Quality hiking shoes are essential for outdoor enthusiasts, and my mission each year is to find the absolute best pair and share that information.
Every year at Dusty Hikers, I select several hiking shoes to test and then pick the best shoe in a comparative study based on such factors as Stability, Protection, Traction, and Comfort. I have hiked multiple times in each of these shoes on various trails in Italy. I also perform head-to-head testing on all five pairs.
For an independent, unbiased review of performance hiking shoes, read on.
To support my mission, consider using the links in this review to purchase your next pair of hiking shoes.
Overall Impressions and Test Results
◉ Best Overall Performance: Salomon X Ultra 4
◉ Best Protection on Trail and Best Traction: Adidas Terrex Swift R3
◉ Best Overall Comfort (My New Favorite Shoe): Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
◉ Best Walking Shoe: The NorthFace Vectiv Exploris
◉ Best Value: Merrell Moab 3
◉ Last Year’s Winner: Merrell Moab Speed
1. Best Overall Performance: Salomon X Ultra 4
- Weight US 12 Men: 14.81 ounces / 0.93 pounds / 419.9 grams
- Waterproof: No (GTX available)
- The Good: Very stable hiking platform for many hiking scenarios, including backpacking.
- The Bad: Less comfortable than some other shoes tested but still adequate.
For the previous two years of testing, a Merrell shoe beat all other shoes, while the Salomon shoes I tested did not work for me. This year I gave the Salomon X Ultra 4 a try and was pleasantly surprised to find that this popular hiking shoe beat the four other shoes in head-to-head comparisons. No wonder they are praised among hikers – Salomon created a nearly perfect hiking shoe.
The Salomon X Ultra 4 excelled in testing for stability, protection, and traction. It was not the most comfortable shoe I tested this year, but it is NOT uncomfortable. The uppers provide adequate cushion, and I found zero issues with the collar, as some others have in other reviews.
The footbed is adequate for cushion but not excellent. Otherwise, the fit will work for most hikers. The toebox and forefoot are roomier than the other Salomon shoes I tested in previous years, which was a significant improvement for me.
The bottom line, this shoe last is going to fit a lot of feet, and the Salomon X Ultra 4 will outperform many other hiking shoes on the trail. I cannot recommend these shoes enough to anyone serious about their hiking footwear! Full review with test data.
2. Best Protection/Traction: Adidas Terrex Swift R3
- Weight US 12 Men: 16.71 ounces / 1.04 pounds / 473.7 grams
- Waterproof: No (GTX available)
- The Good: Relatively comfortable shoes with excellent traction and protection.
- The Bad: They require more break-in time than any other shoes tested. They are heavier and not as refined as the Salomon X Ultra 4.
The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 scored very well in my head-to-head testing this year with five popular hiking shoes. I also tested this pair of shoes last year against four others, and they did well in that testing. No wonder these have a near cult-like following among people who go hiking or participate in sports such as frisbee golf or paintball.
The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 is a solid, beefy hiking shoe that will work for long hikes while carrying a moderate backpack. I would not characterize them as ‘Swift’ as their name suggests. They are not trail runner/hiker hybrid shoes.
They do require some break-in. When I tested them last year, I experienced some heal slip because of the rigid Continental outsoles. I don’t experience this now, and I never produced blisters from the heel slip.
The toe box is slightly pointed, which cramps my small toe on steep descents.
These are just nitpicky considerations. The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 holds its own against excellent hiking shoes from more established hiking footwear companies. I am excited to see what Adidas might bring in the future. Full review with test data.
3. Best Overall Comfort: Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX
- Weight US 12 Men: 18.55 ounces / 1.16 pounds / 525.9 grams
- Waterproof: Yes
- The Good: Approach/hiking shoe hybrid with Italian styling and an extremely comfortable fit.
- The Bad: Less stable than the Salomon X Ultra 4 or the Adidas Terrex Swift R3.
I just moved to Italy and was eager to include an Italian brand in my testing. Salewa is based in the alpine region of Italy that borders Austria. Of all five shoes I tested this year, I enjoyed walking and hiking in these the most. They are very comfortable hiking shoes.
Like all the other shoes I tested this year, except for perhaps the Merrell Moab 3, the Salewa Mountain Trainer Light GTX are excellent shoes and will work for enthusiasts or experienced hikers in various hiking scenarios, including backpacking.
I had to pick a winner, and I had to be as unbiased as I could. The Salomon X Ultra 4 is a more refined and complete hiking shoe, but it is also more expensive than the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite and not nearly as comfortable.
If you are tired of picking from the same brands yearly, I suggest trying Salewa. They are known for their alpine trekking footwear, and that culture comes through in these agile, comfy hikers. Full review with test data.
- Purchase the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite GTX (Men)
- Purchase the Salewa Mountain Trainer Lite (Women)
4. Best Walking Shoe: The NorthFace Vectiv Exploris Futurelight
- Weight US 12 Men: 15.76 ounces / 0.985 pounds / 446.8 grams
- Waterproof: Yes
- The Good: Excellent for walking over flat, even ground.
- The Bad: Not appropriate for scrambling over obstacles or backpacking because of lack of stability.
The NorthFace Vectiv Exploris Futurelight is unique among the shoes I tested this year because they have a rocker outsole. The rocker outsole has a convex shape that becomes thickest in the middle of your foot.
This platform is great for walking long distances on relatively even ground. While testing these on trails in Tuscany, I found them less stable than all four other shoes I tested this year. It may be that hiking with rocker outsoles requires some practice, but I felt I was too prone to turning my ankle on uneven or rocky terrain.
I want to stress how comfortable these are for walking. I have the dark gray and black version of these shoes, and I used them multiple times on wet, cold days in Florence, Italy. They have a waterproof system that works very well.
I recently skied for a week in the Italian Dolomites and used these shoes to get from the slopes to the parking. Though they worked well in the snow, they would be better with gaiters for deeper snow.
Because of the thicker convex midsole, they also performed well in testing for protection underfoot, losing only to the Adidas Terrex Swift R3.
Finally, I am glad I purchased these and will probably take them hiking again this winter because they are waterproof. I have hiked 25 miles in these shoes and still don’t feel stable. I am curious to see if, after more use, I might get more accustomed to the rocker outsole. Full review with test data.
5. Best Value: The Merrell Moab 3
- Weight US 12 Men: 17.56 ounces / 1.098 pounds / 497.8 grams
- Waterproof: No (GTX Available)
- The Good: Low price and comfortable.
- The Bad: Underperformed on Traction, Protection, and Stability.
The Merrell Moab 3 hiking shoe does not disappoint, given its accessible price point, but it is not in the same league as some other shoes tested. These shoes will satisfy most people for everyday hiking shoes but would not work well for technical terrain, thru-hiking, or scampering over boulders.
I was very curious to test the Moab 3 because I am a big Merrell fan and knew these shoes were extremely popular.
They have decent protection, a Vibram sole, and relatively comfortable uppers. On the downside, they are not as stable or agile as other shoes tested.
The Merrell Moab 3 is a flagship shoe for Merrell and has boosted the brand significantly over the years. The Moab 3 retains its heritage and feels like a hiking shoe with antiquated design features. It has been upgraded, but folks that enjoy the Moab 2 will find little to complain about when upgrading to the Moab 3. Full review with test data.
6. Last Year’s Winner: Merrell Moab Speed
- Weight US 12 Men: 13.08 ounces / 0.818 pounds / 370.8 grams
- Waterproof: No (GTX Available)
- The Good: Good compromise between weight, comfort, and performance.
- The Bad: Grippy Vibram soles do wear down.
Last year, I tested the Merrell Moab Speed against other shoes across several metrics, and they won the best-hiking shoe competition. The Merrell Moab Speed provides out-of-the-box performance and comfort in a light but durable shoe that incorporates high-quality components and features a significant portion of recycled materials.
The shoe laces and the interior mesh lining are made from 100% recycled materials. The footbed cover is also made from 100% recycled material. Finally, the EcoStep compound from Vibram is made from 30% recycled rubber.
The Merrell Moab Speed fits my feet perfectly and is a joy to hike in. They are closer to trail runners on the spectrum from trail runners to stiff backpacking boots. They are suitable for thru-hiking with a medium backpack. Full review with test data from last year.