I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say:
Walking all day in uncomfortable shoes sucks.
Now imagine walking all day or even days in uncomfortable shoes. If you have the wrong footwear it’s going to suck big time. Or at the very least it’ll be much harder than it would be had you selected the right pair of shoes beforehand.
As it turns out you can avoid that if you simply select the right pair of shoes, to begin with. All you have to do is get the right pair of shoes.
In this article, I am going to show you exactly how to select the best pair of hiking shoes for your next wilderness outing and offer a few suggestions on what I consider to be the best hiking shoes for the money.
If you want to know what the best hiking shoes are and how to choose them all you have to do is read on….
Best Hiking Shoes Reviews
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Saloman X Ultra 3 GTX Review
The Salomon X Ultra 3 is a tough hiking shoe that feels like it really should be a trail runner. Thankfully unlike a trail runner, you don’t sacrifice protection.
Salomon provides a decent toe cap and an extremely stiff outsole. The stiff outsole has deep lugs to provide excellent traction in all conditions making it a pretty universal shoe.
The shoes also feature fairly adequate padding in the insole, collar, and tongue making them great to wear on longer hikes. Your feet will thank you if you have to cover a lot of distance.
The Ultra 3 comes with Salomons' signature one pull quick lacing system that is quick to use and provides a tight fit. However, this seems to be a system people either love or they hate.
A few things I dislike about this shoe include that it runs pretty narrow. People with wider feet should probably look elsewhere. This includes myself. This particular model also doesn’t offer as much support as I would like. However, it is fine if you’ll be carrying a light pack.
Overall this shoe is built with durability, comfort, and traction in mind. Salomon did an excellent job of pulling from their hiking experiences and created a fantastic hiking shoe that is sure to serve you well for many years.
- Great stability and durability
- Both waterproof and breathable
- Runs narrow
- Unique lacing system that people either love or hate
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX Review
If you’re looking for a shoe that can compete with the Salomon Ultra 3 listed above I suggest taking a look at the North Face Ultra 109 GTX.
This shoe is stiffer and offers more stability on varying terrain than the Ultra 3 thanks to its solid and varied lug pattern.
The north face 109 is lined with gore-tex that makes it both waterproof and breathable. This is a great choice for wet and muddy conditions. But probably not for crossing creeks.
While the lining does a good job of keeping water from inside the shoe the upper mesh does absorb and hold onto water. Making the shoe heavier. If you’ll be crossing a lot of creeks and streams you may wish to look for a shoe with better water resistance.
The North Face Ultra 109 does come with trail-ready comfort right out of the box. Helping to keep your feet in top shape mile after mile. Even when picking up the pace or jogging. However, thanks to the stiffer sole they will have a longer break-in period.
When looking for a shoe to be used for bugging out the North Face Ultra 109 is a great shoe for the job. It allows you to cover varying terrain easily while also providing comfort and allowing you to pick up the pace if need be.
- Waterproof and breathable
- All around performance
- Great stability and traction
- Absorbment mesh upper
- Pretty heavy for a performance model
La Sportiva Spire GTX Review
As one of the more expensive shoes on the list the La Sportiva Spire GTX offers a few extra features you won’t find on some of the other cheaper shoes on this list.
For instance, the waterproofing of this shoe is much better than that of The North Face Ultra 109.
The Spire offers a waterproof gore-tex layer and a gusseted tongue to keep water from soaking into your socks. While waterproofing and breathability come at a tradeoff usually the Spire does an excellent job at providing both.
The secret is the Gore-Tex surround. Every step you take compresses a liner in the midsole that is designed to squeeze sweat vapor out through the sides and the bottom of the foot. The Spire GTX also features a mesh upper that adds to the breathability of the shoe.
While this is technically a hiking shoe the Spire GTX is built much like a trail runner. The shoe is incredibly lightweight and provides excellent stability on varying terrain. If you’re looking for a shoe that will carry you through miles and miles of backcountry terrain this shoe is for you.
- Great support
- Long term durability is questionable
Keen Targhee II Review
The Keen Targhee is a great shoe for those with wider feet like myself.
A few other great features of this shoe include the fact it has removable insoles, making them a great choice for people who need to use orthopedic insoles, and features a higher cut than most other hiking shoes.
The higher cut allows you to carry more weight and offers more stability on rough terrain. These shoes feature excellent toe protection to protect your feet from unseen rocks and branches, perfect for when the trail gets rough.
The Keen Targhee II also is waterproof but you don’t get the same waterproof rating as you get with the North Face Ultra 110 and the breathability seems to really be lacking. One other thing to note is the stitching in the toe box.
While these shoes are certainly durable and built with quality really rough terrain and hard use can cause the stitching to come loose. So extra care is required with these shoes. On the other hand, the Keen Targhee are also the cheapest shoes on the list.
If you’ll just be wearing these shoes to bug out they are an excellent shoe to buy and will last quite a while. However, I would not expect the same quality as what you’ll get in some of the other shoes on this list.
Merrell MOAB Ventilator Review
The Merrell Moab Ventilator is an excellent hiking shoe for keeping your feet cool all day. This shoe features a mesh upper and leather to keep your feet breathable and dry.
Although they do lack some of the waterproofing that some other shoes on this list offer.
The shoe fits comfortably right out of the box with its high-performance Vibram sole, built in molded EVA, and air cushion midsole you can hit the trail no problem. But don’t expect to be hitting the trail at a fast pace as the Moab Ventilator is one of the heaviest shoes on this list.
Traction on the Moab seems to be fairly decent in on wet and muddy trails but falls short on rocky and shifting terrain. They also don’t tend to provide much arch support. If arch support is something you need you will need special insoles.
One great thing about this shoe is that it does support wider feet. It also means this shoe pairs well with thicker socks if you’ll be traveling in cooler conditions.
Overall the complaints about this shoe are minimal at best. It is a fantastic shoe and is well worth adding to your hiking collection. If waterproofing is something you need there is a waterproof version of the Merrell Moab Ventilator available.
- Breathe well
- Not a great shoe for rough terrain
- Not waterproof
- Less durable
How To Choose The Best Hiking Shoes
Hiking Shoes vs Trail Runners
For most day hikes and even through hikes a shoe that falls just below the ankle is going to be your best bet. Hiking shoes tend to fit this bill better than trail runners because they are made with tougher more durable materials.
With hiking shoes, you get increased protection from the use of rubber toe caps and better traction thanks to stiffer midsoles. Hiking shoes tend to be made from materials such as leather and other durable nylons rather than mesh.
Because hiking shoes are low cut they tend to be lighter than a hiking boot and will allow you to cover larger distances with less fatigue.
If moving as quickly as possible is all that matters to you picking up a pair of trail runners may be a better fit for you. Trail runners are super lightweight but don’t offer a lot of the protection you get with hiking shoes.
Trail runners tend to offer comfort and flexibility but lack ankle support. If you’re hiking on clear trails or going ultralight trail runners can be an excellent choice over hiking shoes. But if you’ll be in the thick of it a good pair of hiking shoes will better suited.
Comfort and Fit
Find the right fit will ultimately determine how comfortable the shoe is. This is why it’s so important that you find the right fit. Everyone is different and they all have different requirements. Especially when it comes to shoes.
One of the best ways to find the proper fit for you is to visit a shoe store and actually have them measure your foot. Once you have the measurements it will be much easier to shop for shoes.
When shopping for outdoor shoes you should try to visit an outdoors store and try on as many pair of shoes as possible until you find the size and model that works best for you.
In order to know if a shoe fits properly your heel should not slide up and down in the shoe and there should be roughly a ½” of space between the end of the shoe and your heel. If trying out in the store lace up the shoes and take a walk around the store to make sure they fit well.
When trying on shoes be sure to take the socks you intend to wear with them. Thicker socks may not fit well. Also if you wear custom insoles or orthotics be sure to take them with you as well. You want to be absolutely sure that the hiking shoes you choose fit properly or they won’t be comfortable.
Another way to make sure shoes are comfortable is to look at the type of material the insole is made from. Insoles are typically made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and the thickness of the insole can affect how comfortable the shoe is to wear.
Support and Weight
Weight is a surprising factor when it comes to choosing which shoes to buy. Weight carried on the feet actually requires 4 - 6 times more energy than weight that is carried on your back. That is why hiking shoes are preferable to large hiking boots most of the time.
Lighter shoes are best for walking long distances on fairly stable terrain such as roads or well-blazed trails. Less weight on your feet also allows you to be more agile and can actually reduce fatigue in your feet.
When it comes to support there are a few factors you will need to consider. The two main ones will be what kind of terrain will you be traversing and how much weight will you be carrying.
If your bag is fairly heavy you may benefit more from a hiking boot. Likewise, if your path is going to take you into rough terrain.
One way hiking shoes provide support is through the materials they are made with. Materials such as leather or thermoplastic urethane added onto the material can help give your hiking shoes more rigidity and will last longer.
Know what you’ll be carrying and what kind of terrain you expect to encounter is super important since hiking shoes will always give you less support than hiking boots.
Waterproof Membrane and Breathability
It should be your goal to keep your feet as dry as possible. Trench foot is a real thing and is caused by wet feet trapped inside shoes for a long period of time.
The main problem with waterproof shoes is that they tend to be hotter than non-waterproof shoes. The tradeoff is that your shoes become more versatile and can be used in all seasons.
Leather is a material that is naturally waterproof but has the disadvantage of being less breathable than other materials. This is why you will often see leather shoes with mesh on the sides to allow for air flow.
Another downside to leather is that you need to regularly apply a waterproofing treatment if you want the shoes to stay waterproof.
When it comes to finding a material that is both breathable and waterproof it can be fairly difficult. Thankfully Gore-Tex is now available to fill that role. Gore-tex is a synthetic material that is waterproof and allows for greater breathability than leather. The downside to gore-tex is that it costs a lot more than leather.
Arguably traction is just as important as proper fit and support. If you’ll be traversing over washed out or slicker terrain traction is definitely important.
To tell if a shoe will provide adequate traction or not you simply need to look at the lug. The lug is the depth of tread on the sole of the shoe. The deeper the tread and the wider the space between them the better the overall traction will be.
If you are buying your shoes in a store, see if they have a ramp you can walk on. Walking on an angled surface will give you a pretty good idea of how good the traction is on the shoes.
Take a hike down any trail and you’ll eventually hit an unseen rock or tree root. It’s just the nature of the beast. If you’re not traveling on blacktop it is strongly recommended you pick up a pair of shoes that offers decent toe protection.
Almost all hiking shoes will offer a rubber toe cap but trail runners may offer a slimmed down toe cap or none at all. This is a compromise you will need to make. Moving as quickly as possible does come with some drawbacks. Be sure to consider your situation when choosing a shoe for your next outing.
Laces and lacing systems are often overlooked but are actually a critical factor when it comes to how comfortable the shoe is. If the lacing system doesn’t secure your foot in the shoe or allows your heel to move up and down in the shoe it won’t be very enjoyable.
By not properly securing your foot in the shoe you can develop hot spots, blisters or even possibly injure yourself due to lack of stability. When buying hiking shoes be sure that the laces or lacing system keeps your foot in the shoe and doesn’t allow your heel to move up and down.
You also want to make sure that the laces don’t loosen easily. Otherwise, you’ll be stopping to tighten them all the time. Not a great plan when you have to move quickly.
When choosing the best hiking shoes there are a number of things you need to consider. Features such as traction, comfort, support, and material quality are crucial factors in determining if the shoe in question is going to be up to the task.
The old saying you get what you pay for comes to mind. Hiking shoes may be pricey but trust me when I say the quality and features you get from some of the more expensive shoes on this list is well worth it. Especially if you’ll be hiking on a regular basis or doing long through hikes.
A lot of hikers tend to forget about their feet and that is a mistake. If you can’t walk, you're not hiking anywhere. Make sure you have the right footwear for the job.
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As always thanks for reading and remember adventure...is waiting.