While there are hundreds of hiking boots, trail shoes, and trail runners available, most hikers and backpackers choose from a small set of common makes and models. Preferences vary widely, however, and some hikers like waterproof mids and boots, while others prefer more breathable trail running shoes that dry rapidly when they get wet. Here are the 10 best hiking boots, trail shoes, and trail runners that we and many other hikers recommend.
Regardless of your preferences, it’s important to choose footwear that fits well and is appropriate for the conditions you plan to hike in, especially in terms of temperature, terrain difficulty, and the weight of the loads you expect to carry. Many hiking shoes and boots are also available in wide sizes, which is useful if you have big feet, or you find that your feet increase in size if you take a long backpacking trip or hike frequently.
1. Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Runners
2. Merrell Moab 2 Vent Low Hiking Shoes
3. Merrell Moab 2 Vent Mids
4. La Sportiva Ultra Raptors
5. KEEN Targhee III Mid WP
6. Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
7. Oboz Firebrand II BDry Hiking Shoes
8. Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 Trail Runners
9. Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
10. Vasque Breeze AT Mid GTX
How To Choose Hiking Boots, Trail Shoes, and Trail Runners
There’s a lot of variety available when it comes to hiking footwear and ad people have a wide range of personal preferences. Which is why we highly recommend that you try lots of different options if you’re making a new selection, so you can discover what your preferences are. Here are some guidelines about things you should consider when choosing between different hiking boots, trail shoes, and trail runners.
Sweat can lead to blisters
The buildup of sweat inside of hiking footwear and your socks can lead to blisters. When your socks stick to your skin, they can cause friction, and a friction burn, which is how blisters form. Breathability is key to preventing sweat build-up, which is why so many hikers prefer mesh hiking footwear, since it dries while you wear it.
Black toenails indicate poor fit
If your toe nails turn black when you hike, it’s because your toes do not have enough room in the front of your footwear. Size up or select footwear that has a larger toe box by design. Altra and KEEN shoes and boots have an exaggerated-size toe box, which is why they’re so popular with hikers and backpackers.
One-third of hikers and backpackers buy after-market insoles, such as Superfeet, to replace the insoles that come with their hiking boots, mids, trail shoes, and trail runners. These provide more protection, more arch support, and cup your heel to help prevent the lateral movement that can cause plantar fasciitis. They also last longer than factory insoles.
Waterproof/breathable footwear dries slowly
Waterproof/breathable footwear tends to dry much more slowly than non-waterproof footwear. While waterproof hiking boots and shoes are good for hiking in cold weather, it’s often more desirable to have a well-vented mesh shoe that dries quickly than one that stays wet for days and can lead to blisters and other discomforts.
Many hikers opt for boots/mids because think they’re necessary for carrying heavier weight backpacks and provide more ankle support than low trail shoes or trail runners. While that was probably true when all hiking boots were made with heavy leather, modern hiking boots and mids are much softer and less supportive and are really just one step up from being trail or running shoes. While they can provide more assurance, you can still twist an ankle wearing one. On the flip side, many hikers and backpackers are able to carry heavy packs and walk in rugged mountainous terrain in trail shoes and trail runners. In other words, there’s no right answer and you should decide for yourself, rather than follow anyone’s gospel truth.
Boot and shoe manufacturers make a big deal about traction and while it is important, it’s very difficult to prove that different sole compositions, lug angles, lug depth, Vibram or non-Vibram soles, blah, blah, blah, etc. make that big of an impact on traction. When push comes to shove, the only hiking traction that really matters is when you’re scrambling on wet rock or walking along a cliff edge. Even then, good footwork is probably more important, so develop that rather than relying on your shoes.
Toe and foot protection
Hiking and backpacking can be tough on the feet, particularly around the toes and under the arch. It doesn’t affect everyone, but it can lead to injuries that take a long time to heal. Built-up areas around the toes, sometimes called toe kicks, are good if you hike in rocky terrain. A shank is usually a hard strip of nylon or plastic that runs under the arch and helps stiffen a shoe or boot.
Hikers wear gaiters to block sticks, stones, and other debris from getting into their shoes while they hike. But some shoes are more gaiter compatible than others. For example, if your gaiters have a strap that loops under your shoe, you’re going to want to have footwear that has an arch, so the gaiter strap doesn’t get destroyed by rubbing on the ground. Gaiters designed for trail shoes or trail runners may require gluing a velcro strip to the back of your heel to hold the gaiter in places. If this is the case, make sure there is a flat surface on the back of the heel that you can glue the velcro strip too.
Wide Shoe Sizes
About 1/3 of all hikers require footwear in wide widths. Companies such as Merrell, KEEN, Brooks, and Vasque have the best selection of wide-width hiking footwear.
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