Many hikers love the freedom and lightweight of a hiking shoe instead of a clunky boot. While hiking boots can offer plenty of ankle support for carrying a heavy hiking pack for days or weeks on end, a lightweight hiking shoe can make moving fast and efficiently over long-distance terrain a breeze.
There are so many hiking shoes on the market, however, and it can be difficult to decide which pair is right for your needs.
To make things simpler, we’ve prepared this in-depth hiking shoe buying guide that walks you through the ins and outs of choosing your next trail companions.
After the reviews below, we’ll provide an intro to hiking shoes and the factors you need to consider when buying.
Our top pick: Merrell Moab 3 Gore-Tex Hiking Shoes
Pros: Excellent traction, waterproof, supportive, versatile
Cons: Heavier than fully synthetic options
The Merrell Moab is one of the most popular hiking shoes globally. These leather walking shoes are durable, supportive, and comfortable right out of the box.
They feature a Gore-Tex shell that is waterproof yet breathable, along with a slip-resistant Vibram sole so you can handle any terrain with confidence.
The Moab 3 has a leather and mesh upper that provides a combination of breathability and durability. They also feature a protective rubber toe cap and a closed-cell foam tongue to keep moisture and debris out as you walk.
What’s changed from the Moab 2? The Moab hiking shoe has been revamped with a new more supportive insole, a softer more cushioned midsole and a grippier Vibram outsole. This version of the shoe is also partially made from recycled materials.
Runner up: Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX Men’s Shoe
Pros: Water-resistant, shock-absorbing, rubber outsole
Cons: Not as protective as some walking shoes
The X Ultra 4 GTX are great shoes for hiking and walking, particularly on trails and uneven terrain. These shoes are lightweight yet durable and have lots of features to ensure you are comfortable, even over long distances.
These walking shoes have a protective mudguard as well as toe caps. Although not fully waterproof, they use water-resistant materials to keep your feet drier for longer.
The EVA midsole absorbs shock and the Ortholite insole provides cushioning for your feet. The X Ultra 4s also use a Contragrip MA rubber outsole which provides grip on uneven and slippery terrain making these shoes ideal for trails.
One of the key features of the X Ultra 4 hiking shoes is the protection it provides the outer foot which helps to prevent injuries. We also love the quick lace system that makes these shoes a breeze to get on and off.
RELATED: Merrell vs Salomon Hiking Boots
Also Great: Scarpa Moraine Plus GTX Hiking Shoes
Pros: GoreTex, nubuck leather, rubber toe rand, look great
Cons: Leather is heavier than synthetic materials
This is a do-it-all trail shoe that provides rugged yet versatile construction and is designed to be a technical hiking or travel shoe.
The upper is made of Nubuck leather, which offers excellent durability. The Gore-Tex lining is waterproof and breathable, so you can take these shoes on any adventure without worrying about getting wet feet or overheating.
The midsole is dual-density EVA for shock absorption and the shoe also features arch and heel tension support for stability. A rubber toe rand protects your feet from rocks and other debris.
The main downside of these shoes is they weigh a bit more than other options. At 930g per pair, they are around 100g more than the Merrell Moab 2 (above). And they weigh around three times as much as a trail running shoe like the Asics Gel-Trabuco (below).
Best Trail Runners: Asics Gel-Trabuco
Pros: Lightweight, comfortable, rock protection plate
Cons: Not waterproof, Asics generally run narrow
For day hikes and easy overnight treks, we prefer to walk in trail runners. They are lightweight and comfortable but still provide protection where you need it.
The Asics Trabuco line has long been our go-to for trail runners and we’ve enjoyed watching them evolve over the years.
The latest Gel-Trabuco has been engineered with advanced durability and stability to keep up with long hikes or runs. The closed engineered mesh keeps out debris, while the rock protection plate protects your feet from any sharp rocks.
The outsole is formed with ASICSGRIP technology and a technical tread pattern that keeps you balanced and steady no matter what kind of terrain you’re walking on.
Also Great: The North Face VECTIV Exploris FUTURELIGHT
Pros: Very comfortable, good for speed, waterproof
Cons: Rockered design not for everyone
The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelight is a great option for the active hiker who wants to get the most from their shoe. It provides an excellent balance of comfort, protection, and performance.
The upper of this shoe is made out of abrasion-resistant ripstop mesh, which is breathable and waterproof thanks to a FUTURELIGHT membrane.
The integrated toe cap adds an extra layer of protection and durability in that area.
The midsole features a single-density 3D TPU plate underfoot and high-rebound single-density EVA midsole for shock absorption.
It also features a midsole rocker, which aids with forward propulsion. Call us old fashioned, but we still prefer to opt for stability over the efficiency that comes with the rockered design.
The 4 mm lugs on the outsole should give you enough grip on most surfaces.
Best for Wide Feet: Keen Targhee III WP Hiking Shoe
Pros: Wide, waterproof, comfortable, durable
Cons: Available in leather only, not suitable for narrow feet
If you’re looking for a comfortable hiknig shoe with a wide fit, the Keen Targhee III shoe be one of the first options you look at.
The dual-density EVA foam footbed provides excellent cushioning and support, which is especially helpful when you’re hiking on uneven terrain. The ESS shank helps provide stability and heel support so you won’t feel like you’re about to roll an ankle when you’re walking through rocky areas.
It has a breathable waterproof membrane and natural odor control, so you can wear it in the rain or snow without worrying about getting wet or smelly. The Nubuck leather upper is soft and comfortable, while the Speed Hook lacing system make getting this shoe on and off a breeze.
The Injected TPU heel-capture system provides stability and support in addition to preventing slippage in wet conditions, while the leather mud shield prevents debris from getting into your shoes while you’re hiking through muddy areas.
Types of Hiking Shoes
There are three main types of lightweight hiking footwear – hiking shoes, trail runners, and approach shoes.
1. Hiking shoes
The stiffest and most substantial of the bunch, these often resemble a low-cut version of a hiking boot without the extra weight or ankle support.
They tend to offer the most protection from rocks and roots and are great for rough trails.
Out of the three main types of lightweight hiking footwear, however, they are often the heaviest and bulkiest options.
2. Trail runners
These are ideal for people looking to move fast over large swaths of terrain. They are flexible and comfortable, yet are not designed for carrying lots of weight.
Trail runners are great for moving fast on day hikes and short backpacking trips, though the lack of ankle support will be noticeable.
They tend to be less durable and protective in the long term, however, they have become quite popular amongst thru-hikers and minimalists because they are very light.
Check out our full write-up on Trail Running Shoes.
3. Approach shoes
Best used on steep rocky terrain, approach shoes were originally designed for rock climbers who needed a grippy shoe for walking to crags but have become popular amongst rock scramblers and hikers alike.
Approach shoes tend to have very sticky rubber underfoot and a toe rand for protection against rocks.
There are even some crossover-types that are somewhere in between a hiking shoe and an approach shoe.
However, they aren’t that great for muddy trails and don’t offer much support.
How to Find the Best Pair of Hiking Shoes
Choosing hiking shoes is no easy task. There are hundreds of different models available today, each professing to change the way you hike.
But, finding the right hiking shoe can be much easier once you know what to look for. When reviewing hiking shoes, keep these considerations in mind:
Part of the appeal of a pair of hiking shoes over a set of boots is that shoes are much lighter. Every time you take a step while walking, you pick your footwear up and then place it back down.
All of that repetitive lifting can be tiring after a while, so a lighter boot can be seriously helpful over long distances.
When reviewing hiking shoes, be sure to thoroughly consider the weight of a single pair of shoes. The lighter the shoes, the less effort required to walk in them.
However, keep in mind that sometimes weight savings are made by sacrificing durability or outsole thickness, so you might feel all of those small rocks and twigs underfoot as you walk uphill.
RELATED: The Best Hiking Poles
Many people prefer waterproof boots for walking through mud and puddles. While waterproof boots are fantastic, keep in mind that hiking shoes have a much lower top than their high-top boot counterparts.
This means that even with waterproof shoes when walking through deep puddles you might get water coming in over the top of the shoe.
This water will then sit inside your shoe and not easily drain as the waterproof liner keeps water in as well as it keeps water out.
Non-waterproof hikers will drain easily and breathe well, so this is an important aspect of your shoes to consider.
Hiking Shoe FAQ
The main types of shoes people wear hiking are hiking shoes, hiking boots, and trail running shoes. Hiking boots provide the most stability and protection, while trail runners are best for fast and light hiking. Hiking shoes sit somewhere in the middle, offering the best of both worlds.
Walking shoes are any shoes designed for walking, both on tarmac and trails. The difference between hiking shoes and other walking shoes is that they are designed to provide support when carrying a heavy pack, to provide protection against sharp rocks and stability on uneven surfaces.