Best Hiking and tactical Shoes/Boots – Reviewed by Experts
Welcome to Sole Labz – where experienced hikers and other experts in their field reviews and rate hiking and tactical footwear and help you cut through the the jungle of information that’s out there. For years now, we have been developing and tweaking a rating method that will make it easier to choose the best hiking and tactical boots, shoes or sandals for your specific needs.
What you’ll see at Sole Labz are reviews of hiking and tactical boots, shoes and sandals that combine customer experiences, our knowledge and field testing of the footwear to give each pair a rating in 10 different categories and finally, an Overall Rating.
You will see individual reviews, mano a mano comparisons and charts to depict what we learn through the reviewing process.
Simply put, we are doing the research so you don’t have to.
Before we move on with finding the perfect hiking piece for you, please choose the main category you are interested in
If you haven’t already taken of to another page in pursuit for the perfect piece for your hiking quests, let us get into the idea behind the Sole Labz and the way we go about our work. In the main menu at the top of the page you can see six main categories of reviews and comparisons:
In that menu, you’ll also see a comparison chart of the top rated hiking footwear and what we call “Hiker Musings” where we share our stories and give general advice on hiking and trekking.
Our team and featured testers
The core of our team are four members – all experienced hikers and trekkers. We work with our testers to provide you with the most reliable information possible.
How are we looking for the best hiking boots or shoes – the reviewing process
The whole thing about finding the perfect pieces for our money started out as an internal thing within a small community of hikers and campers, but it turned out to be very useful to share experiences and the thing grew beyond anything we could dream of when we started SoleLabz.
Why the reviews you find on the websites that are actually selling the shoes aren’t good enough to know if you are actually getting the best hiking boot or shoe?
Two main reasons:
- Because the reviews and ratings you’ll see on Sole Labz are based on the experiences or at least interpretations of actual hikers who know quality.
- Because things change and old reviews stay there and influence the overall ratings
In a time of recession a lot of the companies start outsourcing or make compromises in quality of the boots and shoes. For example you might see a review on Amazon that’s dating a few years back, but in the meantime the quality of the product became nothing like it was at the time.
We stay on top of things like this, re-examine our ratings every two months so that you can be sure that what you are seeing is the just fresh and updated information.
That solves the biggest problem for the buyer in the jungle of the market as it is now.
Who’s in our “network of associates” and featured testers?
Some of the best-known names and experts in their respective field are a part of our team of testers. Just to name a few recent featured testers:
Coming up with a final quality rating of a hiking boot or shoe is a process and the final rating equation consists of 2 or 3 parts.
- Interpretation of existing reviews – here, we go through any review we can find and use each of them to rate a product in a specific category based on what we read
- Our own testing – sometimes, we just get the boots or shoes ourselves and put them through both field and “lab” testing which is testing their strengths and weaknesses in our office (if you can call a large room full of hiking stuff an office)
- Testing of our associates – we are all outdoorsy here at the Labz and that’s the kind of crowd we know or reach out to. We actually buy the shoes for our fiends and people we met networking in the camping/hiking community on the internet and have them test and rate the boots/shoes according to our guidelines.
Our testing/reviewing guidelines
We rate the hiking footwear in 10 main categories on a scale from 1 to 10:
The categories are:
- True to size
- Uppers quality
- Midsoles quality
- Finish quality
- Value for money
- Customer service
Categories we’ll be looking at and sections of the website
We start general and then drill down to models indented for a more specific use.
As we mentioned, the main categories you’ll see are:
BEST HIKING BOOTS FOR MEN
You intuitively get it but let’s set things straight anyway. To make things easier for you the reviews of hiking boots are divided “best for men” and “best for women”. Within those guides you might see more specific stuff, like analysis about which of the men hiking boots are best if you are looking for a waterproof pair, winter boots for men or best waterproof pair.
The section where you’ll find individual reviews will not be divided by gender, but you can easily see if it’s a review of premier hiking boot for men or women from the title itself. We update these guides every two months to make sure you get nothing but fresh and reliable information. Visit the link below to see the models that are currently top rated:
Pretty much the same goes here, at any moment it will be perfectly clear whether you are looking at supreme women hiking shoes for winter, one that are waterproof or have a very specific purpose like “snow hiking boots”.
For the best-rated women’s hiking boots (Overall) and their reviews, Click the link below:
Another section of the website that’s pretty self-explanatory. The same principle are used, similar review categories with slight changes in the approach to assessing quality. We might also take short detours within the sections to take a closer look at categories like trail hiking or lightweight hiking.
You can find the top models overall at the link below:
Same approach, same categories and same methods of rating will give us the top rated hiking shoes for women in every bi-monthly update.
Use the link below to see the current list of winners:
Best hiking sandals for men and for women
We’ll feature an extensive list of reviews of best hiking sandals. As with the previous categories, you can find the top rated models Overall by going to their dedicated page:
The individual reviews
As we explained, the process of reaching that final rating can sometimes take months. So we have a lot of material to compile detailed reviews. The best part is that these are all based on the experiences of consumers and people actually using the products. The Overall Quality Rating from those individual reviews of shoes and boots is then reported on in the guides and table of the “top rated” for your convenience.
Most of the time, you will get to reading one or two reviews max…of those pairs that particularly interest you.
As we explained, we don’t have separate sections in “recent reviews” for the “Men’s hiking boots/shoes reviews” and “women’s hiking boots shoes reviews”.
Best lightweight hiking Footwear
People are often in pursuit of shoes or boots for their hike that would be lightweight and make the whole thing much easier, especially beginners (no pun intended). You won’t find this guide in our top main menu, since we thought this would jam the design but you may find it just by using the search box.
Best waterproof Footwear
Similar case to the lightweight boots, you’ll find this guide using the search box. these pieces of footwear are also sought for but not enough to be included in our main section. The main guides will however, include the info on whether the boot/shoe is waterproof or not and if it is any good and how does it rank in it’s price range.
Other specifics we might discus – like shoes or boots for specific conditions (example: best hiking shoes or boots for plantar fasciitis)
You might see guides here like “what hiking shoes are best for wide or narrow feet” since we all know all the challenges a hiker faces when choosing right, so we do get into the nitty-gritty like no other website. That’s why we are THE LABZ.
We take the choice of footwear almost too seriously. But if you do take a minute or two and let us offer our two cents on how to choose the best hiking footwear, you can hardly go wrong. Not to forget, the section of the website dedicated to the best tactical shoes and boots is also a paramount. We have a group of featured testers just for the type of footwear.
And hey, it’s a time of recession so it might help you save a few bucks by finding cheap but good hiking pair for your feet and help you find the best deals and places to buy hiking stuff, whether it’s online or in a store. We are currently diligently working on a guide with comprehensive information on best cheap hiking footwear.
We are also doing our best at all times to go as broad as we can and cover even such topics as top rated summer hiking shoes or good choices if you have specific conditions like plantar fasciitis.
But let’s take a step back and deal with the basics of choosing a good hiking shoe or boot
More experienced hikers know very well, and beginners have yet to learn that the whole enjoyment of your „on the trail“ experience will literally rest on your feet. So, the sole purpose of this whole website is to equip your feet to follow wherever your adventuring thoughts may lead.
Some essential points concerning hiking boots and shoes
It’s of utmost importance to choose the right footwear that will meet all the challenges your hiking endeavor might entail.
Hiking shoes 101
They are the lightweight option compared to hiking boots, and act as a bridge for the gap that’s left between these and trail runners.
Hiking shoes will be the perfect choice if:
- You’re going for a shorter span hike, or intend to stick to trails that are well-defined
- You don’t have a lot of weight on you
- You’re a seasoned hiker that’s aiming for rugged trails with some weight. One important caveat here is that I presume you have a big build-up of strength in your legs, ankles, feet, and calves. This is vital since, otherwise you’d be counting on the support your shoes are not designed to provide.
We’ll talk about materials at length later on, but here, it will suffice to say that they are generally manufactured out of textile, featuring suede, synthetic or leather reinforcements, which add structure support and resistance to abrasions.
Some of them might resemble trail runners, others, low-cut hiking boots. First iteration will be more flexible and lighter, but fall shorter when it comes to protection and support, which are the specialty of the latter variety.
There is one more point worth mentioning – it’s the weather conditions you’ll be facing on your hike:
- If it’s summer, or generally warm and dry weather, lightweight, and well-ventilated shoes will be your best option. You also might want to consider ones with an upper section that’s covered in mesh parts, as these will allow better “breathing” of your feet
- Cold and damp weather is a totally different story. Waterproof is the name of the game here. Waterproof hiking shoes will generally bring higher weight (only slightly though) and lower breathability, but will be far more forgiving of muddy/snowy conditions and rainy days.
They usually feature some sort of a sandwiched PU membrane between the lining and the outer layer.
The lining will let the vapors generated by your skin escape while keeping the moisture out. This kind of shoes will often include an acronym „GTX“ in the title. It stands for Gore-Tex Technology, which is also featured in your rain or ski jacket. Alternatively, just search for the mark „WP“ (waterproof)
Their soles are harder than the ones found in trail runners, with stiffer mid-sole for additional protection from anything pointy underfoot. Upper parts are more durable and heavy.
Hiking boots basics
If you’re prone to ankle injuries or just aiming to prevent one, a supportive and stable hiking boot is what you’ll want.
And even if your ankles are fine, you’ll want a pair of these by your side if:
- You’re preparing for a longer hike over some rougher terrain
- The load you’re carrying is moderately heavy
- You’re an occasional hiker or a beginner whose key muscles are less developed and in need of some additional support
- Tweaked knees or rolled ankles are a genuine concern
Generally, same materials are used as the one used for hiking shoes, but usually with a lower ratio of textile. This, of course, is explained by the higher level of protection and support other materials offer.
All-leather models are also available, with the frequent addition of partial/full rands and toe bumpers.
They include a higher underfoot protection and there’s more models of waterproof boots than shoes…it’s only natural, considering they are intended for longer hikes in a variety of weather conditions.
So, if rocky, rough trails covered with roots are your destination, we strongly advise a pair of these. They will keep you comfortable and dry off-trail, even with your feet inches deep in slush or mud. Also, if you’re venturing into areas where critters such as snakes might lurk, having your ankles covered is just smart.
Tight fit, the make or break feature
It doesn’t take much to realize just how important it is that your footwear of choice fits perfectly. Especially if you take a look at some of the alternatives such as blisters, sprained arches, blackened toenails, plantar fasciitis or bone spurs.
Well chosen pair of hiking socks is where it all begins. Overall thickness or toe seams may seem like a small matter, but it’ll play a huge part in causing or relieving pressure problems. Modern, new generation hiking socks also feature variable thickness all-over, and that can significantly alter the overall fit of your shoes/boots, too.
If you are buying online, just make sure that you take the time to read if they are true to size, it’s one of the first things people share in their reviews.
The most relevant feature in footwear construction is the one we’ll never get to see however. It’s called „the last“. It’s simply a piece of wood that’s shaped like a foot. This is what shoes and boots are constructed around.
If the volume and the shape of your foot matches the last, the footwear will generally work for you and vice versa. If the last is mismatched, you’ll be getting yourself a pretty durable and pricey torture device.
Footbeds are another aspect where things might go wrong. The “symptoms” of this problem are your feet sloping around inside your footwear. Tender spots on the balls and heels of your feet, constant heel slip, and arch pain are other symptoms indicative of foot-beds being poorly matched. If your arches are exceptionally high, you might need custom footbeds that offer additional support.
Finally, if the problems persist, you might need custom made orthotics. Fitting by a podiatrist is not optional here. You can determine yourself whether you need them or not. Just examine you older pair for signs of wear patterns in the sole area. If you detect pronation (inner side wear) or supination (outer side wear), your arches ad ankles will probably need some orthotic support.
Sections and materials of hiking footwear
This is where we fully dissect a pair of hiking shoes and boots. We’ll get acquainted with different parts, material options for each of those, and some of the most important features.
Upper is the term used to signify the whole part of the shoe covering the foot. Upper material will highly impact the footwear’s weight, durability, breathability, and its resistance to water.
These can be made of:
- Full-grain leather – The optimal durability and resistance to water and abrasion. Usage of these spells rugged terrain, heavy loads and log trips. It’s not very light or breathable however, and it does take a break-in period
- Split-grain leather – Nylon mesh is very often paired with it for breathable and lightweight comfort. They cost less but are more susceptible to water and abrasion. Most of them come with waterproof liners though
- Nubuck leather – Full-grain leather that’s buffed for suede resemblance. It’s highly durable and abrasion and water resistant. It offers a fair amount of flexibility, but it too requires a break-in period. Nubuck is not a good idea for damp conditions, you didn’t really need us to understand that.
- Synthetics – Nylon, polyester or „synthetic leather“ are all well-known modern shoes materials. When compared to leather they break in quicker, are lighter, cost less and dry faster. They’ll most certainly show signs of wear faster, though
Midsoles – a crucial part of hiking boots reviews
Cushioning and shock protection for your feet are the roles of these part. They also determine the stiffness of the shoes/boots. Stiff footwear maybe doesn’t sound like a good idea, but hiking extensively on uneven, rocky terrain will, without a doubt, prove you wrong . These will offer greater stability and comfort plus, your foot won’t be wrapping around every single tree root or rock you step on.
The most often used materials for midsoles are:
- Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) – Less expensive, lighter and cushier. Various densities are used in order to provide higher or lower amount of support
- Polyurethane – More durable and firm. Usually used for heavy-duty boots, intended for longer hikes through inhospitable terrain
Rubber is the prevailing material on all hiking footwear. They often feature additives (carbon, for example) for enhanced hardness. Increased durability will also come via hard outsoles, but they do have a slick feel to them when off trail.
Other things to think about when it comes to outsoles:
- Lug pattern – Lugs are outsole bumps that provide traction. Thicker, deeper lugs offer optimal grip, widely spaced shed mud easily and provide good traction
- Heel brake – It prevents sliding on highly inclined surfaces
It signifies a wide wrap made of rubber found on some of the waterproof and breathable models. It encircles the boot on the meeting point of upper and mid-sole. It stops water penetration on mucky, wet trails, and defends the leather from abrasion and rocks.
All the different features
With the parts of hiking shoes/boots completely covered, we can divert our attention to some of the most prominent features of a pair of shoes or boots as a whole.
Crampon compatibility – very important, especially in the reviews of hiking boots
The label itself will usually inform you of the crampon binding options if any. Compatibility between boots and crampons are essential for their safe using.
Strap-on system – These crampons feature nylon straps for securing them to the boots. They do take some time to attach, but they are compatible with almost any pair of hiking boots out there. For optimal comfort, while using them on hiking shoes, make sure the crampons follow the flex index of the shoe.
These (crampon systems) also exist as a step-in and hybrid attachment systems, but they’re incompatible with any hiking shoes/boots. They are made with heavy duty mountaineering footwear in mind.
Manufacturing process that involves no animal ingredients or any byproducts of such “gives birth” to vegan-friendly hiking shoes or boots, if that is something you are worried about.
We’ve mentioned this feature before. Footwear that’s billed as waterproof will feature waterproof and breathable membranes inside the uppers, keeping your feet dry in any iteration of wet conditions. Event and Gore-Tex are the technologies that spring to mind right away. The membranes do reduce breathability, however, but the alternative on non-waterproof models in highly breathable ventilating mesh will provide no help if on a muddy trail.
Light is right, if everything else is equal. There is a very true old proverb among hikers and adventurers, in general, which says that one pound on foot is like carrying five pounds on your back. After just one longer hike, you’ll definitely notice that additional weight.
Heavier models will, however, provide extra stability, and are generally more durable. So, we propose a slow start to all beginners. We can share our experiences here, but time and your own experience will be the best teacher when it comes to choosing right for specific conditions.
A rule of thumb for beginners
Start with a heavier model until you develop muscles and state of mind required for prolonged hiking trips. Once you get a feel as to the amount of support you need, you can work your way to lighter options.
There are three different hiking footwear cuts:
- High-cut – It provides the highest amount of ankle support. Rough trails carrying heavy loads are best trampled with these models. I’ve already mentioned the extra protection they offer against all the unfriendly critters you might encounter
- Mid-cut – It offers some support for your ankles, but far less than the high cut models. They’re best used for shorter trips with moderate loads
- Low-cut – The least amount of ankle support and stability offered. They are the lightest however and best used for well maintained, smooth trails, short trips and light loads.
This concludes the rundown through the basic terms we’ll be using when explaining stuff about hiking boots and shoes.
If all the terms confuse you, don’t worry, we try to keep it basic and understandable even if you are not an aged hiker. So, we’ll ease you in.
Let’s move on and talk some more about what you can expect to see on Sole Labz…
We only review top rated hiking footwear
Don’t be confused by the fact that a vast majority of shoes and boots for hiking you’ll be seeing here have high ratings (most of the time nothing under 4 out of 5 stars).
Believe me, when it comes to this, nobody has higher standards, but the fact is that we only choose the top rated pieces to begin with.
- We can only afford to get so many pieces for testing
- We don’t want to waste yours or our time reviewing footwear that we know has bad ratings to begin with
Best hiking boots/shoes brands
It’s the age of brands and 90% of the hikers we know have a brand that they swear by. Again, here, we will only be dealing with the best of them…brands, that is.
And we’ll talk separately about boots and shoes brands.
Let’s then get into some brand gossip and mention a few of the best known…
Merrell hiking shoes
They have a substantial portfolio of shoes and sneakers, but what we are interested here are their efforts (pretty successful, we must say) in the market of hiking boots and shoes.
They are one of the most respected brand for years now and it seems like they are here to stay. They maintain their standards, have a great customer service and even when they do outsource they do so in a responsible way that has zero impact on the quality of their products.
When it comes to hiking, they have one of the best offers, especially of women hiking shoes, so you’ll see a lot of Merrel reviewed on the Sole Labz.
Merrel Moab waterproof hiking shoes
This particular line of their products is so popular that we have to take a second here and explain why. The Gore-Tex materials used most often in this series has a unique quality of being completely waterproof while allowing the feet to breathe.
That’s why they are perfect for hiking, especially the Merrel Moab ventilator series which is, as far as I know, one of the most popular choices in women. Because they are light, because they “breathe” and because they have a very good price to value ratio.
If you are in the arena as long as some of us are (cough, cough, James 🙂 you notice a patterns. With Merrell this pattern indicates that they seem to offer more hiking shoes/boots options for women than men.
You will still see them in our top choices for men, but it seems that, as far as hiking goes they made a decision to target women more.
Top rated Merrel model for men – the Merrel Vibram Hiking Ventilator
This model pretty much sets the standard for a man hiking shoe, and it sets it pretty high. Highest craftsmanship standards combining leather and mesh and a shock absorbing cushion heel. I know a few people who own these and zero people who are not blown away by the quality of the Vibram.
Top rated Merrel hiking model for women
A few series of very good hiking footwear for women collide head to head here. Anything from at least 5 or 6 of the models from the Merrell Moab series for women, a model or two the Merrell Siren series and the all-present Ventilator will not come as a disappointment to the most demanding of customers.
Timberland Hiking boots
Ever since Nathan Swartz, the founder of Timberland started making boots in 1918 it’s been nothing but UP for the company.
A classic as we all know it, Timberland has been around for longer than most of us can remember.
With that said, it’s no surprise that you’ll be seeing a lot of detailed analysis and reviews of Timberland foot gear made for hiking on the Sole Labz website.
But let’s see what they have to offer in terms of hiking boots for men and women.
Timberland Hiking boots for women
We’ll be getting back to the subject again and again, analyzing and reviewing crème de la crème of Timberland’s hiking boots for both man and women but here, let’s mention some of the favorites of our team and the people we talked to, most of them customers and great Timberland fans. They’re also know for making some of the best boots and shoes models aimed at those with feet issue like plantar facsiitis.
Timberland fans prefer simplicity and practicality to fancy looks and make-up.
When it comes to women and hiking, we would say that White Ledge is the best booth Timberland has to offer.
Just leather and pure rubber sole. We said it, simplicity and practicality.
But it’s just that fact about them that probably did some damage with the new generations. Their leather and nubuck leather boots are, let’s say it politely, less then perfect if your plan is to stray from the hiking trail and explore the woods on a humid day.
Salomon Hiking boots review
Now this is a company that knows where the target is in the 21st century hiking habits and has a pretty good aim.
They made a rumpus on the market of hiking shoes with the Quest GTX, anything from 3D,4D, Discovery to Ultra Mid has been a huge hit. One of the best series of hiking footwear to arrive in years.
You don’t have to be an experienced hiker to take a quick look around online shoes stores and see that the company means business, dozens of models rated 4 stars or higher. That’s serious success for Salomon hiking boots.
It’s no secret that you’ll be seeing a lot of Salomon hiking boot reviews, you can find the section in the top menu under “by brand”.
Salomon quest 4dD GTX hiking boots
The GTX series of hiking footgear coming to us from Salomon is, as we said , one of the best lines of footwear to hit the market in a long time. Especially, the 4D GTX, which stand alone and proud.
One of the best rated hiking and backpacking boot in the last few years features a high quality combination of leather and breathable textile, gusseted tongue for extra cushioning of your ankle and keeping the debris out, this is the boot to beat.
Keen hiking boots
The first Keen shoe was envisioned as sandal that would also cover the toes and as such was primarily targeting the sailing market.
Since 2003 they have evolved enough to be mentioned as one of the top brands of hiking shoes and boots, especially for women.
It’s hard to imagine the market without the rugged Keen Targhee model or the gorgeous Marshall Mid Keen for women.
They made a strong name for themselves over the last few years in the hiking community and they are still riding the wave.
We could go on and on talking about top brands in hiking boots and shoes arena, but it wouldn’t make much sense with the plethora of them.
Instead, the top menu contains the best rated footwear by brand as well, so if you are a fan of a certain brand you can just get straight to it and see exactly what you “crave”.
This website is a living thing and we test and add new models and reviews daily, so don’t hesitate to contact us or share the word about us using the social buttons. You can expect a speedy response from some of our team members.
Choose wisely and take care of your feet.
We’ll do our best to help.
Sole Labz team