Keeping your feet protected on a long hike is essential to reaching the scenic views that await you. But keeping pain out of your feet from rocks and extended walking doesn’t mean you have to wear boots of steel. Modern lightweight hiking shoes are combining protection with comfort, reducing the effort of every step you take while simultaneously cushioning your feet and keeping them warm and dry in any weather.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of weight when it comes to hiking shoes. An extra pound on your feet isn’t like an extra pound in your backpack – your feet travel much further up and down every time you take a step. By opting for a lightweight hiking shoe, you can dramatically reduce fatigue in your legs over the course of a long day on the trail.
Most hiking shoe manufacturers offer one or more styles of lightweight hikers, which can make it hard to find the best shoe for your travels. To make it easier, we’ll help you understand what to look for when choosing a lightweight hiking shoe and highlight eight of the best lightweight hiking shoes of 2019.
How To Choose The Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes
Why Go Lightweight?
With all the mid-weight and heavyweight hiking boot options available to trail enthusiasts, why opt for a lightweight set of hiking shoes? Lightweight hiking shoes have advantages and disadvantages compared to their heavier counterparts, so it’s important to understand what they are designed for.
Lightweight hiking shoes are, as their name implies, light. Since you lift your feet quite a bit every time you take a step, reducing the weight of your shoes by even a small amount can make a significant difference in the speed at which you can walk and how tired you feel after a certain number of miles. This is a huge advantage if you are out for a long day hike and trying to move quickly over a trail or through difficult mountain terrain. The heavier your hiking shoes are, the more slowly you’ll move – potentially forcing you to split your trip into multiple days or to find a different hiking objective.
That said, keep in mind that lightweight hiking shoes typically aren’t as burly as mid-weight and heavyweight hiking shoes and boots. They don’t necessarily sacrifice protection underfoot – most lightweight hiking shoes are reinforced in many of the same ways as heavier hiking boots – but they aren’t as durable against sharp rocks and other abrasions. In addition, lightweight hiking shoes often don’t offer support for carrying a heavy load on your back, and many models are cut low enough that they don’t offer protection for your ankles.
With those drawbacks in mind, lightweight hiking shoes are typically best for day hikers over any terrain and backpackers who want to move quickly with a relatively light load over easy to moderate terrain.
The cut of a hiking shoe describes how far the top of the shoe extends up your leg. Lightweight hiking shoes are generally low-cut – ending at the ankle – in contrast to mid-cut hiking boots that end just above the ankle.
Cut is important because it affects how much protection your ankles will be afforded by the shoe. If you have a low-cut hiking shoe and you roll your ankle while stepping on a loose rock, for example, the neck of the shoe may not prevent your ankle from twisting overly much. This is why hiking shoes are best for day hikes with relatively lightweight packs and walking over even terrain.
Of course, the advantage to low-cut hiking shoes is that with less shoes material there is also less weight.
Choosing the Right Pair of Hiking Shoes
Choosing the right set of lightweight hiking shoes is often a big decision – after all, you’ll be relying on your hiking shoes in the wilderness, potentially many miles from the nearest road or cell service. With those stakes, it’s important not only to get a pair of hiking shoes that’s comfortable, but also a pair that you can trust to protect your feet and ankles from injury. Plus, your hiking shoes should enable you to hike further, so you can explore more and always know that you’ll have energy to hike back to your car.
With those considerations in mind, there are a few important qualities to think about when choosing a pair of lightweight hiking shoes.
Midsoles and Internal Support
The midsole is the part of the shoe that sits underneath your foot and is responsible for protecting it from painful pressure from uneven ground and rocks underfoot. Typically, there are two types of midsole materials that lightweight hiking shoes use:
- EVA foam is cushioning and lightweight. Hiking shoes that use EVA foam midsoles are less stiff and more comfortable, but they provide less protection from pressure over the course of long hikes and when you are wearing a heavy backpack.
- Polyurethane is stiffer and heavier, so it’s less common in lightweight hiking shoes and more common in mid-weight and heavyweight hiking boots. That said, polyurethane can be helpful for backpacking since your feet won’t feel pressure from the ground quite as much.
In addition to the midsole, some lightweight hiking shoes include an extra internal support material like a shank or plate. These are essentially stiff inserts that sit below the midsole to provide extra protection from rocks and pressure points as you walk. Keep in mind that while shanks and plates can be great for comfort during an all-day hike, they do add weight to your shoe.
Waterproofing is increasingly common on lightweight hiking shoes – and it can be important if you don’t plan to let a little rain stop you from getting out for a hike. Most lightweight hiking shoes that are described as waterproof use a membrane such as Gore-Tex or eVent, both of which are designed to be highly breathable so that your feet don’t sweat inside your shoes.
That said, these waterproof membranes are less breathable than a simple mesh upper material and add to the cost of your hiking shoes. So, if you only plan to hike on dry days, you may be better off with a hiking shoe that isn’t waterproof.
Finding the Right Fit
Finding the right fit is just as important, if not more so, than deciding on all the features you want in a lightweight hiking shoe. Every manufacturer uses a different model foot, so the same size of shoe from multiple manufacturers may feel very different on your feet. Finding a manufacturer whose model feet fits your own is especially important if you have wide or narrow feet – and if you know a specific company’s shoes are comfortable for your feet, it may be worth sticking with that company.
When trying on shoes, there are a couple tricks you can use to help you get the right size and fit. First, try on boots at the end of the day, since your feet generally swell up after you’ve been walking around for a few hours. Second, wear the same socks you will wear to actually hike in the shoes, and add orthotic insoles to the shoes if you plan to use them while hiking. Finally, try lacing the shoes tighter in some places and looser in others to address empty spaces and pressure points.
Our Reviews 2020: The 4 Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes for Men
1. Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Vent – Best for Hot Weather Hikes
This breathable hiker from Merrell is designed to keep your feet cool on hot summer hikes. The performance suede leather upper is mixed with mesh to allow the shoe to ventilate freely, which makes a huge difference when the temperature spikes. However, keep in mind that the mesh isn’t waterproof, so these shoes can suffer on rainy days.
One of the major advantages of this shoe is that the sole is constructed from Vibram TC5+ sticky rubber. This material is not only highly durable, but offers incredible traction for scrambling around on rocks. A rubber rand on the toe box protects your feet as well as increases the durability of the shoe.
The footbed of this shoe is highly supportive thanks to Merrell’s M Select FIT.ECO+ blended EVA foam, which offers exceptional arch and heel support. In addition, Merrell built this shoe with an air cushion in the heel to help absorb shock during long descents, while allows you to hike more comfortably during long days in these shoes.
- Breathable mesh upper
- Vibram TC5+ sticky rubber sole
- Arch and hell support in midsole
- Air cushion in heel for shock absorption
- Not waterproof
2. Vasque Men’s Juxt – Best Approach Shoe
The Juxt multi-sport shoe from Vasque is as at home on trails as it is scrambling over boulders. Designed as a high-performance approach shoe, this hiker features Vasque’s unique off the grid sole. That includes of broad center lugs and small angular lugs around the edges of the shoe, giving you increased traction on everything from slickrock to mud.
The shoe’s EVA midsole improves stability on scrambles thanks to a plastic heel and arch stabilizer. That’s a major advantage when carrying a heavier pack, since the shoe does a lot of the work of keeping your ankle aligned over your heel.
The suede leather upper offers a nice mix of breathability and water resistance, although this shoe isn’t coated to provide serious waterproofing. In addition, the lace-to-toe closure system allows you to perfectly dial in the fit of this shoe all the way to the toe box. Still, bear in mind that it can be hard to lock your heel down in the rear pocket with this closure system.
- Off the grid sole provides excellent traction
- Heel and arch stabilizer in midsole
- Breathable suede leather upper
- Lace-to-toe closure system
- Not waterproof
- Hard to secure heel in place
3. Columbia Men’s Redmond – Best Waterproof Hiking Shoe
The Redmond is an updated version of Columbia’s most popular hiking shoe. This hiker is fully waterproof thanks to Columbia’s Omni-Tech membrane technology, which allows sweat to escape easily without allowing water in even during creek crossings.
The upper is made from a mix of leather, mesh, and webbing, all of which combines to make this shoe surprisingly breathable. However, the upper can lack durability, especially around the edges, if you are frequently scrambling with these shoes.
This shoe also features highly responsive cushioning thanks to the addition of Columbia’s proprietary Techlite material. That ensures that with every step, impact is distributed throughout the shoe rather than traveling directly up your heel and into your leg.
Traction is another plus for these shoes. The Omni-Grip sole features a dual-zone winter tread pattern, allowing you to be as sure-footed on snow and ice as you are on hardpacked trails.
- Waterproof with Omni-Tech membrane
- Excellent breathability
- Cushioning around heel
- Dual-zone winter tread pattern for traction on snow and ice
- Upper lacks durability
- Runs small
4. Keen Men’s Oakridge – Most Comfortable Hiking Shoe
Keen is routinely praised for having a foot last that actually matches the shape of real people’s feet, and the Oakridge shoe is no different. This shoe is exceptionally comfortable for hikers with average-width feet, including hikers with flat feet. The cushioning EVA midsole adds to that comfort and ensures that your feet will feel good all day while hiking.
Keen erred on the side of breathability with these shoes, constructing the upper almost entirely out of mesh. The manufacturer did add a hydrophobic coating to repel water, but don’t expect your feet to stay dry in these shoes in anything wetter than a slight drizzle.
That said, these shoes perform well on wet terrain thanks to Keen’s well-designed tread pattern. Broad central lugs allow you to grip loose dirt and mud easily, while lugs extending past the edges of the shoe are perfect for gaining traction well scrambling.
- Very comfortable fit for majority of people
- Excellent breathability thanks to mesh upper
- Well-designed tread pattern
- Not waterproof
Our Reviews 2020: The 4 Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes for Women
1. Merrell Women’s Siren Edge – Best Hiking Shoe for Minimizing Impact
These athletic hikers from Merrell are perfect for hikers who want the flexibility to jog easy parts of the trail, but need more protection and stability than most trail runners offer. Merrell’s springy shoe design takes advantage of an air cushion in the shoe’s heel, which distributes impact throughout the shoe to keep your legs from being worn down. This air cushion also allows you to rebound off the ground when running, which makes it feel more similar to a trail runner.
The other features that make this shoe as good for running as it is for hiking are the highly cushioned EVA midsole and molded nylon arch shank. The midsole is made from Merrell’s M Select FIT.ECO+ foam to help further distribute impact away from your legs. Meanwhile, the molded arch shank ensures that your foot maintains a proper curvature with every step.
The shoe’s upper is made entirely from mesh, which makes the Siren Edge highly breathable. Unfortunately, there is no waterproof coating, so a little rain or a creek crossing can leave your feet soaked. In addition, the traction pattern on the bottom of this shoe is not well designed for handling wet and slippery rock.
- Spring shoe design with heel air cushion
- EVA midsole distributes impact
- Molded arch shank
- Highly breathable mesh upper
- No waterproof coating
- Traction pad doesn’t perform well in wet conditions
2. KEEN Women’s Voyageur – Best Hiking Shoe for Descents
The Voyageur from KEEN is a capable all-around hiking shoe built to handle anything. The shoe offers exceptional durability thanks to its thick rubber sole, which extends forward to cover the toe box. The upper is made of leather and mesh, combined with a waterproof breathable membrane that keeps your feet dry in any weather.
The main advantage to these shoes is that KEEN built them with a massive toe box. While that may not be important on flat trails, when descending it can make the difference between smashing your toes into the front of the shoe with every step and walking comfortably. The accentuated arch in the shoe also goes a long way towards keeping your foot in place on uneven terrain.
While the Voyageur is typically high-quality, KEEN does appear to have some quality control issues with this shoe model. It is not uncommon to hear reports of beat-up looking shoes with mottled leather and worn out heel cups arriving in a new box.
- Excellent durability
- Waterproof and breathable upper
- Large toe box protects feet during descents
- Quality control issues
3. Teva Women’s Arrowood 2 – Lightest Hiking Shoe
This hiking shoe from Teva looks like it would be more at home on a safe city street than out in the wild, but the aesthetic exterior hides a durable and well-thought out construction. The upper is made entirely of leather, which provides excellent breathability and protection for your feet. While Teva describes the leather as waterproof, it is not coated and will begin to absorb water during particularly wet days on the trail.
What sets this shoe apart is weight. The Arrrowood 2 is one of the lightest hiking shoes on the market for women, weighing in at less than 12 ounces per pair. The secret is Teva’s Float-Lite midsole, which is extraordinarily lightweight while providing a spongy and cushioning feeling underfoot.
The only downside to this hiker is that the sole is made of a synthetic material rather than rubber. That means you won’t find the burly lugs that are common on other hiking shoes, and the Arrowood struggles with activities like scrambling and on snow or ice.
- Full water-resistant leather upper
- Extraordinarily lightweight
- Spongy and cushioning Float-Lite midsole
- Not fully waterproof
- Synthetic sole lacks lugs and traction
4. Salomon Women’s Speedcross 4 – Best Trail Running Shoe
This hybrid hiking shoe and trail runner from Salomon is designed for women who want to run the lower parts of trails before switching to hiking higher up. The aggressive rubber lugs on the sole of the shoe are designed to provide unmatched traction on soft, technical trails, making this the perfect shoe for forested hikes. While the lugs don’t provide enough traction on hard rock to be comfortable for running, they can easily handle scrambles when you slow down to a hiking pace.
The shoe is highly supportive thanks to Salomon’s molded EVA midsole and Ortholite footbed. The upper construction is feather light and water resistant, although you’ll need to be careful since it can be easily torn up by climbing through sharp rocks. It’s also worth noting that the sole is very flexible, which can be good or bad depending on how adjusted your feet are to feeling the trail beneath you.
A quicklace system allows this shoe to be precisely matched to your foot to get the most secure and comfortable fit. While the lacing is somewhat long for the shoe, it can be easily cut down to size as needed.
- Hybrid hiking shoe and trail runner
- Excellent traction on forest trails
- Supportive molded EVA midsole and Ortholite footbed
- Highly adjustable quicklace system
- Upper can be easily cut by sharp rocks
- Lugs are not designed for hard rock landscapes
Frequently Asked Questions
Finding the best pair of lightweight hiking shoes for your feet can enable you to hike further, faster, and more comfortably. These shoes are important for protecting your feet on any trails and in all conditions, which makes having the right pair of hiking shoes essential for safety in the outdoors as well. While choosing hiking shoes ultimately comes down to your comfort and hiking plans, our reviews of the eight best lightweight hiking shoes of 2019 make it easier to find hikers for your next adventure.