Searching 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.
Vasque Skywalk GTX
Rough-out real full-grain leather
Classical lacing system with D-rings
Upgraded thermoplastic shank in the midsole provides great stability at a fraction of the weight (the original Skywalk shank was steel)
Three widths available to suit every foot
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
Some of the all-time greatest mid-weight hiking boots were relaunched in 2016, 32 years after they were first released. The 1984 Skywalk was impressively light compared to the trekking boots of the time, but more durable than many. They also came in three different widths, which meant that hikers never had to carry any more weight than they needed to.
The Skywalk is back with its original design, now wonderfully retro, but arguably timeless compared to the trends of the last ten years. The guts have gotten a complete revamp in keeping with the advances in technical materials of the last decade. The upper is made from “rough-out” leather: don’t be fooled into thinking that’s nubuck; it’s actually full-grain leather with the rough side out.
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.
Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX
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
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
A snug, supportive fit that might not suit hikers with wide feet
For all-round performance, serious short hikes and lightweight backpacking, the Salomon Quest 4D is the best hiking boot available. It isn’t cheap, but it’s not obscene either, and although it’s an all-rounder, everything about it seems less like a compromise and more like an ideal balance.
The Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX is not too heavy but not too flimsy; well-built, but very comfortable. If you’re planning to visit the arctic with a heavy pack, or you’d prefer an ultra-light boot that imitates a trail runner, then there are better options that meet each of those conditions head-on. That being said, the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX should suit the majority of conditions very nicely. The previous model (the Quest 4D) was a favorite of hiking gear specialists for many years, and the 2 has improved a couple of small things, most notably the appearance.
Zamberlan 996 Viox GTX
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
Italian made and designed, the Zambelan 996 Viox GTX performed well in Northern woodland through-hikes. This boot is stunning to look at. Because it’s free of excess components and stitching, if you take proper care of this boot it could last you for decades.
Full-grain leather upper and a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, this boot may take a little while to wear in but it will perform in just about any situation, wet or dry, rough or peaty. Excellent stability prevents foot fatigue on long journeys, and the padded tongues take a bit of the lace pressure off while keeping out sticks and stones.
The exclusive Vibram soles stand the test of long hikes with heavy backpacks.
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
The Tower trek’s dual-density, rock-solid EVA rubber outsole makes it a great pick for through-hikes. Testers found that the midsole provides ample support even when hiking with heavy packs above 50 pounds, and the cushioning insole over that base makes these a pleasure to wear all day long.
The Tower Treks succeed at offering unprecedented comfort for a boot this sturdy. They use a stretchy Schoeller material for the insole, collar and tongue, creating a blister-proof snug fit. The ankle is flexible enough to make this a good choice for up and downhill hikes, and it’s light enough that they won’t feel like a burden after two weeks of all-day hikes.
Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots
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
The Keen Targhee 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoe was routinely voted the best-value hiking shoe in 2016. The Targhee 2 Mid Hiking Boot is still fairly lightweight but provides better support than the Targhee 2 Hiking Shoe. Both the shoe and the boot are an excellent choice for you if you need extra room across the width and toe box of your 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).
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid
Quick to wear in
Good support for lightweight backpackers
Hardcore hikers find they need to replace their Renegades less than two years apart
Think of this as the leather alternative to the Salomon Quest reviewed above: it’s not quite as nimble, but provides better stability and insulation from the impact of your hike. It outperforms the Quest for anyone carrying a heavier pack or trekking rougher trails.
The upper leather is thinner than on most hiking boots, meaning they wear in quicker, fit well, and weigh less. The downside of that is that the Renegades offer a little less durability. If you are after a boot that will last you serious mileage for years, or you want to carry packs weighing 35 pounds and above, we recommend the Renegade’s bigger cousin, the Lowa Tibet, instead.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack II Mid GTX
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
This unusual-looking hiker sits in-between a lightweight hiking shoe and a dedicated backpacking boot. As soon as you pull it out of the box you can tell how light, flexible and comfortable it’s going to be. It breathes well, and has just enough ankle roll support to be classed as a hiking boot.
The sole is not especially thick, but still offers decent protection, and the multidirectional tread works well at keeping out dirt and mud.
Asolo Fugitive GTX
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
An excellent choice for extended backpacking trips. It has robust support all the way through, hard toes made for icy back country hiking, and it looks great. It’s on the heavy side, and quite stiff. In stark contrast to a lot of the ultra-modern, lightweight, meshy hikers that hit the market in 2016, the Asolo Fugitive boot is proudly traditional in its design. If you’re looking for something for demanding trips in 4 season conditions – think Norway or Nepal – the Fugitive is without any weakness.
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.
Oboz Scapegoat Mid
Super light at 1lb
Strong grip against rocky mountain paths
Designed in Montana, USA
Although they feel like a lightweight comfort hiking shoe, they are much more stiff and structured on the outside, meaning they need a little longer to break in than most mid-height hikers
Not waterproof (and don’t claim to be)
Headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, this company’s goal is to make boots that outperform not just in America’s backcountry, but also on backpacking trails throughout the world. These lightweight boots really punch above their weight: they combine durable synthetic leather, a reinforced heel guard and tough rubber toe with a light, bouncy feel so that you can bushwhack without breaking a sweat.
Normally with a boot that feels this agile, you have to sacrifice support and overall toughness, but not with the Scapegoat: they have the stability of a heavy backpacking boot and are near indestructible.
For hikers looking for something higher, heftier, and waterproof, Oboz offer the Beartooth boot.
Vasque Inhaler 2
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.
Both the Vasque Inhaler 2 Mid Hiking Boot and Vasque Inhaler 2 Low Hiking Shoe frequently top the list for best lightweight hiking footwear. If finding a lightweight boot with a supremely comfortable collar/cuff is your goal, these are a great choice. They feel lighter than they are thanks to their bouncy EVA midsole, but have enough ankle support to let testers carry 50 pounds across tundra.
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.
Here is How We Evaluated For Our Selection of the Best Hiking Boots
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 on 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 surface, 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 uncomfortably 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 fits 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 favourite 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