Sturdy high-ankle walking boots or trainer-like walking shoes – which are best in the mountains? This question has become one of the great gear debates of modern times. Truthfully, with impressive strengths on each side, the answer will always depend on what you're looking for.
This list is for those who want all-day comfort and a fast 'n' light approach.
Obviously, the major advantage of going for shoes over boots is their lighter weight. This makes even more sense in the prime hiking seasons, from late spring through to early autumn. Experienced hillwalkers often ditch their heavier gear for minimalist options once winter starts winding down. Once the sun's out, even the best walking boots aren't immune to overheating. And nobody wants hot feet!
Another oft-quoted bit of walkers’ wisdom – ‘One pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back’. This rule of thumb was (supposedly) developed by Sir Edmund Hillary and fellow climbers training for the 1953 Everest expedition. It’s a sage bit of advice, still repeated by some of the greatest exponents of ‘fast and light’ backpacking.
Of course, this isn’t to say that trail shoes will work for everyone. It's important to pick your footwear on a 'when and where' basis. For instance, you may be one of those maniacs who venture into boggy terrain on a drizzly November Saturday. If this is you, go look at our winter hiking boots reviewed and pick out something Gore-Tex lined and leather. Unless you really like wet feet, that is.
On the other hand, if you’re attracted to the idea of being a bit swifter and more agile in the hills, you've come to the right place.
Hoka Ancapa Breeze Low – Gear of the Year 2023 Winner
Arc'teryx Norvan LD3– Best in Test
Keen WK400 – Best Value
Saloman Outpulse GTX – Best Women's hiking shoe
Oboz Sawtooth X Low – Best Rugged hiking shoe
Inov-8 Roclite G 315 GTX V2 – Best technical hiking shoe
On Cloudventure Waterproof – Best waterproof hiking shoe
Meindl Respond GTX – Best traditional hiking shoe
Danner Trail 2650 Campo – Best hiking shoe for long distance
Scarpa Ribelle Run – Best trainer model for hiking
We’ve selected those that struck the best balance between comfort, support, cushioning, weight and grip – while also presenting something for everyone. So, there are stiffer, more technical approach shoes for hillwalkers who love rocky scrambles, plus a few lightweight, trainer-inspired hikers that promise instant out-of-the-box comfort – perfect for fast-paced hill-bagging.
The best hiking shoes in detail
1. Hoka Anacapa Breeze Low
Trail Gear of the Year 2023 Winner
Meet the winners of this year's [Trail Gear of the Year
- Immaculate cushioning
- Innovative geometry in construction
- Durable for ultra long distances
- Heel shape isn't for everyone
- Loud style... isn't for everyone
2. Arc'teryx Norvan LD3
Best in test
Another trail running trainer that hits all the right notes as a hiking shoe, the Norvan LD3 is
- Generously cushioned
- Precise, technical design
- Cushioning won't suit all tastes
- Only 4mm lugs
- Too light for some
3. Keen WK400
This new-for-2023 shoe polarises opinion. Some hikers adore it, others despise it – as evidenced
- Plush, unique midsole
- Superb energy return
- Lovely 'ride' to each step
- Outlandish design
- May infuriate passing walkers
- Not suited to very rugged, technical terrain
4. Salomon Outpulse GTX
Best women's hiking shoe
The Outpulse is a lightweight alternative that can rival even the [best budget walking boots for
- Snug trainer-like fit
- Soft padding around cuff and tongue
- Good breathability
- Knitted fabric may not prove durable
5. Oboz Sawtooth X Low
Best rugged hiking shoe
If you like your walking shoes burly, bombproof and hard as nails, the Sawtooth X might be the
- Extremely protective
- Stable and rigid construction
- Impressive waterproofing
- Very heavy
- Not that much cushioning
6. Inov-8 Roclite G 315 GTX V2
Best hiking shoe for technical terrain
Lake District-based brand inov-8 is much-loved amongst the fell-running community for its
- Excellent grip
- Fantastic features
- Gore-Tex liner
- Not the most plush cushioning
7. On Cloudventure Waterproof
Best waterproof hiking shoe
With the Cloudventure Waterproof, Swiss brand On has engineered a shoe with a unique, eye-catching
- Stylish look
- Quality waterproof construction
- Clever design for performance
- Slightly stiff
- Outsole can clog with debris
8. Meindl Respond GTX
Best traditional hiking shoe
Reviewing this traditional, chunky, leather and waterproof walking shoe side-by-side to the
- Strong and stable
- Gore-Tex waterproofing
- Highly protective underfoot
- Outsole and lugs could be more aggressive
9. Danner Trail 2650 Campo GTX
Best hiking shoe for long distances
Named after the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, this shoe is excellent for big mileage day hikes
- Long-term comfort
- All-round performance
- Proven design
- No waterproofing
10. Scarpa Ribelle Run
Best trainer model for hiking
The Ribelle Run is a technical trail running shoe, but it works just as well for hiking. It is
- Highly responsive
- Great on technical terrain
- Not very cushioned
- precise fit may not suit everyone
What to look for in a hiking shoe
Walking shoes vs trail running trainers: There is huge variety in hiking footwear now. A current trend is to wear modern trail running trainers for hiking – they can be light, fast and grippy with excellent energy return, thanks to cutting-edge tech. Alternatively you can go for shoes specifically designed for hiking, which tend to be slightly heavier and less cushioned but with better stability, protection and durability.
Upper: The upper is the exterior material of a walking shoe. Leather uppers (nubuck or suede) are generally stronger and firmer. Synthetic uppers are less durable, but will be comfier and lighter, with enhanced flex and breathability.
Fit: Everyone’s feet are shaped differently, and what fits comfortably for you might be blister-inducing for someone else. Fit is therefore absolutely critical. Even sock thickness affects fit. Your best bet is to try for size in a shop, ideally with a skilled footwear fitter. Aim for a secure, comfy fit, without excessive compression or pinching. Space in the toe box for your toes to splay and the right volume at the forefoot are important.
Weight: One of the advantages of shoes is that they’re lighter than boots. But a reduction in weight can mean a loss of protection and support, so consider what’s important to you. All weights quoted are per individual shoe.
Tongue: A padded tongue will provide improved comfort, while a gusseted or bellows tongue – which is fully attached to the uppers – will provide better protection from water and debris.
Toe bumper: A toe bumper provides additional durability and protection for the front of the foot, particularly on rocky ground.
Heel counter: This is the stiffened cup that encloses the heel, providing protection and support. A firm heel counter helps to lock the foot in place and offers additional stability.
Ankle cuff: Unlike boots, walking shoes have a low cuff around the ankle. Some will be cut a little higher than others, helping to prevent water, mud and debris from entering the shoe, but all walking shoes generally prioritise comfort and flex over ankle support and protection.
Waterproof lining: A waterproof-breathable membrane liner will help keep your feet dry. This is often Gore-Tex, or a brand’s proprietary technology. But do you really need a waterproof shoe? In spring and summer, a non-waterproof shoe will be far more breathable, quick-drying and ventilated – an approach favoured by many experienced hillwalkers.
Insole: For enhanced comfort and stability, you might prefer to switch out the shoe’s supplied insole for a higher quality, specialist insole instead.
Midsole: The midsole – usually made from EVA or PU foam rubber – provides cushioning and stability, and its design will affect how rigid and energetic a shoe feels underfoot. Oversized and mega-cushioned midsoles are currently popular, providing a very springy, forward-propelling sensation as you walk.
Outsole: The outsole provides traction via a tread pattern of rubber cleats and lugs. Different rubber compounds are employed – softer compounds offer better grip, but harder compounds will last longer. In general, deep and widely-spaced lugs will provide improved grip and won’t get clogged with mud.
Hiking shoe care and maintenance
Hiking footwear get a hard life and it's a wonder some of them last as long as they do. In order to keep your hiking shoes (or boots) performing as well as they can for as long as they can, proper cleaning and care is key. Fortunately, it's very easy. Head to our comprehensive guide to find out how to care for your hiking footwear.