Best Low Top Hiking Shoes

For years I struggled to find the perfect hiking footwear. Boots were too clunky, or too tight, or too bulky to pack for travel. But that’s where hiking shoes came into the picture and saved my feet from constant pinching and discomfort. They’re lighter, easier to pack, and much more breathable and comfortable than their larger cousins.

Now I fully accept that hiking boots have their place – ankle support, for example – and can be indispensable for certain hikers or conditions. But let’s talk about your alternative in the low-top hiking shoe along with crucial buying advice to find the best fit for you. We’ll then present Wildland Trekking’s top five recommendations for hiking shoes to get you on the trail in no time, with happy feet to boot – or ‘shoe’ in this case.

How To Pick The Best Low Top Hiking Shoe 

Comfort

You’re looking for shoes to walk in for hours or even days on end. It, therefore, stands to reason that comfort should be your top priority at all times. The most waterproof and durable hiking shoe with the traction of a mountain goat won’t be worth diddly to you if your feet are begging for mercy within five minutes of slipping them on.

So try on your options whenever possible. Every brand has its a distinctive fit and feel, and it’s your job to find the one that your feet like the most. Pay special attention to your foot width. You wide-footed hikers out there won’t find comfort until you try shoes specially designed for wide feet – I recommend you check out Altra.

This same advice holds true for narrow-footed folks, but set your sights on La Sportiva instead. Any extra space in your shoe means more sliding around, which in turn means blisters unless you’re very careful. La Sportiva shoes are often on the narrow side and will be an excellent starting point.

Waterproofing

To waterproof or not to waterproof? It’s a classic argument in the world of hiking shoes, and there are pros and cons to each side. So let’s take a look at them.

Naturally, waterproofing offers your feet a barrier against rain and puddles. This is an attractive option to avoid jumping or skirting every little pool of water you come across. However, you sacrifice breathability to achieve this barrier, which can lead to some severe swamp foot on longer hikes in warm climates. Also, keep in mind that your waterproofing only extends as far as the hiking shoe does, or to just below your ankle. Step in any water deeper than that, and your shoes are wet anyway. They’ll also take longer to dry out than easily ventilated non-waterproof shoes.

Non-waterproof shoes are almost the exact opposite. These shoes are very breathable and keep your feet nice and cool even when hiking for hours on end. But if you encounter any water, no matter how little, it will seep through the shoe straight to your socks. However, while non-waterproof shoes get wet easily, they also dry very quickly – thanks to increased ventilation.

This question, therefore, comes down to personal preference. For my part, I use waterproof hiking shoes, but I occasionally covet well-ventilated, non-waterproof, options.

Regardless of your decision in this department, remember that there are many items in your hiking kit that must be kept dry on a wet hike. Take a look at our tips for hiking in the rain to see how to prepare for a damp adventure.

Durability

The wide range of low top hiking shoe options means we have a wide range of durability. In general, we have the rugged hiking shoe that’s designed for the trail. These shoes are tough and constructed from materials that can take a beating.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have trail runners. These shoes are very comfortable and place a premium on being lightweight, often at the cost of durability. That doesn’t mean that a pair of trail runners will fall apart after just a few uses, but it does mean they will likely need replacing earlier than a pair of hiking shoes. I’ve found that my trail runners often last at least two years of heavy heavy use before I think about replacing them – and I’ll then eek another season or two out of them before I actually replace them.

Once again, we have a question of personal preference. Purpose-built hiking shoes are typically stiffer and heavier than trail runners but are much more durable. Conversely, trail runners are agile and flexible but lack tank-like durability.

Traction

Nothing quite like slipping off a rock for a hard landing in the dirt with a heavy hiking pack on your back, right? I’ve been there, and I prefer to avoid it when I can, which is what brings us to traction. Every manufacturer on the market has their process and technology to form the outsole of your shoe. Altra has their TrailClaw, Salomon has their ContaGrip, and Merrell uses classic Vibram.

The method to separate the best from the rest? Research. Take a look at reviews and see what others have to say about the traction. Research the technology itself and determine its focus – be it traction in mud, snow, rain, or everything.

Also, keep an eye out for cushioning and support built into the shoe sole itself. This cushioning could be additional padding in the heel to absorb the impact of hiking or a stone-guard to protect your foot from sharp rocks on the trail.

Once you know your perspective shoe inside and out, make your decision, and find the best fit for your hiking style.

Budget

Low top hiking shoes have a wide range of prices. It’s, therefore, essential to consider your future hiking plans and personal budget before investing in your new shoes. If you only hike intermittently or have only one trip on the horizon that you’re preparing for, it may not be spending an excessive amount of money for a pair of premium hiking shoes. However, if you foresee plenty of hiking in your future, then it may well be worth paying a little extra for long-lasting comfort.

Now that we know what to look for let’s move on to our recommended low top hiking shoes!

Altra Lone Peak 4.0

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 1 lb. 4 oz.
    • Women’s: 1 lb. 1 oz.
  • Waterproof: Yes – RSM Version
  • Support: 5mm Contour Footbed w/ Stoneguard
  • Price: $$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s – Waterproof Version
    • Women’s – Waterproof Version

Notable Features

  • Nice wide toe-box
  • Effective waterproofing with Rain, Snow, and Mud (RSM) version
  • Very comfortable for several days on rough terrain

What We Like

Any wide-footed hiker can recall the tear-jerking pain of hiking in boots that are too rigid and narrow for any semblance of comfort. I’ve been there, and after trying on dozens of alternatives, I’m confident that the Altra is the best low top hiking shoe for wider feet. There’s plenty of room for your toes to spread out and breathe, along with very plush cushioning to keep your feet comfortable over tough terrain. The stone-guard is also very effective at protecting your feet for small and sharp rocks on the trail, further adding to the Lone Peak’s rugged trail prowess.

What Could Be Better

The Lone Peak’s greatest asset can also be its most significant drawback for some. With a very wide toe box comes plenty of space, and you’ll definitely feel this extra space on steep inclines when your feet begin to slide around. It’s for that exact reason that I recommend the Lone Peak 4 as a specialized option with a very specific target audience, wide feet. Any hikers with very narrow – or even average-sized –  feet are sure to have way too much space than they need. This extra space could result in their feet sliding around and potentially ending in blisters.

Additionally, the Lone Peak 4 is first-and-foremost a trail running shoe. It’s very light in both weight and support. While this lightness results in a very nimble shoe with excellent flex, it also means that the Lone Peak 4 is lacking the stiffness and rugged protection that we see in thoroughbred hiking shoes. What’s more, this shoe features a 0mm-drop from heel to toe – meaning that your heel and ball of your foot will be even whereas most shoes have the heel 7 to 10mm higher.

Upshot

The Lone Peak 4 is an acquired taste for hiking. Its trail running roots can liberate your feet from the constriction of traditional hiking boots and shoes, or remove much-needed support and rigidity. Although they are not true hiking shoes, I’ve found them to hold up very well to the rigors of the trail and provide adequate support and protection.

The wide toe-box is also absolute gold for many hikers. No more pinching or chaffing as your toes are free to spread out to their natural shape. Once again, however, this benefit is reserved for hikers with wider feet, as narrower feet will likely find the Lone Peak 4 to be too roomy and loose.

Note that the Lone Peak 4.5 is now available from Altra. However, initial reviews report a slightly narrower fit, which may be perfect for the general population, but I still recommend the 4.0 version for very wide feet.

Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 1 lb. 15 oz.
    • Women’s: 1 lb. 12 oz.
  • Waterproof: No – Waterproof version available
  • Support: Air Cushioned Heel and EVA Countoured Footbed
  • Price: $
  • Gender:
    • Men’sWaterproof Version
    • Women’sWaterproof Version

Notable Features

  • Very comfortable right out of the box
  • Durable materials and construction
  • Accessible price

What We Like

For plush comfort and improved support over trail runners, we have the Moab 2 Ventilator from Merrell. These breathable low top hiking shoes are perfect for adding additional cushioning underfoot while still cutting down on the bulk of a full hiking boot.

The leather and suede upper combined with strategic mesh do an excellent job of keeping grit and dust out while still allowing decent breathability. Merrell has also made this upper more durable over the Moab’s several iterations, so it’s sure to hold up to the rigors of hiking. Merrell’s quality construction continues down to the footbed, where we have a very comfortable EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) cushion that works in tandem with targeted arch and heel support for a comfy ride.

Merrell also provides a waterproof version of the Moab 2 if you’re willing a sacrifice a little breathability for waterproofing.

What Could Be Better

The traction on this hiking shoe is adequate but not exemplary. The Vibram soles provide a decent grip through most standard hiking conditions and trails but lose a little ground in wet and muddy conditions. On a similar note, we’ve also found that the Moab doesn’t perform as well on technical or rugged terrain as the competition.

Upshot

These are excellent shoes for established trails. They’re comfortable yet durable and very much show their worth on day hikes. What’s more, they come at a very reasonable price for occasional hikes from the car. However, the Moab 2 lacks the high-end traction and support that we need for multi-day hikes over tough terrain. If you have your eye on these longer hikes, try looking for a more rugged-friendly shoe.

Salomon Ultra 3 GTX

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 1 lb. 10 oz.
    • Women’s: 1 lb. 7.5 oz.
  • Waterproof: Yes – GoreTex
  • Support: Ortholite
  • Price: $$$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s
    • Women’s

Notable Features

  • Perfectly cushioned for long days on the trail
  • Effective GoreTex waterproofing
  • Superb traction in almost all conditions

What We Like

The Salomon Ultra is the long-running favorite low top hiking shoe for many adventurers out there. This shoe strikes the perfect balance between weight, durability, support, and traction, which makes it ready for almost any terrain. The anatomical fit is very well designed, so it hugs your foot without pinching and keeps your foot centered on the excellent support system.

For support, we have Salomon’s comfortable Ortholite technology paired with a plush EVA foam pad for shock absorption. This pairing provides excellent arch and heel support without making the shoes too bulky in the process. This comfortable support sits atop Salomon’s distinctive ContaGrip outsoles with their distinctively large lugs, which provide excellent traction in all conditions.

The GoreTex waterproofing is also very effective at keeping mud and water out. Salmon also produces a non-waterproof version for those of you looking for a little more breathability.

What Could Be Better

Salomon’s quicklace system is undoubtedly convenient and snug. However, the very narrow laces have been known to break on rare occasions. If this happens, you’ll find that regular laces won’t fit in this shoe while the Salomon laces are incredibly fiddly to replace. Although rare, it’s still a potential hindrance to your hiking fun, and we recommend carrying replacement laces with you on multi-day backpacking trips, just in case.

Upshot

The Salmon Ultra 3 is arguably the best low top hiking shoe on the market. Comfortable for almost all foot shapes, excellent support, effective traction, and still weighing in at less than a single pound per shoe. However, all these benefits come with a steep price tag. But if it’s within your budget, you can’t go wrong with the Ultra 3.

La Sportiva Wildcat

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 1 lb. 9 oz.
    • Women’s: 1 lb. 5.5 oz.
  • Waterproof: No – Waterproof Version Available
  • Support: Nylon Shank and 2.4mm EVA Cushion
  • Price: $$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s – Waterproof Version 
    • Women’s – Waterproof Version

Notable Features

  • Very supportive yet lightweight
  • Plenty of cushioning
  • Breathable mesh keeps feet cool

What We Like

La Sportiva doesn’t classify the Wildcat as just another trail running shoe. According to them, it’s a mountain running shoe. The first item that propels the Wildcat to the front of the pack is its support. You’ll find a 2.4mm EVA foam pad combined with a nylon flex transfer shank. Together, these two pieces provide phenomenal support, comfort, and shock absorption for high-mileage hiking days.

The mesh upper continues this trend of comfort with its very breathable and cozy design for long days on the trail. There is also a waterproof version available. For traction, we have Sportiva’s FriXion rubber outsole, which provides plenty of grip even in wet conditions.

What Could Be Better

Take one look at these shoes, and you’ll notice that there’s next to nothing for a rubber toe cap. The trail is full of twigs, rocks, and roots to stub a toe on, and the Wildcat doesn’t offer much protection. Remember, this is first and foremost a lightweight trail running shoe, and the traditional toe cap is one piece of the standard shoe that got trimmed.

The mesh upper, while very breathable and comfortable, tends to get snagged or tear easily on the trail. This makes us rank the Wildcat lower in terms of durability and cross our fingers that Sportiva will design a more robust version in the future.

Our final point is fit. La Sportiva, as a brand, tends to run noticeably narrower than other shoes, and the Wildcat is no exception. If you have narrow feet, you’re good to go. If not, try to drop by a sporting goods store and try on a pair of Sportivas first to check their sizing scheme.

Upshot

Sportiva’s Wildcat is a lightweight powerhouse that has the cushioning, support, and breathability that we dream about in low top hiking shoes. However, their sizing scheme is on the narrow size, which can make this particular shoe inaccessible for large-footed climbers. The Wildcat’s durability and longevity is also noticeably shorter than other robust hiking shoes.

Oboz Sawtooth II

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 2 lb. 3 oz.
    • Women’s: 1 lb. 12 oz.
  • Waterproof: Yes – Breathable Non-Waterproof Version Available
  • Support: Dual-Density EVA Pad, Nylon Shank, and O FIT Insole
  • Price: $$$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s – Non-Waterproof
    • Women’s – Non-Waterproof

Notable Features

  • Rugged design is built for heavy-duty hiking
  • Heel counter helps shoe maintain a snug and comfortable fit in the long run
  • Very stable over uneven terrain

What We Like

When we think of a tank of a hiking shoe, we think Oboz Sawtooth. This low top hiking shoe was built to handle anything and everything the trail can throw at you, and more. The cushioning absorbs the constant shock of hiking perfectly, without transmitting it to your feet.

Meanwhile, the outsole works in tandem with a perfectly placed nylon shank to deliver stellar stability over any trail type. We’re particularly fond of the stiff heel counter which maintains the heel area’s rigidity and support, even after countless backpacking trips

What Could Be Better

All the rugged durability and support included in the Sawtooth II comes with a high weight cost. These are the heaviest shoes on our list, and you’ll feel it. Not that you’re walking around with a couple of cinder blocks on your feet, but these shoes are certainly a little more clunky than lighter trail running shoes.

While the waterproofing is very useful, it also virtually eliminates any breathability. The heat will, therefore, build up very quickly on the trail, and you’ll probably have to air out your sweaty socks in the evening. Oboz does offer a much more breathable non-waterproof version, however, which may be the perfect avenue to the Sawtooth’s comfort and support without overheating.

Upshot

If you’re looking for unparalleled support on the trail housed in an impregnable design that will last season after season, the Oboz Sawtooth II is for you. These shoes are tough, plushly cushioned, and supportive enough to tackle any hiking adventure you have in mind. Just remember that all this support and durability make these particular shoes significantly bulkier than other options. Think hiking boot in shoe form, and you have the Sawtooth II.

And there we have it. We’ve covered the best low top hiking shoes from the nimble and light to the rugged and durable. Look at your options, consider our purchasing advice, and pick out the best shoes for your next epic hiking adventure. Having trouble choosing where to hike next? No problem! Wildland Trekking offers dozens of trips to the very best hiking destinations around the world, pick your trip and let us handle the rest.

Have fun and stay safe, eh?

Wildland Trekking Hiking Adventures

Wildland Trekking ToursAs the world’s premier hiking and trekking company, Wildland believes in connecting people to fantastic environments in amazing ways. We offer an array of incredible hiking and trekking experiences both in the United States and internationally. Our trip types include backpacking, lodge-based, and basecamp oriented adventures to ensure that you’ll always find an adventure perfectly suited to your traveling style.

To learn more about our guided backpacking trips and all of our award-winning hiking vacations, please visit our website or connect with one of our Adventure Consultants: 800-715-HIKE

Summary
Best Low Top Hiking Shoes
Article Name
Best Low Top Hiking Shoes
Description
Ready to ditch the constriction and clunkiness of hiking boots? Let's take a look at the best low top hiking shoes on the market along with valuable buying advice to keep your feet happy on the trail.
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The Wildland Trekking Company
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Dan Purdy

Dan is an avid traveler and adventurer. From guiding in Norway, to studying wilderness medicine in Scotland, to leading volcano trips in Nicaragua, and - most recently - guiding with Wildland Trekking in the Pacific Northwest, he loves to share his love of the outdoors with others in every way he can.