You use smaller and larger hiking packs for different occasions, and trekking footwear follows similar principles. For a faster, lighter hike where you want agility and breathability more than stability and long-distance comfort, trail shoes are better than hiking boots.
There are many hiking shoes around, and they vary greatly in terms of features and strong points. Some are intended for trail running, some more as low-cut hikers. Some are waterproof, some are not.
In this article, we have gathered together our favourite walking shoes. Each pair has its own strong suits and you will therefore likely find an option that caters best to your individual requirements.
Danner Trail 2650 Campo GTX
We loved the sock-like fit of these trail shoes, which makes for good comfort while also reducing the chance of grit and debris finding its way in. You have the choice of the new waterproof Gore-Tex lined version (pictured), or the original (£160), which is cooler and more breathable for summer than the GTX version and most of its rivals. The lightweight uppers help you pick up the pace, while a grippy Vibram sole delivers solid performance underfoot.
On Cloudventure Waterproof
Verdict: A seriously cool-looking trail shoe that’s grippy and waterproof – what more do you need for the trails?
With the Cloudventure Waterproof, Swiss brand On has engineered a shoe with a unique, eye-catching outsole. Hollow pods, known as ‘clouds’, create a deeply-ridged wave of thick, aggressive lugs separated by mini channels, forming a crinkly profile. This so-called CloudTec has a dual purpose: the ‘clouds’ compress on impact to improve cushioning, and then become firmer for an ‘explosive’ take-off on your next step.
Primarily designed as a trail running shoe, the technology works just as well for hillwalking: the multiple grip patterns of the Missiongrip outsole provide good traction over mixed terrain, and the cushioning is excellent.
On’s in-house waterproof membrane is pretty impressive, keeping your feet dry in wet conditions, while the rubberised toe box and heel counter are firm and protective.
Weighing in at just 345g per shoe, the upper is understandably light and flexible, but surprisingly the shoe has decent longitudinal and lateral stiffness for improved support over rugged terrain.
Annoyingly, there is a tendency for stones to get stuck between the outsole’s ‘clouds’, or for mud to get caked in the deep channels. Being waterproof, they aren’t the most breathable and can leave your feet feeling a little sweaty.
Men’s sizes 6.5-13.5
Women’s sizes 3.5-8.5
Weight 690g (men’s 8 pair)
Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
Verdict: Waterproof and super-comfy, these minimalist hiking shoes are built for fast and light adventures.
Inspired by lightweight running trainers, the Aerios FL GTX is a minimalist, ultralight and uber-cool trail shoe weighing in at just 325g each. The Cordura upper is smooth and soft, providing out-of-the-box comfort that requires virtually no break-in, while a Gore-Tex membrane ensures premium waterproofing up to a flood level of about 8cm – pretty good for a low-top shoe.
Breathability is surprisingly impressive, so your feet shouldn’t massively overheat, and the EVA foam midsole with integrated TPU shank – the component sandwiched between the insole and outsole for increased stiffness and strength – provides decent support and cushioning.
A Vibram Megagrip outsole with 3mm lugs provides reasonably good traction, and the burly toe box and heel counter are amply protective. If you need premium support, grip and cushioning, look elsewhere. But if you want to move fast and light through the mountains with a technical trail shoe, the Aerios FL GTXs might just be the perfect fit.
Shallow lugs mean grip and traction aren’t as strong as other pairs here, and the soft upper is unlikely to be particularly durable over time. Torsional stability and support are somewhat lacking, due to the ultralight build.
Men’s sizes 6.5-12.5
Women’s sizes 3.5-8.5
Weight 650g (men’s 8 pair)
AKU Tengu Low GTX
Verdict: A premium all-round shoe for hiking, technical scrambling and everything in-between – but not ideal for moving fast and light.
AKU’s Tengu Low GTX is a superb all-round, approach-style shoe, suitable for whatever terrain the mountain throws at you, be it mud, loose scree, boulders or exposed bedrock.
The Vibram Curcuma outsole ensures excellent traction, thanks to deep, widely-spaced lugs and a chunky heel breast for braking. The sole also has significant stiffness toe-to-heel and laterally, for higher performance and improved comfort on rockier ground.
The relatively stiff upper consists of AKU’s own breathable Air 8000 fabric plus suede, striking a good balance between comfort and support, while a wraparound rand, firm heel counter and strong toe box add protection.
A Gore-Tex elastic ‘sock’ effectively prevents water ingress and feels snug on the foot. A double-density EVA midsole, meanwhile, provides decent cushioning. This all adds up to a premium walking shoe that’s grippy, super-durable, supportive and waterproof. It’s best suited to truly rugged, rocky terrain, but can be used as an all-around, everyday mountain shoe.
Relatively speaking, these are heavy, bulky and lacking in flex and springiness underfoot. The Tengu Low can therefore make your feet feel clunky and overly hot. The toe isn’t particularly precise for scrambling – perhaps overkill for anything other than rugged terrain.
Men’s sizes 3-13
Women’s sizes 3-9
Weight 1040g (men’s 8 pair)
Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX
Verdict: These tough-as-nails approach shoes are brilliant over rocky, technical terrain and good for walking too.
Salewa’s Mountain Trainer 2 GTX – a revamp of the Italian brand’s classic approach shoe – is an extremely solid shoe for rugged mountain walking and technical scrambling.
The robust Vibram outsole, featuring aggressive lugs and a deep heel breast, provides impeccable traction on rock, grass and mud. The toe ‘climbing zone’ is great for edging, and for via ferrata there’s a special tread zone for ladder rungs. Basically, this shoe inspires confidence over the gnarliest of mountain terrain.
The durable suede leather upper with a 360° rubber rand ensures abrasion resistance, while a Gore-Tex lining and ‘stretch gaiter’ under the laces provides waterproofing. The lacing can be fine-tuned for a snug fit, complemented by Salewa’s 3F system – a thin metal cable, housed in rubber, that connects the top lace eyelet, instep and heel for tailored flexibility, fit and firm support. A PU midsole also provides decent shock absorbency and rebound.
If we’re being fussy, these shoes aren’t ideal for gentler terrain or long-distance walking. They’re a tad pricey too.
Men’s sizes 6-13
Women’s sizes 3-9
Weight 916g (men’s 8 pair)
Scarpa Mescalito GTX
Verdict: A premium approach shoe that’s made for rocky terrain, but perhaps a little heavy and clunky for general hillwalking.
Designed for both long walks and graded scrambling, the Scarpa Mescalito GTX is one of the best approach shoes on the market. It is a technical shoe, with a classic design featuring: toe-to-tongue lacing for a comfy, snug fit; a stylish, thermo-embossed suede upper that feels strong and durable; a 360° wraparound protective rand, useful for when you’re jamming your foot into rocky cracks and crevices; and a smooth climbing zone on the Vibram Megagrip outsole for better edging on small holds.
Traction on technical, rocky ground is top-notch, but these shoes aren’t just for scrambling. The chunky, lugged tread and heel brake area provide good grip when walking, while a breathable and waterproof Gore-Tex lining keeps your feet dry and a stiff sole ensures impressive stability and support for hiking longer distances. A bi-density EVA midsole improves cushioning too. If your hiking is mostly rugged and rocky, the Mescalito GTXs are difficult to beat.
If we’re being fussy... At £180 these are the priciest shoes on test. They are also one of the heaviest at 495g each, meaning they feel a little bulky and weighty on your feet, while the lugs are a little too shallow to provide perfect traction when hiking.
Men’s sizes 7-12
Women’s sizes 4-8
Weight 990g (men’s 8 pair)
Also recommended: Inov-8 Roclite Recycled 310
Forged in the fells of the Lake District, British brand Inov-8 has a reputation for incredibly grippy trail running-style shoes, particularly its premium products with graphene outsoles such as the Roclite G 275 and the waterproof Roclite G 315 GTX.
New for 2021, the Roclite Recycled 310 is part of the same family of trail shoes, albeit made with more sustainable materials and at a mid-range price point. Costing £130 and weighing in at only 310g each the Roclite Recycled 310 remains a lightweight trainer-inspired shoe for moving fast in the mountains.
The sticky, undyed rubber outsole, featuring 6mm multi-directional cleats, ensures good grip over rock, mud and grass, while the BLOOM midsole (consisting of 10% algae biomass), meta-plate shank and 8mm heel drop (the difference in height between the heel and toe) provide decent support and cushioning.
The super-breathable, knitted, and fully recycled rPET upper is very soft and flexible, ensuring out-of-the-box comfort, but probably lacks the durability for a long lifespan, though note these shoes are not waterproof.