A solid pair of hiking boots can take you far, but when you want something lighter, more versatile, and easier to break in, the thing you’re looking for is a pair of hiking shoes. Sneaker-style hiking shoes look a lot like trail runners, and in fact, many of these shoes are technically trail running shoes. Regardless of what they were built for, these shoes are ready for the miles of adventures ahead.
Best Hiking Shoes
- Most Comfortable: Altra Lone Peak 6
- A Great Fit for Most Feet: Brooks Cascadia 16
- Most Affordable: Merrell Trail Glove 6
- Best for Technical Terrain: Hoka Speedgoat 4
- Most Versatile: Saucony Peregrine 12
- Most Durable: Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof
- Best Waterproof Hiking Shoe: Salomon X Ultra 3 Low GTX
- Best for Steep Terrain: La Sportiva Wildcat
- Best Cushioning: On Cloudultra
- Maximum Cushioning Meets Zero Drop: Altra Olympus 4
The Expert: I’ve been hiking and trail running for as long as I can remember. I’ve also been professionally testing and reviewing trail shoes for seven years, hiking thousands of miles in minimalist styles and ultra-beefy off-trail shoes. I understand how various terrain demands different support underfoot and what features appeal to all sorts of hikers. I also see what the hiking community is wearing on long-distance trails. My gear reviews and other work has appeared in Backpacker, Outside, Backpacking Light, and The Trek, among other outlets. And two years ago, I cofounded Backpacking Routes, a website that connects backpackers with long-distance trails across the country.
How to Find the Best Hiking Shoes for You
Shopping for a hiking shoe comes with a few considerations. Think about your terrain and weather. Will you be hiking on more technical trails, or on trails with smoother tread? A shoe with multidirectional lugs, a rock plate, and a beefier upper is better suited for technical trails, whereas a lighter, more flexible trail shoe works great for well-maintained trails. Also consider whether you want a waterproof upper. A waterproof membrane, such as Gore-Tex or a company’s proprietary bootie that’s combined with the other upper materials, offers more protection from cold and wet weather but also won’t dry out as fast if your shoe gets submerged.
A hiking shoe is a personal preference, and I recommend trying a pair on before committing. Once you find one that works for you, stick with it. Most brands update their top-sellers with new materials and construction every year or two.
How We Evaluated These Hiking Shoes
To recommend the best hiking shoes, I considered different styles of hiking, hiker preferences, and the distances and terrain people might encounter on trails around the country. There’s a shoe here that’s suitable for whatever terrain you might be faced with, be it steep, rugged, and rocky or flat and sandy. Some models below are best for long days in the mountains, and others are fast-and-light shoes meant for quick jaunts around your local hills. What they all have in common is out-of-the-box comfort. For each model, the weight listed, per half pair, is a men’s size 9.
PM: When do you prefer to wear hiking shoes instead of boots?
M.S.: I almost always wear hiking shoes—specifically trail-running shoes—instead of boots. In this piece, the majority of hiking shoes are also trail-running shoes. This style of trail shoe has as much (or more) traction and stability as true hiking shoes but are often lighter, more flexible, and require less break-in out of the box. I only wear hiking boots if I’m tackling steep scree, off-trail scrambles, or if I’m hiking in the snow and need extra insulation and protection.
PM: When is it time to upgrade from a pair of regular sneakers to shoes designed specifically for the trail?
M.S.: Regular sneakers are definitely okay to hike in. Even lightweight road-running shoes will still have enough traction and protection for the occasional hike. Keep in mind you might not have the same level of cushion in the midsole or traction in the outsole that you’ll find in a trail-running sneaker or hiking shoe. I recommend switching to a trail shoe once you start hiking trails with steeper terrain, slippery rocks, roots, mud, or rough sections that can fatigue your feet or cause bruising from long miles on rocky or uneven tread.
PM: Do you prefer your hiking shoes to have a waterproof membrane or not? Why?
M.S.: I usually steer clear of waterproof hiking shoes, unless I’m hiking in snow or slush. I’ve found most hiking shoes dry super quickly after getting wet, and the non-waterproof options are more breathable than models with a waterproof membrane. Plus, if I’m crossing streams on my hikes, chances are the shoes will get wet from being fully submerged anyway, and then I’ll be stuck trying to dry out waterproof shoes and dealing with soggy socks.