testing hiking shoes in the mountains of Alaska

Best Trail Runner Hiking Shoes Comparison Table

Hiking Shoes Price ($) Weight (oz) Heel Stack (mm) Drop (mm)
HOKA Speedgoat 5 155 10.3 33 4
Altra Lone Peak 8 140 10.7 25 0
HOKA Challenger 7 145 8.9 31 4
Saucony Peregrine 13 140 9 28 4
Salomon Thundercross 140 11.1 31 4
Topo Athletic Mtn Racer 3 150 10.1 33 5
various trail running shoes laid out to show tread and upper

Full Reviews: Best Trail Running Shoes For Hiking

Best Hiking Shoes – Staff Pick

HOKA Speedgoat 5

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. Read more in our full-length HOKA Speedgoat 5 Review.

  • 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
  • Pros: Comfortable. Great Traction. Very cushioned. Breathable. Very grippy.
  • Cons: Might be too much cushion for some.

Construction & Features

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.

Verdict

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 Zero Drop Hiking Shoes

Altra Lone Peak 8

The Altra Lone Peak 8 trail runners are the latest iteration of the hiking shoe that popularized zero drop, but equally as famous for its wide toe box fit.

  • Price: $140
  • M’ Weight: 10.7 oz | W’s Weight: 9.2 oz
  • Heel-Forefoot-Drop: 25-25-0 mm
  • Lugs: ~4 mm | Rockplate: Yes
  • Width: Standard with wide toe box | Overall Fit: True to size
  • Wide Sizes Available: yes
  • On Trail/Off trail? Either
  • Pros: Wide toe box is very comfy on long hiking days. Good value. Zero drop (if that’s what you’re into).
  • Cons: Wide toe box is sloppy for traversing slopes. Outsole is inferior to Vibram. Wider heel cup may not provide secure fit for narrower heels. Moderate cushion.

Construction & Features

The Altra Lone Peaks are famous for two primary characteristics, zero drop and wide toe box. We will address each.

Firstly, the wide toe box. This is generally a great feature for hiking long days on trail. It allows your toes to splay out, improving balance. But perhaps more importantly, it offers excess space to accommodate swollen feet after so many miles. It also reduces contact with the shoe sidewalls and reduces the likelihood of your toes rubbing against each other, all of which helps to prevent blisters.

But there is downside. When traversing perpendicularly across steep slopes, the angle will cause your forefoot to drift about inside the wide toe box, creating a sloppy, sloshing effect. This decreases comfort and safety, and increases the likelihood of rolling an ankle. As such, we dislike this shoe for off-trail travel, despite the capable tread.

Zero drop is another big part of the Lone Peaks. As a reminder, this means that the heel and the forefoot are on a flat plane with no downward slope as you would find in traditional running shoes. This activities more of your calf muscles. Some people love it, other hate it, and there’s not right or wrong answer. Whatever works best for you!

A few other notable elements to this shoe are its moderate midsole cushioning of 25mm. While we have come to prefer a slightly cushier shoe, this is still a totally valid and acceptable amount and they are comfy to wear. It also features a rock plate. The proprietary MaxTrac outsoles with ~4mm lugs (estimate) are fine, but people seem to find that they’re a bit less grippy on wet surfaces and a bit lower durability than true Vibram rubber. Nonetheless, they’re quite grippy in most situations.

Regarding the latest updates, V8 appears to be a minor upgrade over the 7 series. This season, the engineered mesh upper has been swapped back to a more traditional woven ripstop grid fabric for enhanced durability and old-school Altra chic. Perhaps the biggest and best surprise is that Altra cranked the price downward by $10, inflation be damned.

Verdict

The Altra Lone Peak 8s are still a great hiking shoe, the wide toe box is still super comfy, and they’re still zero drop if that’s what you’re into. And for $140, they’re actually a pretty good value!

Best On-Trail Performance

HOKA Challenger 7

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. Read more in our comprehensive HOKA Challenger 7 Review.

  • 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.

Construction & Features

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. A

dding 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.

Verdict

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 Traction

Salomon Thundercross

Enjoy exceptional traction and comfort in this fully cushioned trail running shoe with aggressive 5mm rubber lugs. With zero break-in required, Thundercross’s outsole delivers best-in-class grip to hikers and runners alike on steep and/or slippery terrain. Read more in our full-length Salomon Thundercross Review.

  • Price: $140
  • M’ Weight: 11.1 oz | W’s Weight: 8.6 oz
  • Heel-Forefoot-Drop: 31-27-4
  • Lugs: 5 mm | Rockplate: No
  • Width: Average trending narrow | Overall Fit: True to size
  • Wide Sizes Available: No
  • On Trail/Off trail/Road: Yes/Definitely/No
  • Pros: Exceptional best-in-class traction. No break-in period/comfy out of the box. Energy return foam. Full cushion. Good value. Quick/easy on/off. Protective rand on entire forefoot and side foot.
  • Cons: Quicklace™ system is less comfortable than traditional laces when worn tight. Lots of non-breathable surface area on upper.

Construction & Features

What an interesting upper. The tightly woven fabric above the forefoot continues up the midfoot to create a collar. The QuickLace system (cinch with one pull) is quick to operate and tucks into the collar, but the narrow cordage can create a pressure point at the ankle when fully tightened. Plasticy reinforcements are added to the side for structure and to hold pressure from the laces. A full coverage rand protects the front and side of the foot.

With a 31mm energyFOAM midsole, the Thundercross deliver a comfy ride to runners and hikers alike. We would describe it as full-cushion. There is a 4mm drop between heel and forefoot, offering a universal, well balanced foot angle.

The outsole is decked out in aggressive and extremely grippy 5mm lugs that perform well on all types of difficult terrain including rock, mud, dirt, and most importantly, steep slopes. This shoe is our current go-to wherever traction is key.

Fit-wise, we would describe this shoe as true to size length, standard width midfoot, with a slightly wide forefoot and narrow heel.

Verdict

Choose the Thundercross for running and hiking confidently on steep terrain when traction is paramount, but all-day comfort still matters. Thanks to the aggressive lugs, standard fit, full-cushion midsole, and near-universally appealing 4mm drop, almost anyone can find what they’re looking for in this shoe. Whether or not you love the QuickLace system, we’re confident that you’ll love end result, which is a great all-around pair of trail runners.

Top Pick Hiking Shoes

Topo Athletic Mtn Racer 3

The Topo Athletic Mtn Racer 3 is a top contender among trail running shoes for hiking, because it’s lightweight, cushioned, low-but-not-zero drop, and has a wide toe box. It is most similar to the HOKA Speedgoats, but with a wider toe box, cushioned tongue, and slightly less aggressive tread.

  • Price: $150
  • M’ Weight: 10.1 oz | W’s Weight: 8.3 oz
  • Heel-Forefoot-Drop: 33-28-5
  • Lugs: 4 mm (estimate) | Rockplate: No
  • Width: Average, with extra wide toe-box | Overall Fit: True to size
  • Wide Sizes Available: No
  • On Trail/Off trail? Either
  • Pros: Comfortable. Wide toe box. Cushioned. Breathable. Protective toe rand. Good all-arounder. Padded tongue.
  • Cons: Toe box might be too wide for some.

Construction & Features

Starting with the fit, we would describe these as fairly standard/true to size, only with quite a wide toe box. It’s wider than HOKA, and similar to how Altra used to be before they slimmed down a bit with the Altra lone peak 7.

We’ve always loved Topo’s laces and tongues, because they’re highly cushioned, and rarely ever come undone. This increases comfort, and reduces the likelihood of cutting of circulation in the event that you have to really cinch down on technical terrain.

The lugs are nice and grippy, with moderately deep vibram lugs, but the traction is not exceptional. Fine though, because not every shoe needs to be optimized for that, and bigger/deeper lugs add weight – not what a racer wants. What they do want is a lighter weight shoe, which you get here, at 10.1 oz per shoe for men’s, and 8.3 oz for women’s. This is important for hiking too, and adds spring to your step.

The proprietary “Zip Foam” insole could be springy to walk or run in, but for the most part, you probably won’t notice it that much while hiking. The mesh upper has a nicely protective front rand and breathable textile around the mid foot.

Verdict

The Topo Athletic Mtn Racer 3 is a great all-arounder for both hiking and running. They are a direct competitor to our beloved HOKA Speedgoats, and may be worth choosing if you value wider toe boxes and cushioned laces/tongues.

Top Pick Hiking Shoes

Saucony Peregrine 13

We’re excited to recommend the Saucony Peregrine 13 for hiking and backpacking as the best option if you dislike the cushiness of HOKA or the zero drop of Altra. This trail runner builds on a legacy of excellence, and is a great all-around model, and is traditional/standard/as expected across the board. Learn more in our full-length Saucony Peregrine 13 Review.

  • 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. Great traction. Rockplate. Durable. Splash resistant. Traditional fit, drop, cushion, toe box width.
  • Cons: Tightly woven upper isn’t the most breathable. Heel cup doesn’t have the best hold.

Construction & Features

At only 9 oz Suacony Peregrine 13 is on the lighter weight 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 slightly wide, but fairly standard. This reviewer has narrow heels, and we find that the heel cup does not lock us down perfectly and we have room to spare in that department. A bit more cushion here would have been nice, however, anyone with average or wide heels should be fine.

The bottom tread is very grippy, and has a very potent chevron pattern with 5mm tread. The upper mesh is woven tightly to offer additional durability as well as splash protection, but that also makes it warmer and less breathable than a more open knit or meshy weave. The entire lower half is reinforced with protective mesh for added durability against scrapes. We expect this to be a longer-than-average-lasting pair of trail running shoes.

Verdict

Saucony Peregrine 13 are a well-made and well-rounded, great overall pair of trail runners. From the fit to the cushion to the feature set, they take a middle-of the road approach in all aspects which makes them universally appealing. We wish it had a more cushioned/lock-in heel cup, and more breathability on the mesh uppers. Choose if you dislike the hyper-cushioning of HOKA or the zero drop/extra wide toe box of Altra.

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.

wearing hoka speed goat 5 shoes on rock

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 off-trial terrain (as scene in the cover photo), 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…

Conclusion

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.

19 replies
  1. Ramona
    Ramona says:

    Good afternoon!
    If you had to choose between HOKA Challenger ATR 7 with HOKA Speedgoat 5, which shoes would you choose for a backpacking road (Camino)?

    Reply
    • Jaeger Shaw
      Jaeger Shaw says:

      Hi Ramona,

      We’d definitely recommend the Challenger 7 over the Speedgoat 5 for the use case you’re describing. The Challenger is lighter, and has an airier mesh – good for warm weather and more efficient steps. But more importantly, it has the flat non-lugged outsoles under the exterior midfoot which creates a more effective rebound off hard flat surfaces. Speedgoat would have overkill traction and slightly decrease your efficiency. Hope that helps! Happy hiking!

      Reply
      • Ramona
        Ramona says:

        Thank you so much for giving such a very exhaustive answer. A very valuable forum. Thank you for your professional research.

        Reply
  2. Danny
    Danny says:

    That’s a very helpful list thank you!
    I recall from previous posts that you were a fan of the Brooks Cascadias. It would be interesting to learn your thoughts and why they no longer made the cut.

    Reply
    • Jaeger Shaw
      Jaeger Shaw says:

      Hi Danny,

      Great question – thanks! Two main reasons. 1. A new version, the 17s, just launched a few months back, and we haven’t gotten around to testing them yet. 2. The Cascadias have always had a fairly traditional running shoe design with 8mm drop and low cushion 20mm heel stack height. Over the years, we’ve come to prefer the HOKA Speedgoat archetype, which is a low-not-zero drop in the 4mm range, and high cushion with heel stack in the 30mm range. The Cascadias have always been a good shoe for what they are, but that chassis isn’t in line with our current preferences. Maybe they’ll prove us wrong when we get around to testing though. If you pick up a pair, let us know what you think!

      Reply
  3. JP
    JP says:

    Any thoughts about LaSportiva? I have been using Raptors for the last 7 years – seem to get 600 miles out of them, good grip and foot protection but breathable at the same time. Not sure where they are on the drop/cushion metric, but zero drop did not work for me.

    Reply
  4. Calvin
    Calvin says:

    Would you recommend the Speedboat 5 and its high heel stack for high routes (Sierra High Route, Wind River High Route, etc.)? When would you, if ever, recommend using a hiking shoe or boot?

    Reply
    • Jaeger Shaw
      Jaeger Shaw says:

      Yes, the Speedgoat 5 would be excellent for high routes. It is very grippy for traversing scree fields and has a secure-yet-comfortable fit. We use traditional hiking shoes and boots almost never, but will make an exception for non-3-season conditions, snow, etc.

      Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
  7. 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?

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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”

    Reply

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