Whether you’re looking to climb up a mountain or cruise through a trail, your shoes can make or break your hiking experience. It’s essential that your shoes provide necessary cushioning and support without compromising on durability or you might find yourself worrying about your feet instead of enjoying the fresh air and nice view. And while a good pair of hiking boots works well in the fall and winter, if you’re looking for a new pair of shoes for this summer, you should consider a lighter, less clunky pair of hiking shoes that works year-round.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab regularly tests footwear, from walking shoes to sandals and heels, to find the most comfortable shoes for every activity. Our Lab analysts evaluate support, cushioning, durability and more for each style in Thorogood Boots addition to verifying any specific brand claims, including moisture-wicking or waterproof qualities. We then work directly with our staff testers and consumer testers for firsthand feedback on comfort and real-world performance. These picks include top-performing brands, hiking shoes that earned rave reviews from real users and shoes that offer exciting, innovative features for your next hiking adventure.
- Great stability and protection
- Unique rubber outsole designed for optimal traction
- Soft and flexible
- Toe box may run narrow for some
With the comfort of a trail runner and the performance of a traditional hiking shoe, this shoe from Salomon checks all the boxes for the hiker searching for functionality without being too heavy. It earned the highest score for cushioning in our tests and consistently excelled on multiple types of terrain. Testers and online reviewers alike loved the flexibility of the shoe and the impressive traction offered by the outsole, with testers raving about how stable the shoe felt. Our experts also appreciate its stability and protective features, which make this pair a great contender for treks involving steep climbs or descents.
Lightweight shoes, like trail runners, typically compromise on durability but this pick maintains the protection provided by a traditional hiking shoe with its Hokas Shoes substantial toe cap and strong synthetic leather upper, making it a good choice for technical trails, backpacking or day hikes. Plus, it’s available in a waterproof version for those hiking in snow or crossing streams. Just keep in mind that our evaluations found that the toebox runs narrow, so those with wider feet should opt for wide sizes, thinner socks or take a look at the X Ultra 4 for a roomier toebox with a sleeker look.
- No break-in period
- Nice cushioning and breathable mesh
- Great for short hikes on any type of terrain
- Not ideal for multi-day hikes or backpacking
Adidas’s Terrex line is a favorite among our textile analyst for its top-performing footwear and sleek designs. And if you’re looking for a simple, lightweight and comfortable shoe for easy hiking in the summer, this nimble pick checks all the boxes. With a comfortable fit and soft midsole — the cushioned material between your foot and the bottom of the shoe — online reviewers are raving about how these shoes don’t need a break-in period and can handle concrete and hard terrain with ease, thanks to the durable rubber toecap.
Our experts especially love the impressive traction from the outsole and appreciate the great quality offered by these shoes at an affordable price point, as the AX3 uses some of the same materials found in more expensive models from the same line. The only caveat is that these shoes are better suited for those going on shorter or less demanding treks instead of backpacking or multi-day adventures, as they aren’t as protective or durable as other picks on our list.
- Durable and supportive
- Great traction for technical terrain
- Mesh panels for extra ventilation
- Bulkier and less water-resistant than lighter trail running shoes
The Moab 2 from Merrell is one of the most popular and well-known hiking shoes available. It’s durable and has excellent arch support without being too clunky to maneuver in. Testers said that these shoes were soft and flexible with ample cushioning and padding, with one raving “when I first put them on I didn’t want to take them off!” Online reviewers also agree, with one reviewer noting, “they’re lightweight enough not to fatigue my legs, but they are sturdy and easily handle rough terrain and rocks.” Plus, the toebox has ample room for those with wider feet and the Vibram outsole offers traction for all types of terrain. The mesh panels also offer optimal ventilation year-round.
- Breathable, waterproof material
- Excellent stability and comfort
- Great for hiking, running and daily activity
- Some testers said this shoe was better for hiking than trail-running
This new release from Columbia is perfect for those looking for a versatile, all-purpose outdoor shoe for everything from hiking to rock climbing in all types of weather. Testers gave this pick high scores for comfort, appreciating how these shoes “move with me” and “don’t weigh me down like other shoes during long hikes”. One tester even reported that the waterproof Outdry material kept her feet dry during an hour-long rainstorm.
While this isn’t the lightest shoe on our list, the Techlite foam used in the midsole is still noticeably light, especially considering the ample thickness and cushioning, Clarks Shoes making this trail running shoe stable and supportive. Just note that some testers said they preferred walking in these shoes rather than running due to the added stability from the deep indentations on the rubber outsole.
Targhee II Low
- Durable and protective traditional design
- Great support and cushioning
- Suitable for all types of terrain
- Bulkier than other picks
- Requires break-in period
Keen is known for its comfortable hiking boots, sandals and shoes and our testers agree, giving its shoes and boots high scores in comfort and fit due to the wide front for ample toe-wiggling room. The Targhee II checks all the boxes for a long-lasting protective shoe with its tough leather construction, durable toe cap and excellent traction for both technical and non-technical trails. Plus, it’s a great choice for those multi-day journeys, delivering long-term support and comfort with good cushioning and a spacious toebox.
And don’t let a soggy trail deter you — the Targhee II was a top performer in our last mud-resistance test. Just note that this shoe is a bit heavier than others on our list for those looking for lightweight options for the summer.
- Comfortable and secure fit
- Great ankle support and stability
- No break-in period
- Better suited for soft terrain and short hikes
If you’re looking for a lightweight hiking shoe for running through the trails, this might be the perfect fit. Known for their running shoes, Saucony’s new Peregrine 12 is simple and sleek with serious, cleat-like treads for great traction. Testers appreciated the comfortable fit of these shoes, giving them high scores for ankle support and stability and noted that no break-in period was necessary. While great for running, some testers found that this shoe is more suited to soft terrain, saying that the thinner midsole negatively impacted cushioning when walking on harder terrain, causing some soreness on the sole of the foot.
Terrex Free Hiker GTX
- Ankle coverage
- Good durability and support
- Waterproof Gore-Tex material
These hiking shoes are light and sleek, covering the ankle like a hiking boot with the convenience of a sneaker. Senior Textiles Analyst Emma Seymour appreciates the excellent polyurethane-based, cloud-like cushioning, saying that it’s great for a new hiker, and loves that they’re chic enough to still wear them in the city. Plus, these shoes don’t compromise on durability, have great traction and ankle support and feature Gore-Tex material for a waterproof and breathable trek.
- Lightweight, thick cushioning for tough terrain
- Exceptional traction and grip on both wet and dry surfaces
- 30-day trial period
- Some reviewers say the toebox can be too narrow
- Unique design might take longer to get used to
A top-performing footwear brand in our tests, Hoka is a popular pick among many for its characteristic thick midsoles and heavy cushioning. The Speedgoat 4 is no exception and offers many hiking-specific features that make it great for technical trails. Our experts were impressed by the Vibram outsole, which has some of the best traction available, including the zonal rubber and 5-millimeter “stepped” lugs (crevices in the sole that provide traction) that provide maximum support and stability. The thick cushioning also makes this trail running shoe perfect for challenging terrain. Plus, it’s available in a variety of vibrant colors and comes with a 30-day trial period.
Just note that some online reviewers found that the toebox ran a bit narrow and this unique shoe takes time to get used to if you’ve never worn a shoe with such a thick sole.
- Specialized air ventilation system for maximum breathability
- Superior braking ability and grip
- Little to no break-in period
If you’re looking for a waterproof shoe that’s comfortable in even the harshest trail conditions when backpacking, the Spire GTX is an optimal choice. Waterproof shoes tend to have poor breathability, but this shoe impressed our analysts with its unique design, which is specifically engineered for maximum air circulation. It uses unique nano-sized air ventilation channels within the footbed and midsole to wick away excess moisture from the foot to the mesh panels. Plus, La Sportiva incorporates their distinct Impact Brake System at the heel using slanted lugs on the Vibram outsole to improve braking and grip for a protective, stable shoe. Online reviewers also appreciated the plush interior and said the shoe didn’t need much breaking in.
- Multi-functional use
- Comfortable and supportive fit
- Simple, sleek design
- Some reviewers say the shoe tongue is too rigid
- Some testers found the toebox too low
This lightweight trail shoe is great for both outdoor hikes and everyday use. Our analysts appreciate the simple sneaker-like design and were impressed by the tough Vibram outsole, sturdy heel brake and durable synthetic upper of the shoe. Testers also raved about the excellent traction and overall durability f0r a shoe one called “comfortable, supportive and excellent for both everyday wear and day hikes.”
Online reviewers also agreed, with one praising the consistent thickness of the midsole from heel to toe, saying that “the zero drop makes these great for doing any activity — biking, walking the dog, hiking, going to the grocery store!” Just keep in mind that most users said this shoe took around three wears to break in and some had issues with the toughness of the shoe tongue.
Sawtooth II Low Waterproof
- Durable and long-lasting construction
- Waterproof material
- Stable and protective
- Bulkier than other picks
- Stiff feel can be unideal for some hikers
This 10-year-old hiking shoe is a must-have for those in search of a stable shoe that also offers support and security for hikes on uneven terrain with mesh panels for added ventilation. The brand is a favorite of Media & Tech Analyst Olivia Lipski, who says that Oboz’s hiking shoes feel durable and have done a remarkable job protecting her feet on both rocky trails and mud. The Sawtooth II also holds its shape well and offers room in the toebox with additional cushioning from the insole for arch and heel support. The caveat is that it is a stiffer shoe, making it better suited for shorter, slow-paced hikes instead of someone looking for a light and flexible shoe for trail running or long-distance hikes.
- Breathable synthetic mesh
- Toe Protect Technology and convenient heel cup loop
- Fresh Foam midsole cushioning for smooth runs
- Heavier than it looks
With the look of an eye-catching, everyday sneaker, this shoe is perfect for all types of running — from the trails to the roads — and light hikes. This shoe is equipped with specially engineered technology to create a high-performing trail shoe. New Balance’s Fresh Foam midsole provides much-needed comfort for a softer ride on runs, with cushioning comparable to the maximalist Hoka Speedgoat 4. Our experts love the extra Toe Protect Technology, which guards your toes from rocks or other debris on technical trails.
This shoe is also designed to provide extra downhill stabilization, thanks to the extension of the shoe sole past the ankle, and allows you to land on your heel first. Plus, online reviewers appreciate the generous loop on the heel cup and loosely gusseted tongue, making the shoe easy to put on and take off. Just be aware at this shoe is on the heavier side because of all these features.
How we choose the best hiking shoes
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab evaluates shoes and gear for every activity, from running and walking to hiking. When testing shoes, we work with consumer testers with different shoe sizes and foot shapes to collect firsthand feedback in addition to in-Lab evaluations to assess footwear construction, material performance and durability — including using specialized equipment to test strength, moisture wicking and water resistance where relevant. To determine the best hiking shoes, we’ve analyzed data from lab testing and consumer testers on fit, comfort, cushioning, support and traction as well as on moisture management, strength and durability in different terrains.
These choices were made from top-performing brands in our tests, personal favorites from our staff or styles with rave online reviews with evaluations based on over 150 data points and 80 hours of hiking on all kinds of trails.
✔️Materials: When shopping for hiking shoes, we recommend looking for a mix of different materials including waterproof treated leather and breathable mesh for extra ventilation. Here are some common materials used in the upper parts of hiking shoes:
- Leather: This is one of the most popular materials in both hiking boots and shoes. Leather in hiking shoes is typically waterproofed and will keep your feet dry in wet weather.
- Suede: Comparable to leather, suede is common with hiking boots and is ypically waterproofed.
- Nylon: Woven nylon and nylon mesh panels are popular in uppers for many hiking shoes. These materials help provide necessary breathability and air ventilation so your feet won’t overheat on a long trek.
✔️Weight: Hiking shoes are sold at various weights for different needs. While lower weight styles don’t offer as much stability or support, they’re meant for fast hikers and trail running rather than backpacking. If you’re hitting the trails casually, shoot for something less bulky that you’ll feel confident maneuvering in.
✔️Midsole material: The midsole is responsible for any additional cushioning between the ground and your feet, as it is what your foot will be directly seated on. Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and Polyurethane (PU) are two of the most popular types of midsoles, with some brands combining the two.
- EVA: EVA is very popular for its soft and cushiony characteristics and is used in most of the shoes in this list.
- PU: PU is less cushiony than EVA but will likely last longer without losing its shape over time.
✔️Outsoles: Hiking shoes should have a rubber sole with deep crevices for necessary traction on slippery slopes. You may see some brands with Vibram soles, which use vulcanized rubber — or rubber that’s been treated with sulfur — to provide better traction on a wide range of surfaces. Deeper lugs or crevices on the outsoles help provide more grip for those hiking or running in muddy conditions.
✔️Key features: When shopping for new hiking shoes, keep these features in mind, as they can make a huge difference in your hiking experience.
- Gusseted tongue: A gusseted tongue means that the tongue is connected to the boot on each side. This helps keep out debris, so you leave the dirt and mud on the trail.
- Toe cap: Hiking shoes typically have rubber soles, but not all styles will have a toe cap. A toe cap is when the sole material comes up to cover the toe box in order to protect your toes from rocks, foliage or other debris when forging ahead.
- Waterproofing: If you’re planning on hiking in snowy or wet weather, a waterproof hiking shoe is important for keeping your feet warm and dry. If you don’t expect to be in wet weather, waterproof membranes typically cause your shoes to be less breathable and run warm.
What’s the difference between hiking boots and hiking shoes?
Hiking boots and hiking shoes are very similar, but boots will cover your ankle while shoes typically cut just below it. Hiking boots offer more ankle support by nature of their design, while hiking shoes are lighter and may fit more comfortably. Those who are hiking rougher terrain in colder months may benefit from the added stability of hiking boots while hiking shoes are more suited to warm weather hikes in the summer or users with larger calves who may find boots uncomfortable during long treks. Trail running shoes often overlap with hiking shoes but are much lighter and resemble sneakers, allowing users to walk and run on various types of terrain with ease.
Do I need to buy hiking-specific shoes?
It depends on how often, how long and where you’re hiking. Sneakers are perfectly fine to hike in occasionally, as most will have enough traction and protection for a quick day hike. But sneakers don’t typically offer the same amount of cushioning or traction as a hiking boot, hiking shoe or trail running shoe, so your hiking experience may vary. Switching to a shoe specifically designed for trails, once you begin branching into more technical terrain or longer hikes, can help prevent fatigue, bruising or blistering.