What’s the best mens hiking shoe? We gave the advice to choose the best hiking shoes across various terrain and conditions throughout the country. From winter hiking in the Sierra, chasing fall foliage in variable weather in the Whites of New Hampshire, and muddy suffer-fests through the rhododendron forest of the southeast, choose the shoes which have almost everything you can throw at them, giving you confidence to pick a shoe that will make your adventures possible.
How to Choose the Best Hiking Shoes
When it comes to choosing the best shoe for your outdoor adventures, it’s important to be critical about your uses and decide what style of shoe compliments your needs best. Do you travel with light loads in decent weather? Maybe all you need is a trail running shoe. We typically break shoes down into four categories (from lightest to heaviest): trail runners, hiking shoes, hiking boots, and mountaineering boots.
Trail running shoes
Although trail running shoes are built for exactly that, they can fit a nice niche of hikers. If you do not need a very supportive shoe to handle heavier pack weights or like moving fast with ultra light gear, trail running shoes could fit your needs. They only come low cut, have soft rubber soles but with thick tread for gripping the trail, an EVA cushion mid-sole, and a breathable mesh or nylon upper. Very occasionally do these come with waterproof options, but most of the time they do not. They are more sensitive and agile than traditional boots.
Best uses: ultra-light backpacking, day hikes, rock hopping
Hiking shoes find common ground between full cut hiking boots and trail running shoes. They are lighter than boots, but sturdier and more supportive than running shoes. Usually they come with a waterproof option and a non-waterproof option. They are usually low cut, though some shoes have a tiny bit of ankle support, but never as high as with a backpacking boot. They come usually with burly Vibram soles with a lightweight upper. Like running shoes, they are comfortable right out of the box and do not require any break-in time.
Best Use: moderate backpacking, long distance lightweight hikes, day hikes.
Hiking boots range on a spectrum of light hikers to backpacking boots, and the weight varies considerably along this spectrum. What mainly classifies a “boot” is a cut that reaches up on the ankle, a hard rubber sole, and the fact they are usually waterproof. A traditional backpacking boot has a higher cut above the ankle than a light hiker, and is usually constructed with a full leather upper. A light hiker might have parts of mesh or lighter textile on the upper, but typically still protects the ankle.
Best Use: backpacking with heavy loads, hiking particularly rough terrain, hiking through snow where kicking steps might be necessary.
With full shanks, very stiff soles, and a high cut that usually also includes a gaiter, these are the heavy-hitters in the world of boots. Mountaineering boots are also insulated and have hard plastic inserts along the heel and sometimes on the toe to accommodate crampon bales. Though the weight and stiffness of these boots is overkill most of the time, these features are vital to mountaineers and ice climbers who spend their time traveling in snow and need the option of strapping on a crampon.
Best Use: extreme hiking through snow, mountaineering, ice climbing.
After choosing which category fits your needs, there are a few important decisions to consider.
Editor’s Choice Award: The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR III
The recipient of the Editor’s Choice Award goes to the The North Face Hedgehog GTX 3, which is an all-around stunning shoe. Between its ultra-low weight, great support, superior waterproofing, and all-around comfort and maneuverability, it became second nature for our testers to reach for the Hedgehog when heading out on any adventure.
Top Pick for Heavier Loads: Salomon Exit Peak Mid 2 GTX
The Salomon Exit Peak Mid 2 GTX provided substantially more support than any other shoe in the category and functioned great as a shoe for heavier loads, while still being reasonably light weight compared to a full hiking boot. With a slightly higher cut than other hiking shoes, it held the ankle well across burly terrain.
Best Buy Award: Keen Ambler
The Keen Ambler, which we found on some deal sites for a stunning price, is a killer value compared to the rest of the shoes tested, which fall in solidly above the $100 line. The Ambler is a comfortable and casual shoe that fit our testers’ needs for a lightweight shoe for situations that didn’t require too much support.
What to Consider?
In addition to focusing on weight, comfort, and support, we also looked at the traction, waterproofing, durability, and versatility of each shoe. To learn more about the criteria for evaluation, check out our Buying Advice.
The old mantra of long distance hiking states, “It requires five times as much energy to move weight on your feet as it does to move weight on your back.” Ask any PCT or AT hiker and they will attest to this. Going from a two-pound pair of shoes to a four-pound pair of shoes is equivalent to adding 10 pounds to your pack. With folks being as weight conscious as cutting toothbrushes in half, it would be silly to hit the trail with shoes that add virtual weight equal to hundreds of half-toothbrushes.
Weight is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a shoe that you’ll be using for hiking or backpacking. One pound on your feet is equal to five pounds on your back (more on this in the Buying Advice), so it is crucial to find a light shoe to give you the most time on the trail without fatigue. Additionally, when we are looking for the best shoe that will let us have fun adventures this means running off to a nearby rock colony or hopping rocks across a creek. In contrast to a heavy, full leather-backpacking boot, we wanted our hiking shoe to be fun and springy.
The lightest option is the The North Face Hedgehog GTX 3, which was one of our testers’ favorite shoes. The ultra low weight of the Hedgehog (coming in at a stunning 1.59 pounds a pair) left our feet happy by the end of long trail days and gave us the stamina to make the extra push. The shoe instantly feels light when it is picked up and also according to our scale, but it feels even lighter on the foot. The lightweight upper materials, matched with a strong but lightweight sole, lets this shoe easily excel past the rest of the field. Coming in a close second at 1.87 pounds per pair, the Merrell Moab Ventilator is also a very light option for those looking to save weight, although it does lack a waterproof membrane and a stronger construction that the Hedgehog boasts. We factored each shoe’s weight as 20 percent of its total score.
Comfort obviously is an important feature in a shoe, but sometimes it is difficult to tell if a shoe really is comfortable from just trying it on in a store. Many shoes wear in differently, and we all know there is nothing worse than a shoe that was insanely comfortable in the store but after 100 miles feels like you’re wearing a brick. It is important to note that comfort will be subjective, based on the shape of your foot and your needs.
The North Face Hedgehog again took home the prize with the best fit on our testers’ feet, as well as excellent breathability and footbed support. After long outings, our feet still felt great coming out of the Hedgehog. The Patagonia Drifter was another very comfortable shoe. It had an aggressively shaped toe box that seemed to cradle the foot in a secure yet comfortable way. We weighted each shoe’s comfort rating as 25 percent of its total score.
We judged this category based upon the shoe’s ability to not fold laterally across uneven terrain, and how much strength the shoe had against heavier pack weights and pressure. Thinner soled shoes inherently do worse in this category, but it is important to consider your individual needs. Will you be using a hiking shoe as a lightweight alternative to a backpacking shoe, and subjecting it to long distances with heavier pack weights? Or do you need a burly day hiking shoe? While support is a very important category, you need to think critically about your uses, and how much support plays into your own decision.
The Salomon Exit Peak Mid 2 GTX was an outstanding shoe in this category, with a solid sole and stiffer uppers, while still flexing naturally with each step. We weighted each shoe’s support rating as 20 percent of its total score.
Traction obviously can be the difference between a nice, dry, clean creek crossing, and being covered in mud and blood. It’s a huge confidence booster in any shoe to know that you can depend on the traction. Whether it’s on steep, loamy climbs out of river gorges in the Appalachians or across flat slick rocks in the Sierra, traction is crucial. We tested each of these shoes on steep rocks as well as muddy hills. While these two types of traction are generally separate, we did our best with assigning a score to each shoe that encompassed all types of traction.
The Patagonia Drifter took home the prize for traction, as it excelled in both muddy slogs and smooth rocks. The large lugs that wrap around to the edge of the sole provided our testers with confidence in otherwise sketchy situations where traction is the difference between a nasty fall and a fun day. The Salomon Exit Peak’s unique tread pattern reminded us of a car tire, with deep horizontal lugs. This shoe excelled in muddy conditions and did well on rocks, too. We weighted each shoe’s traction rating as 15 percent of its total score.
This category differs from others because it is less performance based and very subjective. Many people purchase a hiking shoe rather than a trail runner or a hiking boot because it can serve many different roles. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on a shoe, it might as well work for you in multiple situations. To test this category, we made our testers take each shoe for a trail run, as well as on a separate occasion, use the shoe with a heavy pack weight to test both ends of the spectrum. A trail run in most of these shoes is in no way suggested nor endorsed by TheOutdoorslifestyle, but our curious testers decided this would be a good idea. Additionally, style and appearance played into this category. Were we comfortable wearing it in a meeting, or out on the town? Or did it look like we were a tired through hiker bumping into town for a well-deserved burger? While some shoes will perform in some settings, others will exceed in the opposite places.
We found that La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX was a casual enough shoe to pull off wearing to work and to casual events, while still being a very robust and technical shoe. However, it was a bit clunky on our trail run test. The Keen Ambler also was a shoe we could throw on our feet to take care of everyday items as well as hit the trails after taking care of business in town. It was light enough to throw around in more athletic situations. We weighted each shoe’s versatility as 5 percent of its total score.
Though water resistant shoes are not always the obvious choice for some individuals seeking out canyoning or warm weather hiking that involves wading, our testers thought it was a great feature on many shoes in snowy environments or casual wear through dew covered fields, or even in light stream crossings.
We were really impressed with the waterproofing of the Salomon Exit Peak Mid 2 GTX which we could hardly even get muddy. Despite jumping in puddles like little kids or intentionally taking the nastiest line through melting snow and mud, the shoe still looks practically brand new. North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR III also was a very impressive competitor. Also the Keen Ambler, much to our surprise since it appears to be such a casual shoe. We weighted each shoe’s water resistance as 10 percent of its total score.
We did our best as testers to smash these shoes into every rock, run through every puddle, pull on every thing way too hard, and generally abuse them to see how they held up. Amazingly, the entire field fared well to our abuse, but the heavier shoes with thicker uppers tended to hold up better than their mesh counterparts. While shoes built with more mesh, such as the Keen Targhee or the Merrell Moab Ventilator, won’t hold up to smashing your foot into sharp rock cracks, they did still perform well in terms of holding support and sole thickness throughout the testing.
La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 was a standout, handling sharp rocks and abrasions surprisingly well. On the flip side, La Sportiva does take a substantial time to break in due to its thick skin. Additionally, we thought the Salomon Exit Peak was a great contender in this category, and with deep lugs in the sole, we discovered the Salomon Exit Peak would serve its owner for many miles to come. We weighted each shoe’s traction 5 percent of its total score.
We all know a shoe poorly fit to your foot shape is a recipe for disaster in the backcountry, with discomfort being the best case scenario and infectious blisters and frostbite being on the bad end of the spectrum. We try to give you the best assessment possible for each shoe regarding the cut and fit, but this is a category that you need to decide yourself. Check out your local outfitter and try on as many shoes as you can that fit your requirements — see where the shoe breaks on your foot, how the heel fits, and how much room you have in the toe box.
It’s important to try on shoes with the footbed and socks you will be wearing in the backcountry. Some modern footbeds have a very high stack height which will drastically affect the shoe’s fit.
If you are in a rainy climate and expect to wear your hiking shoes to work, it’s an obvious choice. For a casual user, a Gore-tex membrane is going to provide great waterproofing without many drawbacks. However, long-distance hikers often prefer non-waterproof shoes because when they (inevitably) get wet, they dry quicker, and drain well. While Gore-tex and other membranes are becoming better every year in terms of breathability, they are still miles behind open mesh panels such as those found in the Merrell Moab Ventilator. If you will be in the snow often, the Gore-tex option is generally the right call.