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The Best Backpacking Shoes

Trail running shoes are the most popular shoes for backpacking. Especially on a smoother surface and trails, the shoes are light, comfortable, and nice for long days. Trail runners are designed to be lightweight and agile, which aids perfectly for a thru-hiker, but they are also the natural choice for backpackers. With shoes that are both low (ankle height) and also GTX (waterproof) options, there is something for every trail and hiker out there. We have compiled the best and most popular shoes for backpacking among both section hikers and thru-hikers alike, with a more specific focus on smoother trails like the Pacific Crest Trail.

  1. Top Pick: Hoka Torrent 3

  2. Most Popular: Altra Lone Peak 7

  3. Close Second: Salomon Sense Ride 5

  4. Best Traditional Hiking Shoe: Merrell Moab 3

 
Hoka Torrent 3 for backpacking
Hoka Torrent 3

What we like -Good tread works on a variety of terrain -Enough cushion -Ultralight shoe

What we don’t -The heel can fit loosely for especially narrow feet -Less feeling of the trail than other shoes


The Torrent 3 strays from Hoka’s standard high stack and overengineered shoes. These are ultralight, supportive, and flexible. They even seem to fit great. It is a great shoe for a thru-hiker, and we think it is underrated in this crowded marketplace. The tread on the bottom is aggressive, and the only drawback is the less feel of the trail than other shoes on the list. One of the standout features of the Torrent 3 is its aggressive outsole, made from Vibram MegaGrip rubber, and features multidirectional lugs that provide excellent traction on a variety of surfaces.





 
Altra Lone Peak 7 for backpacking and thru hiking
Altra Lone Peak 7

What we like

What we don’t

-The wide-toe box accommodates a number of foot styles -Lightweight and stable -Perfectly aggressive tread that still lets you feel the ground

-Zero-drop shoes don’t work for everyone -Uppers wear out quickly -Hikers usually go through an extra pair of shoes compared to other options on this list.

Altra is renowned for producing wide-toe shoes that allow you to spread your toes, keeping your feet stable comfortably. And the Altra Lone Peak 7 is no exception. This shoe is great for hikers with wide feet and has decent grip and traction, making it a truly all-terrain PCT option. And the superb breathability adds to the reason this shoe is the most popular. The one drawback is the uppers wear out long before the rest of the shoe. Hikers who wear Altras often go through one more pair of shoes than the average hiker.





 
Salomon Sense Ride 5 for backpacking and thru hiking
Salomon Sense Ride 5

What we like

What we don’t

-Designed for heel striking -Durable design -Aggressive enough tread for backpacking

-A bit heavier than the average shoes on the list -A higher drop of 8mm than the average shoe -Not everyone loves the quick lace system

The Sense Ride 5 was specifically designed for heel strikes, which is how most thru-hikers walk. Like many of the shoes on the list, this is in the trail running category, but we think this shoe actually works better for hiking. It has aggressive tread, a durable upper, and a quick lace system that eliminates floppy laces. It is not the lightest option on the list, and the drop (8mm) is more than most shoes, but we still think this is a near-perfect shoe for backpacking and thru-hiking.

*Note: we found this shoe to run 1/2 size big. Consider trying on a couple of different sizes before settling on it*



 
Brooks Cascadia 16 for backpacking and thru hiking
Brooks Cascadia 16

What we like

What we don’t

-Wider toe box than previous iterations -Comfortable lacing system -Comparable weight to other shoes on the list -Long-standing product with many miles and premier athletes using it throughout its history

-Less traction than other shoes on the list -The heel fit still isn’t perfect for a narrower foot

Brooks Cascadia has been around for two decades. It was once the most popular shoe on the trail. In fact, when I started backpacking, it was my shoe of choice. And while the shoe has lost some market share, the 16 is back with some nice features that help it stack up well against the other big brands in the trail shoe space. The superb breathability and intuitive lacing system make the Brooks Cascadia 16 ideal for hikers and backpackers. The new design completely redid the fit, offering a wider toe box and improved heel shape. The traction still leaves a little to be desired, but this new iteration of the Cascadia deserves more consideration for the backpacking market.





 
Hoka Challenger Backpacking and hiking shoe review
HOKA Challenger 7

What we like

What we don’t

-Very comfortable -Lightweight, especially considering the cushioning -Great cushion for backpacking -Average durability (a plus compared to Altras)

-Not great traction, the sole is not especially sticky, and the lugs aren’t well designed -The narrow toe box does not work well with wider feet

The Challenger 7 is aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, and well-cushioned. The wider sole is a nice touch as it significantly improves your stability on any terrain. There is also great cushioning that helps avoid foot injuries that are common during long-distance hiking and training with repeated pounding on uneven terrain. Some of the features lacking in the Challenger are traction and a more narrow toe box than many other shoes. For the PCT, this shoe works well, but if there is snow in the high Sierra or Cascade Mountains, this shoe may not perform well.





 
Salomon X Ultra Pioneer Aero backpacking and thru hiking shoe review
Salomon X Ultra Pioneer Aero

What we like

What we don’t

-Lightweight and Durable -Great Traction -Good comfort and fit

-Not very breathable -Quicklace system isn’t loved by all -Heavy -We think it is too much shoe for smoother trails

The Salomon X Ultra Pioneer Aero features a snug fit design, is comfortable, and can take on any terrain. If you are looking for a shoe that allows you to pick up the pace regardless of the conditions or the terrain, then this shoe may be the right fit. The Quicklace system remains a bone of contention among hikers and backpackers, as some love it while others hate it. There is certainly a place for the Salomon X Ultra Pioneer Aero among backpackers.



 
Hoka Speedgoat 5  backpacking and thru hiking shoe review
Hoka Speedgoat 5

What we like

What we don’t

-The premium cushion provides good foot protection against the continual pounding of backpacking -Good foot protection in the uppers -Wide, stable design

-Stiff lacing system -Not very breathable -Expensive compared to others on the list -Narrower fit

The Hoka Speedgoat 5 is all about comfort, comfort, and comfort, thanks to the fat stack of EVA foam Hoka incorporated into this shoe. This provides superb cushioning, which, combined with superior stability, makes the Speedgoat 5 an excellent backpacking shoe. If you are looking for something that reduces strain on the feet and a stable upper, the Speedgoat 5 is a great option. It performs averagely in traction and can be a bit stiff right out of the box.


 
La Sportiva Bushido II backpacking and thru hiking shoe review
La Sportiva Bushido II

What we like

What we don’t

-Great Traction -The best foot protection on the list -Decent fit for most foot shapes (but runs a little small)

-Too much shoe for most thru-hikers -Not very breathable -Retains water substantially longer after the creek and river crossings

The Bushido II is specifically designed for the most challenging terrains. It’s responsive, heavily cushioned, stable, and offers decent traction. It is a bit over-designed to be a specific backpacking shoe, but it lands on this list if traction and foot protection is of specific concern. The shoe doesn’t have the best drainage system (not ideal for use in snow and river crossings). Those apart, there aren’t many shoes that can handle technical terrains, as well as the Bushido II.





 
Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 backpacking and thru hiking shoe review
Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3

What we like

What we don’t

-Durable uppers and sole -Great traction -Wide toe box -Design works for a variety of stride and foot strike types of hikers and backpackers.

-Holds mud in the tread -Stiff yet feels too many rocks -Subpar fit and lacing system

This very rugged and durable shoe takes on many terrains with style. The shoe is built to withstand a lot of punishment without much wear or tear. The Ultraventure also has a wider toe box than many of the comparable shoes on the list, and the uppers are some of the most durable of any thru-hiking shoe. But it is still not seen very frequently on the trails. This shoe holds onto the mud and can become heavy in wet weather. Despite the ruggedness and durability, this shoe feels rocks and uneven terrain more than it should.


 
Merrell Moab 3 backpacking and thru hiking shoe review
Merrell Moab 3

What we like

What we don’t

-Great Traction -The best foot protection on the list -Decent fit for most foot shapes (but runs a little small)

-Too much shoe for most thru-hikers -Not very breathable -Retains water substantially longer after the creek and river crossings

If you are planning to engage in light to moderate hiking, you should look at the Merrell Moab 3. It’s comfortable and is super-breathable. The good traction provides you maximum support on slippery or uneven terrains. However, excellent breathability comes at the expense of some foot protection. The ventilation on this shoe sits lower than others on the list. Therefore, a small puddle can seep into the sides of the shoe. The weight of the Merrell Moab 3 is also a bit on the heavier side and isn’t ideal for most backpacking trips or thru-hikers.




 
La Sportiva Wildcat backpacking and thru hiking shoe review
La Sportiva Wildcat

What we like

What we don’t

-Extreme protection and durability -High-performing shoe in rugged environments -Large footprint for premium stability

-Not a good fit, feet slide around when hiking -Heavy -Not sensitive to the trail

The La Sportiva Wildcat offers great performance when backpacking, hiking, or trail running. It also offers good protection, breathability, and durability and is versatile enough to be used on different terrains. However, the Wildcat is heavy for a trail shoe. And we feel for the weight it should offer more cushion.




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