Best Outdoor Footwear 2021—Hiking Boots and Trail Runners

Uneven terrain, long distances and varying trail and weather conditions are why hikers and backpackers need a durable, well-fit quality hiking shoe. Ill-fitting, cheap and uncomfortable hiking boots will ruin your outdoor adventures and can even be dangerous.

Close-up photo of a pair of Merrell hiking shoes
A quality pair of hiking shoes are essential to your outdoor adventures.

It is important for your outdoor footwear to:

  • Have a great grip
  • Incorporate a thick cushioned sole
  • Be constructed of a breathable and durable material
  • Absorb shock
  • Offer incredible support
  • Utilize enough traction to stabilize you on mud, rocks, dirt and uneven surfaces

A slip could mean serious injury and even death.

Most hikers and backpackers pick a midweight hiking shoe or boot. These are supportive, yet lightweight. Lighter weight shoes and boots help prevent muscle fatigue and injuries, as well as long-term knee and hip problems.

To provide the best fit, try hiking boots on at the end of the day when your feet are the most swollen. This ensures they won’t be too tight at the end of a long day hiking the trail. Hiking boots are meant to be broken in first. Don’t expect to order a pair online, pop them on and head out. Wear them for short periods around the house or the local park with the socks you plan to wear with them before heading out on your trek. This helps prevent blisters and foot pain.

The Wolverine World Wide-owned (Stride Rite, Keds, Sperry, Cat Footwear, Hush Puppies, Saucony) Merrell has been making high-performance hiking and trail shoes since 1983. Merrell is known for high-quality, outdoor footwear with an emphasis on improving comfort and stability through advances in technology and materials. The women’s Moab 2 Ventilator is a classic, medium-weight hiking shoe made of performance suede and mesh with a protective rubber toe cap, M-Select Fit.ECO+ EVA arch and heel support, Vibram TC5+ sole, antimicrobial insert and Ortholite footbed.

Designed for tough trails, the Moab 2 is a great three-season hiking shoe. The deep tread provides excellent grip, sure traction, and stable footing through all types of terrain including loose gravel, dirt, mud, shallow streams and jagged rocks. The special Vibram rubber sole allows for natural foot flexing yet provides strong ankle support. Thoughtful details, like the snug fit heel, prevent blisters, while the wide toe box won’t pinch or rub. Even for problem feet, the Moab is known for providing strong arch support.

Our favorite feature of Moab women’s shoes is the specially-designed midsoles which help align a woman’s hips and knees providing greater comfort and preventing injuries. Though not waterproof, the mix of the breathable mesh and antimicrobial agents keep feet cool and odor-free. They are also available in men’s, wide width, mid and waterproof models. MSRP: $100.00

The mid-sized Keen Targhee II offers more ankle support than a shoe, but also allows for plenty of flexibility. Made for light to moderate hiking in colder climates, these men’s mid-hiking boots are waterproof and constructed of leather, webbing, a mesh upper and a carbon rubber sole with 4mm multi-direction lugs to provide great grip and traction.

Some hiking boots do not work well for outdoor work, as a work boot and everyday wear; however, the Keen’s Targhee is one versatile hiking boot which transitions well from work to outdoors to camping to hunting to hiking a steep trail. Hard-to-fit feet will feel comfortable in the Keen Targhee, as there is plenty of room in the toe box. The ESS shank combined with the multi-direction lugs in the soles provide stable traction through versatile surfaces such as sand, rock, dirt, gravel and snow.

Keen incorporates an innovative lacing system, which allows you to adjust for a perfect fit. Overall, the Keen Targhee is a good mix of durability and lightweight made for smaller loads and great for day hikes. MSRP: $300

For runners who like a challenge, trail runners are extremely lightweight, provide good grip and stability when running on gravel and dirt. Most trail runners do not have aggressive soles, though therefore traction is sacrificed. Many hikers who hike smooth, easy, but long trails are making the transition to a trail runner over hiking boots or shoes due to how lightweight and comfortable they are.

The Salomon Speedcross 4 is one trail running shoe which has crossed this divide. It offers a higher 6mm lug for excellent traction and an aggressive sole—more than even the best trail running shoe—making it extremely grippy in different terrains. The EVA foam midsole makes the Speedcross an incredibly comfortable shoe, absorbing impact well. The protected toe and heel works well in mountain areas and rocky trails.

A casual trail runner though, the Salomon Speedcross is not. It’s rugged, aggressive design is made for tough adventure races and off-road running. For that purpose, these trail runners really do their job. These are available in both men’s and women’s styles. MSRP: $130

On longer hikes, you don’t want to end up losing a toenail and throwing your boots off a ravine. That is why it is so important to have a good pair of boots that fit properly and wick away moisture. Even though they are far from the cheapest, the La Sportiva Nucleo Gore-Tex Surround Walking Boots are the best shoes for long-distance backpacking trips.

The La Sportiva Nucleo pairs dependable leather and breathable mesh with advanced nano-cell technology and Gore-Tex to provide an extremely durable, but breathable and waterproof hiking boot. A 3D Flex-designed ankle provides support, as well as flexibility, for long, all-day comfort and movability. The Vibram Nano sole incorporates what La Sportiva calls the ‘Impact Brake System.’ It truly does provide the best grip and traction.

Particularly useful is the specially-designed heel which provides stability during inclines and walking down steep areas. For a medium-weight hiking boot, the La Sportiva Nucleo is amazingly lightweight at 16.80 ounces. The La Sportiva Nucleo was named Winner of Outside Magazine’s 2017 Gear of the Year award. MSRP: $199

A staple for Lowa, the Renegade is a lighter mid-weight hiking shoe that comes in a low or mid ankle. Hard-to-fit feet will greatly appreciate the variety of sizes from small to large in narrow, regular and wide. Built to remain comfortable and steady on longer hikes with heavier packs, the

Renegade is waterproof and has Vibram soles. It provides excellent support, grip and traction on all types of difficult trails—loose dirt and gravel, steep inclines, snow, rock and mud. Of the boots and shoes on this list, it is the best at being the most versatile on different terrain. The heel is snug with no rubbing, while there is plenty of room in the toe box.

Slightly insulated, the Lowa Renegade is the perfect hiking boot for all seasons and in all weather—feet stay dry and warm. A wraparound cushioned ankle provides sturdy support. With prices starting at $196.57 for the low model, the Renegade isn’t a budget hiking boot, but comfort, support, and grip make the higher price worth it, especially for longer, more difficult trails. MSRP Lo: $210, MSRP Mid: $230

Perhaps one of the most important features of most of this list of outdoor footwear is that they don’t need a “break-in” period. Many testers have pulled them right out of the box, took off down the trail and did not get a blister! What is certain is that a high-quality hiking shoe is worth the price to protect yourself and stay comfortable.

What is your favorite hiking boot? Tell us in the comment section.
Prices here reflect what was listed at the time of original publication and are subject to change.
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