If you prefer heavy, protective, and stiff hiking shoes, this story isn’t for you. Go ahead and Google “Keen Liberty Ridge.” They are the mother of all high-performance hiking boots. Seasoned guides swear by ‘em.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something lighter, more flexible, and less clunky, you’ve come to the right place. Having tested more than a dozen candidates, these are the best I could find: 5 alternative—if not low-profile—hiking shoes that rock.
Before listing the winners, remember: you can wear whatever you like while hiking. Said footwear doesn’t have to be gray or brown or chunky or even necessarily labeled for “hiking,” so long as you find them comfortable. Enough preaching. Onto the list.
Vasque Grand Traverse. Traditional hiking attributes with minimalist style. That’s the best way to describe the Vasque Grand Traverse. They’re lightweight, flexible and breathable, but their sticky rubber soles grip like crazy. As you can see, they look the part, but they really do play it in a novel, unrestricted way. Good for rocky, loose, or mountainous hikes—long as much as short range. 5 stars out of 5. ($120)
Columbia Ventfreak Outdry. The name is a mouthful. The make isn’t as distinguished as more specialized brands. But Columbia’s Ventfreak Outdry are bona fide. They’re feel like your favorite highly breathable and cushioned running shoes, but they’re also lightweight, waterproof and grippy. In a best of both worlds approach, the synthetic upper overlays add support without adding weight or girth. 4.5 stars out of 5. ($115)
Teva Wander Lace. Make no mistake: these shoes are not intended for elevation changes or hikes over a dozen miles. But the Teva Wander Lace are than enough for flat hikes up to 10 miles. They’re also featherlight, thanks to the minimalist midsole, and durable, thanks to a canvas upper. At $50, the Wander Lace are proof that sometimes you can get more than you pay for. 4 stars out of 5. ($50)
Astral Brewer. Like Native Shoes, the Astral Brewers are like Crocs without the clog silhouette. They still look a little bizarre, but they’re more streamlined. Unlike Native Shoes, the Brewers are much more functional when it comes hiking, especially in water. There are drainage holes throughout, a level midsole for even support, an airmesh upper and a grippy outsole. The Brewers are ill-suited for inclines or slippery hikes but adequate for everything else. 4 stars out of 5. ($99)
Vans Classic Slip-On. A funny thing happens when you hike The Narrows, a world-renowned Utah slot canyon permanently flooded by knee-to-waist high water. First-timers and foreigners often rent technical river shoes that offer little more than quick drainage and funny looks. Repeat hikers and locals, however, usually reach for something more practical. And few things are better in The Narrows (or everyday hikes, for that matter) than Van’s Classic Slip-Ons. Comfortable elastic upper and cushiony midsoles. Lots of rubber for extra traction. 5 stars out of 5. ($45)
HONORABLE MENTION: Pearl Izumi Emotion Trail—These lightweight, meaty-grip, and cushioned trail-runners pull double-duty as excellent hikers ($120).