Lightweight hiking boots -- often called light hikers -- tend to be somewhat taller than mid-cut hiking shoes, and accordingly provide more ankle support. Leather uppers are typically ventilated with strips of mesh, which makes these boots more comfortable and breathable in hot weather than all-leather boots. The mesh also keeps the weight down to an average of around 40 ounces per pair. In exchange for the lighter weight and increased breathability, however, users typically lose some durability and water resistance, two common owner complaints.
The best-reviewed of the lightweight, waterproof hiking boots we evaluated, the Vasque Breeze GTX XCR (*Est. $160) uses plenty of mesh for ventilation, plus the most breathable version of Gore-Tex for waterproofing. This boot comes in gender-specific sizes and lasts, plus in two or three widths, depending on the model. As the name suggests, these hiking boots are well ventilated with mesh, and the women's shoe uses the most breathable XCR version of Gore-Tex for waterproofing. The Vibram Contact sole has aggressive lugs for traction and stability, especially on rough and muddy trails.
This 40-ounce hiking boot is a top pick among women reviewing hiking boots at Moosejaw.com and LLBean.com, and among men at Backcountry.com. Many owners say that Vasque Breeze GTX hiking boots have a minimal break-in time and provide the ideal mix of durability, protection and comfort. These boots also earn mostly positive reviews from both men and women at REI.com, Zappos.com and Buzzillions.com. One user says, "It's like wearing a tennis shoe on a hike only you get dry feet, ankle support and stiffness in the sole." We did find a few complaints about premature wear, poor traction or defective waterproofing, but most owners are satisfied.
Runners-up models include a Backpacker magazine Editors' Choice winner from 2010, the Salomon Wings Sky GTX (*Est. $230), available online in men's sizes. Editors say this boot provides comfort that's almost sneaker-like, but also "let us put in 15-hour days with 50-pound packs -- with no excessive foot fatigue." Traction is judged as excellent.
The less expensive Kayland Zephyr (*Est. $120) gets scant user feedback and isn't widely available, but a professional reviewer at Wired likes its lightweight breathability and customizable lacing fit. The editors of Backpacker magazine chose the Zephyr for their 2009 Editor's Choice award, praising its waterproof, breathable eVent lining.
Another light hiking boot, the Merrell Reflex Gore-Tex Mid (*Est. $130), offers solid, long-lasting waterproofing and a true-to-size fit. It draws more than 400 enthusiastic reviews on Cabelas.com, with rave reviews about the boot's excellent support and durable waterproofing. These shoes are available only through Cabela's.
Although most quality hiking boots cost more than $100 -- and happy owners report that they're worth every penny -- we found a few well-recommended models that fall below that threshold.
Among budget-priced hiking boots, the top-rated Hi-Tec Altitude IV WP (*Est. $90) for men (called the
Another option, the L.L.Bean Trail Model Hikers II Mid (*Est. $80) earn enthusiastic reviews from both men and women owners at LLBean.com. Many report good comfort right out of the box, plus good support for hiking. Good Housekeeping compares eight hiking shoes, and finds the women's version of this boot to be the most supportive. Editors also praise the boot for both ankle support and comfort. A waterproof version, the L.L.Bean Waterproof Trail Model Hikers (*Est. $80), is also available.
Another retailer-specific waterproof boot, the Cabela's Backcountry Hikers (*Est. $80), get high ratings from owners mainly for value. Most users like these boots' waterproofing and sturdy support, but some find the stiff, high ankles to be too much of a good thing.
Mid-weight hiking boots with all-leather uppers offer more support than lightweight leather/mesh boots for hiking on challenging terrain. Reviewers recommend this type of footwear for backpacking with heavy loads of 40 or 50 pounds or more. Mid-weight leather boots are also warmer -- a boon in cold weather, but problematic in heat.
These durable hiking boots are also the heaviest, averaging around 4 pounds a pair, and many are so stiff that they can take weeks or even months to break in. Until that point they can be fairly uncomfortable, even causing hot spots and blisters. So these problems don't occur on the trail, experts advise wearing your boots as frequently as possible off the trail -- even on errands to the grocery store -- until they're comfortable. Some users say they wore thick hiking socks, plus an extra liner sock, to get enough cushioning to hike comfortably in mid-weight and heavier boots.
Reviewers recommend two Italian hiking boots, Zamberlan and Asolo, more than any other brand. The Zamberlan 760 Steep GT (*Est. $270) earns a 2010 Editors' Choice award at Backpacker magazine, where it's called "uncommonly comfortable," even with a 70-pound load. Based on tests of dozens of hiking boots (more than 8,000 miles total), editors praise the boot for superb support and protection plus "Cadillac comfort."
The handful of owners reviewing the Zamberlan 760 Steep GT at REI.com and Amazon.com also give it rave reviews. One says buying the boots was "one of the best decisions of my life," while another reports that they keep his feet warm and dry, even in snow. While a handful of reviewers at Zappos.com like the 760 Steep GT's comfort and support, one user says the sole doesn't provide enough protection on rocky terrain. The only reviews we could find of the women's version of this boot were on REI.com, where a handful of users compliment its support, comfort, traction and durability.
The Asolo TPS 520 GV (*Est. $280) is a bit heavier (an average men's pair weighs almost 4 pounds, while the Zamberlan 760 Steep GT weighs a little more than 3 pounds). TPS stands for triple power structure, which incorporates three different shock absorbers for specific areas of the sole. These boots come in men's medium and wide sizes, plus sizes specifically for women. The 2009 gear issue of Backpacker magazine recommends the Asolo TPS 520 GV for hiking off-trail.
Hundreds of users on REI.com, Backcountry.com and Moosejaw.com give the Asolo TPS 520 GV positive ratings, praising it for its durability, support and comfort, even when backpacking with heavy loads. Owners say the TPS 520 is wonderfully waterproof, although they don't breathe very well in very hot weather, which is typical for leather boots. Some owners report a break-in period. (Note that there's often a trade-off between the protection a boot provides -- which often makes it fairly rigid -- and the number of miles you have to hike before it shapes itself to your foot.) Users praise the TPS 520 GV for retaining its traction over time, but a few complain that it sometimes slips on wet rock.
The best-reviewed Asolo Power Matic 200 GV (*Est. $290) is an excellent heavy-duty leather hiking boot. Like the TPS 520 GV it gets mixed reviews for breathability, but the waterproofing gets high marks. The Power Matic 200 GV is popular with reviewers of both genders, and consistently rates high across retail websites. Their pulley lacing system is also a hit, and reportedly holds up well to heavy use. Experts and owners alike appreciate this boot's stiff, sturdy support, and say that break-in time is minimal compared to other sturdy leather boots. Like the Asolo TPS 520 GV the Asolo Power Matic 200 weighs in at about 3.75 pounds, but we didn't see a repeat of the concerns about slipping on wet rocks that owners voiced about the TPS 520 GV.
Runner-up boots include the Asolo Fugitive GTX (*Est. $215), popular with Moosejaw.com users and getting a nod from TheTravelRag.com for a solid, traditional design. Although the Danner Light and its successor, the Danner Light II (*Est. $280), don't get much attention from expert reviewers, some user feedback weighs in heavily in its favor, with one saying she got 20 years of use from her Danner boots. The Light/Light II are also available in four widths (three for men and one for women-specific sizing), making it relatively easy to fit all sizes.
The Vasque Wasatch GTX (*Est. $175) receives universal approval from women hikers on Amazon.com, REI.com and Moosejaw.com. Men tend to be less positive about this boot on all three sites, raising concerns that it isn't very durable. In particular, they say the rubber on the sole and where the sole meets the upper cracks. Ratings for support and traction are good.
Another retailer-specific boot, the L.L.Bean Cresta Gore-Tex Leather Hikers (*Est. $200), draws enthusiasm from users. The Cresta Hikers come with a waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex lining and what one expert reviewer describes as "dead-on sizing" in three widths (for both men's and women's sizes). The boots are sturdy and durable, with one exception: Some users say the eyelets deform when you lace the boot tightly, and one reviewer warns that the eyelets ripped out of her boots completely, leaving her to finish a long NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) outing in her sneakers. We also found a few complaints from users about these boots causing blisters, although most are very happy with how their boots fit.