We have been testing hiking boots for a decade, with 80+ models bought and tested. This 2021 review analyzes 16 of the best models available. Our review team is a group of avid hikers, and they want to share their experiences with you. This team of alpine guides and backcountry enthusiasts spent months hiking through mountains, deserts, and forests, both on the trail and off, before scoring, ranking, and passing final judgment on all models we tested. The resulting review has in-depth details on specific performance areas, as well as recommendations for your hiking goals and budget.Related: Best Hiking Boots for Women of 2021
Best Hiking Boots for Men of 2021
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|Pros||Top-level hiking boot performance, excels in all metrics||Best choice for rock and snow travel, durable, breathes well||Amazing comfort, stable, great traction||Comfort of a trail runner with more support and stability, good all around performance, lightweight||Very durable, stable, great foot protection|
|Cons||Expensive, not as great for hot and dry climates||Wider fit, not the best lace locking system, price||Not as capable in off-trail terrain, rockered sole feels unnatural at first||Could be more breathable, not great traction on smooth rock||Heavy, diminished breathability|
|Bottom Line||This flagship hiking boot is our first recommendation for a hiking and backpacking boot, achieving remarkable performance in all terrain types and conditions||For hikers venturing off trail into rocky or snowy terrain, this boot offers stability and traction that no other boot does||The ultimate in comfort for on-trail enjoyment||A proven performer from short walks to intense thru-hikes, with shoe comfort in lightweight boot form||A modern take on a classic boot, with full grain leather and high top protection for hiking in all conditions|
|Rating Categories||Salomon Quest 4D GTX||Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX||HOKA ONE ONE Kaha GORE-TEX||Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX||Vasque St. Elias FG GTX|
|Water Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Salomon Quest 4D GTX||Scarpa Zodiac Plus...||HOKA ONE ONE Kaha...||Salomon X Ultra...||Vasque St. Elias...|
|Weight per Pair (Size 11)||2.9 lbs||2.65 lbs||2.45 lbs||2.28 lbs||3.26 lbs|
|Boot Type||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot||Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot|
|Width Options||Regular||Regular||Regular||Regular and Wide||Narrow, Regular, and Wide|
|Waterproof Lining||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex||Gore-Tex Performance Comfort|
|Upper||Leather, nylon||1.8mm Suede Perwanger||Leather||Waterproof PU coated leather||Nubuck leather|
|Last Board/Shank||4D Chassis||BZ last||None||Molded shank||TPU Shank|
|Midsole||EnergyCell||PU + 3D EVA-MP||EVA||Injected EVA||A.S.E. Midsole with EVA Cushioning Pods|
|Sole||Contragrip||Vibram Drumlin / Mont||Vibram MegaGrip||Non-marking ContaGrip||Vibram Frontier|
Best Overall Hiking Boots
Salomon Quest 4D GTX
The Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex is the real deal and we consider it to be the epitome of what a hiking boot should be. In this total package, you are treated with cushioned comfort, excellent stability, and the best waterproof credentials in the business. This boot is for hikers who want to do long and demanding backpacking trips in difficult terrain, carrying heavier packs, or both. With the tallest ankle cuff height of any boot in our review and an innovative support structure, we feel these are the most stable backpacking boots out there, and that height also gives them an advantage in water resistance.
We wholeheartedly recommend this boot as the best overall option if you want the ultimate in performance. It excels on long hikes thanks to a customizable fit that adapts to the shape of your foot, it has the support you need when carrying an overnight backpacking kit, and its traction ensures that you won't be caught slipping. It weighs more than many in this review, though that weight is worth such a performance upgrade in our opinion. The only aspect where this boot doesn't excel is dumping heat and excess perspiration on hikes in hot and arid climates. We have been thoroughly impressed with previous iterations of this boot, and we can confidently say that Salomon has once again created a world-class hiker in the Quest 4 Gore-Tex.
Read review: Salomon Quest 4D GTX
Best Bang for the Buck
Keen Targhee II Mid
You do not always have to spend a lot of money to find a great pair of hiking boots, and we feel the Keen Targhee II Mid is a perfect pair of budget-friendly, waterproof boots. These durable leather boots are a great choice for those getting into hiking, as they are comfortable, are supportive enough for day hikes and overnight treks alike, and they should last you a long time. Even if you are an experienced hiker, these boots offer a lot of value. They are roomy, making them a solid option if you have wide feet or like to double up on socks.
There are obviously going to be boots that do better at specific tasks, such as being supportive when traveling with a really heavy pack, or for keeping water out during deep stream crossings, but this all-arounder is perfectly capable in most situations. Not too high and not too low, the mid-cut Targhee II Mid supports the ankle but still allows for plenty of movement, giving it a lot of hiking versatility no matter what trails you have your eyes set on.
Read review: Keen Targhee II Mid
Best for Lightweight Hiking
Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX
We don't always need a big, beefy boot made of full-grain leather to take out on a hike. For day hikes and light backpacking trips where added support is beneficial but not as critical as comfort and weight, then look to the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX boot. It is a taller version of the venerable hiking shoe of the same name and maintains its trail-ready performance with some added ankle protection. While there are lighter boots in our review, they did not provide as much well-rounded capability and are mostly suited to on-trail adventures, while the X Ultra 3 Mid has better traction, is more supportive, and is more durable.
This is a great boot for the value it provides. It did well in all of our testing criteria and did not have any major downsides. We feel that in loose terrain, it did not do as well as some of its competition, but for lighter-duty hiking use, which is what most of us likely do, this boot gives phenomenal value for money and is a great choice for long-distance hikes as well as for local walks around the park.
Read the review: Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX
HOKA ONE ONE Kaha GORE-TEX
Hoka One One is best known for its running shoes, but they have quickly become one of the favorite brands for those looking for supreme comfort in their hiking shoes and boots. The Sky Kaha GTX is a high-top boot that feels much lighter than its looks let on. With a rockered sole that uses an almost comical amount of midsole construction, these boots are the most comfortable underfoot that we tested. The high ankle coverage protects from accidentally rolled ankles, and the inner Gore-Tex membrane makes these boots full waterproof.
Even though it is a tall boot, we recommend it mostly for on-trail or light off-trail usage. It is softer than other competitors and does not have as much stability on uneven ground. We also felt that the thickness and extra width of the sole was a distraction in more complex terrain, especially when down-climbing. This boot is best for pounding out the miles on trails, not for scrambling up and down peaks.
Read the review: Hoka One One Kaha Gore-Tex
Best for Scrambling
Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is a pared-down mountain boot, making it an optimal choice for off-trail travel, mountain scrambling, and carrying heavy loads. It has excellent stability, giving you the confidence to edge or smear up the steepest terrain you might encounter on a challenging cross-country hike. The Vibram sole is sticky while staying durable, and the full-grain leather upper will take a lot of abuse before they start showing signs of wear.
This is not the most comfortable boot in our review, due to the rigidity of the midsole. It has a rockered sole, which will make it walk better than the average mountain boot, but it will not be as soft a ride as can be found in less stiff boots. You should check this out if you are into off-trail travel, carrying overnight packs, and scrambling up 3rd and 4th class terrain.
Read the review: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel of testers is led by Ryan Huetter, a full-time AMGA/IFMGA certified mountain guide with a bachelor's degree in Outdoor Adventure Management. Ryan uses hiking boots extensively, which are a crucial professional tool, hitting the trail almost daily and logging thousands of trail miles in the last ten years. He is joined by Ross Robinson, who has hiked and backpacked the world for over a decade. He has lived and backpacked in Thailand, Peru, and Germany, with at least 500 miles hiked in each country. Ross is a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab, and led our hiking boot and hiking shoe testing from 2014-2017. Since 2014 Ross has personally tested more than 50 boots and shoes over 1000 trail miles.
Our testing took place in some of the most rugged and iconic mountain ranges in the country, including the High Sierra, the Cascade Range, volcanoes and deserts of southern Peru, and the desert country around Moab. The review draws on 20 hours of research followed by months of testing and 350 miles of collective hiking, as well as specific tests. For example, the score in the Traction metric combines our experience hiking in each boot for up to 20 miles, as well as an average of each product's scores on specific dry rock, wet rock, scree, mud, and scrambling tests.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Boots
Analysis and Test Results
We believe that all good hiking boots can be effectively assessed using six key traits. We developed a scoring system based on weighted metrics that we use to objectively rate each boot. After spending countless hours hiking in each model, taking diligent notes about their performance, we tally up the scores to give you a clear understanding of how each model did. Boots that score well across all metrics are given top awards, while others may do admirably in one or two categories and are awarded for their specialized performance.
Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Boots
Value is an important aspect to consider, as you want to get the best boot that will suit your needs for the lowest price. We think of value in terms of how much performance you get for each dollar spent. There are some very competitively-priced boots in our review, and we give them accolades for bringing great comfort and even waterproofness. We find that as price increases, the best gains come in the stability and durability metrics. You'll pay more for high-quality materials that are well crafted and these boots usually last longer. You can get a good boot that will provide stability for a reasonable price, but we found the most expensive boots in our review to also be the best at tackling rough off-trail especially with lots of weight in the pack. We found the Scarpa Zodiac GTX to be both quite expensive as well as perfectly suited to cross-country hiking and peak-bagging, and the Keen Targhee II to deliver solid all-around performance without excelling at any one thing in particular for a very reasonable price.
The single most important factor when deciding on a hiking boot is comfort. Gone are the days of painfully breaking in heavy leather boots. With many more synthetic materials being utilized today, hikers can choose from a wider range of boots that have much better comfort in the uppers as well as underfoot with more cushioned midsoles. With an ever-growing number of hikers questing on many of our nation's popular thru-hikes, a comfy pair of boots is the first step in preparing for such an endeavor. The Hoka Kaha GTX defines initial comfort. The Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX is comfortable for a midweight boot and feels great from day one, requiring no break-in period. The lightest models, such as the Hoka Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX, are unbelievably comfortable while on firm trails and paved paths. However, the weight savings derived from a thinner sole means that foot comfort is compromised while on uneven and rocky terrain.
How the foot feels in the footbed
How does it feel when laced up and standing? Are there any pressure points when laced, and how large is the toe box? Does your foot feel it when you step on that pointy rock on the trail? After several hours of hiking, which models still made our feet feel great? The X Ultra Mid 3 and Moab Ventilator 2 are among the most comfortable straight from the box, while the Kaha GTX is off the charts in this aspect. The Quest 4 did the best job keeping our feet happy after many miles and hours with a moderate pack.
How the ankle collar feels, and how the lacing system works
We noted the number and type of lacing eyelets, how the heel box holds the back of the foot, and whether there's any slippage. The Salomon model featured our favorite lacing systems. The fit and construction of the ankle collar are super important when logging many miles or traveling steep grades. The Targhee II and Moab Ventilator 2 have shorter cuts that deliver minimal ankle stability but are quite comfortable.
How well the boot breathes, keeping you cool and dry
Blisters form due to heat and friction, and damp skin has lots of friction. Hikers have developed many tricks and techniques to keep blisters at bay, including Mole Skin, duct tape, foot powder, and other black magic. Our perspective? Choose a boot with better breathability. Wearing boots with a waterproof/breathable membrane always limits the ventilation ability of the footwear.
The biggest reason to wear a hiking boot rather than a trail runner or a hiking shoe is for increased stability. The higher the ankle is cut, the more resistance the boot will provide to rolling ankles. These boots also have thicker and more supportive soles, giving added protection against sharp rocks, a notable weakness in a lighter shoe. Looking at stability, our review team considers torsional stability in the sole, height, and security of the ankle cuff, width of the sole, and stiffness below the footbed to determine the rating for this metric. This review covers boots that barely rise above the ankle to much taller ones that provide unparalleled ankle support. Your needs may not require the full-on stability of a high-top model, and a mid-cut boot may give a better blend of flexibility, mobility, and support.
Also, consider that for many of the lighter weight models, such as the Hoka One One Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX, the stability of the boot relies upon the compression gained from a sound lacing system. Soft and supple materials that do not have much structural integrity on their own become more rigid and supportive when wrapped tight around the ankle while other boots like the Lowa Renegade have thick leather that offers much more structural support. For those who are experiencing the aches and pains of life on the trail, such as those hiking in retirement, stability will be an essential asset.
In addition to the many miles we hiked, we took a couple of measurements to quantify how well each product supports the ankle and resists lateral rolling. First, we measured the height of the ankle collar from the footbed to its tallest point of the instep. The Quest 4 has one of the tallest ankle collars at 6.5 inches. We also measured the width of the sole at the forefoot. A wide forefoot provides a more stable platform and resists rolling.
Finally, we grabbed the sole by the heel and toe and twisting side to side to get an idea of its torsional stability, which is the boot's ability to resist twisting of the sole on uneven surfaces. Better torsional stability translates to less foot-fatigue on rough terrain, especially when carrying a load. Overall, we awarded the Salomon Quest 4 a top score in this metric. It ticked all the boxes (tall ankle collar, wide forefoot, torsional rigidity) in the lab and gave us tons of confidence to speed through rough terrain. The Lowa Renegade also received accolades in this metric, which comes as no surprise with a plastic/urethane shank, as these mid and heavyweight models focus on stability and support. Also notable is the Scarpa Zodiac Plus.
Traction is one of the most important aspects of a hiking boot, but there is a lot that goes into determining what qualifies as good traction. There are a few things to consider regarding a boot's ability to keep from slipping. The amount of stiffness that a boot offers, usually in the form of a shank, gives it more purchase when you can only get the toe of your foot onto an edge, or if you need to kick steps up loose scree or snow. Secondly, the type of rubber compound used will impact how well the soles grip. Softer rubber will smear and deform against a smooth slab of granite, though this softer rubber will suffer longer-term durability issues. Harder rubber won't smear nearly as well, though it will give more bite into soft slopes and resist wear. Lastly, we consider the tread shape and patterning. Shallow lugs, the "teeth" on the bottom of the sole, will give more surface area contact and engage better with smooth terrain, while deeper and more spread out lugs will grip better in mud and snow, making them better for off-trail use.
During our backcountry exploits, in a wide variety of terrain types, we were able to test for traction on wet and dry trails, damp and dry rock, snow, and mud. It should come as no surprise that the models made by the companies that are known for their quality rock climbing footwear rose to the top in regards to traction. The Scarpa Zodiac Plus came in at the top of the pack in this category, though the La Sportiva Trango Tech GTX is nearly as capable and flexes slightly better in the forefoot, making it the better choice for smearing on rock slabs. The La Sportiva TXS GTX is another good option and might be an attractive middle-ground between comfort and traction. It blends some of the qualities found in these other climbing-oriented boots but makes them more approachable to the average hiker.
Moving on to loose terrain, we tested these boots in off-trail travel on High Sierra backpacking routes and alpine climbing approaches and descents. In the looser ground, we found a narrower midsole offered better edging performance, rolling over less when plowing through scree and hopping over talus. Our favorite pair to take into the boulder fields and scree slopes were the Scarpa Zodiac Plus boots, with their blend of stiffness and a nimble sole. It is perhaps the best boot in this review for technical rock climbing, with a sticky climbing zone in the toe and a sole that ascends steep rock with ease.
With a deep snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, we had lots of opportunities to test these boots in snow and mud. The best performers had stiffer soles for edging, and serrated lugs to kick steps in mature summer snow, and that indeed dislodged mud. The Quest 4 was a favorite of testers, followed by the Scarpa Zodiac Plus.
While these are different traction scenarios, we assigned all the products an overall traction score. We discuss how each one performed during the traction tests, as some sole types were high performers in certain terrain types but did not compete as well in a range of environments. We weighted traction 15% of the total score.
Weight is a factor consider when choosing a hiking boot, as it translates directly into efficiency. It is going to be more efficient over the course of a hike, which for day-hikes has been estimated at between 6,300 and 10,500 steps on average, to lift less weight with each step. That makes intuitive sense, though there is a limit to the amount of weight savings a boot can have before there is a decrease in stability and performance on more aggressive terrain. We give 15% of our total scoring to weight, and in doing so recognize that it is important, though should not be the single determining factor in choosing a boot.
The Hoka One One Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX is the lightest product we tested at 1.74 pounds (US men's size 11), a weight that was unheard just a few years ago in this category. While the Salomon X Ultra weighs more than both of these models, it is much more capable as an all-around boot, from day-hikes to thru-hikes. It did exceptionally well in all of our metrics even though it was bested in the weight metric by a few others. With most other models falling just shy of three pounds per pair, these lightweight hikers are quite exceptional when the terrain does not demand as much stability and support.
Those with more backpacking experience and robust ankles can often get away with a lighter weight hiking boot, provided that they are not carrying loads more than about 30 pounds. For beginner and intermediate backpackers, and especially those hauling considerable weight, burlier mid and high-top boots are going to be the safest option. We awarded 15% of the total score to weight.
We all want dry feet when hiking. Dry feet are key to avoiding blisters and staying warm when hiking in the cold and wet. And wet feet are far from comfortable. Almost all of our test models feature some waterproof/breathable fabric membrane, except for the Merrell Moab Ventilator, which we chose to test for use in hot and dry climates. Most models use a Gore-Tex brand membrane, while Keen uses a proprietary Keen.Dry membrane.
First, we measured what we call the "flood level" of each product. A typical design feature of hiking boots is a gusseted tongue. Not only do the gussets keep rocks and debris from entering the shoe, but the waterproof membrane also extends through this gusset. We measured the depth of water one wades into with each boot before it floods in over the top. The Quest 4 Gore-Tex comes in with a height of 6 inches.
Second, we took each boot through the stream test. Fording streams is a better test than standing around in the water, which is a task a rain boot would be better suited for. The apparent lack of waterproofness in the Moab Ventilator took it out of contention in this metric, and others had varying degrees of performance. Most impressive were the Salomon Quest 4 and the Lowa Renegade.
No waterproof membrane that is used to protect the foot can withstand continuous exposure to water, and all will eventually wet out, so we also considered the ability of the boot to dry out once fully inundated. The best performer here was the Hoka Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX, with its heavy use of nylon mesh in the outer, it dried out in an impressive 30 minutes after being sopping wet.
No boot will last forever, especially with heavy use. Synthetic fibers will fray and begin to wick moisture, soles will delaminate and wear thin, and the boot will lose structure and become soft. That is the trade-off for getting to wear boots that are made of modern materials. Many hikers praise their boots purchased decades ago that have endured 20 years while failing to mention that the pair weighs four or five lbs and may have cost a small fortune.
We were happy to find that all of the models in this review held up well through the months-long testing period. No boot suffered damage to the point of losing function. That said, we expect any hiking boot within the price range of these models to last a couple of seasons of on and off use. Materials used vary from mesh to full-grain leather, and we found that the less reliant on synthetic materials a boot is, such as the Vasque St. Elias FG GTX, the better it would perform when pitted against rough wear. Throughout our hiking experience, we consistently find that the lighter-weight boots, utilizing lightweight materials, often begin breaking down ahead of the heavier-duty models we have tested. It's a general rule, but one worth considering when looking into long-term value.
No boot is immune to damage, but we rated the St. Elias and Zodiac as the boots that stood out as the most durable pieces we reviewed thanks to their reliance on thick, durable leather outers rather than flimsy synthetic materials. The Merrell Ventilator boots scored the lowest scores in this category. We assigned durability 10% of the total score, admitting that a season of testing is a short amount of time to flush out the exact differences in longevity.
If you want to get out and go hiking, footwear choice is one of the most important decisions that you can make. While many are trending towards lighter shoes that eschew stability and comfort for dramatic weight savings, this can harm how much you enjoy your trip. Lightweight backpacking has its place, but if you are new to hiking or plan on carrying big packs then you should consider the benefits of a solid pair of sturdy hiking boots. Offering additional support that the lower-cut models simply cannot, investing in a good pair of boots means insuring your trip against pain and discomfort, fatigued feet, and rolled ankles.
— Ryan Huetter and Ross Robinson