Reviews You Can Rely On

10 Best Hiking Shoes of 2024

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

Our Top Picks

Thursday May 9, 2024

Are you searching for the best hiking shoes around? We've trail-tested over 330 of the best 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 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 tested the best footwear on the market, including the best men's hiking boots and the top-rated women's hiking boots. We've also tested the best winter boots for snowy or cold conditions, and if you're looking for shoes for casual dog walks or exploring a foreign city, check out our best walking shoes review. Once you have the right pair of shoes, we can help you find the best hiking socks or the best running socks, as well as the best insoles if you need a little more support. We've also tested tons of the top hiking gear for all your adventures, from the best binoculars to the top trekking poles.

Editor's Note: On May 9, 2024, we added one new award winner along with up-to-date testing perspectives for your consideration.

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

The Best Hiking Shoes for 2024

Best Overall Hiking Shoe for Men

Hoka Anacapa 2 Low GTX

Excellent performance in all metrics
Excellent comfort
Secure and stable
Less useful when scrambling
Average traction
Upper Recycled mesh
Measured Weight (per pair, size 11) 1.96 lbs
Lining GORE-TEX Invisible Fit
Flood Height 3.0 in
Last Board/Shank Not specified
The Hoka Anacapa 2 Low GTX is a superb hiking shoe. We think it is one of the best options out there for anyone looking for a comfortable shoe that is easy to walk in, incredibly supportive, and perfectly watertight. This updated model brings some eco-friendly construction to the table, with recycled yarn-based mesh on the upper and a compression molded EVA midsole that is made from 30% recycled sugarcane, with no discernible impact on durability or support. Another way that these shoes have been improved in their second iteration is in the addition of a Gore-Tex Invisible Fit liner, which is more pliable, more breathable, and a better match to a pair of hiking shoes that will likely see a lot of perspiration.

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 2 Low 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 the Anacapa to most people.

Read more: Hoka Anacapa 2 Low GTX review

Stable and comfortable thanks to a thick and responsive midsole, the Anacapa 2 Low shoes are ready to hit the trail.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Overall Hiking Shoe for Women

La Sportiva Spire GTX - Women's

High traction score
Great responsiveness and stability
Comfortable right away
Breathable yet waterproof
Runs large
Laces could be more durable
Upper Abrasion-resistant mesh
Measured Weight (per pair, size 8.5) 1.68 lbs
Lining Gore-Tex Surround
Flood Level 3.75"
Midsole EVA
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 Crestwood

Great value
Cozy fit
Casual styling
Not waterproof
Not as supportive
Upper Suede leather, mesh, webbing
Measured Weight (per pair, size 11) 1.82 lbs
Lining None
Flood Height 1.5 in
Last Board/Shank Not specified

The Columbia Crestwood provides stylish looks and a comfortable fit at a very affordable price point. These leather and mesh hiking shoes feel stable and supportive for most casual day hikes with light backpacks, so they are great for taking a spin on maintained trails. They are not waterproof, which means they do well in warmer temperatures despite having diminished performance in wetter weather.

The Crestwood shoes offer average traction in wet and dry trail conditions, and while they are generally quite stable, they are not the best choice for long days on the trail or with heavy packs. For those trips we'd suggest looking for a shoe with a more robust midsole, like the Oboz Sawtooth X Low Waterproof. But for the price, it's hard to pass up these shoes for most typical light hiking applications.

Read more: Columbia Crestwood review

This shoe is a great deal for those looking to break into the sport or just not break the bank.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Value Hiking Shoe for Women

Merrell Moab 3 - Women's

Highly supportive for those with high arches
Vibram traction
Wide and stable base
Overly padded
Lacks durability of a leather hiking shoe
Upper Pigskin leather, mesh
Measured Weight (per pair, size 8.5) 1.70 lbs
Lining Recycled mesh
Flood Level 3.5"
Midsole Super rebound compound

The Merrell Moab 3 offers consistent performance for those seeking a non-waterproof option that is available for a reasonable price. The mesh and leather combination upper with recycled mesh lining provides comfort directly from the box. However, we found that with a few miles on the trail, this shoe offered even more comfort thanks to a more customized fit and increased flexibility in the upper. The design is true to size and available in both wide and regular fits, while the super rebound compound midsole and the modest insole offer one of the more supportive designs for those with high arches. The non-waterproof construction allowed for increased breathability, and the high flood level allowed for better clearance above creeks and streams. Merrell didn't skimp on the traction either, as this shoe features their new and improved Vibram TC5 rubber outsoles, complete with a multi-directional lug pattern that ensures excellent grip in a variety of terrain types.

Though this affordable design stood out from the competition, it is not exempt from a few drawbacks. We never experienced any issues in durability during our testing period, but we can't help but notice that the primarily mesh and leather combination upper is not constructed from the same durable and high-quality materials as some of its heavier leather counterparts. We also would prefer the shoe to feature a reinforced metal eyelet rather than a mesh lacing attachment so as to provide more longevity to the design. One other detail to be aware of is the heavyweight design of this shoe, which features a substantial midsole and Vibram outsole. These features definitely account for the additional weight; however, they increased the overall performance of the shoe. Overall, the Moab 3 is an affordable, consistent, and stable hiking shoe that is burly and supportive enough to be considered for backcountry overnights, even with the weight of a heavy pack. If you're looking for an even more affordable hiking shoe, check out the Columbia Crestwood that features a more flexible and breathable suede leather and mesh combination upper along with great traction on slippery terrain.

Read more: Merrell Moab 3 review

The Merrell Moab 3 provides enhanced breathability thanks to its non-waterproof construction that still offers great clearance above creeks, streams, and snow fields.
Credit: Trish Matheny

Best Lightweight Technical Hiker for Men

Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex

Superb traction
Great water-resistance
Great support
Tongue and heel are not the most comfy
Mediocre durability
Upper Synthetic, textile
Measured Weight (per pair, size 11) 1.76 lbs
Lining Gore-Tex membrane
Flood Height 3.25 in
Last Board/Shank ADV-C chassis
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

If you have plans for a big hike, you'll be glad to have a lightweight and technical shoe like the X Ultra 4.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Most Versatile Hiking Shoe for Women

Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex - Women's

Great traction
Supportive midfoot
Nimble and quick
Runs long and narrow
Not as adjustable
Upper Synthetic textile
Measured Weight (per pair, size 8.5) 1.54 lbs
Lining Gore-Tex
Flood Level 3.75"
Midsole EVA
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. The La Sportiva Spire GTX scored higher, but it's 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

Great support
Excellent wet and dry traction
Lightweight for what you get
Somewhat stiff
More niche than others
Upper Synthetic
Measured Weight (per pair, size 11) 2.16 lbs
Lining Gore-Tex Extended Comfort
Flood Height 3.5 in
Last Board/Shank Nylon
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 2 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 for Comfort

Hoka Anacapa 2 Low GTX - Women's

Bomber traction
Incredible shock absorption
Breathable waterproof membrane
Thickly-cushioned sole
Runs big
Fit favors narrow feet
Recycled mesh upper lacks durability
Upper Recycled mesh
Measured Weight (per pair, size 8.5) 1.52 lbs (size 8)
Lining GORE-TEX Invisible Fit waterproof/breathable membranes
Flood Level 3.5"
Midsole EVA (30% sugarcane)
The Hoka Anacapa 2 Low GTX is a modern hiking shoe that features a unique, thickly-cushioned design that maximizes comfort, especially for those with narrow feet. The Vibram Megagrip outsole and substantial lug pattern are among the highest performers regarding grip strength and traction, whether moving through slippery and wet terrain or decomposing granite at lower elevations. The recycled mesh upper combines with nubuck leather to provide the perfect combination of waterproof performance and breathability, whether navigating lingering snow fields or crossing cold runoff streams.

Though it can take some time to adjust to the thickness of the outsole, our testing team noted that the distinctive SwallowTail heel aided in the transition by adding more stability to the design. The fit can be a little tricky, too. Our lead tester has a narrow foot with a high arch and ended up sizing down a half size for a more comfortable fit. It is also an option to stick with your normal size and add an after-market insole for more support and to take up a little extra space. Overall, our testing team believes this shoe is worth the investment, as it offers excellent performance for those seeking maximum comfort on the trail.

Read more: Hoka Anacapa 2 Low GTX review

This thickly-cushioned hiking shoe maximizes comfort while supporting a spring in your step for many miles on the trail.
Credit: Trish Matheny

Best Hiker-Runner Crossover for Men

La Sportiva Spire GTX

Solid all-around performance
Excellent waterproofness
Moderate weight
Durability is just average
Upper Abrasion-resistant mesh
Measured Weight (per pair, size 11) 2.06 lbs
Lining Gore-Tex Surround
Flood Height 3.5 in
Last Board/Shank Molded EVA
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 and achieve 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 like 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

Ready for all types of off-trail terrain, the waterproof Spire GTX shoes are stable and nimble in unruly environments.
Credit: Ryan Huetter

Best Trail Running Shoe

Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3

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 if you're ready to hit the trails confidently, you can't beat the performance, protection, and responsiveness of this shoe.

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

Best Hiking Shoe Below $100 for Women

Columbia Crestwood - Women's

Super affordable
Lightweight design offers sneaker-like feel
Solid traction
Comfortable out of the box
Minimalist yet supportive
Lacks durability
Not waterproof
Not recommended for off-trail use
Upper Leather, mesh, and webbing
Measured Weight (per pair, size 8.5) 1.50 lbs
Lining Omni-Tech
Flood Level 3.5"
Midsole Techlite

The Columbia Crestwood hiking shoe supplies comfort directly out of the box for those with both narrow and wide foot shapes. The suede leather and mesh combination upper is true to size while offering a flexible, nimble, and lightweight sneaker-like feel underfoot. There is just enough padding surrounding the ankle and tongue to provide comfort without creating any unnecessary bulk that often traps heat on those hot summer hikes. The Techlite EVA midsole combines with a thin and removable insole to offer some support, though we recommend an after-market insole for those with high arches. The Omni-grip rubber outsole performs well on most terrain types, although we found it to perform best on especially slippery and polished rocks along the trail. The 3.5" flood level helps to keep you above the snow and with shallow creek crossings, though this design is not fully waterproof.

Though the mesh does absorb some of the moisture from lingering snow fields and mud puddles on the trail, we found that unless fully submerged, the shoe would resist some moisture. However, when we submerged this shoe in Hilton Creek for our water resistance testing, it was only a matter of seconds before the shoe flooded with water. We recommend using this detail to your favor by purchasing the Crestwood for day hikes at lower elevations or desert trails during the hottest months of the year, as the lack of waterproof performance supplies more breathability through the mesh upper. While we didn't experience any failures within the affordable design during testing, we can't help but notice the lack of quality within the affordable design, especially when compared to other top performers in our line-up. The lacing system is reinforced with only mesh, which we imagine could fail over time; however, reversing the final lace near the ankle may help prolong the design by placing less torque on the delicate attachment point. Overall, we were impressed with the performance of this affordable hiking shoe, making it easy for us to recommend the Crestwood for day hikes on well-maintained trail systems. If you don't mind spending a few more dollars in exchange for increased durability, the Merrell Moab 3 is burlier, offers more protection on the trail than this model, and remains reasonably priced.

Due to its affordable design, the Crestwood features a lacing system secured with mesh attachments. Therefore, we recommend reversing the final lace before the ankle collar so as to limit the torque placed on these attachments and hopefully prolong the life of the shoe.
Credit: Gus Landefeld

How We Test Hiking Shoes

We have spent years testing hundreds of the best hiking 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. Learn more about how we test men's hiking shoes and how we test women's hiking shoes.

Why Trust GearLab

A veritable army of veteran GearLab testers has added expertise to our testing and findings. 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. With some input from other team members and trail runners, these ladies offer a discerning eye for the best hiking footwear.

Ryan Huetter and Ben Applebaum-Bauch are the brains behind our men's hiking shoe review. A full-time IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide, Ryan spends over 200 days a year hiking as an outdoor professional. When not guiding, he is often still wearing hiking boots while on his way to the crag. 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. He has guided many backpacking, cycling, and canoeing trips around New England and Canada, covering thousands of miles of trail and bagging countless peaks in his lifetime. Because a remote trailhead is often the starting point of many adventures, we also draw input from our bevy of outdoor experts, which includes trail runners, climbers, backpackers, and world travelers.

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.

Men's Hiking Shoes

We test the best hiking shoes for men thoroughly and thoughtfully. The table below highlights our overall performance ratings for many of the top men's hiking shoes on the market today that are included in our best hiking shoes for men review.

Women's Hiking Shoes

The chart below demonstrates that the GearLab female testing team put many shoes through their paces. We go deeper into the models below in our best hiking shoes for women review.

How to Pick the Best Hiking Shoes for You

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, the best trail running shoes have extra features that make them an asset off the pavement. Support and stability make them reliable over uneven ground, yet they are 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 most rugged 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) who 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 do not carry 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 waterproof shoes 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 - if your shoe has a good waterproof liner like the anacapa 2, you'll...
If your shoe has a good waterproof liner like the Anacapa 2, you'll feel confident hiking in almost any kind of terrain.
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, Ben Applebaum-Bauch, and Ryan Huetter