Overall, the Merrell Altalight is a great combination of hiking shoe and boot technology, perfect for the hiker or walker that enjoys having an all-purpose hiker around the house. The hiking shoe looks great, feels comfortable, and performs well on the hard trails as well as on the city streets.
The Merrell Altalight is a hiking shoe designed to combine the best of both worlds between hiking boots and trail running shoes. The Altalight has weight on its mind; this being one of the lightest Merrell hiking shoes at 12oz/340g (most hiking shoes weigh 13.8g/390g).
The upper is breathable and yet at the same time snug, and the outsole is made to last. This shoe is ready to go just about anywhere!
Who should buy it
This shoe is a great option for hot and dry hiking over moderate terrain, especially when you are looking for a bit more durability and peace of mind while traversing rocks or boulders.
Just want to stick around town? These shoes also serve as great urban hikers as well, pairing nicely with casual clothing--always a plus!
The Altalight is a great generalist hiking shoe for those who want some versatility from their hiking footwear and who don’t necessarily have a specific list of requirements for performance.
Who should NOT buy it
The Merrell Altalight is not recommended for hikers who:
are looking for a waterproof hiking shoe (the Merrell Altalight is available in waterproof version)
Size down with the Altalight
I would recommend moving down ½ to a full size smaller than what you may normally wear, especially if you are seeking to wear lighter socks. However, one must also understand that while the upper is snug, the midsole feels more like a boot.
Snug and comfortable fit
The fit of the shoe is surprisingly snug and comfortable, but the sizing seems off by a lot. One of the first things I noticed about these shoes when putting them on was how long they are, leaving way too much length in the toe box.
Even with large fitting shoes, the laces and upper provided for a comfortable hike in just about all circumstances. I did notice a little bit of Achilles strain toward the end of a long day, and the cushioning is about average, but generally, I was impressed with the fit of these shoes...especially if you are comparing them to boots.
Ready to go out of the box
The Merrell Altalight hiking shoe is ready for your hiking adventure as soon as they are put on for the first time. Again, it may take some time to adjust to the sizing and boot-like fit, but I was able to put in miles right away without any blisters or discomfort. The break-in period is nominal, and the construction, while solid, is responsive and comfortable.
Not for you if you need ankle support
I kept on asking myself this question throughout my first few hikes.
Yes, the Altalights have great grip and durability with the outsoles.
No, they do not have ankle support beyond that of a traditional running shoe.
Yes, the laces are tough and the upper construction seems to get the job done.
No, the cushioning does not communicate miles upon miles of uninterrupted sensations of hiking on clouds.
Overall, while I felt comfortable and stable on these shoes in my hiking, I would suggest going for the mid-cut of the same shoe model if you need a bit more support.
Not bowing out any time soon
Once you decide that you are not running ultramarathons in these shoes, then there is peace of mind in accepting that while they may be a bit heavy compared to shoes, the Altalights are plenty durable for miles of hiking.
The upper is made of a nylon ripstop material, which brings in breathability for those hot days. What is also wonderful is the Stratafuse exoskeleton that overlays the nylon upper in areas that tend to get tested more often such as the toes, laces, and areas of the upper that will be stretched and strained, creating a snug fit with that extra durability one would expect from a hiking shoe.
Together, along with the durable laces and tongue construction, you are looking at a shoe that is not bowing out any time soon.
A grip superb than the rest
The Altalight boasts a “Merrell mountain-grade Quantum Grip™ rubber outsole” capable of taking on some challenging terrain. Combined with 5mm lugs, the outsole is ready for rocks, boulders, gravel, mud, dirt, and anything else you can throw at it (remember: not waterproof with model reviewed).
I found the grip and strength of the outsole to be on par with most boots, and at the same time, not nearly as clunky of a fit and feel. I’m not sure I would take these shoes into the gnarliest of conditions, but that is more because of the upper than the outsole. I felt comfortable just about everywhere I took these shoes on the trail, or even through the city.
Merrell Altalight: boots or shoes?
The Merrell Altalight attempts to balance a fine line between the hiking boot and shoe market.
While Merrell describes them as shoes, one will notice that the shoes come up short in some comparisons with other trail running shoes such as the Hoka Challenger or the Brooks Cascadia. Compared with trail running shoes, they are bulky, heavy, and loose-fitting.
However, if one were to compare the Altalights with other hiking boots like the KEEN Targhee or the Inov-8 Roclite, the Merrells are perceived as too delicately constructed.
So which one is it? Well, it’s both! And as long as the person wearing the shoe is comfortable living between both worlds as many are, then they will be extremely happy with this shoe’s performance.
Wrapping it up
Pay attention to the sizing! Again, they fit almost a full size larger than what I would expect. Beyond that, I was pleased with the agility, grip, durability, and breathability of hiking shoes. I will not be running trails in them anytime soon, but for moderate hikes in dry and warm weather, you are looking at a great option.
I am a runner, pastor, writer, and lover of all things outdoors, living in Portland, Oregon, with my wife, Julie; our dog, George; and our cat, Annie. I can be found on the trails of Forest Park, hiking along the coast, on Mount Hood, or running the bridges of the Willamette River.