Hiking shoes are our jam. We've trail-tested 49 pairs in the last eight years. This review compares 16 of the best hiking shoes of 2021. Our experts covered hundreds of miles combined in these shoes, from dry, high alpine hikes to wet and muddy paths. Day hikes and multi-day adventures informed us on key performance areas like traction, all-day comfort, support, and more to bring you relevant comparisons. In several applications, hiking shoes can be the better choice than hiking boots, but choosing the ones to suit your needs isn't a cake-walk. Our review guides you to the ideal shoe for your foot, whether you want the lightest pair, a trail-running hiker, or just a screamin' deal.Related: Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2021
Best Hiking Shoes for Men of 2021
|Price||$142.50 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$169.95 at Backcountry||$149.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$159.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$170.00 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|Pros||Excellent comfort and traction, waterproof||Extremely comfortable, lightweight, supportive||Aggressive traction, great water resistance, versatile||Supportive, great traction, lightweight||Very lightweight, waterproof|
|Cons||Expensive, not the most durable||Not as cushioned as previous Hoka models, some traction issues||Quicklace system not for everyone, average ankle protection||Stiff, lacing is hard to tighten||Soft sole|
|Bottom Line||This hiking shoe combines comfort with incredible on-trail performance better than any other||Ideal for fastpacking missions with a great combination of comfort, support and performance||Charge down any and all trails in this aggressive hiker with a non-traditional lacing system||This is a supportive hiking shoe that is perfect for scrambling and peak bagging||Superlight hiking shoes that offer excellent waterproofness and comfort|
|Rating Categories||La Sportiva Spire GTX||HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex||Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX||Mountain Trainer Lite GTX||Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX|
|Water Resistance (5%)|
|Specs||La Sportiva Spire...||HOKA ONE ONE Toa...||Salomon X Ultra 3...||Mountain Trainer...||Arc'teryx Aerios...|
|Weight of Size 11 Pair||2.06 lbs||2.03 lbs||1.93 lbs||2.16 lbs||1.64 lbs|
|Upper||Abrasion-resistant mesh||Synthetic||Textile/synthetic leather||Synthetic||Cordura mesh|
|Waterproof Lining||Gore-Tex Surround||GTX lining||Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane||Gore-Tex Extended Comfort||Gore-Tex|
|Flood Level (inches)||4.75 in||5 in||4.5 in||3.5 in||3.5 in|
|Last Board/Shank||Molded EVA||EVA||Advanced chassis and molded shank||Nylon||TPU shank|
|Midsole||5mm Ortholite Insole, Compression Molded EVA, TPU inserts||Rubberized||Injected EVA||EVA||Compressed EVA|
|Outsole||Vibram XS Trek with Impact Brake System||Vibram MegaGrip||Non-marking ContaGrip||Pomoca MTN trainer Lite||Vibram MegaGrip|
|Warranty||1 year||45 day||2 years||2 year||60 day return|
Best Overall Hiking Shoes
La Sportiva Spire GTX
The La Sportiva Spire GTX is the all-around favorite among our testers. It is the shoe our reviewers refused to give back once they were done testing it. Very lightweight at only 2.06 pounds, these shoes showcase some of the best performance features of the entire review lineup. With an amazing waterproof liner, we could not get these shoes to soak through during our submersion test. We also were astounded at how well they gripped on both wet and dry surfaces thanks to a high-traction sole. From quick lunch hikes to all-day hauls, we found very little to complain about with this pair.
The Spire GTX is quite comfortable even in warm temperatures thanks to this innovative membrane that lets the foot pass moisture through much more effectively than traditional fabrics. Still, it is not nearly as breathable as those models which do not feature a water-resistant liner. It is supportive, and we feel comfortable hiking with loads up to around 30 pounds while wearing these shoes. With more weight on our backs or in terrain that is demanding, we might resort to a shoe that has a bit more structure and support. This shoe is our go-to choice for the majority of our hiking objectives and the one we most readily recommend as the best in its class.
Read review: La Sportiva Spire GTX
Best Bang for Your Buck
The Vasque Juxt has impressed us for years with its performance per dollar ratio. This inexpensive model is comfortable, supportive, and is a recommended shoe for those hiking in dry environments like the desert. The outsole is grippy and offers excellent traction on dry rock, and the leather upper is more durable than many synthetic materials while still maintaining a lighter-than-average weight. We love this shoe as a do-it-all day hiker for warm-weather activities like desert hiking that do not require a waterproof membrane.
Our main concerns with the Juxt revolve around their lack of waterproofing. Most models in this review have some kind of sewn-in waterproof/breathable membrane, while this one has none. If you're heading for mostly dry trails, this may not be a problem for you. Another issue is the less durable craftsmanship around the shoe's upper. We found a few issues with the stitching and might not recommend this model for heavy use in very abrasive environments. For trail hikes, from short to long, though, it's tough to finder a better price on the market.
Read review: Vasque Juxt
Best Waterproof Bargain
The North Face Ultra 109 WP
The North Face Ultra 109 WP is our favorite waterproof option for those seeking a pair of hikers on a budget. After more than a year of consistent use, these shoes still perform admirably in nearly all conditions. It is hard to find a shoe with a waterproof liner as capable as this model without spending a lot more money. Comfortable as a pair of running shoes, these hikers are great for days spent trail running but are also supportive enough to hike with moderate loads on overnight excursions.
We find the Ultra 109 to be well-rounded and capable at everything from trail runs to day hikes and even lightweight backpacking trips, though it lacks some of the stability that stiffer or higher-cut models do provide. But if you are looking for a beefed-up trail running shoe that can handle a whole lot more, check out the Ultra 109. This model has few drawbacks while boasting a large price advantage.
Read Review: The North Face Ultra 109 WP
Best for Aggressive Hiking
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is our favorite hiking shoe to wear when in tough terrain and when traveling on and off the trail. These shoes snug up nicely with ease thanks to a Quicklace system and securely wraps around the foot, making them very effective in unstable situations. Their traction is excellent in wet and dry conditions, and a supportive injected EVA midsole adds some structure to the shoe, making them bite well into loose terrain. We find that when the going gets tough, we want to have a shoe on our feet that we can count on, and the X Ultra 3 GTX meets these high expectations.
The X Ultra 3 GTX doesn't have a very roomy fit, so it might not fit wide feet well. Some also may not like the Quicklace system as much as we did, as it does not allow for the precise lacing adjustments that some hikers prefer, and the system is difficult to replace, especially when out in the mountains. Still, one tester has yet to see an issue with these laces after two years of frequent use. Other than these potential issues, we find the X Ultra 3 GTX to be an admirable performer in our review metrics and feel that it is one of the most versatile hiking shoes for this reason.
Read review: Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
Best for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex
The HOKA ONE ONE Toa wins our adoration for its plush comfort. It is incredibly well-cushioned and has a soft yet supportive mesh upper that makes them easy to put on and keep on right out of the box. The footbed is mega-cush. You might be familiar with comfortable, traditional hiking shoes, but this pair (as with many HOKA models) is a whole other level. We tested this new model that features a Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable liner that effectively keeps water out while also allowing our feet to breathe, making this shoe one of the most comfortable models that utilize such a membrane even in warm desert climates.
The RMAT sole of the Toa GTX feels wide and offers a lot of surface area traction, so they are well-suited to trail use, though they feel a bit out of place when in lots of loose sediment. While this can be a detraction from certain kinds of terrain, their plush midsole and EVA shank help to deflect a lot of the impacts experienced on the trail. They are a perfect solution to the aches and pains of long days on hard, unforgiving surfaces.
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Toa Gore-Tex
Best for Lightweight Hiking
Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
The Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX are unbelievably light. They are the lightest hiking shoes that we have ever tested. Usually apprehensive about shoes that are too light, we were surprised that when we took these for a 19-mile hike in the Sierra Nevada that we came back without blisters, sore feet, or wet socks. The Gore-Tex lining does a great job of keeping out unwanted water.
The Aerios are ridiculously light, but in achieving this weight, they do lose some long-term durability. We put them to the test and hiked about 300 miles in them before they became too soft to be useful for trail hiking anymore. The outer of the shoe still looked surprisingly good, but the structure of the midsole and the heel cup had broken down enough that they were not as supportive as they once were. This still seems like a reasonable lifespan for such a niche hiking shoe, and we look forward to buying our next pair to test.
Read review: Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
Best for Scrambling
Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
The Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX is another shoe that our testers have held onto, refusing to give it back. We feel that the Mountain Trainer embodies the important elements in a good hiking shoe. It is light, hovering around 2 pounds, comfortable in all conditions, has great waterproofing, and is super durable. Our lead tester has abused his pair on long-distance trail hikes in the mountains and the desert, has used them as approach shoes to access rock climbing venues, and even found them to be supportive enough to be good work shoes. This is one of the best models we tested for scrambling around in the mountains, climbing off-trail and up to summits that involve 3rd class terrain.
The Mountain Trainer Lite GTX is one of the stiffer soled shoes in our review, a trait that many will benefit from, but they are not nearly as flexible and easy to walk in as some of the other, lighter shoes that more closely resemble a running shoe. We also find them to be a bit uncomfortable at first, as the more rigid material breaks down, but they are not nearly as difficult to break in as an old school boot. These are a great choice as an all-purpose hiker, but we recommend them for those who might want to venture onto challenging off-trail routes.
Read review: Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
Why You Should Trust Us
This review was tag-teamed by Ross Robinson and Ryan Huetter. As a seasoned world traveler and backpacker, Ross gets around on foot quite often. It's a big part of his lifestyle, whether in the granite peaks of his home in California's Sierra Nevada or during his many forays abroad. He has lived and worked in places like Thailand, Peru, and Germany, and has made tracks for at least 500 miles in each. Ross is joined by Ryan, a full-time mountain guide who spends more than 200 days a year hiking, climbing, and recreating on and off-trail. As a IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide through the American Mountain Guides Association, Ryan is an outdoor professional. Hiking on a trail is his daily commute. Being tied to the outdoor industry, Ryan is able to hear about interesting products as they come to market and then hear firsthand accounts from clients and other guides to include in his product research.
Since the category of hiking shoes (or shoes that could easily be hiked in) is broad, our review staff and editors spend a great deal of time sifting through the countless models of shoes out there before settling on the top models for our reviewers to test. This starts with a lot of research, both in person at trade shows and retailer events as well as online. Once we select our test shoes, chosen based on what models seem interesting, exciting, or are highly-regarded, we then buy each pair and ship them out to our expert review staff, who spend untold hours hiking around in these shoes. We hike for our living, so it is an enjoyable task, though we use our predetermined metrics to judge each pair and see how they perform against each other. Once we have walked many miles in each one of these hiking shoes, then we tally up our results and write the thoughtful, in-depth reviews that you as an OutdoorGearLab reader have come to know and expect.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Shoes
Analysis and Test Results
After concluding testing, we tabulated the results and scored each product across our performance metrics. Products with a high overall score are good candidates for all-around prowess, while some of the lower-scoring models might excel in one area over others, making them perfect for some applications while lacking general application capabilities. As you read through this review, focus on the aspects that matter to you and your hiking goals most. For example, if you hike primarily in desert terrain, skip over the water-resistance metric while focusing more on breathability.
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 lightweight, but chances are it won't be as supportive as a result. If you're wondering about the trade-off between the price and our estimate of the product's value, this review can help. One of our favorite value options, the Vasque Juxt, gives the best performance for the lowest dollar amount, yet it lacks a waterproof lining. For those of you who want this added weather protection but still want to save some cash where you can, then look to The North Face Ultra 109 WP, which we gave the nod for its value as a waterproof model. The Ultra 109 represents the best price-savings on a high-performance model with waterproofing that we have seen in years. Throughout years of testing, we acknowledge that high-quality models start around a hundred bucks, but you don't have to spend much more than that to get a quality pair.
Comfort is the most important metric that we consider. If the shoe is painful, then you are going to have a really bad trip out. Gone are the days of excruciating break-in periods — these days, a good pair of hiking shoes with synthetic materials should feel good on your foot almost immediately and not require the prolonged softening of the upper material to occur. That said, many things do go into the way a shoe will fit each individual foot. Lacing preference, sock choice, use of an aftermarket orthotic insole, and foot shape can all play a role in deciding how a shoe feels.
When we test for comfort, we take extensive notes on how the shoe feels. Right out of the box, we start scrutinizing things like material stiffness, ease of entry and of removal, lacing systems, and roominess. A good hiking shoe should not need to be broken in if it is made from synthetic fabrics such as mesh and PU coated nylon, as is now quite common. The material should wrap around the foot without feeling bulky or clunky, and it should not have any stiffness that causes any discomfort while walking, such as a tongue that cuts into your ankle. We consider the entire shoe and cover everything, including the way the cuff feels around the ankle, the width of the shoe, the insole quality, and arch support, the size of the toe box as well as any improvements to comfort and protection such as a molded toe cap or bumper.
The way shoelaces are secured can affect your comfort, so we considered the ease or difficulty of fine-tuning the fit. We enjoyed the ease and high functionality of speed lacing systems that require no knot-tying, as found on the Salomon and Adidas models. Most models we review do not have the lacing hooks that hiking boots normally do, but a couple of the shoes with taller cuffs, such as the HOKA ONE ONE Toa GTX, has a couple of pair of hooks to help securely wrap around the ankle. To test shock absorption in each model, we jumped down off a boulder onto a flat rock landing and noted how much impact was felt in our feet and knees.
Finally, we looked at how well each model breathes. Dry feet are comfortable feet, and a good design keeps feet dry when splashing through puddles and breathes well on warmer days. We took each model to the local gym to walk on a treadmill at the same speed (3 mph), same incline (moderate), and for the same distance (1 mile) in the same socks (no fear, we cleaned them between trials). Afterward, we noted how hot our feet were, then removed the shoes to check for sock dampness and sweat accumulation on our feet. The products without a waterproof membrane, the Vasque Juxt and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator, turned out to breathe the best, as expected. Of the shoes with waterproof membranes, the La Sportiva Spire GTX breathes the most, likely thanks to the added air ventilation below the insole. Some users will need to choose a shoe with a waterproof lining based on where they go hiking (wet environments), but if you live in an arid climate, then consider one of these shoes without a liner so that your feet will breathe better and not get as sweaty and damp.
Without a doubt, the HOKA ONE ONE Toa GTX is the most comfortable hiking shoe in our review, as it provides luxurious comfort with a thick cushioned midsole that helps shield your feet from the jarring impacts of firm surfaces like rocks and packed down trails. Our testers didn't need to break them in; they were comfy from day one to day… still counting.
Light is right for footwear. One of the benefits of a hiking shoe over a full boot is the significant weight shed from every step while still providing a bit more stability and durability over a trail runner or tennis shoe. To compare the different models accurately, we weigh each one ourselves, all size 11 US, on a digital scale straight out of the box.
The different pairs ranged between 1.64 and 2.78 pounds. That pound difference might not seem like much on paper, but we noticed it underfoot. The Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX is the lightest pair that we tested, though it's worth noting that it isn't as comfortable nor as supportive in the midsole as other pairs. Furthermore, after moderate use over a year of use by our lead tester, it lost much of this support as the midsole material broke down. On the opposite end, the Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX is the heaviest pair that we tested, but also the most stable and clearly built with longevity in mind.
While weight is an important trait, you do not always have to choose between weight and performance. The La Sportiva Spire GTX weighs a hair over 2 pounds but is among the more comfortable, stable, and supportive options. The Vasque Juxt weighs just over 2 pounds and is equally nice underfoot. Most of our favorite shoes hover right around two pounds. More than two pounds, and the shoe will likely boast better durability thanks to heavier, natural materials, as well as improved support thanks to a more burly midsole construction.
Traction is important to hikers, and it doesn't matter whether you are walking around the local trail system or out on a fast-pack. If you are slipping, then you are going to have less confidence and be less efficient in your movement. A hiking shoe's traction is derived from the outsole of the shoe. Components of this outsole that should be considered include the rubber compound, the shape of the lugs, and the rocker profile of the sole. While many shoemakers use well-known rubber blends from companies such as Vibram, others use an in-house compound. The softer the rubber, the stickier it often is, though the durability will be diminished. The shape of the lugs matter, for these bite into the surface of the terrain and provide traction as well. The deeper the lugs, the more they will bite into soft surfaces like mud and snow, but the shallower ones will be more effective on rock slabs, as they have more surface area. The Garmont Dragontail GTX and the Salewa Wildfire Edge represent the two ends of this spectrum of lug shape. And finally, looking at the rocker profile, we consider how flat the sole sits on the ground. The more rockered the sole, whether on the toe, the heel, or both, the more comfortable a hiking stride will be. On the other hand, too much rocker, and you will have a hard time gaining good purchase or traction in the forefoot area, especially when trying to edge on narrow rock ledges.
Midsole inserts that are made of a molded plastic also contribute to a shoe's traction by giving the user a more stable and secure platform to edge upon, making a dime-edge seem like a much broader ledge to use as a foothold. The Wildfire Edge has an edging plate that makes it a very effective climber. Other models, such as the Oboz Firebrand II Bdry, utilize a nylon shank that produces similar stability underfoot that is more generally useful without being so specialized as to be as good at climbing as a more niche model.
Each model was tested side-by-side on five separate surface types to come up with the shoes' overall traction score. We even wore different shoes on each foot when trekking through the test areas to have direct comparisons in their purchase ability. First, we walked up and down dry granite slabs. Most models performed well in these scenarios, while the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX, Dragontail MNT GTX, and Spire GTX stuck best to the steepest slopes. All three pairs have lugs that allow for lots of surface area contact. The Salewa Wildfire Edge has the best ability to edge and smear, thanks to its lower profile, even smooth sole, making it the best for technical rock climbing. In our wet rock test, we walked back and forth across the same wet rocks in mountain brooks and streams. The Salewa impressed us on both wet and dry rock.
We also hustled up slopes of loose sediment in our traction tests, in which the more aggressive tread of the Salomon dug in better than the rest. On the eastern side of the Sierra in Spring, we found a trail covered in mud from the thawing snow. Again, the Salomon X Ultra's deep and multi-directional lugs cut through the mud most efficiently, finding hidden rocks or more stable soil to gain purchase. We also preferred the shoes with heel brakes when descending loose and sloppy terrain, keeping us from sliding out much better than the outsoles without it.
Finally, we walked up and down some gentle snow-covered slopes warmed into a slushy state by the midday sun. The Garmont model kicked in steps in the snow the best going up. Coming down, we again fell for outsoles with heel brakes, which tended to catch a sliding foot. The La Sportiva Spire GTX also did well in the snow. We also factored our experiences on and off the hiking trails into the traction score on top of our specially designed tests.
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 upfront. 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 Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX are some of the stiffest in a group of contenders that varies widely in this aspect. Those who desire hefty underfoot structure may also find the Oboz Firebrand II to be a helpful model. We were pleased that all products reviewed flexed sufficiently in the forefoot.
We also measured the forefoot at its widest point on each product. Wide bases provide a stable foundation for powering through each step. The HOKA ONE ONE and Merrell models tied for the broadest forefoot at 4.75 inches. We also measured the height of the ankle collar (from the footbed to the highest ankle point) to check ankle stability. While ankle protection is more of a thing with hiking boots, we still appreciate a pair of hiking shoes that offers more stability than a typical trail runner.
Lastly, we also considered the quality of the insole. It appears that some manufacturers view the insole as just an opportunity to add cushioning and improve the fit of the footbed. We appreciated manufacturers that took the insole as an opportunity to add support to the heel and arch. The stiffest insole award goes to the Keens, while the Salomon, Vasque, and Merrell products also beefed up their insoles by adding a second, more dense layer of foam to the back half of the foot. This extra support does not take away from comfort in the footbed in any case. While many hikers see buying third-party insoles as automatic, hiking shoes are not cheap, and we like insoles that aren't, too.
The Dragontail GTX excelled in this metric, topping the charts as the most stable under any conditions imaginable. This is truly a mountain boot disguised as a hiking shoe and is the most confidence-inspiring when carrying heavy loads into the backcountry. That said, if we are considering the need for such stability, we may be looking at one of the lighter weight hiking boots rather than the heaviest weight hiking shoe as a compromise. The HOKA Toa offers above-average support and stability for its weight.
How many things can one pair do? Several considerations went into our Versatility scores. Some of these shoes are comfortable on flat trails and rough terrain, and some handle moderate loads without wincing. We value a shoe that is comfortable for short day hikes and also supportive enough for light backpacking trips.
Do you want one do-it-all shoe or a quiver of options for different adventures? If you are new to hiking, it's likely that a versatile, do-everything shoe fits your needs. But, if you have specific priorities and a bigger budget, two or more pairs of specialized shoes could give you focused performance. Keep in mind that a shoe designed for hiking is only part of your adventure footwear quiver, which might already include boots, trail running shoes, approach shoes, etc.
At a bare minimum, a product in this category must handle several miles with a light daypack stuffed with a water bottle, snacks, an extra layer, and a camera. All models we reviewed pass this low standard. During testing, we also packed a midsize pack (30-40 liter volume) with 15-20 pounds and hit the trails in the contenders. After a few miles, the added weight of a pack separated the rest of the "pack." Our favorites for moderate backpacking trips are the Keen Targhee II and Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX models, which have great ankle and foot support.
While out on the trail, we wanted to see how each shoe did while jogging with a light pack. "Fastpack" hiking is gaining in popularity, and while all-out running is not usually part of the program, a fastpacker's needs often more resemble those of trail runners rather than backpackers. This trend is reflected in the market, as many hikers available look like beefed up trail runners. Several shoes in this review feel natural at a running gait, but none combined nimble running ability with powerful support better than the Salomon X Ultra and La Sportiva Spire. It is also a bonus if you can wear your hiking shoes on the trail and in casual settings, too.
It's no secret dry feet provide more comfort and warmth than wet ones. Moisture and water in the footbed also increase the likelihood of blisters. The trade-off for solid waterproofing is lower breathability, warmer feet, and a higher price tag. Most of the shoes we reviewed had a waterproof liner, except for the Salewa Wildfire Edge, Vasque Juxt, and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilators. Many of the models that we tested come in both standard and "waterproof" options. (Usually, a designation in the name like "GTX" for Gore-Tex or "Dry" gives it away.) Popular liners include options from Gore-Tex or eVent, while some manufacturers, like Keen, use a proprietary membrane. We chose to test the waterproof versions as much as possible because the average hiker encounters wet conditions often, from water crossings to muck and slush to precipitation and more. Unless you're only hiking in Death Valley - and hey, even they get rain sometimes - it usually makes sense to have a pair with a waterproof liner.
To score the contenders in this metric, we considered their flood heights, how readily the upper absorbs water, and performance in our waterproof challenge. After a couple of months of hiking, we headed to a small mountain stream in the Eastern Sierra. Checking for leaks, we splashed around in water deep enough to cover the forefoot. We walked around and flexed the forefoot to see if the added stress caused any leakage. After five minutes, we removed the shoes to see if any water made it inside.
The La Sportiva Spire GTX emerged from the water on top of all other models. It has a relatively tall flood height among the shoes we tested (4.75 in.), kept our feet dry through the waterproof test, and resisted absorbing water into its leather and synthetic upper.
Similar water resistance effectiveness came from the Salomon, The North Face, and Adidas models, passing the waterproof test but having lower flood heights. Any water these models did soak up dried quickly.
A few seconds after stepping into the water in the Juxt, our feet were soaked. The same went for the Moab 2 Ventilator. Not having a waterproof membrane, this was expected, and we only put them through this liquid suffering for equality's sake. Two shoes with waterproof membranes, however, did leak — both the Keen Targhee II and the Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof. Our feet remained dry for a few minutes in both, but they couldn't survive the full five minutes underwater. The Keen leaked more than the Merrell, while the Merrell absorbed more liquid into its mesh-heavy upper. Water-resistance declines with use and time, but we expected more from these two models after only 15-20 miles in each pair.
All of these shoes benefit from a leather or fabric conditioner applied to the upper. Nikwax has a range of products that are great for treating the mixed material uppers of these shoes. A leather or fabric treatment keeps water from soaking the shoe's upper materials. Even when the waterproof liner stops water, it makes your shoe heavy and hinders breathability. The La Sportiva, Salomon, and Adidas products soaked up the least water and dried faster than the others.
The are many trade-offs when designing hiking footwear, and the cost for a more durable shoe is commonly more weight. When a manufacturer focuses on making lightweight shoes, durability is less of a focus. Full leather uppers tend to be more durable than synthetics but also weigh more. Rubber-covered toe boxes also increase durability in that high-wear area, yet again add to the shoe's weight. Durable, dense rubber soles are also heavier than softer rubber. Your footwear takes more punishment than any other kind of hiking gear you wear, making craft, materials, and design an important part of choosing a pair that ages well.
While we didn't test each product's entire lifespan, 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 talked to fellow hikers on the trails about their shoe experiences.
The burly Garmont Dragontail struck us as the most durable pair of the test bunch. The high-quality stitching, large rubber rand extending up the upper, and abrasion-resistant, full-grain leather of the Garmont lend their service to many seasons of use. They barely showed any signs of the abuse we put them through even after three months. It does use much more natural material and is a seriously heavy shoe, though. We found the Keen Targhee II and theSalewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX to blend durability and weight for more approachable longevity.
Cleaning and treating your footwear increases its life expectancy. Mud and sand left on the upper create premature wear. Warm water and a soft brush is your best tactic for cleaning. Nikwax offers a line of leather and fabric conditioners, including products for suede leather and synthetic fabrics. Common wear areas, like the flex points on the forefoot and seams that are prone to scuffing, can be reinforced. Applying Gear Aid Seam Grip or a similar sealer keeps out dirt and sand, prolonged use, and has the added benefit of keeping water out.
We love to wear hiking boots when hiking in demanding terrain where support is critical. However, hiking shoes have become so good in recent years that many are turning to these low-cut models that shed weight, increase comfort, and give us nearly the same stability as their higher-cut cousins. A quality pair of hiking shoes can turn what used to be an arduous slog in shin-high leather boots into a much more pleasant experience. All of the models in this year's review are quality shoes that each have their place on the trail, though some might be better for your specific needs and goals than others. We hope this review helps you find the optimal footwear for you and your next hiking endeavor.
— Ryan Huetter and Ross Robinson