testing hiking shoes in the mountains of Alaska

Best Hiking Shoes 2023 | Trail Runners

If you’re researching which are the best trail runners to use as hiking shoes in 2023, then you’ve come to the right place! This guide is informed by decades of experience ultralight backpacking in trail runners. We’ve worn them as hiking shoes on trails all around the world, and even off-trail through Tundra in Alaska’s Brook Range, canyoneering in Grand Staircase-Escalante, and over class 3 terrain on the Sierra High Route. By now, we’re very confident that trail running shoes are superior to boots for an overwhelming majority of people and on an overwhelming majority of hikes. 

This buyer’s guide to the best trail running shoes for hiking is for just that – hiking and backpacking, on or off-trail! While every single trail runner we’ve included is renowned for its actual trail running prowess, we analyze each of them exclusively from the perspective of how they are built and how they perform while walking with a backpack on as hiking shoes. For more info about why hiking in trail runners is superior to boots, jump ahead to the pro tips section after the reviews.

Ultimately, the most important factor in determining which is the best pair of trail runners to use as hiking shoes, is which fits you best and is most comfortable. However, that’s very subjective, so for the purpose of online shopping, we will only link to sellers with generous return policies. If a pair of trail running shoes just isn’t comfortable on your feet, you should definitely return or exchange them until you find the right pair. Happy hiking!

The Best Trail Runners For Hiking

various trail running shoes laid out to show tread and upper

Best Trail Running Shoes For Hiking | Full Reviews

Best Hiking Shoes – Staff Pick

HOKA Speedgoat 5

Price: $155
M’ Weight: 10.3 oz | W’s Weight: 8.5 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 33-29-4 | W’s 31-27-4
Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: No
Width: Average | Overall Fit: True to size
Wide Sizes Available: yes
On Trail/Off trail? Either

HOKA Speedgoat 5 is the trail runner we love most! We find it to be very comfortable and grippy in all situations, and the fifth edition is a big improvement over the fourth, making it lighter and more breathable. Alan and Jaeger were both hiking in Speedgoats as their trail running shoes of choice for going over snowy passes on the Wonderland Trail in 2022.

With a heel stack height >30, this is the tallest and most cushioned pair of trail running hiking shoes on our list, but aside from the excellent comfort that it provides, you would hardly notice it to be thick and clunky. Rather, we find walking in it to be pleasant, and that our steps are accurate and precise. Speedgoats have a 4mm drop, which we find to be a sweet spot. Adding to the comfort is a widened toe box , though the entire footbed is narrower than Altra Lone Peak’s, so those with average width feet won’t slosh around as much in technical terrain.

The tread might be our favorite part of this trail runner. 5mm of Vibram Megagrip with traction lugs do an excellent job on dirt, rock, mud, grass, and anything else you might walk on. We rarely ever slip or slide when wearing Speedgoats. Our only complaint is that the tread wears out a bit faster than average, and worn tread is the most likely reason you would need to replace a pair. We expect this trail running shoe to last a few hundred miles, less if you’re constantly on scratchy/rocky terrain.

As hiking shoes go, the mesh upper is very comfortable, quick drying, breathable, and doesn’t rub or chafe at all. The toe cap is reinforced and has yet to fail us. The laces are simple, but seem to grip themselves well and never come undone. We love the extended heel tab, which makes sliding in and out a breeze.

HOKA Speedgoat 5’s are an incredible, effective, comfortable trail runner, at home on or off the trail, no matter how gnarly the terrain.

Best Hiking Shoes – Thru-Hiker Favorite

Altra Lone Peak 7

Price: $150
M’s Weight: 11.0 oz | W’s Weight: 9.2 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 25-25-0 | W’s 25-25-0
Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: Yes
Width: Average (V7 is narrower) | Overall Fit: True to size
Wide Sizes Available: Yes
On Trail/Off trail? Either, but prefers on trail.

Pros: Zero drop. Wide toe box. Most popular on PCT. Great traction. Long Lasting. Rockplate.
Cons: Zero drop. Light cushion. A bit sloppy on technical terrain.

The Altra Lone Peak 7 has long been the most popular trail runner on the PCT thanks to its durability, width, and comfort. And we take thru-hiker gear endorsements very seriously.

Of course this trail running shoe is comfortable and grippy, but Lone Peak’s secret sauce is the famous extra wide toe box. Over the course of a long day of hiking, the forefoot and toes tend to swell and enlarge slightly, which the Lone Peaks accommodate perfectly with the natural foot shape.

As hiking shoes go, Lone Peak has previously been known to run wide. However, Altra has tamped the width down slightly from its hay day, so people without wide feet can enjoy it more securely without the sense that they’re sloshing about. And if you do have wide feet, purchase the wide width size.

The Altra Lone Peak is also a zero drop shoe, which can be divisive with an equal heel/forefoot stack height of 25mm. Walking in zero drop can feel a bit odd at first as it increases activation of the calf and along the Achilles, but we find the transition for hikers is easier than for runners, and that most people quickly get used to it. We prefer it when going downhill or on flats, but for steep uphill, a bit of drop is preferably. As trail running shoes go, it has a fairly light amount of cushioning, but the rock plate and sturdy midsole helps provide extra defense.

This is a trail runner that is comfy enough for long days on hard packed trail, yet responsive enough for scrambling or boulder hopping. These trail runners are comfortable out of the box, with enough support to be ready for long days immediately.

Altra’s are another shoe with a famously excellent tread. Theirs is called MaxTrac, and it has aggressive, 5mm lugs in a chevron pattern, perfect for gripping on slanted, slippery terrain. Perhaps because of the tread and thick midsole, this is the heaviest trail runner on our list, though on average only by one ounce per shoe.

Like most hiking shoes we recommend, it has a comfy, quick drying, breathable mesh upper with a reinforced toe cap. Altra builds in a velcro attachment point, which is nice if you like wearing gaiters.

All in all, the Altra Lone Peak is a time-tested, thru-hiker approved trail runner, largely the same as it’s always been, only slightly narrower. We’re happy to continue endorsing it on this list.

Best Hiking Shoes – On Trail Performance

HOKA Challenger 7

Price: $145
M’s Weight: 8.9 oz | W’s Weight: 7.3 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 31-26-4 | W’s 29-24-4
Lugs: 4 mm | Rockplate: No
Width: Average | Overall Fit: True to size
Wide Sizes Available: Yes
On Trail/Off trail? On Trail

Pros: Lightweight. Perfectly cushioned. Wide toe box. Excellent on trail.
Cons: Modest traction.

Alan has previously described the Hoka Challenger 7 as the Goldilocks of trail running shoes for hiking. This is because it’s perfectly cushioned, lightweight, durable, long lasting, and such a comfortable and well-rounded pair of hiking shoes.

We would describe the cushion as solid and comfy, large but never too large to get in the way. It’s basically our dream cushion, perfect all-around. If we could switch every other pair of trail running shoes’ cushion out for Challenger 7’s, we probably would.

Compared to other trail runners on our list, Challenger 7 has a slightly less aggressive tread and with 4mm, instead of 5mm lugs, and flat spots under the midfoot for improved energy return. But it’s still incredibly effective and more than grippy enough for crushing long mileage days on most trails. Adding to that is its low total weight per shoe. Lighter trail runners, even if only by one ounce, help hikers walk faster.

Like its more aggressive sibling the Speedgoat, Challenger 7 uses a quick drying, super breathable mesh with a reinforced toe cap. It meets and exceeds our highest expectations in terms of comfort and durability. Plus, we love the extended heel tab for ease of on/off. Taking off the ol’ hiking shoes to let your feet breath during lunch is highly recommended.

Fit is fairly straight down the middle as trail running shoes go, and it includes a wide toe box which we love. Wide sizes are also available.

The Challenger 7 is an exceptionally great trail runner for hiking on most trails, and we feel it is the hypothetical best pair of hiking shoes for the typical hiker on a typical hike.

Best Hiking Shoes – New Release

Saucony Peregrine 13

Price: $140
M’s Weight: 9 oz | W’s Weight: 8 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 28-24-4 | W’s 28-24-4
Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: Yes
Width: Slightly Narrow | Overall Fit: True
Wide Sizes Available: Yes
On Trail/Off trail? Both

Pros: Lightweight. Good traction. Rockplate. Durable. Wide toe box.
Cons: Relatively untested.

Updated for 2023, we’re excited to test out the new Saucony Peregrine 13. This trail runner builds on a legacy of excellence, and appears to be a great all-around model, a perfect jack of all trades.

At only 9 oz it’s on the lighter end of hiking shoes, which helps you move faster and more efficiently. It has an average height heel stack and cushion level with a very slight drop of 4mm (our preferred sweet spot). It’s beefed up with a rock plate too, so we feel this trail runner should be fairly comfortable on rocky trails. The toe box is decently wide.

The bottom tread is very grippy, and has a very potent chevron pattern with 5mm tread. The upper mesh is comfortable, breathable, and the entire lower half is reinforced with protective film for added durability. We expect this to be a fairly long lasting pair of trail running shoes.

Saucony Peregrine 13 are an exciting and very well-rounded, great overall pair trail runners, and we will report back as we use ours this hiking season.

Best Hiking Shoes – Value

Brooks Cascadia 16

Price: $130
M’s Weight: 10.5 oz | W’s Weight: 8.9 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 20-12-8 | W’s 20-12-8
Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: Yes
Width: Slightly narrow | Overall Fit: True
Wide Sizes Available: Yes
On Trail/Off trail? Both

Pros: Favorable price. Great traction. Rockplate. Durable. Rugged.
Cons: Light on cushion. Stiff. Requires break in.

As the name implies, Brooks Cascadia 16 has long been a player when considering which trail runners to hike in. And yet it is also a great buy! At $130, the 16 is the least expensive trail running shoes for hiking on our list. Plus, it’s the lightest weight pair of Cascadias to-date.

Architecturally, this is a burly shoe. It has great traction with 5mm lugs that work on everything, a rock shield, and thick, stiff midsoles that help compensate for the minimal cushioning. To conjure an equivalent, we think it is fairly similar to the Altra Lone Peak style of shoe, only with an 8mm drop and less wide of a toe box. This is a great pair of hiking shoes to try next if you like Lone Peak, but disliked zero drop or found it to be too wide.

Adding to the beastliness is its TPU coated mesh siding and the protective toe box. This adds durability and prevents snags, scrapes, and scratches, but reduces breathability and comfort. Cascadia is actually more like a lite-duty hiking shoe than a trail runner in that way.

Despite the protective midsole, we ding Cascadia for under-utilizing cushion. The heel stack is only at 20 mm to the forefoot’ 12 mm. That gives it a fairly typical 8mm drop, though users report it feels like less drop than it reads. While that might matter more for stability, security, and ground feel when running, for the purposes of hiking, that’s just a bit minimal given contemporary cushion preferences for trail running shoes.

In totality, this is a rugged pair of hiking shoes, and a very durable model with great traction, stability, and a true legacy on the trail runner scene.

Best Hiking Shoes – Sustainability

On Cloudvista

Price: $150
M’s Weight: 10.1 oz | W’s Weight: 8.4 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s | W’s
Lugs: ~3-4 mm | Rockplate: No
Width: Average to slightly narrow | Overall Fit: Small
Wide Sizes Available: No
On Trail/Off trail? On Trail

Pros: Sustainable design. High energy return foam.
Cons: Light traction.

We’re excited to hike more in the On Cloudvista, a more-sustainable-than-average trail runner of Swiss design. After surveying the marketplace, we believe On is a leader in transparency, and while no trail runner is perfect, they state that Cloudvista is made of 15% recycled material in total volume, and the upper is 70% recycled. We will continue to be on the lookout for more trail runners and hiking shoes made with even more recycled material.

The Cloudvista is designed with their flagship high energy return Helion Foam, which is lightweight, comfortable, and looks super fancy but probably isn’t a huge value-add for hiking. Perhaps it adds some spring to your step, but either way, we’d put this in the medium cushion level, medium comfort level.

On Cloudvista has a typical 9mm drop, which is basically what you would expect from the average trail running shoes. That said, we do prefer a slightly lower drop for hiking specifically, though it’s largely personal preference.

From a sustainability perspective, we love seeing white shoes because manufacturing it uses less dye and creates less waste water. But for trail runners, boy they get dirty quickly. We’ll leave color selection up to you.

As hiking shoes go, the fit is small and narrow, so make sure to size up. It’s a euro thing.

Of all trail running shoes on this list, Cloudvista probably has the least aggressive tread. The lugs are squares not chevrons, and well their height in mm isn’t listed, we’d guess it’s closer to 3-4mm below the bottom of the outsole. That said, less aggressive tread lasts longer and is more durable, so it’s not all downside. Needless to say, this is not the trail runner we would recommend for super gnarly terrain, mud, or snow, but it should do more than fine on 99% of trails.

The On Cloudvista is a comfortable, lightweight, simple trail runner that is more sustainable than most, and we hope it serves you as well as it serves the environment.

Best Hiking Shoes – Traction

Salomon Speedcross 6

Price: $140
M’s Weight: 10.5 oz | W’s Weight: 9.1 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 32-22-10 | W’s 32-22-10
Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: No
Width: Slightly narrow | Overall Fit: Small
Wide Sizes Available: Yes
On Trail/Off trail? Prefers off trail.

Pros: Incredible traction on wet muddy surfaces.
Cons: Inefficient for use on everyday trails.

Just look at how beastly the tread on the Salomon Speedcross 6 is. This is a trail runner that was designed specifically for running in muddy, wet, slippery conditions, which comes up quite a lot in hiking. This is the hiking shoe we would want on a trip in early summer where you have to hike across snowfields that are creating mud patches. It’s also great on loose gravely dry dirt, snow, ice, and even rocks. Great for rainy conditions too!

Salomon Speedcross 6 is a slim, narrow, glove-like trail runner that is meant to increase precision, at which it is very successful. It tends to fit pretty small and slim, but it comes in a wide version so choose your poison. It’s a fully built trail shoe, with a 32mm heel stack, and a traditional 10mm drop to the 22mm forefoot height. Compared to the 5, it’s lighter weight trail running shoe, though still on the heavier end overall.

Looking at this pair of hiking shoes, you’ll notice the outer fabric is smooth and less-mesh-like than most others. This is part of the mud-resistant design. The flat face is kind of like the trail running shoe version of a soft shell – it’s not water/mud proof, but better at warding it off. However, it does not breath quite as well as mesh-ier fabrics, but that’s not one would pick these hiking shoes.

It’s important to note that this trail running shoe are not a daily driver for most hikers, unless they hike exclusively in wet mud. While the tread is excellent, it’s usually going to be overkill, and does not offer the best energy return for your typical dry dirt and rock trail, even loose ones. We recommend adding this pair to your quiver for use in spring and fall, but using something more efficient on a hike-to-hike basis. That said, we think this is a very practical hiking shoe for a specific purpose, and a great trail runner to have access to.

Best Hiking Shoes – Great All Around

Topo Athletic MTN Racer 2

Price: $145
M’s Weight: 10.0 oz | W’s Weight: 8.0 oz
Heel-Forefoot-Drop: 30-25-5
Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: No
Width: Average-to-wide | Overall Fit: True to size
Wide Sizes Available: No
On Trail/Off trail? Either

Pros: Well Rounded. 5 mm drop. Great traction. Wide toe box. Comfy.
Cons: A bit sloppy on technical terrain.

Not sure if you like HOKA or Altra better? The Topo Athletic Mtn Racer 2 combines popular features of both brands as an excellent third option for lightweight yet aggressive trail shoes.

They have a similar fit to Altra trail runners with the wider toe box, but with a small 5 mm heel-to-toe drop like HOKA. For runners or hikers with any foot or Achilles issues, this extra support is a better option than Altra’s zero drop models. On the other hand, for those who are intrigued by Hoka’s excellent traction and comfort but don’t like the more average to narrow fit, these are an excellent option.

As one would could only hope for in “mtn racer,” these shoes are designed with high energy return foam for springy step. This matters less for walking than running, but anything helps. The wide toe box is very comfortable, but the overall wider fit may make it less than ideal for technical terrain, like crawling over a boulder field, for example.

The mesh upper is comfortable, and reinforced with a toe cap, and it’s manufactured with recycled materials. The Vibram outsole has extremely aggressive lugs and can be used for nearly any type of terrain.

Topo athletic has been around for about a decade, but they still feel like a new kind on the block. That said, they make great trail runner that are very well rounded and perfect to use as hiking shoes. We highly recommend the Mtn Racer 2.

Read more…

hoka challenger hiking shoes set down on a rock

Pro Tips and Buyer Info for Hiking in Trail Runners

Why are trail runners better than boots for hiking and backpacking?

Trail running shoes for hiking are better than boots for the following reasons: (1) They are significantly lighter weight, which makes each stride less taxing, allowing the wearer to hike faster and more efficiently. (2) Trail runners have grippier outsoles and lugs for better traction. (3) They are comfier, more breathable, and far less likely to cause blisters. (4) Used as hiking shoes, trail runners are less rigid and give better surface feedback, which increases the accuracy, mobility, stability, and balance of your footfalls, which reduces likelihood of sprain. (5) Over time, wearing low top trail running shoes helps to increase the strength of your ankles, eliminating the need for high tops and reducing the likelihood of a future sprain. (6) Lastly, they also provide everything you need to start trail running, if you so choose! It’s great training for hiking season!

Why do we prefer trail running shoes that are not waterproof?

In almost all hiking scenarios, even most wet, rainy, and cold ones, we prefer hiking in traditional mesh trail runners, rather than boots, waterproof hiking shoes, or even waterproof trail running shoes. This is because waterproof shoes are much warmer, and significantly less breathable than mesh, which causes heat build up and foot sweat. This in turn leads to an increased likelihood to blister, especially in conditions that should be dry and pleasant. Over the course of a backpacking trip, we would rather get wet and dry off, then stay damp the whole time. It is a marketing ploy from hiking shoe brands to convince people they need waterproof shoes to hike. There are some situations, usually involving snow where we will wear waterproof shoes, but they are few and far between.

Why do we like trail runners with wide toe boxes?

Over the course of a long day of hiking, through repeated footfall impacts, the forefoot will start to swell and the toes will expand and spread apart slightly. For this, it is immensely helpful and significantly more comfortable to have trail running shoes with a wide toe box, because it prevents discomfort at the end of the day when you need it most. However, wide to boxes aren’t license for a sloppy midfoot or heal cup, so it’s important that you find a trail runner that fits and enhances in this way, and is not just a wide loose shoe.

What is heel/forefoot stack height and what does drop mean?

Let’s go over some of the basic stats for hiking shoes, which may be foreign to readers. Heel-to-toe drop and stack height, both of which are measured in millimeters. Heel-to-toe drop, or drop, refers to the difference between the height of your heel and the height of your toe. Basically, a zero or low drop shoe encourages the use of more calf and Achilles engagement, taking pressure away from your knees. On the other hand, higher drop hiking shoes encourage a rearfoot strike, which may alleviate any Achilles pain or strain. A trail running shoe’s stack height refers to the number of millimeters it elevates your feet from the ground. Higher stack heights will provide more plush and comfort, while lower stack heights will help the user feel more secure and close to the ground. The other stats we’ve provided, such as comfort, off-trail use, traction, and more are all self-explanatory.

Should you wear gaiters with your trail running shoes?

Nobody on the Adventure Alan staff are super keen on gaiters. We tend to hike in pants, and find that based on decades of backpacking experience, debris rarely enters our shoes, and when it does, it’s trivially easy to get rid of it. For 95% of hiking we don’t wear gaiters. But for some conditions, like snow, sand, or loose gravelly scree fields, they can come in very handy. Shop gaiters for trail running shoes at REI.

More Reading

How to Choose the Right Hiking Shoes | Everything You Need to Know Which covers, the Myth of Ankle Support, Wide vs Narrow Footbox, Zero Drop Shoes, High vs Low Stack…


Stepping into the right shoe drastically changes life on the trail, whether you struggle with blisters, foot pain, or general fatigue. Here at Adventure Alan we are huge fans of efficient and lightweight shoes that still provide adequate comfort and traction for longer trips. However, we hope with this range of options you find the fit that best suits your needs.


This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

10 replies
  1. Jesse R.
    Jesse R. says:

    You’re doing a bit of a disservice to your audience by not including trail runners from Topo Athletic. The Ultraventure 2, Terraventure 3, & MTN Racer 2 should all be included.

  2. Bill in Roswell GA
    Bill in Roswell GA says:

    Alan, I realize every shoe on the markets can’t be tested due to time constraints if nothing else. Therefore I want to note the omission of some very worthy and popular long
    trail shoes. Topo makes some excellent wide shoes with minimal drop that are durable, have near Salomon traction and are very comfortable. Topo does not have the consistent delamination problems that have plagued Altra for years, nor do they spend the bank on marketing as many popular brands.
    The other brand is Enov-8, which basically was the first to cater to long distance hikers. They are now bigger in the Euro/UK hiker arenas than the US. Just because a shoe has great marketing does not make it a great hiking shoe. Only time can determine that. In the future, please consider the smaller brands for their qualities and not just the shoes pushed by big marketing.

  3. Mike G.
    Mike G. says:

    Hey Alan,

    Thanks for the great article. Wondering what your recommendation would be for on trail hiking for the mid-atlantic/northeast on some of the lesser traveled trails. Most of my hiking is in less traveled state forests and state land in PA, WV, VA, etc. Similar to your home base I think. While these are mostly “on trail” the footing is usually rocky, rooty, wet and muddy. Much more rugged that on trail hiking on the AT or some of the on trail hikes out west.

    I’ve used more typical on trail shoes for these types of trails and I’ve found they get shredded too quickly because they’re not durable or don’t offer enough support/control for some of the more technical terrain, side hilling, etc.

    Would you recommend something like the Speedgoat for this type of hiking? Would something else fit this type of hiking better?

    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      I think the SpeedGoat would be a good fit. Great grip on the sole and more durable than a lot of trail runners. Best, -alan

  4. PaulW
    PaulW says:

    Timely article for me as I’m currently looking for new shoes. Thanks.
    You’re wrong about the Cascadias. They do come in wide (2E) since the 14 came out. Also, the Cascadia 15 is the current model, not the 14 as shown.

  5. David
    David says:

    It’s a little misleading to label these “hi-tec”, as Hi-Tec is a specific shoe brand, that actually makes hiking shoes/boots – but the shoes you mention are not made by Hi-Tec.. A better general term for cutting edge shoes with new technical innovations might be “High Tech”


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