane that lets the foot pass moisture through much more effectively than traditional fabrics, though it is not nearly as breathable as those models which do not feature a water-resistant liner. It is supportive, and we feel comfortable hiking with loads up to around 30 pounds while wearing these shoes. With more weight on our backs or in terrain that is demanding, we might resort to a shoe that has a bit more structure and support. This shoe is our top pick when we want to shave weight, don't have a heavy pack, and still need a quality waterproof liner.
Read review: La Sportiva Spire GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
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. 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 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
Best Waterproof Bang for the Buck
The North Face Ultra 109 WP
We chose to give two models a Best Buy Award, as they offer great appeal at a bargain price. The North Face Ultra 109 WP is a jack-of-all-trades hiking shoe that provides overall performance and is easy on the wallet. What sets it apart as a podium finisher is that it is equipped with a waterproof/breathable membrane that performed without a hiccup during our testing period — no leaks. If you are looking for a budget-minded hiking shoe that is comfortable right out of the box and will be ready to tackle whatever adventures you can think up, then the Ultra 109 might just be the shoe for you.
We find the Ultra 109 to be well-rounded and capable at everything from trail runs to day hikes and even lightweight backpacking trips, though it lacks some of the stability that stiffer or higher-cut models do provide. But if you are looking for a beefed-up trail running shoe that can handle a whole lot more, check out the Ultra 109. This model has few drawbacks while boasting a large price advantage.
Read Review: The North Face Ultra 109 WP
Best for Aggressive Hiking
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is our favorite hiking shoe to wear when in tough terrain and when traveling on and off the trail. These shoes snug up nicely with ease thanks to a Quicklace system and securely wraps around the foot making them very effective in unstable situations. Their traction is excellent in wet and dry conditions, and a supportive injected EVA midsole adds some structure to the shoe, making them bit well into loose terrain. We find that when the going gets tough we want to have a shoe on our feet that we can count on, and the X Ultra 3 GTX meets these high expectations.
The X Ultra 3 GTX is a bit roomier fit than others, so it does not fit narrow feet as well. Some also may not like the Quicklace system as much as we did, as it does not allow for the precise lacing adjustments that some hikers prefer, and the system is difficult to replace, especially when out in the mountains. Other than these minor issues, we find the X Ultra 3 GTX to be an admirable performer in our review metrics and feel that it is one of the most versatile hiking shoes for this reason.
Read review: Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
Best for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex
The HOKA ONE ONE Toa wins our Top Pick Award for Comfort, as it is incredibly well-cushioned and has a soft, yet supportive, mesh upper that makes them easy to put on and keep on right out of the box. The footbed is mega-cush. You might be familiar with som comfortable, traditional hiking shoes, but this pair (as with many Hoka models) is a whole other level. We tested this new model that features a Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable liner that effectively keeps water out while also allowing our feet to breathe, making this shoe one of the most comfortable models that utilize such a membrane even in warm desert climates.
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 and 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 just ridiculously light. When we received them in the mail, we thought they might have forgotten to put the shoes in the box. But despite their minimal weight, the Aerios FL provides a lot of excellent performance in the hiking shoe category. Immediately upon taking them out of their box we laced them up and went for a long 19-mile hike that crossed over hard granite slabs, loose sand, and even some snow. These shoes performed very well, and even though they are equipped with a high-quality waterproof Gore-Tex lining, we had neither sweaty feet nor blisters.
These are definitely hiking shoes and are not the kind of model that blurs the line towards hiking boot with a stiffer, more robust midsole or a taller cuff that wraps around the ankle for support. They are great for lightweight adventures where the need for the lighter weight for a day of long miles is greater than some of these other attributes.
Read review: Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
Best for Scrambling
Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX
The Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX feels like a low-top mountain boot when we first put them on. These heavy-duty shoes are built upon a stiff platform that can edge up steep rock, kick steps into firm snow, and grip to just about any surface you can imagine. They are the most durable shoe we have reviewed, as they are made from full-grain leather and are another well-made offering by this venerable Italian bootmaker.
The Dragontail is also a very heavy shoe, and it tips the scales as the heaviest in our entire review. This weight feels excessive when on casual day hikes, but it is easier to discount when we needed the extra mountain performance and stability that these shoes confer.
Read review: Garmont Dragontail MNT 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 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.
Since the category of hiking shoes (or shoes that could easily be hiked in) is ridiculously 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 picks 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 have our test shoes chosen based on what models seem interesting and exciting or are highly-regarded by consumer reviews, then we 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
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
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. One of our Best Buy winners, 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 our Best Buy Award for Waterproof Hiking Shoe. 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 the most important metric that we consider. If the shoe is painful, then you are going to have a really bad trip out. Gone are the days of excruciating break-in periods - these days a good pair of hiking shoes with synthetic materials should feel good on your foot almost immediately, and not require the prolonged softening of the upper material to occur. That said many things do go into the way a shoe will fit each individual foot. Lacing preference, sock choice, use of an aftermarket orthotic insole, and foot shape all can play a role in deciding how a shoe feels.
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 of removal, lacing systems, and roominess. A good hiking shoe should not need to be broken in if it 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 One One Toa GTX, has a couple of pair 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 hiking shoe 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 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 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. 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.
While weight is an important trait, you do not always have to choose between weight and performance; La Sportiva Spire GTX model, our Editors' Choice winner, weighs a hair over 2 pounds but is among the more comfortable, stable, and supportive options. A 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 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 upon, 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. 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 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.
We also hustled up slopes of loose sediment in our traction tests, in which the more aggressive tread of the Salomon 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.
Finally, we walked up and down some gentle snow-covered slopes warmed into a slushy state by the midday sun. The Garmont 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. On top of our specially designed tests, we also factored our experiences on and off the hiking trails into the traction score.
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.
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 Toa 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 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.
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 Hoka Toa offers above-average support and stability for its weight.
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.
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 Garmont Dragontail models, which have great ankle and foot support.
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.
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 caused any leakage. After five minutes, we removed the shoes to see if any water made it inside.
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.
Similar water resistance effectiveness came from the Salomon, The North Face, and Adidas models, passing the waterproof test but having lower flood heights. Any water these models did soak up dried 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.
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 an Adidas 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 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 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.
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.
Go take a hike. No, really. We are really excited for you to get yourself into a brand new pair of hiking shoes and start getting out and exploring the amazing trails that are close to home or far away. Hiking is one of our favorite activities, as it gets us into unique and beautiful places while requiring very little in the way of expensive equipment that might be a prohibitive barrier to entry. All you need is a backpack, some snacks, and a comfortable yet supportive pair of shoes that will provide good traction as you embark on your adventure. Thanks for taking the time to read our thorough and informative reviews about the best hiking shoes out there, and we hope that you enjoy yourself wherever your trail takes you.
— Ross Robinson and Ryan Huetter