Best Hiking Shoes Reviewed For Easy Adventuring

Whether you just want to explore the wild, take a walk through the trails or be a lot more adventurous and conquer a mountain, one thing that remains constant is the fact you will need the proper equipment, and this includes the best hiking footwear. Not just any normal style will cut it.  You can go with a hiking boot, and there’s no problem with that. But perhaps, you want something more flexible and lightweight. That’s where hiking sneakers come in.

Last Updated: June 4, 2018
By Tony Skye:

The Recent update reflects the best of 2018’s best hiking shoes of all types, shapes, sizes, colors, with new information as to how to choose the best hiking shoes and our criteria for evaluation. Also, included are some of the most frequently asked questions about the best hiking shoes.

Finding the best hiking footwear can be a time-consuming task. You need to make sure that the style offers support, protection, are durable, and provide comfort, especially for those taking on strenuous hikes and need that much more underfoot cushion to ease the inevitable aches.

Traction is, also, very important. You will be on a trail which means that the terrain will be dirt and sometimes rocky,  rather than the usual asphalt you may be accustomed to. A great sneaker for this purpose needs a lugged profile rather than being flat, as you will not need to generate friction for traction. You need to bite the ground to get it. Ventilation is great too, but some are willing to compromise on it a little bit for a waterproofed lining. Consider your terrain, and let us do the rest.

 

Featured Recommendations

Merrell Moab 2 Vent
  • Merrell Moab 2 Vent
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Anti-debris Tongue
  • Breathable Mesh Lining
  • Price: See Here
Keen Presidio
  • Keen Presidio
  • 4.8 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Dual-density Footbed
  • Water-resistant
  • Price: See Here
Hanagal Evoque II
  • Hanagal Evoque II
  • 4.8 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Leather Upper
  • To-the-toe Lacing
  • Price: See Here

 

We know how long it takes to compare all the data in order to make your selection. We’ve made it simple, and have done the hours of strenuous research for you; so, you only need to focus on the hiking. Based on each critical metric, we’ve comprised the top rated, highest commended, and guaranteed best designs for hiking, based on the reviews of real people who have actually worn them, and what they have to say about it.

 

15 Best Hiking Shoes

 

1. Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator

The Merrell Moab Ventilator can be used for a variety of activities with hiking, of course, being at the top of the list and followed up by workouts and walking. These low cut and lightweight which makes them a top contender when it comes to footwear for scaling mountains. Most of this sneaker is made of mesh and leather, making it quite breathable. Furthermore, the Moab's are, arguably, one of the more comfortable products out there.
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Comfort
The Merrell Moab Ventilator has a good amount of padding around the top which creates a snug fit, making them both comfortable and functional. In addition, they are equipped with full-length, compression-molded EVA midsoles that supply all-day support and cushioning. Furthermore, the combination of Trek and Super Trek rubber compounds and Vibram Multi-Sport technology offers exceptional grip and durability. In other words, they are perfect for a day hike.

Design
The Merrell Moab Ventilator is highly functional. Additionally, you can hike off into warmer climates with these without ending up with sweaty feet. They come in a variety of their earthy color combinations. The outer appearance makes them an even better pick for hiking a trail, with its mid-height dura leather/nylon ventilator mesh that looks good with a casual pair of jeans or any casual gear for that matter. Furthermore, they are great to wear on a normal day-to-day basis, as well.

Cost and Value
For the price tag, you are getting an excellent pair of sneakers. These price in at the midrange of cost association and are equipped nicely in the area of functionality. As such, this pair is absolutely money well spent.
Pros
Cons
  • Size runs wide

2. Keen Presidio

The Keen Presidio is created to be casual in nature while, also, allowing you to go off-road, per se. With an oxford-style approach, you can look good at the office before heading out to your favorite trails. They are built with a water-resistant upper, metatomical footbed, and non-marking outsole. Good for both on-and-off road, this pair will stand up to the demands of light trail work.
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Style
They are sporty with touches of stitching accents, and with the Oxford-style approach, they can give you a chance to wear a more versatile product that goes with just about anything; from yoga pants to khakis, or even jeans.

Support
This pair by Keen Presidio has a metatomical footbed with contoured support. The best thing about this feature is that it is removable and provides great arch support; naturally, hugging the contours of the foot.

Cost and Value
These are midrange of cost association; not bad for the quality. Furthermore, they are an ideal choice for those who might want to have an all-around, on-and-off the road.
Pros
  • Oxford-style
  • Dual-density EVA Footbed
  • Water-resistant, Nubuck Leather Upper
  • Non-marking, Rubber Outsole
  • Cleansport NXT Technology
Cons
  • Size runs narrow
  • Wide horizontal eyelet spacing

3. Keen Targhee II

The Keen Targhee II is equipped with the KEEN Dry membrane which helps keep water out while letting vapors out; thus, they stand up to wet weather. Keen Targhee II is, also, good for adventures through heavy-rocky terrain, as the tread bites into the earth; thereby, giving you a better foothold when it matters most. Additionally, not designed for day-to-day wear, these are specific to hiking the trail. This means these are a specialty in that they are trail-ready.
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Comfortable
This pair is surprisingly comfortable and protective in rough terrain. It is, definitely, not the most stylish option, as it is a bit on the bulky side; so, they’re not versatile. Overall, however, they get the job done when it comes to comfort on the trail.

Design
These are designed to be lightweight which makes it easier to hike up some of the more difficult of hikes. The Keen Targhee II is the sneaker version of the award-winning boot; so, of course, they had to live up to its name with style and ability.

Cost and Value
The Keen Targhee II is midrange of cost association; thereby, bringing you a specialty product at a bargain price. With these being trail-ready, they are worth every penny spent. If you plan on wearing these on a day-to-day basis, however, it is advised you protect them with leather treatment and conditioner.
Pros
  • 1-inch Heel Height
  • Leather Upper
  • Torsion stability ESS shank
  • Lugged, Rubber Outsole
  • Padded Tongue and Collar
Cons
  • Size runs small

4. Merrell Chameleon Prime

4. Merrell Chameleon Prime
Are you ready for light hiking which takes you across multi-terrain surfaces? This pair from Merrel is trail-ready. Moreover, they have multi-surface traction (i.e. wet-to-dry), fight odor, and are made of a leather and mesh upper; allowing you to enjoy the benefits of a sturdy; yet, breathable option.
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M-Select Fresh
M-Select Fresh is a technology which helps to prevent both sweat and moisture. Products that wick away moisture promote better overall foot health, as they prevent the odor-causing bacterium from gaining a place inside. This, in turn, lowers the chances for foot odor, athlete's foot, foot fungi, and etc.

SELECT GRIP Outsole
The rubber outsole utilizes SELECT GRIP (a specialized mix of pattern and lug-depth) which allows you multi-terrain traction; as well as, provides you with slip-resistant safety, as the traction does well from wet-to-dry surfaces. As such, these are great for light trail work.

Cost and Value
This pair falls in the upper end of cost association. However, with the leather and mesh upper, multi-directional traction, slip-resistant technology, and the ability to fight off odor-causing bacteria, these are worth the investment.
Pros
  • Leather/Mesh Upper
  • SELECT GRIP Outsole
  • Bungee Laces
  • M-Select Fresh
  • Slip-resistant
Cons
  • Bit pricey
  • Size fits tight

5. Merrell Siren Sport 2

5. Merrell Siren Sport 2
A better fit is gained through the Omni-fit lacing system and Ortholite anatomical footbed. This provides your feet a secure fit; as well as, a comfortable one. In addition, a moisture-wicking lining is ready to take on the pains of sweaty feet; thereby, helping to cool you while on the strenuous trail. Finally, the Vibram outsole helps to provide better traction via the multi-directional lugs.
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Ortholite Anatomical Footbed
The footbed is contoured to bring you a comfortable fit; as well as, the promotion of a healthier foot. This helps to bring better support when traversing those sometimes unforgiving, rocky terrain types.

Leather and Mesh Upper
A leather and mesh upper provide breathability; perfect for that summer hike through the mountainous hills. Your feet will remain dry through the low-lying grassy areas, and you can be confident in knowing you are warding away those pesky bacteria.

Cost and Value
The cost associated with this pair is midrange. They are built for multi-terrain types with multi-directional lugs. In addition, they help promote better overall foot health, as they are highly breathable. As such, this pair can be a great addition to any hiker's wardrobe.
Pros
  • Ortholite Anatomical Footbed
  • Omni-Fit Lacing System
  • Leather and Mesh Upper
  • Moisture-wicking Mesh Lining
  • Vibram Outsole
Cons
  • Minimal color variety

6. Vasque Mantra 2.0

6. Vasque Mantra 2.0
The Mantra 2.0 is a lightweight, flexible sneaker that is good for moderate terrain and light loads. They are worn best in cool and wet climates, but not bad at all in rougher conditions, due to their soft-flexibility. The very construction of these helps to provide support, even for higher volume feet.
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Support
The upper is made of soft leather, along with a flexible outsole. All of these components make the Mantra 2.0 very comfortable. And if your feet are higher in volume, the fit will be a bit more secure, which is a good thing; especially, for those who might struggle to find thicker options.

Protection
The Mantra 2.0 has a thick and wide outsole; along with a mostly leather upper that protects the entire foot. It has great protection against stones and rocks on the trail which is something that backpackers look for.

Cost and Value
Most backpackers don’t mind paying for quality, while others are not too pleased with a hefty price tag. With this pair, however, everyone can be pleased with the midrange of cost association. Furthermore, with the high-quality of material makeup and the wonderful price tag, this pair is worth the amount of money spent.
Pros
  • Speed Lacing System
  • Nubuck Leather Upper
  • Dual-density EVA Footbed
  • Vibram Nuassi Outsole
  • Abrasion-resistant
Cons
  • Break-in period
  • Minimal color variety

7. Keen Voyageur

7. Keen Voyageur
Brand established in 2003, Keen has definitely come a long way from using an inspired sandal design that features combined toe protection and comfort. Just like its cousin, Targhee, these offer stability and 4-wheel drive traction. Keen's belief mantra is about the importance of monumental working; so, their products are built to be both durable and supportive.
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Breathability
The Keen Voyageur is incredibly breathable. It is good to wear in hot and dry weather conditions and helps to promote better overall foot health. After all, cool feet are happy feet.

Protection
For the most part, they have a protective rubber toe-box that just happens to be cut on the wide side; so, if you have a wider foot they would be perfect. As such, these Keen Voyageur’s just might be the right pair for you.

Cost and Value
The Keen Voyageur is priced in a decent price range, midrange to be a bit more exact. For such a great style and comfort, many backpackers love them because of their quality. In other words, they are worth every penny spent.
Pros
  • 2-inch Heel Height
  • 75-inch Platform
  • Removable Insole
  • Metatomical EVA Footbed
  • Non-marking, Rubber Outsole
Cons
  • Size runs wide
  • Size runs small

8. Merrell Siren Edge

8. Merrell Siren Edge
Trail-ready, these only need you to place your feet within them. They are equipped with multi-directional lugs, provide grip during dry-to-wet surface changes, have an anti-debris tongue, and ghillie laces. Furthermore, these will help your feet to remain cool with the mesh lining and upper. In addition, they utilize M-Select which fights odor.
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Vibram Outsole
A Vibram outsole helps you to keep your traction while traversing multi-terrain types. Great for light hiking, this product by Merrell is both trail-ready and provide decent traction in low dry-to-wet surface scenarios.

Bellows Tongue
No one desires pebbles digging into their feet while attempting to enjoy their day hiking the trails. As such, the tongue is designed to help keep debris out. This will allow you to enjoy the day, as it should be.

Cost and Value
The cost associated with this pair of Merrell's is mid-to-upper. Size-dependent, these are great for light trails and are cute to boot! As such, this pair is an ideal choice for the hiking enthusiast; especially, with all of the colors available.
Pros
  • Vibram Outsole
  • Bellows Tongue
  • Ghille Laces
  • Air-cushion Heel
  • Mesh Upper
Cons
  • Size runs narrow

9. Merrell Moab FST

9. Merrell Moab FST
The Moab FST by Merrel has a Vibram MegaGrip outsole. With 5-millimeter lugs, they can handle heavier terrain types with ease. They are lightweight and are made with a TPU and mesh upper; allowing your feet to experience less fatigue; thus, your body will be able to make that 'extra mile' with a little more ease. Having multiple colors to choose from, this pair will be sure to match that unique hiking wardrobe you may have tucked away for an occasion such as this.
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Padded Tongue and Collar
Bellows tongue and a padded collar help to provide comfort, a better fit, and an anti-debris environment. Furthermore, this setup helps your feet to feel good while the day wears on.

Mesh and TPU Upper
This is a pair which is ideal for summer, as the TPU and mesh uppers allow your feet to breathe amicably; no more warring with sweat while trying to enjoy your day.

Cost and Value
Midrange is the cost associated with this pair. Ready for the heavier trails, these will perform great in multi-terrain types, wet-to-dry situations, and in warm environments. As such, they would be an ideal choice for those desiring to add to their footwear collection.
Pros
  • 5-mm Lug Depth
  • Vibram MegaGrip Outsole
  • Mesh and TPU Upper
  • Padded Tongue and Collar
  • 3-inch Shaft Height
Cons
  • Size runs narrow

10. Salomon Ellipse GTX

10. Salomon Ellipse GTX
The Salomon Ellipse GTX is considered lightweight, which is great for hikers that like to move at a faster pace. Additionally, having GORE-TEX ingenuity, these are waterproofed. Furthermore, Sensifit technology allows a better fit, and Contagrip technology creates an anti-slip environment and better bite into the terrain.
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Support
The Salomon Ellipse GTX have a metatomical footbed; that is, they are designed to contour to your foot in a natural way. Furthermore, Sensifit technology is in place to snug your foot all around; thereby, enabling a more secure fit while, simultaneously, giving you the comfort you need.

Traction
Salomon utilizes a Contagrip rubber outsole, a design with multi-directional lugs which is great for traveling over multi-terrain types. The rubber is a little bit sticky; ensuring you grab the ground when it is needed most.

Cost and Value
The price is a considerably reasonable price, as it is midrange of cost association. With the high-quality makeup of materials and waterproofing ability, these are not only ready for multi-weather types but are a great price, too.
Pros
  • Waterproof
  • Contagrip Technology
  • Sensifit Technology
  • GORE-TEX Technology
  • Full Leather/Suede Leather/Synthetic Upper
Cons
  • Size runs narrow
  • Minimal color variety

11. Columbia Redmond

11. Columbia Redmond
Trail-ready and a design for those humid environments, no less; this is a pair perfect for individuals hiking when the weather is, otherwise, miserable. An Omni-Tech bootie helps to keep your feet remain dry, and the mesh upper allows them to remain cool. Furthermore, the Techlite midsole helps to ensure 'spring' in your bounce, as it provides good energy return. Finally, non-marking traction will help you to guard against environmental damage.
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Techlite Midsole
This midsole helps your feet to remain comfortable. Providing you with decent energy return, you will experience less fatigue, as a result of walking. This is, especially, important when traversing hilly areas.

Omni-Tech Bootie Construction
Perfect for areas with high humidity, Omni-Tech bootie construction is in place to help your feet remain dry. In conjunction with the mesh upper, your feet will be in a breathable environment; thereby, allowing you to enjoy the day while on your hike.

Cost and Value
This pair is midrange in cost association. With a decent amount of technology and design for humid environments, these are a great choice for those living in or visiting areas of the 'hot and sticky' variety.
Pros
  • Omni-Tech Bootie Construction
  • Suede Leather and Mesh Upper
  • Omni-Grip, Rubber Outsole
  • Techlite Midsole
  • Non-marking Traction
Cons
  • Break-in period
  • Toe box fits tight

12. Adidas Terrex Ax2R

12. Adidas Terrex Ax2R
Get ready for the trails with this pair by Adidas. Equipped with TRAXION™ technology, the rubber outsole is perfect in unexpected situations where the terrain may switch to wet from dry at a moment's notice. The mesh/synthetic upper allows your feet to remain cool during warmer environments, and the molded sockliner provides a better fit.
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TRAXION™ Technology
These hold up well in wet surfaces. Built with TRAXION™ technology, the rubber outsole helps you to retain grip, especially when surfaces change from dry to wet.

EVA Midsole
This midsole provides cushioning; great for those rocky terrains, as your feet will have adequate protection. Furthermore, used in conjunction with an AdiPRENE insert, you will remain comfortable as the day wears on.

Cost and Value
These have a wide range of cost association. Ranging from lower to high, this pair is size-dependent. With all of the technology in place, however, they are worth the purchase price.
Pros
  • Rubber Outsole
  • EVA Midsole
  • TRAXION™ Technology
  • Molded Sockliner
  • Mesh/Synthetic Upper
Cons
  • Size runs small/narrow
  • Size fits tight

13. Hanagal Evoque II

13. Hanagal Evoque II
Are you uncertain of your furthering adventures of hiking but still are heading out with a group of friends? This style might be perfect, as they are budget-friendly; yet, they provide an ample amount of protection, stability, flexibility, and comfort for light trails. Having to-the-toe lacing, you are certain to have a better fit, allowing you to feel more secure; even if you might be uncertain of the terrain itself.
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Abrasion-resistant Toe Bumper
On and off the trail, this toe bumper is in place to help protect you. Abrasion-resistant, the rubber is an ideal choice for those uncertain of the terrain they might be facing.

To-the-toe Lacing
This lacing system helps to provide a snugger fit, and as such, your feet will feel more comfortable and secure. Moreover, a snug fit means you will be safer because they do not slip around your feet.

Cost and Value
This pair is budget-friendly. They are the great choice for those hiking in cooler environments, or those uncertain about the long-term nature of their hiking adventures, as these shoes are cost-efficient. With a POLIYOU footbed and leather upper, they have a decent combination of both flexibility and stability.
Pros
  • Leather Upper
  • Abrasion-resistant Toe Bumper
  • To-the-toe Lacing
  • POLIYOU Footbed
  • Budget-friendly
Cons
  • Minimal color variety

14. Columbia North Plains II

14. Columbia North Plains II
Trail-ready, this pair can handle light-to-medium rocky terrains. In addition, they are equipped with a Techlite midsole, have Omni-Grip traction, abrasion-resistant toe cap, non-marking outsole, a leather and textile upper, and are made with waterproof bootie construction. In other words, the technology is present to allow you to enjoy your day traversing the trail wilds.
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Rubber Outsole
This outsole provides ample traction when traversing light-to-medium rocky-terrain types. Utilizing Omni-Grip technology, this outsole is non-marking; thus, allowing you to be environmentally-friendly.

Waterproof, Membrane Bootie Construction
The bootie construction is seam-sealed; thereby, allowing your feet to remain dry. As the upper is not made to be fully waterproof, however, the bootie only serves as 'waterproof' in low-wet conditions. This means if you pass through morning dew, you are likely to remain dry.

Cost and Value
Midrange in cost association, this pair of hiking shoes is perfect for those heading for the light-to-medium rocky trails. Furthermore, they provide ample traction, decent low-level waterproofing, an abrasion-resistant toe cap, and a non-marking outsole. As such, this pair is worth every penny.
Pros
  • Rubber Outsole
  • Omni-Grip Traction
  • Techlite Midsole
  • Abrasion-resistant Toe Cap
  • Waterproof, Membrane Bootie Construction
Cons
  • Break-in period

15. Columbia Dakota Drifter

15. Columbia Dakota Drifter
The Dakota Drifter from Columbia is equipped with Omni-TECH™ bootie construction. This helps to ensure your feet remain dry in light, wet conditions. Additionally, Omni-GRIP™ traction is great for those hitting the rocky terrains, as the lug pattern supports those trails deemed to be light in nature. Finally, all-day comfort is achievable via the Techlite midsole.
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Non-marking Outsole
For those who care about their environment while traversing through beautiful and gorgeous terrains, this outsole is non-marking. Additionally, it provides decent grip with Omni-GRIP™ technology.

Omni-TECH™ Bootie Construction
Omni-TECH™ bootie construction is waterproofing via seam sealing. This means your feet will remain dry in unexpected low-lying water conditions. They are not waterproof, as the upper has not been treated with waterproofing technologies. This means that although the bootie construction helps in aiding water prevention, the upper can still allow water inside of the shoe.

Cost and Value
Budget-friendly, these shoes are great for mild, rocky-terrain types. Furthermore, they provide decent technology to help provide an environmentally-friendly scenario, as the outsole is non-marking. In addition, they are equipped with a Techlite midsole which provides added comfort. As such, this pair of best hiking shoes is worth the purchase price.
Pros
  • Omni-TECH™ Bootie Construction
  • Omni-GRIP™ Traction
  • Non-marking Outsole
  • Techlite Midsole
  • Padded Tongue and Collar
Cons
  • Size runs small
  • Minimal color variety

With the variety of hiking footwear available, hiking shoes with extra cushion, waterproof uppers, extra support, and high traction can make your experience on the trail become more ideal but your prep work more difficult. This is why we created this review to provide insight into the very best hiking shoes to help you avoid a headache; so, you can get out there with the best on your feet.

Criteria used to Evaluate the Best Hiking Shoes

best-hiking-shoes-faq

What to Look For

When looking for the best footwear for the outdoors, as is where hiking occurs, of course, you need to consider how durable the design is and its ability to withstand water, as you will be running by of streams or rivers, even snow, and you need to, also, understand how well it performs in rugged settings. Yes, that is a vague statement, and there is much more to consider in specifics such as weight, protection, the comfort factor, and much more. In short, hiking can be grueling or casual depending on your level; so, you need to consider every aspect before getting out there; and to be sure you have the perfect fit, you need to choose accordingly. Here’s how:

Durability & Protection

Think dirt, rocks, rivers, snow, holes, uneven terrain, and enough hazardous objects to line a mountain twice. In this, there are plenty of reasons to consider your safety, and even more to consider the protection in which you need to provide for your feet. That’s one of the main reasons casual footwear will not suffice on the trail. You need protection from the elements, whatever the season may be. Mother Nature is unforgiving; thus, you want to make sure your feet are prepared, as they will be one of the key elements in what gets you in and out.

Aspects that contribute to the Durability & Protection
  • Waterproofing/Water-resistance – This may come in the form of a GORE-TEX (GTX) lining or the lack of breathable mesh material of the upper; meaning that a trail sneaker will be, generally, less breathable than those made for casual, everyday use, as seen with those comprised mainly of leather. The compromise is necessary; as you can expect to be hiking through rougher terrain than you will usually, normally, see, otherwise. Keep in mind, there are styles of every degree. If you are doing casual, easy hiking, you can find yourself a good fit that is comprised of extremely breathable (synthetic) mesh and get away with it. If you are partaking in backpacking or hiking through unpredictable terrain, however, you want as much protection as possible; so, you will go with a leather-made design. You never know when you will encounter streams or rivers with no options other than to plow through. You will find other styles with either a full-bootie waterproof membrane or a pieced-together seam-sealed inner layer. If you want a fully waterproof design, chances are, your favorite pair is offered in a GTX version.

 

  • Thicker, heavier, and layered upper material – If you want lightweight, you are looking in the wrong direction. Hiking footwear is made to withstand constant impact with rocks, corrosion that comes with moisture retention, and long miles through dust and dirt. This means you will, typically, find the proper style is comprised of a material that is heavier, more layered, and tougher than the standard athletic sneakers. One thing for sure is that you won’t be seeing Flyknit or Primeknit uppers on hiking sneakers. You will find either synthetic or leather. The leather that you will find on hiking footwear will, generally, be cowhide, as it has the best balance of durability and flexibility. Synthetic uppers do not contain animal products, but rather are either composed of durable nylon or polyester, or a combination of both. The leather is, generally, less breathable and more ideal for rougher terrains as it is tough; whereas, synthetic uppers are less in weight, more breathable, but do not offer as much protection; so, they are great for easy trails.
    • Leather UpperPerfect for taking a beating and for rougher environments. Although, it is relatively heavy. Great for snow, or rocky terrain.
    • Synthetic Upper – Lightweight and breathable, but may tear easily if snagged on bushes or rubbed on rocks consistently. Great for hot weather.

 

  • Stiffer Sole/Thicker Sole – There are, also, hiking footwear that is better for speed hiking, which has less stiff, more flexible soles but most are, generally, more stiff and durable than the sole of your everyday sneakers. This not only adds to the longevity of the sole but gives more stability for carrying your hiking equipment and backpack, as most hikers will carry from 30 to 40lbs, depending on the duration of the trip. If you’re a backpacker and have 40+ pounds on your back, we recommend as stiff of a sole as they come. You will need the extra support and protection for the weight and long miles. You will still find materials such as Vibram’s in the midsole composition of most hiking sneakers, but the added layers of material provide extra protection, making even this generally flexible material stiff.
    • Polyurethane Foam – One of the more dense materials used in midsoles that are typically longer lasting than other’s but much less of a cushion.
    • Ethylene Vinyl Acetate – Arguably the most popular of midsole materials. EVA is extremely soft and cushioning, fairly durable (not as durable as PU) but much more pleasant to walk on.

Note:  There are multiple components that make up footwear in general. These components include the upper, footbed, inner, insole, midsole, outsole, and sometimes an extra layer called the Topsole. Not every pair will include a pronounced outsole or Topsole. Some styles include one layer, although you will, typically, find most every layer included in hiking footwear. The quality of the shank, also, is important when considering sturdiness. Ballerina or Pointe footwear (nearly complete flexibility), for example, will have a thin shank allowing for spins and etc.; whereas, work boots come equipped with a sturdier shank (ideal for climbing ladders and etc.).

  • Steel Shank / Rock Plate – Just as you would see in industrial-grade work boots, some high-quality hiking sneakers (and boots) have steel shanks integrated into them, as previously noted. With work boots, they protect against the penetration of external objects such as nails; and with hiking footwear, they do the same, except the protection will be against sharp rocks (mainly) and other ground hazards, as there are many. Alternatively, the plate will be made with a hard plastic but serves the same purpose.

Weather Protection

Weather protection is particular and needs to be covered in its own, although it goes hand-in-hand with the overall protection of proper hiking footwear. Generally, footwear for the outdoors includes protection from harsh weather from the main components they may feature, such as Gore-Tex linings or other waterproofing material, and thicker layers to accommodate for extreme conditions if that’s what you may find yourself in. But there’s much more to weather protection than just the basics. In fact, there are too many different types of weather conditions for one type of solution to fit all. As such, you will need to consider every aspect of every specific situation or season you will be hiking in.

Additional weatherproofing may come in the form of wax coatings on full-grain leather for the purpose of waterproofing if a GTX option isn’t available for that particular style. For the same purpose, you may, also, find a hydrophobic DWR (durable water-repellent) finish or oil coating, depending on the manufacturer’s choice for their footwear. A poorly made product with any weatherproofing method will still leak; so, you need to make sure to only obtain footwear from trusted, reputable brands, which we have listed.

Additional Points of Weather Protection to Consider
  • Dealing with the elements – Skip synthetic for cold, rockier, and harsh conditions. The leather is much more protective and durable. In scolding heat, synthetic will be your best friend, as you will need the airflow and breathability it provides.
  • Waterproofing is only one form of weather protection – Waterproofing comes in handy if you’re in a wet setting saturated with streams, or find yourself in rain, although it is just one form of protection from the weather.
  • Consider if you will encounter snow on your hike (Usually, more prevalent at higher altitudes) – In snow, waterproofing is needed (go with leather), but you will, also, need extra insulation. In addition to more insulation, you want to consider crampons, micro-spikes, or even snowshoe attachments.
  • Consider Gaiters – Gaiters not only come in handy in the snow to keep the insides of your sneakers snow-free but they, also, keep everything else out. They are a worthy investment and a smart addition to your hiking gear.
  • Hot weather / Hiking in the heat – Cut down on the waterproofing material and go with a synthetic/mesh upper which will allow much more effective temperature regulation. Also, go with a low cut collared hiking sneakers. There are plenty available.

Proper Fit

A properly fitting sneaker will prevent twisting or unwanted, excess movement of the foot that can lead to a sprained ankle, chafing, or blisters. Although you will get much more support for the ankles in a full-fledged boot, a proper sneaker for hiking should still provide ample support. Additionally, the form of the collar should fit in a way that debris isn’t allowed inside. You, also, want more room in the toe box, as hiking can lead to aching toes from constant pressure put on them, and the extra space will prevent that. It’s worth noting that the rugged of these designs has become somewhat of a fashion trend that some companies outside of the niche are capitalizing on. This means, there are styles out there that appear to be made for the trail but don’t have the proper fit or support in which a real hiking sneaker has.

Benefits of properly fitting hiking footwear
  • Sprained ankle prevention
  • Blister and excess rubbing prevention
  • Comfort through extended miles
  • Prevention from external debris
  • Prevention of pains in the toe area (should have extra toe room)
  • Provides additional support and overall steadiness

Note: Don’t go for a sneaker just because it looks like it’s made for the outdoors. Make sure the specifications and features are up to par and provide what’s needed for the trails.

Breathability / Temperature Regulation / Air-Flow

Breathability is important but it’s, also, a contradiction to some situations where a completely sealed hiking sneaker will be more effective. Although, there will be instances where you will need a more breathable pair, and waterproofing won’t be needed.

In a waterproofed sneaker, airflow will be at an all-time low, and temperature regulation will be minimal. Because of this, your feet will heat up quickly, which is why in hotter weather, a leather based material is not recommended. Thick leather may lack airflow and is naturally water-resistant; so, along with your feet getting too hot to handle, moisture accumulation from sweating may occur. Only use a leather-based option in hotter weather if you must. This means a strenuous hike where you will need the extra protection that it offers. The same goes for Gore-Tex materials. There is no need for a GTX if you don’t plan on walking through streams, or hiking through snow. On another note, Gore-Tex is fairly breathable (for a water-resistant material, at least), but not relatively.

On a hot day where you won’t need full protection and can compromise a little bit, go with a product made of suede leather/nylon if you still want a balance of protection with breathability. For optimal airflow and breathability, go with full synthetic. This means your sneaker will be comprised largely of mesh which will give ample temperature regulation and moisture management.

Choose wisely, and consider where you will be hiking.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

best-hiking-shoes-crit

Q: What material should I look for in this style of footwear?
A: For the upper, if you are backpacking or doing a strenuous hike, you need to go with the leather, as it is much more durable and water-resistant than any other. If you prefer lightweight with optimum breathability and don’t need the extra protection leather offers, however, you can go with synthetic uppers. The leather is, also, pricier but offers better overall support. For midsole material, you should either go with EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) which is very cushioned or Polyurethane (PU) which is more supportive, dense, and durable.

Q: Should I go with a sneaker or a boot?
A: There are major differences between these two styles. The most notable difference is the ankle support you will get from a boot, and the heavier weight the added material will provide. You should also be aware of MID styles that can be considered boots. MID footwear are models that have a raised rim to provide that extra support and, typically, come in a low version. Boots are much better for backpacking and extended trips on the trail, and we recommend them for those who carry more than 30 pounds of accumulative backpack or gear weight.  If you are doing an easy day hike, however, carrying a lightweight pack, you don’t need the extra support, and a great hiking sneaker will suffice.

Q: What types of leather can be seen on hiking footwear other than the common cowhide?
A: Although cowhide leather is common because of its combination of durability, water-resistant properties, and relative flexibility, you will see footwear composed of leather manufactured through different curing methods. This includes full-grain leather which is very strong and holds a great rating in water-resistance and balanced with breathability. You, also, need to consider the thickness of the leather used. An ideal thickness will be in the range of 1.4 millimeters, as higher the thickness the more supportive the footwear will be. You may, also, see Nubuck leather, which is very similar to suede. It’s just as water-resistant to full grain, but much more flexible, although compromises in durability.

Q: Is a break-in period necessary?
A: Yes! Breaking in any style of footwear is extremely important before lengthy usage. This is more important in this particular vein of footwear, as it can easily tear up your feet and heels. Nobody wants blisters, or sores!

Q: What’s the typical break-in period that can be expected?
A: This depends on a couple of factors with the material being one. Full grain leather is much harder and stiffer than any other material, generally, seen on hiking footwear; therefore, taking much longer to break in properly. Before going on any big hikes, wear your pair regularly for three days or so (or a few small hikes) if they are full grain leather to break them in. Nubuck may take a wear or two to properly break in, but split grain and synthetic footwear require minimal time, as they are naturally flexible. It’s arguable that those pairs comprised of split grain or synthetic don’t need to be broken in at all.

Q: Is there a difference between hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering?
A: Yes! They all include the great outdoors but each is a very different activity and requires different gear. Backpacking consists of long miles where you will be bringing all your camping gear with you and be sleeping under the stars for multiple nights at a time. This means you will be carrying a heavy load and will need more support in order to handle the load.

Hiking, generally, consists of a round trip that can be done in a day, whether hiking up a trail, the summit of your favorite mountain, or hiking through your favorite county, state, or national park. Because hiking is, typically, done on maintained trails, and beaten paths, carrying only the essentials rather than a full load that includes a tent, you can get away with lighter options and don’t need the extra support of a MID or boot.

Mountaineering is the beast of the bunch and is, actually, mountain climbing in its rawest (but still safe) form. You will be scrambling over rocks, off-trail, climbing steep vertical ascensions, and trying to reach summits not accessible by casual hikers and usually where you will get no help if you find yourself in trouble. Mountaineering equipment is extremely expensive, and there are special footwear and gear you will need. In most cases, you won’t get away with anything less than the hardiest products on a mountaineering excursion.

Q: Are women’s styles made different than the options for men?
A:  for women are, typically, lighter in weight relative to their size than men’s designs. This goes for footwear in general. The anatomy of a woman’s foot compared to men’s is significantly different; so, there are some companies who make the women’s version tailored to her foot. Most models are just lighter in weight and don’t provide specific features for the women’s version, unfortunately. But, as competition rises between companies, we are starting to see more men- and- women-specific products. A word of advice for women hikers from someone who’s lead hikes of all degrees for 5+ years and counting; even a men’s sneaker that is made of quality and fits well will suffice. Just find the best fit for you according to your preferences.

Sources

  1. Hi-Tec, Leather Versus Synthetic Footwear,
  2. Merrell Team, What's inside a Hiking Shoe?,
  3. REI Staff, Hiking Footwear: How to Choose,
  4. Sierra Trading Post, Hiking Footwear Guide,
  5. Scott Hicks, How to Choose the Right Hiking Shoes,
  6. The Clymb, How to Buy Hiking Footwear,
  7. HikingDude, All About Hiking Footwear,
  8. Wiki, About EVA Foam,
  9. Wiki, About DWA Coating,
  10. Carol D. Kiesinger | George Alan Smith, Mountaineering,
  11. OGL, Hiking Shoes for Women,
  12. OGL, Testing Hiking Shoes for Women,
  13. Anaconda Stores, Womens Hiking and Trail Shoes,
  14. Wikipedia, Keen (shoe company), Definition, Mar 26, 2018


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