Perhaps you only venture a few miles through the wooded reserve near your home?
Maybe you prefer the low-cut feel of tennis shoes as opposed to high-cut hiking boots?
Hiking shoes are gaining notoriety across the outdoor industry as appealing alternatives to the clunky hiking boots of days past.
Here is our guide to the best hiking shoes for beginners with options for women and men, whether you prefer short romps through the woods or long ventures into the wilderness.
Best Women’s Hiking Shoes
Best Lightweight Hiking Shoe for Women – Vasque Satoru Trail LT Low
If your top priority is moving fast, you’ll want your feet to feel weightless with every stride.
This means selecting the lightest shoe possible. Since the Vasque Satoru Trail LT weighs just over one pound the choice is easy.
The upper boasts a crafty design of yarn mesh, which not only offers great breathability but the material is what makes this hiking shoe so light.
Vasque Satoru Trail LT hiking shoes are designed to take you where you want to go in a heartbeat. These hikers are built for performance, natural movement and all-around durability.
The tried-and-true Vibram Ethereal outsoles with LiteBase technology complete the package, providing reliable traction even when conditions get wet.
The only downside? These shoes aren’t waterproof – but if you’re looking for a lightweight option, they’re worth it.
Best for Traction and Stability – Salomon Women’s Ultra Mid 3 GTX
Salomon blends the stability of a hiking boot with the comfort of a running shoe in the Ultra Mid 3 GTX.
The shoe combines the best of both worlds of TPU and EVA for a cushy feel and stability meant to last the lifetime of the shoe.
Waterproof leather uppers provide for breathability while Gore-Tex liners protect your feet from the rainy conditions or unexpected stream crossings.
These shoes provide added ankle support not always found in hiking shoe, made especially for those who covet the stability of a boot and the lightweight feel of a shoe.
Weighing in at just 1 pound, 10 ounces per pair, these shoes deliver in all departments.
The best feature? Contragrip rubber soles provide for unparalleled traction on steep, rocky slopes or choppy, uneven terrain.
Best Performance – Altra Lone Peak ALL-WTHR
The Altra EGO midsoles offer cushioning, but also plenty of responsiveness while out on the trail.
Altra’s have a wider toe box which allows your feet to spread out naturally. This does not necessarily mean women with narrow feet can’t wear them, as Ashley loves her Altras.
MaxTrac outsoles have multi-directional lugs to ensure grip on all terrain and best of all, these shoes are waterproof.
If you’re looking for a hiking shoe that can deliver a high level of performance, you may have found your perfect companion.
Most Rugged – KEEN Women’s Voyageur
If you’re a serious hiker looking to take on rugged terrain or long distances, the KEEN Voyageur is up to the challenge.
Torsion stability is provided by supportive ESS plastic shanks which will keep your feet protected on uneven, harsh backcountry terrain.
S3 heel support completes the stability package, serving to dissipate shock upon impact.
In addition to its unparalleled performance in rugged conditions, this shoe is also extremely breathable, with polyester mesh vents integrated into the leather upper. Enjoy the feeling of cool feet on the most rugged backcountry endeavors.
An added bonus? Burly toe guards help protect your feet in case of contact with rough roots or sharp rocks.
Best to Go From Trail to Town – Merrell Women’s Bravada Waterproof
This stylish hiker takes you from the city streets to the winding, wooded trails with ease, designed by a group of 60 women with six color options to choose from.
The waterproof mesh upper fits like a sneaker so your feet stay dry whether you’re trudging through sidewalk puddles or crossing a forest stream.
Merrell uses a mountain-grade traction outsole that provides great grip on both wet and dry surfaces. So these shoes can come in handy on a rainy day in Portland running errands or while you are out exploring Zion National Park’s rocky terrain.
This shoe has an EVA foam midsole for stability and support which will help keep your feet comfortable all day long.
If you are looking for a comfortable hiking shoe that hugs your feet in all the right places but don’t want to look like you just finished a 10-mile hike while you are at the grocery store, then this shoe is for you!
Best Hiking Shoes for Men
Best Overall – Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX
Perhaps Adidas is not the typical brand name that comes to your mind when you think of a hiking shoe, but these shoes stand their ground amongst the more well-known brands — and stand out in terms of traction and stability.
The waterproof GORE-TEX lining of the Terrex Swift R GTX seals out the elements while Adiprene cushioning beneath the heel protects against jarring impact.
A rubber molded toe cap ensures protection at the front of the shoe from any obstacles you encounter along the trail.
The Traxion outsole is the shoe’s stand-out feature that provides unprecedented traction in even the wettest of conditions.
I can personally attest to these hiking shoes based on a recent hike up Gold Creek Lake Trail outside of Steamboat Springs, CO, where there was still some snow cover at the higher elevations.
Not once did I feel unsteady on slicker surfaces and the stiffness of the Adidas Terrex kept my feet in the game for the duration of our 6-hour hike.
Best for Rugged Terrain – KEEN Men’s Targhee II
The KEEN Targhee II is a solid all-around shoe with notable performance across uneven terrain.
A combination of nubuck leather and flexible nylon mesh provides for a stand-out provision of durability, breathability, and flexibility.
The proprietary KEEN.Dry waterproof membrane means streams and puddles will meet their match when you’re out on the trail.
EVA midsoles offer plenty of comfort while nylon shanks provide stability, attributing to the shoe’s excellent performance along rocky, undulating paths.
The 4mm lugs are aggressive enough to provide unsurpassed traction and rubber toe guards to protect from contact with obstacles.
Best Lightweight Hiking Shoe – Merrell Chameleon 7
If you’re looking to be fleet-footed but have no intention of giving up the superior durability and protection provided by a hiking-specific shoe, meet the Merrell Chameleons.
These shoes boast a perfect blend of leather, mesh, and synthetic upper materials to make for equal durability and breathability.
Do your feet tend to stink? The EVA footbed is treated with M Select Fresh to fight odors at their core.
A second EVA footbed makes for additional comfort, so you can be assured of happy feet no matter how long the journey.
3mm lugs provide for plenty of traction and the shoes include M-Select Dry waterproofing to keep out the elements.
Weighing in at just over one pound, you’re sure to fly down those backcountry trails!
Best for Narrow OR Wide Feet – Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Waterproof
Moab doesn’t stand for the “Mother of All Boots” for no reason — the company stands behind its mantra.
The Moab 2 is made for those people with narrow or wide feet that just don’t comfortably fit into other brands of hiking shoes.
Suede leather and mesh uppers ensure the perfect blend of breathability and durability while maintaining a lightweight.
These shoes feature the M Select Dry membrane to keep out the elements and 5mm lugs for exceptional traction.
Unique to the brand, the Merrell air cushion under the heel absorbs shock, making for a more stable journey through the wilderness.
Weighing in at just two pounds, you’ll be smiling in these shoes every step of the way.
If you prefer more ankle support check out this and others in our picks of the best men’s hiking boots for narrow feet…
Best Performance Hiking Shoe – Salomon Men’s X Ultra 3 GTX
If you’re looking for the closest thing to a trail runner without crossing that fine line, the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is the perfect solution.
A combination of leather uppers and breathable polyester mesh makes for a high-quality shoe that can handle the rigors of the trail.
A Gore-Tex membrane protects your feet from the elements and also lets them breathe.
The fit is precise and secure, more comparable to an athletic shoe.
EVA midsoles provide for plenty of cushioning and OrthoLite sock liners attribute to added comfort.
Thanks to their descent control technology incorporated on the outsoles, you will be descending the trails like a pro.
These shoes are equipped with mud caps and rubber toe caps to provide protection from roots and rocks.
They tip the scales at just under a pound — making them a stand-out athletic hiking shoes for moving fast through the wilderness.
By now it should be easy to see why any of these shoes are a piece of a beginner’s essential hiking gear.
What to Look for…
Hiking Shoe Types and Purpose
The first thing to understand is the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots.
Hiking shoes tend to be relatively low cut, rising at their highest point below the ankle, while hiking boots generally provide encompassing ankle support.
Hiking boots are made for rough trails, uneven terrain, and spending extended lengths of time in the backcountry. They provide the physical support you need for hauling a heavy backpack and for overcoming trail obstacles.
Shoes, on the other hand, are made for moving fast across relatively even terrain, smooth trails, and carrying lighter loads. Perfect if you are mainly going on beginner hikes.
Both have a distinct purpose and many experienced minimalist hikers have set their sights on hiking shoes as an appealing alternative to heavier hiking boots.
Trail runners are not to be confused with hiking shoes, but are often used in the backcountry as an efficient way to get from point A to point B when speed is of utmost concern.
These are ultralight options not intended for backpacking purposes, yet are often seen out on the trail.
The disadvantages of trail runners? Minimal toe and underfoot protection.
Approach shoes are also often lumped under the category of hiking shoes, but it needs to be understood these shoes serve a niche market. Approach shoes are utilized by rock climbers or hikers requiring movement across steep, rocky terrain.
Approach shoes are defined by a sticky rubber toe rand that provides for maximum grip on rock. They’re not as comfortable for long distances but are a quality choice for hikes that involve scrambling across boulder fields or low-grade rock climbing.
Our Friends at REI Show Us How to Size Your Foot Properly
Hiking Shoe Materials
Here is a breakdown of the different parts of a hiking shoe so that you understand the meaning of each component when you’re researching different types of shoes.
You’ll want to know what your shoes are made of so you can evaluate comfort, durability, and different terrain suitabilities.
Upper: The upper comprises the components of the shoe that enclose your foot, excluding the rubber sole.
The upper is responsible for providing breathability and waterproofing if you choose that option.
Uppers are usually constructed of synthetic nylon and mesh or nubuck leather. While nylon and mesh panels offer the most breathability, leather uppers offer increased abrasion resistance.
Leather is also heavier than synthetic materials.
Often, shoes offer a blend of nubuck leather and nylon mesh to provide for combined abrasion resistance and breathability.
Midsole: Midsoles are tasked with providing shock absorption and protecting the feet from harsh external elements such as rocks or tree roots.
Midsoles are usually constructed of EVA, which is a molded foam, or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).
While EVA provides more cushioning, it tends to break down over time. TPU on the other hand is typically less comfortable, but will maintain its shape and is much less likely to break down over time.
Many manufacturers incorporate TPU into the shank of the shoe and add EVA underfoot for comfort.
Outsole: This is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the trail. While usually constructed of rubber, there are some shoes that are developed with mostly foam and partial rubber integrated into the foam.
Outsoles provide traction when the conditions get slippery or rocky, but a hiking shoe’s outsole is going to be much less burly than its hiking boot comrade.
Vibram dominates the market of outsoles similarly to how Gore-Tex serves as the most common waterproofing option, although some brands offer their own proprietary materials.
Features to Consider
Toe caps are a great way to ensure you don’t jam your toes or bruise your feet from contact with rocks, roots, and other trail obstacles.
Hiking shoes are typically designed with toe caps whereas trail runners, for example, are often designed without.
If you’re a true minimalist hiker in the backcountry you could forego toe protection but otherwise, it is highly recommended.
Waterproof or Not
While this is sort of a no-brainer when discussing hiking boots unless you strictly hike in dry, arid conditions, hiking shoes don’t necessarily offer standard waterproofing on their products — although you are usually given the option to opt-in.
A waterproof, breathable membrane is highly recommended for stream crossings, muddy trails, and unexpected rainfall, but because hiking shoes boast a typically low-cut profile, a waterproof layer on a hiking shoe doesn’t offer as much protection as it does on a hiking boot, so the decision really comes down to personal preference.
A waterproof layer adds weight and will also increase the cost of a hiking shoe, but will prevent your feet from getting wet.
Gore-Tex is the most common form of waterproofing available.
Wrapping It Up…
Whether you’re strolling through your local city park or packing up to hit the backcountry for an afternoon in nature, you’re going to need the right footwear to get you to your final destination.
Hiking shoes fill the perfect gap between city wear and burly boots — serving as the ultimate solution for that casual hiker or perhaps the most minimalist backpacker who prefers to keep things light in any conditions.
This guide should help get you started in the right direction — but whichever trail you choose to take, don’t forget to stop and look around.