We'll often think about the weight on our back but not on our feet, and some quality walking shoes can really make a difference in the right circumstances
Walking shoes are ideal for hiking when you want to feel lighter, more agile and cooler in warm weather. There’s also the energy-saving side of things; you see, the average weight of a pair of walking shoes is around 750g whereas the average weight of a pair of boots is around 1200g, and carrying less on your feet can really make a difference over long distances. OK, hiking boots offer ankle support and are good for keeping out water from long grass, streams and puddles but sometimes these aspects aren’t required, particularly when you’re hiking on defined trails in dry weather.
Before we get into the nitty gritty we should highlight the fact that there are different kinds of walking shoes designed for different activities and in this article we’re not only going to break down those different types but we’ll show your our favourite options from each category – the walking shoes and trail shoes that have impressed us following our extensive tests.
Best Walking Shoes: Our Team’s Top Picks
In this selection, we’ve included a range of different style of trail shoes. You’ll see straight-up walking shoes – essentially walking boots without the ankle – and you’ll also see trail running shoes that will also be suitable for hiking. Then there’s another category which sits in between the two and that’s the ‘fast hiking’ category and these are best described as a walking shoe-trail running shoe hybrid. Finally, there are also approach shoes – the AKU Rock DFS being a good example there. If that’s the kind of shoe you’re here for, we’ve got a guide to the best approach shoes that will help you there.
Best Overall Hiking Shoe: AKU Rock DFS GTXOur pick as the best buy pair overall, the AKU Rock DFS proved to be very sturdy, grippy and durable. It was their unique lacing system that sealed the deal, however. It makes these hugely versatile and suited to all kinds of terrain.
Walking Shoe Made for Long-Distances: Altra Lone Peak 5.0These were selected as our favourite pair of long distances due to the shape of their toe box. It’s nice and large to accommodate the foot splay that can often happen to feet when they’ve covered many-a-mile.
Most Comfortable Walking Shoe: Danner Trail 2650So, so comfortable. We found that the ergonomic, spongy and shock absorbing mid sole made these luxuriously comfortable to walk in on hard trails
Best Walking Shoe for Very Rocky Trails: Salewa Alp Trainer 2 GTX
This walking shoe was selected due to its stiff sole unit. We found it made these excellent at blocking out sharp roots and rocks.
Best Barefoot-Style Walking Shoe: Vivobarefoot Tracker Decon LowThese are thin and very lightweight so they’re not great for rocky trails but we did think that the neutral platform and natural fit made these very comfortable and led their class in the ‘barefoot’ category.
As editor of this site for the past six years, I’ve not only had my finger right on the pulse of the latest outdoor gear news on a daily basis, but I’ve also spent a lot of time out testing products, whether that’s specifically for work or as part of my hobby. I do a lot of long distance hiking and am proud to say I’m a trustee for the Cambrian Way hiking trail and a former president of the Ramblers in Wales. I’ve also been on the awards juries for the likes of ISPO, the Outdoor Industries Association and the Scandinavian Outdoor Award.
The Selection Process
I’ve tested the majority of the products in this round up myself. This has mainly been during our Outdoor 100 and Green Gear Guide test trips to places like Snowdonia, the Scottish Highlands and even further afield (we went to Albania last year!) At the very least, I’ve spent a day in the shoes and at the most, I’ve hiked hundreds of miles on a long-distance trail. The boots I haven’t tested myself (usually the women’s models) were trialled by one of the members of our Outdoors Magic Test Team who then gave me their feedback – and I still will have had the products in my hands to ensure the quality is there.
Best Overall Walking Shoe
AKU Rock DFS GTX
Price: £190 Weight: 760g Best for: trail hiking, approach hiking, scrambling What we liked: innovative design, good quality materials, comfortable sock-like fit What we didn’t like: quite heavy
We selected this as our best overall walking shoe due to the versatility we found it presented. It’s the kind of thing made for anything from long-distance trail hikes, hut-to-hut treks and even some graded scrambling too. We felt that the craftsmanship here was excellent. It feels like a shoe that’s made to last.
And it’s unique too. It features a double lacing system that, according to the Italian brand, “allows you to adjust the comfort and precision of the fit in the different phases of use: a traditional lace for maximum comfort while walking and a fast lacing to increase sensitivity in the climbing phase.” This essentially means that you’ve got a walking shoe and an approach shoe all-in-one.
Gimmick or game-changer? We’d say the latter. We found that the lacing system really is convenient and effective. On a hike up to Ben Nevis we found ourselves making subtle tweaks as we went to adapt to the different types of terrain we encountered and this aided both the performance and the comfort.
We also found it was nice and solid underfoot, so no sharp rocks or roots niggled, but it still had the level of flexibility you’d want for a shoe to cover high mileage in.
One other feature worthy of mention is the tongue. This has the same supportive ‘sock-like’ fit as many of AKU’s boots, like the Aku Tengu range for example. It creates a close-fitting and comfortable upper without any of the creases or folds that can sometimes cause rubbing and hotspots.
Available in men’s and women’s fits / available as a mid cut / upper: suede 1,6 mm + microfibre + air8000 / Vibram Approcciosa Megagrip outsole / double density EVA + PU midsole / ortholite hybrid partially recycled insole / 4mm lugs.
Price: £200 Weight: 680g Best for: long-distance hiking, lightweight backpacking What we liked: very comfortable, lightweight What we didn’t like: price
Lightweight, comfortable and pretty darn cool looking in our opinion, we’re big fans of these trail shoes by U.S-based brand Danner. So much so that one of our testers wore the pair they had daily for four years until the sole eventually wore out.
Named in reference to the 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, these are designed with long distance walkers specifically in mind with loads of padding underfoot thanks to the three layers of varying density in the sole, including EVA foam and a removable ortholite insole.
There’s also good support at the back of the heel thanks to what Danner call their EXO Heel System. This serves to pocket your heel and prevents it sliding about. We found this to be very comfortable and the shoe felt very ergonomic overall.
Other things we liked include the quality suede leather and the Vibram outsole with multi-directional lugs for a bit of grip on dusty or muddy trails.
Also available in a women’s version / EVA footbed / TPU shank / waterproof option available / mesh-lined / Vibram 460 outsole / removable ortholite footbed / 8mm heel-toe drop.
Price: £160 Weight: 370g (women’s) Best for: hiking and trekking What we liked: durable construction, quality materials, comfortable build What we didn’t like: the toe is quite narrow
Light but protective and supportive, grippy over a variety of terrain and comfortable over long distances too, whether it’s a morning of scrambling or a whole day on a trail, our female tester reported that the Alp Trainer 2 is right at home in whatever situation.
The Alp Trainer 2 comes armed with all the features you’d expect from a walking shoe, such as a grippy and robust Vibram outsole and waterproofing courtesy of a Gore-tex liner. At 964g per pair, they’re lighter than much of the competition, making them a solid choice for adventurous peak baggers, scramblers, hut-to-hut hikers and long-distance trekkers.
The women’s version of this is made with a women’s specific last designed to properly cater for female feet. A men’s fit is also available and there’s a mid cut variation for those who prefer a higher ankle.
Available in men’s and women’s versions / reinforced rand / Flex Collar / Gore-tex membrane / Vibram sole / Eva foam midsole / heel stack height 30 mm / toe stack height 20 mm.
Price: £130 Weight: 301g Best for: Thru-hiking and trail running What we liked: wide toe box, ‘barefoot’ design What we didn’t like: those with narrow feet might find them too wide
First of all, we should point out that the model pictured here is now an older model. There’s a much newer one that’s out now. The core essentials are all the same, there are just some slight tweaks here and there.
The thing about the Altra Lone Peak series that perhaps makes it so endearing to trail hikers is its shape. It features a close-fitting heel and midfoot but then it also has what you could say is an unusually large toe box. It looks almost laughably big but it really comes into its own on days with big mileage, where your feet will start to swell a touch and splay out.
The Lone Peak is a neutral shoe in that there’s no ‘drop’ – meaning there’s no slope or offset from the heel to the toe. Walking in this, you’ll therefore find that it promotes a mid to forefoot landing, thus reducing the amount of pressure and shock going into your heels.
The stack height is still pretty high though, measuring a hefty 28mm. Handy details include TPU reinforcements at the toes and around the heel for protection, a little finger tab to help pull the shoes on and off, and then, as on previous versions, there are hoops and Velcro for attaching mini gaiters.
The wide toe box won’t be for everyone – especially those with narrow feet – but there are certainly a lot of long-distance hikers who absolutely swear by Altra’s shoes.
Close-fitting heal and midfoot/ large toe box/ no drop/ mid to forefoot landing/ 28mm stack height/ Altra EGO foam midsole/ hidden mesh sole unit for foot protection/ 4mm chevron lug patterns/ laser perforated holes in the upper/ TPU reinforcements at the toes and heel/ finger tab/ hoops and Velcro attachments.
Price: £104 Weight: 350g Best for: light, dry trails What we liked: very breathable, good grip What we didn’t like: barefoot style isn’t got everyone
The Tracker Decon from British brand Vivobarefoot is part of a wider genre of footwear known as ‘barefoot’ shoes. It’s a type of footwear designed to encourage a more natural and intuitive style of walking, in turn producing less impact on your muscles and joints. While not for everyone, if you’re the type of person that’s fed up with ultra cushioned footwear and want to find something with a bit more ‘feel’ for the trail, this is a pair worth considering
As is typical of barefoot shoes, we found these to be very roomy around the toes but they still felt secure around the heel and midfoot. They also provided a nice bit of bite on steep, typically slippery surfaces. The stretchy upper was comfortable and breathable and gave the shoe a slipper-like feel. A good shoe for the category. If you want waterproof protection, cushioning, support and rigidity, it’s best to look elsewhere.
Available in men’s and women’s versions / upper: ethically-produced leather upper mixed with synthetic rubber, wool and elastane / lining: PU, polyester and wool / cotton insole / synthetic rubber and natural rubber outsole / puncture-resistant lining / 4mm lugs.
Price: £170 Weight: 382g Best for: fast hiking What we liked: Lightweight, well-cushioned What we didn’t like: not very durable
The Free Hiker is arguably one of the biggest releases from Adidas Terrex this season; a hiking boot that features their trademark running technology – Boost. Boost is essentially a foam-based midsole that offers large amounts of cushioning with quite a springy feeling whilst you’re walking. It makes for an impressive amount of comfort on the trails that you’ll be thankful of after a few miles in your legs.
Also underfoot, you’ve got a Continental rubber outsole with 5mm lugs that wouldn’t look out of place on a trail running shoe. It’s these lugs that give some great traction over the trails. Another similarity to a trail shoe is the weight of the Free Hiker – 382g – something that you’re again going to appreciate as you start logging those miles.
We found this shoe to be great for light and dry trails and we really liked its spongy sole and breathability. It’s not particularly suited to wet and boggy conditions or highly technical trails.
Available in men’s and women’s / Primeknit upper with abrasion-resistant weldings / Continental rubber outsole / Boost midsole / midsole drop: 10 mm (heel 33 mm / forefoot 23 mm) / moulded TPU toe cap / heel cap for stability on the heel.
Price: £140 Weight: 750g Best for: trail walking What we liked: very breathable, excellent ride What we didn’t like: quite heavy
The North Face’s Exploris boasts some impressive innovation here. First up, there’s the high tech Futurelight waterproof membrane, then there’s the energy saving/speed boosting Vectiv carbon plate in the mid sole – both big innovations that have really been turning heads within the outdoor world.
What’s particularly impressed us about the Futurelight membrane is its breathability. It’s made through a process of nano-spinning, which results in a fabric that has a super high moisture vapour transmission rate and much better eco-creds than more standard membrane fabrics (at least the ePFTE ones anyway).
The Vectiv carbon plate, which was originally unveiled in The North Face’s Vectiv trail shoe collection, brings a number of benefits, the most notable one being increased energy return with each stride. Basically, it propels your feet forward, ultimately helping you to go for longer. On top of that it also provides a decent amount of protection from sharp roots and rocks.
This particular version of the Exploris comes with a smart suede upper with PU overlays for protection around the base of the upper and on the toe. The outsole has 4mm lugs with a large central cutout to increase traction and save weight. It’s not the most aggressive of soles but I found that it’ll do the job on all but the super slippery and muddy stuff.
Available in men’s and women’s versions / Futurelight waterproof membrane/ Vectiv carbon plate/ high moisture vapour transmission rate/ eco-friendly membrane fabric/ suede upper with PU overlays/ 4mm outsole lugs with large central cutout/ synthetic version available using cordura ripstop nylon.
Price: £135 Weight: 400g (per shoe) Best for: trail and low level walking What we liked: comfortable, ergonomic What we didn’t like: the fit and feel won’t be for everyone
These shoes from American brand Keen are specifically designed to make walking easier and more comfortable. Have they achieved this? I’d say they have. From the moment we pulled these on we noticed that they felt very different to any other hiking shoe we’d tried. Stepping forward in them feels almost quite bizarre – but in a good way. That’s because they have a sole that curves upwards at the front and back to aid forward propulsion and to support a natural walking gait. There’s even a full length Nylon plate that maintains the full length of the sole – the kind of thing you’d find in a high-spec new running shoe.
Standing still in them you can actually rock backwards and forward as if on a see-saw and walking in them, you do really notice them propelling you forward. Off-track this feeling isn’t particularly noticeable but you really feel the rock to them on hard trails, pavements or roads and over the course of a day we did find that we’d got to appreciate the smooth stride the sole creates. We also found that the sole had a spongy, very cushioned feel to it and the grip was decent with the lugs able to grip well on light muddy trails and gravelly tracks.
Expect the usual wide toe box that you tend to get with Keen shoes. This lets your toes sit naturally, giving a relaxed feel. The rest of the shoe has what Keen describe as an athletic fit – essentially a closer fit, in other words. We’ve found other reviewers online saying that the shoe was too narrow for them at the middle of the foot. This wasn’t a problem we had during our tests (worn on average-shaped, size 10 feet).
We tested the non-waterproof version and found it ideal for hot weather hiking. There’s also a version with a Keen.Dry membrane for hiking in cool and wet conditions.
And it’s not just available in bumble bee yellow. It comes in more muted colourways too.
Available in men’s and women’s sizes, including half sizes / Keen.Curve sole with Nylon plate / PFAS-free water repellent coating / made from recycled PET plastic / pesticide free anti-odour treatment / removable PU insole.
Price: £130 Weight: 640g Best for: Fast Hiking What we liked: locked-in fit, recycled materials, good grip What we didn’t like: upper is light on protection for the foot
This is a walking shoe that’s designed for those who prefer to feel light-footed and agile on the trail. It’s a hybrid-type trainer, one with the comfort of a running shoe or sneaker but the protection of a hiking boot.
We found this felt solid underfoot – tough enough to block out roots and rocks – but it also had the kind of cushioning, flex and shock absorption that we look for in a shoe for high mileage.
It felt light weight too. The upper is thin but made from durable materials and there’s padding where you need it, including on the tongue and around the heel. TPU overlays give a bit of added protection to the walls of the shoe, particularly around the toe. The Gore-tex membrane extends throughout the upper and links with the tongue via gussets, so there’s all-round waterproof protection.
The rubber sole, on the other hand, uses a compound is called Vibram TC5+ and it’s designed to give you traction on all levels of surface and in all conditions. This was up to scratch for us, though it does have its limitations on things like super slimy or icy rock.
Padding on tongue and heel / TPU overlays on upper / Gore-Tex membrane / nylon shank and rock plate in sole / cushioning and shock absorption from Merrell foam / Vibram TC5+ rubber sole / lug depth: 5mm / forward facing chevrons on ball of foot (upward traction) / backward facing chevrons on heel (backward traction) / 100% recycled mesh lining, lacing and sections of webbing / 50% recycled removable EVA footbed.
Price: £140 Weight: 235g Best for: Approach, fell running What we liked: lightweight, grippy What we didn’t like: toe is quite narrow, light on protection
As the SL in their name points out, these are some super, super light shoes. They’re actually primarily designed as shoes for climbers who want to run between their climbs, or run rather than walk on their approach to a wall. In fact, there’s a little loop on the back of them so you can clip them onto your harness.
As is the case with many of the other shoes on this page, while these might be designed primarily for running, they’ll still suit hikers, particularly those who are conscious of keeping their gram-count down wherever possible. We’ve worn them for both hiking and running and we think they’re a really great all-rounder.
One of the most interesting things about the Norvan SL is that it uses Vibram’s new Litebase technology. This sees a 40-50% reduction in rubber thickness when compared to standard Vibram soles, which in turn results in a 25-30% decrease in the overall weight of the shoe, and all without any difference in the lug depth or thickness.
We’d say these feel quite narrow at the toe, so if you have wide feet it’s worth factoring that in before buying.
Available for men and women and in half sizes / TPU plate at the forefoot / Vibram MegaGrip outsole with Litebase / 3.5mm lugs / 7mm drop / mesh upper.
Looking to buy a new pair of shoes and don’t know where to start? We’ve got all you need to know, including the pros and cons of walking shoes over walking boots, the differences between the different categories of hiking shoes and an guide to cleaning your footwear to make it last longer.
Walking Boots Versus Walking Shoes
Look back at pictures of Appalachian Trail hikers from decades passed and you’ll see people with big leather boots that come right up the ankle. These days, however, your typical AT hiker will tend to be seen in a pair of lightweight trail shoes – more often than not, a pair of Altra or Hokas. Preferences change and long-distance hikers no longer see stability and durability as the be all and end all and instead are prioritising agility and fleet footedness.
But boots absolutely still have their place. In this quick guide, we’ll explain the advantages and disadvantages of each choice of footwear to help you pick the right style for your intended use.
Hiking boots, or walking boots, will come up the ankle, sometimes as a mid cut or something as a high cut that makes its way up the shin. More often than not, a hiking boot will have a waterproof membrane and also a slightly stiffer sole than you’d find on a walking shoe.
The benefits of a hiking boot are that they provide more stability and ankle protection than you’d get from a walking shoe. This means that there’s less risk of rolling an ankle on uneven terrain, less risk of moisture spilling in and more protection from grass, brush and debris.
Walking shoes, which come in a few different forms which we’ll detail further down, will be cut low down at the ankle, below a mid cut. Sometimes they’ll have a waterproof membrane but in many cases they won’t.
Walking shoes are lighter and therefore less energy sapping than hiking boots over long distances. They can also be cooler in warmer temperatures. Generally, walking shoes tend to cost less than walking boots too.
Which is Best for You?
The choice between the two can often simply be down to personal preference, but there are examples when one type might have an advantage over the other. In boggy landscapes, a hiking boot will keep water from spilling over into your footwear and on rocky, uneven landscapes, a boot will also reduce the risk of your ankle twisting. If it’s hot and dry, a low cut walking boot – particularly one that doesn’t have a membrane – will keep your feet feeling cool, thus helping to reduce the risk of blisters. Over long distances, a walking boot will also save you precious energy.
If you find a combination of the benefits of a walking boot and benefits of a walking shoe, it might be worth considering a low-to-mid cut boot. These tend to be cut right on the ankle, providing a bit of stability and protection while remaining light and unrestrictive.
What Are The Different Types of Walking Shoe?
When it comes to the different types of walking shoes, at one end of the scale there are waterproof membrane-lined, strong and durable shoes that are essentially hiking boots without the ankle, then at the other end of the scale you have what might actually be specifically classed as a trail running shoe. There are also approach shoes, a category of footwear designed for short to medium distance hikes over rocky and uneven terrain.
Here’s a breakdown of those three different types of hiking shoes.
Hiking shoes, as already mentioned, tend to look essentially like hiking boots that don’t have ankle support. Generally speaking, unlike trail running shoes and approach shoes, walking shoes will be designed for long-distance comfort, so they’ll have cushioning, padding and will often have a relaxed fit around the toes too. They also tend to have a lot of reinforcement, with a mix of leather and synthetics and a solid toe bumper too. More often than not, hiking shoes will have a waterproof liner, though you can still find plenty that are unlined.
From our experience, the best walking shoe will offer dependable grip, the right balance between breathability and protection, shock absorption, comfort over long distances (with enough room to accommodate foot splaying) and durability at the midsole to block out rocks and roots.
Trail Running Shoes
It is not uncommon for hikers to opt for a non-waterproof trail running shoe when the landscape isn’t too technical and/or when it’s dry and hot.
Some hikers will even opt for a trail running-type shoe when the conditions are extremely wet, since it is more of less inevitable that moisture will enter the shoe at some point in the day. This is because once water gets into a membrane-lined shoe, it tends to linger there for a long time, whereas non-waterproof shoes will be able to drain easily and ultimately dry faster when the conditions improve.
Trail running shoes also tend to be a lot lighter than walking shoes and that’s why you see them on the feet of ultralight hikers, particularly those on long thru-hikes – or generally anyone who cares about their overall gram count.
Bear in mind that many trail shoes are designed with narrow, precise toes, so you don’t always get the same level of comfort as you would from walking shoes. There are exceptions to this though, with Altra being a good example. They make trail running shoes with a wide toe box to cater for that foot splay that often occurs over long distances. Check out our guide to the best trail running shoes for more on the benefits you can get from this type of footwear.
The third type of walking shoe we’re looking at here, approach shoes, are designed for climbers to wear during their walk-in to a climb – hence the ‘approach’ in the name. These are often easy to pick out: they’ll have a large rubber rand at the base of the upper, a low-profile rubber compound underfoot to grip to rocks and then lacing that goes right down to the toes to allow for a precise fit.
These can be comfortable on short to medium distance hikes – and are particularly handy for any hikes that involve rocky scrambles – but they’re not typically recommended as footwear for long-distance hikes as the treads aren’t often deep enough for muddy trails and they don’t tend to have too much in the way of cushioning.
Whether you should opt for waterproofing or not depends, we’d say, on the conditions. If you’re hiking out in warm and dry conditions then non-waterproof shoes will ensure maximum breathability. Conversely, if you’re mainly going to be out in wet or snowy conditions then waterproofing will help.
That’s putting things simply. To get more complex, there are some hikers who’ll opt for non-waterproof shoes even in wet weather. If there’s a chance you could end up being out in wet conditions where water is likely to get over the top of your shoes and inside, some would argue that it’s better to have shoes that will at least let the water out. Many long distance hikers – particularly Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail hikers – who can expect all kinds of conditions over the course of their journey will opt for non-waterproof shoes as, on balance, they’ll be the most versatile across the varied climatic conditions.
Ultimately, the best approach here depends on the types of hikes and conditions you’ll mainly be experiencing. If you’ll more than likely be mostly on defined trails and hiking in mild to cold conditions, then waterproof shoes will be ideal, but if you’ll be out in a lot of hot stuff, unlined shoes are for you. Or, if you’re doing a lot of varied hiking in all kinds of conditions – and you definitely want a shoe over a boot – perhaps an unlined trail shoe is for you.
How to Clean and Reproof a Pair of Walking Shoes
Here’s a guide that we put together that explains how to clean a pair of walking shoes or boots. We cover from top to bottom here; from cleaning off debris through to fully reproofing footwear. If you want your footwear to perform for you, and to last, this is essential viewing.
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