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The best hiking shoes: a lighter option than traditional boots

best hiking shoes - Salewa Dropline GTX
(Image credit: Salewa)

The best hiking shoes are a great alternative to bulkier boots for day walks and even lightweight backpacking expeditions. The ability to be fleet of foot on the trails, mixing a hiking approach with something more akin to trail running makes for a heady mix. As manufacturers continue to conjure up less weighty gear, perhaps the hiking shoe will eventually overtake the traditional boot as the standard go-to.

However, if you’re tackling serious technical terrain and carrying a heavy load, there really is no substitute for the protection offered by the best hiking boots. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of day hikes and lightweight fastpacking adventures, hiking shoes do the job perfectly. In fact, they’re often the footwear of choice for thru hikers.  

best hiking shoes - Salewa Dropline GTX

Salewa's Dropline GTX hiking shoes are ideal for fastpacking and thru hikes (Image credit: Salewa)

The principal difference between a hiking boot and a hiking shoe is that shoes are lower cut, therefore providing less ankle protection and less protection from the wet. With this mind mind, they are better suited to the warmer months, when your hiking backpack will be lighter and the trails (hopefully) drier. Other than this, hiking shoes feature the same sole and midsole innovations, the same excellent grip and cushioning and will typically have similar features, such as a re-enforced toe box and robust upper, as their heftier counterparts.

So, if you're looking to hit the trails with a fast and light approach, but want greater comfort, durability and protection than the best trail running shoes offer, then hiking shoes are the ones for you. We've rounded up the very best on the market, from the remarkable stability of Salewa's Dropline GTX hikers to the versatility offered by Black Diamond's Mission LT Approach shoes, we've tied every lace and got every angle covered.

The best hiking shoes for fastpacking

best hiking shoes - Salewa Dropline GTX

(Image credit: Salewa)

Salewa Dropline GTX

A low cut trail shoe for fastpacking and thru hikes

RRP: $160 (US) / £160 (UK) | Materials: Exa Shell Over Injected 3D Cage upper with Stretchable Air Mesh and Tpu film; Gore-Tex waterproof lining; Ortholite footbed; EVA midsole; Pomoca Dropline outsole | Weight (per shoe): 294 g / 10.4 oz | Colors: Men’s: Black / Blue & dark denim / Green, black & blue Danube; Women’s: Ocena / Canal Blue / Ombre Blue & Virtual Pink | Compatibility: Backpacking, thru hiking, fast packing, general walking

Rockered
Stable
Light
Lace cover keeps debris out
Laces come untied easily

Thru hikers are notorious for choosing hiking shoes instead of boots because they’re lighter, cooler, and quicker to dry. Many hiking shoes are made too stiff to provide stability. Or they’re sneaker soft, and their midsole’s break down before you have racked up the miles. The Dropline, however – a winner in Advnture’s inaugural Hiking Awards thanks to its exceptional performance on test – has plenty of stability, but it feels more like a sneaker on steroids than a hiking boot. Just cut shorter.

The confidence this shoe offers is great – an anti-rock heel cup and lacing that ties into the heel and the sole of the shoe is all part of Salewa’s secret recipe, with the brand claiming that the heel-to-toe transition saves energy. The Gore-Tex lining provides breathable waterproofing, but the Dropline is also available in a non-waterproof version. The rounded, low-profile Pomoca outsole has a lot of lugs, but they’re not deep, and can get clogged in muddy conditions. The mesh covering over the tongue and under the laces kept dirt and debris out, however, and an extra beefy toe rand shows that Salewa expects this hiking shoe to be used hard. 

best hiking shoes

(Image credit: Explorer)

Berghaus Explorer FT Active Gore-Tex shoe

A stable, durable shoe created by a big brand that knows exactly what more serious trail walkers are looking for

RRP: £115 (UK) | Materials: Synthetic fabric upper, Gore-Tex membrane, Vibram sole, OrthoLite Multisport footbeds | Weight per shoe (men's): 372g/13oz | Weight per shoe (women's): 315g/11oz | Colors: Black / Red | Compatibility: All terrain and trail types in reasonable conditions

Sure-footed grip 
Stiffer sole
Waterproof and breathable
Durable, solid uppers
Good price
Narrow fit 
Low-level cushioning

This well-thought-through walking shoe from British brand Berghaus oozes confidence on the trails. The Explorer FT is perfect for more demanding long-distance walks, even on relatively technical terrain, and is unlikely to let you down over hundreds of miles. The robust and well-crafted fabric upper benefits from a waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex liner. Although fairly lightweight, the shoes are well-fitting and offer good support across the whole foot. Further protection and durability comes from the rubber printed rand around the toe, heel and sides of the shoe. In-shoe cushioning comes from OrthoLite Multisport footbeds, while grip on the ground is maximised by medium-stiff Vibram ‘OPTI-STUD’ sole.

The best hiking shoes for an ironclad grip

best hiking shoes - Oboz Firebrand II Low

(Image credit: Oboz)

Oboz Firebrand II Low

Versatile, supportive platform for long walks in the woods

RRP: $140 (US) / £125 (UK) | Materials: Waterproof Nubuck leather & abrasion-resistant textile upper; B-DRY Waterproof membrane Liner; proprietary Sawtooth outsole | Weight (per shoe): 259g/9oz | Colors: Men’s: Earth / Gray; Women’s: Lilac / Pale moss | Compatibility: Various hiking and walking escapades, from the backwoods to the hills.

Updated style and construction
Breathable 
Grippy
Tailor-made insoles
Unique look isn’t for everyone

The Firebrand II has served hikers for almost a decade. Oboz is well known for its proprietary insole and outsole designs. The eyecatching Sawtooth outsole design features a range of uniquely arranged lugs, designed to supply grip, stability and support on the trails, while also being flexible – the footprint they leave behind is certainly distinct (the bottom of the outsole features a molded map image of the Sawtooth mountain range near Sun Valley, Idaho). 

Oboz Insoles are purpose designed for the exact pair of shoes they’re sold with, and combined with an abrasion-resistant mesh upper and a dual-density EVA midsole (with a nylon shank for extra support), the Firebrand II is a comfortable platform for a long day exploring wild places, from the first mile to the last. There’s plenty of protection too: a rubber toecap protects your pinkies from trail debris, rocks and roots. Hiking in wet conditions, the B-DRY moisture management system keeps water out while letting sweat vent and keeping your feet dry and comfortable. The versatile Firebrand II now comes in both leather and non-waterproof models. Oboz plant a tree for every pair of shoes sold.

The best hiking shoes for rocky scrambles

best hiking shoes - Black Diamond Mission LT Approach

(Image credit: Black Diamond)

Black Diamond Mission LT Approach

A sticky approach shoe built for long treks carrying a load

RRP: $140 (US) / £130 (UK) | Materials: EnduroKnit one-piece breathable knit upper; EVA midsole; BlackLabel-Mountain rubber outsole | Weight (per shoe): 312 g / 11 oz | Colors: Men’s: Nickel & ultra blue / Eclipse blue & amber; Women’s: Anthracite/Wisteria | Compatibility: Trail hiking and approach walks to peaks and crags

Sticky sole
Good midsole support
Runs small

When you’re scrambling on rocks, whether on a technical hike to a mountain summit or en route to the base of a climb, you need a show with a sticky, non- slip sole – and this is it. Made for grip, even in wet conditions, the Mission Approach uses Black Diamond’s climbing shoe rubber in its sole. They form it into a tread that is aggressive on the trail, and able to handle fourth-class scrambles and fifth-class ascents, thanks to the smooth climbing toe and the Mission Control’s protective rubber toe rand. 

The shoe is light, with a fit that feels more like a sock than a standard hiking shoe, and there’s an EVA midsole that makes it feel more like a running shoe. Instead of a separate tongue, the entrance to the shoe is a single stretchy piece of padded fabric that wraps 360° around your ankle. The Mission Control is built with a single-piece knit upper reinforced for rock and scuff resistance in the toe, heel, and on the sides, and a nylon rock plate protects feet from bruising.  The durability was a welcome surprise. And the lightweight and ultra-breathable upper kept my feet from overheating when I was hiking in this shoe. 

Best hiking shoes for lightweight day walks

best hiking shoes - Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX

(Image credit: Merrell)

Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX

A versatile hiking shoe that's as agile as most trail running shoes

RRP: $140 (US) / £120 (UK) | Materials: Waterproof mesh upper, Gore-Tex membrane, Quantum Grip rubber outsole | Weight per shoe (men's): 350g/12oz | Weight per shoe (women’s): 290g/10oz | Colors (men's): Burnt granite / Black / Black & grey / Black & orange / Black & white / Moonbeam raven / Orange / White | Colors (women's): Black HV / Dragonfly /Black / Black & White / Granite wave / Lichen | Compatibility: All trails in all but the worst conditions

Very comfortable
Excellent grip
Vegan-friendly 
Not as durable as some on test
Grit can get between tongue and chassis

A versatile shoe, the second generation Merrell MQM leans more towards a robust trail running shoe than it does a traditional hiking boot, with features such as a rockplate offering protection against sharp flints and sticks, doing the job of a thick midsole at a fraction of the weight. As such, you can move along even pretty technical trails at pace in these shoes, and they feel agile – but they probably won’t last as long as a chunkier shoe. 

Merrell’s mountain-grade Quantum Grip rubber outsole features strategically placed 5mm lugs that grip hold of most terrain excellently and provide plenty of confidence. There’s air cushioning in the heel, which supplies some bounce and shock protection (especially for the heel strikers out there), and the Flexconnect functionality in the midsole is good for balance and trail feel. The Gore-Tex lining keeps trail juice at bay, but grit can get down between the tongue and the shoe. The extra connection between the laces and the body of the shoe, via an integrated strap across the forefoot, feels largely cosmetic, although it does enable you to do the laces up nice and tight if you’re heading into gloopy boggy terrain, and there’s an extra lace hole to help with this too.

best hiking shoes

(Image credit: Columbia)

Columbia Facet 30 OutDry Shoe

A nimble, waterproof, hiking sneaker

RRP: $130 (US) / £125 (UK) | Materials: Balistic textile upper, Techlite EVA midsole, Omni-Grip rubber outsole | Weight per shoe: 392g/14oz | Colors (men's): Cobalt blue & Autumn orange / Cyber purple & river blue / Ti grey steel & koi / Azul & extreme midnight/ Black and bright red / Black, ti grey steel | Colors (women's): Siberia & grey ice / Black & red coral / Black & night tide / Rouge pink & voltage / Ti grey steel & new moon / Night tide & dark fuchsia | Compatibility: Coastal and countryside adventures

Comfortable
Well cushioned
Speed lacing
Only three lace loops
Questionable durability

People will love or hate the look of these shoes, particularly the angular lines of the maxi style Fluidframe midsole; they look like they’re cut from ice, but are they cool? All in the eye of the beholder.  Describing them as a hiking sneaker – which might put them in a genre all of their own – Columbia openly admit that the design and build of the Facet 30 has been inspired by running shoes, and they are a swift and nifty piece of footwear. 

The chunkiness of the collar does actually shield your ankle, and there is a protective rand around the toe and heel. Even so, the lugs are not especially aggressive on the Omnigrip outsole and the upper feels a tad on the light side for serious hiking in high hills, and we think the Facet 30 is best suited for coastal and coutryside adventures in relatively good conditions. Having said that, the spongy OutDry chassis is waterproof, even if it doesn’t look it, as well as being breathable. The level of cushioning in the Techlite midsole is impressive too, providing plenty of energy return and putting a spring in your step. The shoe boasts a speedlacing system, but there are only three lace loops on either side, meaning shoe can feel a little loose.

best hiking shoes

(Image credit: Activist)

The North Face Activist Futurelight walking shoe

One-part cool comfort combines with one-part technical performance for a trail-walking shoe that is at home on tarmac as it is on gravel tracks

RRP: $135 (US) / £125 (UK) | Materials: OrthoLite foam footbeds, Futurelight waterproofing, Exploration Trax System outsoles | Weight per shoe (men's): 350g/12oz | Weight per shoe (women's): 296g/10.5oz | Colors (men's): Aviator navy / Nautical blue / TNF yellow / Verdial / TNF black / Taupe green | Colors (women's): Urban navy / Mallard blue / Rambutan pink / Blackberry wine | Compatibility: Better on lower level tracks and hill paths than mountain trails

Comfortable
Lightweight
Stiff, robust sole
Excellent protective rand
Narrower fit than expected
Not robust enough for high alpine trails

It’s often a relief to swap heavy hiking boots for walking shoes, but the Activists are actually lighter than some running trainers. The fit is medium width and they have been developed with TNF’s own breathable-waterproof ‘Futurelight’ membrane, which means that you’ll avoid hot and wet feet unless conditions are extreme. The uppers are made of fabric and a full rand protects the lower part of the shoe, with a toecap and extra thickness on the heel. 

In-shoe comfort comes from Ortholite insoles (which are washable) and a gusseted tongue. The ‘EXTS’ sole provides sure-footed grip on a range of terrain, from tarmac to gravel tracks and in wet and dry conditions. The sole is stiff enough to offer protection from stony surfaces and to prevent the foot rolling on rough terrain, and ‘heel positioning technology’ improves the stability. The North Face claim these shoes would be just as good as boots for mountain hikes but, in my opinion, they lack the right soles and durable uppers to last very long on rough routes.

Best hiking shoes for value

best hiking shoes

(Image credit: Quechua)

Quechua waterproof MH100 walking shoe

A budget-friendly walking shoe with a retro look and high levels of cushioning for street or trail walking

RRP: $55 (US) / £35 (UK) | Materials: Poly and leather upper, waterproof and breathable membrane lining, EVA midsole, non-slip rubber outsole | Weight per shoe (men's): 405g/14oz | Weight per shoe (women's): 337g/12oz | Colors (men's): Carbon grey and cherry red / Dark petrol blue and lime green | Colors (women's): Caribbean blue / Green-grey / purple-storm / dark petrol blue | Compatibility: Half-day sojourns into the foothills

Great value
Comfortable upper 
In-sole cushioning
Specific performance ratings
Too cushioned
Run hot

The look of this shoe is rather retro, which you will either love… or not. Decathlon report that the MH100 waterproof shoe was “designed at the foot of Mont Blanc for occasional mountain hikes of three to four hours’ duration and up to 700 metres.” They are very specific about this, and it is useful information – setting the boundaries of what this shoe’s comfort zone is, which we largely agree with. The sole of the MH100s is semi-flexible, and the grippy outer has been created with non-slip rubber, with 5mm studs to bite into slippery terrain. The uppers feature stone-guard protection, and beneath the leather-synthetic mix of materials, an own-brand waterproof and breathable membrane lining keeps out water. The shoe has full-length foot cushioning, thanks to an EVA midsole, and well-cushioned heel and tongue areas. If anything, the in-sole cushioning could be a little too much for some people. (If there is too much give in a sole it can zap your energy and making the process of walking less responsive.)

The best hiking shoes designed specifically for women

best hiking shoes

(Image credit: Keen)

Keen Terradora II Waterproof Hiking Trainers

A high-performing female-specific waterproof walking shoe

RRP: $140 (US) / £110 (UK) | Materials: Performance mesh upper, low-density EVA midsole, breathable mesh lining, dual-density EVA footbed, KEEN.ALL-TERRAIN rubber outsole | Weight (per shoe): 320g/11oz | Colors: Canteen / Black magnet / Brick dust / Tan / Steel grey & ocean wave / Cherry mahogany / Dusty olive & Nostalgia rose / Drizzle & African violet | Compatibility: A good shoe for fairer weather

Female-specific design
wider fit 
Versatile
Fair price
limited abrasion protection
limited waterproofing

This is the second generation of the popular Terradora shoe – a casual looking walking shoe that is as much at home on a pavement commute to the office as it is on country paths and trails. Keen have designed the shoe to suit female feet, which tend to be narrower, especially at the heel (however, it’s worth noting that Keen footwear is usually known for its wider fit, so you should try before you buy) and the Terradora’s low-density EVA midsole also caters to the female foot shape. The Keen ‘All-terrain’ rubber outsole features 4mm multi-directional lugs for traction, while a stability shank delivers lightweight foot support. 

For a bit of extra flex, and for more natural movement of the foot, there are grooves cut across the base of the sole at the forefoot. Keen’s ‘KonnectFit heel-capture’ system provides a locked-in feel that is meant to be supportive rather than constricting and, additionally, there is a removable, dual-density EVA insole with arch support for long-lasting comfort. The upper is fabric mesh with Keen’s proprietary membrane for waterproofing and breathability. There is a lightweight rubber rand that extends around the shoe to provide abrasion protection.

Choosing the best hiking shoes for you

What are the best hiking shoes for you? To answer that you have to think about the kind of walking you do most often. Requirements vary, depending on the terrain being traversed, the quality of the trail, prevailing conditions and the amount of kit you typically carry. There are even fully vegan footwear options out there, ready for the trail.

Following are some important considerations you should factor in to your decision-making process.

best hiking shoes - Salewa Dropline GTX

For lightweight summer rambles, a hiking shoe is ideal (Image credit: Salewa)

Seasons

Walking shoes are best suited to fairer conditions in general, but the lighter weight models made of fabric are particularly vulnerable to bad weather, and if you do a lot of walking in challenging conditions, you should opt for a more robust shoe made with hardy materials. Waterproofing is such a selling point that many manufacturers will even include it in the name of their hiking shoes, so look out for that.

Terrain

The terrain will dictate the type of shoe – and sole – that you choose. Even the best hiking shoe in the world won’t provide the same ankle support as a boot, but some are sturdier than others, and offer more protection. If you regularly hike on rough terrain, choose a shoe with a stiff sole, grippy outsole and aggressive lugs for good grip, and look for a substantial rand and a good toe cap. A pair of trekking poles can help share the burden on steep terrain.

Some of the products we featured are named as approach shoes, which are a hybrid of climbing and hiking shoes designed for rocky scrambles and technical approaches to climber's crags. Increasingly, approach shoes are being designed to tackle longer distances and offer durability to rival the most fortified hiking shoe. If long days out on technical scrambling terrain sounds like your bag, then approach shoes might be the optimum choice.

best hiking shoes - Salewa Dropline GTX

Hiking shoes complemented by trekking poles make rocky terrain more manageable (Image credit: Salewa)

Cushioning

A stiff sole will offer great energy output, while a cushioned sole and in-sole will generally absorb energy. It depends on what you are looking for personally, though, because high cushioning protects joints and gives a more comfortable on-the-ground feel, while a stiffer and less cushioned sole offers greater stability and traction, as well as less energy absorption. Try out contrasting pairs to get a feel for this and don't forget to wear your hiking socks when you do.

Width

We all have different shaped feet and the difference between male and female feet can be significant. The shoes in our reviews are rated for width and keep an eye out for designs specifically tailored for women.

Weight

Hiking shoes are usually lighter in weight than walking boots but heavier than a running shoe. The weight of footwear can cause fatigue over longer distances but some shoes are heavier because they have features such as stiffer soles and more robust uppers.

Heel to toe drop

Running footwear usually includes a heel-to-toe drop dimension. A neutral drop shoe, for example, will be zero and then the size increases up to 10mm and more. Few boot brands give these details out, so it is important to try them on before buying to see if the shoe suits your walking style and gait.

best hiking shoe - Salewa Dropline GTX

For fast and light adventures, hiking shoes are ideal (Image credit: Salewa)

Materials

Walking shoes can be made of leather, nubuck leather, suede and synthetic fabrics, or a mix of these. Leather is likely to be harder wearing but your feet are more likely to become hot and sweaty. Fabric is more breathable, but less durable. A rubber rand around the shoe, where the upper joins the sole, can be useful for reducing abrasion from rocks, stones and vegetation. Look for shoes with extra rubber at the toe and heel, too.

Waterproofing

Many shoes are designed with a waterproof and breathable membrane lining. The aim is to make fabric waterproof and water resistant. Gore-Tex is the best known waterproof membrane brand and it is used by many of the best hiking shoe and boot brands. Other companies use their own-brand membrane, which work to a greater or lesser degree. It is useful to have a rubber rand fully around the shoe to stop water ingress from puddles and mud, but remember, once the water level exceeds ankle height, you’re going to get wet feet if you’re wearing shoes, no matter how waterproof they are.