The Quest for the Best Men's Hiking Shoes of 2017
Looking for some fresh hiking shoes this Spring? We'll help you find the perfect match. We researched 60+ models and tested the 11 best over three months in order to see what these shoes are capable of. Covering hundreds of miles, our expert testers hiked trails of varied terrain and climbed ridges on Colorado 14'ers to push these products to their limits. Besides crushing mileage in these products, we also designed tests to find out which ones provide traction and stability when needed most, and which ones remain comfortable over long distances. Whether you prioritize versatility or desire the most lightweight model, our tests and analyses will guide you to the right product for your hiking endeavors.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
We just updated this review with a speedy new model from Salomon, which ran away with one of our Top Pick awards for this Spring. Our favorite shoe for long distance support is now discontinued but remains for sale at various retailers, occasionally for under $100! The testing process revealed that judging performance by the price tag is inaccurate, with the two most expensive models placing in the bottom half of the competition. For clarity in our metrics, we inserted graphs and charts to highlight the individual scores in each key area.
Best Do Everything Hiking Shoe
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
If you want a shoe that does everything on the trail, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is the best model available on the market today. Its ability to switch between long hikes and trail running makes it an excellent choice if you want to do both. Threading the needle between the two categories, the Ultra 109 features a narrow profile for a snug fit commonly found in trail running shoes. Yet it is burly enough to eat up miles of rough hiking terrain, providing ample traction and stability. The Ultra 109 goes hiking, light backpacking, or trail running equally well, and if we were going on a trip with only one pair of shoes, this would be it.
Great do-everything shoe
Slim toe profile
Excellent all-around traction
Good torsional stability
Not the most durable
Read full review: The North Face Ultra 109 GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Keen Targhee 2
The Keen Targhee 2 provides great day hiking performance at an affordable price and takes home our Best Buy award this year. Aside from its supreme comfort, the Targhee handles wet trails and mud with ease and breathes well. We noted impressive foot support from this light shoe, improved by its secure lacing system. The mid-cut version of the Targhee took home awards in our reviews of hiking boots for both men and women. Keen clearly makes a great product in the Targhee, both in mid and low cut versions — see our full Keen Targhee II Mid hiking boot review.
Great traction and comfort
Great foot support
Extra toe protection
Webbing lace eyes can wear
A bit wide for narrow feet
Read full review: Keen Targhee 2
Top Pick for Speed
Salomon X Ultra Low II GTX
The Salomon X Ultra Low II GTX didn't take long to impress us from the bottom up. The stiffer-than-most outsole with aggressive lugs make for excellent purchase on nearly any surface, and we expect the rubber to hold up much longer than the softer soles of most other contenders. Weighing 2 lbs 1.5 oz and sporting a more narrow profile and fit than the Editors' Choice winner from The North Face, this model is ready to scurry downhill trails or speed through the flats. Your hikes just might turn into runs with these shoes. Some might not like the diversion from traditional laces, but we liked the convenience of the Quicklace system and had no problems with it. The North Face and La Sportiva models do beat out the X Ultra Low II GTX when it comes to extended trips with medium to heavy loads. But if fast and light is your thing, this is your shoe.
Great water resistance
Quicklace system not for everyone
Average ankle protection
Read full review: Salomon X Ultra Low II GTX
Top Pick for Backpacking
La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0
For folks that desire more foot support for backpacking or rough terrain, the La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0 is the best of the bunch. We often chose this shoe for long days with some ridge traversing or rock scrambling terrain. The ECO is comfortable to hike in after a brief break-in period and one of the higher scorers in water resistance. This is our shoe of choice for backpacking with light to moderate loads. While this model has just been discontinued, it is still found at several retailers. If it fits your needs, better buy it now!
Great foot support
Heavy and stiff
Read full review: La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0
Analysis and Test Results
We hiked hundreds of miles in these shoes to rate them fairly on seven critical performance factors: comfort, weight, support, traction, versatility, water resistance, and durability. In the analysis below we share our findings on each rating metric, and the top scorers in each.
Whether you're spending hours or weeks on the trail, nothing is more important for enjoying your on-foot adventures than happy feet. Many factors influence comfort: the amount of padding in the upper, how well the shoe fits your foot when correctly sized, and how easily the lacing system adjusts fit.
We noted how the foot feels in the footbed and how the upper feels on the foot, especially where the top of the shoe meets the ankle. We also noted how the lacing system works and how easy it is to help fine-tune the fit. Finally, we noted how well each model breathes. Dry feet are comfortable feet, and a good design keeps feet dry when splashing through puddles and breathes well on warmer days. We tested two products that are not waterproof and therefore breathe much better, the Vasque Juxt and Merrell Moab Ventilator.
We found the Keen Targhee 2 was the most comfortable model. The Keen's upper hugs the foot, and the lacing system is top notch. The Targhee fits an average to wide foot well, and folks with slimmer feet may find a more comfortable fit with the La Sportiva FC ECO or North Face Ultra. More than any other metric, a shoe's comfort depends on a good fit.
Light is right for footwear. Lifting an additional half pound with each step is noticeable, especially as the miles pass. Choosing the lightest footwear with enough stability for your ankles and feet should be a top consideration. Hiking shoes fit a sweet spot between boots and trail runners; boots are heavier but provide significantly better ankle stability, and trail runners aren't as durable or supportive of the foot.
The Moab Ventilator and the Vasque Juxt are the lightest shoes tested, weighing 2.1 lbs per pair. The Lowa Renegade GTX Lo is the heaviest model tested, which translates to high scores in durability and support. To ensure accuracy in our comparison, we weighed each of the models we tested, all size 12s, on a digital scale. We weighed each with the insoles and laces supplied by the manufacturer.
How much support a shoe gives you is in large part a function of the thickness and materials of the midsole, the thickness of the sole, and the shape of the last. A shoe that is stiff through the midfoot but flexible up front helps keep feet happy on long hikes. Our tested models range from the Lowa Renegade, with a full nylon shank and substantial PU midsole, to the light and flexible Merrell Moab Ventilator. The Renegade's underfoot components are identical to its popular mid-height, hiking boot brother. The Renegade provides torsional stability and is stiff enough in the midfoot for all-day hiking with moderate loads.
The Keen Targhee 2 and North Face Hedgehog Hike are notable for providing good support considering their light weight. They also provide good torsional stability. It's surprising how much performance Keen packs into the Targhee 2, given its low price.
At the other end of the support continuum is the Merrell Moab Ventilator. With only a nylon shank in the arch and a less dense EVA midsole, it doesn't offer much foot support t, but it is light and comfortable for day hiking.
On a good day hiking, we expect our foot to stay put every time we take a step. The products tested were asked to handle everything from mud and slushy snow to rock slabs and loose gravel. While most of the models tested feature carbon rubber Vibram soles, each has a unique sole shape and tread pattern of lugs. We put these shoes through four side-by-side tests to rate traction. First, we took several laps up and down a steep granite slab to test the limits of friction. The Salewa Wildfire GTX and its sticky rubber sole, designed for this type of terrain, performed best. We dumped water on this same rock and logged some more laps. The Keen Targhee 2 was a great performer on wet granite.
Gently sloping trail surfaces with grape-size loose gravel can be smooth sailing or frustratingly slippery. There's a gravel fire road near our lead tester's place that's perfect for finding shoes with the best grip. The La Sportiva FC Eco and Keen Targhee 2 were top performers on gravel. Finally, we tested how well each shoe performs in slippery mud. The Keen Marshall WP and Moab Ventilator work great on muddy trails.
Overall, we awarded the top traction score to The North Face Ultra 109. In our individual reviews, we detail each shoe's performance in each traction test.
Several considerations went into versatility scores. Some of these shoes were comfortable on flat trails and rough terrain. We value a shoe that is comfortable for short day hikes and also supportive enough for light backpacking trips.
That said, some are seeking a specialist shoe. Do you want one do-it-all shoe or a quiver of options for different adventures? If you are new to hiking, it's likely that a versatile, do-everything shoe will fit your needs. But, if you have specific priorities and a bigger budget, two or more pairs of specialized shoes could give you focused performance. Keep in mind that a shoe designed for hiking is only part of your adventure footwear quiver, which might already include boots and trail running shoes.
We made it a priority to run a few miles with a light pack while wearing each shoe because we suspect some of you will want to use these models for fastpacking adventures. The North Face Ultra 109 and Adidas Outdoor AX 2.0 GTX felt natural to run in when terrain and energy allowed. Some of these shoes, the Lowa Renegade especially, look great and can double as casual footwear while working, gardening and around town. With a lot of color options, you can usually pick something not too flashy.
While many of these shoes are available without a waterproof membrane lining, all the test models, save the Merrell Moab Ventilator and Vasque Juxt, feature a waterproof membrane. While Keen uses its proprietary KEEN.DRY membrane in its waterproof footwear, other manufacturers feature GORE-TEX waterproof breathable membranes. If you live in a sunny, dry climate, or avoid mud and rainy weather when hiking, a shoe without a waterproof membrane will be more breathable and more comfortable.
After a couple months of hiking, we splashed around in Colorado's Poudre River in each shoe to check for leaks. Our feet got soaked in the non-waterproof Moab Ventilator and Juxt of course but stayed dry in all the rest except the Adidas Outdoor, which leaked a little around the tongue. The full leather Renegade took the top score for water resistance.
All of these shoes benefit from a leather or fabric conditioner applied to the upper. Nikwax has a range of products that are great for treating the mixed material uppers of these shoes. A leather or fabric treatment keeps water from soaking the shoe's upper materials. Even when water is stopped by the waterproof liner, it makes your shoe heavy and hinders breathability. The Keen Marshall and The North Face Ultra soaked up the least water and dried faster than the others.
If heavy dew and water crossings are common where you hike, consider choosing a dark color option for your shoes. This will allow them to dry quickly when it's sunny.
The are many trade-offs when designing hiking footwear. A focus on making lightweight, comfortable shoes necessarily means that durability is less of a focus. A heavier, full leather shoe, like the Lowa Renegade will, last longer than an uber light one, like the Moab Ventilator. These shoes received the highest and lowest scores awarded for durability. The Renegade is an investment but will last practically forever. The affordable and light Moab Ventilator wears out faster than most shoes.
Generally speaking, we have been impressed with the durability of all the models tested. The all-leather Lowa Renegade provides years of fun for most hikers and received our highest durability score. Upper details applied over the mesh portions of the Salewa Wildfire and Keen Marshall help protect the lightweight mesh from abrasion. Most of these lightweight models were more durable than expected, due to well-designed details that protect lightweight materials.
Regularly cleaning and treating your footwear greatly increases its life expectancy. Mud and sand left on the shoe's upper will create premature wear. Warm water and a soft brush are your best tactic for cleaning. Nikwax offers a line of leather and fabric conditioners, including products for suede leather and synthetic fabrics. Common wear areas, like the flex points on the forefoot and seams that are prone to scuffing, can be reinforced. Applying Gear Aid Seam Grip or a similar sealer will keep out dirt and sand, prolong use, and has the added benefit of keeping water out.
Do yourself a favor and visit the Care and Feeding section of our hiking boot review for more information on cleaning, treating and extending the life of hiking footwear.
Gaiters - Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters and the Salomon Trail Gaiters are both great traditional style gaiters. The products in this review work well with more minimalist gaiters, like the Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters. Colorful minimalist gaiters from Dirty Girl Gaiters are popular among thru-hikers and trail runners.
Insoles - Superfeet Green Premium Insoles to be comfortable, providing good arch support, and helping with foot ache at the end of a long day hiking.
Socks - See our Hiking Sock Review for more info.
The variety of hiking footwear for outdoor folks these days is a blessing. With high traction soles and waterproof uppers that support the foot while freeing your ankle, hiking shoes are the choice of many hikers today. But you may need the support and ankle stability that a boot provides, or you may enjoy pushing the capabilities of light trail running shoes. We cover the best uses and defining attributes of these types of outdoor footwear above, and delve into the fine details in our Buying Advice article, where fitting and sizing is also detailed.
— Brandon Lampley
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