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Best Hiking Shoes

By: Lisa Maloney on April 11, 2017

A lightweight hiking shoe or boot should be flexible, with good traction and support

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. Some also choose to hike in trail running shoes, which we cover in their own report.

Before we get to our best-reviewed hiking shoes, a few words of warning: Not every foot will be happy in hiking shoes, even on relatively easy trails. That's because 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's at or near the top of rankings from OutdoorGearLab.com, GearInstitute.com and SwitchbackTravel.com, where testers say it offers great waterproofing and lots of lateral stability, the latter thanks to its unusual molded heel counter.

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.

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; women's 1 pound, 11 ounces.

For another excellent trail shoe, we still like last year's best-reviewed pick, the La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX (Est. $185) which, despite being labeled as a mid-cut shoe and some even sold as a boot, is really more of a trail shoe. The boot label can be a real problem because, again, it makes buyers think they're getting more support and protection than any shoe can offer.

Those who understand what they're getting into, however, love this hiking shoe for its light weight (1 pound, 10 ounces for the average men's pair), medium to low-volume fit, and great trail feel. Its aggressive tread will take you just about anywhere, and reviewers agree that, although the Synthesis is flexible underfoot, it's also sturdy enough to protect your feet if you step on sharp rocks -- as long as you're judging it as a trail shoe, not against heavy-duty boots.

The Synthesis has a polyurethane exoskeleton that wraps around the midsole to tie it to the upper, an EVA midsole that the editors of Backpacker.com say is tough enough for supporting weekend backpacking loads, and a reinforced toe for extra protection. Durability, however, is an issue; no hiking shoe can last as long as a boot, and high-mileage hikers can easily go through a pair a year. On this shoe, the ankle collar and the laces are the first places wear is likely to show. We also found some lukewarm reviews of its waterproofing, which are what ultimately bumped it out of the top spot.

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.

The reviewers at OutdoorGearLab.com 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. 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 terrain.

Still, the eVent bootie liner 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. "Even after miles of scrambling up, down, and over ....his feet never once felt beat up or worn down," write the editors of OutsideOnline.com about one of their testers that evaluated the Tor Summit.

Merrell makes a terrific trail shoe at a terrific price

Our pick for the best cheap trail shoe, the Merrell Moab Ventilator (Est. $60), also wins a Best Buy award from OutdoorGearLab.com and is a landslide favorite with users. The Moab Ventilator weighs about 1 pound, 14 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 Ventilator 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 Ventilator is not all that durable, but reviewers from OutdoorGearLab.com 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 hikes.

Another extremely popular shoe in this price range is the Keen Targhee II WP (Est. $125) which, like the Merrell Moab Ventilator, also walks away with a Best Buy award from OutdoorGearLab.com. 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.

"For wet conditions, this shoe is a rockstar," write the editors of OutdoorGearLab.com. They also note that the combination of leather upper and waterproof/breathable Keen.Dry membrane remains surprisingly breathable, and 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.

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 over 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 a "Top Pick" award from OutdoorGearLab.com for their outstanding comfort, and also draw kudos from these picky testers for their superior traction on wet rocks. However, we found mixed reviews about their 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, so make sure you check these boots for waterproofing the first time you use them.

Coming right on the Hoka One One Tor Ultra Hi's tail is another mid-cut boot from a company that's known for its running shoes, the Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX (Est. $165). At just 1 pound, 12.4 ounces for an average men's pair and 1 pound, 10 ounces for an average women's pair, you'll barely even feel these boots on your feet. That same strength is also their greatest weakness, because the most common complaint we saw about these boots is that for some, the soles are just too flexible and thinly padded.

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. Traction is generally excellent on rocky terrain, and users and expert testers appreciate the ankle support, ankle padding, and protective, rubber-capped toe.

Waterproofing is another high point for the Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 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 North Face Ultra FastPack Mid GTX (Est. $140), which was our best-reviewed model in last year's report but has fallen a notch due to inconsistent user reviews and a few reports of ankle discomfort. Still, they're feather-light -- just 1 pound, 12 ounces per typical men's pair -- and if the fit suits your feet and ankles, they offer plenty of protection for long day hikes or backpacking with ultralight loads. It's also worth noting that they run a half-size to a full size small, and are best for a normal to narrow foot.

Users love the excellent traction, reinforced toe, and great waterproofing you get in the North Face Ultra FastPack thanks to its Gore-Tex liner, as well as the "snake plate" bruise protector that protects the bottoms of your feet against rocks. The Ultra FastPack is reasonably durable for such a light, flexible boot although, as with most ultralight footwear, you're going to need to replace them at least once a season -- maybe more often if you put in a lot of miles.

The Keen Targhee II Mid (Est. $135) is also extremely popular in lightweight boots, although it's a little heavier and stiffer than the North Face Ultra FastPack. (A typical men's pair weighs in at 2 pounds, 2 ounces) This boot received a Best Buy award from OutdoorGearLab.com in both 2014 and 2015, 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.

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