There's a boot out there to fit any foot
No matter where you're hiking, your footwear sets the tone for the outing and there's something out there for just about everybody. If you're traveling light and have strong, flexible ankles and tough feet, you might be able to get by with a lightweight hiking shoe or boot. But most hikers still appreciate having the protection of a tough upper and a sturdy, supportive sole beneath their feet, especially if they're traveling over very rugged terrain or hauling heavy loads in a backpack.
All types of hiking footwear have tough soles that are made to provide a blend of support and traction, plus shaping and some degree of flexibility to help each stride roll naturally into the next. All purpose-built hiking footwear is also designed with some degree of foot protection in mind, with uppers that are meant to keep cactus spines, gravel, sticks and other debris from hurting your feet or creeping into your boots.
Hiking boots range from heavy and waterproof, to lightweight for speed
As far as other characteristics, it's best to think of your footwear options on a continuum. At the sturdiest, heaviest and most supportive extreme you have traditional hiking and backpacking boots. They may weigh as much as four pounds per pair, but make up for some of that weight with durability; a good pair of heavy-duty boots can easily last you for a decade, or more than a thousand miles on the trail. Most have high-cut uppers that provide extra ankle support, protection, and some degree of waterproofing. The best models are built so that they can be easily resoled or repaired, which prolongs the life of your investment.
At the other extreme of the continuum you have lightweight, flexible hiking shoes; the lightest models weigh in at less than two pounds per pair. That light build almost always means less support and protection for your feet, but hikers carrying light loads, taking short hikes, or traversing relatively gentle terrain may appreciate the extra agility, flexibility and no-break-in comfort you get from this type of footwear. There are even some long-distance trekkers that swear by hiking thousands of miles in trail shoes.
The rest of your hiking footwear runs the gamut between those extremes, providing a varied balance of flexibility, support and protection. For many people, mid-cut hiking boots seem to hit the sweet spot between those characteristics, giving you enough protection to handle moderate loads and challenging terrain, while still offering enough agility to make walking fun.
A word about price
Hiking boot prices can vary quite a bit, even for the same boot. For example, if you have very small or large feet, you may pay more for the same boot than, say, someone who falls into a more common size range. In other cases, the boot or shoe might come in several different colors or trims, and one costs more than the other. Retail prices also vary among online sellers, depending upon their stock and whether it's a direct sale or through a third-party seller.
In preparing this report, we used the average price of the boot or shoe if the prices ranged between sizes or colors. If there was just one retail price, we used that. We recommend that, once you find a hiking boot you like, you shop around a bit to be sure you're not paying more than you should be.
What else do you need?
Once you've secured your hiking footwear, don't forget the ten essentials that you need to be prepared on the trail. We have a full report that can help you select the best headlamp for your trail adventures, and in some places having an effective insect repellent is a legitimate necessity, too. And, although they might not be a survival tool the right binoculars can greatly improve the enjoyment of your hike. Some hikers also like using fitness trackers to help track their metrics -- like speed, distance, calories burned and even altitude gained -- while out on the trail.
We analyzed dozens of expert reviews and thousands of owner posts to evaluate the comfort, fit, performance and durability of hiking boots and shoes for both men and women. Keep in mind that, ultimately, finding the right shoe for you has nothing to do with how it's labeled, and everything to do with how it actually feels on your feet. So don't be afraid to try on boots that are labeled for the other gender, or to consider footwear that might be a little lighter -- or heavier -- than what you'd normally pick. You might be surprised by what you end up liking.
The best hiking boots
Leather boots are heavier than their synthetic-material brethren but, in exchange for that extra weight and some break-in time, you get a tough boot that breathes well, can be treated for water-resistance, molds to your foot and wears like iron. A leather boot's rugged construction offers ample support for carrying a heavy pack, plus good traction and a stiff sole to protect against rough terrain.
A boot upper made from a single piece of quality leather also has fewer seams to leak (or rub at your feet) and is warmer than lightweight mesh models, which makes this type of boot a great choice for cold weather.
Our best-reviewed backpacking boot, the Asolo TPS 520 GV (Est. $300), is the epitome of a great leather boot. At almost two pounds each (29.3 ounces), these are not lightweight boots -- but they're still a constant favorite with both male and female hikers.
In return for putting in a little break-in time when the boots first arrive, you get a durable, supportive boot that's sturdy enough to carry heavy backpacking loads but still comfortable to walk in, thanks to a rockered, or curved, sole. (Without that rocker construction, heavy-duty boot soles tend to be very clunky.) The men's version comes in a wide or normal width, while the women's version comes in normal width only. Otherwise, they fit true to size.
Traction on wet surfaces tends to be the Achilles heel for heavy-duty boots and the Asolo TPS 520 GV gets somewhat mixed reviews in this regard, but does better than most. It has a waterproof/breathable GoreTex membrane that reviewers say performs brilliantly, and a wicking nylon lining to help keep your feet dry inside the boots. The dual-density midsole and extra padding provide excellent shock absorption, and an ankle collar and gusseted tongue help keep debris out of the boot.
Once these boots mold to your feet, you can expect a comfortable hike and stellar ankle support that'll easily last for 10 years or more than 1,000 miles on the trail. We did find occasional complaints about the sole delaminating as the adhesive that holds it in place gives way, but Asolo has a good reputation for standing behind its products.
Another excellent hiking boot is the agile Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX (Est. $200), which weighs in at just 2 pounds, 7 ounces for the average pair. It's good for toting loads of up to about 40 pounds, which translates to one or two nights of backpacking for most people.
The Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX offers a protective, tough, yet nimble performance, with great traction and a roomy toe box that won't pinch your toes on downhill slopes. This is the most flexible boot we evaluated in the heavy-duty category, and editors at GearInstitute.com say its lightweight, twist-resistant plastic-reinforced midsole is reminiscent of a running shoe.
Several experts comment on the Quest 4D 2 GTX's excellent ankle support and "plush" ankle padding, and it also draws lots of positive reviews for its excellent waterproofing. Another favorite feature is a locking middle eyelet lets you fine-tune lace tension in the upper and lower sections of the boot, making it easy to really lock your heel in place. The only real criticism of this boot that we saw was a note from one expert reviewer that its sole lugs aren't as aggressive as some of its competitors.
A good pair of heavy-duty hiking boots can easily cost $300. If you're on a tight budget, you can get very good performance at a great price from our budget pick, the Keen Durand Mid WP (Est. $150). This lightweight, flexible boot is comfortable straight out of the box, and weighs just pounds, 12 ounces per typical men's pair. Hikers especially love the Durand's roomy toe box, and it draws praise from Outside Online for a proprietary polyurethane midsole that barely compresses under heavy use, and a dual-rubber sole that provides a great combination of grip around the outside and durability in the middle. The one negative fit note we see is that some users are disappointed by the lack of arch support.
The Keen Durand Mid WP's upper is a combination of waterproof Nubuck leather and breathable mesh. It has a Keen.Dry membrane that testers say generally provides great waterproofing, although it's somewhat lacking in breathability. We did find a few complaints of shoes that leaked right away -- perhaps a quality control issue? -- and a light boot like this won't stand up to long periods of heavy use; but most users say it's a great value and that they'll happily buy a second pair when the first one wears out.
Waterproofing can be a double-edged sword
Waterproof hiking boots are always a trade-off; you give up some breathability in exchange for keeping water out of your boots. The same membrane that keeps water from seeping in also keeps it from escaping once your feet do get wet, and it slows the drying process too. So waterproofing is great... until you go hiking in weather so hot that your feet and boots end up soaked in sweat, or until you step into water that's higher than the top of your boot's waterproofing.
That means waterproofing isn't necessarily ideal in every single climate or terrain -- but it does come in handy if you do a lot of hiking through shallow water or in generally wet conditions. Although the best-reviewed Asolo TPS 520 GV has great waterproofing, we've chosen a slightly lighter-weight leather boot, the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid (Est. $200), as our best waterproof hiking boot.
The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid weighs just under two-and-a-half pounds for a men's pair, and most hikers love the almost non-existent break-in period for its Nubuck leather uppers. The Renegade is available in normal and wide widths for men, and normal, wide and narrow for women; reviewers say it's especially good for locking in a narrow heel.
The Lowa Renegade's stellar waterproofing comes from a seamless GoreTex liner, and it's received top marks for water resistance -- and an editor's choice award -- from OutdoorGearLab.com for several years running. It gets high scores for support and comfort, too, and reviewers say that it offers good traction on mud and snow.
Reviews of the Lowa Renegade's traction on wet rock are a little bit mixed -- again, par for the course with most backpacking boots -- but it gets an emphatic nod from an expert tester with Backpacker magazine, and also gets one of the highest scores for traction from OutdoorGearLab.com. Reviews of this boot's durability are also somewhat mixed, as you'd expect from a relatively soft, light boot that's still expected to haul substantial loads and log a lot of miles in rough terrain. But even those backpackers who say they wear these boots into the ground after just a year often turn right around to buy another pair, because they like the fit and the feel so much.
Other waterproof boots in this report that perform very well include the light, agile Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX, which we discussed above, and the sturdy but surprisingly lightweight women's Asolo Stynger GTX (Est. $235), which is our Best Reviewed women's hiking boot.