Summer Buyer's Guide tester Billy Brown currently has an office, a closet, and a garage overflowing with next year's light hikers. The founder of Trek Tech blog and his testers have run about 120 boots through the ringer over the past year. In other words, he knows this category about as well as anyone else on the planet.
He also has plenty of advice for people looking to transition from trail runners to light hikers. First, if you’re shopping for new shoes, you absolutely have to try them on, says Brown. It’s also important to check the light hiker's midsole in person. "If they aren't stiff enough, you’re going to have the same problems with these as you did with sneakers," Brown says.
Twist the midsole like you’re ringing out a towel to check torsional stability. The shoe should make a quarter twist before you start to feel resistance, says Brown. Check the sole-to-heel stiffness by folding the shoe like a taco. If the toe goes up 90 degrees, then the midsole is too soft.
Brown suggests looking for uppers made from leather and synthetic fabric because it makes the upper durable without sacrificing weight. Also take into consideration the terrain you’ll be hiking. If you’re going to explore mostly in the desert, you probably don’t need waterproof hikers.
Here are some of Brown's favorite light hikers, all available now and all $130 or less. All the shoes, except for the Aescents, are available in men’s and women’s styles.
510 Aescent Shoes ($110)
Brown likes the 510 Aescent because of its spectacularly sticky stealth rubber soles. This approach shoe is the least like a true hiking boot. "They have a good sneaker vibe to them," Brown says.
Adidas Terrex Swift Rs ($115)
This is Brown’s favorite shoe. He pointed out how Adidas mixed a light trail runner’s upper with a hearty boot-like sole to create the Terrex Swift Rs. "There is a resurgence of shoes versus boots right now, and I think Adidas really does it right," Brown says.
Vasque Grand Traverse ($130)
The Grand Traverse has a relatively soft midsole, but would be a great step up for a someone who’s used to hiking in trail runners, according to Brown.
Merrell All Out Blaze ($130)
The All Out Blaze blends a minimalist feel with a good, sturdy upper, Brown says. It mixes synthetic with leather to make a durable, yet lightweight, shoe.