best hiking shoes, backpacking shoes 2021

Best Hiking Shoes for 2021

New Hi-Tech Hiking Shoes Could Make You a Lot Faster

Your feet are arguably your most important asset on the trail. Blisters, Achilles tightness, and foot pain can all quickly derail a hiking or backpacking trip. So, finding the right hiking shoes is imperative. For this year’s best backpacking walking shoes, we’ve focused on providing a wide range of shoe types and things to consider, including some new hi-tech, high energy return shoe options that may surprise you. No worries though, we’ve gathered all the data that will inform your new footwear choice and get you into just the right trail shoe.

New for 2021 High Energy Return Hiking Shoes

With new and improved shoe technology, energy return is now a key factor in selecting the best shoe. Yes, shoe weight, grip, fit, and width, etc. all matter in a hiking shoe, but energy return will be the biggest factor in how quickly and efficiently you will be able to move throughout your trip and should be a serious consideration when selecting a hiking shoe.

Could NEW Faster Hiking Shoes take 1-2 weeks off an AT thru-hike?

New in this guide for 2021 are faster hiking shoes. That is, new high energy return shoe technology is now available in 2021 trail shoes that many hikers and ultralight backpackers can use. This is the same energy return technology used in the running shoes that Eliud Kipchoge wore to break the sub-2 marathon. If this tech yields the same benefits for hiking and backpacking it might reduce the average Appalachian Trail thru hike by 1-2 weeks? And don’t worry they are comfortable and feel like a “regular” trail running or walking shoe — they just hike faster!

best hiking shoe and walking shoe options

The On CloudUltra (pictured above) & North Face Flight Vectiv are our picks of the new hi-tech, high-efficiency shoes that might save the average hiker a week-and-half on an Appalachian Trail Thru hike.

Our Top 6 Picks for the Best Hiking Shoes

This year, our staff picks are all lightweight, low-rise hiking shoes that prioritize efficiency, comfort, and traction on a variety of terrains. Though these shoes are often referred to as “trail runners,” they firmly belong on the feet of any backpacker or day-hiker. Comfort and stability are not sacrificed with a lighter shoe, in fact, the extra agility provided by these nimble shoes can lead to a reduction in missteps or poor footing. Whether your priority is speed, durability, traction, or all-day comfort, one of these picks will take you wherever your 2021 plans may be. Collectively, we’ve logged thousands of miles in these shoes and will be singing their praises for many months to come.

Note: All of Top Pick Hiking Shoes contain a good amount of high energy return foam. In addition, our the Hi-Tech Hiking Shoe Picks contain a flex plate running the full length of the sole to further increase energy return. See more on Hiking Shoe Energy Return in our post, New Hi-Tech Hiking Shoes Could Make You a Lot Faster.

Top Picks | Conventional Hiking Shoes (trail runners)

Top Picks | Hi-Tech Hiking shoes | New for 2021

Top Picks | True Hiking Shoes | Budget Shoes

Full Video | Hiking Shoes & Walking Shoes Guide

If a picture is worth a 1,000 words what is a comprehensive video on our hiking shoe picks worth? There’s stuff in here that we can’t begin to cover in words.

Basic Shoe Stats & Terminology

Before jumping into our picks, let’s go over some of the basic shoe stats which may be foreign to some. These are heel-to-toe drop and stack height, both of which are measured in millimeters. Heel-to-toe drop, or drop, refers to the difference between the height of your heel and the height of your toe. Basically, a zero or low drop shoe encourages the use of more calf and Achilles engagement, taking pressure away from your knees. On the other hand, higher drop shoes encourage a rearfoot strike, which may alleviate any Achilles pain or strain. A shoe’s stack height refers to the number of millimeters it elevates your feet from the ground. Higher stack heights will provide more plush and comfort, while lower stack heights will help the user feel more secure and close to the ground. The other stats we’ve provided, such as comfort, off-trail use, traction, and more are all self-explanatory.

Related Content

New Hi-Tech Hiking Shoes Could Make You a Lot Faster
Could new running shoe tech Reduce an Appalachian Trail Thru hike by 1-2 weeks?

How to Choose the Right Hiking Shoes | Everything You Need to Know
The Myth of Ankle Support, Wide vs Narrow Footbox, Zero Drop Shoes, High vs Low Stack…

Hiking Shoe Accessories
The Best Trekking Poles, (and Socks, Gaiters, Ice/snow Traction Devices are coming soon!)

Staff Picks for the Best Hiking Shoes

staff picks for best hiking shoes and walking shoes

Read Review of HOKA Challenger ATR 6

HOKA Challenger ATR 6 Review | Great All-Purpose Trail Shoe

Our pick for the best all-around/on-trail hiking shoe, and it does well off trail too!

Weight: 9.6 ounces (Men’s 9) | 8.8 ounces (Women’s 8)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 30mm / 25mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: Comfortable, versatile shoe with extreme durability
The Hoka One One Challengers are our picks for top hiking and backpacking shoes. The Challengers are a lightweight, versatile shoe that gives the wearer an incredible amount of stability and out of the box comfort. Their 5 mm drop is a happy medium, which suits both hikers used to zero or high drop shoes. Though they don’t feature the same wide toe box as the Altra Lone Peaks, the slightly snugger fit provides more stability and confidence in foot placement. Furthermore, this model comes in wide, if you truly need extra room.

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PROS Wider fit and less aggressive outsole is more comfortable for longer periods of time, and will likely be more than enough for the most commonly encountered terrain. These shoes dry fast, and the rubber grip on the forefoot and under the heel provides good traction on most terrain. These shoes are lighter weight than others with comparable cushion, and are incredibly breathable.

CONS The lack of rubber under the middle of the foot can be a detractor when the trail gets steep or slick, and the more moderate outsole wears out more quickly than other, more aggressive trail shoes.

BEST FOR: Athletes who don’t fit into extremely narrow shoes, but want a more snug fit. Hiking, backpacking, and trail running on a variety of trails, with big miles as the objective. Ultralight backpacking

Read our Full Review of the HOKA Challenger ATR 6

Read our Review of Altra Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5 | Best All-Purpose Trail Shoe

Our pick for the best zero-drop, wide toe-box shoe. Excellent choice for long days on the trail.

Weight: 11.1 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 25mm/25mm
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: Extremely comfortable, versatile, and durable shoe for any user

Altra shoes are specifically designed to mimic our foot’s natural stride. Every pair they make feature a foot-shaped toe box, balanced cushioning with zero heel to toe drop, and female shoes with specific anatomical differences highlighted. If you’ve used Altra shoes before, you know firsthand the all-day comfort benefits of wearing this type of shoe. However, this iteration of the Lone Peak offers all of this previous technology in combination with a fully revamped midsole. The AltraEgo foam midsole is a 2016 technology taken from their popular running shoe (the Escalantes).

This new midsole follows the trend of lightweight hiking shoes now focusing on high energy return. In sum, you can go for longer, faster. The lugs on the full rubber outsole are slightly toned down, so it can more easily transition to road or flat terrain. However, traction is not sacrificed. The shoes also feature a tightly stitched mesh upper that does an excellent job of keeping out fine sand or snow. The fit is a bit wide naturally and a zero drop shoe does take some getting used to initially.

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PROS: Lighter weight. Wide toe box. Zero drop. Updated midsole for added comfort. Suitable for all conditions. Gaiter connection system. Moderate stack height.

CONS: A bit wide. Less stability than similar models. Grip is not good enough for slippery terrain. Cited durability issues.

BEST FOR: High mileage backpacking trips. The all-day comfort of the Lone Peaks makes them perfect for backpacking trips where you’re crushing miles day after day. Also, the high energy return foam midsole could save you precious time. Long day-hikes. For the same reasons as above, these shoes are our new go-to for long days on our feet. Trail running in mixed terrain. The low-profile but high traction lugs on the rubber outsole of these shoes make them transition from road to trail and even off trail without missing a beat.

Read our Review of Altra Lone Peak 5

Read Review of HOKA Speedgoat 4

HOKA Speedgoat 4 Review | Great Technical Trail Shoe

Our pick for the best technical/off-trail hiking shoe, and a darn good trail shoe too.

Weight: 10.8 ounces (Men’s 9) | 9.6 ounces (Women’s 8)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 32mm / 28mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4mm
MSRP: $145

What We Like: Excellent traction and comfort.
HIGHLIGHT: Jeff Garmire chose the Speedgoats for his record on the Colorado Trail. He set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) in just 9 days and 8 hours. We predict the Speedgoats guiding more backpackers and runners to records. Furthermore, their benefits extend to any wearer, not just the elite.

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PROS: Technical fit is secure on steep, challenging trails, and the outsole and deep lugs provide even more security. The ultra-cushioned midsole helps prevent bruising and pain after long stretches of rocky trail, and the foam was updated this year to be more responsive, which means more efficiency with each foot strike.

CONS: This is a shoe for more aggressive hiking and trail running, and people looking for a more moderate shoe might find the outsole and taller stack to be overkill on moderate trails. The tighter fit can add up after a full day of wear, and some might find it constricting, especially compared to wider models.

BEST FOR: Trail running and hiking on any trail. Ultralight backpacking and putting up big miles

Read our Review of HOKA Speedgoat 4

The North Face Flight Vectiv | Hi-Tec Trail Shoe

Our pick for the best of the new, high-energy return hiking shoes, and the only one to have a full carbon plate for energy return

Weight: 10.5 Oz (285 G) Men’s 9
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 25mm/19mm
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 6 mm
MSRP: $199
What We Like: Hi-Tec, high energy-return, lightweight trail running shoe that prioritizes speed, energy output without sacrificing  grip on tricky trails.

MSRP: $199

What We Like: Likely the highest tech highest efficiency trail shoe — The North Face Flight Vectiv Shoes are the only shoes to have all the key hi-tec, high efficiency components of a top running shoe, carbon-fiber plate and high energy return midsole foam, into a trail shoe that will benefit hikers and runners alike. Nonetheless they feel and hike like a normal shoe, with good trail sensitivity and grip.

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PROS: Engineered for speed, will maximize efficiency and shave time off any trip. 3.5mm lugs are designed to stick to any surface, whether it’s slippery rocks, mud, or ice. Extremely lightweight. 6mm drop is a happy medium between high and low drop shoes

CONS: Brand-new shoe, we do not have a large amount of data about its long-term durability or performance. More expensive than other similar models. White is not a great color for a trail shoe!

BEST FOR: Long day-hikes, trail runs, and backpacking trips where you want maximum energy return. Athletes who want to move quickly over varied terrain

On CloudUltra

Our runner-up pick for the best of the new, high-energy return hiking shoes. I has both a energy return plate, and high energy return foam.

Weight: 10.4 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: unavailable
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm
MSRP: $180

What We Like: On’s proprietary energy return tech — CloudTec outsole plate (Speedboard) returns energy like a springboard + Hellion Superfoam midsoles — make for very efficient trail shoe. But without sacrificing, trail feel, traction and comfort. New quick-release lace loosener for forefoot comfort at the end of a long day.

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PROS: All-day comfort no matter which terrain you take these shoes on. Proprietary technology combines speed and comfort, putting your feet on a “springboard.” Extremely versatile, can be used for long hikes/backpacking trips, or running quickly on tricky trail. Very lightweight for the amount of support in the shoe. “Just right fit,” not too narrow or wide, comfortable out of the box. Fully gusseted tongue stays in place and stops debris from entering the shoe. Shoe laces can be released / loosened without fully taking the shoes off to relieve swollen feet at the end of a day

CONS: This shoe and technology is brand-new, we do not have an accurate picture of how it will perform. More expensive than other competitive model. Firm Helion Superfoam may feel too stiff for some

BEST FOR: Users who are looking for all-day comfort without sacrificing weight. Traveling on and off trail, these shoes will perform on a variety of surfaces. Moving quickly and confidently on a variety of surfaces

On-Trail Shoes

These hiking shoes are designed to crush miles with efficiency and comfort. For trips on predictable terrain where high mileage is the goal, these shoes all perform extremely well. That’s not to say that you can’t scramble through a boulder field or get through a muddy, technical section in any of these models; but they are best suited for gentler terrain. Besides the New Balance Minimus, a minimalist option, these shoes all remain comfortable all day, no matter how many hours you’re hiking.

  • Brooks Cascadia 14
  • New Balance Minimus Trail 10v1

Brooks Cascadia

Weight: 11.0 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 26mm / 18mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: A popular classic that stays comfortable over extremely long distances
The Brooks Cascadia continues to improve on its 15th iteration. This latest model has improved durability and stability features, which makes it an even stronger pick as a versatile shoe for hiking, backpacking, or trail running. However, these upgrades add a bit of extra weight onto these shoes. The Cascadias are known for their extreme comfort over long distances, so if you have big days planned this year, these might be your pick.

Read more…

PROS: Extremely comfortable for long days on the trail, or long multi-day backpacking trips. Brooks shoes have a reliable and durable reputation. Medium width and cushion are well-suited to fit a variety of feet. Versatile shoe that will get the job done.

CONS: Upper shoe does not last as long as others on the market. Narrow fit in the forefront may be uncomfortable for wide feet, make sure to order the wider model (2E)

BEST FOR: Athletes who prefer a mid to high-drop shoe. A versatile pick that is light enough for a quick trail run, and durable enough for off-trail backpacking. A shoe with comfort as a priority. A classic pick that does it all, without specialized features like zero drop or extreme traction.

New Balance 10v1 Minimus

Weight: 7 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 15mm / 11mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4mm
MSRP: $99

What We Like: Good entry-level minimal shoe for moving quickly on trails with a snug fit

If you’ve tried lightweight hiking and trail running shoes and thrived, it may be time to dip your toe into the world of minimalist footwear. The New Balance Minimus trail 10v1 is the perfect entry-level minimalist shoe. The snug fit provides stability and security while moving quickly on trails, and the low stack height connects your feet to the trail. The 4mm drop is a happy medium, and will fit comfortably for athletes who are used to either a lower or higher drop shoe. This shoe has a snug fit, so we recommend trying them on before ordering online.

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PROS: Vibram outsole provides excellent traction. Increased connection with the trails helps speed and stability. Midsole wrap keeps your feet in place, the snug fit is designed to help your feet feel extra secure. Very breathable.

CONS: Lack of versatility, these are not suitable for extremely rocky or rooty terrain. A “specialized” shoe that will not work for every foot. Loses comfort on extremely long days (25+ miles) on the trail.

BEST FOR: Backpackers, hikers, and trail runners who have used ultralight shoes and are ready for something lighter. Wearers who enjoy feeling the terrain beneath their feet. Trips in predictable terrain.

Off-Trail Shoes

Not all miles are created equally. One mile of gently graded and dirt trail will feel wildly different than a mile of scrambling down slippery rocks. For those who prefer the latter, these shoes are built with extreme terrain encounters in mind. For an off-trail shoe, the most important factors are excellent grip and agility. You want a shoe that’s light enough to move quickly and securely through tricky terrain, while still gripping to mud, scree, wet rocks, or ice. These shoes all have unparalleled traction, and feature a variety of weights and sizing options.

Staff Picks | Off-Trail Shoes

  • HOKA Speedgoat 4 | Best overall technical, off-trail shoe

Other Great Off-Trail Shoes

  • Salomon SpeedCross 5
  • Arc’Teryx Norvan SL
  • La Sportiva Bushido II
  • La Sportiva Ultra Raptor
  • Altra Olympus 4

Salomon SpeedCross 5

Weight: 11.2 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 30mm / 20mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: Excellent shoe for athletes looking for a higher drop with plenty of traction
The Salomon SpeedCross 5 trail shoes are designed with excellent traction and stability in mind. Their 10 mm drop is well-suited for hikers and runners that are used to a traditional, higher drop shoe. This is one of the more minimal shoes in the Salomon lineup, so it is excellent for those who are looking to shave a few ounces or transition into lighter trail runners. Despite this, the shoe still features all the durability and traction that Salomon is known for.

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PROS: Excellent traction and durability for a variety of trails. Wider fit works with a variety of feet. A good shoe for transitioning between heavier hiking shoes into lighter trail runners. More cushion than many lighter shoes. The traction is sufficient for off-trail travel

CONS: Heavier than many similar shoes. High drop is less versatile

BEST FOR: Athletes who are looking to “tear up” the terrain; the high lugs provide lots of traction. Transitioning from true hiking shoes to a lighter shoe. Backpacking trips with off-trail travel or rock scrambling

Arc’teryx Norvan SL

Weight: 6.8 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 22mm / 15mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 7mm
MSRP: $150

What We Like: Extremely precise and lightweight for moving quickly through technical terrain. For runners and hikers who are looking to venture off trails and into uncharted terrain, the Arc’teryx Norvan SL trail runner will get you there. This shoe is extremely lightweight, which provides a feeling of freedom and speed without delving fully into the world of minimalist shoes. The low stack height gives extra stability and precision without extra features or construction. Though there is minimal cushioning in the shoe, for athletes with narrow feet these trail runners fit comfortably right out of the box. The Vibram outsole gives runners and hikers extra grip while flying through tricky terrain.

Read more…

PROS: One of the lightest non-minimalist shoes on the market. Excellent for off-trail travel, while still having enough stability for trails. Moderate drop will be comfortable for athletes who are used to either a low or high drop shoe. Low stack height creates lightweight stability and precision for footing

CONS: Significantly more expensive than other brands. Only works for runners and hikers with narrow feet. The outsole is not very durable, will wear under a heavy pack. Inconsistent sizing, recommend trying on a pair before purchasing

BEST FOR: Extremely technical travel, scrambling, and canyoneering. Athletes with narrow feet who want an ultralight shoe to match their ultralight setup. Moving quickly on technical trail runs or backpacking trips.

La Sportiva Bushido II

Weight: 10.5 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 28mm / 22mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 6mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: Great shoe for moving through tricky terrain with extra stability and comfort
La Sportiva is known for its unbeatable traction. The Bushido IIs are excellent shoes for mountain runners or hikers who travel through steep, off-trail terrain, and wet/slippery ground. The higher stack height provides extra cushion and support for traveling through uncharted territory. For runners and hikers with narrow feet, these are perfect. The moderate drop accommodates a variety of preferences.

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PROS: More stability and built-in comfort than the Norvan SLs. La Sportiva is known for its unrivaled traction. Off trail travel made easy and more stable. Moderate drop will comfortably fit those who prefer either a high or low drop.

CONS: Heavier than the Norvan SLs. Narrow fit only works with certain feet, recommended to try them on before buying. Not suited for long (20-30 mile) days on trail, comfort wanes over a long day.

BEST FOR: Navigating technically challenging terrain with extra stability. Mountain running or hikes with steep grades. Athletes with narrow feet who prefer the feeling of extra stability over an ultralight shoe.

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor

Weight: 12.8 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 29mm / 22mm
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 7mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: A precise, technical shoe that will last for off-trail travel. The La Sportiva Ultra Raptors are our second pick for off-trail shoes. The deeply lugged outsole and reinforced upper shoe create an extremely stable feeling while navigating in technical terrain. And again, La Sportiva’s traction is unrivaled. Hiking or backpacking through large boulder fields or scree slopes can decimate the feet, and these shoes are designed specifically

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PROS: Construction of shoe hugs the feet to give ultimate stability and protection. Excellent traction for confidence off-trail. Versatile drop that will suit many different feet.

CONS: Narrow fit will not work for everyone. Heavier than other similar models

BEST FOR: Hikers, backpackers, and trail runners who move through varied terrain and want to feel supremely stable. Athletes who prefer stability over an ultralight shoe 70.

Altra Olympus 4

Weight: 11.6 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 33mm / 33mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0mm
MSRP: $170

What We Like: An off-trail and cushiony upgrade from the classic Lone Peaks for traveling through varied terrain. Though the price tag may cause some to balk, the versatility of the Altra Olympus suits hikers, backpackers, and trail runners with a variety of plans. These shoes feature significantly more cushion and stability than the Lone Peaks, while still holding true to Altra’s zero drop and wide toe box design. Because of this extra reinforcement, these are excellent shoes for those who prefer extra cushion, but still want to move quickly.

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PROS: Vibram outsole makes this better for off-trail travel than other Altra models. Combination of high stack height with zero drop makes this shoe cushiony, while still stable. Extremely comfortable for long days on the trail. Can handle a heavier pack than other, ultralight shoes.

CONS: Significantly more expensive than similar shoes. Wide fit may cause the feeling of less support for some users. Only suited for athletes who are used to (or looking to ease into) a zero drop shoe.

Transition Shoes

We determined 12 oz to be the cutoff between a lightweight and true hiking shoe. The Salomon XA Pro is right on the cusp, so we established a separate category just for this model. This is an excellent pick for hikers and backpackers who are considering the benefits of switching to a lighter shoe, but are not quite sold yet.

  • Salomon XA Pro 3D V8

Salomon XA Pro 3D V8

Weight: 12.8 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 28mm / 17mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 1mm
MSRP: $130

What We Like: Stable, comfortable shoes to transition from heavier to lighter footwear. Not quite ready to swap your traditional hiking shoes for their lighter counterparts? The Salomon XA Pro shoes have undergone many different models, and this iteration is designed for stability and all-day comfort. The rubber soles are excellent for off-trail and tricky terrain, while the design of the midsole provides extra stability. This makes the shoe feel stiffer than many similar shoes, but it is to keep your feet securely in place during long days on trail.

Read more…

PROS: Stability rivals any other traditional hiking shoe. Excellent traction, versatile shoe that can be taken on a variety of terrain. Extremely comfortable for long days on trail. All Salomon shoes come with a two-year warranty in case of unusual wear and tear.

CONS: Heavier than competitive shoes, cannot be used as a trail runner. High drop (11mm) will feel uncomfortable to athletes used to a low drop shoe. Stiff design may feel restrictive to some.

BEST FOR: Long days on trail, provide comfort for long hikes such as Mt. Whitney or Rim to Rim. Hikers and backpackers with wider feet. Hikers and backpackers moving through a variety of terrain and prioritize stability and security.

“True” Hiking Shoes

Many backpackers and day-hikers prioritize stability and security overweight. If you don’t mind carrying a few extra ounces on your feet in return for durability and stability, one of these shoes may suit you best. Furthermore, these models are all well suited to carry heavier loads on your back. Though the break-in period may require some extra patience, true hiking shoes are known to be comfortable and durable for well over 500 miles.

  • Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero
  • Oboz Sawtooth II Low
  • Danner Trail 2650
  • Keen Targhee II waterproof

Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero

Weight: 12.9 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: Unavailable
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 11mm
MSRP: $120

What We Like: A lighter true hiking shoe that provides excellent traction and plenty of support. The Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero hiking shoes are designed to handle tricky terrain with extreme stability. Salomon is known for its excellent traction, and these shoes do not skimp in that department. They’re engineered for traveling up or down steep grades, over slippery rocks or loose scree. Furthermore, this model has extra support in the midsole to keep your feet stable while moving through precarious places.

Read more…

PROS: Excellent traction, designed for navigating steep grades and slippery surfaces (or both at the same time!). Weighs less than many other true hiking shoes. Breathable, while still offering plenty of support.

CONS: Less comfortable over longer distances than similar models. Cannot be taken on a trail run. Higher drop (11mm) will not work for athletes used to a low drop shoe.

BEST FOR: Stability in unpredictable terrain. Hikers and backpackers who want a lighter option in a true hiking shoe. Shorter days on trail, comfort does not last past ~20 miles.

Oboz Sawtooth II Low

Weight: 15.0 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: Unavailable
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 15mm
MSRP: $115

What We Like: A solid shoe for extra support, traction, and durability. Oboz fans are fans for life – people tend to either love them or hate them. The construction of these shoes is unique, with a stiff heel counter and wider toe box. The heel counter is designed for more support and to keep your feet from sliding around (which creates blisters), but this can take a long time to break in. The wider toe box allows your feet the room to swell or spread out on varied terrain, and keeps your upper foot from feeling pinched.

Read more…

PROS: Excellent traction, these shoes will perform on or off trail. Proprietary insole provides extreme comfort and a snug fit. Extremely durable shoes, will last for hundreds of miles. Competitively priced when compared to similar models.

CONS: The fit of this shoe is very unique, not for everyone. Break-in period can be very long for some. Extremely heavy, it would be a challenge to move quickly.

BEST FOR: Backpacking and hiking trips with a heavier pack. People with “tricky” feet who don’t seem to jive with other shoes. Moving with confidence through varied terrain.

Danner Trail 2650

Weight: 12.0 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: Unavailable
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm
MSRP: $150

Design: An innovative, lightweight and grippy hiking shoe from an industry classic. Danner is a classic name for sturdy, chunky hiking boots. However, the company decided to step into the low-top game and engineer a pair of lighter, low-rise shoes. The trail 2650 shoes are inspired by the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2650 miles through the Western United States. So, they’re designed to be light yet supportive enough to carry a hiker from Mexico to Canada. The versatile Vibram outsole is made to handle both wet and dry conditions, with extreme stability. These shoes are stable and supportive on and off the trail, with the grippy outsole and 5mm lugs.

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PROS: Vibram outsole provides excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Shoes come in a variety of color, rise, and feature options. 8mm heel to toe drop will suits wearers used to high or low drop shoes. Lightest shoe option in this category. More comfortable over long distances than other traditional hiking shoes.

CONS: Suede upper outsole takes a very long time to dry out. Newer shoe, we do not have that much data on how it performs. More expensive than comparable models.

BEST FOR: Hikers and backpackers who want a cross between a true hiking shoe and a lighter trail runner. Trips where traction is important and the conditions are varied. Longer backpacking trips (like the PCT!), where all-day comfort is extremely important.

KEEN Targhee II

Weight: 16.0 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: Unavailable
Heel-to-Toe Drop: Unavailable
MSRP: $130

What We Like: A supportive and durable true hiking shoe that provides protection in wet conditions. Keen is known for their classically styled, durable footwear. The Targhee II waterproof hiking shoes are comfortable once broken in, extremely stable, and last for years. The waterproof treatment on the shoes provides extra protection in rainy or snowy conditions. However, if the shoes do get fully soaked through, it will take awhile to dry them out. The footbed is engineered to prevent twisting and encourage stability, which makes them great for beginning hikers or backpackers who may be worried about traveling through varied and rocky terrain.

Read more…

PROS: Extremely stable and durable, these shoes will last a very long time. Waterproof treatment helps the durability of these shoes, even when taken in rainy or snowy conditions. Once broken in, they’re very comfortable. Footbed is designed to prevent twisting and keep the wearer stable on uneven surfaces.

CONS: Heaviest shoes on our list, will not be comfortable for extremely long days. Require a break-in period and may take some getting used to. If the shoes get fully wet, it takes awhile to dry. The bulkiness of the shoes makes it difficult to be nimble and move quickly in tricky terrain.

BEST FOR: Beginning hikers and backpackers who want to feel extremely secure and stable. Shorter day-hikers and backpacking trips where the conditions may be varied. A pair of shoes that will last a while.

Budget Hiking Shoes

It’s hard to splurge on a piece of gear that you know will inevitably wear out over time. For this reason, we’ve included two budget picks that are not only on the lower end of the price range but also are extremely durable. This means buying less expensive shoes, with a lower frequency.

  • Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator
  • Saucony Peregrine 10

Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator

Our pick for the best true hiking shoe and a budget pick as well!

Weight: 15.7 ounces (Men’s 9) |
Stack Height Heel/Toe: Unavailable
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 11mm
MSRP: $100

What We Like: A comfortable classic that provides stability and traction. The Merrell Moab is a timeless go-to true hiking shoe. Because of its out of the box comfort and high durability, it’s our #1 pick for this category. This shoe strikes a balance between featuring stiff support and durability, as true hiking shoes do, while still having a slimmer fit and less obtrusive feeling than many shoes in this category. The Vibram outsole provides excellent traction, and these shoes can comfortably be taken off trail.

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PROS: Vibram outsoles provide excellent traction. Unrivaled out of the box comfort, no break-in period required. Extremely reasonable price tag when comparing to other models. Ventilation upgrade from the original Moabs makes them more breathable. Can be taken on or off trail.

CONS: Shoe lacks stability in the heel area. The suede and leather materials on the upper outsole do not dry quickly. High drop (11mm) will not feel comfortable for users used to a low drop shoe. And of course, it’s heavier than a 10 to 11 ounce trail running shoe.

BEST FOR: Long days on the trail where comfort and stability are top priorities. An introductory shoe; these are a tried and true classic. A shoe that will last whether taken on or off trail.

Saucony Peregrine 10

Weight: 10.7 ounces (Men’s 9)
Stack Height Heel/Toe: 22mm / 18mm (Men’s)
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4mm
MSRP: $120

What We Like: A reliable, durable shoe that will perform in a variety of conditions. Whenever a shoe is hitting double digits with its models, you know there’s something they’ve gotten right. This shoe continues to stay in the Saucony lineup because of its versatility and comfort for any person. The 4mm drop, medium width, stack height, and great traction all suit hikers, backpackers, and trail runners who want a versatile shoe that is not designed specifically for one type of terrain. We particularly like the deep heel cup, which allows feet to stay securely in place while hiking or running.

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PROS: Lightweight shoe that still performs well off-trail. Drop, width, stack height, and traction are all a happy medium to fit a variety of feet comfortably. Comfortable out of the box and well suited for long days on trail. Reasonably priced for its versatility.

CONS: Will not work for athletes with exceptionally wide feet, does not come in a wide model. Will not last as long as other off-trail shoes if put in extreme conditions. Not designed for extreme off-trail travel.

BEST FOR: Athletes who aren’t sure what features (drop, width, etc.) are most important to them. Hiking and running on and off trails. A versatile shoe that “does it all;” it will take you through training and onto the trail.


Stepping into the right shoe drastically changes life on the trail, whether you struggle with blisters, foot pain, or general fatigue. Here at Adventure Alan we are huge fans of efficient and lightweight shoes that still provide adequate comfort and traction for longer trips. However, we hope with this range of options you find the fit that best suits your needs.


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6 replies
  1. Mike G.
    Mike G. says:

    Hey Alan,

    Thanks for the great article. Wondering what your recommendation would be for on trail hiking for the mid-atlantic/northeast on some of the lesser traveled trails. Most of my hiking is in less traveled state forests and state land in PA, WV, VA, etc. Similar to your home base I think. While these are mostly “on trail” the footing is usually rocky, rooty, wet and muddy. Much more rugged that on trail hiking on the AT or some of the on trail hikes out west.

    I’ve used more typical on trail shoes for these types of trails and I’ve found they get shredded too quickly because they’re not durable or don’t offer enough support/control for some of the more technical terrain, side hilling, etc.

    Would you recommend something like the Speedgoat for this type of hiking? Would something else fit this type of hiking better?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I think the SpeedGoat would be a good fit. Great grip on the sole and more durable than a lot of trail runners. Best, -alan

  2. PaulW
    PaulW says:

    Timely article for me as I’m currently looking for new shoes. Thanks.
    You’re wrong about the Cascadias. They do come in wide (2E) since the 14 came out. Also, the Cascadia 15 is the current model, not the 14 as shown.

  3. David
    David says:

    It’s a little misleading to label these “hi-tec”, as Hi-Tec is a specific shoe brand, that actually makes hiking shoes/boots – but the shoes you mention are not made by Hi-Tec.. A better general term for cutting edge shoes with new technical innovations might be “High Tech”


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