If you’re of the opinion that there’s nothing quite as relaxing as throwing a backpack over your shoulders and walking into the woods, perhaps you’ve learned some footwear lessons the hard way — like climbing a snowy mountain and removing your mud-soaked tennis shoes to find frostbitten and blistered feet. Hiking doesn’t require lots of gear, but shoes matter.
So which shoes should you buy? That can depend on your adventure, and whether you’re trekking (or strolling) tree-lined paths, desert floors or rocky ridges. We spoke with dozens of hikers to compile this list that has something for everyone.
The trend in hiking is toward a lighter shoe. Gone are the days of lacing up heavy boots to walk even the most peaceful path. Heavier shoes equal more laborious hikes, and the truth is such bulky footwear is unnecessary.
Trail runners are so light you barely know they’re there, and technology makes them surprisingly sturdy. We’d pick them for every season except winter, as they typically provide the best balance between weight, durability and comfort. Here are two of our favorites.
Salomon Men’s Xa Pro 3D Trail Running Shoe (starting at $71.99; amazon.com)
Hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, you might expect to see hikers wearing boots. You’d be surprised. This shoe from trusted Salomon was by far the most popular we saw on the trail. After trying them ourselves, we found each pair lasted 600 miles — an incredible feat for such a lightweight shoe. There’s a waterproof version, but we recommend going with this instead. Waterproof shoes can’t stop water from entering over the top and they take longer to dry.
Altra AFM1855F Men’s Lone Peak 4 Trail Running Shoe (starting at $80.66; amazon.com)
A pair of these shoes hardly weighs more than a pound, which means you’ll feel light as a feather bounding up almost any trail. They have great traction that holds up on rough terrain, and they dry quickly. A wider toe box avoids squishing your feet, which means fewer blisters, more comfort and a host of other benefits. These are a good choice if you’re an ultralight backpacker or a day hiker. They’re not made for snow.
Trail runners are perfect when there’s no snow and you have less than 35 pounds on your back. But on backpacking trips where you carry a lot of weight, your feet might flatten like pancakes.
Often the solution is to pack less, but if you can’t — or if you aren’t quite ready to make the leap to trail runners — lightweight hiking shoes are a good compromise. They’re more durable and the sole is more rigid than lighter footwear. This means you won’t feel the rocks under your feet as acutely. But it also raises the risk of less comfort and more blisters.
The North Face Ultra 110 Gore-Tex ($72, originally $120; thenorthface.com)
These shoes weigh only about 2 pounds, so you’re not going to feel like you’re carrying dumbbells on your feet. The added weight and stiffer sole offer great protection against rocks and more support if you’re carrying a larger pack. Their tight mesh and leather composition means they’ll likely last longer than trail runners, and Gore-Tex lining is the perfect waterproofing for day hikes. Just make sure to break them in before using them on the trail.
Merrell Moab 2 Vent Mid Hiking Boot (starting at $79.98; amazon.com)
This light but durable boot is made with suede leather and breathable mesh that can survive years of use. It’s that mesh that makes this Merrell product so wildly popular. Fans of the shoe say they can hike for hours in summer heat without getting swampy feet. We suggest staying clear of the waterproof version, which sacrifices that breathability. Order your size in the wide model if you’re looking for a roomier toe box.
Vasque Men’s Breeze III Hiking Boots (starting at $119.99; amazon.com)
This boot is considered a “mid” because it’s taller than your average shoe, providing ankle stability. However, it doesn’t climb as high as a normal boot, which keeps it light and comfortable. Fans of this boot love it for the ankle support it provides on wobbly rocks as well as the solid traction its grip allows. Many also appreciate the balance the shoe strikes between breathability and waterproofing.
Part of the fun of an adventure is accessing places other people consider off limits. Too muddy? Too snowy? Slick ice? Many may say, “Turn around!” — but with the right gear, the real reward is pushing on.
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