10 Best Hiking Shoes in 2021

Paul Ronto
Paul Ronto on
10 Best Hiking Shoes in 2021

Nowadays, exploring the outdoors is one of the many things included in people’s to-do-lists. When it comes to getting the right footgear though, many are still at a loss. But don’t fret. Choosing the right pair need not be a nightmare thanks to our best hiking boots list and our handy buyer’s guide.

We have tested over 100 hiking shoes to single out the best options. Whether you are after a light, urban hiking pair or something a bit more rugged for a multi-day hike, we’ve got our top picks in five different categories.

To learn more about the differences between hiking shoes and boots along with some of the important aspects of choosing the right pair, scroll down to the guide below.

How we test and review hiking shoes

We want to make sure you get the most up-to-date and honest reviews on the best hiking shoe options on the market. Here is our approach:

  • As an independent review website, we purchase all hiking shoes with our own money to stay unbiased.
  • Our testers take each tested shoe on a series of hikes on various distances and terrains to check every important aspect.
  • To make our reviews as comprehensive as they can be, we gather thousands of reviews from expert hikers and regular buyers. All opinions are reflected in the CoreScore, a number from 1 to 100 which is assigned to each model.

Finally, we select our top picks based on the feedback from wear-tests and the CoreScore.

Best overall

The X Ultra 4 GTX is a true miracle from Salomon!

For a slightly above average price of $150, this shoe offers everything you need in a rugged, ready-to-conquer-it-all hiking shoe. We were huge fans of the previous versions, and the 4th iteration doesn’t cease to amaze us.

Out of 100+ trail-tested hiking shoes, we still find this Salomon the best full-package deal. First and foremost, it’s exceptionally comfortable! Even though the shoe is on the stiffer side, it starts to feel at home after only a few miles.

This trailblazer is made for the toughest of terrains. We even ventured on some alpine off-trails to really test its capacity. And it delivers! The shoe’s got a super-sticky bite that never let is slide on rocks, dirt, and steep descents.

In addition, the shoe’s heel is designed is a way that helps you land safely and transition confidently through each step. We experienced ZERO wobbling in this Salomon shoe.

Another big bonus is the brand’s acclaimed Quicklace system. It is a lifesaver if you hate fiddling with laces and want to lace up or let loose and take the shoes off in a split second. We just love how it helps to create even pressure across the midfoot, making your foot feel more comfortable and locked in.

If you are worried about getting your feet wet, this is not an issue in the Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX! This is one of the most solid waterproof hiking shoes with a GTX membrane that we have tested.

And just in case you are looking for a summer-ready version that is breathable, this shoe comes in a non-waterproof version.

But what makes it a truly special option is that all of the above is packed into the astonishing 13.8 oz! Most hiking shoes with similar characteristics come at least 2 oz heavier than this.

This is the best hiking shoe you can get with such an impressive performance-to-weight as well as a performance-to-price ratio.

See our full review and facts

La Sportiva Sprire GTX comes very close to our Salomon top pick.

It is a truly premium choice if you are looking for a super sturdy yet comfortable shoe that feels more like a low-cut hiking boot. Its collar even comes a bit taller compared to most hiking shoes.

Yes, it is asking for a larger investment compared to the X Ultra, but it successfully makes up for it with an astonishing level of protection and durability on the most technical terrain. We can even recommend this shoe for a multi-day backpacking adventure!

We felt so well-protected in its firm, sturdy built that is very traditionalist compared to the lighter options that are becoming so increasingly popular these days.

Traction-wise, the shoe’s Vibram outsole, and deep-seated lugs did a fantastic job on both ascents and descents as well as some rocky, muddy, and even mossy areas.

As long as you are not scrambling around some off-trail rocks a lot, the Spire excels in stability!

You can rest assured that its GTX Surround system will keep your feet nice and dry. We tested it with a thorough water immersion test and were amazed by the results! We could also feel a noticeable improvement in ventilation. It’s still not a summer-ready breathability but is a touch airier than most GTX shoes.

Overall, if shedding weight is not your priority, and you would much rather go for the boot-like support and protection, the Spire GTX is our highest recommendation.

See our full review and facts

Best lightweight

A hiking shoe that weighs 12.3 oz (whaaat? 1.5 oz lighter than the average!), Salomon OUTline GTX can easily be taken for a trail running shoe.

And that’s exactly how it felt on our trail tests: a running shoe with the tread of a hiker (5-mm lugs).

It fits and sits exactly like a running shoe — low around the ankle and very form-fitting. And this is pretty much how we felt about it all throughout the hike. Very light and easy on the foot, and significantly more flexible than a traditional hiking shoe.

But it’s not lacking in the support department either. Never once did we feel wobbly, or tippy, or close to turning ankles. But if you feel like you could use more support, it also comes in a boot variant — OUTline Mid GTX.

What makes it feel nothing like a running shoe is its traction. The outsole nailed our wear tests on rocks, mud, branches, and other obstacles on the way.

The shoe’s waterproofing capacity is stellar too! The industry-leading GTX membrane did a fantastic job even in our full immersion tests. Just make sure not to step too deep so that water doesn’t get inside over the shoe’s low-cut edges!

And if you are not planning to cross streams or hike under heavy rain, you can save $20 with the non-GTX version.

All in all, the Salomon OUTline GTX is our absolute favorite when it comes to uber-light hiking shoes for shorter day hikes. It feels very nimble and pushes you to go faster.

But if you’re planning something more serious like a multi-day hike with 20+ liters of weight, we recommend looking into Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX (our top pick overall).

See our full review and facts

Weighing exactly the same as the Salomon OUTline, the Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX is another standout option in the segment of lightweight hiking shoes. Right from mile one, we were astonished by the shoe’s protection-to-weight ratio.

How can it weigh like a running shoe and yet feel just as sturdy as a hiking boot?

Sure, it is stiffer than OUTline and other similar options. But if you don’t care so much about ground feel and want to be fully guarded on some rocky and gnarly trails, this is definitely the shoe! It even did a great job on our occasional scrambling efforts.

The shoe’s got some grip too!

It never let us slip or slide and handled some wet and muddy areas rather well. What’s more, it shook off the dirt pretty quickly after we had stepped into some unfortunate bogs on the way.

The stiffness and burly design of the R2 also kept us feeling steady and sure-footed at all times. Here it actually has an advantage over the OUTline for making you feel notably more supported!

When it came to some wet tests, the GTX waterproofing passed with flying colors. As long as the water doesn’t get inside through the low-cut design, your feet will be as dry as they were from the start!

We highly recommend the Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX if you want the protection and support of a hiking boot inside a super-lightweight low-cut hiker!

See our full review and facts

Best comfort

The Merrell Moab 2 GTX stems from the brand’s iconic “mother-of-all-boots” (MOAB) model which is highly regarded in the hiking footwear scene. So our expectations for the shoe were high and we are happy to report that it has lived up!

Promising “out-of-the-box” comfort, the shoe impressed us with the initial step-in experience. It is noticeably softer and more forgiving compared to the rest of our top picks. Walking just a few miles was enough to make it feel right at home.

The shoe also makes an instant impression with its top-tier craftsmanship. It looks and feels very well-built with leather overlays adding a touch of luxury.

And oh boy how well-supported it makes you feel on the trail! 

It’s that special cushioning magic from Merrell that kept our feet pampered the entire length of our day hike.

The burly Vibram sole never ceased to amaze us either! The 5-mm deep lugs and an aggressive outsole pattern that wraps around the sides of the shoe made us feel like wearing a tank!

The GTX waterproofing nailed our tests in heavy rain and crossing streams, so you can be sure to stay dry with this Merrell shoe. And if you are not in need of 100% water protection, you can also save $25 on the non-GTX Merrell Moab 2 WP.

So, if you really value day-one comfort in your hiking footwear, we cannot think of a better option than the Moab 2!

See our full review and facts

If you want your pair of hiking shoes to feel like casual sneakers, we cannot stop recommending the Danner Trail 2650.

So good-looking, it was an eye-catcher from the start! You can even wear it to work without anyone recognizing it as a hiking shoe.

Right from the box, we felt unbelievably comfortable in this Danner shoe! The leather upper has a very soft touch and contours gently around the foot. And the underfoot cushioning did such a great job supporting our feet all day long that we never felt beaten up after the hike.

Now, this shoe could easily make it to our best lightweight top picks as well. It weighs 12(!) oz per shoe, making it one of the lightest options you can get. It simply disappeared on the foot, helping us feel very nimble on the trail.

We honestly didn’t expect much from the shoe’s performance based on its virginal design and extremely light built. And we were so wrong. 

The shoe’s grip outperformed most of the competitors in its category. It bit every rock and branch and kept us surefooted even on some wet terrains.

Another surprise came from its ability to last. Having come back from the wear-tests with minor, mostly cosmetical abrasions on the upper, we realized that the “2650” in the shoe’s name is placed there for a reason. This workhorse can last you all the length of the Pacific Crest Trail!

We tested the breathable version of the shoe but if you’d like to step up on waterproofing, consider the 2650 GTX version.

Overall, the Danner Trail 2650 feels like a slipper for the trails! Light, super comfy, and good-looking, it is clearly THE choice for those who value comfort.

See our full review and facts

Best for backpacking

The toughness of a backpacking boot inside a low-cut hiking shoe? Yes, please! The Keen Targhee II is our highest-rated hiker for your multi-day adventures.

“Indestructive” was the first word that came to our mind when inspecting the shoe’s overall construction. Meant for some real beating-up, this is a burly boy.

The thick leather overlays on the upper made us feel very secure and protected from whatever debris came our way. Meanwhile, a really thick tough outsole rubber crashed everything under our feet.

We guarantee that this Keen shoe will make you stop thinking about where to put your foot next. Just look at that huge toe bumper!

Hiking in the rain or walking through streams or mud? This shoe will walk you through it all with 100% dry socks.

And if you have wider feet or wear thicker socks, you are in for a treat inside the Targhee II’s spacious toebox.

Sure, the Keen Targhee II is not the lightest and it takes to break in. But what does it offer in return? A mind-blowing level of protection for the toughest of terrains and conditions!

See our full review and facts

We went off the trails to test out the capacity of this Salewa grinder. And we were impressed!

It is a real hybrid of a hiking and approach shoe that you can wear to scramble around the rockiest paths.

This shoe inspires confidence with an above-average level of support and stability. And it’s one of the best that you can get across low-cut hiking shoes. It held our ankles nice and secure without any worries of tipping or twisting. It feels stable, like a 4x4 for your feet.

Smearing on smooth rocks or chewing up some mud will both feel a breeze with the sticky traction of the Mountain Trainer. Its grip scores as high as our Salomon Ultra X 4 top pick!

The GTX membrane excelled in all our wet weather tests. However, if you’re going to face some deep crossings, we recommend the mid-cut Mountain Trainer as the flood height of the low-cut is not very high. And if you are not looking for waterproofing, it also comes in a regular, more breathable version ($20 cheaper).

Durability-wise, the entire shoe screams heavy-duty. It showed incredible results on our wear tests, catching only minor scuffs and scratches after dozens of miles! 

All things considered, we find it a fantastic option for going on long, multi-day adventures. It will also serve reliably on some routes involving ascents and serious off-trail challenges.

See our full review and facts

Best budget shoe

The Merrel Moab 2 made it to our top picks twice! That must mean something.

For $100, you get an insanely comfortable hiking shoe that you can take from the box to the trails. Amazingly cushioned and flexible enough from the start, it begged us to go on an adventure right away!

And once hitting the trail, we realized that this is our number one.

The shoe strikes a fine balance between flexibility and structure. It kept our feet stable and never came close to ankle twisting. And yet, it’s got enough flex to help you feel maneuverable, unlike those stiffer, burlier hikers.

This Moab 2 version inherits its traction pattern from the rest of the series, bringing that sticky grip and highly protective experience. We felt surefooted on rocks and mud alike.

This hiker breathes! As a non-waterproof version, the Ventilator stays true to its name. Our feet felt nice and airy even in the warmer weather. It is a fantastic summer option!

For its price point, the shoe has an astonishingly solid build. Showing minimal wear after multiple hikes, we project it to last just as long as some of the pricier options.

Overall, for $100 you are getting the legendary hiking shoe that feels comfortable right from the box and doesn’t compromise on protection and durability.

See our full review and facts

This is one of the cheapest hiking shoes you can get which is unbelievably capable for its price point!

For $80 (which is cheap even for a running shoe), you can an incredibly lightweight (12.5 oz) hiker that feels like a low-key version of the Terrex Swift R2.

Of course, this is not the shoe you would want for some serious multi-day hikes or backpacking. But if you’re in search of a no-frills trainer for some speed and urban hiking on the less demanding routes, the Adidas Terrex AX3 is our top recommendation.

We were more than surprised by the step-in comfort and the overall quality of this simple hiker. It’s got a softer midsole compared to an average hiking shoe, which makes it feel more like a trail running shoe.

With its lightweight build, the footwork feels very nimble in this shoe. It’s as if it wanted us to go faster.

We were also able to traverse some challenging rocky sections successfully thanks to the Continental rubber and deep lugs. A very similar setup is also used on the more expensive hiking options from Adidas, making an even better value for money.

If you’re planning to hike in the summer or in warm and dry conditions, you will have a blast in the AX3. It’s got some excellent ventilation capacity, keeping your feet nice and fresh.

But if you need a waterproof GTX version, that would cost an extra $40 and the shoe did not score as high on our tests as we had hoped. So, we would instead recommend checking out some of the GTX shoes in this guide.

All in all, if you need a light, breathable, cheap yet well-built hiking shoe for some moderate hikes, the Adidas AX3 is the way to go!

See our full review and facts

Hiking shoes vs other types of trail footwear

Generally, your common hiking shoes offer more protection, traction, and stability than your trail runners and sneakers. If you’re the athletic type then opting for your running shoes might do just fine. If, however, you’re the exact opposite, then choosing a pair of sturdy, supportive, and grippy pair of hikers might just be what you need. 

Check out the image below to understand what makes a hiking shoe different from your trail runners, hiking boots, and your daily beaters. 

Hiking shoes vs hiking boots vs trail runners vs daily beaters (2).png

NOTE: The ratings are based on how each type of footwear performs in general. This does not, however, apply to each model that exists. The ratings will vary depending on the make and model of the shoes.

Hiking shoe anatomy: Materials and their benefits

People often underestimate hiking. While it may seem like a simple walk in the park, it actually requires endurance, stamina, and strength. The type of footwear to use will depend on the kind of hike you plan to pursue and your individual traits.

When it comes to gauging a hiking shoes’ performance comfort-, traction-, stability-, and durability-wise, it all boils down to the shoe’s configuration. To help you pick the best hiking shoe, here are the basic parts of the shoe, the materials commonly used for each, their benefits, and could-be-betters.

  Common Materials Used Key Benefits Could-be-betters
Upper
Leather (Suede/ Nubuck/ Full-grain) - Durable (material can last for years)
- Stable and supportive
- Comfortable overtime (this material most often molds to the shape of the foot over time giving hikers a customized fit)
- Feels warm (making it perfect for cold-weather conditions)
- Naturally capable of repelling water
-Takes a long time to break-in
-Full-grain leather shoes are heavier on the feet
-Less breathable
Synthetic Mesh/Nylon -Breathable
-Dries quickly
-Weighs less
-A more affordable option
-Feels softer out of the box
-Prone to wear and tear
-Provides limited support and stability
-Tends to absorb water
Midsole
EVA -Soft to mildly stiff cushioning underfoot
-Much more flexible
-Lightweight
-Less supportive
-Tends to compress over time
PU -Supportive (helps when carrying a heavy pack)
-Durable
-Feels stiff out of the box
-Weighs more
Nice to know: Some shoes are made with shanks or plates placed in between the midsole and outsole improving its stability. This equates to less foot-fatigue. The plates also prevent bruising underfoot caused by sharp rocks.
Outsole
Soft rubber -Stickier
-Flexible
-Lighter
-Best used when scrambling in rocky terrain
-Mediocre performance on muddy trails
Hard Rubber -Durable
-Stable
-More protective
-Lacks flexibility
-Feels heavy underfoot
-Less traction on sleek surfaces like wet rocks
Nice to know: Deeper outsole lugs offer better grip on muddy terrain and shed debris with ease

Waterproof, water-resistant, and water-repellent hiking shoes

When talking about hiking shoes, its ability to repel water is something worth considering especially when your adventure involves snowy or rainy weather conditions and trudging through muddy trails or crossing rivers and streams. However, labels like waterproof, water-repellent, and water-resistant often cause confusion. 

Well, you need not be confused after all. Decoding the labels is actually easy. Check out the table below.

  Water-resistant Water-repellent Waterproof
General characteristics a tightly woven fabric that is naturally capable of resisting water upon contact fabric treated with durable water-repellent (DWR) or hydrophobic chemicals -fabric treated with DWR
-have waterproofing membranes like Gore-Tex and OutDry
-have seam-sealed construction for extra protection
Water protection level low water protection moderate water protection high water protection
Water pressure resistance 0-5000 mm (no pressure or moisture) 6000-10000 mm (light pressure) 10000-20000 mm (high to very high pressure)
Weather conditions best used in light rain shower and dry snow light rain and average snow moderate to heavy rain and average to wet snow

While waterproofing has its own set of benefits, this feature can be counterproductive especially in warmer conditions. Yes, we’ve all heard of their claims of being breathable. However, the fact remains that waterproof hiking shoes are less breathable than its non-waterproof or water-resistant counterparts. They also feel heavier underfoot.

So, if you’re prone to blisters (like everyone else are), then looking at breathable hiking shoes made of quick-drying materials is another great alternative. In case you’re worried about light rain and the like, you can always buy waterproofing sprays that can turn your regular kicks into repellent ones.

Your 5-step guide to choosing the best hiking shoes

After going through all the hiking shoe models in the list, picking the right one might still be challenging. Thankfully, there are a few expert tips which you just need to keep in mind in order to find the right one.

1. Know the duration and the difficulty level of the hike

The difficulty and the duration of the hike are two things you ought to consider when selecting your next pair of hikers. A more strenuous type of terrain will require shoes that are more stable, supportive, and durable. 

When it comes to difficulty, the National Park Service (NPS) classifies the trails into 5 difficulty levels - easy to very strenuous. Below you’ll find what type of shoe works best for each difficulty level. 

Hiking shoe types - based on your hiking plans.png

NOTE: The weather condition or season will definitely affect your choice. Hiking during the summer will require you to wear breathable kicks. On the one hand, insulated hiking shoes are recommended for winter hiking.

2. The weight of your pack matters

The load you carry on your back has the most impact on you during your hike. Thus, packing light and bringing just the essentials is always a good practice. 

There are times though that you can’t avoid carrying a heavy pack especially when thru-hiking or backpacking. When the trip calls you to carry loads on your back, make sure to find shoes that offer ample lateral support (disregard this if you have strong ankles).

3. Take a closer look at your feet

Knowing your foot type makes a whole lot of difference. Aside from gauging if your feet are wide or narrow, determining your arch type would also help you figure out which shoe will work best for you.

Arch types and recommended shoes.png

4. Find the perfect fit and right size

Finding the perfect fit and right size can be a bit tricky especially for a first-timer. However, getting the best fit ain’t that hard if you follow these 6 simple tips.

Go shoe shopping in the afternoon. Expect your feet to swell after a day of activities. The same thing happens when hiking. So, it’s best to try on those new hikers late in the afternoon to get the best fit.

Try it on, lace it up, and check for pressure points. There should be a thumb’s width space between your toes and the front of your shoes. If your feet move from side to side, then the hiking shoes are too wide. It should feel snug - comfortable and non-constricting. 

Make sure to try the shoes with your hiking socks on. Bring the socks that you plan to wear with your hikers when shoe shopping. Avoid using cotton since this type of fabric retains moisture and fails to provide insulation. Instead, choose wool or synthetic socks.

Take your preferred insoles or orthotics with you. Default insoles often leave users disappointed. Aftermarket insoles or your custom orthotics can greatly improve the fit of the shoe. If this fails, you can always try another pair from another brand.

Use the ramp and walk up and down. This tests the shoe’s snugness. When you go up the board, observe for any heel lift. When you go down, check if your toes hit the front of the shoes. If your heel rises more than a quarter of an inch or if your toes hit the front, adjust the laces or try sizing up.

Make sure to break in your shoes before your trip. Hiking shoes, especially the heavy, leather ones, require a different break-in time. Start small by wearing the shoes inside your house with your preferred socks. This might feel awkward but in the end, your feet will surely thank you). From there, increase your miles gradually. 

6 step guide to ensure proper fit - hiking shoes.png

5. Learn a few lacing techniques

Knowing a few lacing techniques might sound elementary, but this can actually help you avoid unnecessary mishaps when hiking. Lacing too loose might not give you the support you need while lacing it too tight may lead to blisters and hotspots. Here are a few techniques worth learning to remedy the most common foot problems when hiking. 

Lacing techniques.png

Author
Paul Ronto
Paul Ronto

Over the past 20 years, Paul has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He has summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races as well as 6 marathons. On average, he runs 30-50 miles a week in the foothills of Northern Colorado. His research is regularly cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic, etc. On top of this, Paul is leading the running shoe lab where he cuts shoes apart and analyses every detail of the shoes that you might buy.