When we think of hiking, we typically think of boots. Big, heavy, chunky boots which are necessary to protect us from cuts and scrapes, prevent ankle injuries and shield us from the elements. But is all this extra protection really necessary or is it just overkill?
The recent hiking scene has seen a significant shift away from boots towards hiking shoes and trail runners. These are lighter shoes with a low cut that doesn’t cover the ankle. They have clear benefits for shorter, easygoing trails, but are becoming popular for long backpacking trips, too.
Hiking shoes are proving to be a lightweight, flexible and cost-effective option, so let’s look at which features make the best hiking shoes for men.
Features to Consider
Whether you’re a hiking beginner or a seasoned pro, there can be no question that your footwear is the most important piece of outdoor equipment that you will have to purchase.
Each person is different, and will have different requirements from their footwear depending on their feet, physical build, hiking intentions and budget.
- Terrain: where will you be hiking and what is the ground like? Do you prefer well-worn trails, or venturing out into the rugged wilderness? Will you be walking through rivers, over rocks, or on soil?
What will the climate be and what types of weather will you have to endure? Will you need protection from rain or relief from sweat? Will your feet be exposed to excessive heat or cold? The land over which you are traveling will be one of the most important factors when choosing what kind of shoe to wear.
- Comfort: shoes which are even half a size off are likely to cause foot pain and blisters. One advantage of hiking shoes, especially trail runners, is that they require much less breaking-in than boots and can be taken on a hike almost immediately. No matter what shoe you buy, make sure to try them out around town before taking them on the trail.
- The length of your trip: short day-trips may suit a lightweight shoe, but will they be durable enough for a longer trek? You may need to carry a lot of equipment, which usually means a heavy pack.
A shoe will provide less leg and ankle support than a boot, but won’t weigh you down after a long day on the trail.
- Quality: while budget options look appealing in the short term, they will wear out faster and you will need to buy a new pair sooner than you may expect.
Many hiking shoes and runners are made from mesh fabrics, which offer a breathable and flexible feel, while others stick with leather from protection. Your hiking intentions will dictate which material is best for you.
Shoes vs Boots
There are a wide variety of shoe types available, ranging from ultralight trail runners to shoes which resemble a traditional sturdy boot minus the high-top ankle. This is an incredibly popular alternative to the traditional boot.
They are used by marathon runners, hikers, trail runners, fen runners and just about anyone who needs balance, support and flexibility across a variety of landscapes. The table below should provide you with a good idea as to whether hiking shoes are right for you:
• Higher degree of “foot sense” or ability of your foot to feel the ground terrain.
• Waterproof and non-waterproof options available. Quick-drying materials.
• Less time required for breaking-in.
• Allow hikers to build up muscle as the shoes provide less structural support.
• Cooler in hot climates.
• Good tread.
|• Lacks ankle support.|
• Low ankle may allow sticks and rocks into your shoe.
• Thinner material may provide less protection from scrapes and bruises.
• Not suitable for extremely rough terrain.
• Less durable materials.
Top Product Review
What you choose could end up being one of the most important decisions of your expedition, so it’s essential to make the right choice. We’ve compiled this list of the top rated hiking shoes, with the different features of which will suit different situations.
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX Trail Running Shoe
Design Features: Breathable mesh upper; full-length EVA midsole; UltrATAC rubber outsole; PU-coated leather upper midfoot support; midfoot shank; TPU toe cap; Snake Plate under ball of foot; Gore-Tex waterproof membrane.
Best Use: Trail running, fast hiking, gentle to rugged hiking trips, light backpacking.
Description: The Ultra 109 GTX has received rave reviews since its release, and we have to agree! Designed as a trail runner, it features far greater protection and support than the average running shoe.
It isn’t the lightest train runner on the market, but shanks and plates provide extra foot support for rough terrain, as does the TPU toe cap, which will help you avoid knocks from choppy ground.
While many shoes sacrifice suppleness for protection, the Ultra 109 maintains enough flexibility to give a comfortable running or fast hiking experience. The UltrATAC sole is softer than many others, which aids fast movement, but may also wear down quickly.
The waterproof membrane is effective, but may also decline as the shoe wears out. The only real concern with this shoe is the long-term durability. Apart from that, we would highly recommend this versatile shoe for its superb performance in almost any circumstance.
It has excellent traction in most weather, and is appropriate for any trip from an easy day hike, to running, to light backpacking.
Keen Men’s Targhee II Hiking Shoe
Design Features: Waterproof nubuck leather upper; KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membrane; rubber outsole; 4mm multidirectional lugs; Dual density compression molded EVA midsole; Removable metatomical dual density EVA footbed; ESS shank.
Best Use: Moderate hiking trips, light backpacking, hiking through water, mud, snow and ice.
Description: We can see why the KEEN Targhee II is one of the more popular outdoor shoes around. This is a versatile and comfortable shoe, providing good amounts of flexibility and protection.
The leather upper prevents knocks and scrapes, as does the rubber toe shield.
A shank provides extra support too, making this s good shoe for more rugged terrain. The KEEN.DRY waterproof membrane is a good alternative to Gore-Tex and helps in keeping a lower price tag.
It keeps your feet dry while maintaining a level of breathability often lost in waterproof shoes. The lugged soles have good grip, even on muddy and icy ground, making these a good all-weather shoe.
While not as light as some other options, the weight is offset by extra stability and protection. The Targhee II is well suited to light backpacking trips and long distances which cover a wide range of features, from wet to wintery and everything in between.
Vasque Men’s Juxt Multi-sport Shoe
Design Features: Nubuck suede leather upper; Molded EVA midsole; TPU midsole plate; Vasque Off the Grid sticky rubber outsole.
Best Use: Running, mild to moderate hikes, varying temperatures, dry conditions.
Description: The Vasque Juxt Multi-Sport Shoe is indeed a versatile shoe suitable for everyday wear, running and hiking. The full leather upper is protective, yet surprisingly lightweight. This model does not have any waterproofing, and the soles don’t grip well on muddy, wet or icy surfaces.
On the other hand, the lugs do grip well on dry terrain, especially gravel and rock. Perforations in the leather also increase breathability and enable them to dry relatively quickly. The materials are well designed to keep your feet warm in winter and cool in summer.
The lacing system allows for further adjustment to what is already a snugly fitting shoe, with comfortable results, especially for those with narrow feet. A flexible toe and well-cushioned sole make these a great shoe not just for hiking, but for running on the trail.
In fact, we don’t think the Juxt provides enough support for heavy duty backpacking trips. We would highly recommend this shoe for trial running, athletic hikes which may involve some jumping or climbing, and day trips in dry climates.
Salewa Men’s Wildfires GTX Technical Approach Shoe
Design Features: Injected 3D cage, mesh upper reinforced with EXA shell; Multi Fit Footbed technology midsole; patented Salewa 3F lacing system; Vibram traction outsole; breathable Gore-Tex waterproof membrane.
Best Use: Rocky surfaces, approaches for rock-climbers, steep inclines, technical hiking.
Description: Our only pick for technical approach shoes, the Salewa Wildfire GTX is a solid climber’s option with good grip and fit.
Be aware that this is not the shoe for long hikes through unpredictable landscapes. Instead they are intended for walking over rock and steep inclines, as you approach your rock-climbing destination.
You will be able to feel much of the terrain under the soles of these low-to-the-ground shoes, as they are designed to help climbers choose where to safely place their feet. The soles are designed to provide high levels of grip on rock, but the shallow grooves won’t give enough traction for mud, snow or gravelly treks.
They are a bit of a combination between hiking shoes and rock-climbing shoes and a comfortable choice for climbers who are looking for a shoe to take them to where they need to go.
Before you buy, please be aware that this is a specialized shoe and will not suit all hiking situations. With good breathability, traction, waterproofing and a snug fit, we recommend these for steep terrain.
Merrell Men’s Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe
Design Features: Leather and mesh upper; Air Cushion midsole; Vibram rubber outsole; rubber toe bumper and heel counter; antimicrobial agents.
Best Use: Cycling, walking, mild to moderate hiking, long hikes, hot and dry conditions.
Description: Merrell’s Moab Ventilator certainly lives up to its name, presenting a highly breathable and comfortable shoe.
While this shoe doesn’t provide any waterproofing protection, many hikers prefer to a shoe which simply dries quickly rather than one which uses a barrier to keep water out at the expense of breathability.
It is also excellent for hot and dry climates for those hikers whose feet are prone to overheating and sweatiness. Another unique feature for those with sweaty feet are the antimicrobial agents to minimize foot odour – if you are ever embarrassed to remove your shoes at the end of a long day hiking, this might be the choice for you.
A reinforced toe and durable sole protect your feet from bumps, while the air cushion midsole contribute to what is overall a very comfortable shoe. we recommend the Moab Ventilator for long summer hikes on moderate terrain.
La Sportiva Men’s FC Eco 2.0 GTX Hiking Shoe
Weight: 2.8 lb
Design Features: Nubuck leather and fabric upper with abrasion resistant Uretech coating; Dual density ECO trailon midsole; Dual Density midsole; synthetic Vibram outsole; flex control system; impact brake system; Gore-Tex breathable waterproof lining.
Best Use: Walking, moderate to rough hikes, long hikes, wet conditions, light to moderate backpacking.
Description: The LaSportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX is a relatively beefy hiking shoe, with an appealingly understated look and old school charm. Not necessarily the best pick if you are looking for flexibility or a lightweight option, instead this shoe offers durability and plenty of support.
The support and stability of this shoe makes it a good choice for harsher conditions. As is usually the case with heftier shoes, a breaking-in period is necessary, so be prepared to wear these around town before taking them out into the wilderness.
The leather material also lacks breathability, but makes up for it with extra protection from rocky or unforgiving terrain. With good waterproofing, these will keep your feet dry and comfortable in almost any conditions. We love the versatility of these shoes, and recommend them if you intend to attempt harsh terrain but don’t want to go for a full boot.
The North Face Men’s Hedgehog Hike GTX Hiking Shoe
Design Features: Full-grain leather upper with abrasion resistant breathable mesh; synthetic quarter overlays for protection; Gore-Tex breathable waterproof membrane; Vibram soles; Cradle technology which absorbs impact in the midsole.
Best Use: Mild to rough landscapes, rocky terrain, water crossings with little mud, day hikes, lightweight backpacking.
Description: Our second pick from the North Face, The Hedgehog Hike GTX is an updated release of the previous Hedgehog model.
The new version presents a good combination of a lightweight mesh upper, with heavier duty reinforcements to allow for hikes in rougher terrain or even light backpacking.
While these shoes are very supportive on rocky or rough terrain, this also means that they take a bit longer to break in compared to many other lightweight options, and should not be taken on a serious hike straight out of the box.
There are also some questions about the quality of production and durability of this model, as we have found that the glue does wear out fairly easily. On the plus side though, this shoe provides a lot of foot support compared to similar products and extra lacing eyes allow for you to easily adjust the fit around your ankles.
Despite being a lightweight shoe, they’re comfortable enough for light to moderate backpacking as the extra foot support helps while carrying a pack.
While breathable, these also provide good waterproofing and reasonable traction in wet conditions, although the shallow lugs are not recommended for muddy ground. Overall, these shoes are great for dry and rocky conditions while carrying a relatively light pack.
Lowa Men’s Renegade II GTX LO Hiking Shoe
Design Features: Nubuck leather upper; patented PU Monowrap frame midsole; Vibram Renovo rubber outsole; seamless Gore-Tex waterproof lining; Cushioned footbed with perforations for climate control; full length nylon shank.
Best Use: Streetwear, mild to intermediate hikes and daytrips.
Description: The Renegade II GTXL LO is a fantastically lightweight shoe, considering its full leather upper. Surprisingly, considering its materials, this is the lightest shoe in this list.
Lowa has taken out all the stops to make this one of the most comfortable shoes around, and it seems they’ve thought of everything. It’s been waterproofed, yet they’ve perforated the footbed to maximize breathability and comfort in both hot and cold conditions.
While features like the nylon shank make these a great supportive shoe for moderately rough hikes, they are also light enough to be worn as on almost any occasion.
The understated appearance and full leather upper make these a great looking and versatile shoe, and a popular choice for streetwear. While they aren’t the cheapest hiking shoes around, they make a good budget-friendly option if you only want to buy one pair of shoes, rather than buying separate shoes for hiking and everyday wear.
If your life is unpredictable and you are looking for a quality all around shoe for almost any occasion, this is a good choice.
Keen Men’s Saltzman WP Hiking Shoe
Design Features: Waterproof mesh upper; polyurethane midsole; lugged rubber outsole; toe guard; Dual density EVA footbed.
Best Use: Hiking, backpacking, both rough and gentle terrain, wet conditions, winter and cold climates.
Description: The Saltzman WP from Keen’s is a sturdy and robust shoe which is great for a wide range of ground conditions. It combines the casual ease of a shoe, with the stability of a tougher boot.
While we usually associate a sturdy shoe with leather uppers, the mesh material of this one is surprisingly supportive, possibly due to the synthetic grid reinforcements. For this reason, these may be a little stiff out of the box, and will take a bit of time to break-in before you take them on the trail.
Features like the toe bumper also give a bit more help for rugged terrain, making this a good option for backpackers or those on trickier hikes. The traction is quite good, especially on wet surfaces. In fact, this shoe is a standout for its waterproofing and suitability for wet conditions in general.
On the flip side of that, they are not the most breathable shoe, and will keep your feet very warm. Not suited to summer or hot climates, these are a fantastic choice for wet and cold terrain.
It can be tricky to decide which shoe will suit you best, or which features will serve you on the trail. Think about what kind of terrain you are most likely to be covering, and the most suitable shoe will often become clear. If you are looking for a lighter, breathable option, choose a trail runner.
If you are looking for protection and support, a leather shoe may be a good alternative to the traditional boot. Hiking shoes and trail runners are an increasingly popular alternative to boots, but are they worth the hype? What is the real future of hiking: shoes or boots? Let us know what you think in the comments.