Summer means long days, warm temps, and miles on the trail. And while we love a good pair of hiking boots, a hiking shoe is ideal for many trail adventures. They’re light and easy to move in, and they keep your feet cool. You’ll give up a bit of ankle support with a shoe, but many find the increased comfort and performance are worth the trade-off.
The footwear you choose for your adventure is arguably one of the most important elements of your kit, and it’s vital to find the shoe that works for you and the goals you have in mind. With so many brands and designs on the market, it can be difficult to choose which hiking shoe is best for you. We hope this guide assists in wading through the masses of models out there, and helps you dial in on the perfect fit.
The Best Hiking Shoes of 2023
Best of the Rest
1 lb., 4.6 oz.
Recycled engineered mesh
Technical trails and long thru-hikes
Maximum cushion and lightweight durability
Lighter than previous models
Gusseted tongue is a little short
Not as stable due to high stack height
2 lb., 2.8 oz.
Waterproof Nubuck leather, Oboz B-DRY waterproof/breathable membrane
Mid- to high-mileage backpacking journeys with loads up to 50 lbs.
Minimal break-in period
Durable and water-resistant
Tricky sizing; runs a bit large
Hiking Shoe Comparison Table
Why You Should Trust Us
In our search for the best hiking shoes, we spent months on the trail. From the dry Arizona desert to the hot and humid Appalachian Trail, and the Rocky Mountains, we’ve logged a lot of miles.
The recommendations on this list are the result of intensive testing and thorough observation. “Hiking” is a broad term, and not all people who hike have the same needs. While compiling our recommendations, we considered the intended use of each individual model. We paid careful attention to comfort, stability, outsole traction and grip, and long-term durability.
Chris Carter, one of the authors of this guide, has thru-hiked the Triple Crown of long trails in the United States: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. He’s plodded across the country in countless different models of hiking shoes, and knows the importance of dialing in on the perfect fit for various adventures.
Our hiking shoe testing process is ongoing. As we continue to wear and assess new models, we’ll update our recommendations for the best hiking shoes on a regular basis.
From day hiking to thru-hiking, the right pair of hiking shoes can become the most beloved and essential piece of gear in your kit. As the primary contact between you and the trail, your shoes make your adventures possible, and it’s imperative that they’re reliable.
While some still prefer the ankle support and robust structure of hiking boots, more and more hikers and backpackers are opting for the weight savings and nimble performance of hiking shoes. For any hiking endeavor, good-quality shoes are more than capable of handling a wide variety of terrain.
Because there are so many styles and variables, selecting the best hiking shoes for your unique needs can be difficult. In this guide, we include everything you need to know to select a pair of shoes that will treat your feet well and instill confidence in your stride.
Hiking Shoes vs. Boots
One of the main differences between hiking shoes and boots is the height. Whereas shoes have a below-the-ankle height, hiking boots offer full ankle support and high-top construction. What you give up in ankle support, you make up for in weight savings and out-of-the-box comfort.
Hiking shoes are great for day hikes, smooth trails, and anytime you want to go fast and light. For bigger backpacking trips with a heavier backpacking pack, you may want to consider a full hiking boot. That said, we know thru-hikers who swear by lightweight hiking shoes and day-trippers who won’t head out without their boots. It’s all about preference.
And while there isn’t a single best hiking shoe for everyone out there, we’ve broken down this list into categories to help find the best hiking shoe for you.
In recent years, hiking shoe technology has moved toward low-profile and lightweight designs. Modern fabrics and soles manage to be thinner and lighter without sacrificing performance on the trail. For long hikes and thru-hikes, the benefits of a light pair of shoes only grow as the miles wear on.
While many burly hiking boots weigh over 4 pounds per pair, hiking shoes tend to weigh around 2 pounds or less. If you like to go fast on the trail, or if you plan to do some trail running in your hiking shoes, light is undoubtedly better.
Yes, shaving ounces sometimes does reduce long-term durability. However, lots of pairs of shoes on this list are more than capable of holding up just as long as a hefty pair of boots.
With modern materials and advancements in design, you don’t need to give up durability to cut weight and gain comfort.
Comfort and Fit
Comfort is the most important factor for any pair of active footwear. The shape of the human foot varies wildly, and the shoe that feels comfortable to someone else might not be comfortable for you. Feet can be wide or narrow, arches can be high or flat, and heels can be bulbous or low volume.
When selecting a pair of hiking shoes, there is really no substitute for trying them on and paying attention to how they feel in action. Most people will want to seek out a fit that minimizes negative space but does not actively constrict or compress their feet or toes.
If your foot moves in the shoe, you’ll likely be dealing with blisters before long. In general, hiking shoes tend to be more comfortable than hiking boots. It’s totally possible to find a pair that you can happily wear all day long.
There are pros and cons to hiking in a pair of shoes that are billed as “waterproof.” When hiking on muddy and wet terrain, waterproof hiking shoes help keep your feet dry and comfortable. When your feet are wet, you’ll be more likely to develop blisters and other foot issues.
However, waterproof hiking shoes also tend to be warmer and less breathable. Once wet, waterproof shoes usually take longer to fully dry.
Most waterproof hiking shoes include a membrane in their liner (GORE-TEX is the most common) that keeps water from reaching the inside of the shoe. In addition, many hiking shoes are treated with a durable water-repellent coating, which can be reapplied after it wears off.
While it is good to prioritize dry feet, it is also important to remember that by sealing moisture out, you’re also sealing it in. Shoes with a waterproof liner are prone to becoming hot and sweaty in warm or humid conditions. All hiking shoes will soak through if they get very wet or become fully submerged, even if they’re labeled as waterproof.
Durability and Materials
The two primary areas of a hiking shoe that will suffer the most from wear are the upper and the outsole. On the top of the shoe, the upper is the material that determines how waterproof, durable, and breathable the shoe is overall.
Most hiking shoes include an upper made from nylon, mesh, leather, or a combination. Nylon is lightweight and breathable, but it may not hold up well to repeated abrasion.
Mesh tends to be the least hardy, but it is super breathable and makes a comfortable choice for the tongue of a shoe. Leather is significantly less breathable, and it is often found on heavier-duty hiking shoes because it holds up to wear.
Although heavier and burlier hiking shoes often have the advantage of durability, many modern lightweight options are impressively long-lasting, too. Softer rubber outsoles will wear through faster than dense, firm outsoles.
Stability and Support
A shoe’s support comes from the construction of its components, including the sole and the midsole. These underfoot layers can be thick and sturdy, or thin and floppy.
For hiking, most people prefer a shoe that is stiff and stable through the middle part of the foot, but slightly more flexible near the toe. This allows your foot to feel supported without sacrificing the ability to flex your toes.
Most hiking shoes have a low-cut ankle collar. If you are seeking lots of ankle support, hiking boots are probably a better choice.
The way a shoe laces up can make or break your big-mile adventure. Not being able to find a comfortably snug fit or fighting with constant loosening are both frustrating trail experiences.
Some shoes have a single-pull system. And while it looks delicate and breakable, we’ve had no issues with long-term durability. Many testers find this system allows for a dialed fit, and we appreciate the ability to make quick adjustments.
That said, it’s harder to create a more custom tightness with quick laces. They tend to provide the same tension across the entire foot. If you prefer to create pockets of snugness across your foot, go with a traditional lacing system.
The bottom of a good hiking shoe will feature a firm and grippy outsole. Vibram is the most common manufacturer of outsoles, although some footwear companies make their own.
A sturdy outsole is a major feature that sets a hiking shoe apart from a sneaker or tennis shoe. On a wide range of surfaces from loose scree to slick rock, a good hiking shoe will maintain reliable traction.
Many hiking shoe soles are designed to specialize in certain types of terrain. If you’ll be regularly hiking through unstable surfaces like deep mud, you’ll want a sole with firm, large rubber lugs underfoot.
If you plan to do a lot of scrambling and smearing your feet on slabs of rock, a soft and sticky rubber sole with a flat toe edge is the way to go. Many entry-level hiking shoes will include a versatile sole that will perform fairly well on any hiking surface.
A shoe’s breathability comes from the materials that make up its construction. Areas of open synthetic mesh and woven nylon will greatly increase breathability.
Meanwhile, large patches of leather and waterproof membranes like GORE-TEX will decrease breathability. A breathable shoe will feel cooler and less sweaty over the course of a rigorous hiking day.
However, breathable shoes are more likely to soak through to your sock when hiking in the rain or trudging through puddles. Shoes billed as “waterproof” may feel hot and sweaty at times, but they also help keep mud and moisture from reaching your socks and feet.
The cost of hiking shoes varies, and it is possible to buy a quality pair without breaking the bank. There are many excellent and long-lasting pairs with reasonable price tags. However, you may find that some lower-priced shoes come with fewer features, such as a waterproof liner or a Vibram sole.
The general price range of modern shoes is about $75-200, although there are some exceptions. After lots and lots of testing, we have determined that the cost of a pair of hiking shoes is not necessarily a direct indicator of performance.
The best hiking shoes are the ones that fit your feet comfortably and allow you to enjoy your time on the trail. When combing through the options, your first priorities should be fit and comfort.
Durability, support, and traction are important, too, but ultimately none of that matters if the shoes hurt your feet.
Also, no single pair of hiking shoes will be the very best for every application. The materials, design, and tread pattern will add up to a set of strengths and weaknesses in every shoe.
The current momentum in hiking footwear has shifted away from bulky ankle-high boots in favor of nimble, lower-cut hiking shoes. Hiking boots are heavier, and weight carried on your feet can feel very uncomfortable at the end of a full day. Switching out a 4-pound pair of boots for a 2-pound pair of hiking shoes can make a huge difference in your performance.
Also, many hiking boots have very stiff soles that keep the foot from flexing properly. Many boots are constructed with nonbreathable materials, meaning that your feet are more likely to get sweaty and form blisters. That said, hiking boots can be a great option for those who prefer lots of ankle stability or underfoot stiffness.
Hiking shoes are generally similar in shape to a pair of trainers or tennis shoes. The difference is that hiking shoes are built with durable materials and feature an outsole that is made to grip dirt, rocks, and mud. Compared to boots, hiking shoes feel light, nimble, and somewhat less supportive.
That depends. Keep in mind that no pair of hiking shoes is entirely water-resistant. Although some are marketed this way, full submersion in a puddle for more than a few seconds will soak through just about any pair of hiking shoes. Also, because they are low cut around the ankle, water is prone to getting in at the top of the shoe anyway.
Still, waterproof shoes do include membranes, like GORE-TEX, that can keep a significant amount of moisture out. When walking through dewy grass or muddy trails, waterproof shoes will keep your socks and feet drier than non-waterproof shoes.
Shoes with waterproof membranes are less breathable. If you will be hiking in hot and dry areas, you’ll probably feel more comfortable in non-waterproof shoes.
For the most part, sneakers are designed to perform on artificial surfaces such as asphalt or cement. Many sneakers have flimsy soles and lack the appropriate level of support that is needed for hiking on uneven terrain. Additionally, sneakers are less likely to hold up to the abrasion and wear that is common while hiking on rough trails.
If you plan to mostly walk on flat trails in urban parks or backyards, you’ll probably be just fine with sneakers. However, for hikes of any significant length — and especially backpacking — hiking shoes are a much better choice.
Barefoot shoes are designed to allow your foot to flex naturally with every step. Thanks to their thin and flexible materials, barefoot shoes let you feel the texture of the trail in the soles of your feet.
With each step, the tissues of your feet directly respond to the trail, conforming and contracting as needed. As the name suggests, the experience is similar to walking barefoot.
While barefoot shoes are known for helping hikers and runners develop strong feet, they do take some getting used to. If you have been hiking in boots or hiking shoes, the transition to barefoot shoes will need to be gradual. If you do too much barefoot shoe hiking too soon, you may experience discomfort or quickly develop an injury.
Barefoot shoes lack insulation. They also will not protect your feet from sharp objects underfoot and may be quick to wear out. While some experienced hikers have made the transition to barefoot shoes, we generally do not recommend them to beginners.