Hiking shoes are an interesting category to talk about. Boots typically control the conversation when talking about the best things to put on your feet when camping, hiking, or doing anything in nature at all, really. Still, hiking shoes are a vital piece of gear for the right scenario, and knowing which ones are best for the job will serve you well. In today’s guide, we’ll be looking specifically at low cut hiking shoes. If you’re looking for the best hiking boots, that can be found here.
The Ultra 109 GTX from The North Face is one of the most impressive “do-it-all” trail running and hiking shoes we’ve ever come across. Almost universally praised for their versatility, these shoes are perfect for those looking for something lightweight, unobtrusive, yet sturdy and built to last. The North Face bills these as trail running shoes, but the extra support and mid layers make for an excellent pair for hiking and backpacking as well.
-Incredible general performance
-Comfortable, even on the first hike
-Unbelievable traction on just about any surface imaginable
-Waterproofing needs a bit of upkeep
Comfort & Support
Right out of the gate, the comfort of this shoe is evident. Reviewers have noted that unlike many shoes in this category, the Ultra 109 feels very comfortable right out of the box, and has minimal breaking-in time for hiking. Almost all of the testers we researched found the shoes to be incredibly comfortable, even during multi-day backpacking excursions. The lacing on this shoe makes sense and is well thought-out, with 4 lower webbing eyelets and two traditional upper ones. This means that the show fits comfortably, especially for a narrower foot.
One thing is for certain; this is one of the most breathable waterproof shoes out there at the moment. Testers found that their feet stayed dry even through rigorous exercise, proving that the Ultra 109’s mean business.
The Ultra 109 GTX are a bit heavier than some of the other shoes in this guide, weighing in at 2.26 pounds. That really isn’t so bad, though, and all told, it falls right about in the middle of the shoes included in this guide. We found that wearing the shoes caused very little fatigue due to weight, and the pair felt natural and snug all throughout use.
The North Face utilized their proprietary UltrATAC rubber sole for the Ultra 109, and we can say with confidence that this shoe features the best traction of any on this list. The shoes perform well in all situations, whether you are running on uneven, rocky terrain or scrambling up a wet rock face. The traction consistently impressed us, and we feel very good giving these shoes the highest marks in this category.
This is always a crucial test for hiking shoes for obvious reasons, and we are pleased to report that the North Face Ultra 109’s don’t disappoint here either, although they aren’t perfect. All of the additional TPU (Thermoplastic urethran) overlays do a very good job of protecting the outer shell of the shoes themselves, but the stitching on the leather where it meets the forefoot flex point is only single-stitched, leaving it potentially vulnerable to wear and tear as time goes on.
The GORE-TEX waterproofing used liberally throughout the body of the shoe does a great job of keeping moisture out of the insides, but like any shoe, we definitely recommend having a ritual of applying a sprayable DWR coating every so often to ensure that the shoes retain their strength for the long haul. Testers also found that the mesh material absorbs quite a bit of water when consistently splashing around, but they also noted that they tended to air out and dry very quickly as well.
The La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 is a unique shoe, in that it is quite unassuming upon first glance. Even though these shoes don’t look like much, we quickly discovered that they are the most comfortable and supportive shoes on this list. For that reason, they take our Runner-Up spot in this guide. The FC ECO 2.0 is a modern pair of hiking shoes that will look just as natural at the gym as they do out on the trail, which is something we don’t often say regarding these shoes. If you’re looking for an extremely versatile, multi-use pair of hiking shoes, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than these from La Sportiva.
-The most comfortable shoes in this guide
-Insanely durable design and execution
-Waterproofing kept water away from the insides effectively
-Not ideal for running
-Needs a bit of breaking in
-Has some issues on loose terrain
Comfort & Support
As mentioned above, the FC ECO 2.0 is the most supportive shoe in this guide. The subtleties of the design mean that this shoe is built from the ground up to be supportive, even over rocky, loose terrain. The fit is fantastic, especially if your foot is on the narrower side, but the average foot should have no problems getting these shoes to fit snugly and comfortably. That being said, when you first try this shoe on, you might not immediately feel that comfortable. We noticed that most testers felt the ECO needed a decent breaking-in period before they really settled into the comfort we enjoyed. The sole, especially, tends to be very stiff upon first use, but after a while, all of the testers have said the shoe was form fitting and comfortable.
The lacing system on the ECO is a basic one, but it gets the job done. The five traditional eyelets don’t really provide any of the flexibility that more modernized systems do, and for some, this will be a bit off-putting. If you are okay with a more traditional setup, you won’t have any problems here. The simplicity behind the laces makes getting these things on and off a snap, which is definitely a plus for those who are looking for these to be an “everyday” pair.
One last thing; although many reviewers have mentioned the versatility of this shoe, we found that it is simply not comfortable to run in the ECO. The stiffness of the sole and the bulk of the shoes themselves just didn’t feel right to us. If you’re looking for something similar that would be better suited for running, perhaps you should check out the The North Face Ultra 109 GTX above.
Coming in at 2.51 pounds, the La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 is one of the heavier shoes included in this guide. That extra weight isn’t going to waste, however; the density of the sole and the protective toe cap provide more protection than many others for the tradeoff. We found that the ECO felt natural and comfortable, even on moderately difficult terrain over a multi-day period. Testers never really felt like the weight was a hindrance, and the additional protective features really do come in handy when you need them most.
If there was ever an area the ECO didn’t excel at, it’d be the traction support. La Sportiva has a long history of making excellent products for hikers and backpackers, and in general, the traction performance is second to none. With the ECO 2.0, however, we found that testers had their fair share of issues with slippage on loose gravel, as well as on wet, smooth rock. This was pretty disappointing for us, and was one of the main reasons the Ultra 109 GTX beat out the ECO for our Top Pick award.
As stated above, this shoe is built like a tank. The ECO 2.0 has mesh right up at the forefoot flex point, which testers were cautious about, as this is one of the first places that signs of wear tend to become evident. Still, throughout our time with these shoes, they showed absolutely zero signs of serious wear, which impressed us enough to give the ECO the highest marks for durability. The addition of the leather doesn’t hurt here, either, and really sells the hardy, supportive feeling present throughout the shoes. It also serves to help support the shoes impressive waterproofing features. We found that the leather shell did a fantastic job of keeping water out of the shoes, but testers were able to feel the cold through the mesh pretty well. At the end of the day, though, these are some impressively water-resistant hiking shoes.
The Salewa Wildfire GTX is the king of rocks. Out of all of the shoes in this guide, the Wildfire clung to rock faces the best, even in wet conditions. The shoe itself is lightweight and low-profile, and is designed to give you maximum control during climbs. This means added sensitivity at the expense of some sole support, unfortunately, but we found that wasn’t too big of an issue here. This isn’t the best climbing shoe out there in the wild, and while it isn’t the best hiking shoe, but it’s certainly a great one for all-around use.
-Traction on rocks is second-to-none
-Excellent lacing system
-Very lightweight design
-A bit lacking in support
-Loses grip in muddy situations
Comfort & Support
Again, the Wildfire doesn’t have too much in the way of bulk or support. It’s a narrower fitting shoe, and although it did perform well on relatively long jaunts with a pack, it offers little in the way of true cushioning under your feet. If you’re looking for a padded experience, this might not be the best fit for you. All the same, we really had no major complaints about the support on offer for general hiking.
The lacing system that the Wildfire uses is quite unique, and really serves to give this shoe an incredible fit that feels more secure than most of the others in this guide. The primary reason for this is the top eyelet, which employs a mesh webbing that extends around the ankle. This allows for some fantastic control over the tightness of the shoes, and just generally looks great as well.
The Salewa Wildfire GTX is on the lighter end of things at 2.2 pounds. The minimized, low-profile design really comes in handy here, and the lack of thick cushioning only serves to make this pair that much quicker on your feet. Many testers commented that the added control for 4th class climbing and backpacking was well worth the decrease in overall support.
This is the area where the Wildfire really shines. Frustratingly, however, it’s also an area where the shoes fall short, depending on what type of terrain you are navigating them through. For instance; on solid, wet granite rock, the sticky Vibram Tech Approach Evo feels like glue. Testers were incredibly impressed with the performance here, but when it came time to test things out in muddy conditions, things soured quickly. The shoes also can’t compete with the general versatility of, say, the Ultra 109 when it comes to traction. They can, however, give them a run for their money in just about any climbing situation.
This won’t be the most durable shoe you’ll ever own in your life, but for how light and minimal the design is, the durability proved to be plenty impressive. There’s a silverized antibacterial treatment applied to each of these shoes, which helps to fight odors and other issues on the inside, and most of the outer shell is made of rubber and mesh. If you’re someone who values control over fortitude, the Salewa Wildfire GTX might be exactly what you’re looking for. All the same, if you are looking for a pair of shoes that will support you on treacherous terrain with the most luxurious comfort around, you’d be best served elsewhere.
The Keen Targhee 2 represented a difficult choice for us when constructing this guide. It’s a shoe that has been well-loved for years now, and for good reason; the Targhee 2 is lightweight, durable, and more comfortable than just about any other shoe in this guide to boot. We found the decision to give our top spots to the North Face Ultra 109 GTX and the Salewa Wildfire GTX, respectively, to be a very difficult one. On the surface, the Targhee 2 does many things just as good, if not better than these other models, so why didn’t it take an award? The easiest answer is that while the Targhee 2 provides versatile and powerful performance, it couldn’t compete with the support on offer from the Ultra 109, nor the traction and fit of the Wildfire. This is one of the most affordable shoes on this list, though, so there’s some incredible value to be had here for the right person.
-Versatile performance that won’t break the bank
-Very comfortable overall design
-Heel-cinching mechanism is completely novel
-Inconsistent traction and support
-A few durability concerns
-KEEN.Dry technology can’t quite compete with GORE-TEX
Comfort & Support
The Targhee 2 is a bit of a brute on the outside, with its clunky design and heavy fabrics. One the inside, however, it’s a whole new world of comfort. The arch support is the only bit that seems a tad lacking, but it wasn’t so extreme that it caused an issue. We found that the Targhee 2 was especially comfortable for those with wider feet; something that can be difficult to come across in this category.
The lacing system in the Targhee 2 relies on a 4 eyelet design that works very well for keeping the shoe secure, even across great distances. The upper webbing actually allows for you to cinch your heel to the cup, keeping it firmly in place. This is one of the most popular features on this shoe, and reviewers and customers alike have shared praises about it.
At 2.25 pounds, these shoes are right in the middle of the road. This was actually a bit surprising for us, considering the bulky, sturdy design these shoes utilize. The added bulk on these shoes will probably not be a big issue for most, because many of the features that give it its weight are vital to the shoe’s overall construction quality. All told, these feel great, and we think that most people would enjoy hiking and backpacking in them highly.
In the traction department, the Keen Targhee 2’s performed better than some, and worse than others. While the wet grip in particular was impressive, testers found that loose gravel and uneven terrain presented a bit of a challenge, which is notable considering the competition above. The lug pattern seemed to have some trouble with accumulating gravel underfoot, which is an issue that wasn’t shared with both the Ultra 109 and the Wildfire.
There is one area on the Targhee 2 that serves as the Achilles heel of sorts in terms of durability; the seams where the leather is stitched to the mesh. This area is particularly vulnerable to wear and tear, and need a bit of extra attention if your goal is to make these last for the long haul. That’s not to say that these aren’t constructed with quality in mind; quite the opposite, really. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take extra care to this area when in periods of heavy use.
In the water resistance department, Keen implemented their own, proprietary KEEN.Dry technology to admittedly mixed fanfare. When stacked up against GORE-TEX, KEEN.Dry simply didn’t live up to expectations. This is definitely a shoe that will need periodic treatment to keep the coating healthy and effective. It did a good enough job at keeping water out during tests, but we worry about the longevity of the protection after putting these things through the ringer.
The Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo is perhaps the closest shoe to a regular mid hiking boot that we’ve included in this guide. This is a serious shoe made for serious people, and its burly design is reflected in its higher price point. The Renegade II features some surprising comfort and support, even right out of the box. If you’re looking for a heavy duty shoe that also works as a good “around-the-town” shoe, you might have found your match. The only drawback here for some is that these are some pretty heavy shoes. If you’re doing tons of walking in town, you might want something that keeps you a bit lighter on your feet.
-Great heavy lifters that work just as well around town as they do on the trail
-Impressive out-of-the-box comfort
-The most durable shoe in this guide
-Bulky and heavy
-A bit too warm for some areas
Comfort & Support
The Renegade II has a bit of a reputation for its surprising, out-of-the-box comfort. All of the extra material and support really shows here, and it’s sure to impress even the most demanding of individuals in this department. The only shoe that we can say with any confidence is more comfortable is the La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0, which took our Runner-Up award above.
The lacing on this shoe fits the theme; it’s a sturdy, pulley-type system that makes getting in and out of the shoes a breeze. The issue we found, here, however, is that there really isn’t a tremendous amount of versatility in terms of adjusting the fit. We would have a preferred a system that is a bit more adaptable, like the one found on the Salewa Wildfire GTX.
Another key thing to keep in mind here is that due to the heavy-duty, thick construction, the Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo truthfully doesn’t breathe very well at all. It is certainly more well-suited for a colder environment, and if you’re one to get warm easily, or take hikes in a warmer area, this might be a standout flaw for you to consider before making a purchase.
2.73 pounds of sheer force make up these hiking shoes, and the bulky design is sure to put some off. Others, though, will appreciate the hardiness and extra support, and might even find this to be the killer app they’ve been searching for. With the industry shifting rapidly towards ultralight gear and breathability, there’s a very real gap out there for those looking for heavy equipment that expressly tries to accentuate fortitude over everything else. If that’s what you’re looking for, then you can end your search right here.
We were very impressed with the overall traction performance on the Renegade II. Many testers had nothing but great things to say, but some holdouts voiced concerns about solid granite traction during wet situations. The lug design is impressive, and seems to hold its own quite well in just about any other type of terrain.
The Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo is, without a doubt, the most durable hiking shoe in this guide. The extra cost actually reflects in the craftsmanship here, and we have no doubt that you can be hiking in these things for years to come. Testers had zero significant wear and tear to report, even after extensive field testing, which is something that isn’t the case for most other hiking shoes in this guide (and in general!).
Things to consider when shopping for the best pair of hiking shoes
Hiking Shoes Vs Hiking Boots
This is one of the questions we get asked quite often when it comes to hiking and backpacking: “What’s better for me, boots or shoes?” The answer, as always, depends highly upon your intended usage. However, factors like your personal health, strength, and desired level of comfort play a part here as well when trying to determine which route to go. For instance, let’s break it down; maybe you’re looking to do some casual hiking on a smooth and easy trail with some friends. In this case, shoes will likely serve you just fine, as the extra support and protection probably isn’t more important than being light on your feet. Boots weigh on average a few ounces more than most of the shoes on the list above, so that should always be taken into account when you are making your first purchase. That being said, let’s say that you’re looking for something to see you through an arduous, multi-day hike into the mountains. In this scenario, it would likely be worthwhile to have the extra ankle support and protection that a boot can offer you, versus the shoe. Boots also tend to be easier to keep water out of in streams and rivers, and the increased support reduces the likelihood of a leg based injury. (Something you definitely don’t want to deal with while out on the trail)
Deciding which option is best for you might simply come down to a matter of preference. That being said, let’s take a look at a few scenarios where hiking shoes might be the best pick for you.
Recommended Usage for Hiking Shoes
Hiking shoes have been around for quite a while now, and many outdoors lovers never even consider getting a heavy-duty boot. Why is this? Many hikers tend to enjoy a more relaxed pace through well-maintained trails. In this scenario, it’s likely that you won’t need anything other than the essentials to be successful, and it is in these areas that hiking shoes shine. On the flip side, hiking boots would come into play on longer, more treacherous backpacking trips that require a bit more preparation and physical fortitude than a simple day hike. Some ultralight hikers might even still opt for a hiking shoe for a longer journey if they are trying to move quickly and efficiently along the trail.
Dayhiking usually involves a simpler, flatter trail, but there are exceptions to every rule here. A dayhike is really any hike that you start and finish in the same day, unlike a multi-day backpacking expedition. In a typical dayhiking scenario, you might only need to bring a bottle of water and a light pack filled with basic supplies and a camera. For these days, a hiking shoe will come in handy, allowing you to move quickly through the hike and stay comfortable while doing so. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, our Top Pick winner above, would be an example of a shoe that’d perform extremely well for a hike such as this, but in all actuality, any of the models we’ve included above would work well here.
While the name might fool you, fast hiking doesn’t necessarily mean you’re jogging through the trails for the entire day; it simply means that you set out to cover a slightly larger distance than you would if you were taking things slowly. In these situations, being light on your feet is extremely essential, for obvious reasons. Here, something like the La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 might be a grand choice to keep you moving comfortably throughout the day. We find that as hikers gain experience and familiarity with an area, they naturally tend to begin fast hiking, with the hope being to discover rewarding new vistas or trail features along the way. In this case, hiking shoes would be a winner for you as well.
Finally, we’ve arrived at thru-hiking. Thru-hiking involves longer, more extreme multi-day hikes that require determination, endurance, and smart preparation. For many hikers, these are the situations that call for a heavier duty boot, but many still, especially in the “Ultralight” community, prefer to use a quality hiking shoe in order to cover ground effectively while steering clear of weight and bulk-based fatigue. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to what you feel will be the best for you in the end. Hiking is an activity that takes a bit of trial and error before you arrive at your preferential gear setup.
We hope this guide helped out a bit, with finding the right pair for you. Remember to weigh your needs with the function and performance of different brands and models. Although our list features the top rated choices, you have to pick the gear which works best for you.