The best shoes for walking do not necessarily have to be in boot form. There are a number of benefits that walking in boots can bring but in some cases a walking shoe, or trail shoe – when the cut is below the ankle – can be the better option for the hike you’re planning.
Consider the nature of your trek and the type of terrain you'll be crossing.
The main benefit of hiking in boots over shoes is that they bring superior stability, so if you’re walking over extremely uneven terrain, or if you have weak ankles, boots might be your best bet. Boots are also often the better option if you are hiking in deep snow or brush, or in bog, mud, sand or scree, and want to keep your feet clean, dry or free from any niggling debris.
The advantage that walking shoes or trail shoes have over boots tends to be their lighter weight. 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, in the end meaning less exertion and more energy saved.
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.
“Our selection of the best walking shoes on test here all range in weight and style. Some of them have waterproof linings and other don’t..."
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.
Somer hikers will even opt for a trail running-type shoe when the conditions are extremely wet and inevitable that moisture will enter the shoe at some point in a 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.
What different types of walking shoe should all have in common, albeit to varying degrees, is their grip off-road. Shoes for hiking, like walking boots, need to offer good traction and should be able to give the wearer confidence that they will not slip.
Our selection of the best walking shoes on test here all range in weight and style. Some of them have waterproof linings and others don’t, and while some of them are made specifically for walking in, there are also some that will have been primarily designed with runners in mind but that will still suit a ‘fast & light’ hiker.
Walking Shoes on Test
You can, of course, simply scroll through the article, but if you’re interested in a particular brand or shoe, just use the links below to go straight to the relevant section.
Inov-8 Trailroc 285 | Columbia Montrail Rogue FKT II | Arc’teryx Norvan VT | Berghaus Expeditor Active AQ Shoe | Columbia Montrail Trient OutDry Extreme | Inov-8 Roclite 305 | Merrell Siren Sport Q2 | Oboz Sawtooth Low | Salomon Ellipse 2 GTX | Scarpa Epic Lite OD | Merrell Moab FST | Keen Terradora
Berghaus Expeditor Active AQ Tech: £100 / 705g
“...if you’re looking for a versatile, tough pair of shoes, that can go anywhere you do, then these are an excellent option"
Berghaus say that overall their team spent 1,000 hours out and about testing and carefully honing the design of the Expeditor Active. The result is a solid walking shoe, designed for trail hiking or even some scrambling, that offers waterproof protection thanks its built-in membrane. The lugs on the outsole aren't as deep as they are on some of the other shoes tested here, but you can still expect a good bit of grip plus a sturdy feel under foot. On top, Berghaus have combined a breathable mesh with suede leather overlays and inside there's an ortholite insole for a comfortable fit.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | British WR100 Pittards suede and mesh upper | Ortholite sole | AQ waterproof membrane | Opti-Stud grip.
Inov-8 Trailroc 285: £140 / 285g
“…the super-robust External Toe Cap will punch away rocks and debris like a prized heavyweight fighter"
With its mega grippy outsole and cushioning midsole, the Inov-8 Trailroc 285 is a shoe designed for taking on technical trails at speed. It's made by a Cumbrian-based brand that actually specialises in that north-western art of fell running. It's not a completely new item but instead is an update to their popular Trailroc design.
Available for men and women | 8mm drop | 6mm footbed | 4mm lug depth | Tri-C sticky rubber compound grip | external toe bumper | external heel counter | Power FLow+ midsole | Meta Plate shank | 285g per shoe
Columbia Montrail Rogue FKT II: £95 / 260g
"Like the original Rogue F.K.T, this is a shoe designed for long runs on technical trails – stuff that involves rocks, mud and plenty of ascents and descents."
The Rogue FKT has a medium stiff midsole that provides good protection from sharp rocks and sticks as well as plenty of cushioning. The mesh upper is given rigidity by a 3D printed cage. Not only does this method make for a sleek-look, but it also helps to bring down the weight of the shoe as it eliminates the need for any seams or glues. The lugs are 4.5mm in length so expect decent grip. As the name F.K.T (Fastest Known Time) suggests, this is made specifically with long distance runners in mind.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | mesh upper with 3D printed cage | reinforced toe cap and heel | FluidFoam midsole with Trailshield protective plate | 18mm heel and 8mm forefoot | 4.5mm lug height
Arc'teryx Norvan VT: £130 / 610g
“There are features that will appeal to trail runners, like the 3.5mm-deep arrow-shaped lugs and the neat internal stretch liner that keeps out debris. Then there are features that will appeal to hikers and scramblers"
Earlier in 2017 we tested the Arc'teryx Norvan VT on the trails above Chamonix and it proved excellent for both running and walking in. As well as its extremely grippy outsole with arrow shaped lugs, one of the really useful features is the inner lining which fits around the foot like a sock and therefore keeps out any dirt or debris. You can also expect a very secure, wrapping fit thanks to the lacing system which extends right down to the toes.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | VA/Polyolefin blend midsole | Vibram Megagrip Sole | 3.5mm lugs | 9mm drop | mesh upper.
Columbia Montrail Trient OutDry Extreme: £136 / 371g
“Instead of having the waterproof membrane on the inside and a durable water-resistant repellent on the outside, Columbia have flipped this traditional waterproof technology on its head."
This trail shoe features Columbia's clever OutDry technology where the waterproof membrane is located on the shoe's exterior rather than on the inside. The benefit of this is that water will run straight off it, like it would with a wellington boot, rather than soaking into any outer fabric or mesh. There's also a grippy Vibram sole and light protective caps on the heel and toes.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | OutDry Extreme waterproof membrane | EVA foam midsole | 18mm heel/10mm forefoot | 3.5mm lug depth | Vibram sole | Fluidguide plate in the midsole.
Inov-8 Roclite 305: £115 / 305g
“Sitting in the middle of the Roclite range, at 305g these are slightly beefier than their super-lightweight cousin the Roclite 290. But the extra muscle means more cushioning and more support. "
The 6mm lug depth on the Roclite 305 makes it one of the grippiest shoes tested here. Don't expect puddle protection but instead, expect decent drainage so you'll dry up as soon as the conditions do. A feature we liked is the X Lock system which cradles the foot well and holds it comfortably in place even while you're contouring across sharp-angled slopes. A popular running shoe from Inov-8 that's worth considering as a walking shoe also.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | 8mm drop | 6mm footbed | 6mm lug depth | Power FLow midsole | 22.5mm heel / 14.5mm forefoot | Meta Plate shank | Tri-C Sticky sole compound.
Merrell Siren Sport Q2 Gore-Tex: £120 / 624g
“Made with Q Form 2 technology, the Siren Sport shoes have a special midsole which gives specific cushioning for women’s feet. "
For this women-specific trail shoe, Merrell carefully analysed the Q Angle (the angle just below the hips between the quadriceps and patellar tendon) on women compared to men and designed the shoe accordingly. The idea is that the shoes would create less pressure and therefore less pain in a woman’s hips, knees and back. In regards to the materials, the upper is made from a combination of quality nubuck leather and a breathable mesh along with a Gore-Tex membrane (non-waterproof also available). Those prone to smelly feet might also appreciate the fact that the sole and lining are treated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent odour build up.
Specific for women | available in half sizes | nubuck leather and mesh upper | M Select Fresh antimicrobial treatment | EVA contoured footbed and dual density midsole | air cushioned heel | 3.5mm lug depth.
Oboz Sawtooth Low: £110 / 442g
“The Sawtooth Low is Oboz’ best-selling shoe, thanks to its combination of robust construction, comfort and versatility – all at a reasonable price."
American brand, Oboz, describe this as being a "cult favourite" among thru hikers. We can't vouch for that, but what we can vouch for is the fact that it's an extremely strong shoe that can really power over any muddy trails. There's just the right amount of flex to the sole without it being flimsy or too wooden, plus the outsole gives plenty of traction. There's nubuck leather used in the upper as well as mesh, plus there's a protective rubber around the heel. Throw in a waterproof membrane (optional) and you've got a good, all-rounder walking shoe here.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | nubuck leather and mesh upper | B-Dry membrane (optional) | available as a boot cut | OFit removable EVA insole | 3D moulded heel counter.
Salomon Ellipse 2 GTX: £100 / 310g
“One of the things we really like about this product is its versatility."
This trail shoe is made specifically for women, with a last and footbed developed through the study of countless women's feet. Salomon have opted for some useful materials here, including suede leather overlays, a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane and a Contragrip sole. What's really noticeable is the amount of cushioning there is around the heel – an inclusion that makes for a very comfortable fit.
Women's specific and available in half sizes | 19mm heel and 9mm forefoot | Comntragrip outsole | injected EVA midsole | Gore-Tex membrane | protective heel cap and toe cap | split suede and mesh upper.
Scarpa Epic Lite OD: £135 / 405g
“This is a winner for serious mountain enthusiasts who want a more breathable, comfortable option than a boot when they’re scrambling in summer."
Scarpa are well known for their footwear, and tend to stand out in particular when it comes to approach shoes. This is yet another good offering from them. You can expect a solid feel underfoot as well as protection around the toe thanks to the big rubber bumper – ideal for any rocky walking or scrambling. Grip is provided by its Vibram Etilas outsole, and expect a high level of waterproof protection thanks to the OutDry waterproof membrane which is laminated to the sole and through the walls of the upper.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | Vibram Etilas sole | SWB last | Sintec nubuck, mesh and TPU upper | OutDry waterproof lining | rubber toe cap | heel strap.
Merrell Moab FST: £90 / 762g
“Aesthetically-pleasing, comfortable from the get-go, and able to take a real beating on the trails; the Moab FST Low is a brilliant shoe."
This variation of Merrell's popular Moab shoe is designed for those who want the stability of a boot but without the heavy weight of one, and this has been achieved well. The base of the sole feels wide and has just the right amount of rigidity, while there's also plenty of grip to the Vibram Megagrip outsole which is designed for both wet and dry surfaces. Merrell have made a seemingly endless list of variations to this shoe, with leather versions, mid cut versions, Gore-Tex and non Gore-Tex, and different colourways as well.
Available for men and women and in half sizes | Gore-Tex and non Gore-Tex available | mesh and TPU upper " mesh lining | EVA contoured footbed with antimicrobial treatment | nylon arch shank | air cushion in the heel.
Best Walking Shoes – Keen Terradora: £110 / 363g
“You don’t need to worry about pain or blisters with these boots, they will feel soft from the first wear."
Although the picture we've used here shows a boot, these also a shoe version of the Keen Terradora. It's a women's specific shoe that's extremely light at just 320g and its dual density PU footbed and EVA foam midsole make for trainer-like comfort. But it's perfectly suited to off-road stuff as well, thanks to its waterproof membrane and stability shank underfoot. The outsole has a bit of grip to it as well.
Women specific and available in half sizes | Keen.DRY waterproof membrane | Low-density EVA midsole | mesh and synthetic upper | ESS stability shank | Dual Density PU midsole | 4mm multi-directional lugs | antimicrobial treatment.