The Trek to Find the Best Hiking Boots of 2017
With so many hiking boots, it's tough to pick the right pair. To help, we researched over 50 top models and selected the 12 best to test side-by-side for 160+ hours. For three months and hundreds of miles, we pushed these boots to their limits to find out which ones are truly stable in rough terrain, provide the most traction, remain comfortable from dawn til dusk, and more. Covering two continents, we hiked deserts, canyons, forests, and volcanoes on well-traveled paths and way, way off trail. We got to know these boots very well and pass our comprehensive findings on to you. Whatever you demand from your boots, we identify the perfect pair for your needs.
Related: Our Women's Hiking Boot Review
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
Ready to hit the trails this Spring, we updated this review with the top models available on the market. While our Editors' Choice proved our favorite overall, we awarded several other boots for their dominance in specific applications. We also added charts and tables to display the comparative differences between each contender in the scoring metrics. Throughout our tests, we discovered that a high price tag is not necessarily a precursor to excellent performance.
Best Overall Hiking Boots
Salomon Quest 4D II GTX
Capable on any trail we traveled, the Salomon Quest 4D II GTX championed over all other models, winning our Editors' Choice Award for 2017. Heading into varied terrain in the backcountry, this would easily be our boot of choice. The Quest 4D excelled in nearly every metric, providing superior traction and water resistance without lacking in breathability. It also features the best support system of all products we tested, to the appreciation of our feet and ankles. The innovative technology and construction found in the Quest 4D II make this model nimble and comfortable for hours and hours, whether on a short day hike or pounding miles on an extended backpacking trip. What's more, it's even suitable for snowshoeing. It is a mid-weight model, which lightweight fans might not prefer. Yet, it's several ounces from being the heaviest model tested. If you want optimal performance across the board, look no further than this pair from Salomon.
Comfortable out of the box
Fast and nimble
Great stability, support, and water resistance
Lots of seams to wear out
Might be too aggressive for casual hikers
Read full review: Salomon Quest 4D II GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Keen Targhee II Mid
For the second year in a row, the Keen Targhee II Mid earns our Best Buy award. A top scorer in comfort and weight, and above-average in traction, it's hands-down a great deal. Its comfort lends itself to being worn all day without hesitation, and the lacing system was our favorite in the field of lightweight hikers. Many of our thruhiker friends are Targhee II devotees. Although it's not the most durable product we tested, some retailers offer the Targhee II for $105, so it can't be beat for value. Included in our hiking shoes review is the Keen Targhee 2, the low-cut version of this boot.
Extra toe protection
Below average stability
Not very durable
Read full review: Keen Targhee II Mid
Top Pick for Lightweight Hiker
HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit Mid WP
Despite being a recent arrival to the hiking boot party, HOKA ONE ONE has arrived as a top performer in this category. Due to its unsurpassed comfort and lightweightedness, this model is geared for many miles without you ever needing to stop and rest your feet. Employing their signature oversized midsole, this boot absorbs shock extremely well, and its rockered outsole design propels you forward each step of the way. While it lacked the durability and stability of heavier hiking boots, we felt that it fit the needs of a wide range of hikers who don't need the extra weight but do want happier feet. The HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit Mid WP is our Top Pick for Lightweight Hiker. HOKA also offers a shoe version of this boot for $20 less, the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP.
Absorbs shock well
Poor traction in mud
Somewhat lacking in stability and durability
Read full review: HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit Mid WP
Top Pick for Scrambling
Asolo Jumla GV
Our Top Pick Award for Scrambling goes to the Asolo Jumla GV. We were drawn to this model that lives for smearing, edging, and scrambling through any type of rock. If you enjoy backcountry bouldering on rocks you pass along the trail, this boot is happy to oblige. Besides its incredible traction on wet or dry rock, the Jumla GV is also lightweight and durable. Essentially a high cut, waterproof approach shoe, we love it. While not the best all-around hiker, this product excels in its preferred environment (read: vertical rock).
Excellent traction on wet and dry rock
Low water resistance
Read full review: Asolo Jumla GV
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of three months, we vigorously put each model to the test on our feet in a wide range of backcountry hiking environments and specific tests. Throughout the trial period, we compiled meticulous notes on performance. We used these experiences and results to then score each pair of boots across six separate rating metrics to find each model's strengths and weaknesses, and to compare them to each other. Based on the scores in the weighted individual metrics, we calculated an overall tally from 1-100. See the overall scores in the table above.
These scores represent each model's performance in comparison to the other models in this review. Furthermore, each metric's score is a combination of a variety of factors and performance. For example, the score in the Traction metric is an average of each product's scores when tested on dry rock, wet rock, scree, mud, and scrambling individually. We also factored in our backcountry experiences in traction when wearing each pair. Focus on the metrics most important to your hiking preferences and environments to guide you in the search for your unique best pair.
Comfort is king when it comes to footwear, and nowhere is this more important than crushing miles on the trails and off. Due to the trend of lighter hiking boots, many are comfortable out of the box. The HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit Mid and Keen Targhee II Mid define initial comfort. The Salomon Quest 4D II and Lowa Renegade GTX Mid are comfortable for midweight boots, and unlike many other products in their midweight class, they feel great from day one. The following chart displays the scores of the individual products in terms of comfort.
We noted three main attributes when considering comfort:
How the foot feels in the footbed
How does it feel when laced up and standing? Are there any pressure points when laced, and how roomy is the toe box? Does your foot feel it when you step on that pointy rock on the trail? After several hours of hiking, which models still made our feet feel great? The Tor Summit, Targhee II, and Renegade are the most comfortable straight from the box. The Quest 4D II and St. Elias did the best job keeping our feet happy after many miles and hours with a moderate pack.
How the ankle collar feels, and how the lacing system works
We noted the number and type of lacing eyelets, how the heel box feels on the back of the foot, and whether there's any slippage. The Arc'teryx and Salomon models featured our favorite lacing systems, with the Targhee II close behind. The fit and construction of the ankle collar are super important when logging many miles or traveling steep grades. The Renegade and St. Elias have similar ankle collars that balance comfort and ankle stability. The North Plains II and Jumla GV have shorter cuts that deliver minimal ankle stability but are quite comfortable.
How well the boot breathes, keeping you cool and dry
Blisters form due to heat and friction, and damp skin is friction-y. Nobody wants blisters, and picking the model that fits your feet and keeps you cool and dry is key. The mesh upper of the Inhaler II is the most breathable product we tested. Of the midweight models, the Quest 4D II breathed better than others, and our testers with sweaty feet appreciated it.
Overall, the Tor Summit is the clear comfort champ, followed by the Targhee II and Vasque St. Elias GTX. Comfort scores contribute 25% of each product's total score.
Ankle stability is the defining benefit of boots compared to hiking shoes or trail runners. Hikers who choose boots rather than a low-cut hiking shoe do so for ankle support and torsional stability. Hiking boots with a mid height, or full cut, reduce the chance of taking missteps and twisting ankles. During long days carrying a pack, this support keeps the ankles and feet from tiring. When choosing a boot for stability, first keep in mind that a boot that fits your foot well is necessary for stabilizing your ankle and foot. Try on several models, noting how well your heel and forefoot stay put in the footbed. See the chart below for the overall stability score each product received.
In addition to the many miles we hiked over rough terrain, we took a couple measurements to quantify how well each product supports the ankle and resists lateral rolling. First, we measured the height of the ankle collar from the footbed to its tallest point of the instep. The Quest 4D II and Renegade have the tallest ankle collars at 6.5 inches, followed by the St. Elias and the Lowa Tiago GTX Mid, tall for a lightweight model, at 6 inches. Second, we measured the width of the sole at the forefoot. A wide forefoot provides a more stable platform, and resists rolling. The Vasque Inhaler II GTX has the widest forefoot, 4.75 inches at its widest point, with the Quest 4D II and Tor Summit Mid WP slightly narrower.
Finally, we manhandled each product by grabbing the sole by the heel and toe and twisting side to side to get an idea of the torsional stability each provides. This is best described as the boot's ability to resist twisting of the sole on uneven surfaces. Better torsional stability translates to less fatigued feet on rough terrain, especially when carrying a load. Overall, we awarded the Salomon Quest 4D II GTX a perfect 10 in this metric. It ticked all the boxes (tall ankle collar, wide forefoot, torsional rigidity) in the lab, and gave us tons of confidence to speed through rough terrain in the field. The Renegade received the next highest ratings. This comes as no surprise. These mid and heavyweight models focus on stability and support. Also notable are the Tiago and Merrell Capra Venture, the most supportive lightweight models. We weighted stability 20% of total scores.
When you place your foot on the trail or a rock, you want it to stay put. Each product we tested has a unique lug pattern and sole shape, and different performance characteristics. In addition to our non-structured backcountry playtime, we devised five tests to compare traction. We poked around some rocky outcrops until we found the ideal slopes, one where half the models performed well, and half went slipping and sliding. First, we tested each boot's ability to climb and descend steep granite slabs. All the competitors handled gentle grades well, and when we started reaching the limits of what is possible in hiking boots, the Capra Venture and Asolo Jumla GV stuck the best.
Next, we headed to the river to test out the boots' traction on wet rock. Stepping and hopping across the river back and forth to tease out the differences in traction, we were please to find that all these boots were up to the task. Standing out above the rest, though, were the Arc'teryx Bora2 and Tor Summit.
Moving on to loose terrain, we tested each boot by hiking/running laps up and down thick scree fields in a canyon in southern Peru. While no boot makes scree easy (or fun) to ascend, some are better than others going up as well as coming down. This tiring day produced a winner, the Vasque St. Elias, which nudged out the Quest 4D II and Bora2 for efficiency in scree. The Bora2's bootie kept sediment out of the boot cavity, while most others filled with rock and sand after a few descents. Underperforming in this terrain was the Columbia North Plains II, with the Jumla GV close behind.
Late fall around Lake Tahoe is a good time to test each model's traction in mud, and snow as well. While no boot prevents 100% of slippage in mud, there were some with lower (and some higher!) tumble factors. Our likelihood of slipping in the Quest 4D II, Salewa Mountain Trainer, and St. Elias was much less than in other boots.
Our final test was to scramble up volcanic rhyolite boulders outside of Arequipa, Peru. When edging and smearing up these class 4 and 5 rocks, it was easy to separate winners and losers. The bulky boots with deep and spaced out lugs, while solid in muddy terrain, performed poorly here. Examples include the St. Elias, Renegade, and the North Plains II. However, the Asolo Jumla GV outclassed every boot in this test by a long shot. Its Vibram Friction sole, riddled with shallow, small, and varying mini-lugs, created a large amount of surface area contact, and scurried up rock faces like an approach shoe. Lagging behind the Asolo, but still climbing well, were the Capra Venture, Mountain Trainer, and Bora2 models.
While these are quite different traction scenarios, we assigned all the products an overall traction score. In the individual reviews, we discuss how each one performed during the four traction tests. We weighted traction 15% of the total score.
All else being equal, lighter footwear is better. You expend considerable energy lifting an extra half pound with each step. In the same way hiking boots are heavier than hiking shoes, midweight hikers have designs that focus more on stability, ankle protection, and durability than light weight. Your goal when selecting a hiking boot is finding the lightest model that meets your needs for stability and support. Below is a chart of our weight measurements, which were based on the size 11.5 pairs we used in our testing.
The Columbia North Plains II is the lightest product we tested, with the Vasque Inhaler II GTX and HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit virtually tying for second-lightest. These lightweight hikers are quite nice when the terrain does not demand as much stability and support. Experienced backpackers with strong feet and ankles may find these lightweight models appropriate under moderate loads.
The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid is the lightest midweight hiker we tested, with the Salewa and then Salomon boots falling in line next. These models are light considering the stability and additional durability they provide. Despite their added weight, we recommend midweight hikers to folks hiking extended periods with a medium to heavy load. We assigned weight 15% of the total score.
We all want dry feet when hiking. Dry feet are key to avoiding blisters, and staying warm when hiking in the cold and wet. All of these pieces we tested have waterproof breathable membranes in the lining. Nine of the twelve boots incorporate a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, while the Keen, HOKA ONE ONE, and Columbia use either proprietary or other third-party waterproof breathable membranes. The chart below displays the scores each product received in this metric.
First, we measured what we call the "flood level" of each product. A common design feature of hiking boots is a gusseted tongue. Not only do the gussets keep rocks and debris from entering the shoe, the waterproof membrane extends through this gusset. We measured the depth of water one wades into with each boot before it floods in over the top. The Arc'teryx Bora2 had the highest flood level or 6.875 inches, as the waterproof section of the bootie extends up the shin. The St. Elias and Quest 4D II are the next tallest and handle 6.125 inches of water.
Second, we wore each product while wandering around in the shallows at the edge of Lake Tahoe for five minutes. We performed this test after wearing these hiking boots off and on for three months. We flexed our feet underwater, and banged into rocks to seek out any potential leaky spots. We were surprised when all boots kept our feet bone dry when challenged up to their flood levels. We awarded the Quest and Renegade top scores for water resistance, which we assigned 15% of the total score. Amongst the lightweight models, the Tiago received the highest score for water resistance, with a flood level just short of six inches.
Without factoring it into the scoring, we were curious as to which boots dried out the fastest. We soaked them all inside and out in the morning, and then left them in a covered portion of a patio on a day with the high temperature of 71F. While no pair dried quickly, the St. Elias finished the soonest after seven hours, follow by the Mountain Trainer and Jumla GV. The only model to take over 24 hours was the Quest 4D II, which took almost 27 hours before drying out.
All boots wear out. After enough use, seams begin to come apart, waterproof membranes leak, and the sole wears down. This wear and tear is to be expected with time. With today's focus on lightweight footwear, compromises in materials and construction are inevitable. Many hikers praise their boots purchased decades ago that have endured 20 years, while failing to mention that the pair weighs four or five lbs, and may have cost 600 bucks in today's dollars.
We were happy to find that all twelve models in this review held up well through the three-month testing period. No boot suffered damage to the point of losing function. That said, we expect any hiking boot within the price range of these models to last three months of on and off use.
Only three boots suffered wear and tear beyond the scope of minor scuffs. The Capra Venture had some seams pulling loose where the rubber toe protector attaches to the synthetic upper. This is a common spot for wear on most hiking boots. The arch of the Inhaler began to deform. Made from softer rubber than the rest of the outsole, it is much more prone to damage. The Bora2 experienced the most wear, although it was also subject to the most difficult terrain we faced overall during a two day hike up a shield volcano. After the 48 hour trip, rocks had chewed up parts of the outsole and nicked and cut the surface of the leather upper. Furthermore, the rubber rand glued around the perimeter of the boot was beginning to delaminate in one area.
No boot is immune to damage, but we rated the St. Elias, Jumla GV, and Mountain Trainer as the boots that stood out as the most durable pieces we reviewed. The Merrell and Arc'teryx products scored the lowest scores in this category. We assigned durability 10% of the total score, admitting that a three month testing period is a short amount of time to flush out the exact differences in durability between models. As we'll note in the following section, though, there are several simple ways to prolong the life of your footwear.
Care and Feeding of Hiking Boots
There are a number of actions that increase the life expectancy of your hiking boots, from routine cleaning to pre-treating known wear areas.
Leather hiking boots benefit in waterproofness and durability when a leather treatment is applied. The leather uppers of the St. Elias and Renegade benefit from a leather treatment. While the GORE-TEX membranes keep your feet dry inside, the leather on these products soaks up water. This not only makes your boot less breathable and heavier, but repeated wetting and drying cycles causes the leather to become less supple over time.
Nikwax offers the most complete line of leather and fabric conditioners, including products for suede, nubuck, and full grain leather. These come in spray-on versions, or in liquid versions that are applied with a sponge. Atsko SNO-SEAL, a beeswax-based waterproofing for leather, is time tested and works great. Apply it by rubbing it on, and gently heating with a hair dryer to melt it into the leather. Leather conditioners need to be reapplied every few months to yearly, depending on how many miles you put on your footwear. Nikwax products that are designed for synthetic fabrics work well on lightweight hikers that have mixed materials uppers. Using a fabric treatment that maintains the DWR of synthetic materials on the upper means they absorb less water, remain more breathable, and dry quicker.
One of the most valuable tricks for prolonging the life expectancy of your footwear is applying a seam sealer to the stitching in high wear areas. Spend $8 for a tube and 20 minutes applying it to high wear seams doubles their lifespan. It might not look pretty, but you'll be glad you gripped 'em. Uppers commonly wear out on the seams on the inside and outside of the forefoot, where the boot flexes with each step. The Bora2 has a one-piece leather construction here, and doesn't suffer this wear. All the other models have seams in these areas. Regardless of the type of materials and thread used, these are weak points. Small amounts of dirt and sand work their way into these seams and act like internal sandpaper on the thread. These areas are also prone to scuffing on rock and roots. Applying Seam Grip, or a similar sealer, to these areas keeps out dirt and sand, increases scuff resistance, and has the added benefit of keeping water out. If you plan to abuse your footwear by surfing scree slopes or traversing rocky areas, applying a seam sealer to every visible thread on the upper is a great idea.
Boots get muddy and dirty, inside and out, but cleaning them of mud and sand prolongs their life. A soft bristle brush and warm water perform the trick best on the outer boot. Using the least pressure necessary, remove all visible mud, dirt, and debris. Do your best to let wet boots dry slowly, out of direct sunlight.
Also be sure to remove your insoles and clean them, and when you're on the trail, always take them out at the end of the day, or even each time you take your footwear off during the day. Shake any debris from the inside of the boot, and remove anything that's stuck to the bottom of your insole. Warm water and a soft brush is the best way to clean your insoles as well. Resist the urge to put shoes or boots in the washing machine, and never put them in the clothes dryer. Insoles that are super funky benefit from a gentle cycle in the washer, but let them air dry. At this point, it is often best to replace the insole with a new one.
And a final note: boots and extreme heat do not mix. We're all guilty of drying them by the campfire from time to time, but the soles melt off if you're not careful. Additionally, leather that dries too fast becomes hard and brittle. If you feel you have to, do not place your boots any closer to the fire than where your bare hand is comfortable for the same amount of time. It's much better to hike another day in damp footwear, then to hike another day in a half-melted boot duct taped to your foot. We know, we've learned the hard way! The trunk or backseat of your car is also a danger zone for boots when it's hot and sunny out. The temperatures here in midday sun cause the soles to delaminate from the uppers in no time at all. Footwear thrown into plastic totes in the back of a truck suffer the same sad fate.
Gaiters - Gaiters are a wonderful way to prevent debris from getting in your boots that cause discomfort or even blisters. The Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters and the Salomon Trail Gaiters are both great traditional style gaiters. For something a little more minimalist, the Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters are a great option.
Insoles - Insoles are important to help give the proper arch support needed for a long time spent on your feet. The Superfeet Green Premium Insoles are comfortable and help with the foot ache at the end of a long day of hiking.
There are so many hiking boots available on the market that choosing one pair is a real challenge. First, determine what types of trails you look forward to hiking, making note of the climates you will encounter, too. Then, using the test results and reviews present here, we hope to help you narrow down your choices to a few models that suit your unique needs. If you need guidance deciding what type of shoe or boot best fits your needs, head over to our Buying Advice article, where we help you decide what footwear best meets your needs. Good luck in your search, and happy hiking!
— Ross Robinson
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