Updated November 2017
We sent the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator to our lead tester this fall. Although we had already tested its brother, the Moab 2 Waterproof, the massive popularity and great price of this shoe compelled us to give it a go. It gave our Best Buy Award winner a run for its money, but in the end, we still prefer the Juxt. Head over to the full review of the Ventilator to see if it's the shoe for you.
Best Do-It-All Model
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
Absorbent mesh upper
For three years running, the Ultra 109 GTX
continues to dominate the world of men's hiking shoes. This shoe can indeed do it all, providing the highest all-around performance of any shoe we tested. On top of its unrivaled versatility, this shoe is also one of the most lightweight. Despite its low weight, though, it's still incredibly supportive, granting longer-distance hikers the necessary stability to handle long days under the weight of a pack. The North Face
's proprietary outsole digs into terrains of all sorts, gobbling up the rough stuff without flinching. They're comfortable, too, keeping our feet fresh mile after mile, even when picking up the pace to jog a few of miles. Its ability to switch between long hikes and trail running makes it an excellent choice if you want to do both, and for trips with a single pair of shoes, this is the one.
Read review: The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Low weight and high breathability
Ideal for dry climates
Excellent price for a great shoe
Not for wet environments
This year's Best Buy Award goes to the Vasque Juxt
for reliable performance at a moderate price. The full-leather upper is comfortable and lightweight, and the outsoles handle flat and rough terrain equally well. Its traction on solid ground and loose gravel is exemplary, too. The main drawback is that it doesn't have a waterproof liner, and therefore ill-suited for wet conditions. The majority of hiking is done under dry skies, though, and for that, this breathable shoe fits the bill.
Read review: Vasque Juxt
Top Pick for Aggressive Hiking
Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX
Excellent all-around traction
Performs well on all trails
Unique lacing system not everyone's favorite
Not our favorite for carrying heavy loads
The Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX
didn't take long to impress us from the bottom up. The stiffer-than-most outsole with aggressive lugs make for excellent purchase on nearly any surface, sloppy or dry, and we expect the rubber to hold up much longer than the softer soles of most other contenders. Weighing 2 lbs 1.5 oz and sporting a more narrow feel and fit than the Editors' Choice winner from The North Face, this model is ready to scurry downhill trails or speed through the flats. Your hikes might turn into runs with these shoes. Some might not like the diversion from traditional laces, but we enjoyed the convenience of the Quicklace system and had no problems with it. The North Face
model beats out the X Ultra 2 GTX
when it comes to extended trips with medium to heavy loads. But if slowing down isn't an option for you, this is your shoe. Looking for a little more ankle support? Check out the $165 Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX for the same great performance with more ankle protection
Read review: Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX
Top Pick for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP
Lightweight and breathable leather
Lace up the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP
and kiss tired and sore feet goodbye. This uber-comfy model has the thickest and cushiest soles by far. It's also one of the stiffest in the midfoot and provides excellent torsional stability. This combination of comfort and support makes it a great choice for most day hiking ventures and short backpacking trips. It's lightweight, barely tipping our scales past two pounds, and its eVent membrane is waterproof and breathable. Its durability and traction aren't the best, but for easy to moderate trails (which most trails are), these shoes are adequate and friendly on the feet. Not just for the trails, folks who spend most days on their feet, or anyone who wants to lower the impact on their knees and back, will enjoy wearing this pair. For increased ankle protection, check out our review of the mid-cut boot version of this shoe, the Hoka One One Tor Summit Mid WP
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP
Great for Long Distance Support
Keen Targhee II
Robust toe protection
Roomy toe box great for downhill
Lacing system cinches heel fit
Leaked during testing
Too wide for some folks
Formerly a Best Buy Award winner, the Targhee II
was knocked from its pedestal this year by the Juxt
. It remains a great shoe with a strong group of devotees in the hiking world. When it comes to support from low-cut shoes, these shoes are unmatched. It's not uncommon to see thru-hikers heading out for weeks or months on end in these Keen
's. While it is supportive and stable under medium to heavy loads, it's not our first choice for fast and light day hikes. It also leaked during our water resistance tests, making us less confident when encountering storms and creek crossings. If your style of hiking has you powering through miles for days with a significant pack, though, this model receives our top recommendation. If you prefer a mid-cut boot, the Keen Targhee II Mid took home the Best Buy Award in our hiking boots review
Read review: Keen Targhee II
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout a three-month testing period, we wore these shoes on hundreds of miles of hikes, walks, and jaunts across town. We hit all difficulties of trails and continued hiking where there were none, too. Detailed notes were recorded on performance on each outing, and we used these experiences to score each model in seven unique rating metrics. Furthermore, we designed specific trials and tests for the contenders to further investigate performance capabilities between the pairs, even wearing a different shoe on each foot to compare models. The rating table above displays the combined scores from the weighted individual metrics. In the analysis below we share our findings on each rating metric and the top scorers in each.
The 2017 contenders in all their glory. The back row (from the left): Vasque Juxt, HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP, La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, Keen Targhee II. The front row: Columbia Redmond, Merrell Moab 2, Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX, Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX, Asolo Agent GV.
Comfort is king in the world of hiking shoes. Whether you're spending hours or weeks on the trail, nothing is more important for enjoying your on-foot adventures than happy feet. Many factors influence comfort: the amount of padding in the upper, how well the shoe fits your foot when correctly sized, and how the lacing system adjusts fit. Other factors include foot protection across rough terrain, breathability, and shock absorption.
We took extensive notes on the comfort-effecting features of each shoe. We considered the padding in the upper and the tongue, checked the feeling when laced and standing, and how long the break-in period was if any. We walked on flat and rough trails in each to see how well they handle each, noting any soreness or tiredness our feet developed. The roominess of the toe boxes, arch support, rockered soles, and overall protection were all scrutinized as well.
Out of sight, out of mind. We liked the easy stowing of the laces in the elastic tongue pocket.
Lacing systems have a substantial effect on comfort, and so we examined how they each work and the ease or difficulty of fine-tuning the fit. We enjoyed the ease and high functionality of speed lacing systems that require no knot-tying, as found on the Salomon
, and La Sportiva
models. To test shock absorption in each model, we jumped down off a boulder onto a flat rock landing and noted how much impact was felt in our feet and knees.
The Redmonds look pretty sweet in this photo, but extended hiking on uneven surfaces and rocks results in sore feet inside this shoe.
Finally, we looked at how well each model breathes. Dry feet are comfortable feet, and a good design keeps feet dry when splashing through puddles and breathes well on warmer days. We took each model to the local gym to walk on a treadmill at the same speed (3 mph), same incline (moderate), and for the same distance (1 mile) in the same socks (no fear, we cleaned them between trials). Afterward, we noted how hot our feet were, then removed the shoes to check for sock dampness and sweat accumulation on our feet. The two products without a waterproof membrane, the Vasque Juxt
and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator
, turned out to breathe the best. Of the shoes with waterproof membranes, the Columbia Redmond
breathes the most.
Shock absorption testing in the Tor Summit.
The Tor Summit
ticked the most boxes in the comfort department. The sole is extra thick with varying densities, which absorbs impact and uneven surfaces without batting a lace eyelet. They kept our feet comfortable and fresh, even under the weight of a medium pack over several miles and on long descents. Comfort is important on the trails, and it's important to remember that a shoe's comfort depends on a good fit.
The lightweight Terrex Swift blurs the arbitrary line between a heavy trail runner and light hiker.
Light is right for footwear. Lifting an additional half pound with each step is noticeable as the miles pass. Choosing the lightest footwear with enough stability for your ankles and feet are a top consideration. Hiking shoes fit a sweet spot between boots and trail runners; boots are heavier but provide better ankle stability, and trail runners are lighter but aren't as durable or supportive of the foot.
To ensure accuracy in our comparison, we weighed each of the models we tested, all size 11.5s, on a digital scale. Each was weighed with the insoles and laces supplied by the manufacturer straight out of the box. The Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX
and Columbia Redmond Waterproof
are the lightest pairs tested, weighing 1 lb. 13.6 oz. and 1 lb. 14.1 oz., respectively. The North Face
model also came in under two pounds. The heaviest model tested is the Keen Targhee II
, which translates to more stability.
When the stakes are high and losing your footing means getting drenched in a cold mountain stream, you want solid traction underfoot.
When hiking, confidence that our foot will stay put with every step is valuable. Traction relies on the design and material composition of the outsole. Vibram soles are popular, and their carbon rubber soles covered the bottoms of four of the contenders in this review. We were surprised, however, that several manufacturers are turning to proprietary outsoles for their hiking shoes, some of which provided the best traction overall. Regardless of who made the outsole, each hiker in this review has a unique sole shape and tread pattern of lugs. This reflects the obvious fact that there is no single answer for great traction on every possible surface. While all models proved capable walking across smooth, dry dirt trails, the differences shone through in trickier terrain. From thick mud to slushy snow to rock slabs to loose sand and gravel, we tested these shoes over surfaces encountered when hiking.
Each model was tested side-by-side on five separate surface types to come up with the shoes' overall traction score. We often wore different shoes on each foot when trekking through the test areas to have direct comparisons in their purchase ability. First, we walked up and down dry granite slabs. Most models performed well in these scenarios, while the Targhee II
, Moab 2
, and Agent GV
stuck best to the steepest slopes. All three pairs have lugs that allow for lots of surface area contact. In our wet rock test, we walked back and forth across the same wet rocks in mountain brooks and streams. The Terrex Swift R GTX
gave us the most confidence when crossing wet granite.
Side-by-side traction testing with the Adidas model on the left foot and the Vasque shoe on the right foot.
We also hustled up slopes of loose sediment in our traction tests, in which the more aggressive tread of the Salomon
and The North Face
models dug in better than the rest. On the eastern side of the Sierras in Spring, we found a trail covered in mud from the thawing snow. Again, the deep and multi-directional lugs of the Salomon X Ultra
cut through the mud most efficiently, finding undercover rocks or more stable soil to gain purchase. We also preferred the shoes with heel brakes when descending loose and sloppy terrain, keeping us from sliding out much better than the outsoles without it.
Oops! We sank in over our cuffs while testing traction on muddy surfaces. Here is the Ultra 109 GTX on the left and the Terrex Swift on the right.
Matching shoes to your most common trail conditions helps you achieve the most out of your outsoles. Consider the ground you hike most often and check out the individual reviews which highlight how each model performed on every type of surface tested.
Trailside boulders are just too tempting to resist. If this speaks to you, aim for a shoe with good traction on dry rock like this Vasque model.
Finally, we walked up and down some gentle snow-covered slopes warmed into a slushy state by the midday sun. The Salomon
and North Face
models kicked in steps in the snow the best going up. Coming down, we again fell for outsoles with heel brakes which tended to catch a sliding foot well. The La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX also did well in the snow
. On top of our specifically designed tests, we also factored our experiences on and off trail while hiking into the traction score.
Even on rough and chossy terrain, the Ultra 109 GTX pulled through with great foot support and stability.
How much support a shoe provides is based on several factors, including the thickness and materials of the midsole, thickness of the outsole, the shape of the last, and, to a lesser extent, the insole. An ideal hiking shoe is stiff from heel to midfoot but flexible up front. Most models reviewed included a shank between the midsole and outsole, which increases stiffness and protects over rough terrain. Stability is also a factor, which is influenced by forefoot width and the height of the ankle collar.
If ankle protection and support is a key concern for you, consider a pair of hiking boots.
To investigate stiffness underfoot, we tested the lateral torsion of each model. Solid torsional support reduces the risk of injury in uneven terrain and when carrying a load. Holding the front of the shoe in one hand and the heel in the other, we twisted the shoe, similar to wringing out a towel. The more resistant a shoe was to twisting indicated greater rigidity in the sole. This rigidity improves a shoe's support when moving through talus and rough terrain, or scrambling and hopping boulders. The Keen Targhee II
and HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit
are the stiffest in a group of contenders that varies widely in this aspect. The Columbia Redmond
and La Sportiva
models are much less rigid and therefore less supportive. We were pleased that all products reviewed flexed sufficiently in the forefoot.
Good foot support is appreciated on trails littered with rocks and obstacles.
We also measured the forefoot at its widest point on each product. Wide bases provide a stable foundation for powering through each step. The HOKA ONE ONE
, and The North Face
models tied for the widest forefoot at 4.75 inches. We also measured the height of the ankle collar (from the footbed to the highest ankle point) to check ankle stability. While ankle protection is more of a thing with hiking boots, we still appreciate a pair of hiking shoes that offers more stability than a typical trail runner. The La Sportiva
model crept up our ankles the highest at 4.125 inches.
The Synthesis Mid GTX carried us through the boulder fields for a weekend around Bishop, CA without minding 10-15 pounds of crash pad, climbing shoes, water, and lunch on our backs.
Lastly, we also considered the quality of the insole. It appears that some manufacturers view the insole as just an opportunity to add cushioning and improve the fit of the footbed. We appreciated manufacturers that took the insole as an opportunity to add support to the heel and midfoot. The stiffest insole award goes to the Keen
's, while the Salomon
, and Merrell
products also beefed up their insoles by adding a second, more dense layer of foam to the back half of the foot. This extra support did not take away from comfort in the footbed in any case. While many hikers see buying third-party insoles as automatic, hiking shoes are not cheap, and we like insoles that aren't, too.
The insoles. Top row (from the left): HOKA ONE ONE, La Sportiva, Adidas, The North Face, Asolo. Bottom row: Vasque, Salomon, Keen, Merrell, Columbia.
Overall, the Targhee II
proved the most supportive of the bunch and a great choice for backpacking, featuring great torsional stability with a flexible forefoot, a solid forefoot width, and our favorite insole for support. Following close behind were the North Face
and HOKA ONE ONE
models, which have thick, supportive midsoles. The Redmond
scored the lowest in this category. We were able to wring the shoe in our torsional stability test, thin midsoles, and its below-average ankle collar height and forefoot width didn't stack up to the stability of the other shoes. The La Sportiva
model also lacked midsole support in under the foot arch and was too flexible in the midfoot.
Downward slope? Don't mind if I do speed on when wearing the Ultra 109 GTX.
How many things can one pair do? Several considerations went into versatility scores. Some of these shoes are comfortable on flat trails and rough terrain, and some handle moderate loads without wincing. We value a shoe that is comfortable for short day hikes and also supportive enough for light backpacking trips.
Do you want one do-it-all shoe or a quiver of options for different adventures? If you are new to hiking, it's likely that a versatile, do-everything shoe fits your needs. But, if you have specific priorities and a bigger budget, two or more pairs of specialized shoes could give you focused performance. Keep in mind that a shoe designed for hiking is only part of your adventure footwear quiver, which might already include boots and trail running shoes.
The high ankle collar and waterproof upper of the Synthesis Mid GTX make a great combination for strapping into snowshoes.
At a bare minimum, a product in this category must handle several miles with a light daypack stuffed with a water bottle, snacks, an extra layer, and a camera. All models passed this low standard. During testing, we also packed a midsize pack with 15-20 pounds and hit the trails in the contenders. After a few miles, the pack separated. Our favorites for moderate backpacking trips are the Keen Targhee II
and The North Face
models, which have great ankle and foot support.
We tested each shoe with a medium load over several miles to assess each model's ability on backpacking trips. The Agent GV, shown here, wasn't our first choice for backpacking.
Out on the trail, we ran a few miles with a light pack in each pair. Fastpacking adventures are fun and growing in popularity, and we wanted to know which models were up to the task. This trend is reflected in the market, as many hikers available look like beefed up trail runners. Several shoes in this review felt natural at a running gait, but none combined nimble running ability with powerful support better than the Salomon X Ultra
. We also appreciate hiking shoes that don't scream "I went hiking today!" when worn casually. The Asolo Agent GV
and Vasque Juxt
did the best job blending in around town. Hiking shoes usually don't come in a plethora of color options, but most models in this review have a few different colors to choose from.
Stomping through puddles is a simple pleasure in the Ultra 109 GTX, which has a Gore-Tex waterproof liner.
It's no secret dry feet provide more comfort and warmth than wet ones. Moisture and water in the footbed also increase the likelihood of blisters. The trade-off for solid waterproofing is lower breathability, warmer feet, and a higher price tag. Nine of the ten shoes reviewed have a waterproof membrane, with the outlier being the Vasque Juxt
. We chose the waterproof versions because the average hiker encounters wet conditions often, from water crossings to muck and slush to precipitation and more. Of those with membranes, the Keen
models incorporate proprietary membranes, KEEN.DRY and Omni-Tech, respectively. The other waterproof models featured some type of Gore-Tex or eVent waterproof breathable membranes.
Most manufacturers produce waterproof and non-waterproof versions of their hiking shoes. If you don't need the protection, the non-waterproof versions are almost always cooler, more breathable, and cost less.
To score the contenders in this metric, we considered their individual flood heights, how readily the upper absorbs water, and performance in our waterproof challenge. After a couple months of hiking, we headed to a small mountain stream in the Eastern Sierras. Checking for leaks, we splashed around in water deep enough to cover the forefoot. We walked around and flexed the forefoot in order see if the added stress induced leakage. After five minutes, we removed the shoes to see if any water made it inside.
Not only did the Adidas model pass our waterproof test, its synthetic upper resisted absorbing water well, too.
The Salomon X Ultra 2
emerged from the water on top of all other models. It has the tallest flood height (4.75 in.), kept our feet dry through the waterproof test, and resisted absorbing water into its leather and synthetic upper. Similar water resistance effectiveness came from the La Sportiva
, and The North Face
models, passing the waterproof test but having lower flood heights. Any water these models did soak up dried quickly.
The X Ultra 2 GTX is the closest to a fish in water, receiving the highest score in our water resistance metric.
A few seconds after stepping into the water in the Juxt
and the Ventilator
, our feet were soaked. Not having a waterproof membrane, this was expected, and we only put them through this liquid suffering for equality's sake. Two shoes with waterproof membranes, however, did leak — both the Keen Targhee II
and the Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof
. Our feet remained dry for a few minutes in both, but they couldn't survive the full five minutes underwater. The Keen leaked more than the Merrell, while the Merrell absorbed more liquid into its mesh-heavy upper. Water resistance declines with use and time, but we expected more from these two models after 15-20 miles on each pair.
Post waterproof test results: The Moab 2 leaked.
All of these shoes benefit from a leather or fabric conditioner applied to the upper. Nikwax has a range of products that are great for treating the mixed material uppers of these shoes. A leather or fabric treatment keeps water from soaking the shoe's upper materials. Even when water is stopped by the waterproof liner, it makes your shoe heavy and hinders breathability. The La Sportiva
, and Asolo
products soaked up the least water and dried faster than the others.
If heavy dew and water crossings are common where you hike, consider choosing a dark color option for your shoes. This allows them to dry quickly when it's sunny.
The Agent GV has superior construction and materials, combining for a very durable shoe.
The are many trade-offs when designing hiking footwear, and the opportunity cost for a durable shoe is commonly more weight. A focus on making lightweight, comfortable shoes means that durability is less of a focus. Full leather uppers tend to be more durable than synthetics, but also weigh more. Rubber-covered toe boxes also increase durability in that high-wear area, yet again add to the shoe's weight. Durable, dense rubber soles are also heavier than softer rubber. Your hiking shoes take more punishment than any other kind of hiking gear you wear, making craftsmanship, materials, and design an important part of choosing a pair that ages well.
While we didn't test the entire lifespan of each product, we put a minimum of 15 to 20 miles on each shoe and checked them at the end of the testing period for any signs of weakness or wear. Inspecting each shoe, we looked at protection in high wear areas, rubber density of the sole, materials and construction of the upper, quality of stitching, and other unique characteristics of each shoe. We also read online reviews and talked to fellow hikers on the trails about their shoe experiences ("Hey, how do you like your Merrells?").
The exposed stitching on the heel is vulnerable to damage when scraping against rocks.
The Asolo Agent GV proved to be the most durable shoe
in our review. It features excellent toe protection, a durable suede leather upper, a stiff PU insert, and overall quality construction from sole to stitches. It barely showed any signs of the abuse we put it through after three months. On the other side of the spectrum are the Redmond
and Synthesis Mid GTX
. Both shoes exhibited poor durability, with ripping mesh and toe cap peeling, respectively, after a few months of use. Both shoes have poor toe protection, an area of high abuse, and lack dense rubber outsoles to withstand rough trails.
Washing off the Moab 2's after a particularly muddy trail.
Cleaning and treating your footwear increases its life expectancy. Mud and sand left on the shoe's upper create premature wear. Warm water and a soft brush are your best tactic for cleaning. Nikwax offers a line of leather and fabric conditioners, including products for suede leather and synthetic fabrics. Common wear areas, like the flex points on the forefoot and seams that are prone to scuffing, can be reinforced. Applying Gear Aid Seam Grip or a similar sealer keeps out dirt and sand, prolonged use, and has the added benefit of keeping water out.
Do yourself a favor and visit the Care and Feeding section of our hiking boot review for more information on cleaning, treating and extending the life of hiking footwear.
Wherever your feet lead you, we want you to have the best shoes for the task. Happy feet, happy hiking, happy souls!
The variety of hiking footwear for outdoor folks these days is a blessing. With high traction, comfy soles and waterproof uppers that support the foot while freeing your ankle, hiking shoes are the choice of many hikers today. We designed this review to be comprehensive in its scope and detailed in its testing to help you get on the trails with the ideal footwear for your hiking style. But you may need the support and ankle stability that a boot provides, or even enjoy pushing the capabilities of light trail running shoes. We cover the best uses and defining attributes of these types of outdoor footwear above, and delve into the fine details in our Buying Advice
article, where fitting and sizing is also detailed.