Some years, trail-shoe technology is pretty stagnant. But this year there’s no shortage of stuff to talk about. For one, a number of brands are using Gore-Tex Surround, an enveloping new water-proof protection that allows heat and moisture to vent in all directions, even through the sole. Arc’teryx, the high-end Canadian apparel company, has taken a step into footwear, and its inaugural line offers progressive features like a tongueless design and a laminated one-piece upper. And while rockered shoes have been around for a while, Salewa’s Speed Ascent is the most extreme example we’ve seen. With so much change coming so fast, there’s a lot to consider, but that also makes it a great time to invest in a new pair or hikers.
Salewa Speed Ascent
If dashing up peaks or down trails is your thing, then this is the shoe for you. Read the full Gear of the Year review.
La Sportiva Primer Low GTX
Best For: Hot, wet days.
The Test: This was the driest, coolest waterproof light hiker we tested, by a healthy margin. Credit Gore-Tex’s new Surround membrane and a highly breathable plastic exoskeleton, which promotes airflow without sacrificing support. La Sportiva is known for making top-flight climbing shoes, so it’s no surprise that the Primer ($175) displayed exceptional grip on wet surfaces. “It was actually difficult getting used to just how well it stuck to the trail in all manner of conditions,” said one tester. Our only complaint: the higher-than-average heel is less stable than we’d like.
The Verdict: Go fast, stay dry, keep cool. 13.2 oz; sportiva.com
Helly Hansen Trackfinder 3 HT
Best For: Weekend escapes.
The Test: At first glance, the low-top Trackfinder ($110) seems like a bendy, cushy running shoe. But once it’s on your foot, it’s surprisingly stiff and stable. One tester carried his 15-month-old daughter on several long day hikes and never complained of ankle soreness. There’s not much padding in the tongue or sides, and the fit is narrow, but most testers appreciated the snug feel. Midsize lugs grip well in varying terrain, and while it’s not as breathable as the La Sportiva, Helly Hansen’s proprietary waterproof-breathable membrane kept the rain from leaking in.
The Verdict: Ideal for long day hikes with a medium pack. 12 oz; hellyhansen.com
Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R Breeze
Best For: Stream crossings.
The Test: With lots of breezy mesh and a high-traction tread, the Breeze ($110) is somewhere between a hiking boot and a water shoe. It’s not an ideal hybrid—that airy upper can get gummed up on sandy trails—but the solid chassis and reinforced heel and toe cup held up well over jagged rocks. “With most mesh shoes, I’d be scared of ripping my feet to shreds on technical terrain,” said one tester. “But I felt totally comfortable.” When it’s used as a water shoe, the EVA tongue and molded liner are plenty comfy, and it dries fast.
The Verdict: A tough, low-cut hiker that’s happy wet. 11.5 oz; adidas.com
Chaco Holbuck Waterproof
Best For: Sandal lovers.
The Test: The Holbuck ($150) is a Chaco reimagined as a hiking boot. It has the same comfy footbed—great arch support, blister-free heel cup, and solid, protective midsole—but adds reinforcement at the toe and ankle. Testers raved about how comfortable it was out of the box. “If you’ve worn Chaco sandals in the past, you’ll feel right at home,” said one. It wasn’t as breathable as some of the other shoes in our test, but the waterproof liners kept our feet dry on sloppy trails.
The Verdict: Comfort is the top priority here. Enjoy the ride. 1.1 lbs; chacos.com
Vasque Inhaler Mid GTX
Best For: Weight watchers.
The Test: The Inhaler ($160) was a tester favorite—a tough high-top that weighs little more than a low-cut hiker. “I felt like I could literally jog in these things,” said one. Traditional Gore-Tex liners kept our feet dry through several rainstorms, and abundant mesh on the sides and small, air-permeable grids at the toe and heel helped with temperature regulation.
The Verdict: Ankle support without a lot of bulk. 1.9 lbs; vasque.com
Arc’teryx Acrux FL Shoe
Best For: Serious trail abuse.
The Test: Arc’teryx’s new line of shoes are sleek, durable, and packed with technology. In the Acrux ($190), the tongue was jettisoned in favor of a mesh-lined bootie that keeps your foot snugly in place and prevents debris from getting in. The shoe has zero seams: Arc’teryx laminated the materials together to create a supertough one-piece upper that showed nary a scuff even after six months of frequent use. Extra points for the approach-shoe-style toe rand—great for scrambles.
The Verdict: A bombproof shoe for gnarly terrain. 14.5 oz; arcteryx.com
Mammut Comfort High GTX Surround
Best For: Backpacking in the rain.
The Test: Think of it as the hiking-boot counterpart to a top-end waterproof-breathable jacket. “It shakes off water like my favorite shell,” said one tester after hiking soggy Colorado trails. Like the La Sportiva, it features Gore-Tex’s Surround technology. Combine that with an outer made of mostly ripstop nylon (which cuts weight), and a rugged rubber toe cap, and the Comfort High ($199) moves fast in mucky conditions. Thick lugs provide a firm but stable landing.
The Verdict: Best support-to-weight ratio in our test. 2 lbs; mammut.ch
Scarpa R-evolution GTX
Best For: Heavy loads.
The Test: It can takes weeks or even months to break in a pair of backpacking boots. Not so with the R-evolution ($239). Testers found these high-tops to be all-day comfortable, thanks largely to a redesigned tongue that readily conforms to the foot and allows you to cinch the outer snugly (also removing the chance of blisters). A stiff midsole, burly tread, and an extra-thick suede outer make this the ideal boot for grueling multi-day trips. And the Gore-Tex liner was protective even in summer monsoons.
The Verdict: Planning an AT through-hike? Get these. 1.4 lbs; scarpa.com
Keen Durand Mid WP
Best For: All-around performance.
The Test: “Cushy like a Cadillac, dependable like a Toyota truck” is how one tester summed up the Durand ($180). Lots of padding and an extra-wide toe box kept feet comfy on longer days, and tough nubuck leather held up like a champ after multiple thrashings through rocky scree fields. Built with Keen’s proprietary polyurethane midsole, the boot is supremely stable. The outsole features grippy rubber that one over-amped tester insisted helped him jump around on wet rocks “like Spider-Man.”
The Verdict: One boot to rule them all—light enough for day hikes, sturdy enough for backpacking. 1.3 lbs; keenfootwear.com