The Best Hiking Boots Tested & Reviewed
Looking for Hiking Boots or Shoes? Take a look at the best hiking boots of 2016-17, including pros & cons plus what to be aware of before buying them online or in a store.
Hiking and backpacking is an incredible way to see the world and all the wild delights of Mother Nature (and keep fit while doing it). Any experienced hiker will tell you that the number one piece of equipment worth investing in is your boots: it’s even more important to get these right than even your backpack, as they have a profound impact on your health and happiness.
We’re talking about an investment of your time, not just your wallet: taking the time to find a boot that is going to serve you well, in the long run, is well worth the extra effort it takes on your part. A pair of good hiking boots should last for years, so choose the right pair for your needs: your ambitions (a day or a month at a time?); conditions (lava in the Hawaiian summer, or winter in Norway?), and especially for your unique feet.
Instead of slogging through hundreds of products online, take a look at our expert researched, comprehensive Top 10 list including the best hiking boots and shoes out there today. Following our reviews, you’ll find a full glossary of all the features and components reviewed, and a guide to getting the best fit for your feet as well as how to choose the right hiking boots for your plans.
10 Best hiking boots
Vasque Skywalk GTX
Give yourself a good two weeks to really wear these in, and no boot will ever feel as comfortable. The midsole provides stability and the deep lugs in the outsole will take care of any sharp rocks in your path. The Skywalks are much stiffer around the ankle than many other models, but as such, they provide outstanding roll-protection and durability.
- Rough-out real full-grain leather
- Timeless design
- Tough-as-nails sole
- Classical lacing system with D-rings
- Three widths available to suit every foot
- Upgraded thermoplastic shank in the midsole provides great stability at a fraction of the weight (the original Skywalk shank was steel)
- Fantastic value – close to being the cheapest hiking boot on this list with some of the best features and most consistently good reviews
- The leather upper and ankle cuff are stiffer than on other brands, and if you plan to wear these immediately on a long hike, with thin socks, that could be a problem
Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX
- Gore-Tex waterproofing
- Tough and strong, yet reasonably light at 2 lbs. 13 oz.
- Awesome grip and stability from Salomon’s Contagrip outsole (rivals Vibram)
- Upgraded lacing system is an improvement on the original 4D
- A snug, supportive fit that might not suit hikers with wide feet
- Not ideal for heavily loaded backpacking – the midsole is light and flexible and ideally suited to light and midweight hiking, but not anything over 35 lbs
Zamberlan 996 Viox GTX
The exclusive Vibram soles stand the test of long hikes with heavy backpacks.
- Water-proof Gore-Tex layer
- Full-grain leather upper
- Vibram soles look a lot more modern than the classically designed upper
- Removable insoles wick moisture away and are ventilated for extra comfort
- Boots are resoleable – this is a rare wonder for hiking boots!
- These heavyweights come in at 3 lb. 8 oz
Garmont Tower Trek
- Vibram Winkler outsole with block lugs on toe and heel, deep chevron grooves in midfoot to slough off dirt and mud
- Shape cuts through snow nicely
- Gore-Tex upper keeps out the rain
- Excellent protection against abrasive wear and tear
- Crazy light for the amount of support and protection you get: 1.6 lb.
- All these features come at a price – these are the most expensive boots on the list
Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots
Note: Keen recommends ordering half a size bigger than your usual boot size (read more about this below in the ‘How to ensure you hiking boots fit’ section).
- Waterproof and fairly breathable (uses Keen.Dry material)
- A tough upper with good roll protection
- Reasonably light (1.14 – 2.3 lb.)
- Not the most secure grip for rougher trails – the Targhee Mid is definitely a rung below the Salomon Quest in terms of stability
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid
- Water-proof (Gore-Tex)
- Very comfortable
- Quick to wear in
- Good support for lightweight backpackers
- Hardcore hikers find they need to replace their Renegades less than two years apart
The North Face Ultra Fastpack II Mid GTX
The sole is not especially thick, but still, offers decent protection, and the multidirectional tread works well at keeping out dirt and mud.
- Among the lightest in its class (1 lb 12 oz)
- Flexible and breathable
- Waterproof (yep, we know it doesn’t look like it, but it has a Gore-Tex membrane)
- Comfortable collar that keeps out trail debris
- Full rubber toe stabilizes and keeps you from feeling rocks in the path
- The thin, hard Vibram sole offers surprisingly good protection
- Sole doesn’t perform very well in wet conditions compared to the other boots reviewed on this list
- The uppers don’t deflect mud too well
Asolo Fugitive GTX
By modern standards, the Fugitives are a heavyweight, coming in at 3 pounds a pair. If you’re an experienced hiker looking for something more sturdy and protective for alpine treks, they’re our recommendation. For most hikers though, this extra weight is a downside, and there are better options.
- Water-resistant (Gore-Tex)
- Extremely durable upper
- Sturdy sole, at the stiff end of the spectrum
- Great choice for alpine conditions and light mountaineering
- Will be too heavy and stiff for some hikers
Oboz Scapegoat Mid
For hikers looking for something higher, heftier, and waterproof, Oboz offers the Beartooth boot.
Although they feel like a lightweight comfort hiking shoe, they are much stiffer and structured on the outside, meaning they need a little longer to break in than most mid-height hikers
- Super light at 1lb
- Strong grip against rocky mountain paths
- Outstanding breathability
- Dry quickly
- Designed in Montana, USA
- Not waterproof (and don’t claim to be)
Vasque Inhaler 2
The mesh overlay keeps mud and snow from caking the boot, making them especially lightweight. If you want a light, flexible hiking boot that performs just as well in the wet as the dry, we recommend the Vasque inhaler over the popular North Face Ultra Fastpack II Mid GTX.
Despite the waterproof liner, the construction of this boot allows it to be quite breathable for long, hot hikes too.
- Water-resistant (Gore-Tex liner)
- Strong grip against mud and slippery-when-wet surfaces
- Deflect dirt and mud well, making them last longer
- Bouncy and agile to hike in
- Fairly lightweight at 1 lb. 14 oz.
- A bit more expensive than competitive models with similar features
Criteria used for the evaluation
Hiking Boot Uppers
This is the main part of your boot: the outer fabric from your sole to the top of the boot. In a traditional hiking boot this was leather all the way, but now most hiking boots have a composite of materials that strike an optimum balance of the boot’s durability, water resistance, breathability, style, and weight.
Here are the benefits of each of the main materials you’ll find in hiking boot uppers:
What type of leather are you looking at? Full-grain, split-grain or nubuck?
Full-grain uppers have excellent overall durability and resistance to scuffs and scratches. They are quite water resistant, but not as light or breathable as other materials, including other leather types. Full-grain leather is often used in hiking boots designed for long treks, heavy backpacks, and variable terrain. If the boots you choose are full-grain leather, make sure to break them in on several short hikes before setting out on a long journey.
Split-grain is often cheaper and is often combined with nylon mesh to make lightweight, breathable hiking boots. It’s naturally less waterproof than full-grain, though many boots that use split-grain have waterproof liners as well.
Nubuck is essentially full-grain leather buffed until it looks and behaves like suede. It has most of the durability and water resistance of full-grain but more flexibility.
Synthetic uppers, made from polyester, nylon, and PVC ‘synthetic leather’ or ‘pleather’are found in most modern hiking boots. These materials are lighter, dry quickly, wear in faster, and are less expensive than leather. Synthetic uppers are usually vegan (though some uppers can be composed of a mix of synthetic and leather sections). Synthetic uppers also tend to show wear a little sooner, even if their overall lifespan is the same.
Boots that claim to be waterproof have uppers that include waterproof membranes (like Gore-Tex® and eVent®). Even the best waterproofing materials are not as breathable as the mesh found on regular road/running shoes, so you’re looking at some extra sweating in your boots on hot summer hikes.
Some hiking boots in the northern US and UK, but especially in Canada and Northern Europe, feature woolen, sheepskin or synthetic insulation to keep your feet toasty warm while trekking through tundra and snow-covered forest trails.
Some hiking boots are constructed without any materials that come from animals or their products (Eg. Leather and wool). For some brands, this is deliberate and a point of pride: you can easily spot the vegan label. Many more boots are vegan than those that claim it; you just have to do a bit more digging to see whether they qualify. If after reading the materials/construction list you’re still unsure, do a quick online search with ‘vegan’ and the brand name.
The job of the midsole is to provide cushioning and prevent impacts from sending their shock through to your feet. For hiking boots, as well as cycling shoes, stiff midsoles are actually a good thing. If you’re treading over a lot of rough ground or any type of uneven surfaces, a stiff boot is actually so much more comfortable.
I once hiked a mile along a dry riverbed full of smooth football-sized stones in my Vibram Five-Fingers, and although they were amazingly comfortable and hadn’t needed any break in, I really regretted them during that leg of the hike. The Five-Fingers have enough tread that I didn’t feel all the sharp gravel or bracken in other parts of the trip, but they were so flexible that my feet wrapped around every stone on this riverbed, and over time that hurts your arches.
Most hiking boot midsoles are made from polyurethane or EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate). Polyurethane tends to be stiffer and harder wearing, while EVA is lighter, softer and cheaper. Manufacturers can create a varied density of EVA throughout the sole, providing more stiffness in some areas and more flexibility in others.
All hiking shoes and boots have rubber outsoles. All outsoles have grooves in their tread to increase traction and slip-resistance, and to make the soles bouncier, transferring less of the general impact of walking up through your feet. Backpacking and mountain hiking boots also have ‘lugs’-bumps that extend outwards increasing your grip on the trail even further. Widely spaced lugs shed caked-in mud easier.
If you hope to do any serious mountain hiking, or maybe some adventurous backpacking through Northern Europe in winter, adding crampons to your boots may become necessary. When shopping in-store, check whether the boots you’re looking at are crampon compatible. When shopping online, you may be able to filter your search results by crampon compatibility.
Are they waterproof ?
As we’ve shown elsewhere, finding great waterproof performance no longer means you’re stuck with stiff heavy leather boots. Whereas earlier waterproof fabrics had a tendency to lock moisture inside as well –increasing the tendency for your feet being uncomfortable pruny and for your socks to rot- waterproof materials are getting much more breathable and mold-resistant. Well-respected brands and materials (such as GoreTex) have earned their popularity because they really are worth twice as much as their imitators.
High-tech materials aren’t necessarily synthetic though: some brands are experimenting with new ways to weave cotton and bamboo to provide impressive results, and in this case, it’s the weave and the production that are high tech, while the fabric retains all its wonderful natural qualities.
We wanted to ensure that our selections for the best hiking boots were capable of keeping your feet comfortable and dry while sloshing through icy puddles or trekking through rain for days at a time. For frequent or long-distance hikers, breathability is really important to keep your feet healthy and your spirits high in all conditions.
Other Important Factors To Consider
To help you choose which hiking boot is best for you from this list, we’ve put together a few key considerations. These factors shine a light on how to choose boots that are built for ice and snow, or adapt your favorite hikers to be ice-proof; how to get to know your feet and why sizing matters; what happens when you’re feet aren’t stock-standard average, or if you’ve had injuries; and how often you should replace your hiking boots.
What Type Of Terrain Will You Encounter?
It is important to consider what type of outdoor terrain you will be coming across on your hike. If you mostly stick to well-worn trails through the woods, and don’t usually travel cross-country through the undergrowth, on snow or on ice, then trail running shoes offer a great compromise on sturdiness and comfort.
If you’re choosing hiking boots for a winter trip to Norway, on the other hand, make sure you read reviews from hikers who are used to that terrain and climate. One slick Norwegian start-up has developed not only a range of shoes designed to keep you on your feet in the slipperiest of conditions, but also a range of pull-on spikes that can be easily pulled over your favorite hiking boots (or even dress shoes).
Get To Know Your Feet
If you have an average, neutral foot type, you’re lucky! Most hiking boots and shoes base their models on your needs. If you have wide feet, narrow feet, soft/low arches or very high arches, previous foot, ankle or knee injuries, hip problems, thrombosis, a tendency to swell, bunions, or a latex allergy, then you’re going to need to select your hiking boots more carefully. Read the reviews to get an idea of what you’re after –which brands and styles appeal as well as what conditions you’re planning for- and then visit an outdoor footwear specialist in person. They fit shoes all day long, and they’ll have a good idea of which brands and models are the best choice for your unique needs.
Of all the various types of hiking equipment, your boots should be your number one investment. High-quality hiking shoes shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury: they are an investment in your health. When you’re choosing a lantern or a t-shirt you’re choosing something based on style, comfort and durability, but honestly, any t-shirt will cover your back and any lantern will light your way. Hiking boots are different.
A good pair will last you for years (depending on how often you hike) and can make a huge difference to your health and happiness while you’re hiking, but also over the long term, even when you’re off the trail. To take care of your feet and posture, it’s worth investing in a pair with quality materials; a sturdy, reliable design; and a form that really fits your unique foot size, shape and any special needs.
How to make sure your hiking boots fit
Novices frequently overlook the variability in shapes and fit between brands. Spend some time figuring out what size you need whenever you try on a brand you haven’t worn before – the exact fit of each size does change from brand to brand. Keep in mind that you want a little more extra room than what you might choose for the shoes you wear to walk around the city.
Wear your hiking socks
Your everyday dress/work socks are probably a bit thinner than the socks you’ll wear to go hiking, unless you’re an arborist or a snake catcher or in some similarly adventurous profession! Most outdoor gear stores have a few pairs of clean thick socks on hand to lend out if you forget to bring some with you.
Top tip: try on boots at the end of the day
Many experienced hikers and backpackers have noticed that feet swell after a few hours on the trail or carrying a pack around city pavement. This swelling typically adds half to a full shoe size (American sizes) to what makes a comfortable pair. Your feet tend to swell a little toward the end of the day, and trying on boots then will help you avoid buying a pair that is too small.
Consider an insole
What do you do when the model of your dreams has every feature you could possibly want, and a great style to match, but no arch support? Luckily insoles exist. Check out this review, written by a physiotherapist, on the best insoles for boots.
Knowing your feet will help you make an educated decision, but the best way to be sure is to go through a local outdoor footwear specialist. They have years of experience and specialized equipment to work out exactly what size you need. There’s no substitute for this advice from someone who knows which hiking shoes cater to wider feet, which hiking shoes are the best to support people with high arches, and so on.
Know When It is Time To Replace Your Old Pair
Standard boots with flat or basic soles should be repaired sooner rather than later: a worn sole can be replaced, but after a while, a worn sole leads to cracks around the sides of the leather upper, and once that happens it’s too late, and the sole can’t be replaced. All of the hiking boot in this review, however, have high-tech soles, and you’re going to be putting them through so much strain and flex and dusty/muddy conditions. Even an expert repair job is never going to bring a pair of hiking boots back to its original level of safety and resilience. So how often do you need to replace your hiking boots?
About every 500 – 600 miles, as a rule. Proper care can stretch that out a little, and alternating between two pairs of hiking boots can stretch it out further. If you can comfortably carry the weight of two pairs, then switching between them from one day to the next can extend the life of your boots. This allows the inners (which usually absorb a fair bit of moisture throughout a days’ hike) to dry out fully. The midsole also gets a break from impact and flex, and you’ll be more likely to pick stones etc. out of your tread. This prevents those stones from acting like chisels or nails next time you stand on something pointy, and driving up into the material of the sole.
Remember that support is just as important than comfort, and if you wear your hiking boots all the time, you may not notice them getting less stable and less firm. If in doubt, get a new pair: you can always alternate them with your old favorite pair of comfortable hiking shoes.
Here are some sources that we used while conducting our research
- Backpacker, The 16 Best Hiking Boots and Shoes of 2016, April 2016
- Outdoor Gear Lab, The Best Hiking Shoes for Men Review, May 2015
- Outside, The Best Hiking Shoes of 2016, May 2016
- Gear Patrol, The 20 Best Hiking Shoes of 2016, June 2016
- Rei Co-op, Hiking Boots: How to Choose, May 2016
- Switchback Travel, Best Hiking Boots of 2017, December 2016
- Switchback Travel, Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes of 2016, August 2016
- Gear Institute, Light Hiking Shoes (Low Cut), March 2015