Walking shoes are in vogue, with many outdoor enthusiasts ditching their bulky, blister-inducing boots in favour of lighter, comfier and lower-cut footwear.
It’s a good strategy. Walking shoes offer the best of both worlds: the protection, support and waterproofing of boots, combined with the out-of-the-box comfort and flexibility of trainers. And because they’re so much lighter than boots, each stride exerts far less energy – meaning you’ll have a spring in your step like never before.
Comfort is king when it comes to walking shoes, so it’s best to try before you buy. Aim to find a pair that fits snugly without any rubbing or pinch points.
Your next big decision is waterproof or non-waterproof. Shoes with a waterproof membrane such as gore-tex will keep your feet dry, but if you do end up in a knee deep bog they’ll take forever to dry out. Non-waterproof shoes are far more breathable and dry out way quicker, but they let water in like a sieve.
For hot, dry days, non-waterproof shoes are preferable, as your feet will sweat less. In rainy and waterlogged conditions, waterproof shoes are obviously better – although you might favour pairing non-waterproof shoes with waterproof socks.
Other key features for hiking include a deeply-lugged outsole for grippy traction over rugged terrain, and a well-designed midsole for cushioning, support and shock absorption. Quality lacing for a fine-tuned fit and a comfortable ankle cuff are also important.
Most of the pairs in our top picks are akin to trail running trainers, with a fast and agile design. These tend to be the comfiest, lightest and best for long hikes, but they aren’t the most protective or durable.
Other pairs are styled like “approach shoes”, a kind of hybrid footwear fusing the characteristics of climbing and walking shoes. These provide superb footing on rocky terrain and ridge scrambles, due to a stiffer and stronger build – but they aren’t the most forgiving if you’re clocking big mileage.
We’ve carefully assessed the technical performance of each pair, and graded them in terms of comfort, fit, waterproofing, grip, support, energy return and value for money. Testing took place in the Lake District’s mountains, including hiking some of England’s highest peaks and most iconic ridges.
Here are our top 11 pairs of men’s walking shoes that’ll keep your feet happy, whether you’re walking the dog, commuting across town, marching up Ben Nevis or hiking a long-distance trail.
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Danner trail 2650
Named after the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, this shoe is awesome for big mileage days. It’s good-looking, faultlessly comfy, adequately protective and – best of all – super-springy underfoot, as if you’re propelled forward with every step. The plush midsole provides excellent cushioning, a really good energy return and feels almost bouncy – we were positively frolicking around the mountains like a hyper-active Tigger with the trail 2650 on our feet.
We particularly loved the grip of the vibram megagrip outsole, the cosy fit of the stretchy sock-like tongue, and the flex of the supple leather and textile upper. There’s no waterproofing in the shoe we tested, but Danner does make a gore-tex version. Like all lightweight shoes, long-term durability, stability and support can’t compare to beefier pairs, and the trail 2650’s external heel bumper is a bit of an oddity. But, on balance, this a great walking shoe – anyone fancy a 2,650-mile hike?
Inov8 roclite g 315 gtx
While some hiking shoes feel like beefed-up versions of fashion trainers, this shoe is nothing of the sort. Instead it has an unapologetically technical design with carefully-engineered features – and we love it. The real star of the show is the hard-as-nails outsole with 6mm claw-shaped cleats. It’s infused with graphene, the world’s strongest material apparently, and the result is super-grippy traction no matter how wild the terrain gets.
Each shoe is ultralight (315g, men’s size 8) – perfect for moving quickly and nimbly along the trail – yet still has just enough robustness to prevent you feeling vulnerable out in the mountains. There’s a protective toe cap, sturdy heel counter and meta-plate shank for surprisingly good support, as well as a gore-tex waterproof membrane.
We wore these shoes on numerous walks in the Lake District. Comfort was great straight from the box, and the under-foot sensation was responsive and precise (rather than plush and springy) – almost like we were becoming at one with every twist, turn, rise and fall of the trail. Our only fear was that a sharp rock might rip the light and flexible mesh upper, but thankfully we avoided this fate. Probably because that graphene grip was so darn good.
Merrell moab speed GTX
If 20 million people have bought a pair they must be good, right? Merrell’s best-selling moab range of footwear has shifted incredible numbers over the past decade, and now the US firm have added a trainer version to the line – the moab speed GTX. It’s a lightweight and protective hiker featuring a waterproof gore-tex membrane,foam midsole with ample cushioning and an integrated rock plate for enhanced structure.
We wore these shoes on a number of walks, fast hikes and trail runs around Loweswater in the Lake District. Comfort was excellent straight from the off, with the padded collar and tongue ensuring a cosy fit. We liked the protective toe cap, bit of rigidity in the heel counter and overall lateral stiffness – it gave added confidence over rough ground – while the 5mm lugs on the vibram ecodura outsole gripped well. We’ve tried a lot of Merrell shoes over the past year and these are probably our favourites.
La Sportiva TX4
This is the walking shoe that’ll make you look like a mountain pro. Fusing Italian style with technical prowess, the TX4 is usually found on the feet of badass scrambling gurus as they nimbly negotiate a saw-toothed ridge like it’s a walk in the park. But you don’t have to be a fearless mountain goat to enjoy the TX4. For classic UK scrambles such as Striding Edge or Crib Goch, or just general hillwalking over boulder fields, scree and rocky arêtes, this shoe is a wise choice.
Why? Because the vibram megagrip outsole has a flat climbing zone at the toe for edging, grippy circular lugs in the centre and U-shaped braking lugs at the rear – or, in other words, the traction is superb. You also get a 360-degree wraparound rand, sturdy rubber toe box, and a suede leather upper that strikes a nice balance between comfort and durability. We felt nimble and quick in the TX4, and the precise feeling underfoot helped us better judge the stability of every ledge, crevice and lip of rock we scrambled over.
Haglofs L.I.M low
With its L.I.M (less is more) series, Haglofs is pioneering ultralight and minimalist hiking – the logic being the less weighed down you are, the more energy, time and passion you’ll have for the exciting bits: the summits, the views, the escapism, the adventure. But there is a catch – if you make products so incredibly light, will performance or durability be compromised? From our experience, the answer is yes and no.
Of course the L.I.M low can never be as durable, supportive or protective as a hefty hiking shoe twice its weight, but for its specific role – a super-light, comfy hiker in fair weather and on shorter distances - performance is high-end. We loved the sock-like fit of the shoe (Haglofs call it “monosock construction”) and the rubber outsole’s grip was pretty impressive as we ambled lakeshores and tramped up grassy hills in the spring sunshine. The gossamer weight (255g per shoe) and minimalist design were amazing too, almost like a pair of gym pumps atop a rugged outsole.
And, surprisingly for a Scandinavian brand, the less is more philosophy actually extends to the price too – at £90 this shoe is a bona fide bargain. A waterproof version – the L.I.M low proof eco – costs £96 and weighs 325g per shoe.
The North Face vectiv taraval
Released to much fanfare in early 2021 and billed as “groundbreaking” new tech, The North Face’s vectiv range of footwear received lots of media attention. But, while everyone was talking about the carbon-plated trail running shoes, the vectiv taraval hiking shoe seemed to go under the radar. Why? Because it’s less flashy than its headline-grabbing, premium-priced cousins – yet it still performs solidly with an understated prowess.
The vectiv taraval is a lightweight and breathable trainer designed for fair weather hiking. Everything about it is trainer-like – except perhaps the extra aggressiveness to the 4mm-lugged rubber outsole – and it feels extremely soft and comfy. We tramped up mountain paths in the taraval and were struck mostly by the midsole’s rocker geometry. With every step’s heel strike the shoe rolls naturally towards the toe, providing excellent forward propulsion, and the all-round cushioning is super-springy.
There’s no waterproofing, so you might get wet socks, but the shoe dries out quickly and is great for humid days when you don’t want sweaty feet. It lacks a bit of sturdiness for truly gnarly mountainous terrain, with the upper particularly thin, but that’s to be expected with a lightweight trainer. Comfort and cushioning are this shoe’s strength, as well as the price and bonus street cred you always get with The North Face logo.
Meindl ontario GTX
We wore the Meindl ontario GTXs on a 27km hike up seven Wainwright fells in Ennerdale – our first major post-lockdown ramble – and they didn’t let us down. The gore-tex lining kept our socks dry over swampy ground, the suede upper felt sufficiently sturdy to cope with gnarly mountainous terrain, and the outsole gripped really well on everything it encountered, even when it started snowing.
We particularly liked the sturdy toe rand, solid heel capture (so your foot isn’t shaking around all over the place inside the shoe), and all-round ruggedness of the approach shoe design. Comfort and underfoot cushioning were decent but not spectacular, and we’d have preferred deeper, more aggressive lugs – all of which leads to a simple conclusion. We wouldn’t choose these for multi-day, big mileage treks, but for day walks on technical and rocky terrain they hit the spot with arrow-like precision.
Scarpa vortex XCR
Deviating from the general trend towards ever lighter and more trainer-like designs, Scarpa have stuck to a more traditional recipe with the popular vortex XCR. Imagine a tough, supportive and durable walking boot has had its ankle support chopped off, and what you’re left with is this muscular walking shoe. It doesn’t look too great – it’s a bit clumpy and uninspiring – but who cares? This is a shoe for remote adventures, not Instagram selfies.
The vibram outsole has been specifically designed for wet, slippy British ground and it really is a strong, brawny unit with a complex pattern of multi-directional lugs. Other features include a gore-tex waterproof membrane, climbing-style lacing, a fabric and suede upper, and good all-round hold of the foot. We found the vortex XCR a tad heavy and bulky for our personal liking, but if you’re after a strong and protective shoe that should last far longer than its relatively flimsy lightweight competitors, this fits the bill.
Columbia facet 30 outdry
Injecting some urban flare and street-ready style into the rambling scene, these walking shoes are all about the eye-catching midsole: a geometric pattern of pyramidal triangles that wouldn’t look out of place in the Tate Modern. But this angular styling isn’t just about looking on-trend. The plush midsole provides springy cushioning and a high energy return. The rest of the shoe – the textile upper, lacing, tongue and all-round design – is sneaker-like in every regard, resulting in a lightweight, waterproof and uber-comfy walking trainer.
It’s neither technical nor particularly protective, and we didn’t find the outsole the grippiest (especially during descents), but this isn’t a shoe for the highest of mountains or meanest of trails. Instead it’s one we’d wear on city and countryside micro-adventures involving just as much time in the beer garden or coffee house as on the trail. Plus at this very affordable price-point, you’ll have some spare change for an extra iced latte or Rekorderlig in the beautiful British sunshine (hopeful thinking).
Salomon outline prism GTX
Salomon manufacture loads of highly-technical, top-performing trail running shoes and hiker hybrids designed for hardcore adventures, but we actually love this less high-octane option. The Salomon outline prism – a minor revamp of the original outline shoe – is a great everyday trainer. You can wear it to the shops, in the garden, or out and about town, as well as when you’re walking the dog, countryside strolling or even hiking up a mountain. It’s very versatile, thanks to the contemporary, lightweight and comfy design, and you get everything you need: waterproofing, good traction, protective mudguard and lightweight comfort.
On Running cloudventure waterproof
We can’t help but find this shoe’s outsole utterly mesmerising. It’s a work of art – a deeply-ridged wave of aesthetically-alluring lugs and hollow “cloud” pods with a delightfully crinkly profile. Or maybe that’s just us? Either way, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the purpose of this striking outsole design: the “clouds” compress on impact to improve cushioning, and then become firmer for an explosive take-off on your next step. It’s as if the shoe itself is willing you forward with every stride.
Designed primarily as a trail running shoe, the cloudventure works just as well for walking. The outsole is grippy, cushioning is good, and the rubberised toe box and heel counter are firm and protective. We didn’t find them the comfiest out-of-the-box, and sometimes stones get stuck in-between the lugs, but all in all performance was solid during our tests in the Lake District.
The verdict: Men’s walking shoes
Our top spot goes to the Danner trail 2650 for its amazing comfort and springy cushioning in a handsome design. For ridge walking and rocky scrambling, the La Sportiva tx4 GTX is easily our favourite, while for fast-hiking the Inov8 roclite g 315 GTX is a brilliantly technical shoe.
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Tackle tough terrain with the best high-performing men’s walking boots
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