When preparing for a backpacking trip, choosing footwear will be one of the most important gear decisions you’ll make. Blisters, strained muscles, and scrunched toes can quickly ruin any backpacking trip, so this is an area where testing and experience go a long way.
That said, footwear is a highly personal choice, so we recommend finding what will work best for you. Below we discuss the critical considerations for purchasing backpacking footwear and recommend our top choices for trail runners, hiking shoes, and hiking boots.
Keen Targhee III WP
Most importantly, the super wide foot bed of the previous model has been trimmed down slightly to give the shoe a slightly less sloppy feel over rocky terrain. The Targhee III still won’t be confused with an aggressive model like the Salomon X Ultra 3 above, but its tough leather construction, reasonable weight, and well-cushioned interior make it a great casual hiker.
Among day hiking options, the Keen Targhee III and Merrell Moab 2 above are two of the most popular on the market. Both are very comfortable right out of the box and offer plenty of support and traction for non-technical trails and can even do the trick on shorter backpacking trips.
Merrell MQM Flex Mid Waterproof
A unique TPU heel counter locked our feet down on technical descents, while proprietary M Select DRY waterproofing kept moisture out on low creek crossings in New Zealand. With M Select DRY, Merrell puts a super-thin waterproof layer (the same one the brand uses in rainshells) beneath the MQM Flex’s upper.
LOWA Locarno GTX Mid
The proprietary rubber outsole has shallow, 3mm, arrowhead-shaped lugs, which kept us steady when navigating loose granite on California’s Bishop Pass, and a Gore-Tex membrane seals water out. Fit note: The Locarnos don’t have enough support for high arches.
Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
The X Ultra 3s have a snug heel cup and a memory foam-like OrthoLite sock liner. The Gore-Tex membrane kept water out during a slushy, 9-mile trek in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests, but doesn’t breathe as well as Gore’s Surround.
La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX
These boots provided enough ankle support without any extra bulk. They are lightweight, flexible and offer excellent traction on wet rocks, thanks to Vibram® Nano rubber outsoles. The Impact Break System at the heel made descending steep sections effortless.
Vasque Breeze III Mid GTX
The Breeze was the first backpacking boot that I ever bought. They broke in pretty quickly on day hikes in the Angeles National Forest, before taking me up Half Dome in Yosemite and down into the Grand Canyon with an overnight pack. They have the perfect ankle height that holds you in place on those wobbly rocks and awesome traction. The newest model is even lighter and more breathable than ever before!
Vasque Saga GTX
The Vibram Megagrip outsole offers above-average traction. Five toe and heel vents keep the Sagas airier than expected for a waterproof midweight, which we appreciated on a humid, three-day trip on Vermont’s Long Trail in September.