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The 11 Best Men’s Hiking Boots and Shoes

Footwear for every kind of trail.

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

Hiking footwear is trendier than ever, which can make it difficult to find shoes that are equally functional and fashionable. (Not that there’s anything wrong with buying a gorp-y pair of boots for your strolls around the city.) When picking out trail shoes for your fall and winter hikes, Pacific Crest Trail Association communications director Scott Wilkinson advises that “it’s absolutely critical” to maintain circulation in your feet. “The best way to do that is to be sure you get footwear that’s at least one size bigger than what you normally wear,” he says. “Toes need room to spread out and wiggle around.” Wilkinson’s advice definitely applies to serious backpackers and thru-hikers, whose feet are more prone to swelling after many miles and thus need a bigger shoe. A full size up most likely won’t apply to the average day hiker, but it’s always better to err on the bigger size. (Thicker socks will take up more space inside the toe box.) In any case, we recommend trying out some shoes in person before buying them. And don’t forget to wear some blister-preventing and moisture-wicking wool socks.

To help you find the best men’s hiking shoes and boots, we asked seasoned outdoor experts what they recommend for all terrain in styles ranging from sleek sneakers to waterproof boots and sandals for crossing rivers and streams in the summer.

What we’re looking for

Style

Talk to almost any serious hiker or outdoor-gear enthusiast these days and you’ll hear the same story: Stiff, heavy hiking boots are out, flexible and lightweight trail runners are in. “Elite hikers, long-distance hikers — no one is wearing boots above the ankle,” says Dr. Rachel Gross, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver studying the history of outdoor clothing and gear. Trail runners are essentially grippier, more-hiking-specific sneakers, and they’re built for comfortand moving quickly and nimbly. “In the old days when you bought hiking boots you’d have to wear them around your neighborhood before the hike, to be confident you wouldn’t get blisters,” says Cris Hazzard of hikingguy.com. “Now it’s the opposite — you can put on a pair of new trail runners and do a long distance hike.”

That’s not to say boots don’t have their place. In fact, some of the best hiking boots are so lightweight and comfortable that they may as well be sneakers — except more durable. Hiking boots generally have heavier, more supportive soles, which are meant to support you and any extra weight — say, a backpack. Rather than wearing out in a few months, they’ll last forever and serve you especially well on wet or gravelly terrain. Some trail-running shoes, on the other hand, aren’t meant to support big loads and lack the protection that a boot can lend. “If you’re hiking over really rough rocks, a hiking shoe or a more traditional boot would protect your foot,” Hazzard says. “Sections of rocks on the Appalachian Trail are thin and stacked, so you can’t step flat on them, and that’s the case where I’d recommend something beefier because it shreds shoes quickly.” Field Mag founder Graham Hiemstra agrees: “On the West Coast, when I’m on well-maintained trails in evergreen forests with soft ground, I will wear trail runners. But if I’m hiking in the Catskills or Adirondacks, where the ground is more uneven and you need ankle protection, I wear a proper boot.”

Waterproofing

Waterproofing has always been the primary feature of hiking boots, which were traditionally made from oiled or waxed leather before the invention of Gore-Tex, a finely woven membrane that locks out moisture while remaining breathable. While they’ll never keep your feet 100 percent dry in the event of full boot submersion, the best waterproof hiking boots will use Gore-Tex or a membrane that’s very similar to it.

Yet not everyone wants a waterproof boot these days as the industry trends toward ventilated boots and sneakers that air out quickly after being submerged. If a wet shoe doesn’t sound ideal to you, that’s okay — we’ve included both waterproof and non-waterproof options on this list.

Traction

Because you’ll no doubt encounter slippery slopes on your hiking adventures, we looked for shoes and boots with deep traction, taking note of lug length in particular. Also key to maintaining good traction is lacing, says footwear and product designer Mark Britton. Laced boots and runners will have a tighter, more customized fit, which is why you won’t see leather Chelsea boots on this list.

Best men’s hiking boot overall

Style: Mid-calf boot | Waterproofing: Gore-Tex | Traction: Deep lugs

Bringing together the best qualities of old-school boots and new-school trail runners, these hardy hiking shoes from Salomon feature deep lugs that’ll grip onto any terrain, a reinforced toe, and breathable Gore-Tex to keep your feet nice and dry. Yet despite these features, they’re super-flexible on the foot. Mark Whitman of Mountain IQ told us he wears his pair in all seasons; writer and outdoor enthusiast Jael Goldfine recently section-hiked New York on the Appalachian Trail in a brand-new pair and confirms they broke in immediately. “They’re built like sneakers but have the support and tough exterior of a hiking boot,” she says. “They were immediately comfortable.”

Best (more lightweight) men’s hiking boot

Style: Over-the-ankle boot | Waterproofing: Non-waterproof | Traction: Medium lugs

Utah brand Altra is known for its trail runners, but it makes ankle boots using the same lightweight tech. This pair is especially waterproof and durable thanks to a Gore-Tex-like membrane called eVent. They’re “made for fast, lightweight hiking, even thru-hiking, especially when the weather is a lot less than perfect,” says Strategist contributing writer James Lynch. “They have a waterproof upper, an aggressive tread pattern, and a wide, comfortable toe box.”

Best beginner men’s hiking boot

Style: Over-the-ankle boot | Waterproofing: Waterproof membrane | Traction: Deep lugs

Waterproof, sturdy, and relatively affordable, the Merrell Moab is a classic in the hiking-footwear genre for a reason. “Merrells are really easy to come by, and they’re always in stock,” says hiking guide Melissa Goodwin. “They don’t take a long time to break in because they’re flexible from the get-go.” For this reason, “they’re a lot of people’s first hiking shoe,” Goodwin says, and if you’re not planning on doing anything particularly technical, you could easily keep wearing them for life. Strategist style columnist Chris Black is a Moab guy, saying these have earned the acronym “mother of all boots” for a reason and are basically the “Air Force 1 of hiking shoes.” And those who often find shoes too narrow will be pleased to know that Moabs come in two widths for optimum size customization.

Best men’s trail runner

Style: Sneaker | Waterproofing: Non-waterproof | Traction: Medium lugs

And here are those aforementioned trail runners that Altra is famous for. These beefed-up sneakers are especially known for their splayed-out toe box, which gives a lot of wiggle room — vital for increasing circulation whether you’re walking or running. They feature a “zero drop” profile, meaning your toe sits at the same elevation as your heel for a more natural gait. If you haven’t worn zero-drop shoes before, this profile could take some getting used to. “Altra Lone Peaks are one of the more popular trail runners for thru-hikers,” says Harrison Bacordo, a hiker who completed the Pacific Crest Trail in September. “Though they assume a higher-than-average level of foot strength slash conditioning beforehand.” The Altras feature grippy lugs and a reinforced toe box for protection against rocks, but they still feel very light. “They sit in the sweet spot of protection and minimalism,” says Hazzard. “The more cushion and sole you have, the more removed from the trail the feel is.”

Best (more cushioned) men’s trail runner

Style: Sneaker | Waterproofing: Non-waterproof | Traction: Medium lugs

The super-cushioned Speedgoats come recommended by Bacordo, who used them for the majority of his thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. (He started with Speedgoat 4’s, then switched to Speedgoat 5’s after about 300 miles.) “Having only worn non-zero-drop shoes up until then, I didn’t want to risk an early on-trail injury by skipping over the transition period that shoes like Lone Peaks demand. So I leaned into non-zero-drop shoes that focused more on comfort and cushioning, which led me to Speedgoats. These shoes worked wonders for me and many other hikers I met on trail,” he says. The Speedgoats have a four-millimeter heel-to-toe drop and an airy mesh upper that breathes well.

Best sustainable men’s trail runner

Style: Sneaker | Waterproofing: Non-waterproof | Traction: Medium lugs

These trail runners from Canadian brand Norda are more lightweight than the other pairs on this list, as well as more eco-friendly — their plant-based Dyneema fabric is manufactured using sustainably sourced wood pulp. Hiemstra’s had his pair for almost two years and says they’re his most-worn shoe whether he’s trail running, backpacking, day hiking, or just traveling. They can be laced tight or loose and benefit from a slightly chunky Vibram sole while never weighing down the foot. He also likes them for their unusually good looks: “I get compliments from the UPS guy, from the bodega man, at the climbing gym, and from the older gentlemen in line at the coffee stand. People love this shoe.”

Best (less expensive) men’s trail runner

Style: Sneaker | Waterproofing: Non-waterproof | Traction: Medium lugs

Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard has been trail running for more than ten years now and even completed five 100-milers. He’s a Brooks fan and says that the original cult-favorite running shoe is the best value for the money. “Other brands made improvements over the years, and the Cascadias fell out of favor for a long time, but in the last couple years they have been redesigned,” he says. “Now I think they’re perfect: really solid, mid-cushioning.” They’re also a little more affordable than the picks above.

Best chunky sole men’s hiking boot

Style: Mid-calf boot | Waterproofing: Gore-Tex | Traction: Medium lugs

For those who like to feel that bounce as they walk, Hokas are known for their chunky cushioned soles. “They are great shoes when either your foot’s injured and you need something with extra cushion or if you don’t have the miles on your legs but have signed up for a long trail,” says Hazzard. “They’re very forgiving, very cushy — it’s like walking on a little mattress. It’s great for when you have to drastically increase your mileage without physically being prepared for it.”

Best winter men’s hiking boot

Style: Over-the-ankle boot | Waterproofing: Waterproof membrane | Traction: Deep lugs

While Goodwin is loyal to her Altra trail runners for most of the year, during winter, she admits that a waterproof ankle boot becomes necessary on muddy and snowy trails. “Keens are my go-to,” she says. “If you’re more of a trail runner like me, they’re a good fit because they tend to have a wider toe box, just like Altras or Hokas.” Made from leather with a breathable and odor-reducing waterproof membrane, these boots (alongside a pair of toasty wool socks) are still lightweight enough for anyone used to doing most of their physical activity in sneakers.

Best vintage-style men’s hiking boot

Style: Mid-calf boot | Waterproofing: Water-resistant leather | Traction: Low lugs

“If you’re looking for one boot to rule them all, the vintage styling of the Danner Mountain Light is iconic, and the one-piece leather design makes for a sturdy boot that can handle anything,” says Zina Bougri, a former account manager at Backcountry. “Once these babies mold to your feet, if you’re invested in the process, they should be absolutely comfortable within a month, if not just a few weeks.” We’d warn against them when undertaking any serious thru-hikes, but there’s no denying that these boots have timeless charm and will travel well.

Best men’s hiking sandal

Experts I spoke with were reluctant to recommend sandals as default hiking footwear — even in summer. “For safety reasons, it’s a really good idea to wear closed-toe shoes even in hot temperatures,” says Elisabeth Haugan, communications coordinator at Arizona State Parks & Trails. “This will help prevent injury from scraping your toes or jamming your toes on sharp rocks.” Such injuries are common, because “when going up a steep incline, as you grow more tired, your legs can move more slowly than at the beginning of the hike — your brain thinks your foot is a little higher than it is, and you can easily scrape your toe on the next step.” If you know you’ll be crossing a few streams or rivers, though, she recommends clipping a pair of (preferably closed-toe) sandals to your pack with a carabiner and swapping shoes as needed. Steve Silberberg, head guide at Fitpacking, says that these Keen Clearwaters “give the freedom to power through rivers” without the risk of stubbing your toes on slippery stones. “I also love that they are lightweight, have outstanding traction, and are quick-drying and washable.”

Additional reporting by Liza Corsillo and Jeremy Rellosa

Some more hiking gear we’ve written about

Our experts

• Harrison Bacordo, Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker
• Chris Black, Strategist columnist
• Zina Bougri, former account manager, Backcountry
• Mark Britton, footwear and product designer
• Ben Gibbard, front man, Death Cab for Cutie
• Jael Goldfine, writer and outdoor enthusiast
• Dr. Rachel Gross, assistant professor, University of Colorado
• Melissa Goodwin, founder, Girl Gotta Hike NYC
• Elisabeth Haugan, communications coordinator, Arizona State Parks & Trails
Cris Hazzard, founder, hikingguy.com
• Graham Hiemstra, founder, Field Mag
• Steve Silberberg, head guide, Fitpacking
• Scott Wilkinson, communications director, Pacific Crest Trail Association

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The 11 Best Men’s Hiking Boots and Shoes