Not all hiking requires large, clunky boots. Hiking shoes are a lighter option and the best models still provide plenty of protection against the elements. Before you worry about all the gear that’s going to go on your back when hiking, it’s imperative that you start from the ground up and find a pair of hiking shoes that are best for your feet.
Our list of 10 Best Hiking Shoes of 2021 highlights a variety of high-quality hiking shoes. Some are better for certain applications, so it’s important to find the pair that’s best suited to your favorite types of adventures. To help you make the best choice, our Buyer’s Guide covers many of the most important characteristics to consider when choosing hiking shoes.
1. Keen Targhee II
You can think of the Keen Targhee II hiking shoes as “four-wheel drive for your feet.” These waterproof hiking shoes keep your feet dry in the rain and also allow them to breathe efficiently on hot days. Their design keeps your heel secure with every step and ample arch support makes them a comfortable shoe for all-day adventures from the beach to the mountains.
These hiking shoes come with an aggressive lug pattern on the outsole for improved traction and an added stability shank for better support on uneven terrain. These shoes boast leather uppers that are designed to last. Additionally, they feature a hydrophobic mesh lining for waterproof performance and a padded tongue and collar for comfort.
2. Columbia Redmond
The Columbia Redmond hiking shoes are perfect for casual hikers. They’re a low-top style with functionality for day use in off-terrain environments or extended trips in the mountains. These shoes are durable, comfortable, and waterproof. They boast an Omni-Grip multi-terrain traction system with a dual-zone winter tread pattern to guarantee sure footing on snow and ice.
The upper layer of these shoes is engineered with a combination of suede, leather, mesh, and webbing. This midsole combination makes them lightweight and highly breathable. Columbia’s Techlite material is used in this shoe to provide excellent cushioning that absorbs impacts and provides maximum comfort on uneven terrain.
3. Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX hiking shoes are designed for advanced hiking performance. Full grain leather uppers are ultra durable and will actually soften with age for a more comfortable fit. These shoes boast a quick lace system with one-pull tightening for easy securing and removal.
These hiking shoes come with a rubber sole for superior traction on steep, technical terrain. Their full GORE-TEX Membrane guarantees comfort in both wet and dry conditions. Finally, these shoes boast leather engraving on the lateral sides of the foot to provide an added touch of style.
4. Merrell Moab 2 Vent
The Merrell Moab 2 Vent hiking shoe is designed to be comfortable out-of-the-box. There’s no need for an uncomfortable break-in phase with these ventilated hiking shoes. They offer performance suede leather and mesh uppers and a protective rubber toe cap to keep your feet protected against rocks and roots.
These hiking shoes come with breathable mesh lining that works to prevent the accumulation of excessive sweat. They also boast a closed-cell foam tongue that’s designed to keep moisture and debris out while still allowing the heat from your feet to escape. Finally, these hiking shoes feature Vibram TC5+ (1) soles with a 5-millimeter lug depth and an EVA midsole for stability and comfort.
5. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
These hiking shoes are built to last and designed for trail running and day hiking. They’re a great choice for anyone that doesn’t want to worry about buying another pair of hiking shoes for years to come. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX hiking shoes are made with leather uppers that provide comfort and rubber outsoles that guarantee excellent traction.
The shoes are designed with breathable mesh to keep your feet from sweating too much. Their Gore-TEX uppers include a waterproof, breathable membrane to keep your feet dry when it rains or snow. In addition, these hiking shoes feature a protective TPU (2) toe cap, a compression-molded EVA midsole, and an ESS midfoot shank (3).
6. Altra Lone Peak 4.0
The Altra Lone Peak 4.0 is a trail running shoe that’s also perfect for casual day hikers. It includes many of the same features as the ‘3.0’ version of Altra’s shoe, but with some notable improvements. These shoes feature a new upper with an integrated tongue and static webbing that provides better cinching ability.
These hiking shoes are also designed with a flexible strap overlay for a roomier forefoot fit. A sandpaper-textured toe cap protects your toes from unexpected encounters with rocks or tree roots. Draining mesh in the shoe’s heel and forefoot provide improved breathability and multi-directional, carved lugs give you excellent traction while, at the same time, reducing the shoe’s overall weight.
7. La Sportiva Spire GTX
The La Sportiva Spire GTX is a light-duty hiking shoe that’s perfect for day trips and capable of handling variable, rugged terrain. It’s also a great choice for backpackers that desire a versatile and waterproof hiking shoe that boasts exceptional breathability and the durability to support lighter loads.
These hiking shoes are designed with a durable, abrasion-resistant mesh upper that provides ample foot protection. These uppers also feature a Nano Cell 2.0 structure that makes these shoes breathe well. The shoes have a Vibram XS Trek outsole with Impact Brake System to provide amazing traction and grip. Finally, the integrated STB control system guarantees a comfortable, snug, stable fit.
8. Oboz Sawtooth Low Bdry
The Sawtooth Low Bdry hiking shoe is meant for hikers that need an extra layer of water protection when hiking over muddy terrain and crossing the occasional mountain stream. The ankle-friendly asymmetrical collar of these shoes is just one of the features that combine to make this hiking shoe comfortable and durable.
These shoes are best for folks with a medium foot volume. Their waterproof, BDry system is comprised of three core components: a proprietary, tape-sealed polyurethane film bootie, hydrophobic upper materials, and a textile lining that wicks sweat away. Finally, these hiking shoes boast a rubber outsole that offers intense traction and sidewall lugs that help you handle off-camber trails. Best of all, Oboz plants a tree for every pair sold!
9. Adidas Terrex Fast R Gore-Tex
These light and athletic hiking shoes are designed for hikers that want to move fast up and down the mountain without sacrificing comfort, durability, and, most importantly, traction. The Adidas Terrex Fast R GORE-TEX hiking shoe features Continental Rubber outsole grabs and grips that provide excellent traction in all directions.
These hiking shoes come with a ripstop upper with abrasion-resistant welding and lace bungee stows that help you avoid lace tangling. A waterproof and breathable GORE-TEX lining keeps your feet dry and a proprietary medial and lateral support device keeps your feet from pronating while providing added stability.
10. Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX
The Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX hiking shoe is an ideal choice for day hiking, mixed trail conditions, and lightweight overnight trips. The boast best-in-class grip with a Vibram Megagrip compound and they are the most breathable, full-featured hiking shoe that Vasque offers. Moreover, you’ll find them incredibly comfortable from the moment you first lace them up.
These hiking shoes come with uppers made with 1.8-millimeter waterproof Nubuck leather and air mesh material for breathability. The footbed is manufactured with dual-density EVA and the midsole features a TPU shank and ATC midsole with EVA cushioning pods. Finally, their outsole is made of Vasque’s exclusive Vibram Contact Grip with Megagrip compound.
Vibram soles have been largely responsible for revolutionizing the world of hiking shoes. The company was founded in 1937 and named after its founder, Vitale Bramani, who is credited with inventing the first rubber lug (4). Since his invention, hiking shoes have changed rapidly and dramatically.
For buyers today, this means that there are hundreds of options to sort through. These options can be overwhelming, but it’s important to know exactly what to consider when buying new hiking shoes. Our Buyer’s Guide will focus on several factors that will help you narrow down your choices and, eventually, land, on the perfect hiking shoe for you.
Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant
Many hiking shoes claim to be “waterproof.” While they aren’t telling a direct untruth, it’s important for you to realize the exact conditions where most shoes will retain their waterproof ability. Most shoes that claim to be waterproof will hold up well even in more serious rain events. They won’t however, remain dry if you decide to wade across a mountain stream.
Extra layers of waterproof protection become more important for hikers that desire to spend longer periods in the wilderness. The longer you’re out, the higher the likelihood you’ll have of experiencing inclement weather. If this becomes the case, you want shoes that will keep your insoles dry. When insoles do get wet and stay wet, your feet become susceptible to athlete’s foot, trench foot, and other types of bacterial fungus.
While hiking shoes are designed to allow you to move lighter and faster than most hiking boots, you’ll still want a healthy degree of ankle protection when hiking on uneven terrain. If you intend to use your new shoes for long trips, ankle protection becomes even more important. As you put more miles on your body, fatigue can make your joints and ligaments more susceptible to injury. Make sure you choose a pair of hiking shoes that provides the ankle support you’ll need when pushing through those last few miles of a long day.
Casual hikers can usually get away with less cushioning than those of you that want to use your new shoes for multi-day excursions. In addition, the added pounding that comes with trail running typically means that runners like an extra degree of cushioning as well.
When evaluating the level of cushioning of a certain pair of hiking shoes, look closely at the design of the midsole and outsole. These are the two areas that play the largest role in how much cushioning a given shoe offers. Another tip is to look more closely at the individual reviews left by people that have already tested the shoes. They will often tell you a lot about the conditions you can use them in and remain comfortable.
Hiking shoes must have much better traction than your average pair of athletic shoes. They must be able to grip effectively on a variety of terrains and handle well if things get wet as well. When looking through hiking shoes, a rubber outsole is a must. Rubber is the best material for hiking shoe outsoles because, on average, they perform better across a multitude of terrains.
Other materials have more specific applications for trekking on snow and ice, for example, but rubber is the go-to for most hiking shoes. Vibram is a good brand to look for, as they offer some of the best traction around.
Laces are often one of the first things to go on poorly manufactured pair of hiking shoes. They can become frayed and make it tough to tighten your shoes down enough to avoid hot spots, blisters, and other foot maladies. To counter this unfortunate reality, many hiking shoe brands have begun to use quick lace systems that don’t require you to tie the laces at all.
These systems have a loop at the top and a mechanism to cinch the “laces” tight. Many also have dedicated places to stow the loop so that it’s not dangling precariously as you journey up the trail. The only problem with these systems is that, if not designed properly, the mechanism that is supposed to keep the laces tight can allow them to loosen over time.
If you’re considering a pair of hiking shoes with this type of quick lace system, make sure to, again, look through the reviews of other people that have already used them to make sure that the system actually keeps the shoes tight throughout your desired length of hikes.
This factor is typically not as large an issue with hiking shoes as it can be with boots. Some hiking boots are specifically designed for colder climates. As a result, they don’t breathe well when temperatures warm up. The risk you run with hiking shoes that don’t breathe well excess moisture retention.
When your feet stay wet for long periods, they begin to become susceptible to the effects of bacterial fungus. Your feet can become incredibly sensitive to the touch and may begin emitting a nasty odor. This will be a big problem on extended hiking trips. To avoid this issue, make sure you choose a hiking shoe that is designed to wick moisture away from your feet. A hydrophobic lining in the midsole is an excellent feature to look for.
The durability of a hiking shoe is largely dependent on the materials used in its construction. Leather is typically more durable than most synthetic materials, which means shoes with leather uppers generally last longer than those made with synthetic uppers. The trade-off, however, is comfort.
In addition to being more durable, leather also generally starts out a bit stiffer than most synthetics. Because of this, hiking shoes with leather can require a bit more time to break in at first. That being said, synthetic materials have improved dramatically in recent years.
Shoes with synthetic uppers are more durable than ever. The added benefit of synthetic materials is that they offer what many companies advertise as “out-of-the-box comfort.” This simply means they take less time to break in.
This is the primary reason for choosing hiking shoes over boots. Although those navigating very technical terrain generally wear boots, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any multi-day backpackers lugging around excessively clunky footwear. For day hiking or lightweight overnight trips, you’ll want to keep your footwear light so that you can move fast and spend more time enjoying the wilderness around you.
Most of the hiking shoes we’ve highlighted here fall in the range of one to three pounds. At first, this may not sound like much of a difference. But consider hiking for 28 days straight on the John Muir Trail or another long hiking trail. Over the course of long hikes, the added weight can make a big difference on how your body responds to the feats you’re asking it to perform.
Frequently Asked Questions
Footwear, in general, has come a long way since the earliest leather adaptations (5). In many ways, today’s hiking shoes are more complex than ever before. In this section, we will answer some of the most common questions about hiking shoes and their composition.
What is the shank of a shoe?
A shoe’s shank is part of its supportive structure. It is located between the insole and outsole and runs underneath the arch of the foot. The design and composition of the shank plays a large role in the functionality of the shoe. In effect, the shank is responsible for diminishing the load on the wearer’s feet and calves over the course of a hike. The shank also provides an added layer of protection against punctures and other injuries that could occur as the result of the wearer stepping on exceptionally hard objects while hiking.
What is a shoe’s lug pattern?
The design of a shoe’s lug pattern is largely responsible for the shoe’s ability to provide traction and grip on a variety of surfaces. In general, a deeper lug pattern will provide greater traction on all surfaces. However, the material used in a shoe’s lug pattern is also of some importance. In general, materials that are too hardcan actually provide less traction on slippery surfaces. For this reason, most of the best hiking shoes use rubber in the outsole and lug pattern.
What all is included in a shoe’s “uppers”?
A shoe’s “uppers” can generally be summarized as everything that wraps and protects your foot from external elements. You can think of it in this way: If you removed a shoes uppers, you’d essentially be standing on a pair of “sandal” soles without any way to keep those soles attached to your feet. Most hiking shoe uppers are either composed of leather or synthetic material (6). Waterproof ability is an especially important component of a hiking shoe’s uppers.
How can I find the best fit when trying on new hiking shoes?
First, make sure that your toes aren’t touching the front of the shoe. This is a prime way to set your toes up for discomfort. Our feet naturally swell throughout the course of the day, so it’s important to choose a size that gives your feet a little wiggle room. When you push your toes forward, they should only lightly touch the front of the shoe, rather than being shoved hard up against it.
Next, make sure your heel doesn’t move around at all once you’ve tightened the shoes up properly. To test this, you can roll your foot from toe to heel and feel for any “slippage” of the heel. You’re feeling for the shoe and your heel to move together, in sync. If they don’t, you’ll be much more likely to experience blisters once you’re actually on the trail.
Lastly, make sure you’re not experiencing any uncomfortable tightness or pinching when the shoes are laced up tightly. You want a snug fit, of course, but pinching or tightness in a hiking shoe can restrict blood flow and, consequently, increase fatigue.
If you set out to build a house, it wouldn’t make sense to build the roof before the foundation was in place. Just the same, it doesn’t make sense to worry about finding the right backpack and putting the right gear into it before you’ve secured a pair of hiking shoes you can trust. We hope you’ve enjoyed the information in this article and found it useful in selecting the best hiking shoes for your needs. We wish you the best of luck in all your upcoming hiking adventures!