The end of the summer is drawing near, but depending on where you live, you can still possibly enjoy the outdoors for a couple more months. When shopping for your first pair of footwear for hiking, it may seem natural to pick something with a little extra heft; something bulky to withstand the demands of a trail. However, hiking shoes may prove to be a better option for some. They’re light, more breathable, and provide more freedom when jaunting through the woods or mountains.
A rugged activity like hiking doesn’t need to be paired with chunky footwear. Whether you’re new to the activity or a seasoned veteran, you’ll quickly see how low-top hiking shoes will afford you a breezier experience. Admittedly, there are a lot of excellent options to choose from out there, but there are also some not-so-great choices. To make your decision easier, we’ve put together a guide to the best hiking shoes to buy this year.
Hiking Shoes Vs. Hiking Boots
Similar But Different
If you’ve only ever hiked in one of the two, it’s easy to see how boots and shoes would be interchangeable. These days especially, many “boots” are simply high-top versions of their low-top counterparts. And while similar, each type of footwear has its pros and cons. For one, the lower silhouette is optimal for those with bad or weak knees. If you twist or roll your ankle in boots, you run the risk of injuring your knee, since the damage will often transfer to the nearest support joint that’s not being supported. On the other hand, if your ankles have taken some damage over the years, you’ll probably want to opt for boots instead.
To be honest, hiking boots and hiking shoes are typically two sides of the same coin. For any given brand, these two options are typically built with the same materials and durability, yet just feature a different silhouette. High-top hikers are great for some, but not every excursion demands the capabilities of a heavy-duty boot. If you’re just trekking through a few trails after work or even doing some low-maintenance hikes for a few hours on the weekend, lighter-weight shoes won’t weigh you down as much and can ensure that you and your feet can last the entire duration. Likewise, the smaller frame allows them to pack better in a suitcase if you’re planning on embarking on some adventures on vacation.
Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator
Merrell is simply one of the best brands when it comes to hiking footwear. Its updated version of the flagship Moab Ventilator better optimizes the size of the mesh lining vents on the sides. Merrells don’t take long to break in, and these shoes are no different. The proprietary Air Cushion in the heel and blended EVA midsoles give you support and comfort for a long journey, while the bellowed foam tongue keeps out any unnecessary extras. Weighing less than 2lbs, the Moab 2 Ventilator is both flexible and sturdy. There’s a reason why you can’t go far on the trails without spotting these.
Astral TR1 Mesh Shoes
Astral’s TR1 Mesh Shoes are great whether you’re hiking through wet or dry terrain. The Water Ready holes on the midsole drain any water that goes inside, while the Polygiene insoles can be removed for drying. If you don’t want to head through streams and creeks to keep cool, the ventilated mesh uppers give you some breathability along the way. For endurance and comfort, Top Shank and EVA midsoles keep you going all day, while the mere 1mm displacement between the front and back of the shoe help imitate the feeling of walking barefoot, but without the lack of support.
Oboz Firebrand II Low Waterproof
Oboz’s range of hiking shoes does a great job blurring the gap between a shoe and a boot. Narrower in the heel, yet wider in the toe to prevent blisters, the Firebrand II Low offers extreme traction with sidewall lugs and Sawtooth lugs underneath for an unbelievable capability. Likewise, the noticeably dense cushioning on the underfoot makes these great for multiday expeditions. Still a hiking shoe through and through, these low-tops from Oboz are breathable thanks to the wide mesh vents, yet entirely waterproof with B-DRY leather membranes throughout the uppers.
Salomon X Ultra 4 GORE-TEX
While Salomon’s oeuvre includes high-top “shoes,” we went with the purists’ pick. Breathable and waterproof, the Salomon X Ultra 4 taps into the brand’s expertise in trail runners, equipped with GORE-TEX protection and the low profile of a hiking shoe. Made for agility on any terrain, this silhouette weighs in at just 1.7lbs but keeps your foot secure thanks to a single lacing system, proprietary SensiFit cradling technology, and Active Support, which adapts to the shape of your foot. The Contragrip MA outsoles let the wearer go from wet to dry terrain without losing any traction.
adidas Terrex Swift R3 GORE-TEX
Another brand known for its trail runners, adidas has shown that its Terrex range knows no limits. The Swift R3 is the latest iteration of its popular hiking shoe, outfitted in GORE-TEX for breathability and dryness, and is perfect for hikers who favor the occasional spontaneous run through the canyons, thanks to the Lightstrike EVA in the midsole for extra padding and speed on the trails. Don’t get it twisted though, these are also some of the sturdiest hiking shoes available, with supreme stability for longer treks and Continental Rubber outsoles to support you on any terrain.
Danner Trail 2650
You don’t have to sacrifice style for function on your adventure. Danner’s Trail 2650 comes in three attractive colorways to pair with any hiking ensemble. What’s more, these shoes utilize the expertise of the Oregon-based footwear brand who’s specialized in some of the sturdiest adventure and work boots over the past 90 years. Weighing just 12oz each, these low-profile shoes come equipped with Vibram 460 outsoles for gripping any terrain, durable uppers made from leather and textiles — lined with mesh for ventilation — and an OrthoLite footbed to keep you going for as long as you’d like.
Keen Targhee III Low
In fewer than 20 years, KEEN has become a footwear favorite in the outdoor space with its innovative in-house materials and technology. Inventing the Newport Sandal, the Oregon-based company is arguably most known for its Targhee hiking boots these days. The Targhee III Low takes the flagship model and lowers the silhouette, but the shoe still boasts all the same properties: a KEEN.DRY upper to allow breathability while remaining waterproof, Cleansport NXT odor control, a removable EVA footbed, and proprietary 4mm all-terrain lugs for multidirectional grip.
HOKA One One Anacapa Low GTX
HOKA has gone from start-up to one of the most dependable footwear firms in the world over the past decade thanks to its oversized outsoles and meticulous cushioning. With its roots in running and distance running shoes, the French-based company has transposed its expertise effortlessly to its line of hiking boots and shoes. Among its most popular models, the Anacapa Low GTX is a take on the Anacapa Mid boot and boasts the same tech. Made from waterproof nubuck leather and upcycled polyester, these shoes weigh just 14oz and employ a balanced compression-molded EVA cushion, GORE-TEX fabric, and the brand’s signature heel geometry.
La Sportiva Spire GTX
La Sportiva is one of the oldest boot-makers on this list — an Italian brand launched in 1928 that eventually made custom mountain boots for soldiers during World War II. Today, the company has quite a range of both broad and specialized footwear. Made for day hikes for serious outdoorsmen, the low-top Spire is constructed with abrasion-resistant mesh, 100% recycled polyester laces, and a combination of Nano Cell 2.0 and GORE-TEX Surround for 360-degree breathability. For versatile traction on any terrain, the outsole comes equipped with Vibram XS Trek and Impact Brake System.
Naglev Unico Hiker
Naglev’s Unico Hiker doesn’t need to draw attention to itself because those who have experienced it on their foot can’t stop talking about it. The brand was founded by sixth-generation shoemakers in Northern Italy and builds its shoes for comfort and performance more than anything else. Blending the best of a trail runner and a hiking shoe, the Unico is both agile and sturdy. Made from a single piece of Kevlar, the upper is reinforced with abrasion- and water-resistant rand that also repels oil, and is backed by a breathable wool sock liner on the inside that wicks moisture as well. The moldable footbed is built from coconut fiber and tanned leather, which pairs perfectly with an EVA insole for supreme comfort. Likewise, the rugged rubber outsole will keep you from slipping on the trails.
The 10 Best Hiking Sandals to Wear
If you prefer to sport something even lighter and more breathable on your feet when traversing the great outdoors, then check out our guide to the best hiking sandals to wear.