Features to Look for in Hiking Shoes
Your hiking shoes should be able to withstand abuse in the wild without sacrificing support or comfort. Durability depends a lot on the material used for construction. One of the popular materials you will come across is nubuck leather, a cattle leather that’s usually sanded on the outside. This improves its resistance to wear and tear.
Suede leather is also a frequent option. While it isn’t as robust as nubuck leather, suede is more flexible and softer. Also, it requires a minimal break-in period. Some manufacturers prefer using a combination of leather and textile mesh side panel. Shoes that incorporate this design are not only lightweight, but they also provide increased cooling. The downside is that the mesh paneling isn’t as durable as pure leather.
This is a necessary security blanket, especially if you will be walking in the mountains or during the wet season. The extra protection provided by a waterproof membrane inserted into the shoes comes handy in the event of a surprise rainfall, creek crossing or in case you hit snow on an early season hiking trip. A significant advantage of keeping your feet dry is that they remain warm when it’s cold out and cool when it’s hot.
Leather hiking shoes are, by nature, waterproof. However, you will need to apply waterproofing treatment now and then to keep the level of protection high. The downside to this is that leather shoes aren’t the most breathable. Manufacturers often incorporate a textile mesh on the upper to get around this problem. Gore-Tex is the most popular waterproof fabric and is preferred for its ability to repel water while allowing water vapor to pass through.
An easily overlooked factor when it comes to choosing casual hiking shoes is the lacing system. It plays a crucial role in comfort and fit. The last thing you need is to readjust the lacing continually while on the trail. As such, it is essential that lacing system isn’t susceptible to loosening. It needs to secure your heel well to prevent blisters and hotspots that arise as a result of up and down walking motion. If the laces are the only problem, there is nothing wrong with purchasing quality replacement laces. Don’t hesitate to look elsewhere if the whole system proves to e problematic.
The single-pull lacing system is quite convenient and allows for an equally tight fit across the foot. Those that need to fine tune their laces for a comfortable fit are better off avoiding quick lace systems.
Outsole and traction
The reason for choosing a real backpacking shoe over a flimsy cross trainer is that the former offers improved traction. The depth of the tread is quite significant, and so are deep, thick slugs with wide spaces between them. This is because they provide a firmer grip on the ground, which helps prevent accidental falls on wet and slippery trails.
Look for models with a Vibram outsole, which is known for providing a stable grip as well as traction in different terrains. It’s important to note that because some manufacturers tailor their design for specific brands or uses, Vibram models should not be treated as equal. Those designed for serious grip in the mud have larger lugs while models designed for scrambling over rocks prioritize sticky rubber.
The midsole and cushioning have a vital role to play when it comes to the level of comfort a shoe can provide. The purpose of cushioning is to provide an extra layer of protection from rocks and absorb shock. Many midsoles incorporate TPU, EVA or a combination of both. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is usually found on performance-oriented hiking shoes. Models that use TPU last longer than those with EVA and do a better job of handling heavy loads. They are also less cushy and aren’t as susceptible to compressing as EVA models.
On the other hand, foam EVA midsoles are incredibly lightweight and popular for hiking and running shoes. Some manufacturers use propriety versions of EVA, which may vary from super soft to slightly stiff. Go for a firm and more supportive midsole if you like logging serious miles on tougher terrains.
Almost every hiking shoe on the market comes with cheap insoles. And while this may not always make a difference, the insole sometimes separates misery from comfort. The good news is that removing the insoles and replacing them with a high quality, aftermarket model specially designed for your feet is easy. The best thing about aftermarket insoles is that they provide an improved fit under the arch. They also offer enough volume to fill out the shoe and cushioning to improve shock absorption.
Hiking trails are filled with all kinds of hazards including roots and rocks. This is why choosing a shoe with some toe cap is usually a wise decision. The role of a toe cap is to protect your toes from trip ruining impact when you look up to enjoy the beautiful scenery around you. Many walking shoes come with a full rubber toe cap. However, some models have a trimmed down version while others entirely lack a toe cap.
Stability and support
The importance of internal supports and built-in shanks cannot be stressed enough. And while they do lead to retention of some level of stiffness, they are what separate good backpacking shoes from ordinary road running shoes or super flexy cross trainers. A lightweight, semi-flexible hiking shoe isn’t what we would recommend for less technical terrain or a day hike. Something like the Keen Targhee II reviewed below is great for day hikes, but when it comes to multi-day hikes, you will need a more substantial shoe that will provide increased stability and support during long trips.
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX Review
Best Lightweight Hiking Shoe
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is designed for those looking to purchase shoes that will serve them for a long time. It offers the perfect balance between design, functionality, and performance. This shoe is designed to provide comfort, even when worn for long hours. This is achieved with a full-length midsole and ample ventilation. The upper section is made with a leather material and has a mesh lining that allows for breathability.
The use of leather material and a rubber sole speaks volumes about this shoe’s durability. When you combine that with its waterproof nature, you get a shoe that will help you get through different terrains with ease and without risk of damage. A rigid snake Plate TM works together with a mid-foot shank to provide ultimate protection for your toes and feet. The included leather upper mid-foot support system plays a crucial role in boosting the shoe’s protection capabilities.
As for the overall design, the North Face Ultra 109 GTX will surely complement your style. The rugged sole ensures that you get through all kinds of terrains while the upper has a seamless design. It has a lace closure system, which provides a custom fit and adds to the overall look of the shoe.
- GORE-TEX® waterproof stability trail-running shoe delivers subtle pronation correction
- Upper: GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort Range waterproof, breathable membrane
- PU-coated leather upper midfoot support with ESS midfoot Shank
- Compression-molded EVA midsole
- TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection & protective TPU toe cap
- UltrATAC™ rubber outsole
- Designed for use in different kinds of weather and terrains
- Can be used for more than just hiking
- Maximum protection for your toes and feet to hike long distances
- Incredibly comfortable as long as you choose the right fit
- Not the best for extremely rough terrains
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX Review
Best Alternate Lightweight Hiking Shoe
The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is loved for being a lightweight, comfortable and surprisingly stable. At a little over a pound, this shoe is right in the thick of lightweight shoe category. What’s even better is that it doesn’t forsake much in the way of stability and comfort. It boasts an EVA midsole, which provides ample cushioning. The shoe uses a Contragrip sole, known for affording a good grip even on slippery terrains. It is capped with thick rubber, which comes handy when walking in snow; and the leather upper provides additional protection on the sides.
The X Ultra 3 GTX incorporates a Quicklace system with a plastic lock, four eyelets, and Kevlar laces. The laces slide into the apertures easily and equalize in tightness as you walk. The same cannot be said for traditional laces. There is a mesh pocket at the top of the tongue where you can stow the excess laces in. Another notable comfort feature is the Ortholite insole, which promotes air circulation.
This Salomon shoe offers lateral stability with a molded shank between the outsole and midsole. It has a 4.5″ max forefoot width that allows ample support on rugged terrain. There is a large brake lug towards the back of the outsole that prevents the heel from sliding out when going downhill. In our opinion, the best waterproof shoes on our list.
- Waterproof leather uppers feature breathable polyester mesh panels to keep feet comfortable
- Gore-Tex waterproof bootie liners let feet breathe while protecting them from the elements, keeping feet dry and comfortable
- Mud guards and integrated rubber toe caps provide durable protection from roots and rocks
- Advanced chassis is light and stable underfoot, maximizing motion control for an efficient and responsive ride without excess weight
- Compact and secure lace system with 1-pull tightening for easy-on/off; lace pockets provide easy storage
- Luxuriously soft polyester lining wicks moisture away from feet
- Great water resistance
- Offers aggressive traction
- Quite versatile
- Quicklace system isn’t for everyone
HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP Review
The Hoka One One Tor Summit WP is a hiking shoe that boasts multiple density rubber soles that provide added comfort and shock absorption. This shoe absorbs shock better than most models at its price range. It is incredibly comfortable thanks to a fatty midsole and outsole as well as thick insole and ample arch support. The lacing system includes five sets of eyelets and flat style laces.
One thing you will notice is that despite having a waterproof leather upper, this shoe is incredibly breathable. At a little over 2 pounds, it is heavier than most shoes on this list but still within the lightweight hiking footwear category. The Tor Summit WP is a beast when it comes to support. It has a shank insert in the sole, so be sure to expect a less rigid midfoot. Four layers of rubber, all with varying densities, help provide a supportive sole and stability with each step.
Another feature worth noting is that the Tor Summit WP comes with Vibram MegaGrip Hi-Traction outsole. This system includes a multi-directional and dense lugs on the perimeter of the underfoot as well as softer rubber RMAT lugs towards the center of the sole.
- Event® Waterproof Membrane with Full Bootie Construction helps keep feet protected from outside elements.
- Nubuck and suede leather uppers with breathable mesh tongue.
- Protective rubber toe overlay, and tongue and heel pull loops.
- Late Stage Meta-Rocker Geometry promotes a smoother, more natural ride
- Full-length EVA top midsole cushioning
- Vibram® MegaGrip Hi-Traction outsole features 5 mm lugs for optimal grip.
- Has an eVent waterproof membrane
- Breathable leather upper
- Ultimate comfort and support
- Comes at a steep price
Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX Review
Adidas is one of the most popular sportswear companies, and its Terrex/Outdoor lineup has gained favor with many. What sets the Terrex Swift R GTX apart is that it was actually designed for use as a hiking shoe. At 16.08 ounces, it is one of the lightest hiking shoes on the market. The shoe boasts a breathable design thanks to a mesh upper that allows for ventilation.
There is a thick rubber rand around the toes that provides added protection. Another protection feature that comes handy is the stiff TPU rand that covers the heel. The EVA midsole provides ample cushioning under the forefoot and arch. This hiking shoe uses a Gore-Tex liner and a tall, gusseted tongue to keep your feet dry at all times.
It also comes with a speed lacing system that includes five sets of eyelets, i.e., one metal ring, one leather and three webbing. One thing you will notice about the Terrex Swift R GTX is that it is quite stiff in the midfoot but still manages to flex in the forefoot. As for traction, it uses a pronounced heel brake that prevents accidental falls while going downhill.
- Ripstop mesh upper for breathability and light weight & TPU overlays for durability and added support
- GORE-TEX® lining for waterproof, breathable performance
- Speed lacing construction for fast lacing and a snug fit; LACE BUNGEE stows laces to help avoid tangling
- ADIPRENE® under the heel for superior cushioning at impact; Moulded rubber toe cap for protection
- TRAXION™ outsole for optimal grip in all directions; Superhigh-traction rubber outsole for optimal grip in wet conditions
- Has a speed lacing system that tightens quickly with the pull of a plastic sliding lock
- Best for narrow to medium volume feet
- The upper is made of ripstop style nylon and has synthetic overlays
- Pronounced heel brake gives you added confidence when going downhill
- The midsole can prove harsh on longer hiking days
Vasque Juxt Review
Best Cheap Lightweight Hiking Shoe
The Vasque Juxt is one of the most versatile pairs of hiking shoes you will ever own. It is designed to offer maximum comfort and is quite stylish for daily use. The shoe is lightweight and provides plenty of support for each step. One of the factors that sets it apart from other hiking shoes is that the outsole is made with the patented Off-The-Grid (OTG) technology. This technology is designed to remain durable even when subjected to extreme abuse. Vasque incorporated a TPU plate in the midfoot to provide additional foot support without adding extra weight to the shoe. It also has a medium volume Arc Tempo, which helps accommodate higher arches.
The company did an incredible job with the lacing system. It includes eight alternating webbing loops and traditional eyes that make it easy for you to adjust the tightness of the shoe. There are small vent holes and a waterproof lining on the leather tongue. This combination of features allows your feet to remain dry and the shoe breathable.
- Polyurethane-coated suede leather uppers offer durability, flexibility and water resistance; molded rubber toecaps provide excellent protection for feet and shoes
- Close-to-toe lacing offers a fully tuneable, secure fit
- Wicking nylon linings absorb excess sweat and disperse it quickly for fast drying
- Removable dual-density footbeds add cushioning to compression-molded EVA midsoles for all-day cushioning and shock absorption
- Thermoplastic urethane shanks deliver support and add rigidity for a stable ride
- Nice and snug fit
- Flexible forefoot is good for day hiking with medium loads
- Offers plenty of underfoot support
- Inexpensive, lightweight and breathable
- Not 100% waterproof
La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX Review
The La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX is a great hiking shoe that offers a nice blend of performance, fashionable styling and comfortable fit. Like most models on this list, it boasts a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane that allows for use in different weather conditions. It excels as a lightweight hiking shoe that also doubles as a burly trail running shoe.
The shoe offers exceptional stability and support with STB Control in the rear, a feature that also provides added torsional stiffness. The underfoot and arch is good, if not perfect, and the shoe exhibits remarkable stability on rocky ground. This is partially due to the presence of the Impact Brake System Outsoles that reduce impact force and increase braking power.
While the La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX isn’t the softest or most flexible shoe out of the box, the presence of a one-pull fast pull lacing system allows for a snug fit. The nylon AirMesh on the upper is injected with polyurethane and Nano-Cell. Rather than a gusseted tongue, it uses a mesh panel for ventilation and breathability.
- Innovative Nano-Cell™ Technology upper wraps the foot in protection while allowing maximum breathability and waterproof protection
- STB™ Technology stabilizes the foot by wrapping and unifying the midsole with the upper for the perfect locked-down fit
- Gore-Tex® Surround™ Technology allows 360 degree breathability without compromising the waterproof nature of the boot
- EVA midsole with TPU inserts offers ample support
- Top of the line stability
- Has a Vibram sole
- Waterproof and breathable
Keen Targhee II Review
Designed for wide and high volume feet, the Keen Targhee II is one of the sturdiest and lightest hikers on the market. It comes with a ¾ length shank that offers added support and hence less fatigue on long hiking trips. The cushioned cuff extends to the ankles, and the interior of the shoes feels very roomy. We love the fact that Keen used nubuck leather on the upper. This region of the shoe also has textile detailing, and the mesh on tongue allows for breathability.
There is a substantial EVA foam midsole that provides added cushioning and comfort. The noticeably large rubber rand offers extra toe protection against rocks and roots. Another notable feature is that the dual density EVA footbed is removable and offers extra cushioning for long hikes or heavy loads. This is an excellent investment for those who prefer hiking in aggressive terrain.
- Waterproofed nubuck leather and flexible nylon mesh uppers offer ample durability, flexibility and breathability for comfort on the go
- Secure-fit lace capture system with sturdy nylon webbing eyelets and heel wrap help lock feet to footbeds for increased support
- Metatomical EVA footbeds are shaped to provide ample cushioning and arch support; can also accommodate orthotics
- KEEN.DRY™ waterproof breathable membranes keep feet dry while allowing perspiration to dissipate before it saturates the inside of the shoe
- Webbing pull loops at heel and tongue allow easy entry/exit; padded, gusseted tongues keep out debris and moisture while relieving lace pressure
- Compression-molded EVA midsoles offer shock-absorption and padding for all-day comfort
- Great ankle support
- Shank prevents foot fatigue on long hikes
- Large toe rand is good for aggressive or rocky terrain
- A little too roomy for narrow feet
Columbia Redmond Review
The Columbia Redmond is a durable and lightweight hiking shoe that is well suited for all kinds of outdoor activities. It has an exceptional Omni-Grip sole that provides added traction in different terrains. The upper of the shoe is a combination of mesh, suede leather, and webbing. This prevents water from slipping into the interior of the shoe while allowing improved circulation of air.
The Columbia Redmond is also equipped with a waterproof Omni-Tech that boasts waterproof capabilities. You will certainly appreciate the presence of a Techlite lightweight midsole as it offers long-lasting comfort, high energy return as well as superior cushioning. Your feet will feel energized with every step you take.
- Omni-Tech™ waterproof breathable seam-sealed membrane bootie construction
- A durable low cut waterproof hiker that provides great traction and comfort
- UPPER: Combination suede leather, mesh and webbing
- MIDSOLE: Techlite™ lightweight midsole for long lasting comfort, superior cushioning, and high energy return
- OUTSOLE: Omni-Grip™ non-marking traction rubber
- Outsole is made from Omni-Grip non-marking traction rubber
- Omni-Tech waterproof membrane with breathable qualities
- Multi-directional lugs provide sure footing
- Runs small and is a little too narrow for wider feet
Last update on 2020-04-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API