When it comes to deciding between lightweight hiking shoes and high cut hiking boots, there really is no right on wrong answer. Whilst boots have traditionally been the go-to footwear for hikers since as long as boots have been in existence, recent years have seen the rise of what some would argue as a more versatile type of hiking footwear: lightweight hiking shoes. The hiking shoe vs hiking boot argument has been raging for years with highly valid points being made on both sides. But more and more people are leaning towards opting for the grippy, light footedness offered by hiking shoes. So if you’re teetering on the brink of ditching your boots and getting a bit more dynamic on your wilderness wanderings, then a look at the best lightweight hiking shoes might help you take that leap.
This quick overview of the best lightweight hiking shoes gives you a basic idea of which shoes are leading the way in the trekking and hiking world, with more detailed info on each shoe later in the article. But if you really want to understand what to look for in a great pair of hiking shoes then read on.
|Product||Features||Weight per pair||Upper||Cost|
|The North Face Ultra 109 GTX||Good support||878g||Synthetic + Gore-Tex||$|
|Merrell Moab Ventilator||Good value, breathable||680g||Synthetic/leather mix||$|
|Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX||Extremely light||595g||Synthetic + Gore-Tex||$$$|
|Keen Targhee II||Durable, good support||907g||Synthetic/leather mix||$|
|Scarpa Zen Pro||Comfortable, good toe protection||965g||Suede||$$|
|The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX||Great grip||850g||Synthetic/leather mix + Gore-Tex||$|
|La Sportiva Primer Low GTX||Highly waterproof||824g||Synthetic + Gore-Tex||$$$|
|Salewa Men's Wildfire S GTX ||Breathable, custom fit||890g||Synthetic + Gore-Tex||$$$|
|Vasque Men's Mantra 2.0 GTX||High cut ankle for good stability||1020g||Leather + Gore-Tex||$$$|
|Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R GTX||Comfortable||737g||Synthetic + Gore-Tex||$$|
What to look for in a great pair of lightweight hiking shoes
One of the most desirable features of hiking shoes above boots is their low weight. The average pair of 2-3 season hiking boots weigh in at around 1200g (2.6lbs) per pair, and much more if you’re looking at winter boots. Whereas there are a couple of options in this review that are almost half that weight. The Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX are around 600g and the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R GTX are only a little heavier. This is a big difference when you consider the number of steps you are likely to take during a full day of hiking, and the low weight is especially beneficial for those wanting to keep their pace high.
The weight of hiking shoes also makes them much more suited to a bigger range of activities. Some of the lighter options are ideal for trail running, and shoes are generally an easier and more comfortable options for just for being out and about. If your footwear is able to provide you with comfort and protection on the trail, as well as being your go-to shoe of choice in less adventurous scenarios, then leave the boots behind and save some space when packing.
Hiking shoes are designed to keep you nimble on your feet, and the sole of the shoes make a big difference to how confident you feel when springing from rock to rock, or negotiating loose terrain. So you need to look for soles with deep lugs for maximum traction, and preferably a Vibram sole.
As with hiking boots, the upper material of lightweight hiking shoes varies from tough leather like the Vasque Mantra, to fully synthetic uppers like the La Sportiva Primer. Hiking shoes aim to be breathable, however, some do a better job at this than others. So it is important to consider whether you will be hiking in predominantly warm temperatures where extra breathability is a must. Look for something with a mesh or partially-mesh upper and a moisture-wicking inner like the Merrell Moab Ventilator to keep your toes as cool as possible.
Many hiking shoes offer partial or total waterproofing, often through a Gore-Tex liner. Waterproof hiking shoes can be more expensive, however, so consider whether or not this is an important feature for you, or whether you will most likely be hiking in dry summer conditions. The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX go one step further and guarantee rust-free rivets and hardware as well, a great option for winter hiking.
There is a big question surrounding the support that hiking shoes offer over hiking boots. The low cut of shoes is the obvious downfall when it comes to ankle stability, especially when hiking with a loaded backpack. So if good ankle support is a must but you are really keen on the lightweight properties of hiking shoes, then you may want to consider a lightweight boot like the Asolo Jumla GV.
That said, most hiking shoes provide a decent level of stiffness and stability through internal supports or built-in shanks. Shoes like the Keen Targhee II are an excellent choice if you are nervous about stepping out of your hiking boots and into something more lightweight, and they also provide unrivalled protection with their trademark bumpers.
Although some aspects of fit come down to simply trying on the shoe, there are a few basic styles to consider. If you have wide feet, look for something with a wider toe box and heel. If you need extra arch support, you may want a shoe with a removable insole to make room for orthopedic insoles. As a general rule, Keen shoes are wider than most brands, while North Face shoes are more narrow. When it comes to trying on the shoes themselves, try them on at the end of the day when your feet are already slightly swollen. If you hike in wool or thick socks, be sure to wear them when you try on the shoes. The same is true for any special insoles you plan to use when you hike. Because hiking shoes are more flexible than hiking boots, they take less time to break in, but slight stiffness is still normal.
The best lightweight hiking shoes
For hikers looking for something closer to a trail running shoe, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX are extremely lightweight and provide corrective support for mild pronation – when the foot rolls inward during a step. They are specially designed for hikers with high arches, and the mesh sides make for a breathable shoe that is also waterproof, thanks to a Gore-Tex layer. As with most shoes from The North Face, the toe box is narrower than in most other brands.
- Good support in the arches
- A little on the narrow side
The Merrell Moab Ventilator are perfect for keeping your feet cool all day, with the mesh upper and water-resistant leather working together to keep your toes breathable but dry. All hiking shoes are designed for uneven surfaces, but these soles provide excellent traction even on slippery surfaces like dewy grass and mossy river rocks. Although they are good for wide feet, they do not provide much arch support. So if arch support is a must for you, it will have to come from special insoles. That said, these are some of the least expensive shoes on our list, making them a great starting point for your first pair of lightweight hiking shoes.
- Good value
- Excellent traction
- Highly breathable
- Not great arch support
If you will be venturing out in your lightweight hiking shoes during the winter months, the Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX may be the best shoe for you. The leather and synthetic mixed upper is coated in polyurethane for durability and water resistance. The coating process makes the shoes stiffer than others initially, but a week or two of wearing in will soften them up nicely. While not as breathable as some of the mesh shoes on this list, they keep your toes toastie and dry thanks to a Gore-Tex lining. Another nice feature of these Salomon hiking shoes is the speed lacing system: the laces are tightened with a slide instead of knotted which is perfect for getting the shoes on and off while wearing gloves.
- Super lightweight
- Gore-Tex lining
- Quick lacing system
- Take a bit of time to break in
Like all Keen shoes, the Targhee II are great for wide feet. The footbed is removable, making them an excellent choice if you need to use orthopedic insoles. The cut of these shoes is higher than many other hiking shoes making them an excellent choice for those needing a little extra ankle support. If you have ever loved a pair of Keen hiking boots, these are very similar but with a lower profile. The wider toe box is also nice for accommodating thick socks. Other features that make the shoes great for winter weather hiking is the thick leather uppers and a thick heel loop for getting the shoes on and off when wearing gloves.
- Super robust
- Very good stability
- Wide toe box
- A good option for cold weather hiking
- Fairly bulky for a lightweight hiking shoe
The Scarpa Zen Pro hiking shoe is one of the more expensive options on our list, but the brand makes lifelong fans because of the overall comfort and excellent quality of their footweaer. The inside liner is extremely soft but still wicks away moisture effectively, whilst the naturally odor-resistant materials keep the shoes from smelling like sweat (or worse!) after a long hike. Rubber toecaps and soles with deep lugs do a great job of protecting your feet on rocky uneven terrain. And although the suede upper lets them down slightly in the when it comes to durability (compared with leather), the Zen’s are a robust and highly sturdy hiking shoe that are ideal for scrambling on more challenging terrain.
- Great for scrambling and challenging terrain
- Very comfortable
- Protective rubber toecap
- Suede not as durable as leather or synthetic shoes
For extremely wet situations, The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX comes with guaranteed rust-free rivets and hardware and a Gore-Tex layer for waterproofing. The shoe has a narrower fit than most on the list and minimal cushion. For hikers that need to feel the terrain for stability, this can be a great selling point. Vibram-brand soles offer superb gripping ability, and together their robust design makes this latest version of the Hedgehog excellently suited to year-round hiking.
- Gore-Tex lining
- Great grip
- rust-free rivets!
- A bit on the narrow side
As one of the more expensive shoes on our list, La Sportiva Primer Low GTX offers some really nice extra features. In addition to a waterproof Gore-Tex layer and top-of-the-line Vibram soles, the tongue is also gusseted in the shoe. This means that there is no gap between the tongue and the shoe for water to soak into your socks, providing waterproofing all the way to the top of the shoe. A moisture-wicking interior layer keeps your feet cool and dry – an essential feature for fast moving hikers. Be aware that these shoes come in European sizing only.
- Gore-Tex lining
- Gusseted tongue for good water protection
- Moisture-wicking interior layer
- A little pricey
If the idea of a custom fit appeals to you, consider Salewa Men’s Wildfire S GTX which promises a perfect fit every time. The footpad adjusts to you over the first few outings, providing a secure fit on the bottom. A special lacing system throughout the upper portion of the shoe allows you to customize the fit, creating a perfect fit – essential for preventing blisters on long hikes. Because the lacing system is more complicated than regular laces, however, be prepared to spend some time getting used to getting the shoe on and off. The upper portion is made of mesh, making them some of the most breathable on our list as long as you are not hiking through sand which can make its way through the mesh and onto your socks and feet! But on solid ground, these beauties are a really excellent and durable option that may just be worth spending a little extra on.
- Customisable fit
- Highly breathable
- Gore-Tex lining
- A little on the pricey side
The Vasque Men’s Mantra 2.0 GTX are an extremely comfortable option if you have low arches. As the heaviest hiking shoe on our list, and with a higher than average cut at the ankle, the Mantra’s are an excellent choice for long distance hikers wanting the extra support. And if you’re a little nervous about making the transition from boots to shoes, these are an ideal stepping stone. with a Gore-Tex lining, leather upper andd rubber soles, these robust hiking shoes are also a great choice for hiking in wintery conditions.
- Gore-Tex lining
- High cut for excellent ankle support
- Robust and durable
- Heavy for a hiking shoe
If you want something with more cushion, the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R GTX is a superb option. Extra cushion under the heel makes for a very comfortable hiking shoe that is still one of the least expensive on the list! The speed lacing system is similar to that of the Salomon’s, as is their lightweight sporty look. They lack the robustness offered by the Salomons, but their price tag is much more appealing for such a lightweight Gore-Tex hiking shoe. They offer superb value for fast and light hikers, looking to stay quick on their feet in all but the trickiest terrain.
- Gore-Tex lining
- Great value
- Not as robust as other options
Whether you plan to hike in the snow or the sand, there is a perfect hiking shoe for you on this list. Hiking shoes are a lightweight alternative to a heavy hiking boot while still providing extra support and durability for your time on the trail.