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Best Hiking Shoes

By: Lisa Maloney on April 11, 2018

Lightweight hiking shoes or boots great for easier terrain

If you primarily hike on groomed trails and don't require extra ankle protection, low-cut hiking shoes may be all you need. In fact, quite a few long-distance hikers, including a number of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, swear by using hiking shoes as their footwear of choice.

However, not every foot will be happy in hiking shoes, even on relatively easy trails. While hiking shoes offer the ultimate in light weight, flexibility and agility, they also offer minimal support and, in many cases, minimal protection against sharp rocks or other rough material underfoot.

A good number of the disappointed user reviews we found for trail shoes were from buyers who thought they'd be getting boot-level protection and support in a smaller package, but that just isn't the case. As a general rule, if you regularly carry more than 25 pounds on your back or don't have strong, tough feet that are already used to hiking in lightweight, flexible shoes, you should stick to sturdier hiking boots for backpacking, which we cover elsewhere in this report, including a special section for women's hiking boots.

That said, of all the shoes in our report, one comes the closest to offering the underfoot support and durability of a boot while also delivering the same nimble, light feel you'd expect from a shoe. That's the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry (Est. $140), which also is notably free of the quality control complaints that plague many other light hiking shoes. It scores an Editor's Choice award from OutdoorGearLab, along with superb scores for its support, comfort, traction and water resistance. The editors at Switchback Travel also appreciate this shoe's traction, comfort and sturdy build, where testers say its unusual molded heel counter offers lots of lateral stability on rough trails.

Users love the Oboz Sawtooth's fit. They say the deep heel notch, arch support, and padding throughout both heel and forefoot make for a comfortable, locked-in ride, no matter what sort of terrain you're hiking through. However, it's so much shoe that, unlike all the others in this report, you actually need a bit of a break-in period before they mold to your feet for long hikes. The outsole's traction also improves after that break-in period. All told, this is as close as you'll get to boot-style performance in a shoe-sized package.

The general consensus is that the Oboz Sawtooth fits most feet well, although it skews just a little to the wide end of the spectrum. An average men's pair of the Oboz Sawtooth weighs 2 pounds, 1.4 ounces; a women's pair is 1 pound, 11.6 ounces. If you're hiking in hot weather, you can skip the waterproofing of the BDry membrane in favor of the more breathable Oboz Sawtooth Low (Est. $110).

Another surprisingly lightweight yet supportive shoe we like is the Hoka One One Tor Summit WP (Est. $160). This hiking shoe has the same thick, plush midsole and rockered outsole that Hoka One One has become known for in its running shoes, and we found a number of user reviews saying this shoe is great for people with a range of foot problems. A wide toebox helps with that; if you have narrow feet, consider going down at least a half-size.

The reviewers at OutdoorGearLab agree that the Hoka One One Tor Summit is a supremely comfortable shoe -- which they rank as their most important criterion -- and felt it was adequate to support loads of up to 25 or 30 pounds. "It's not cheap," they write, "but the comfort gains are insane." However, they were also surprised to find that the Tor Summit felt a little clunky underfoot, which may have contributed to it feeling a little insecure when scrambling on steep or loose terrain. Testers with Active Junky felt more confident, saying they felt comfortable scrambling on steep slickrock walls during test hikes in the desert.

The Hoka One One Tor Summit WP has a waterproof/breathable eVent boot liner that works well, as long as you can dodge the quality control problems we see mentioned in some user reviews. And at just over 1 pound, 12 ounces for an average men's pair, you can walk a long time in these shoes.

Merrell makes a terrific trail shoe at a terrific price

Our pick for the best cheap trail shoe, the Merrell Moab 2 Vent (Est. $100), also wins a Best Buy award from OutdoorGearLab and is a landslide favorite with users. The Moab 2 Vent weighs about 1 pound, 15 ounces for a typical men's pair, and they're notoriously comfortable right out of the box, with a forgiving fit and wide options for both men and women.

Users say the Merrell Moab 2 Vent offers great traction on just about any surface, with just a few mixed reviews about its grip on wet rock. Although these shoes aren't waterproof, they do a great job of letting the water run right back out again, and the increased air circulation means both your feet and the shoe dry out faster than they would if they were waterproofed -- and an otherwise identical waterproof option is available for those who must have it.

Like any light hiking shoe, the Moab 2 Vent is not all that durable, but reviewers from OutdoorGearLab say it stands up pretty well when compared to similar models. The heel padding is a key wear point that tends to erode quickly, but reviewers say you can prolong the life of the shoe by adding your own cushioned insoles. When the outsole wears out, though -- which can happen in a year or less for high-mileage hikers -- it's time for a new pair. These shoes also run a little short, so you might want to go up half a size to avoid losing toenails on long downhill 8hikes.

Also, if you like a well-padded shoe, be warned that some users complain the Moab 2 Vent isn't quite as soft as its immediate predecessor, the Moab Ventilator; but it still gets props from the testers at OutdoorGearLab for striking a happy medium between trail sensitivity and support. If you have high arches it might be worth another look at this shoe too, because it has a somewhat higher arch insert than the original Moab Ventilator. You can swap the insert out if you want less arch support.

Another extremely popular shoe in this price range is the Keen Targhee II WP (Est. $125), which gets excellent scores for traction and comfort from Outdoor Gear Lab. This is essentially a low-cut version of the Keen Targhee II Mid (Est. $135), our best reviewed women's boot, which is also enormously popular with men. That low cut means you get no ankle support, of course, but otherwise you enjoy the same surprisingly comfortable fit, supportive, stable sole and grippy traction in wet conditions that users love about the mid-cut boot version.

These shoes are supportive enough to be a favorite with those backpacking light to moderate loads; they also run small, just like the mid-cut boot, so plan to go up at least half a size. If you're feeling adventurous you could also give the Keen Targhee III Low (Est. $135), which looks and fits about the same as the Targhee II but has otherwise been tweaked in almost every feature, including a lower-to-the-ground midsole/outsole combination and enhanced heel cup. The Targhee II and Targhee III are different enough that they'll run concurrently, so we're waiting to get a more complete picture of feedback on the Targhee III -- but so far there's a lot to love, including that trademark Keen comfort straight out of the box.

Another new trail shoe in this report is the North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX (Est. $120). Despite the fast-and-light sounding name, testers with Switchback Travel quite rightly tag this as a nicely built shoe with mass market appeal, offering praise for its light and stable feel, underfoot support and Gore-Tex waterproofing. (A non-waterproof version is also available.)

Users say the Fastpack's aggressive Vibram rubber outsole gives good traction in almost any surface -- including mud, snow, ice and steep, dry rock -- with the notable exception of wet rock. Wet rock is one of the most challenging surfaces for any footwear, but the Fastpack has a somewhat higher than usual ratio of reports from users who went slip-sliding away in those conditions.

If you like a very cushy shoe, this probably isn't for you; it tends toward thin underfoot support instead of cushioning. It does take orthotics and other insoles well, although if you have very high insteps you probably won't appreciate the way the sides of the tongue overlap to form a seam, prompting some users to complain that it rubbed at the top of their feet.

The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack weighs about 1 pound, 14 ounces for a standard men's pair, and you may want to buy about a half-size up from your normal shoe size. The shoe in general is more durable than many light hikers we've seen, but go ahead and lay in a stock of extra shoelaces while you're shopping: Users say they're the first thing to give, probably due to fraying against the metal eyelets.

Finally, we're also keeping an eye on the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX (Est. $150), a newly updated entry in Salomon's very popular X Ultra line of hiking shoes. Its predecessor, the Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX, was a top pick from Outdoor Gear Lab with excellent marks in every category, especially traction and water resistance.

The X Ultra 3 retains its waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex liner (it's also available in a non-waterproof version for hiking in hot conditions) and low-profile, stable feel that can stand up to surprisingly heavy packs, but has a redesigned outsole for even better traction on downhill slopes, plus a few tweaks to the lacing system that include an extra set of eyelets to reduce heel shifting. One note on the lacing: The X Ultra 3 uses Salomon's Kevlar quicklaces, so if you tend to depend on fancy lacing tricks to keep your feet happy, this probably isn't the shoe for you.

Early indications are that, like its predecessor, the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX will also be more durable than most of the competition. "It's light, nimble, grips well on just about any surface, and will hold up through extended rough use," writes John Ellings with Switchback Travel. It's also available in a mid-cut boot, which we discuss below in our recommendations for light hiking boots. A standard men's pair weighs just under 1 pound, 11 ounces, and the X Ultra 3 is available in wide sizes for both men and women.

Lightweight hiking boots are appropriate for some adventures

If you want agile footwear but need a little more support and protection than you'll get from trail shoes, it's hard to beat the blend of support and comfort from the Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi (Est. $230) which, despite the name, is actually cut more like a mid-height boot. An average men's pair weighs just 2 pounds, 2 ounces, and an average women's pair weighs just under 1 pound, 13 ounces.

The Tor Ultra Hi incorporates many of the distinctive features Hoka One One uses in their running shoes, including a thick, cushy midsole and rockered outsole that combine to give you plush cushioning, excellent protection from rocks even without a rigid shank, and a natural, forward-moving stride that helps these boots really eat up the miles. Users and experts alike generally laud its ankle support, and use words like "fluffy clouds," "pillowy," and "marshmallows" to describe the comfort level, although a few users do say the shoe runs just a bit narrow.

The Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi takes two awards from OutdoorGearLab: An Editor's Choice award for the women's version, and a Top Pick award for the men's version. In both cases the boots draw high marks for their light weight, stability and traction, while excelling in the all-important comfort category. They even draw kudos for performing well on wet and muddy rock.

However, we found mixed reviews about the Hoka One One Ultra Hi's traction on loose surfaces like mud and scree, and outsole durability is definitely an issue with these boots. Some users say the lugs started to strip off after a few months of heavy use. On the upside, most say the company is great about honoring their one-year warranty.

The Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi has a waterproof/breathable eVent liner and when it works, reviewers love it. In fact, reviewers with Outside Online felt it did such a great job of keeping out snow that they named this one of the top winter boots of 2016, even though it's not otherwise insulated. However, as with other eVent-lined boots, there do seem to be some quality control issues, which even showed up in Outdoor Gear Lab's reviews where the waterproofing on the women's version performed notably better than waterproofing on the men's version; so it's a good idea to check the waterproofing on these boots the first time you use them.

Coming right on the Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi's tail is a newly updated mid-cut boot from another company that's known for its running shoes, the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX (Est. $165). At 2 pounds, 2 ounces for an average men's pair and just under 1 pound, 14 ounces for an average women's pair, these boots are just a little heavier than the previous version, the X Ultra Mid 2 -- but you'll still barely feel them on your feet. That same strength is also their greatest weakness, because the most common complaint we see about this type of boot is that users expect the same level of support you'd get from a heavy duty hiking boot; the soles are just too flexible and thinly padded for that.

But for hikers with strong feet and ankles who don't want a lot of support underfoot, it's hard to beat these light, fast-moving boots; and a few even report backpacking comfortably with loads of up to 30 or 40 pounds. Users and expert testers appreciate the ankle support, ankle padding, and protective, rubber-capped toe, and report excellent traction in most terrain. (The X Ultra Mid 3 has a redesigned outsole to give even better grip when hiking downhill.)

Waterproofing looks to remain another high point for the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX, which has a Gore-Tex liner. However, like most light hiking boots, they lack the structure to really protect that liner, so it'll wear out quickly compared to sturdier boots. These boots run a little large, and accommodate normal to slightly wide feet.

Also excellent in this category is the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX (Est. $200), which won a 2017 Gear of the Year award from Outside magazine and draws expert kudos for its great comfort and light, supportive feel. A standard men's pair weighs just over 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and this boot runs just a little narrow; so consider going a half-size up, especially if you have wide feet.

Testers with OutdoorGearLab and Backpacker magazine say the Nucleo High GTX provides some of the best traction they've seen, whether you're going uphill or downhill, in loose terrain or goopy mud. But there's a tradeoff: The outsole wears quickly in rough terrain, and users have pinpointed the place where it joins the midsole, at the back of the heel, as a weak point that tends to give way first.

The La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX uses Gore-Tex Surround technology, which allows footwear to breathe not only through the upper but also through the sides and bottom of the footbed; as a general rule reviewers either love this feature or are patently unimpressed. The editors of Gear Institute award it the title of Best for Breathability, but a few users complain that their boots weren't waterproof as expected -- perhaps a quality-control problem, which is so common in this category that we recommend checking your boots for waterproofing as soon as you get them.

General durability is better, with testers saying that except for the quick-wearing sole, the Nucleo High GTX wears very well in rough terrain. Keep an eye on this boot because if it weren't for that quick-wearing sole, it could easily have taken our best reviewed spot in this category.

The Keen Targhee II Mid (Est. $135) is also extremely popular in lightweight boots, although it's a little heavier and stiffer than some of the competition. (A typical men's pair weighs in at 2 pounds, 2 ounces.) This boot receives a Best Buy award from OutdoorGearLab, along with lots of positive user feedback for its wide fit, rubber-capped toe and comfort right out of the box. The Targhee II doesn't have a lot of room for super-high arches, though, and it can run as much as a whole size small.

The Targhee II boots offer excellent traction in most conditions and are stiff enough for lightweight backpacking loads. Durability is decent, although hardcore hikers can still expect to go through a pair in one year, and recent user reviews indicate some occasional quality control issues with the sole and Keen.Dry membrane.

The Merrell Moab 2 Mid WP (Est. $130) is also a great bargain, scoring top budget picks from Switchback Travel and Wirecutter. High points include the boots' light weight, good cushioning, roomy toebox for wide feet, affordable M-Select Dry waterproof/breathable membrane and reasonably sturdy outsoles, and its out-of-the-box comfort is unrivaled at any price. The Moab line, and Merrell boots in general, also tend to be very friendly to those with wide feet. An average men's pair weighs 2 pounds, 4 ounces, and the Moab 2 is also available in a non-waterproof "Vent" version or an upgraded Gore-Tex version.

With all of that said, this boot (and the Keen Targhee II) are jacks of all trades that are best reserved for moderate use. If you're taking anything to the extreme -- hauling heavy packs, scrambling on extremely rough terrain, splashing through streams or looking for the lightest, nimblest boot of them all -- we'd recommend taking a look at the other models in this category.

Finally, if you can't decide between light hiking boots or more traditional leather boots, the Danner Mountain 600 (Est. $180) is a nice compromise. It comes in suede leather or full-grain leather (for about $20 more) but still feels agile in rugged terrain and weighs just 2 pounds, 5 ounces for a typical men's pair. Testers with Active Junky liked this boot so much that they created a brand-new category for it: best recreational hiker.

The ankle on this boot can be a little stiff, and several users recommend wearing tall socks for their ankle padding -- but aside from that the Danner Mountain 600 is sensational for out-of-the-box comfort, waterproofing and breathability in all but warm, muggy conditions. Most users and experts agree that the proprietary waterproof/breathable Danner Dry membrane performs wonderfully, unless you're unlucky enough to get a defective version.

The Danner Mountain 600 runs a half-size to a full-size large, and most users enjoy the generous space inside its toebox. It's not often that you can wiggle your toes freely inside a leather boot, but as long as your heel stays put that's exactly how they should fit.

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