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11 best men’s walking boots and shoes for a blister-free hike

Put your foot down and insist on some quality wear

Jon Axworthy
Monday 11 April 2022 15:24
<p>We ventured out to Dartmoor and the Highlands to test this footwear on all sorts of terrain</p>

We ventured out to Dartmoor and the Highlands to test this footwear on all sorts of terrain

You need to think carefully when choosing a walking boot or shoe for your outdoor adventuring, as what’s on your feet can make all the difference between an enjoyable experience in the fresh air and a tortuous blister-fest. Choose well and you shouldn’t even have to think about them, as they will carry you in comfort through terrain and trail.

We’re assuming because you’re reading this you’re not just walking down to the shops, but have got something more epic planned. That’s why one of the first things we looked at was the out-of-the-box wearability of each shoe, as you don’t want to spend hours breaking in a new pair.

Supple and moulded materials should combine to make the boot or shoe comfortable and snug-fitting from their very first outing, especially because after hours of walking, feet tend to swell. So you need a nicely proportioned shoe, regardless of your size, and a comfortable fit.

The outsole has a dual role to ensure traction from the lug pattern so that you’re more confident than a mountain goat and also to be constructed in such a way that it gives good energy return with every footstrike

The importance of weight, waterproofing, breathability and protection will all depend on where you’re going, so we’ve included a range to ensure that wherever you’re headed, this lot is an absolute shoe-in (sorry) for your next adventure.

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How we tested

We headed to Dartmoor and the Highlands to test the boots, so we could run the gamut of terrain and conditions with which to scrutinise each shoe. While we were walking, we specifically sought out mud, wet grass and rock to test the grip and traction of each shoe’s outsole, while everything else, from comfort and fit to the waterproofing and breathability of the materials, was scrutinised by the moorland trails and Highland weather.

The best men’s walking boots and shoes for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – The North Face vectiv exploris futurelight: £155, Thenorthface.co.uk
  • Best for out-of-the-box walking – Salomon outpulse: £155, Salomon.com
  • Best for grip – Inov-8 roclite G 345 GTX: £155, Inov-8.com
  • Best for spring/summer hikes – On cloudridge: £170, On-running.com
  • Best for technical walking – Arc’teryx aerios FL GTX: £150, Arcteryx.com
  • Best for picking up the pace – The North Face vectiv fastpack futurelight: £130, Thenorthface.co.uk
  • Best for fit – Vivobarefoot magna FG mens: £170, Vivobarefoot.com
  • Best for rocky trails – Adidas terrex AX4: £120, Adidas.co.uk
  • Best for protection – Ariat skyline mid: £135, Ariat.com
  • Best multi-terrain shoe – Danner 2650 GTX mid: £190, Global.danner.com
  • Best for comfort – Hoka sky toa: £160, Hoka.com

The North Face vectiv exploris futurelight

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

North Face’s vectiv technology is all about maximising energy while walking and this shoe has plenty going on in the midsole to back this up and promote a nice rolling action from heel to toe. Combined with the fact that each shoe is only 416g they are well-suited to day hiking and are comfortable from the off with a snug fit that also allows a lot of foot flex.

The outsole, with 4mm lugs, performed superbly on all kinds of terrain gripping easily to wet and dry rock and biting down through loose gravel paths to give a real sense of confidence and stability. North Face has managed to include plenty of armour, from heel to toe, without adding to the overall weight of the shoe and there is a good balance between waterproofing and breathability.

Salomon outpulse

Best: For out-of-the-box walking

Rating: 9/10

We really like the look and styling of these mid boots, even from the moment we took them out of the box. As we laced them up we were impressed with how incredibly comfortable they instantly felt. They have an almost customised feel, and the shoe moulded around our foot leaving no room for rubbing, yet still allowed us to move our toes to create good balance.

The foam compound that’s used in the midsole worked to create a natural roll which helped when our legs were getting tired. The outsole, meanwhile, was excellent at keeping us grounded and absorbing the blows from tougher terrain and rock. Plus, the Gore-Tex lining did its job brilliantly in wetter sections, but we also weren’t left with two steaming feet when the sun did finally decide to come out and things warmed up.

Inov-8 roclite G 345 GTX

Best: For grip

Rating: 9/10

We immediately liked the space that this shoe afforded our feet and we could instantly tell that they were going to make for very good walking companions. Once on, we were pleased to find that they didn’t pinch our toes either and allowed them to create a nice firm base to walk on.

On the outside, the sole had plenty of confidence-inspiring grip over all kinds of terrain. It flexed well over hard rock, while the lug pattern really dug into muddy trails, but didn’t get clogged or bogged down, so there’s security with every step. The spongy midsole felt like it was really helping maintain momentum too, especially when we started to get heavy legs.

This was also helped by the weight of the shoe, which Inov-8 have managed to keep to a mere 345g, which is very impressive for a boot lined with Gore-Tex. The high ankle offered good support whilst remaining supple and the laces adjusted easily and never came undone once tied. When the sun did make an appearance, all the other materials that make up the boot meant that we weren’t left with overheating feet either.

On cloudridge

Best: For spring/summer hikes

Rating: 8/10

The 410g cloudridge shoe is lightweight enough to make for effortless walking with excellent ankle support and a Missiongrip outsole that allowed us to traverse slippery terrain at speed. It also offered a good mixture of protection, as well as flexibility, moving with the feet and curving around rough ground to further cushion the blow of tough terrain.

Our feet felt nicely cradled as soon as we put the boots on and we were ready to walk after locking in the most comfortable fit with the speed lacing system used by the brand. Where these shoes really stand out though, is in their ability to almost bounce you along a trail, which seems to be down to the spacious tread pattern on the outsole that allows for greater flexibility as you hit each stride, so that the shoe creates its own energy.

The lack of waterproofing makes this an excellent spring/summer shoe, especially with the 3D mesh lining and tongue that adds to its overall breathability.

Arc’teryx aerios FL GTX

Best: For technical walking

Rating: 8/10

This shoe is lightweight enough (345g) that it won’t weigh you down on a day hike, but thanks to the combination of materials used in the midsole, they really connect you to the terrain. This makes it much easier to find the right foot placements and stay on your feet when things get a little tricky. A Gore-Tex membrane keeps the water out without turning the inside of the boot into a horribly humid sweatbox and the vibram megagrip outsole was incredibly grippy on lots of different surfaces, especially wet rock. The robust toecap adds another level of confidence as you can eat up the miles quickly without worrying about any hard knocks that might be waiting for your feet around the corner.

North Face vectiv fastpack futurelight

Best: For picking up the pace

Rating: 8/10

If you’re looking to cover ground quickly, these lightweight kicks (256g per shoe) will definitely keep things moving. There’s a rocker midsole that takes the sting out of lumps and bumps, but helps each foot transition quickly over ground and they’re very comfortable to wear. These never felt restrictive and the rubber outsole, with its spaced lug pattern, did a great job of gripping muddy ground while also allowing the mud to dissipate so as not to lessen the effectiveness of the pattern when walking over rock. The lacing system added to the comfort and stability of the whole shoe while offering up a good balance of waterproofing and breathability.

Vivobarefoot magna FG mens

Best: For fit

Rating: 9/10

The flexibility of these mid shoes offers a real connection to the path you’re treading, in particular harder, rockier, routes. The nice, wide fit that Vivo is known for works well in a walking boot like this and gives the foot plenty of room to stabilise itself every time you plant it down on the ground. The mix of a knitted wool collar and wildhide leather upper looks great and also feels very natural from first wearing and required no breaking in, it also meant that the ankle can move more naturally as you walk, while still feeling supported.

The outsole is strategically raised over the upper in a wave pattern to offer increased protection from shale and loose rock trails. Underneath it offers plenty of grip and we found that it was particularly sticky over rock, while the well-thought-out lug pattern also worked well on looser trails and over grass. Bungee-style walking laces just add to the overall wearability of the shoe too.

Adidas terrex AX4

Best: For rocky trails

Rating: 7/10

These mid-height boots have more of a trail running shoe feel when you first put them on because they’re lightweight, with a lace closure that makes the boot hug both foot and ankle. The midsole complimented a natural walking stride from toe to heel and we really felt the effects after just a few hours with lots of comfort and no aches and pains. A Continental rubber outsole provides impressive grip without adding to the weight of the shoe and also offered good protection on harder trails.

Ariat skyline mid

Best: For protection

Rating: 7/10

For such a heavy duty, heavily armoured, shoe the Skyline still managed to make us feel confident on more technical sections of trail where you need to feel connected to the terrain that you’re walking over. This has a lot to do with the boots’ midsole which is nicely flexible and shock absorbing without becoming a rigid barrier to everything underfoot. The overall fit and feel of the boot is comfortable and the outsole is firm with a well thought out multi-directional lug pattern for easy passage over hard terrains as well as good traction in muddier conditions.

Danner 2650 GTX mid

Best: Multi-terrain shoe

Rating: 9/10

The hybrid looks of this shoe mean that it’s well positioned to take on a range of terrains, in both warm and wet conditions. It feels very lightweight and cradles the heel and ankle well, while opening out at the forefoot to promote natural stability and confidence.

It’s lined with Gore-Tex so you don’t have to call time on your adventure when the weather turns, but its suede and textile upper means that it keeps feet cooler on spring and summer hikes too. There’s a smooth underfoot feel with a nicely cushioned midsole, which means that the shoe works with you on every foot strike. There’s also an intelligently lugged outsole that will give even the clumsiest climber bags of confidence over rock and looser surfaces. Plus, the fact that these are so lightweight means that they will really take the resistance out of a long day’s walking.

Hoka sky toa

Best: For comfort

Rating: 9/10

These Gore-Tex lined boots had one of the best out-of-the-box performances on test, feeling like we’d already been wearing them for a while, even though it was their first time out. A breathable synthetic upper works well with a springy foam midsole and a responsive lacing system to ensure that the boot fits snugly and there’s no room for rubbing after hours of walking.

Equipped with vibram megagrip lugs on the outsole, they’ll keep you grounded. This is helped by a low-profile cushion bed that keeps your foot closer to the ground so that you can feel connected to what’s underfoot. The boot is also fairly lightweight (428g per shoe), which is enough to keep your feet out of stumbling distance of rock protuberances.

Men’s walking boots FAQs

How snugly should walking boots fit?

When buying a new pair of walking boots, it’s important to make sure they fit you properly. If they’re too tight, you may encounter painful blisters, but if there’s too much room, you’ll lose out on ankle support and cushioning. Instead, the perfect pair should fit as well as your most comfortable trainers, not too snug, nor too loose.

Will I need to break in my boots?

Breaking in means wearing your new boots until they mould to your feet. Typically the heavier and more solid the boot, the longer it will take to for this to happen.

To break your new boots in, wear them around the house to get used to walking in them, which will later ensure they don’t cause any discomfort when on a trail, hike or trek.

Lightweight boots will require less breaking in and are likely to be more flexible thanks to the softer, more supple materials.

How to clean and look after hiking boots so they last

If you’re walking across muddy, rocky and rough terrains in all weather conditions, you will encounter a build-up of dirt on your boots.

Look after them in between your hikes by lightly scrubbing them with a soft nylon brush to get rid of any dry mud. You can also scrub them with a gel or spray to remove debris and then wipe off any residue with a damp cloth.

Avoid softening the uppers as this will cause them to lose their shape and become less supportive. You shouldn’t soak them in warm water during washing either, or use leather-softening products. To help your boots maintain their shape after cleaning, try stuffing them with newspaper, which will also soak up any excess moisture.

The verdict: Men's walking boots

Offering the protection and stability of a boot with the lightweight performance of a shoe the North Face vectic exploris futurelight was a top performer on a range of trail beds, staying planted in mud and loose rock, while gripping well over wet surfaces. Responsive and comfortable they were a pleasure to explore in.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on walking shoes and other activewear offers, try the below links:

Pair your new boots with the best men’s walking trousers that will see you through the toughest hikes

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