Some hikers have the natural stability and fortitude to withstand trail rigors in lightweight hiking shoes as opposed to traditional hiking boots.
There’s nothing better or worse about one or the other — it’s simply a matter of personal preference.
If you’re one of those hikers with strong ankles who prefers to move fleet-footed through the trees, a pair of the best men’s hiking shoes might be perfect for you.
Here’s your comprehensive guide to picking out the ideal version for the next time you hit the trails…
In a hurry? Here’s Andrew’s Favorite Hiking Shoes
Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX
Since I love trail running as much as hiking I prefer a shoe that will do double duty and the Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX handles anything I throw at it! Its stiff and grippy sole means I don’t have to worry about slipping or rocky terrain wearing my feet out.
Hiking Shoe Reviews
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 which provides for 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 those 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 for stability, attributing to the shoe’s excellent performance along rocky, undulating paths.
The 4mm lugs are aggressive enough to provide for unsurpassed traction and rubber toe guards provide protection 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.
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.
You will be descending the trails like a pro thanks to their descent control technology incorporated on the outsoles.
These shoes are equipped with mud caps and rubber toe caps to provide protection from roots and rocks.
They only tip the scales at just under a pound — making them a stand-out athletic hiking shoes for moving fast through the wilderness.
What To Look For…
Hiking Shoes vs Hiking Boots
There is a stark difference between the two — despite both being used for one of our favorite outdoor activities.
You can think of hiking shoes like lightweight men’s hiking boots, but not quite trail runners — with some design variations as well.
They tend to provide less ankle support, the midsoles are burly enough to support light loads, and they’re usually waterproof.
Hiking shoes are the sweet spot between adequate foot support and moving light and fast. The primary difference between them is the cut.
Boots tend to rise up to the ankle or above whereas hiking shoes are lower cut, similar to running shoes.
Best Uses for Hiking Shoes
Day Hiking: Hiking shoes are an ideal choice for day hiking.
Because you’re not planning on spending the night out in the wilderness, you only need to bring the essentials.
This more minimalist approach calls for more minimal footwear — and a comfortable pair of hiking shoes and Darn Tough hiking socks perfectly fits the bill.
Fast Hiking: If your primary goal is covering a certain amount of ground as fast as possible, hiking shoes or trail runners are your best options.
These shouldn’t be actual running adventures (we recommend trail runners for that) but trips where your goal is to traverse a lot of terrain at a relatively fast clip.
Hiking shoes provide just enough support while being light enough to allow you to move fast.
Light Backpacking: If you plan on extending your day hiking expeditions into overnight backpacking trips at any point, there’s no need to upgrade to a heavier pair of hiking boots — your shoes will perform just fine under light or medium-sized loads.
Hiking shoes are definitely suited to more maintained terrain when weighted beneath a load but this depends on your body’s natural ability to withstand trail rigors, including ankle stability.
When you’re out on the trail, you’re likely to encounter obstacles such as fallen logs, uneven terrain, and sometimes large boulders.
What They Are Made Of
Upper: The hiking shoe upper is the part of the shoe that stretches from the rubber outsole to below the ankle.
Uppers are comprised of a mixture of nylon, mesh, and leather in order to balance factors such as cost, breathability, and durability.
Woven synthetic paired with airy synthetic mesh panels provide for the ultimate breathability, although they typically lack the durability of stronger materials.
Nubuck leather is brushed leather boasting a suede-like feel and is remarked for its increased durability and abrasion resistance.
It lacks breathability — so a combination of leather and synthetic materials provides for the sweet spot coveted by so many hikers.
Midsole: This is the part of the shoe that cushions your feet, equating to a certain level of comfort.
Midsoles are designed with either EVA foam or TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane).
To keep things simple, EVA midsoles are typically more cushy and lightweight. TPU midsoles provide for greater durability, typically integrated into stiffer shoes that are meant to log long miles across rough terrain.
Outsoles: Outsoles are the rubber bottom part of the shoe that provides for traction and grip.
Vibram is a name you’ll commonly encounter in this department.
Rubber outsoles are designed with varying lug patterns that provide for traction in specific conditions, such as mud or snow.
Climbing-specific hiking shoes, regarded as approach shoes, boast sticky rubber on the bottom of the shoe that provides for traction when scrambling across boulders and scree fields.
Special Features to Consider
Toe caps provide protection for your toes that can help prevent injury when you accidentally come into contact with some of these obstacles.
A stubbed toe can mean the end of your hike for that day — so it’s best to choose a shoe with adequate toe protection.
The industry trend is headed in the direction of waterproof membranes for most hiking boots and shoes.
Waterproof membranes can help prevent the formation of hot spots and blisters. Dry feet are essential no matter the weather conditions.
Waterproof breathable membranes prevent your feet from getting wet when crossing streams or tramping through puddles, but may not be ideal in warm climates.
If you hike primarily in dry conditions, you might want to opt for a pair of hiking shoes without waterproofing for increased breathability reasons.
Non-waterproof shoes are much more breathable. But they’re also less warm than their waterproof counterparts — so it’s a priority trade-off.
Analyze your typical hiking conditions and purchase a pair of hiking shoes that suits your specific needs.
Wrapping It Up…
Piney scents fill your nose as you gently jog a flat stretch towards the trailhead, enjoying the rise of your heartbeat and the gentle stretch of your leg muscles.
You wouldn’t be able to do this in a pair of heavier hiking boots — so you rejoice in your selection of lightweight hiking shoes, thrilled at their flexibility and versatility.
Your 10-mile day hike went by in a blur — captured in a collection of memorable photographs and images painted across the canvas of your mind.
I hope this guide has given you a little education — and inspiration — for picking out that perfect pair of hiking shoes.
It’s time to hit the trails.