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10 Best Hiking Shoes of 2023

We've tested the best hiking shoes for men and women from Salomon, Merrell, Hoka, Columbia, La Sportiva, and more.
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10 Best Hiking Shoes of 2023
We've tested hundreds of pairs of hiking and trail running shoes for men and women.
Credit: Mary Witlacil

Our Top Picks

Thursday September 21, 2023

Are you searching for the best hiking shoes around? We've trail-tested over 330 of the best trail running and hiking shoes to get the top 10 rounded up. Over the years, we've worn these shoes on hundreds of miles of trails, going for runs, backpacking trips, and day hikes. We evaluated their comfort and support over long miles with heavy packs. We tested their traction on challenging surfaces, crossing streams, logs, and slippery boulders. We noted how well our feet were protected from obstacles and water and how versatile each pair was for all the possible conditions. Whether you need a lightweight pair for fast missions or a sturdy pair for difficult terrain, we've found the perfect hiking shoe for just about any use.

Do you need more ankle support and overall coverage? We've also tested the best men's hiking boots and top-rated women's hiking boots. Once you have the right pair of shoes, we can help you find your ideal hiking socks or the perfect running socks. We've also tested tons of the best hiking gear for all your adventures, from the best hydration packs to the top trekking poles.

Editor's Note: On September 21, 2023, we added new award suggestions for other products that might interest you.

Related: Best Hiking Shoes for Men
Related: Best Hiking Shoes for Women

Best Overall Hiking Shoe for Men

Hoka Anacapa Low GTX

Weight (per pair): 1.79 lbs (size 11 US) | Lining: Gore-Tex
Great all-around performance
Excellent comfort
Secure and stable
Less useful when scrambling
Average traction

The Hoka Anacapa Low GTX is an excellent hiking shoe. While we often compare hiking shoes to their lighter and more cushioned trail-running cousins, these shoes are the real deal. Hoka has created one of our favorite hiking shoes by adding a more supportive compression-molded foam midsole, improving durability by using genuine Nubuck leather on the upper and upgrading traction with a grippy Vibram Megagrip outsole. But what really sets the Anacapa Low apart is comfort. With a rockered sole and ample cushioning, pounding out miles in these shoes is far less taxing than other shoes. We put down an 80-mile hike right out of the box in these shoes, over firm trails, rocky surfaces, and down steep passes — and came out blister-free and happy feet. Thru-hikers, long-distance fastpackers, day hikers, and backpackers will all find something to love in these plush hiking shoes.

While the wide platform that imparts so much stability to these shoes on the trail is something we love, the added width makes the Anacapa less confidence-inspiring in terrain that requires precision footwork, such as scrambling in 3rd or 4th class terrain. A narrower or more nimble shoe might be more effective for this specific terrain, like the Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex. But that is our only caveat in heartily recommending this Hoka to various users.

Read more: Hoka Anacapa Low GTX review

hiking shoes - the hoka anacapa low gtx looks at home and makes easy work out of...
The Hoka Anacapa Low GTX looks at home and makes easy work out of all this rough terrain. The top-notch comfort is ideal for long days where you are pushing far.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Overall Hiking Shoe for Women

La Sportiva Spire GTX - Women's

Weight (per pair): 1.68 lbs (size 8.5 US) | Lining: Gore-Tex Surround
High traction score
Great responsiveness and stability
Comfortable right away
Breathable yet waterproof
Runs large
Laces could be more durable

The La Sportiva Spire GTX trail has a thoroughly impressive design. It combines a trail runner's agility with a hiking boot's stability, making it an unstoppable force on the trails. The low-profile design offers a comfortable fit right out of the box, though it may run a little big for those with smaller feet or low arches. The abrasion-resistant mesh upper and compression-molded midsole provide excellent support while remaining flexible, ideal for day hikes or extended trips into the backcountry. One of the standout features of this shoe is the Vibram XS Trek outsole and Stability Control System, which ensure optimal traction and responsiveness. Additionally, the Spire boasts a high flood level of 3.75 inches above the ankle and a waterproof membrane that remains breathable without allowing water to penetrate the shoe.

While the Spire is an excellent choice for hikers searching for dependable and long-lasting shoes, it is not for everyone. It may be overbuilt with too many extra features for people searching for easy day hikes on well-maintained trails. If comfort is your first goal, the Altra LP Alpine is a superior choice. Furthermore, people wanting to trek at lower elevations during summer may find the waterproof fabric excessively hot. Finally, while the 100% recycled polyester laces are a tribute to sustainability, they are less resilient and finicky, necessitating adjustment or replacement depending on use. Despite these minor flaws, the Spire GTX is one of the most well-designed and dependable hiking shoes available. While pricey, it is well worth the money and will last for many hiking seasons.

Read more: La Sportiva Spire GTX review

The Spire was a joy to test while hopping across rocks in the Sierras. Stable and confidence-inspiring, this is a shoe built for adventure.
Credit: Trish Matheny

Best Value Hiking Shoe for Men

Columbia Facet 75 OutDry

Weight (per pair): 1.86 lbs (size 11 US) | Lining: OutDry
Comfortable, roomy fit
Versatile style
Only moderate water resistance
Questionable durability

The Columbia Facet 75 OutDry is a great, affordable option with all-day versatility. From hiking up mountains to hiking around town and running errands, these comfortable hiking shoes have just what's needed to take you almost anywhere. At such a low weight, we even enjoyed wearing them for some light jogging. They feel like a brilliant cross between a hiking shoe and a trail runner. They have an extra wide base that adds stability over uneven terrain and traction that, like a mountain bike tire, inspires sticky confidence on uneven terrain.

The mesh upper of the Facet 75 OutDry is breathable but not entirely waterproof. That said, it works as it should, and if you get soaked, the lightweight materials dry quickly. And though we didn't have this issue ourselves, the mesh upper is more fragile than burlier hikers, typical of shoes in this weight class. Even with these things in mind, we still enjoyed this shoe's fit, feel, style, and price and think it makes a great value purchase.

Read more: Columbia Facet 75 OutDry review

hiking shoes - comfortable, lightweight, supportive and airy feeling. the columbia...
Comfortable, lightweight, supportive and airy feeling. The Columbia Facet is a good shoe at a good price.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Value Hiking Shoe for Women

Merrell Moab 3 WP - Women's

Weight (per pair): 1.78 lbs (size 8.5 US) | Lining: Recycled mesh waterproof membrane
Excellent traction
Great cushioning
Superb stabilization
Breathable yet waterproof
Reasonable price
Lacks runner's loop eyelet

The Merrell Moab 3 WP posted consistently admirable scores throughout all our testing metrics, proving itself a remarkably comfortable and reliable women's hiking shoe — and it's more affordable than most of the competition. The Moab has supportive, stabilizing arches and midsoles that are well-padded in the ankle collar and tongue, creating a cushioned cradle for your foot. The wide toe box gives plenty of space for the forefoot to spread out naturally, while the heel cup is narrower to help lock the foot in place. The Vibram TC5+ outsoles are thick, with deep lugs that provide excellent grip and shock absorption. A leather upper is durable and soft with a recycled mesh waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry — we loved how comfortable these hiking shoes were right out of the box.

If you like to feel fashionable on your hiking adventures, the bulky Moab 3 WP may not be your favorite. Their appearance is solidly technical, without any aesthetically pleasing details that many fashion-forward ladies will appreciate. This is also a heavy and bulky shoe and can feel awkward navigating certain terrain. A lighter and more comfortable alternative that only costs a bit more is the The North Face VECTIV Fastpack FUTURELIGHT However when it comes to their performance — and their price — the Moab 3 are certainly one to consider.

Read more: Merrell Moab 3 WP review

Water beading off the mesh upper of the Moab after a particularly intense winter. This shoe had no problem handling the run-off raging through our favorite trails.
Credit: Trish Matheny

Best Lightweight Technical Hiker for Men

Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex

Weight: 1.76 lbs (size 11 US) | Lining: Gore-Tex membrane
Superb traction
Great water-resistance
Great support
Tongue and heel are not the most comfy
Mediocre durability

The Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex is a solid choice for hikers looking for a lightweight, supportive, grippy, and waterproof shoe. The X Ultra 4 is the latest in a long line of dependable shoes from Salomon that fit well thanks to a Sensifit system that locks the foot in place. The ADV-C Chassis gives these shoes solid support underfoot, making them feel very dependable underfoot in uneven off-trail terrain. These shoes feel slightly wider than previous X Ultra models, though they remain narrower than many other models we tested.

While there is a lot to love, we also found several issues while testing these shoes. The Quicklace speed lacing system can be hard to release but sometimes slips. The tongue, which is not sewn into place and does not have an extended gusset, easily pulls down, which can make slipping the X Ultra 4 on quickly an annoyance. We also found that the extended heel tab can rub, especially when wearing low-cut socks. Some users have also complained about durability issues. However, we beat these shoes up and saw no abnormal wear and tear. Overall, some of these issues are minor enough to look past and see the X Ultra 4 GTX for what it is — a lightweight, supportive, and capable shoe for backcountry hiking adventures. If you want more burliness, support, and water resistance, check out the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX.

Read more: Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex review

hiking shoes - a burly hike like this one is best enjoyed with a lightweight and...
A burly hike like this one is best enjoyed with a lightweight and technically-minded shoe like the X Ultra 4 GTX.
Credit: Jen Reynolds

Most Versatile Hiking Shoe for Women

Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex - Women's

Weight (per pair): 1.54 lbs (size 8.5 US) | Lining: Gore-Tex
Superb traction
Supportive midfoot
Nimble and quick
Runs long and narrow
Not as adjustable

We love the exceptional traction of the Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex. Their lightweight design is versatile and feels sleek, making them a joy to wear on tough missions. Great midfoot stability and a solid base make these hiking shoes well-suited to technical terrain and scrambling over loose or slippery surfaces. The synthetic welded upper locks your forefoot and heel securely in place, while the Gore-Tex lining keeps your feet dry. Though the X Ultra 4 toe box is wider than previous versions, they're still longer and narrower than other women's hiking shoes we tested.

Salomon's Quicklace system here again proves divisive. Its convenience for quickly slipping on is hindered by static laces that don't allow the same amount of give as other hiking shoes. Ours also tended to work their way loose, forcing us to stop and tighten them more often than traditional lace shoes. The lace storage pocket also tore early in our testing, not giving us confidence in the system's longevity. Still, with impressive traction and responsive support, the X Ultra 4 GTX is a great choice for tackling rugged environments. While the La Sportiva Spire GTX scored higher, it is also a lot more expensive and heavier.

Read more: Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex review

Stellar waterproof performance from the X Ultra 4 will help you tackle all manner of terrain. That said, the Gore-tex liner does mean less overall breathability.
Credit: Trish Matheny

Best Men's Hiker for Rugged Terrain

Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX

Weight (per pair): 2.16 lbs (size 11 US) | Lining: Gore-Tex Extended Comfort
Great support
Excellent traction, both wet and dry
Lightweight for what you get
Somewhat stiff
More niche than others

When beefy, all-terrain hiking shoes for men are needed, we turn to the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX. With all the important elements of a protective hiking shoe, this burly pair has impervious Gore-Tex waterproofing and impressive durability. We've worn these shoes on long-distance hikes through deserts and over mountains. They perform admirably, easily crossing any terrain, no matter how wet or loose.

With a stiffer sole, the Mountain Trainer Lite isn't everyone's cup of tea. They're not as flexible or easy to walk in as many other modern hiking shoes like the Hoka Anacapa Low GTX. More like a boot in some ways, they require a break-in period (though it's far shorter than most hiking boots we've tried) but offer more push-off power over challenging ground. We love these shoes best for attacking demanding terrain and off-trail routes.

Read more: Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX review

hiking shoes - the mountain trainer lite gtx has excellent traction in all...
The Mountain Trainer Lite GTX has excellent traction in all conditions.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Everyday-Hiker Crossover for Women

Altra LP Alpine - Women's

Weight (per pair): 1.28 lbs (size 8.5 US) | Lining: Nylon
Extremely light
Wide and roomy toe box
Responsive zero-drop design
Highly breathable
Less support
Not waterproof

The Altra LP Alpine is the casual model of the Lone Peak Series. We immediately enjoyed the comfort (no break-in period), and the wide-toe box was a pleasant surprise. This shoe gives the toes lots of room to spread out, which is useful when trekking in hot weather. Duratread rubber provides good traction and precision, ideal for moderate day hikes. Furthermore, the fact that this is one of the lightest hiking shoes available makes a significant difference when covering long distances.

That said, it's important to remember that this shoe best suits staying on moderate and well-groomed terrain. It's not a technical shoe, nor is it waterproof. The LP Alpine is made from hemp canvas with suede overlays, which will keep your feet dry when navigating shallow, small puddles, but nothing more rugged than that. Nonetheless, we enjoy the increased breathability and the use of sustainable materials in the supporting midsole. Overall, the LP Alpine is an excellent choice for modest day treks, dog walks, and errands around town. Another strong contender for this prize was the On Running Cloudwander Waterproof, which was more supportive and water resistant but heavier and had mediocre traction.

Read more: Altra LP Alpine review

Stick to easy groomed trails and errands around town and these shoes will do you right. We love having the LP Alpine as a casual option in our closet for when a more technical hiker is overkill.
Credit: Trish Matheny

Best Hiker-Runner Crossover for Men

La Sportiva Spire GTX

Weight (per pair): 2.06 lbs (size 44.5 EU) | Lining: Gore-Tex Surround
Solid all-around performance
Excellent waterproofness
Moderate weight
Durability is just average

A long-time favorite of our male testing team, the La Sportiva Spire GTX is a capable hiking shoe to which we continue to return. They perform well on all surfaces, achieving the elusive trifecta of comfort, support, and low weight. An extra cushioned midsole reminds us of our favorite trail running shoes. At the same time, the Gore-Tex lining protects a hiking shoe.

While there are certainly lighter options, the Spire GTX provides a great blend of hiking performance without cutting back on overall comfort. They're also an exceptionally costly investment. Yet they remain among our top choices for springtime trail runs over patchy snow and speedy fastpacking missions. If you are willing to sacrifice a little comfort, check out the La Sportiva TX Hike GTX, which is lighter and has better traction than the Spire but has a much lower comfort score.

Read more: La Sportiva Spire GTX review

hiking shoes - the spire gtx offer great all-around hiking performance with the...
The Spire GTX offer great all-around hiking performance with the feeling of a lightweight, cushioned trail running shoe.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Trail Running Shoe

Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3

Weight (per pair): 1.28 lbs (size 9.5 US), 1.09 lbs (size 7 US) | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8.6 mm
Excellent traction on all terrain
Very comfortable
Good foot protection
Stable yet sensitive to movement
Tight around the ankle
Lace pocket is difficult to use

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 blows the competition out of the water regarding seriously impressive trail running performance. Our male and female testing teams adore this shoe for hitting the trails — at speed or otherwise. A fitted ankle collar keeps debris from entering the shoe without using an additional ankle gaiter. The super sticky rubber sole provides unparalleled traction on any surface. The midsole is responsive yet comfortable, while the upper is breathable and protective. We've run hundreds of miles in these shoes, linking peaks, crushing rough terrain, pounding pavement, and competing in ultra races. They are our favorite trail running shoes.

While the high, fitted collar does a great job keeping junk out of the shoes, it can also make the S/Lab Ultra 3 challenging to put on and a difficult fit for those with larger ankles. A tighter fit can also be a new and strange feeling to some runners and hikers. These are also some of the most expensive trail runners we tested. But suppose you're ready to hit the trails confidently. In that case, you can't beat this excellent footwear's performance, protection, and responsiveness.

Read more: Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Men's review

Read more: Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Women's review

hiking shoes - the unisex s/lab ultra 3 trail runner is a long-standing favorite...
The unisex S/Lab Ultra 3 trail runner is a long-standing favorite for any gender.
Credit: Amber King

Why You Should Trust Us

We have spent years testing hundreds of the best hiking and trail running shoes for men and women. We've logged thousands of miles to find the best shoes in the biz. We've crossed mountains, raced through the desert, explored forests, scrambled over scree, and splashed through streams in these shoes. We've taken them to our local parks, on cross-country road trips, and expeditions across the globe. Our testing team carefully considers the perks and drawbacks of every pair in every condition. We tested every shoe across metrics like Comfort, Traction, Stability, Water Resistance, Support, Sensitivity, Durability, Weight, and Protection.

A veritable army of veteran GearLab testers has added expertise to our testing and findings. This team includes Myrha Colt, Trish Matheny, Ally Arcuri, Ryan Huetter, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, Matt Bento, Aaron Rice, and Matthew Richardson.

Trish Matheny and Myrha Colt are the masterminds behind our women's hiking shoe review. Trish is well-versed across gear and sports and is an accomplished rock climber, trail runner, and splitboarder. Myrha is a lifelong adventure travel professional whose enthusiasm for trails has carried her through mountains worldwide, from the Himalayas to the Andes and New Zealand to Patagonia.

Ally Arcuri is our trail running expert tester of the best women's trail running shoes. She is an exercise specialist and trail runner of over a decade. She has many impressive feats, including completing ultra marathons in the Rockies. She is a cancer survivor with a degree in Kinesiology and finds trails to hit no matter where she roams.

Ryan Huetter and Ben Applebaum-Bauch are the brains behind our men's hiking shoe testing. A full-time IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide, Ryan spends over 200 days a year hiking as an outdoor professional. Ben is an avid distance hiker and has completed thru-hikes of numerous iconic American trails like the PCT, Superior Hiking Trail, Long Trail, and more.

Our testing team for the best men's trail running shoes consists of Matt Bento, Aaron Rice, and Matthew Richardson. Matt has been an enthusiastic runner since high school and has logged thousands of miles through Yosemite alone. Aaron is a professional ski patroller and avalanche educator who spends non-snowy seasons logging miles through his local mountains. And not to be forgotten, Matthew is a passionate trail runner in southwest Colorado, bagging peaks, completing ultra marathons, and running anywhere his legs will take him.

We take our testing seriously, hiking to some of the most beautiful...
We take our testing seriously, hiking to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Here, we test the Merrell Moab 3 on a day hike to a beautiful alpine lake.
Rough country! The Hoka Anacapa Low GTX makes light work out of all...
Rough country! The Hoka Anacapa Low GTX makes light work out of all these granite stairs with its top-notch comfort.
This design is quite a  bit heftier than more high-tech, modern...
This design is quite a bit heftier than more high-tech, modern hiking shoe options, but what you get is a shoe that's built to last.
Over the years, we've tested hundreds of pairs of hiking and trail running shoes for men and women.

Kinds of Trail Shoes

As far as sports go, hiking is a fairly easy one to get into. A ton of new gear isn't necessary — at least not for a simple day hike. The one thing you really need is a great pair of hiking shoes. There are many options to choose from, all of which can be the right choice for your experience, preferences, and intended use. We'll start by going over the main types of hiking footwear. We'll discuss the specific situations calling for different types of shoes. Finally, we'll dive into some specific features you may or may not want on your feet.

hiking shoes - no matter how you want to hit the trails, there's a perfect pair of...
No matter how you want to hit the trails, there's a perfect pair of footwear out there for you.
Credit: Jared Ross

Hiking Boots

hiking shoes
Credit: Merrell
The OG hiking footwear — the classic hiking boot — has come a long way from the days of repeated oiling and months of suffering through a painful break-in process. Today's best hiking boots are much more diverse. They can be constructed from full-grain leather, fully synthetic materials, or a blend of the two. Hiking boots offer more support for carrying heavy loads and increased ankle protection and support, even on lower-cut models. They're generally heavier than hiking or trail shoes and are built durably.

Boots vs. Shoes
One of the main reasons to choose a boot is for extra ankle support. Hikers with ankle stability concerns — like those who frequently roll or sprain ankles — can greatly benefit from the extra support of a medium or high-cut boot.

Hiking Shoes

hiking shoes
Credit: Oboz
Hiking shoes are a great solution for those who appreciate a shoe's freedom and low weight but desire the structure and support of a hiking boot. They are always low cut, leaving the ankle exposed and mobile. They come with various possible features, though they are less protective than boots. Most aren't meant for river crossings, but they often have a breathable waterproof membrane for some water protection.

Hiking Shoes vs. Trail Runners
If you carry weight when you hike or backpack, a hiking shoe's added structure and support are designed to help you along the way. Suppose you prefer quick and light trips with minimal weight. In that case, the flexibility and responsiveness of a trail running shoe may be a better fit for your style.

Trail Runners

hiking shoes
Credit: Nike
Burlier than a running shoe, trail running shoes have extra features that make them an asset off the pavement. Support and stability make them reliable over uneven ground, yet lighter and more flexible than traditional hiking shoes or boots. Their extra tread gives them added traction on trails. Still, since they're designed for running rather than hiking, they often aren't supportive enough to carry a heavy backpack.

Running Shoes for Hiking
Trail running shoes can be a great option for experienced fastpackers and day hikers moving at speed. What they lack in structure and support, they make up for in agility and low weight.

Approach Shoes

hiking shoes
Credit: La Sportiva
More and more folks are choosing to hike in approach shoes, whether they are rock climbers or not. These shoes are designed for "approaching" technical rock climbs or canyons and have stickier rubber and a tighter fit in the toe box. They provide extra security when navigating everything from smooth rock slabs to loose boulder fields. If the terrain is more technical, an approach shoe will allow your footing to be more precise and secure.

Approach Shoes for Hiking
If you like to wander off packed trails and explore boulders and rock ledges as you hike, an approach shoe might be a great option to consider. Some are built to be more technical and could be overkill for casual use, but many are focused on comfortable walking — they'll just provide you with sticker rubber and a toe shape capable of stepping on tiny rock features.

Hiking Sandals

hiking shoes
Credit: Bedrock Sandals
A sandal as a hiker? You bet! While sandals are often thought of as a casual piece of footwear, the market for burly, well-treaded models has blown up. If you like to switch it up and allow your toes to breathe — or your hike will involve water crossings — a hiking sandal could be a perfect fit. Technical sandals are also ideal for outings on a boat or swimming where many sharp objects are underfoot.

Shoes vs. Sandals
While even the best sandal will not be appropriate for some terrain, there are instances where it's a great alternative. A model with supportive, adjustable straps and sticky treads can be a solid companion for shorter trips, hotter weather, or wetter circumstances. Some folks build their foot and skin strength enough to hike long distances in a sandal. There are lightweight, minimal options that are ideal for bringing along as a backup on longer trips.

Hiking Shoes' Best Uses

"Hiking" covers various ways to connect your feet to a trail. Depending on how long you want to be out, how much weight you plan to carry, and your general foot support needs, you'll want to look for certain types of footwear. Here, we'll break down general types of hiking and what kinds of shoes work best in each situation.

Pack Weight Considerations
We'll refer to different size loads for hiking and backpacking. In general, loads greater than around 15% of your body weight (like what most people carry in a 55+L backpack) are considered "heavy." Loads around 10-12% of your body weight (typical for a full 20L daypack) we consider to be "medium". And packs that are less than about 8% of your body weight (such as in a hydration pack or small daypack) we will consider a "light" load.


Starting on the most extreme end of the hiking spectrum, thru-hikes are long-distance hikes on trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail. These massive undertakings involve weeks or even months spent backpacking, and many who seek to accomplish these exceptional distances value low weight and comfort over all else. Many thru-hikers spend months training in trail running shoes and counting ounces to lighten their loads. Others align themselves more with backpackers than fastpackers, opting for a few extra ounces in foot support by wearing hiking shoes.

hiking shoes - thru hiking may involve heavier loads for longer distances or...
Thru hiking may involve heavier loads for longer distances or lighter loads for moving quickly - depending on your style.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Backpacking with Medium to Light Loads

Most hiking shoes are ideal for carrying medium to light packs on well-maintained trails. Many experienced hikers (with strong ankles) that occasionally venture into backpacking by spending a few nights out find that their hiking shoes work just fine for packing light. Models with extra support in the midsole help to cushion a mid-sized backpack's worth of gear, while their added durability keeps up over rough terrain.

hiking shoes - when hiking, you may consider shoes with extra support through the...
When hiking, you may consider shoes with extra support through the midsole to help handle the extra load.
Credit: Myrha Colt

Fast Hiking

Fast hiking and fastpacking are exactly how they sound: taking on a trail at a pace much faster than average. This growing subdivision of hiking is all about logging as many miles as possible every day — sometimes even for months on end during a thru-hike. Fastpackers do their best to cut as much weight as possible from their packs, and speedwalking sometimes turns into a light jog on flat sections. A lightweight hiking shoe or even a reliable trail running shoe can offer the perfect combination of support and cushioning for the individual fast hiker.

hiking shoes - fastpacking calls for lightweight shoes with great traction and...
Fastpacking calls for lightweight shoes with great traction and responsiveness.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Day Hiking

As simple as it sounds, day hiking is heading out on a hike for the day. Most day hikers carry not much more than the essentials (and perhaps a few emergency supplies, just in case), making for light packs. Because even the most fully-loaded daypacks aren't all that heavy, the footwear required to support them doesn't need to be as structured as a backpacking model. All of the hiking shoes — and many of the trail running shoes and even hiking boots — that we tested can be a good choice for day hiking, depending on your desired foot feel.

hiking shoes - day hiking with a light pack doesn't require that much added support...
Day hiking with a light pack doesn't require that much added support from your shoes.
Credit: Jen Reynolds

Trail Running

While many people choose to run trails in their road running shoes, trail running shoes have many features that make them better suited to trail conditions. Deeper tread, extra support, and even waterproof membranes can make all the difference when running down a gravelly trail, over tallus, or through a spring stream. And if you're an experienced trail person with strong ankles and feet, trail running shoes can be a great option for hiking with light loads.

hiking shoes - trail running shoes can double as great hiking shoes for experienced...
Trail running shoes can double as great hiking shoes for experienced hikers looking to keep weight low.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Key Considerations When Choosing Your Shoes

Now that you've figured out you want a low-cut hiking shoe and have thought about what types of hiking you plan on doing, there are still many options. To further narrow down what type of footwear will serve you best on your outings, there are several possible features you may or may not want.

Estimate Your Abilities Correctly
Whether this is your first foray into hiking or you're replacing a pair of shoes going into your 60th year of trail exploration, a realistic understanding of your feet's needs is crucial. If your feet are sore without wearing supportive insoles at work, make sure you're looking for shoes with adequate support. If your ankles often roll when you walk, prioritize ankle support. Buying a hiking shoe is not the time to be optimistic about your feet's abilities.

Support and Weight

The support of a shoe is due to many factors. The most immediately obvious one is the feeling of the insole against your foot — particularly for those looking for arch support. However, the unseen midsole is the main structural component that provides long-term support, particularly when carrying a pack. EVA is one of the most common materials comprising a midsole. From "soft" to "dual-density", even the densest EVA feels immediately softer underfoot than polyurethane (PU) midsoles. While EVA requires no break-in period (unlike PU), this foam will eventually pack down and offer less support, resulting in a shorter lifespan for your shoe.

PU midsoles feel more rigid right out of the box and can require a longer break-in period than models utilizing EVA. Once broken in, though, the polyurethane is designed to last longer than EVA. Its added stiffness provides long-term support for your feet, particularly when carrying heavy packs. On the other hand, shoes with added support also usually weigh more than their more flexible cousins. But if your feet need a helping hand to prevent foot fatigue on long days, that increase in weight is probably worth it.

hiking shoes - for hikers carrying a pack, having a supportive midsole is important.
For hikers carrying a pack, having a supportive midsole is important.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Water Resistance

There are a few common ways for hiking shoes to achieve water resistance. The first is by integrating a waterproof membrane between the layers of fabric comprising the upper portion of the shoe. Some manufacturers make their own membrane, while others add a layer of Gore-Tex (often denoted by "GTX" in the shoe's name). These membranes are designed to keep water from seeping through the shoe fabric while still facilitating breathability for your feet. Polyurethane (PU) coatings are another way to add water resistance. This coating can be added by the manufacturer (or by you at home) and is applied to the external layer of the upper. It helps water to bead off your shoe rather than soak in — though it can't make a mesh shoe waterproof.

Not everyone needs a waterproof hiking shoe, though. Having a waterproof shoe is key if you live in a rainy place like Appalachia or the Pacific Northwest. Even for early spring hikes over snow and encountering swollen streams, the ability to keep your shoes — and therefore your feet — dry is paramount to your feet's comfort. After all, you can change a sweaty sock, but you can't change wet shoes. On the other hand, even the most breathable waterproof membrane adds warmth to a shoe. A waterproof membrane is likely not your friend if you mostly hike in hot weather or on dry trails. For many hikers heading out on perfect-weather days, the added breathability of going out without a waterproof membrane is much more enjoyable.

hiking shoes - heading out into the mountains in springtime requires some water...
Heading out into the mountains in springtime requires some water resistance.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Toe Protection

All hiking shoes offer some level of toe protection, ranging from molded toe caps to leather-covered toes. How much toe protection you actually need depends on the conditions you expect to encounter. Groomed and maintained trails of hard-packed dirt don't demand much toe protection. However, crossing rocky scree or hiking around thorny vegetation begs for more coverage. As always, adding extra features like a bulky toe cap will add weight to your shoe — but if it prevents you from being stabbed by a vengeful cactus, that weight may be worth it.

hiking shoes - hiking footwear can offer some beefy protection from wayward rocks...
Hiking footwear can offer some beefy protection from wayward rocks and sharp sticks.
Credit: Matt Bento


Lastly, but most importantly, the fit of your footwear is the most crucial factor in your overall happiness while wearing them. If you can, head to a local retailer and try on options from many manufacturers. Take the socks you plan to wear while hiking to ensure you end up with the right size. Put them on and walk around the store with them. Talk to an expert if you can.

If you have to buy online, double-check the return policy before clicking "purchase". Research the manufacturer who makes the model of shoe you're considering — some tend to run long, narrow, or small. If you fall between sizes, we recommend erring on the larger size. Feet typically swell when walking or standing all day. Ensure that the tips of your toes don't touch the front of your shoe when laced. And even if you're trying them on at home, walk, jump, and skip around your house to see if the shoes you've got are truly the ones you want.

hiking shoes - finding the right fit for your fit is paramount.
Finding the right fit for your fit is paramount.
Credit: Myrha Colt


If you've chosen your footwear correctly, you probably won't even notice them the next time you hit the trail. The right pair of hiking shoes is what's comfortable for your feet, your stride, your adventures, and your preferences. We hope we've helped you identify some promising options for your lifestyle and budget. Take the time to find the perfect pair for you — and have a fun and safe time out there!

Trish Matheny, Myrha Colt, Ally Arcuri, Matt Bento, Aaron Rice, Matthew Richardson, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, Ryan Huetter