The Best Hiking Shoes of 2019
|Price||$120.00 at REI||$149.95 at Backcountry|
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|$160 List||$190.00 at REI|
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|$170.00 at REI|
|Pros||Great value, comfortable, lightweight||Aggressive traction, great water resistance, versatile||Extremely lightweight, good water resistance||Excellent comfort and traction, waterproof||Extremely comfortable, lightweight, supportive|
|Cons||Material shows wear after heavy use||Quicklace system not for everyone, average ankle protection||Uncomfortable for some, low flood height||Expensive, not the most durable||Not as cushioned as previous Hoka models, some traction issues|
|Bottom Line||A cross between a hiking shoe and a trail runner, this model blends comfort with performance at an unbeatable price.||This shoe is nimble and aggressive for hikers who like to pick up the pace in any terrain.||This lightweight hiking shoe from Salomon is a great shoe for trail hiking where good traction and support is necessary.||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.|
|Rating Categories||The North Face Ultra 110 GTX||Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX||Salomon OUTpath GTX||La Sportiva Spire GTX||HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa|
|Water Resistance (5%)|
|Specs||The North Face...||Salomon X Ultra 3...||Salomon OUTpath GTX||La Sportiva Spire...||HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa|
|Weight of Size 11 Pair||2.07 lbs||1.95 lbs||1.7 lbs||2.06 lbs||2.12 lbs|
|Upper||Mesh||Textile/synthetic leather||Water Resistant textile, Waterproof Synthetic Seamless Sensifit||Abrasion-resistant mesh||Synthetic|
|Waterproof Lining||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane||Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane||Gore-Tex Surround||eVent|
|Flood Level (inches)||4.25||4.5||3.5||4.75||4.25|
|Last Board/Shank||EVA||Advanced chassis and molded shank||Molded shank||Molded EVA||EVA|
|Midsole||EVA||Injected EVA||Injected EVA||5mm Ortholite Insole, Compression Molded EVA, TPU inserts||EVA|
|Outsole||UltraTAC rubber||Non-marking ContaGrip||Premium Wet Traction Contagrip||Vibram XS Trek with Impact Brake System||Vibram MegaGrip|
|Warranty||Limited 1 year||2 years||2 years||1 year||45 day|
Best Do-It-All Model
The North Face Ultra 110 GTX
For yet another year, the North Face Ultra 110 GTX hiking shoes have proven themselves to be the most capable overall hiking shoe we have encountered, which is impressive given their approachable price. These shoes are built like a lightweight trail runner, although they can chew up rugged terrain without thinking twice. We hiked over wet and dry trails and were impressed at how well they gripped, thanks to their proprietary outsole. They offered a perfect blend of being soft enough for a jog while being sufficiently stiff and supportive to go on scrambles over rough ground.
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
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.
A couple of issues came up while reviewing the Juxt, the biggest of which is the lack of a waterproof liner. This is not a dealbreaker, but it is worth pointing out the reason for such a low score in water resistance — nearly every other model includes such a liner. We also had concerns with this shoe's durability, as such a low price comes with lesser quality craftsmanship; the single stitching that attaches the upper to the sole was marginal. Overall, though, this model is less expensive than nearly every model reviewed while offering great performance (just keep them dry!).
Read review: Vasque Juxt
Top Pick for Aggressive Hiking
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is a hiking shoe well-known to the lightweight and thru-hiking communities, thanks to its minimal break-in period. It's incredibly versatile, working well as a casual shoe, trail runner or hiking shoe. We love this model for everything, including overnight adventures deep in the backcountry, as long as the pack isn't much more than about 30 pounds. The sole gives excellent grip on all terrain types and has a waterproof lining that keeps your foot dry and comfortable.
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 and light on the trail, this is your shoe.
Read review: Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
Top Pick for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa
The HOKA ONE ONE Sky Toa is the most comfortable, luxurious hiking shoe in our review. It combined layers of multiple density rubber and foam to create a sturdy yet cushioned midsole that softens the impact of all those miles on trail. Those with knee and joint issues, or who are unimpressed with the more minimalist options, will find this shoe an appealing option. We also appreciate the additional ankle support in this mid-cut hiker and felt more protected than in other shoes.
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
La Sportiva Spire GTX
The La Sportiva Spire GTX has impressed our testers for the past year with its incredible performance as well as excellent water resistance while remaining lightweight. Sportiva used modern, cutting-edge textile technologies to develop this fastpacking machine. We took these shoes on several long hikes in the heart of the Sierra Nevada and despite having to deal with snow, stream crossings and warm weather conditions, we came back with happy feet. The lightweight insert allows for great stability despite such a low weight, and with the advanced Gore-Tex Surround waterproofing membrane, the breathability of these watertight shoes is quite remarkable.
All this goodness comes at one of the highest list prices of all shoes reviewed. That, coupled with the fact that these shoes don't inspire confidence in their durability, makes these shoes appealing in performance, but not in price. That said, our testers love them for moving fast and light.
Read review: La Sportiva Spire GTX
Top Pick for Scrambling
Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX
The Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX is a mountain boot that has been transformed into a hiking shoe. This shoe has a narrow fit, giving it a tactical feel when traveling through complex terrain. They have a heavy, burly sole but still maintain a feeling of being close to the ground and give the wearer a more responsive feel. They are heavy but this inspired us in rough and uneven terrain more than any other pair. We found the Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX to excel in off-trail travel. We also took them up steep and foreboding routes in the High Sierra, and with laces tightened down we felt confident on snow and technical rock, thanks to their stiff and sticky sole.
This shoe is quite heavy compared to its peers and weighs a full pound heavier than the lightest shoe in our review. This weight is noticeable while on the foot and when the extra support is not warranted by a large pack or very rough terrain, at which point the additional weight is a hindrance and can be a source of discomfort.
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 Certified Rock and Alpine 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 guests and other guides to include in his product research.
We started by considering dozens of hiking shoe models before ultimately deciding to purchase and test the 15 discussed here. The testing process involves taking the selected products and gaining real-world experience by using them on day trips and overnight trips and meticulously taking notes on their performance. By having tests in which shoes are used in the same controlled conditions, the review captures information both subjectively and objectively before combing the results and scoring on the metrics described below. These metrics are weighted according to a carefully considered hierarchy of performance characteristics specific to hiking shoes. Each pair was worn a minimum of 15 to 20 miles, often significantly more.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of a months-long testing period, 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 took copious notes on each model's performance and then tabulated the results to rank them according to a set of pre-determined metrics.
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. 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. However, our price links help you find the best deals and sales out there!
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. Read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about the features in a walking and hiking shoe that they recommend.
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. 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.
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.
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 1.7 and 2.78 pounds. That pound difference might not seem like much on paper, but we noticed it underfoot. The Salomon OUTpath GTX is the lightest pair that we tested, though it's worth noting that it isn't as comfortable nor as stable as other pairs. The Columbia Redmond Waterproof is also light (1.9 pounds), but scored even lower for stability and comfort — noticing a trend here? On the opposite end, the Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX is the heaviest pair that we tested, but also the most stable.
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 and stable options. Similarly, our Top Pick for Lightweight Hiking, the La Sportiva Spire GTX weighs 2.06 pounds. Our Best Buy winner, the Vasque Juxt weighs just over 2 pounds and is equally nice underfoot.
No matter if you are hiking on the local trail system or backpacking over the high passes, it is important that your foot stays where you put it, and it does not slide out unexpectedly. A hiking shoe's traction derives from the rubber compound used, the stiffness of the sole, and the design of the sole's lugs. All the shoes we tested use carbon rubber soles, and while some go with a known developer of shoe rubber such as Vibram, others go with a proprietary compound. A midsole insert can stiffen the sole and allow a hiker to find traction in loose scree or mud more easily. The pattern of the lugs is also important, with deeper channels allowing mud and snow to be shed, and smaller lug pattern giving more surface area contact with smooth rock surfaces.
Each model was tested side-by-side on five separate surface types to come up with the shoes' overall traction score. We often 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. In our wet rock test, we walked back and forth across the same wet rocks in mountain brooks and streams. The Wet Traction Contagrip sole found on the Salomon OUTpath GTX gave us the most confidence when crossing wet granite.
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.
Finally, we walked up and down some gentle snow-covered slopes warmed into a slushy state by the midday sun. The Salomon 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 trail while hiking 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 Sky Toa are some of the stiffest in a group of contenders that varies widely in this aspect. The Columbia Redmond is much less rigid and therefore less supportive. 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, 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 Keen's, 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, though 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. The Redmond scored poorest in this category. We were able to wring the shoe in our torsional stability test more than any other pair. It has thin midsoles, a below-average ankle collar height, and a narrower forefoot width, which when combined all together, resulted in sub-par stability.
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 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.
Out on the trail, we ran a few miles with a light pack in each pair. Fastpacking adventures are fun and growing in popularity, and we wanted to know which models were up to the task. 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.
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 theVasque 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 and Columbia, 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 Sierras. 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 leakage. After five minutes, we removed the shoes to see if any water made it inside.
The Salomon X Ultra 3 emerged from the water on top of all other models. It has the tallest flood height (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 La Sportiva, Adidas, and The North Face 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 15-20 miles on 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, Adidas, and Asolo 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 hiking shoes take 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 ("Hey, how do you like your Merrells?").
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. On the other side of the spectrum is the Redmond and, which exhibited poor durability, with ripping mesh and toe cap peeling after a few months of use.
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.
Hiking is meant to be fun, right?! Well, the easiest way to suck the fun out of an otherwise inspiring and adventurous day out, whether it be on a local day hike or a wild multi-day trek, is to wear the wrong footwear. Thankfully, gone are the days that we all had to wear full-grain leather boots that went halfway up our shins, and we have lots of supportive and capable low-top hiking shoes to choose from. The problem? There are way too many models to choose from! So hopefully, regardless of the destination, you have in mind, you now have a better sense of what options are out there, and what goes into choosing an appropriate hiking shoe.
— Ross Robinson and Ryan Huetter