If you mainly hike on groomed trails and don't need extra ankle protection, low-cut hiking shoes are lightweight and relatively inexpensive, though not necessarily durable. Low-cut hikers aren't constructed to last for years, which explains why we read so many complaints about their long-term durability. Reviewers recommend a few hiking shoes for backpacking loads up to 30 pounds. Most experts are more conservative, saying this type of light footwear is fine for ultralight backpacking with loads of 25 pounds or less, but is really best for day hikes.
Quite a few day hikers and ultralight backpackers prefer trail-running shoes, but if you traverse rocky trails, hiking shoes give you a beefier sole to better protect your feet. Reviews point to the Merrell Moab Ventilator (*Est. $90) as the best of the highly breathable models; they're available in sizes for both men and women. They're extremely light and supportive, and like most light hiking shoes, they're not terribly durable. But in a hiking-boot buying guide for Boys' Life magazine, author Mark Anders says that even the mid-cut boot version of these shoes "feels like a pair of comfy running shoes." A review from The Seattle Times says the Moab Ventilators' Vibram outsoles stick "to nearly any trail surface"; only snow caused problems. Users on Cabelas.com agree about the excellent traction, saying that these shoes grip well on all surfaces, "including wet & oily."
The Ventilator also draws a number of excellent user reviews from Moosejaw.com, Amazon.com, REI.com and Cabelas.com. Owners particularly like the shoe's good traction, good tread life and light weight, and they're also fans of its extreme breathability. Concerns about durability and lack of support aside -- if you need more support, you might prefer a stiffer, higher-cut boot instead of a hiking shoe -- many owners say these shoes run quite small. A Seattle Times reviewer says they're designed for low- to mid-volume feet, and one user reported having to purchase Moab Ventilators that were two sizes larger than his usual shoe size.
Other contenders among low-cut hiking shoes include the Oboz Sawtooth (*Est. $100) with a stiff ankle and heel that some reviewers like but others don't. The Patagonia Drifter A/C (*Est. $130), won the 2010 Outside magazine Gear of the Year award, The Patagonia hiking shoe includes mesh panels for extra ventilation. The Keen Voyageur Low (*Est. $110) gets special mention in reviews for its roomy toe box -- with a try for those who like a less constricting forefoot area, though some owners say they aren't great on wet rocks.
For waterproof hiking shoes, the all-leather Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo (*Est. $170) is highly rated. It comes in three widths (for men) and two widths for women's sizes. The women's version is built on a gender-specific last, which experts say improves the chances of getting a good fit.
The Renegade II GTX is built with waterproof all-leather uppers plus a Gore-Tex lining that's seamless for extra comfort. The trade-off is that it can get pretty warm in hot weather. We also found a few owner-written reviews saying the shoes don't fully protect feet from rocks or provide enough support. However, the 2010 version has been upgraded with a slightly stiffer shank. We also found scattered complaints about durability from owners, which is not uncommon for a shoe in this category. If you need a waterproof hiking shoe, this is it. A mid-cut version, the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid (*Est. $220), is extremely popular with reviewers of both genders.
Reviewers and retailers are just as likely to call mid-cut hiking shoes – which are cut higher than low-cut hiking shoes but don't completely cover the ankle -- a boot instead of a shoe. Mid-cut hikers offer some ankle support and, truthfully, the line between hiking shoes and boots is fairly blurred at this point. Often, the Mid and Low (or Lo) versions of a given shoe will be nearly identical except for the cut of the upper.
For instance, the Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo discussed above also comes in a version with more ankle support, the Renegade GTX Mid (*Est. $220). Owners reviewing the Mid version at REI.com say that, like the Lo, it provides excellent traction, comfort and support.
The less expensive Keen Voyageur Mid (*Est. $120) isn't waterproof; rather, it builds in mesh for ventilation (and drainage if you really get wet). Tests at Good Housekeeping give this mid-cut model a top ranking, praising its roomy toe box and overall comfort -- though editors say it's not the best choice for feet prone to sweat. They're available in men's and women's sizes.