No one wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of hiking shoes only to regret it during their first hike.
The wrong pair of hiking shoes can lack traction and cause discomfort, only to fall apart after only a few hikes. That’s why it’s so important to find a pair that provide proper support, ample grip on various types of terrain, and are durable enough to last for many hikes to come.
In this guide, I’ll provide you with the knowledge you need to select the perfect pair of hiking shoes that will allow you to enjoy your future hikes to the fullest.
My Review Process
If you are new to the exciting world of hiking, then let me be the first to tell you that a good pair of boots is by far the most important gear you will need.
I have been an avid hiker for my entire life, and it has been a primary part of most of my environmental science jobs. Unfortunately, I have sustained numerous severe lower-body injuries over the course of my outdoor career.
This means it is especially important that I use the best possible shoes on the market. I have used subpar shoes before, and they leave me on the couch stiff and in pain. I am going to help you avoid this altogether.
The best hiking shoes combine comfort, durability, and excellent traction all in a lightweight package. A great pair of shoes will keep your feet warm but not sweaty and will provide sufficient ankle and arch support for years to come.
The Lone Peak Hikers are a burlier, more versatile, and more cushiony version of the popular Lone Peak trail running shoes from Altra. Altra may not be the most famous brand of hiking shoes; however, they make without a doubt the best overall hiking shoes of 2023.
These versatile hiking shoes can handle more technical excursions on rocky trails. They are still lightweight enough to justify buying a pair for short trail hikes or as an everyday shoe in a concrete jungle.
Despite their superior construction, they are definitely too wide for people with narrow feet. They also lack ankle support even though they are mid-high-cut shoes. Altra more than makes up for this with the price tag and added cushioning in the sole. This makes the Lone Peak Hiker an affordable and comfy pair of boots that you will be happy to wear day after day.
The Moab 3s check all the boxes of a top-tier pair of hiking shoes at a bargain price. As a lifelong hiker who has spent many paychecks on hiking shoes, take it from me that this is much more uncommon than you would think.
Unlike many similar pairs, they are stylish and feel great on your feet right out of the box. This means no uncomfortable break-in period to trudge through.
They have a combo of suede and mesh uppers which are perfect for keeping your feet from drowning in sweat while holding up to daily wear and tear.
The only downside that I can find with the Moab 3s is the lack of a waterproof option. Most hiking shoes from Merrell offer both options for each model, but not in this case. They may not be the best choice for rainy-day hikes, but the lack of waterproofing boosts their breathability, keeping your feet dry. This means they are ideal for hiking in the heat of the summer in hot dry climates.
If you are looking to get into hiking as a full-time hobby without breaking the bank, the Moab 3 is a perfect choice.
Despite how burly these Columbia hiking shoes look, they are surprisingly comfortable. They have an added bonus of a short break-in period, meaning they are a pleasure to wear right out of the box!
These hiking boots for beginners are a combo of leather, suede, and mesh. That makes them stylish and durable. Weighing in at only 13 ozs per boot, they are also surprisingly light. This is impressive considering that they come with a heavy-duty rubber heel and partial toe cap for added protection.
The only downside is their lack of arch support and breathability. They are made primarily of waterproof leather, which explains the breathability issue. On the other hand, they are great for keeping your feet dry when having to cross rivers or streams.They are still more than enough for beginner hikers on short treks that aren’t super technical.
As far as an affordable pair of versatile and durable women’s hiking shoes go, Columbia’s Newton Ridge Plus shoes are the cream of the crop.
The Breeze Lt GTX is an ideal men’s hiking shoe because of its versatility. As an avid hiker, it's always nice to have one shoe that can tackle multiple types of rough terrain.
The mid-cut design offers more ankle support and protection than a low-cut while allowing for more freedom and comfort than a high-top boot. The mesh uppers offer much-needed breathability and weight reduction, making these shoes the perfect balance between durability and keeping your feet dry.
Because of the design, the rubber rand on the toe and heel can be prone to delaminating. That being said, they are built with strong materials so they will still last for many hiking trips to come.
These hiking shoes from Vasque are among the best for men, especially once you consider their versatility and price. They are waterproof and supportive enough to handle just about any beginner level hike, both on and off the trail.
Salomon’s X Ultra 4 GTX achieves the perfect balance of support, traction, and durability all while being one of the lightest boots on the market. They are made of a synthetic blend of materials which is why they are so durable and still weigh less than 1.5 lbs.
Salomon’s patented Quicklace system helps add to the comfort and support of the shoe. It pulls the toe and side panels up over the foot for a snug and secure fit every time you use them. Some boots can become less comfortable over time as they break in, but not the X Ultra 4 GTXs.
The X Ultra 4 GTX provide ample traction, water resistance, and support, which lightweight hiking shoes tend to lack. This release from Salomon is a top-of-the-line lightweight hiking shoe for hikers of any skill level.
There are few things worse than having the sole of your shoe blow out in the middle of a long hike. That’s why it’s important to prioritize a pair of hiking boots that are made of strong materials like the Oboz Firebrand II BDry.
As far as hiking shoes go, they are as durable as they come. The leather upper is much more sturdy than mesh and still provides you with a comfortable cuff around your ankle. There is also a nylon shank that stiffens the sole, making it easier to traverse boulders and talus fields.
With strength and durability comes weight; it is virtually unavoidable when creating a burly pair of hiking boots. These shoes aren’t an exception to the rule, but at just over 1 lb, it is hardly a sacrifice when compared to how long they will last you.
Things To Look For When Buying Hiking Shoes
Most popular hiking shoes weigh around 1-3 pounds. Ultralight models are going to weigh about a pound, lightweight models around 1-2 pounds, and the most durable models will be closer to 3 pounds.
Every type of boot has its own tradeoffs depending on its weight.
If you are looking for a hiking shoe that is super comfortable for long hikes, then an ultralight should be on top of your list. Keep in mind that they may not hold up to wear and tear as long as heavier boots.
If you want a more durable option that will last many seasons, look for something with a little extra weight to it; however, they will be more physically taxing on long-distance hikes.
I have endured extensive lower body injuries so I need to take extra special care of my lower body and back if I want to continue hiking when I grow old.
This is a big part of why I consider ankle support to be the most important characteristic in a pair of hiking boots. Even a healthy hiker can feel the stress that hiking imposes on their ankles, knees, and back.
Hiking boots come in low, mid, and high-top cuts. Higher-cut boots offer more ankle support, but limit ankle mobility. Low-cut hiking shoes are lighter and provide the best range of ankle movement, but lack support for someone with weaker ankles, such as myself.
Durability / Stiffness / Stability
Durability and stiffness aren’t necessarily related; a soft pair of boots can last just as long as a stiff pair. The most important factor to look at is the materials used in the construction of the boot.
For instance, waterproof leathers are usually stronger than synthetics and mesh but are much heavier. However, synthetics break in faster and dry quicker. It’s important to match the material of your boot with what you intend to use it for.
If most of your hikes are going to be short, flat, and dry then you should consider a boot made of mesh, suede, or nylon. As you progress into more technical terrain or wetter climates you will want the extra strength of leather and synthetic combos to protect your feet.
Waterproof / Non-Waterproof
Hiking shoes come in waterproof and non-waterproof versions. Most of the time you can even find both versions offered within the same model of boot.
Depending on where and what time of the year you do most of your hiking, you may not need a pair of hiking shoes with waterproof membranes. They can actually make your feet wetter because of the lack of breathability which causes your feet to sweat.
You will want to focus on a waterproof boot if you live in a wet climate or prefer to do most of your hiking around streams and rivers.
Overall, the beginner hiking shoes with the best rating in every category are the Altra Lone Peak Hiker. If you prefer a pair of lightweight hiking boots that are comfy enough to hike in all day every day, the Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX is the pair for you. As far as long-term life and durability go, the Oboz Firebrand II BDry are as strong as they come.
Yes, technically you can hike in any shoes, but certain shoes can be uncomfortable or downright dangerous. Hiking shoes are built with extra support for your arches and ankles that other shoes can’t provide. Using an unsupportive shoe can lead to sprains, tears, and breaks, so be sure to use hiking shoes when in the field.
Yes, it is ok to wear running shoes for hiking, as long as you stay on the trail and the types of terrain are well maintained. Wearing running shoes on muddy or rocky trails can lead to discomfort, injury, and unnecessary wear and tear on the shoe.
Hiking shoes are best for shorter hikes and on-trail expeditions, though they can usually handle rocky or muddy trails as well. Day hiking boots are best for day hikes and shorter backpacking trips as long as you don’t have a heavy pack. Backpacking boots are the burliest of the three, and are made for long backpacking trips with heavy loads.
If you prefer shorter day trips away from rocky terrain, go with a pair of hiking shoes. If you are drawn to longer backpacking trips with a heavy load on your back, go with hiking boots.
If you plan on exploring rocky or muddy trails, then yes it is a very good idea. Hiking shoes provide more durability, comfort, and protection than running shoes do, and they can save you from unnecessary discomfort and injury.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.