Whether you're hitting Colorado's 14ers or light trails close to home, these trail runners, light hikers, and hefty hiking boots will keep you moving.

By Rachael Schultz
August 29, 2019
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Matt Kennedy

If there are two times it's especially easy to overdo purchases, it's buying gear for a new sport and packing for any trip. So trying to find the best hiking boots in order to tackle adventure travel or weekend hikes? That spells trouble. "You could buy a different pair of shoes for every trail run, backpacking trip, and day hike—but that's not necessary," says Karsyn Ansari, an avid runner and expert from gear retailer Backcountry.com.

Many people think that if you're going hiking, you need hiking boots—but that isn't necessarily true. There's a whole spectrum of hiking shoes, too, some of which might fit better with some of the lower-key activities you do, as well as prevent the roadblocks that keep you from doing them (Let's be real: a pair of hiking boots takes up like half a carry-on suitcase.)

If you're interested in short, non-technical hikes, you can totally get away with your standard sneakers, says Ansari. But if you'll be hitting a trail with any kind of rocks, water, or incline, your road shoes won't cut it—and each step will feel a zillion times more confident if you slap on something with at least the traction of trail running shoes.

But how do you decide on the best hiking boot for you—trail runners, light hikers, or full hiking boots? "The biggest things to consider when you're choosing footwear for a hike is the type of terrain you'll be traveling on and the weight you'll be carrying in your pack," says Ansari. (Related: These Benefits of Hiking Will Convince You to Hit the Trails)

Here's a guide for which type of shoe may be best for you, along with our top picks for the best hiking boots and shoes for women.

The Best Trail Running Shoes for Hiking

It's easy to think trail runners are just the outdoorsy version of road shoes, but they're crafted with lugs for grip and a protective toe cap or plate in the sole to protect your foot from hard objects, explains Ansari. Those both become even more important if you're carrying a pack or hitting elevation where your footing really needs to be secure. And while they won't be as rugged or durable as hiking boots or light hikers, trail runners are lighter and more breathable, which can go a long way in terms of comfort. (If you don't already trail run, here's why you should definitely start.)

Salomon
Saucony
Adidas

Salomon Sense Ride 2: Uber lightweight and quick-drying, these are the ideal shoes if you want one purchase to excel in trail running and carry you well-enough on day hikes with a light pack. Seriously rocky or muddy terrain would benefit from the Salomon Speedcross' more aggressive lugs, but Salomon's Sense Rides deliver reliable, multi-trail traction that'll keep you speedy, cool, and confident on a long run or a moderate day hike, but not feel like cleats when you hit town to refuel after. Our tester, who constantly battles narrow toe boxes, loves the brand's signature quick-lace system, which helps deliver a hug-like fit for pretty much every shape foot. (Buy It, $120; ems.com)

Saucony Peregrine ISO: The Peregrine is a long-loved shoe for its deep lugs, great traction, and fabulous fit. The cushion underneath will keep your feet happy on long trails without separating you completely from the uneven ground underneath, and the shoe rocks Saucony's signature wide toe box. The real magic comes from both the extra cushion in the heel collar and the new ISOFit lace system, which allows the Peregrine to stay super snug as you navigate uneven terrain. (Buy It, $120; roadrunnersports.com)

Adidas Terrex CMTK GTX: The same outsole as Continental Mountain King bike tires, the CMTKs (get it?) will keep you slip-free on wet and rocky trails. They boast the comfy fit Adidas is well known for—which will come in handy once you hit mile seven with a light pack on. Mostly, we love how sleek these runners look for summit pics and travel, yet their grippy outsole and Gore-Tex lining will actually keep up during rainy days on the trail. (Buy It, $110; roadrunnersports.com)

If you want even more choices, check out this list of the best trail running shoes.

The Best Light Hiking Boots

Light hikers are a hybrid breed—they're usually a low-top shoe that fits much like a trail runner, but offers more support and a thicker, more durable sole, explains Ansari. There's a few categories of hikers who prefer these: runners or hikers who want the speed of a lighter shoe on multi-day treks but need more cushioning to support a loaded backpack, day hikers who want added traction and stiffness to ease nerves on uneven terrain, or hikers who will be facing muddy, wet trails. Ansari recommends light hikers for day hikes and light overnight backpacking trips. (P.S. Finish gearing up with these picks for the best hiking backpacks for women.)

Danner
Salomon
Vasque

Danner Trail 2650: These lookers live up to Danner's reputation for beautiful, well-made street-to-trail footwear—but come without any of the heat-retention or weight common in their boots, thanks to the perforated upper and mesh lining. Don't be fooled by that gorgeous teal leather, either; the 2650s are named in honor of the Pacific Crest Trail's mileage and, with Danner's signature mid- and outsole, are designed to handle terrain just as complicated. Our tester loved how well these not only performed on trails in both Colorado and the Pacific Northwest but also blended in while touring Seattle and Boulder. (Buy It, $150; amazon.com)

Salomon OUTline: These shoes are designed with the sturdy midfoot of a traditional hiking boot, which is ideal to keep you feeling supported on long treks and with heavy loads—yet, they're pretty lightweight at just 1lb 5oz. While most light hikers are on the stiff side, the OUTlines feel surprisingly like a running shoe (which should come as no surprise, really, considering Salomon is the reigning queen of trail running). The biggest dazzle of this pair, though, is how reliable the traction is; they were shockingly trustworthy when tested on both the slippery grit of the Tour du Mont Blanc in Switzerland as well as the rocky trail of a Colorado fourteener. Plus, they're pretty. (Buy It, $110; dickssportinggoods.com)

Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX:

A lower and lighter version of Vasque's beloved Breeze LT GTX, these hikers are waterproof yet breathable, and feather-light yet dependable underfoot in all weather. Most of all, they're comfortable: Our tester said wearing these boots felt like walking on memory foam—and they even kept their cushy comfort for multiple days on back-to-back wear on a trekking trip in Peru. (Buy It, $150; amazon.com)

When to Wear Mid and Full Hiking Boots

"If you're planning on traveling long distances across rugged, uneven terrain carrying a heavy backpack, a mid-height hiking boot or full backpacking boot is the best choice," says Ansari. It provides ankle support and lateral support—super, super important if you have 30 pounds on your back altering your center of gravity—and will hold up against rocky wear-and-tear. Full hikers are also just great for anyone who is clumsy or has weak ankles—a rolled ankle even on a day hike is no joke.

Hoka
Vasque
Salewa

Hoka Arkali: These boots have the lightweight and supportive cushioning Hoka is known for, but what makes them unique is the high-abrasion toe cap and stellar traction underfoot. That means they can handle pretty much any terrain, including scrambling and slick rock. We love the velcro heel strap, which allows you to score a super snug fit. Bonus: They're fun enough to adventure around town in, too. (Buy It, $200; hokaoneone.com)

Vasque Canyonlands Ultradry: The Canyonlands are everything a good hiking boot should be—super sturdy, comfortable underfoot, secure around the ankles, and ready for any kind of weather. They're on the heavier side—roughly 2 lbs—of the boots on this list, but the hunkiness is exactly what provides such a solid foundation to keep you confident in maneuvering a heavy pack on a rocky trail. Our tester loved how comfortable the signature insoles are and the security that comes from the boot's glove-like fit. (Buy It, $170; amazon.com)

Salewa Alpenrose Ultra Mid: Technically billed as speedhikers, these waterproof boots are made for fast, reliable travel through questionable mountain terrain. They're incredibly lightweight (just 330 grams) with superb traction, thanks to the Michelin outsoles and impressive breathability for a waterproof shoe. The full lace and signature Salewa footbed construction provide great ankle stability, while the wide toe box offers a fit often hard to find in hiking boots, our tester says. If you love the ankle support of a mid-rise boot but want to keep things light, comfortable, and moving on short day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips, this is your boot. (Buy It, $190; amazon.com)

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