Best Walking Shoes For 2021 - Outdoors Magic

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Walking Boots

Best Walking Shoes For 2021

We'll often think about the weight on our back but not on our feet, and some lightweight kicks can really make a difference in the right circumstances

The best shoes for walking do not necessarily have to be in boot form. There are a number of benefits that walking 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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

Best Walking Shoes: The Top 10

Each of the products we’ve included in this guide have been featured in our Outdoor 100 or Green Gear Guide series. For the latest, check out our Outdoor 100 2021/2w and our 2021 Green Gear Guide.

  • Danner Trail 2650 – Best Walking Shoe 
  • CimAlp Drop Control
  • Adidas Terrex Free Hiker
  • Arc’teryx Norvan SL GTX
  • Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite Gore-Tex
  • Inov-8 Trailroc G280
  • The North Face Vectiv Exploris Futurelight
  • Altra Lone Peak 5.0
  • Black Diamond Technician
  • Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 GTX


BEST BUY: Danner Trail 2650

Price: £123
Weight: 680g
Best for: Long-distance hiking, lightweight backpacking
Key attributes: Comfortable, lightweight

Lightweight, comfortable and pretty darn cool looking in our opinion, we’re big fans of these new trail shoes by U.S-based brand Danner. 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.

Like many other shoes in this Outdoor 100, the Danner Trail 2650 come equipped with a Vibram Megagrip sole. Photo: Chris Johnson

There’s also good support at the back of the heel thanks to what Danner call their EXO Heel System. This also serves to pocket your heel and prevents it sliding about.

Other things we dig include the quality suede leather and the Vibram outsole with multi-directional lugs for a bit of grip on dusty or muddy trails.

Full Specifications

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.

Read our full Danner Trail 2650 walking shoe review

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Adidas Terrex Free Hiker

Price: £170
Weight: 382g
Best for: Fast hiking
Key attributes: Lightweight, well-cushioned

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.

Full Specifications

Sizes 5 – 14 (UK) / 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.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21 – take a closer look at the Adidas Terrex Free Hiker here

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CimAlp 864 Drop Control

Price: £170
Weight: 325g
Best for: Trail and fell running
Key attributes: Innovative, protective, stable

The clever 864 Drop Control shoe is a progressive, forward-thinking, trail running product that’s all about improving performance and preventing injuries. Coming with three pairs of insoles (8mm, 6mm, 4mm), the 864 Drop Control will help you to evolve your technique and run with a more natural stride. It might seem seriously geeky but if you’re dead serious about trail running, you’ll appreciate what this brings to the mix.  Thanks to its durable upper and protective and robust chassis, this will also be suitable for ultra-light hikers, and speedy trekkers.

The concept allows for runners to gradually reduce the height of the heel (aka the drop), and work towards landing midfoot. Landing midfoot improves natural damping, and encourages a more efficient, natural, stride, in the long term potentially minimising the risk of stress injuries. By providing three soles – with varying drop levels – CimAlp are helping runners to optimise their technique in stages. It’s important to do this in stages because large, dramatic, changes in footstrike can increase the load on different, unprepared, tissues and potentially lead to injury.

Full Specifications

Sizes men’s UK 6.5-12 / Vibram Megagrip sole / Heel cup / Reinforced & ultra-resistant stone guard / Breathable upper mesh / Seamless inner structure to avoid friction / Lycra tongue with storage for laces.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21 – check out the full CimAlp 864 Drop Control trail shoe review

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Arc’teryx Norvan SL GTX

Price: £160
Weight: 235g
Best for: Approach, fell running
Key attributes: Lightweight

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.

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.

Full Specifications

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.

Read our full Arc’teryx Norvan SL GTX review

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Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite Gore-Tex

Price: £160
Weight: 368g
Best for: Technical approaches, scrambling
Key attributes: Gore-Tex lining, good traction

The Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite was born from the now-classic approach shoe, the Salewa Mountain Trainer which is most notable for its lightweight, yet stiff platform that climbers can use on the typically rocky and technical approaches to the crag. Now this, the Mountain Trainer Lite offers an even lighter and more streamlined package.

A Pomoca rubber outsole offers reassuring and durable grip thanks to plenty of deep lugs, in a variety of shapes and sizes, peppering the sole unit. A sticky rubber toe box also stretches around the front of the shoe, which helps to provide protection when you’re jamming your feet into cracks, or knocking them off sharp rocks.

The whole shoe is wrapped up in a durable synthetic fabric upper which features a Gore-Tex Extended Comfort lining to bring a high level of water protection without too much of a breathability sacrifice.

Full Specifications

Available in men’s and women’s / heel stabiliser / rubber toe cup / Pomoca outsole / climbing lacing / 3F System.

Read our full Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite Gore-Tex review

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Inov-8 Trailroc G280

Price: £140
Weight: 280g (per shoe)
Best for: Trail running
Key attributes: Durable, lightweight

This is a shoe for trail, mountain and fell running in hard and rocky terrain. It features a super-durable graphene-based outsole with 4mm chevron shaped lugs for traction. The midsole features a full length lightweight shank to provide a little bit of rock for energy return and to block out any sharp and hard stuff underfoot. The upper has a tough, durable and structured feel to it but without making the Trailroc feel heavy or too stiff and constricting. It’s mostly mesh with plenty of PU lamination and a protective toe bumper.

Full Specifications

Available for men and women and in half sizes / 8mm drop / 6mm footbed / 4mm lug depth / Power Flow midsole / 20mm heel / 12mm forefoot / Meta Plate shank / Tri-C Sticky sole compound.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21 – read our full Inov-8 Trailroc G280 trail shoe review

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The North Face Vectiv Exploris

Price: £140
Weight: 750g
Best for: Trail walking
Key attributes: Very breathable, excellent ride

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 our testers found that it’ll do the job on all but the super slippery and muddy stuff.  

Full Specifications

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.

Chosen for our Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full The North Face Vectiv Exploris review.

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Altra Lone Peak 5.0 

Price: £125
Weight: 301g
Best for: Thru-hiking and trail running
Key attributes: Wide toe box, ‘barefoot’ design

The thing about the Altra Lone Peak series that perhaps makes it so endearing to trail runners 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 5.0 is a neutral shoe in that there’s no ‘drop’ – meaning there’s no slope or offset from the heel to the toe. Running 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. In fact at 28mm it’s the thickest midsole that we’ve seen so far within the Lone Peak’s lineage. The midsole has been swapped too, now featuring an Altra EGO foam for better longevity and responsiveness, whilst the outsole has slightly wider lug patterning for better mud-shedding abilities.  

The main thing to note about the upper on the Lone Peak 5.0 is that it comes with laser perforated holes to promote drainage. Similarly 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. 

Full Specifications

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.

Chosen for our Outdoor 100 2021/22. Read our full Altra Lone Peak 5.0 review.

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Black Diamond Technician Approach Shoe

Price: £130
Weight: 340g (per shoe)
Best for: Approach, scrambling
Key attributes: Supportive, durable

This is a fairly serious approach shoe, one that leans heavily towards climbing. It’s the kind of shoe that you’d want for those approaches that are short but serious; where you need something very precise for edging but also need underfoot protection for scrambling, along with a bit of cushioning underfoot for the sections where you’re walking on rocky trails.

At 340g per shoe the Technician Approach is very lightweight for its category. That’s largely due to its thin upper which is made from what Black Diamond call EnduraKnit. This isn’t to say it’s flimsy up top though. You could still expect it to shrug off any rough rock, and you’ve also got that solid toe bumper and PU rand to help with longevity as well. What’s particularly impressive about the toe bumper is that it’s shaped to give a clear line of sight for precise foot placement. It also tucks underneath the EVA in the midsole to add a bit of extra stiffness.

Full Specifications

Sizes men’s UK 5-13, women’s UK 3-8.5 / One piece EnduroKnit upper / BlackLabel-Mountain rubber outsole / Rubber toe protection / EVA midsole for stiffness and comfort / Graduated fit system / Lightweight, moulded TPU midfoot strap and lace lock

Selected for our Outdoor 100 2020/21. Read our full Black Diamond Technician approach shoe review

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Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 GTX

Price: £120
Weight: 708g
Best for: Hiking and hillwalking
Key attributes: Stable, comfortable

Standing for ‘Moving Quickly in the Mountains’, Merrell’s MQM Flex series of shoes have long been a flagship model for Merrrell. Designed as a hybrid shoe that’s able to combine ‘hiking, trail running, scrambling and climbing into one shoe’. This all-new version of the MQM Flex, the MQM Flex 2.0 offers a trainer-style fit in a lightweight package for fast and light ascents in the hills.

The lightweight upper features a Gore-Tex InvisibleFit lining; that’s a single piece of seamless material that’s able to offer, you guessed it, seamless protection from water ingress.

The midsole is made up of a FlexConnect material which is packing an air cushion in the heel to provide comfort for long distance walking. The outsole has been upgraded from the original MQM Flex, to an ‘Quantum Grip’ outsole, with increased lug depths from 3.5mm to 5mm.

Full Specifications

Quantum Grip rubber outsole with 5mm lugs / InvisibleFit Gore-Tex membrane / waterproof and mesh upper / tongue-integrated lacing system / protective TPU toe cap / kinetic Fit BASE removable insole / FLEXconnect midsole / Merrell Cushion heel / vegan friendly / available in a mid hiking boot and a hiking shoe / men’s and women’s/ Gore-Tex and non Gore-Tex versions.

Read our full Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 GTX review

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