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Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes 2021

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There are so many different styles and brands of lightweight hiking shoes on the market at the moment. It can be so hard to choose which one is the best fit. To make it a little easier I took a look at all the best hiking shoes and narrowed down the choice.

Choose the wrong hiking shoes for your weekend hike and it could ruin your entire trip. The right pair of hiking shoes will provide a balance of comfort, durability, traction, and weight and will ensure you put your best foot forward. 

In this article, I’ve compiled a list of the best waterproof lightweight hiking shoes available on the market, as well as a Buyer’s Guide and FAQ section to cover your queries before you click ‘buy’.

Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes for Backpacking 2021

The best lightweight hiking shoes of 2021 are:


Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe

Pros:
> Durable leather and suede construction 
> Targeted heel and arch support 
> Vibram TC5+ rubber outsole for improved traction 
> Merrell Air Cushion in the heels 
> EVA midsole
Cons:
> These shoes have a high arch than some other shoes. 

The Merrell Moab 2 Hiking Shoe has been one of the leading hiking shoes on the market for over a decade, and the Moab 2 does not disappoint.

It provides out-of-the-box comfort thanks to its durable leathers and supportive footbed with targeted heel cushioning. This improves overall comfort by reducing stress on your foot and providing arch and heel support so you can keep walking all day long. 

The molded nylon arch shanks provide stability, and the bellowed, closed-cell foam tongue keeps moisture and debris out.

The Merrell Moab 2 uses a quality Vibram TC5+ rubber sole offers durability, stability and slip resistance on the trail. 

They are a medium to wide fit and there is also a wide version for those that have very wide feet.

The Merrell Moab 2 Vent is one of the best hiking shoes for desert hiking due to the breathability, lightweight and solid construction.

I have used both the non waterproof Merrell Moab and the GTX waterproof Merrell Moab version when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. While the waterproof version is more popular, the ventilator version is better in my opinion. I own and use a pair of these shoes today.

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Salomon X Ultra 4 Low GTX

Pros:
> Contragrip MA rubber outsole for good traction 
> New chassis for improved stability and flexibility 
> SensiFit technology cradles the feet
> Waterproof GORE TEX protection
Cons:
> Quicklace system takes some getting used to 

If you’re regularly powering up and down steep hills, the Salomon X Ultra 4 is perfect, as it offers the agility of a running shoe combined with the stability and grip of a hiking boot.

The Contragrip MA rubber outsole grips the terrain, even when it’s slippery or wet. 

The Salomon X Ultra 4 is an upgrade from the previous model

The Salomon X Ultra hiking shoe is also equipped with SensiFit technology to cradle the feet from the midsole to the lacing system, which provides a secure and snug fit.

The Salomon X Ultra hiking shoe is waterproof and breathable due to the use of Gore-Tex.  

The Salomon X Ultra are great lightweight waterproof hiking shoes for medium to narrow width feet. If you like the fit and feel of Salomon shoes then these will make a great lightweight hiking shoe for thru hiking or ultralight hikers wanting a quality shoe.

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Vasque Men’s Breeze AT GTX Low Hiking Shoe

Pros:
> Durable nubuck leather uppers 
> Gore-Tex protects the feet from wet weather 
> Breathable air mesh in the uppers 
> Vibram Contact Grip outsole for traction 
Cons:
> They’re a little heavy according to some buyers

Equipped with 2mm waterproof nubuck leather uppers, the Vasque Breeze GTX low hiking shoe provides a perfect balance between comfort and durability. 

I spent over 2000 miles thru hiking in these shoes and enjoyed the breathable Gore-Tex membrane to seal out wet weather and air mesh in the uppers to provide extra ventilation. 

The Vasque-exclusive Vibram Contact Grip with Megagrip compound outsoles provide traction on varied terrain, while the midsoles with EVA cushioning pods provide ultimate underfoot comfort.

These shoes have thermoplastic polyurethane shanks to lend stability and support to the foot, so they’re perfect if you suffer from foot-related issues.

They have a medium fit but people with wide feet can get the wide version which I used and liked on my hikes.

The Vasque Breeze GTX is one of the best lightweight waterproof hiking shoes on the market. I used these hiking shoes on the Appalachian Trail and would recommend them as the best hiking shoe for the Appalachian Trail.

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Keen Targhee III Low WP

Pros:
> KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membrane
> Cleansport NXT coating for natural odor control 
> Dual-density EVA footbeds for comfort 
> TPU heel-capture system for stability 
Cons:
> May Require some breaking in before they become comfortable 
> Flat footbed with little arch support (but that could be a good thing for some)

The Keen Targhee III is an industry favorite as it provides traction, durability and protection. If you have a wide foot these shoes should be the first shoes you take a look at.

Crafted from durable oiled-nubuck and equipped with KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membranes, this shoe will keep your feet dry while allowing perspiration to dissipate.

They’re also treated with Cleansport NXT to provide natural odor control and keep your shoes smelling fresher for longer. 

The Keen Targhee III has removable, dual-density EVA footbeds to provide plush underfoot comfort, and an injected TPU heel-capture system that promotes stability as you hike.

The mud shields provide protection and durability, while the KEEN all-terrain rubber outsoles with 4mm multidirectional lugs promise high-traction grip on whatever the trail throws at you. 

The Keen Targhee EXP hiking shoe is the one of the best hiking shoes for wide feet due to the nice and wide toe box. In fact, if you have wide feet then start with this hiking shoe and see how it feels before trying any other shoe from any other brand.

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Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D V8 GTX 

Pros:
> Super lightweight 
> 3D chassis and EnergyCell midsoles for cushioned stability 
> Molded OrthoLite footbeds
> Wet-traction outsoles 
Cons:
> Runs large, we recommend sizing down ½ size

It’s no surprise that Salomon has made the list again, with another quality trail shoe. The Salomon XA PRO 3D V8 is designed with Seamed SensiFit uppers and molded OrthoLite footbeds to provide comfort without weighing the shoe down. 

The shoe has a stable and cushioned midsole for a secure feel and premium wet-traction outsoles which provide grip even in the worst of conditions. 

The fully waterproof Gore-Tex membranes mean you can ignore the conditions underfoot and concentrate on what’s in front of you.

Plus the Salomon XA Pro is now 20G lighter, featuring thinner, softer materials but the same durability and reliability. 

The Salomon XA Pro is one of the best lightweight hiking shoes for narrow to medium width feet.

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Altra Lone Peak 5

Pros:
> Super lightweight feel 
> Stone guard for protection underfoot 
> Strategic, laser-cut holes for quick drainage 
> Roomy toe boxes 
Cons:
> Not the most durable due to being lightweight 

These trail runners are super lightweight hiking shoes that still provide a bit of protection from the elements.

They have an updated StoneGuard that offers more protection from rocks underfoot while using less material and laser-cut holes on the uppers to allow quick drainage after creek crossings. 

The Altra Lone Peak EGO midsoles provide a responsive yet soft ride while the Balanced Cushioning platform places heels and forefeet the same distance from the ground, which encourages low-impact landings.

The FootShape toe box on these trail runners allow the toes to relax and spread out naturally and for the big toes to remain in a straight position. The MaxTrac outsoles feature a multidirectional lug pattern for superb traction on multiple terrains.

If you want to use a trail runner style shoe for ultralight hiking and backpacking trips then they need to be tough. These are tough enough for most trails but if you are on very muddy trails or planning off trail hiking trips then a trail runner is not the best option.

The fit of these shoes combines with zero drop means they are not for everyone. Having said that, they have a cult like following among ultralight thru hikers. Just don’t expect them to last as long as the other shoes in this review. Most people expect about 500 miles out of these shoes before they are worn out and have holes. While testing these shoes on a thru hike in New Zealand they last me about that long but many hikers report getting much longer and some much less.

I used the Altra Lone Peak trail runners while hiking the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. I loved the lightweight feel. They are one of the best trail running shoes for thru hiking. These are my current lightweight hiking shoe of choice that I use for ultralight hiking.

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HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4

Pros:
> Plush yet lightweight cushioning 
> Updated toe boxes 
> Enhanced midfoot support and lockdown 
> Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole
Cons:
> Lack the protection of hiking shoes – they’re also non waterproof but HOKA do offer a waterproof alternative 

If it’s comfort and support you’re looking for, look no further than the HOKA One One Speedgoat 4 running shoe. These trail runners have lightweight foam midsoles for maximum cushioning and excellent absorbing impact.

The updated toe boxes and wider forefoot construction provide a more accommodating fit for enhanced comfort and stability.

The gusseted tongues feature strategic cutouts for added breathability and the breathable textile lining provides abrasion-free wear.

While these shoes offer plush cushioning and support, they don’t compromise on traction, as they’re equipped with a Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole to provide grip in both wet and dry conditions, as well as zonal rubber placement which offers additional support and stability where you need it most. 

A trail runner like this is best suited to trails that are in good condition and not as well suited to rough terrain or muddy. If heading onto rougher trails then stronger hiking shoe might be a better option.

The Hoka One Ones are slightly narrower than the Altras and as they have a 4mm drop which most people seem to prefer. Most people report that they get around 500 miles out of these shoes when thru hiking but

The Hoka One One Speedgoat is great for day hikes, trail running, thru hiking or backpacking on nice trails and one of the best light trail runners for thru hiking.

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La Sportiva Spire

Pros:
> Cross between a boot and a shoe 
> Gore-tex surround aeration channels for breathable protection 
> STB Control System integrates ventilation with stability 
> Vibram XS Trek and Impact Brake System provides excellent traction 
Cons:
> A little heavier than other options

The La Sportiva Spire hiking shoe is a great midpoint between a hiking boot and trail hiking shoe. It features abrasion-resistant mesh uppers and Gore-tex surround aeration channels to offer durability and breathable waterproof protection.

This works alongside the Nano Cell 2.0 Technology to allow maximum aeration and comfort within the footbed and midsole, while the STB Control System integrates ventilation outlets into the midsoles while also providing torsional stability for comfort and a snug fit.

The La Sportiva hiking shoe uses Vibram XS Trek and Impact Brake System outsoles supply traction and grip and are aggressive enough for the most rugged of terrains.

The La Sportiva Spires are a little heavier than many other shoes on our list, they’re surprisingly lightweight considering they fit more like a hiking boot rather than a shoe, and provide maximum stability, grip and confidence on the trail. 

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Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes gear test in the desert
The Best hiking shoes for backpacking are lightweight, durable, comfortable and have good grip

Other Hiking Shoes

The following list of hiking shoes are also worth considering:

  • Keen Targhee EXP Hiking Shoe : The Keen Targhee EXP hiking shoe is very similar to the Keen Targhee iii.

Read More:
Maybe you are interested in a Guide to the Best Lightweight Hiking Boots and the Best Hiking Socks.


The Best Gore Tex Hiking Shoes
Gore-Tex Hiking Shoes are great in wet conditions

Buyer’s Guide 

Materials 

All the best hiking shoes share similar attributes when it comes to the outer materials and uppers.

A lot of hiking footwear uses leather and suede that are highly durable. Once broken in are incredibly soft and comfortable, whereas synthetic materials are less durable but may be better if minimizing the weight of the shoe is your priority. 


Waterproof

Waterproof Shoes with  Gore Tex membrane
Waterproof shoes with a Gore-Tex membrane or similar is good for wet conditions

Gore-Tex features on many quality waterproof hiking shoes and is a material that offers waterproof protection while remaining breathable.

It’s a must if you’re looking for an all-weather waterproof hiking shoe. 


Traction  

Best Traction for a hiking shoes with old worn out sole and brand new one

Having a hiking shoe with quality traction is essential for hiking and backpacking.

Most quality hiking shoes will feature a Vibram rubber sole which provides grip on uneven and slippery terrain and in all kinds of weather. 

The tread on most of the hiking shoes in this review should last between 800 – 1000 miles. The tread on trail running shoes will last a lot less with 500 miles or less considered normal.

A good hiking shoe will have a soul of the shoe wear out at about the same pace as the rest of the shoe. So when the bottom of the hiking shoe is worn out, so is the rest of the shoe.

Hiking Shoes with good traction
Hiking shoes have good traction and well suited to hiking in the desert

Weight 

The Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes for backpacking
Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes are well suited for backpacking trips

The weight of the hiking shoe will be influenced by how much cushioning the shoe offers, as well as the thickness of materials used in the shoe. 

The best lightweight hiking shoes are trail runners, however, bear in mind that in order to minimize weight, the shoe may compromise on durability and the amount of protection it offers.


Comfort and support

The best lightweight hiking shoes for wet trails are waterproof and comfortable
Best Hiking Shoes for wet trails are also comfortable

Hiking involves being on your feet for hours at a time, so hiking shoes should ideally ease the strain on your feet and provide lightweight cushioning. The levels of cushioning you require will also depend on the arch type of your feet. 

For example, those with high arches will need maximum cushioning, whereas those with flat feet will need to prioritise stability, which means that the shoe locks the foot into place and prevents it from rolling. 

When looking for a hiking shoe for long distances you should also pay attention to any shock absorption it provides, particularly in the heel area which takes the brunt of the shock while hiking. 


Sizing 

Feet with blisters from the wrong sized shoes
Wearing the wrong sized hiking shoe is one of the leading causes of blisters

You might not think twice about which size to choose when it comes to purchasing a new pair of hiking shoes, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that when spending hours walking on a trail, particularly on hot days, feet are likely to swell.

This is why it’s a good idea to buy hiking footwear at least a half size larger than your everyday shoes. I personally prefer to buy hiking shoes that are one whole size larger than my foot size. Since I started buying bigger shoes I have stopped getting blisters and my feet are less tired at the end of the day.

If you learn only one thing from the whole article let it be this: Buy hiking shoes one size bigger than your normal shoes. Your feet will swell when you are hiking for 6 plus hours.

You can test whether or not a hiking shoe fits appropriately by loosening the laces, moving your foot forward so that your toes touch the front of the toe box, and then seeing whether you can put your index finger between your heel and the back of the shoe. I like to have about at least this amount of room when trying on a shoe.

This will ensure that as your feet swell, the toes don’t slide forward and hit the toe box on downhill sections of trail.

Another reason for buying shoes that are slightly bigger is that hiking socks are thicker than regular socks.

For this reason, it’s safer to buy hiking shoes that are a little big, rather than purchasing ones that are too small and hoping that they stretch out in time.


Break-in Period 

Brand new shoes smell nice
Are hiking shoes better than hiking boots?

This seems obvious, but whenever you purchase new hiking shoes, it’s a good idea to allow time to break them in before wearing them on an actual hiking trip.

Hiking shoes that feel fine when you try them on can suddenly cause blisters once you’ve worn them for thousands of steps!

For this reason, it’s a good idea to buy your hiking footwear at least a few weeks before any long hiking trips and to wear them as much as you can beforehand.

This way, you’ll give the materials time to soften up and adapt to the shape of your feet, and if you encounter any issues, you can address these issues in the hiking shoe before you head out onto the trail. 

Having said that, all the shoes on this list should feel good right away. If there is any doubt then try something else.

A trail runner is usually comfortable straight away and does not need any break in period. In fact, if the trail runner is not comfortable right out of the box then it is not for you. They should feel good instantly.


Trail running shoes for hiking

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between trail running shoes and hiking shoes?

Trail running shoes are shoes designed specifically for running off-road – from forests, bridleways, beaches, to grassy fields. They’re usually lightweight but still offer decent traction and durability compared to regular running shoes. 
Hiking shoes are similar to hiking boots but have a lower cut that closer resembles a sneaker. They usually have thick lugs and a rubber sole to offer excellent traction, as well as durable and breathable Gore-Tex protection. 

Are hiking shoes worth it?

You should definitely wear shoes specifically designed for hiking when exploring the great outdoors. These hiking shoes offer greater traction and durability and usually have built-in cushioning and stability features, too. 
They’re also far more durable as they’re designed to last longer (about 800 to 1000 miles or 1 to 3 years for most folks) than a trail running shoe, which usually uses more lightweight materials. 
Hiking shoes are a little heavier because of the extra protection, however, many hikers opt for a shoe as they offer great durability, less weight than a hiking boot, and better protection than a trail runner. 

Are hiking shoes or hiking boots better?

It depends on what you’re hoping to get out of your shoes/boots, as both offer separate benefits. 
Hiking boots offer better ankle support and protection from the elements, and these are the two main reasons why hikers choose a boot over a shoe. They also provide better warmth and are likely to be more durable than shoes.
That said, the extra protection will also make them heavier than shoes, which means that they take more time to break in, and will also take longer to dry when wet.
Hiking shoes have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade, and they’re popular amongst casual hikers.
They offer a similar shape to a trail sneaker and boast out-of-the-box comfort, yet they still provide a rugged sole and waterproof protection but in a lighter design.
Thanks to their lighter weight, they’re nimble and quick-drying, however, they also offer very little ankle support and are naturally less protective than hiking boots. 
With this in mind, it’s worth considering where you will be hiking and how long you’ll be hiking for.
If you want shoes to wear on casual weekend hikes and camping trips, a pair of hiking shoes are a great choice.
If you’ll be walking for miles and want a shoe that will last for years to come – or if you’re going to be hiking on particularly uneven terrain and carrying a heavy load – consider hiking boots.


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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Sydney, Australia.

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