10 Best Hiking Shoes & Boots of 2019
When preparing for a backpacking trip, footwear will be one of the most important gear decisions you'll make. Blisters, strained muscles, and scrunched toes can quickly ruin any backpacking trip, so this is an area where testing and experience go a long way.
At CleverHiker, we almost always backpack in lightweight trail runners for our spring, summer, and fall trips. They keep our feet nimble, minimize blisters, dry quickly, offer excellent traction, and don’t exhaust our legs over long days of hiking. That said, many people still prefer the durability and support of hiking shoes and boots. In this article, we outline our top picks in all three areas: trail runners, hiking shoes, and hiking boots.
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We fully understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously. Here are some of the reasons you can trust us:
Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.
We’ve logged over 10,000 trail miles and test outdoor gear for a living.
We own and field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.
We travel to industry trade shows to learn about upcoming product innovations.
We constantly update our guides when new products launch.
We treat our recommendations as if they were for our family and friends.
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Best Lightweight Trail Runners
We’ve hiked thousands of miles in trail runners over some of the toughest terrain on the planet, including the Himalayas, Andes, and the Rockies. Trail runners are by far our top choice for almost every 3-season backpacking trip we take. In addition, trail runners are the most common footwear choice for thru-hikers tackling long distance trails like the AT, PCT, and CDT.
We feel that trail runners have the best balance between weight, durability, comfort, and breathability. They dry quickly when wet and are far less likely to give us blisters. Want to learn more? Check out our 5 Reasons to Ditch Hiking Boots.
While we feel trail runners provide the best advantage and comfort for us, everybody’s feet are different. Below are our recommendations for the best lightweight trail runners, but later in the post we'll give some good options for hiking shoes and boots.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 5 oz (pair)
We've been hiking with Saucony Peregrines for years now and they’ve remained at the top of our list for good reason. In 2019, Saucony released the new Peregrine ISO (men’s and women’s) as the successor to the Peregrine 8. The ISO retains of the qualities we love in the Peregrine- lightweight, incredible traction, comfort, and quick dry times - and somehow made them even better. One of the most notable upgrades is the ISOFIT system, which is essentially a sock-like upper that morphs to your foot as you lace, providing a more comfortable and customizable fit. The Peregrine ISOs are a well-rounded lightweight trail runner that will keep your feet happy on the trail all day long.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 3 oz. (pair)
The Altra Lone Peak 4 (men’s and women’s) are incredibly popular trail runners in the lightweight backpacking community. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and feature a very roomy “foot shaped” toe box. The Lone Peaks have a cushy sole, dry quickly, and have great traction for rugged mountain terrain. Altras are built with a zero-drop build, meaning the heel and ball of your foot will be the same distance from the ground (more on this below). Altras have a unique look and fit due to their wide toe box, but as far as functionality goes, they're at the top of the list for trail runners.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 8 oz. (pair)
The Brooks Cascadia 13 (men’s and women’s) trail runners are quite popular in the backpacking community. They have a comfortable sole and a more durable upper mesh section, so you’ll be able to clock more miles in them. They're a bit heavier than shoes we prefer to hike in, but they’re still within reason. The traction is adequately grippy and they feel comfortable on the foot straight out of the box. The Cascadia 13’s do have a more narrow fit than others, such as the Peregrines or Altras. One area where the Brooks Cascadia 13’s really shine is in their durability. Our biggest gripe is that they don't dry quite as quickly as some other footwear on this list.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 5 oz. (pair)
The La Sportiva Bushido II (men’s and women’s) is a burly, technical shoe with awesome traction. For rough terrain, the Bushido II offers a toughness and durability that can be lacking in other trail runners. Updates in 2019 include a rubber-capped toe, a comfortable tongue design, and increased durability. Our biggest issue with the Bushido is the stiff sole, which can be great for those looking for more protection under foot, but we generally find this to be less comfortable and a bit of an overkill for more casual hiking trips. If you’re looking for a durable and more technical shoe with excellent traction for rough trails, the Bushido II is worth considering.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 4.6 oz.
HOKAs have long been known for their outstanding comfort and featherlight weight on the trail and the Speedgoat 3 (men’s and women’s) is our top pick in their line for the trail. These trail runners provide the standard HOKA cushy comfort we love with burly 5 mm lugs on the Vibram outsole to provide outstanding traction on rough terrain. The Speedgoat 3 features a wider than normal toebox, which is great for long days on the trail. While the thick midsole does a great job of providing protection underfoot from rocks, roots, and other debris, we find the tall stack height in the midsole can make us feel a bit unstable at times. That said, there’s a lot to love in the latest iteration of the Speedgoat.
Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes
For those who aren't quite sold on wearing trail runners for backpacking trips, but don’t want to lug around the weight of hiking boots, may find a hiking shoe to be a good middle ground.
In general, hiking shoes have a tougher, more durable construction than trail runners. With less unsupported mesh and often made with a leather/mesh combo, they generally last longer. Because their soles tend to compress less, you’ll almost always notice a more rigid and stiff sole with hiking shoes compared to trail runners. This can be a good thing if you don’t want to feel the rocks under your feet, but will also mean less comfort and possibly more blisters.
Depending on the model you choose, many hiking shoes are built to be more water resistant. As we mentioned above, this may also mean they take longer to dry on multi-day trips. Below we recommend our favorite hiking shoes that balance weight, comfort, and functionality.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 10 oz. (pair)
The Salomon X Ultra 3 Low (men’s and women’s) is a burly trail ready shoe with a comfortable fit, awesome traction, and more durability than their trail runner counterparts. The Ultra 3's come with their signature one-pull quick lacing system, which can take some getting used to - people either love it or hate it. We've found that these shoes to need a bit more time to break in compared to others. Also, the toe box is more narrow, so those requiring a wider fit may want to look elsewhere. Salomon does offer this shoe in a waterproof gore-tex model. Though heavier than what we usually wear on the trail, what you get in the Salmon X Ultra 3's is a burly, durable, and well-built hiking shoe. If you want more ankle support, they also offer this shoe in a mid height model.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 15 oz. (pair)
If you're not quite sold on hiking in trail runners and want the durability of a hiking shoe, we recommend checking out the Merrell Moab 2 Vent Low (men’s and women’s). Merrell has really nailed comfort with this shoe. It fit our feet well straight out of the box and its cushy soles and tongue feel nice. The combination of suede leather and mesh allows your foot to breathe fairly well but adds durability and protection. The Moab 2's have Vibram soles which offer decent traction, though we felt some of our trail runners outperformed the Moab 2 in this area. For a couple more ounces, Merrell also offers this shoe in a waterproof version.
WEIGHT: 1 lb. 15 oz. (pair)
The North Face Ultra 110 GTX (men’s and women’s) hiking shoe offers trail-ready comfort right out of the box. They are lined with waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex, which make them a good choice for wet and muddy day hikes. The combination of leather and tight mesh make this shoe a more durable option than the trail runners listed above. The Ultra 110 shoe has a solid and varied lug pattern, offering great traction on varying terrain. The soles of these shoes are stiffer than some others. They offer great protection, but can take a bit longer to break in. Another popular hiking shoe from North Face with similar weight and functionality is the Hedgehog Fastpack GTX hiking shoe.
Best Lightweight Hiking Boots
Though many backpackers have transitioned to trail runners or hiking shoes in the last few years, there is still a strong subset of the backpacking world who prefer the durability, protection, and support of boots.
Though rare, some situations do warrant hiking boots for us. We use boots in winter conditions when snow is present and temperatures are cold. We also may use them on extremely slippery or unstable ground, like a rocky ocean shoreline.
Keeping weight down with hiking boots is still very important. Just remember if you’re buying “waterproof” boots, make sure to read our waterproofing section above because many users get disappointed by their performance on multi-day backpacking trips. Hiking boots have generally lightened up over the years, so if you're a tried and true boot person, below are some good options to keep weight down.
WEIGHT: 2 lb. 2 oz. (pair)
The Moab 2 Mid Ventilator (men’s and women’s) is one of the most popular hiking boots, and for good reason. They're relatively lightweight for a hiking boot, affordable, and durable. Like many Merrell products, these are comfortable right out of the box. Made with a combination of suede leather and breathable mesh, this boot will last for years of trail pounding. They also offer the Moab 2 Mid in a waterproof version, however we still prefer the increased breathability offered in the Ventilators. If you generally require a roomier toe box, Merrell offers the Moab 2 boot in a wide model.
WEIGHT: 2 lb. 13 oz. (pair)
The time-tested Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX (men’s and women’s) hiking boot has the burliness of a go-anywhere hiking boot with the chassis of a running shoe, making it a stable yet comfortable fit. We'd hardly call footwear nearing 3 lbs lightweight - nor would we take this out on a 3-season backpacking trip - but for a hiking boot that you can take on a winter backpacking trip or off trail across technical terrain, the Quest 4D 3 GTX boots are a great option. In the new iteration of this popular boot, they've made the lug pattern even more aggressive for outstanding traction. The gore-tex lining will help keep your feet dry in wet or muddy conditions, however like all waterproofing, it will break down over time and this shoe takes a long time to dry when wet. If you're looking to shed some ounces and don't need the high ankle support, Salmon also offers the Salmon Quest 4D 3 Mid GTX.
WEIGHT: 2 lb. 7 oz. (pair)
The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid (men’s and women’s) is a widely popular boot that offers great stability and protection for a mid height boot. For this level of support, the upper collar still feels comfortable and cushy. The gore-tex liner kept our feet dry on day hikes, through water soaked into the leather making them feel heavier than we'd like. Like most hiking boots, we'd take these out on rainy day hikes with moderate loads, but would be hard pressed to take the Renegades out on a multi-day backpacking trips (we prefer trail runners in those circumstances). Lowa offers the Renegade GTX Mid in regular, narrow, and wide options, making them highly customizable.
CRITICAL FOOTWEAR CONSIDERATIONS
COMFORT AND FIT - This is the most important consideration when choosing hiking footwear. Different people need different things in shoes (wide vs. narrow, arch support, heel-to-toe drop, etc), so finding what makes your feet happy is critical. If your shoes don’t fit your feet, you'll have pain with every step and your hiking trip will quickly become a bust.
WEIGHT - Weight is a surprisingly important consideration for footwear, and one of the reasons we prefer lightweight trail runners over heavy backpacking boots. Weight carried on your feet zaps 4-6 times more energy than weight carried on your back. So swapping a 3-pound pair of boots for a 1-pound pair of running shoes is the energy saving equivalent of removing 8-12 pounds from your backpack. Needless to say, that’s a really big deal. Also, nimble feet lead to less muscle fatigue, less stumbling, and over time can help avoid knee and hip flexor problems.
PRICE - We tend to be willing to spend a bit more for quality footwear because it's tied so directly to the enjoyment of our hiking trips. Comfort and fit usually trump cost in our books, but we recommend a variety of quality options in our top picks below.
SIZING - Feet tend to swell over long days on the trail, so it’s almost always a good idea to buy footwear at least a half size larger than your normal shoes.
TESTING - You’re going to take thousands of steps on any backpacking trip, so you really need to know that your footwear will fit comfortably and won’t cause blisters. We recommend, at very least, buying your footwear a few weeks before any hiking trip and spending as much time in them as you can, making sure they work for your feet.
TRACTION - Traction is one the most important parts of quality backpacking footwear. Picture yourself hiking along a narrow ledge with shifting gravel beneath your feet. Knowing that your footwear will hold and keep you from slipping is crucial, especially over washed out or exposed sections of trail. We heavily factored quality traction into all of our footwear recommendations below.
WATERPROOFING - If you’re hiking for multiple days in wet conditions, your feet are going to get wet no matter what type of footwear you're wearing. That's just how it goes. Moisture in the air will make it hard for anything to stay dry. Rain will drip down your legs and seep into your shoes. Sweat and condensation will build inside your footwear soaking your shoes from the inside out. And even if you could mitigate those other factors, "waterproof" footwear will develop small holes and tears over time which allow water to seep in.
In addition, when "waterproof" footwear gets wet, it tends to be very heavy and take a long time to dry. For those reasons, we almost always backpack in non-waterproof, quick dry, lightweight trail runners during our spring, summer, and fall backpacking trips. If it's going to be a rainy trip or we plan to cross a moderate amount of snow, we bring heavy wool socks to keep our feet warm while we hike in wet shoes. At night we clean our feet, air them out, and keep them warm in dry camp socks.
BREATHABILITY - This is another critical consideration when choosing footwear and one of the principle reasons we hike in trail runners. Your feet are going to sweat a lot when you hike, especially on warm days. If that moisture doesn't have an easy way to escape, it will make the skin on your feet soft and prone to blisters. Shoes that are highly breathable are generally not waterproof and will get wet quickly when it rains. But, they also dry quickly too.
DURABILITY - One downside to trail runners is that they tend to be less durable than hiking shoes or boots. Generally speaking, trail runners last around 500 miles, hiking shoes around 750 miles, and hiking boots around 1000 miles. If you value footwear that will last for many years, you may prefer a hiking shoe or boot that will live longer trail runners, just make sure you understand the downsides associated with that choice too. Also, when choosing a trail runner or hiking shoe, try to avoid large sections of unsupported mesh, which can wear out quickly.
ANKLE SUPPORT - Ankle support is one of the most widely contested topics among backpackers when discussing footwear. If you want proof, read through the comment section of our post: 5 Reasons To Ditch Your Hiking Boots. This is a highly personal choice and we have our own opinions on the matter. In general, we feel claims of ankle support in hiking footwear are wildly exaggerated. In order to get true ankle support, you need high top footwear laced tightly around your ankles, which most boot wearers don't actually do. In our opinion, most people in athletic condition with healthy ankles carrying light to moderate loads don't really need additional ankle support for backpacking.
SOLES - We look for trail running shoes with relatively thick and well-cushioned soles so we don't feel every rock under our feet. Trail runners also tend to have more flexible soles, which can help prevent blisters. Alternatively, hiking shoes and boots tend to have more rigid soles, which will last longer and feel stiffer under the feet.
HEEL-TO-TOE DROP - Traditional shoes usually have a noticeable drop in height from their heel to toe with the idea that it increases your running efficiency. Some trail runners have "zero drop," meaning your foot is the same distance off the ground from heel to toe. Proponents of zero drop claim that it puts less stress on your body and more closely emulates a natural running style.
We hope this guide helps you determine what footwear will work best for you. If you found this guide helpful, please share on social media and click the little heart button below to give us a digital high five!
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