It’s time to pick your most important hiking partner: your boots. With the right pair of kicks, not only will your heels remain blissfully blister-free, but you’ll likely feel more confident stepping on any trail with loads big or small.
These seven pairs of boots are our team’s favorites, ones that we’d wholeheartedly recommend to our friends, family and you. They boast supreme comfort, traction, stability and fit to help you get out—and stay out—even longer.
Most Comfortable Boot
Weight (pair): 2 lbs. 11 oz. (men’s 9)
It’s a magical trifecta: great traction, beefy support and low weight. The recently launched Breeze AT GTX from Vasque has a running shoe-like midsole (made of ethyl vinyl acetate, also known as EVA foam) that’s been rubberized for more durability. The result is a cushy, lightweight ride that won’t break down after a few hundred miles. The Breeze AT has a hard TPU shank the runs the length of the shoe, making it rigid enough to support you under heavy backpacking loads.
An over-the-ankle cuff and leather upper shed debris easily, and the GORE-TEX® membrane seals out water on wet trails. (Sorry to folks in dryer climes: There’s no version without GORE®.) The Breeze uses the Contact Grip outsole from Vibram®, one of the brand’s stickiest, to provide traction good enough for grit, gravel and slick slopes. Buy here.
Best Boot for Heavy Loads
Weight (pair): 3 lbs. 6.5 oz. (men’s 9)
For the serious backcountry hikers, child carriers and veritable pack mules among us, the waterproof Lowa Camino is our pick. A firm polyurethane (PU) midsole is ultrasupportive and should last season after season of heavy-duty hiking (if you correctly care for your boots), and a nylon stabilizer adds enough rigidity to haul 50-pound packs.
Beyond that, the Camino has every feature you might want in a workhorse backpacking boot: durable leather upper, over-the-ankle cuff and a sticky Vibram® Apptrail outsole. (Nice touch: The Apptrail outsole has a “self-cleaning” lug design, which naturally flushes out muck, so you won’t be wearing mud high heels on sloppy trails.) We recommend breaking in these boots before hitting the trail on an overnight excursion; they’re stiff out of the box. Buy here.
Best Women-Specific Boot
Weight (pair): 1 lb. 7.3 oz. (women’s 7)
Kudos to overdue engineering: Salomon designed the Vaya for women specifically, so women who’ve experienced fit issues in the past might find a sweet reprieve with this mid-cut boot. A soft ankle collar and two stretch panels along the top of the boot accommodate a higher instep and dorsal, typical of women’s feet. Plus, a narrower heel cup cradles most women’s feet better than a boot designed on a men’s last. The Vaya also has a wider-than-average toe box—because all hikers are susceptible to sausage toes after long trail days.
Fit wasn’t the only standout our women staffers applauded; they liked the snazzy synthetic upper, too. In theory, it isn’t as durable as leather (though ours haven’t shown any signs of fraying or failing), but it’s thinner and more breathable. Even with the waterproof GORE-TEX® membrane, the Vaya Mid kept our feet relatively comfortable on scorchers. Best part? The Vaya is the most affordable boot in the lineup. Note: The Vaya is also available in a waterproof low version and a non-waterproof low version. Buy the Mid GTX here.
Best Boot for Fastpacking
Weight (pair): 1 lb. 10.5 oz. (men’s 9)
If your favorite maximalist trail running shoe had ankle support it’d probably look a lot like the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX. And that formula should be just about perfect for hikers looking to go far and fast. The lightest boot in our roundup, the fleet-footed Speedgoat Mid 2 GTX uses HOKA’s iconic marshmallow stack height with a glorious 32mm of cushion under the heel (the women’s version has 30mm) and a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. That’s a recipe for comfort; this boot should protect your tootsies from rocks and roots, allowing you to look up from your feet and check out the scenery.
Unlike the original Speedgoat Mid, which is more of high-collared trail runner, the 2 is decidedly in the hiking boot category. It’s stiffer and a hair heavier than its predecessor, and it’s far more supportive than your typical trail-running shoes. Paired with the high ankle collar, it should support you comfortably beneath loads of 30 or so pounds. The GORE-TEX® membrane makes it waterproof. Buy here.
Best Boot Technology
Weight (pair): 2 lbs. 2 oz. (men’s 9 or EU 42)
For as good as waterproof boots are at sealing out moisture, they tend to be about as bad at letting it escape. That’s not great news for folks with sweaty feet. Enter GORE-TEX® SURROUND®, a tried-and-true tech that lets sweat vapor escape through the sides and bottom of the boot when a spacer in the midsole is compressed. (It first debuted in 2015.) With the Nucleo High GTX from La Sportiva, you can see where the tech works in the clever holey side paneling. When you step down, sweat vapor vents through the spacer and out the sides, leaving you with dryer feet and (hopefully) fewer blisters.
Still, the GORE-TEX® itself prevents any moisture from leaking inside, while the nubuck leather upper provides enough durability and protection for rough-and-tumble terrain. The EVA midsole makes for a comfy ride, but if you’re planning on hauling epic loads, look for a boot with more support. Buy here.
Best Boot for Weekend Warriors
Weight (pair): 2 lbs. 6 oz. (men’s 9)
Alternative name: Best Bang for Your Buck. The Oboz Bridger Mid is your average brown leather boot at a moderate price. The nubuck leather upper is durable; a thermoplastic urethane (TPU) plate in the forefoot and a nylon shank provide oodles of protection; a mid-low ankle cuff is supportive enough for light backpacking; and the brand’s proprietary waterproof membrane, BDry, keeps water out. The midsole is made of bouncy EVA, and the outsole turns up at the toe (called “rocker” in boot-speak), making the Bridger Mid comfy enough for big-mile days and hikers unaccustomed to backpacking boots.
There are a few trade-offs, though. First, the Bridger Mids require some break-in time, so definitely tromp around your house before hitting the trail. Second, though the proprietary rubber outsole sticks like glue on the uphills, it falters a bit on downhills (the Bridger Mids lack a heel brake). Buy here.
Best Boot for Finnicky Feet
Weight (pair): 2 lbs. 5 oz. (men’s 9)
Feet are like fingerprints: totally unique. That makes hikers justifiably picky when it comes to their boot preferences. If you’re reading this and know that’s you—blister-prone, footsore and not happy about it—take a flyer on the customizable Tecnica Forge GTX. The secret: Tecnica’s Custom Adapted Shape (C.A.S.) uppers and footbeds are made from heat-moldable material that you can bake and mold like a ski boot. (C.A.S. molding is available in select REI stores, including Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Washington, D.C., and a handful of others. Call ahead to check if your local store heat molds.)
Even if you can’t get into stores for a heat-mold fit right now, though, the Forge is worth the investment for folks with fit issues. It’s built on an anatomical (foot-shaped) last for out-of-the-box comfort that you can always bake later. The Forge has a Vibram® Megagrip outsole that chews up trails and a TPU shank for enough stiffness to support heavy loads on long-haul days. Note: The Tecnica C.A.S. technology is also available in a low-cut hiker. Buy the Forge GTX here.
There are a few important components to consider when you’re buying a boot. You’ll want to know what the uppers, midsoles and outsoles are made of before you choose your pair.
Hiking Boot Uppers
A boot is typically constructed with synthetic or leather materials. Synthetic materials like polyester or nylon breathe well and weigh less, but they don’t have the same longevity as leather. On the other hand, many backpacking boots still use leather (often nubuck) for added durability and support. Leather also tends to mold to your foot after long-term use, giving you a sort of customized foot.
The upper itself isn’t what’s waterproof. If a boot is waterproof, it either has a sock-like waterproof bootie inside or, more likely, an invisible-to-you waterproof membrane or liner beneath the upper. That additional layer makes a boot significantly less breathable (and more expensive), so it may be unnecessary if you don’t hike in wet climates or plan to push your boots into winter use.
Hiking Boot Midsoles
Between a boot’s insole and outsole is—you guessed it—a midsole. The midsole provides cushioning and support and absorbs shock. It’s typically constructed of one of two materials: EVA or PU. EVA is a softer foam, so it feels comfy underfoot. That softness, though, means it doesn’t have the same durability as a firmer material. PU is less comfortable out of the box, but provides more support and rebound under heavy loads and lasts longer over time.
If a boot has a shank or rock plate, that rigid piece of plastic sits underneath the midsole. These plates will make a boot stiffer, both heel to toe and side to side. A stiff boot like this tends to be best for mountainous or steep terrain, where you can save energy by not overflexing your boot. This additional layer may also be strategically placed under the ball of your foot to protect from rock bruising.
Hiking Boot Outsoles
Whether you’re hiking across streams, up scree-covered slopes or through flower-filled meadows, you want to stay on your feet. You stay on your feet thanks to your rubber outsole. Traction comes from your outsole’s lugs—those oddly shaped bumps on the bottom of your boots. Deep, angular lugs (4mm or more) tend to offer the best grip while shedding debris. A “heel brake” is either an extension on the back end of the outsole or an area on the heel where the lugs are more pronounced—it gives you more control when heel-stepping and reduces your chances of sliding on descents.
Softer rubber is stickier, while harder rubber has a longer life span. Climbing shoes often use the softest rubbers, but those won’t hold up trail after mud-caked trail. That’s why most hiking boots use a medium-sticky rubber compound, whether from Vibram® or proprietary like Oboz and Salomon.
REI Co-op’s editorial staff and crew of member-testers have a lot of opinions when it comes to gear, so we polled them: What are the best hiking boots that you can find at REI? They reported back with dozens of makes and models (and a few tales of twisted ankles and subcutaneous blisters). Some shoes received multiple nods and rave recommendations—these seven hiking boots are just those.
Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. Her organization WildKind educates and empowers families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Things she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008.