15 Best Hiking Shoes | From Trail Runners to Lightweight Boots

A guide to hiking shoes, lightweight boots and trail runners for thru-hiking.

by Kelly Hodgkins
May 09, 2018

© Daniel Winsor

Hiking shoes come in different shapes and weights. Hiking boots have been around since the dawn of hiking, but they are not your only option when you hit the trails. Many hikers now choose to wear low-cut footwear that takes the best of a boot and mixes it with a running shoe. What goes into a good pair of low cut shoes and why are they so popular? Let's find out.

Price Type Weight (per pair) Heel-To-Toe Drop
Altra Lone Peak 4.5 $120 Trail Runner 1 lb. 5 oz. 0 mm
Brooks Cascadia 15 $130 Trail Runner 1 lb. 6 oz. 8 mm
Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 $130 Trail Runner 1 lb. 8 oz. 11 mm
Salomon X Ultra 3 $120 Trail Runner 1 lb. 9.8 oz. 11 mm
Saucony Peregrine 10 $120 Trail Runner 1 lb. 5.4 oz. 4 mm
La Sportiva Wildcat $110 Trail Runner 1 lb. 9 oz. 12 mm
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor $130 Trail Runner 1 lb. 8 oz. 12 mm
Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 $145 Trail Runner 1 lb. 5.6 oz. 4 mm
KEEN Targhee III WP $140 Hiking Shoe 1 lb. 14.8 oz. n/a
Adidas Outdoor Ax3 around $62 - $161 Hiking Shoe 1 lb. 8 oz. 10 mm
Merrell Moab 2 $125 Hiking Shoe 2 lb. 1 oz. 11 mm
Oboz Sawtooth Low II $110 Hiking Shoe 2 lb. 0 oz. 15 mm
Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX $159 Hiking Shoe 1 lb. 6 oz. 12 mm
Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 $199 Approach 2 lb. 2 oz. 11 mm
Danner Trail 2650 $150 Hiking Shoe 1 lb. 9 oz. 8 mm
Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX $170 Hiking Shoe 1 lb. 8.4 oz. 10 mm
The North Face Ultra 111 WP $120 Trail Runner 1 lb. 14 oz. 12 mm

In a hurry? Jump straight to the reviews.

Types of Hiking Shoes

There are two styles of low cut shoes on the market for hikers and backpackers—trail running shoes which are lightweight and nimble much like a sneaker and hiking shoes which are low-cut versions of a traditional boot.

Both trail runners and hiking shoes cutoff just below your ankle allowing you to bend and flex your ankle when traversing challenging terrain. Because they are cut so low, you lose the ankle support of a traditional boot.

Here's a breakdown of each type of shoe commonly used for hiking.

types of hiking shoes


Traditional running shoes (aka road runners) aren't a great choice for hiking. Their soles don't offer enough grip and will underperform on wet and humid terrains. They also offer little to no protection leaving your toes vulnerable to bumping into things on the trail. Lastly, sneakers aren't built as resistant as other hiking shoes and are therefore likely to wear out much faster than any other option listed on here.


Trail runners borrow heavily from a sneaker, but they still are influenced by a boot. The soles of a trail runner are made of Vibram or similar grippy, durable rubber material, and their treads are lugged for offroad use. Some have toe caps to protect your feet from roots and rocks. Trail runners tend to have a flexible midsole and cushioning which provide an extra degree of comfort that you typically don't find in a boot. They are very popular among thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers, who are willing to trade ankle support for a lightweight and cushiony shoe. 


Proper hiking shoes are considered to be more of a lightweight boot with rubber soles and a stiff upper made of leather or leather and mesh. Like a boot, they have rubber toe caps and stiff midsoles that protect you from roots, rocks and other obstacles on the trail. They provide enough support to carry a light to medium load comfortably over mixed terrain without the bulk of a full boot. They break in more easily than a boot, too.


Once the first choice for hikers, hiking boots are slowly losing their appeal. This shift away from hiking boots is especially prevalent among thru-hikers who now choose lightweight hiking shoes and trail runners over hiking boots. The main reason for this shift is the weight. Hiking boots are heavy, weighing twice as much as a typical trail runner. When you walk upwards of ten miles a day, this extra weight from the hiking boot is noticeable. Hiking boots do provide additional support around the ankle, but not everyone likes that extra support. Many people prefer the flexibility and freedom of movement you get with a low-cut hiking shoe.


Another choice in hiking shoes you’ll run across is an approach shoe. An approach shoe takes the best of a rock climbing shoe and packages it into a comfortable shoe that can be worn while hiking. They are designed for rock climbers who hike to their favorite climbing spots. They tend to have a narrow fit with grippy soles for hiking and scrambling.

At the CDT Southern Terminus wearing a pair of Saucony hiking shoes

Main Considerations


Waterproofing repels moisture, so your socks and feet stay dry on the inside of your shoe. This water barrier is a lifesaver for day hikes through slushy snow or rain.

But for thru-hikers, this waterproofing can be your worst enemy. The same waterproof membrane that keeps the water out also tends to trap sweat in leaving your feet damp and dank. If you happen to submerge your shoe in water the waterproofing also makes it difficult to dry it out.

For long-distance hikes, a non-waterproof shoe is preferable because it is fast drying and breathable. No matter what you do, your feet are going to get wet so you might as well have a shoe that can dry out quickly. Some breathable trail runners drain water so well that your shoes and feet will dry as you hike. With dry shoes, you're less likely to get blisters, too.

Thru-hikers typically need to replace their shoes every 500 to 1,000 miles (Salomon)


Whether you are hiking ten miles or a thousand miles, it's essential to find the right amount cushioning for the terrain. Too much cushioning and you can't feel the nuances of the trail beneath you. Too little and your legs and feet will hurt.

Zero drop is another feature you'll encounter when shopping for a shoe. Drop is the difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot. Most shoes are designed with a rise that raises the heel of your foot slightly more than the ball of your foot. A zero drop shoe keeps your heel and toes equal, much like standing barefoot. A growing body of evidence suggests zero drop shoes are better for your feet and back while hiking.

Lightweight foam midsole and Vibram® Megagrip outsole (Hoka One One)


Choosing the correct fit for a shoe can make or break your hike. A shoe that is too small will hurt your toes on downhills, while an oversized shoe will allow your foot to slide causing blisters.

Always try on a shoe before buying it and wear it around the house a while before you hit the trail for a long distance hike. A good rule of thumb is to allow a finger width in front of your big toe. 

If you have to err, err on the side of too large as your feet often swell while hiking. It's also helpful to have some extra room if you need to throw on a sock liner or any sort of blister prevention tape.

Trail runners (Altra Timp)


Lacing and tying a shoe is an underappreciated art. Most hiking and trail running shoes use a basic crisscross lacing that you tie utilizing a bow-knot. You can modify this lacing and knot for comfort.

Some shoes though, like those from Salomon, have a quick lacing system with a sliding lock that you pull to the most comfortable tightness. These speed lacing systems are easy to adjust, but they don't allow you to change the lacing pattern or the type of knot at the end.


Pay attention to the shoe soles and the lug pattern. Think of lugs like "shoe teeth" or flattened, rubber cleats. Deep lugs provide exceptional footing in mud and loose dirt, while shallow lugs perform best on hard packed trails.

Keep your lugs relatively shallow though. Deep lugs trap mud and can lead to a slippery hike. The added height can also cause compromise stability (like walking on platforms).

Vibram soles are the gold standard for traction, delivering outstanding no-slip performance on slippery trails and steep rock slab. Not all manufacturers use Vibram, though. Salomon developed its own version, Contragrip that performs equally as well as Vibram. 

Lugs are essential for hiking safely in the mud or dirt (La Sportiva Wildcat)


Want to travel fast and light? Then grab a pair of trail runners. Their lightweight frame won't slow you down as the miles fly by. They are mostly mesh, so you should be prepared to replace them more frequently. The mesh will tear or your toes will poke through over time.

If you want a shoe to last a 1,000 miles or be tough enough to tackles some rocky terrain, then look for a more durable hiking shoe. Hiking shoes are constructed with a combination leather and mesh upper, longer-lasting soles and abrasion-resistant TPU coatings.

You likely will wear out the soles of a hiking shoe long before you break down the shoe itself.


Knowing your base weight will help you choose the correct shoe so you can travel in comfort. In general, you should select a hiking shoe with ample support for heavy loads and leave the trail runners for times when your base weight is lower (under 20 pounds).

Airing out a pair of Altra Lone Peak at camp


Cost is another factor to consider when deciding between a hiking shoe and a trail runner. Hiking shoes tend to be more durable than a trail runner so you might need three pairs of light trail runners to hike the Appalachian Trail versus only one or two pairs of more rugged hiking shoes.

Both hiking shoes and trail runners cost about the same with price tags between $65 to $150.

If you love a specific shoe model, always check the price and availability of the prior year's model. They are often nearly half the price of the current year's model... and still (roughly) the same great shoe.


Traditional thinking is 'more support = less injury'. The added ankle support potentially prevents ankle rolls and the injury that results from this unexpected trauma.

Not everyone believes this extra ankle support is beneficial. Footwear that climbs above the ankle can act like a cast, preventing the natural movement of your ankle. Allowing natural movement can help strengthen muscles and tendons, making you less prone to a nasty ankle turn in the long run.

The Oboz Sawtooth, sturdy and durable hiking shoes

Suggested Models

Altra Lone Peak 5

Price: $130

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 0 mm  

Waterproof: No

Altra has quickly become one of the top trail running shoes thanks to its Lone Peak model's success. The latest version, the Lone Peak 5, keeps everything that makes the shoe great -- a zero drop, generous cushioning, and a wide toe box.

The Lone Peak is praised for its generous width, which may be too wide for those who prefer a close-fitting shoe. It's an extremely comfortable trail runner with ample cushioning and plenty of ventilation. It has a lugged sole that provides good traction on everything from rock slab to mud. The Lone Peak is a great shoe for long days on the trail.

Our biggest gripe is the Lone Peak's durability. While the upper and the cushioning lasts, the sole wears down faster than we like.

Available at rei.com

Brooks Cascadia 15

brooks cascadia hiking shoes

Price: $130

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 8 mm

Waterproof: No (GTX model is available)

The Brooks Cascadia is insanely popular among AT thru-hikers. It is so popular that hikers even look for Cascadia's unique tread prints to confirm they are on the correct trail.

The trail runner is a stiff, form-fitting shoe with a heavy-duty rock plate that'll help you cruise over rocky terrain. It's not as cushioned as the Altra Lone Peak but provides plenty of protection from scuffs, scrapes, and toe stubs. It's also a durable shoe with a tread that lasts longer than your other trail runners.

The Cascadia might be on the expensive side, but the comfort and support you’ll get is well worth the money.

Available at rei.com

Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 and X Ultra 3

Salomon XA Pro 3d hiking shoes

Price: $130 ($120 for Ultra 3)

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz. / 1 lb. 9.8 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 11 mm

Waterproof: No (Waterproof models are available)

Salomon makes rugged outdoor recreational gear, and its trail runners are no exception. Like most Salomon shoes, the XA Pro 3D and X Ultra 3 are built to last with a durable, grippy contragrip rubber sole and durable upper. They have a moderate amount of cushioning and stability for a long day on the trail.

If you have narrow feet, you're going to love the slim fit of these shoes. They hug your feet with just enough toe box room to not pinch your toes. This tight fit lets you feel every movement, making the shoe extremely responsive.

Just make sure you get the correct size, as there is no extra wiggle room.

XA Pro available at rei.com Ultra 3 available at rei.com

Saucony Peregrine 10

Saucony Peregrine hiking shoes

Price: $120

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 5.4 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 4 mm

Waterproof: No 

The Saucony Peregrine 10 is a solid all-around shoe known for its outstanding stability. It doesn't have the cushioning of the Hoka One One or the Altras, but the stability more than makes up for it.

It's a lightweight shoe that'll let you move quickly and confidently, even on technical trails. The Peregrine 10 uses Saucony's PWRTRAC rubber and a unique lug pattern that provides exceptional grip to handle even the most challenging terrain.

Available at rei.com

La Sportiva Wildcat and Ultra Raptor

La Sportiva Wildcat hiking shoes

$110 for the Wildcats
$130 for the Ultra Raptors 

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz. per pair; 1 lb. 8 oz. per pair for Ultra Raptor 

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 12 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available for Wildcat)

Hikers looking for an agile, lightweight shoe can't go wrong with the La Sportiva Wildcat or the Ultra Raptor. Both the Wildcat and the Ultra Raptor earn praise for their "right out of the box" comfort and a mesh upper that is so breathable you sometimes can feel the wind through your shoes.

La Sportiva is known for its climbing hose, so it's not surprising that the Wildcat and the Ultra Raptor have excellent grip on a rock slab and similar steep terrain. When you transition to mud, moss, or snow, the rugged lugs will anchor you to the group and give you plenty of grip to keep hiking.

Wildcat available at rei.com Ultra Raptor available at rei.com

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4

Hoka One One hiking shoes

Price: $145

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 5.6 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 4 mm

Waterproof: No (Waterproof model available)

Hoka One One developed the Speedgoat specifically for trail running, and it shows. The trail running shoe has an ideal balance of cushioning -- plenty for long-distance hiking, but not so much that you can't feel the ground underneath you.

The Speedgoat also straddles the middle ground in width. It offers plenty of room to wiggle your toes, but not so much that they slide around.

What sets the Speedgoat apart from other trail runners is the rugged Vibram sole. The deep lugs provide outstanding grip on steep and slippery terrain, including mud and snow, which benefit from the deep tread.

Available at rei.com


keen targhee III wp best hiking shoes

Price: $140

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 14.8 oz. per pair

Waterproof: Yes

The Keen Targhee III is a classic Keen shoe with a sturdy leather outer, moderate cushioning, and wide, roomy fit.

The Targhee III provides a good grip on steep terrain thanks to its tread pattern and side lugs for extra stability. The leather/mesh upper is stiff, with just the right amount of support for a long day on the trail. It's also waterproof, so you can wear it during the spring thaw and rainy fall days when keeping your feet warm and dry is critical.

Though rugged in appearance, the Targhee III is casual enough to double as a daily shoe for wearing around town.

Available at rei.com

Adidas Outdoor Ax3

Adidas Outdoor ax3 hiking shoes

Price: around $62 - $161

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 10 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

Another affordable option from Adidas, the Outdoor AX3, is geared towards a more leisurely day hike or light trail running.

The Outdoor AX3 earns praise for its comfortable, sneaker-like fit right out of the box. The black color and casual look mean you can wear them on the trail and in the grocery store. Don't be fooled; the tread on the Outdoor AX3 is top-notch made from continental tire rubber and a lug pattern designed for gripping rugged terrain.

Available at amazon.com

Merrell Moab 2

Merrell Moab 2 hiking shoes

Price: $125

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 11 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

The Merrell Moab 2 may not be the lightest hiking shoe on the market, but that shouldn't deter you from considering this trail shoe. It is heavy because it is rugged.

The Moab 2 has a durable leather and mesh upper with a rubber toe cap that provides plenty of support and security for your foot. On top of the outstanding support, this upper is lined with a waterproof membrane that'll keep your feet dry when the trail is wet. It also has a padded tongue that hugs your ankle to keep out dirt and debris.

Because they are a bit heavier, the Moab 2 hiking shoes are ideal for those who need sturdy shoes and don't mind sacrificing some extra weight for stability.

Available at rei.com

Oboz Sawtooth Low II

Oboz sawtooth hiking shoes

Price: $110

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 2 lb. 0 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 15 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

The Sawtooth Low from Oboz is as close to a boot as you will find in a hiking shoe. The outer nubuck leather and abrasion-resistant mesh stand up well to abuse, while the waterproof membrane keeps your feet dry. It has a toe cap for protection from roots and rocks and a heel shank for added stability. The Sawtooth is rugged enough for long-distance hikes but casual enough for a stroll around town.

Our only complaint is the sole. It has a rugged tread that grips exceptionally well on the downhills and dry rock but tends to slip if you are not careful on wet slab.

Available at rei.com

Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX

Vasque Breeze hiking shoes

Price: $159

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 12 mm

Waterproof: Yes 

The Vasque Breeze lives up to its name. The uppers are constructed with breathable mesh and moisture-wicking materials to reduce sweat. The hiking shoes also are equipped with a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane to keep your feet dry. The breathable mesh and Gore-Tex liner work together so your feet won't turn into a wet, sweaty mess at the end of a long day. The shoes have generous support with just enough stiffness to keep you from rolling your ankles without sacrificing nimbleness.

The Breeze Lt feels excellent right out of the box thanks to its light padding around the ankle, spongy footbed, and lightweight design. There is some heel slip, especially during the break-in process. You can wear a thicker sock or use an alternative lacing method to lessen it.

Once the shoe is broken in, the heel slip usually disappears. Vasque uses Vibram megrip on the soles, so traction, not surprisingly, also is outstanding on rocks, roots, and other slippery surfaces.

Available at rei.com

Salewa Mountain Trainer 2

Salewa Mountain Trainer hiking shoes

Price: $199

Type: Approach

Weight: 2 lb. 2 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 11 mm

Waterproof: No (waterproof version available)

The Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 is an approach shoe for rock climbing, but it can double as a hiking shoe. It has a narrow fit, so folks with a wide foot may want to pass on this approach shoe.

What sets the Salewa apart is its stiff nylon shank and rugged Vibram sole. The nylon shank provides ample support and protection from roots and rocks. The sole is long-lasting with a heel brake to prevent slipping when walking downhill. Thanks for the treads' extreme griping; you can walk confidently on slippery, steep, or rocky terrain.

Available at amazon.com

Danner Trail 2650

Danner Trail hiking shoes

Price: $150 

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 8 mm

Waterproof: No 

The Trail 2650 from Danner is a lightweight, comfortable hiking shoe for trail and walking around town. It has a unique design that pairs a durable leather upper over the front of the foot and pairs it with mesh along the back and sides.

On the inside, it has a mesh liner with perforations in the outer leather for increased breathability. It has a stiff midsole with plenty of arch support for those that need it. A combination of TPU shanks and a toe cap protect your feet from roots, rocks, and other hazards on the trail.

Available at rei.com

Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX

Acrteryx hiking shoes

Price: $170

Type: Hiking Shoe

Weight: 1 lb. 8.4 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 10 mm

Waterproof: Yes 

With its minimalist design, the Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX doesn't look like a hiking shoe, but it performs like one. It is lightweight and cushioned with a sneaker-like feel.

The materials and the construction are top-notch, but you'll pay for it. The Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX is one of the most expensive hiking shoes on our list.

What you'll get for that extra cash is a Cordura mesh upper with an outer protective layer that resists abrasion, Vibram mega grip soles, and a footbed with ample cushioning.

The Aerios FL GTX tends to run small, much like an approach shoe, so keep that in mind if you have wide feet.

Available at rei.com

The North Face Ultra 111 WP

The North Face hiking shoes

Price: $120 

Type: Trail Runner

Weight: 1 lb. 14 oz. per pair

Heel-To-Toe Drop: 12 mm

Waterproof: Yes 

The North Face Ultra 111 WP is classified as a trail runner, but it leans very close to a hiking shoe, thanks to its rugged design.

It has deep lugs and a UtrATAC rubber sole that provide ample grip and traction in wet and dry conditions. The mesh upper is lined with a waterproof DryVent membrane and has an outer PU-coated leather that acts as a decent mudguard.

If you are the type of person who stubs their toes, take note. The North Face Ultra 111 WP has one of the best toe guards on our list.

Available at rei.com


How often should you replace hiking shoes?

Typically, you can expect a good pair of hiking shoes to last about 300 to 500 miles. Most thru-hikers should plan on needing four pairs of shoes. However, some can get by with only three if they can push their shoes a bit further than average.

You should replace your hiking shoes when they begin to fall apart either because the upper has torn or has separated from the sole. You also should replace them when the soles have worn down, or the shoes have lost their cushioning.

Can you wear hiking shoes every day? Are hiking shoes suitable for walking?

You absolutely can wear hiking shoes every day. Most hiking shoes are designed for comfort while walking, including hiking up a mountain and walking down the street. Typically, my hiking-only shoes become my winter wear-around-the-town shoes.

© Andrew Piotrowski

What socks do you wear hiking?

The best socks for hiking are made of a merino wool blend that keeps your feet comfortable and dry. You can choose between different heights (ankle, crew) and various thicknesses depending on your preferences. A good pair of socks will help prevent blisters and minimize the impact of walking on rocky surfaces all day.

How do I waterproof my hiking shoes?

If you need waterproof hiking shoes, you should consider buying a pair that ships with a waterproof membrane. You'll get reliable waterproofing as long as you don't submerge your foot over your ankle. If you want to add waterproofing after the fact, you should purchase a pair of waterproof socks like those from Showers Pass. You can also spray the shoes with a waterproof spray, but you may compromise some of the shoes' breathability.

Read next: 
6 Best Minimalist Sandals: Guide to Barefoot and Running Sandals

Kelly Hodgkins photo

About Kelly Hodgkins

By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.

About Greenbelly

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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