Thru-hiking is arguably the most demanding thing a pair of shoes can be subjected to. Day after day of all-day use across varied temperatures, conditions, and surfaces. It’s not a challenge that every shoe is up for taking on.
What many would-be thru-hikers quickly learn upon beginning their “best shoe for thru-hiking” research is that, contrary to what many non-hikers (or even hikers) may imagine, hardly anyone on the long-distance trails of the world wears boots. Far more common are trail runners – lightweight shoes designed for use on rough terrain but lacking the ankle support offered by a more traditional hiking boot.
All of the shoes listed in detail here, I have either personally used or have been repeatedly held in high review by hikers participating in the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or John Muir Trail Surveys.
The chart included below includes some additional shoes available right now (in addition to the ones listed below). If you have a favorite that you don’t see here, I’m always looking for more gear to destroy, so let me know!
The Popular Option: Altra Lone Peak
+ Large toe box
+ Available in wide sizes
+ Built-in gaiter trap
+ 0 mm heel-toe drop (if you’re into that)
– Not as durable as other shoes
– New model released every year (old models are discontinued)
The Altra Lone Peak (Men’s/Women’s) is year after year, the most popular shoe among thru-hikers. Altra advertises “zero drop” shoes meaning that the shoe is level throughout. This means there is no difference in height between your heel and your toe. Altras are also known for having a wide toe box and for being lightweight. As one of the best thru-hiking shoes, the Lone Peak also has a built-in gaiter attachment at the front of the laces and a velcro attachment at the back (compatible with Altra Gaiters or others). The men’s Lone Peak comes in regular and wide sizes up to US 16 (although wide users will get fewer color options); women’s sizes go up to 12. Check them out – Men’s/Women’s.
The Cushioned Option: HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat
+ Comfortable with plenty of cushion
+ Vibram Megagrip with Traction Lug
+ Heel tab makes for easy on and off
+ Available in wide sizes
– No built-in gaiter trap
– Difficult to find at a discount
The HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat (Men’s/Women’s) is another popular shoe among thru-hikers (and is currently my personal shoe-of-choice for hiking and trail running). HOKA shoes are perhaps most-known for their cushioning and the Speedgoat doesn’t disappoint. It’s comfortable, sports a Vibram sole with 5 mm lugs, and has a protective toe rand to mitigate those times you inevitably smash the front of your foot into a rock or the ground. The bolstered heel collar makes taking off and putting on Speedgoats easier than shoes like Lone Peaks with little structure in the heel. If you plan on attaching gaiters to Speedgoats, you’ll have to bring your own velcro or use an underfoot strap (I’ve yet to find a good underfoot strap gaiter for thru-hiking or trail running). Check them out – Men’s/Women’s.
The Durable Option: Merrell Moab Ventilator
+ Extremely durable – blowouts will not be a worry
+ Vibram TC5+ outsole with protective exterior
+ More affordable than most other options
+ Available wide, waterproof, and a mid-top
– Take longer to dry than lighter options
– Significantly heavier than other options
The Merrell Moab Ventilator (Men’s/Women’s) is an extremely durable shoe that bridges the gap between a trail runner and a traditional hiking boot. Although they’re much heavier and take longer to dry than the other options listed here, they can take a severe beating and will save your feet from many of the bumps and bruises they would suffer within a less protective shoe. I used the Merrell Moab for the entirety of the Continental Divide Trail and had no issues with them. If you’re looking for protection and durability over weight and drying times, the Moab is worth a look. Check them out – Men’s/Women’s.
The Rock Plate Option: Topo Athletic Terraventure
+ Forefoot rock plate provides additional protection
+ One of the lightest trail runners available
+ Vibram Megagrip outsole
+ Built-in gaiter attachment points
– Only compatible with Topo Gaiter (out of box)
– Not available in wide sizes or a waterproof version
The Topo Athletic Terraventure (Men’s/Women’s) is the first trail runner listed here that features a forefoot rock plate to provide additional underfoot protection when on the trail. Despite the addition of a rock plate, the Terraventure is also one of the lightest options available. It features a Vibram Megagrip outsole and gaiter attachment points (although only the Topo Gaiters will work out of the box). Unfortunately, they don’t come in wide sizes and there are no waterproof or mid versions available (if you’re looking for something a bit different). Check them out – Men’s/Women’s.
The Full-Featured Option: Brooks Cascadia
+ Brooks Ballistic Rock Shield for adaptable protection
+ Built-in gaiter tab at heel (gaiter hook at front attaches to laces)
+ Available in wide sizes and a waterproof version
– Narrower toe box than other options
– New model every year (previous year’s discontinued)
The Brooks Cascadia (Men’s/Women’s) is a lightweight trail runner that’s been popular with thru-hikers for years. Despite releasing new models frequently – much to the dismay of many thru-hikers who thought they had found their shoe of choice forever in a previous iteration – Brooks is constantly tweaking and improving the Cascadia. It features a rock plate, gaiter attachment, and medium cushioning. The Cascadia is available in both wide sizes and waterproof versions. Check them out – Men’s/Women’s.
Thru-Hiking Shoe Breakdown
|Shoes||Weight (Pair)||Price||Heel-Toe Drop||Rock Plate||Cushioning||Largest Size (M)|
|Altra Lone Peak (M/W)||21.2 oz / 601 g||$140||0 mm||No||Medium||16|
|Altra Olympus (M/W)||24.6 oz / 697 g||$180||0 mm||No||Maximum||15|
|Altra Timp (M/W)||21.8 oz / 618 g||$160||0 mm||No||High||15|
|Brooks Cascadia (M/W)||21 oz / 595 g||$130||8 mm||Yes||Medium||15|
|HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR (M/W)||19.6 oz / 556 g||$140||5 mm||No||High||15|
|HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat (M/W)||20.6 oz / 584 g||$155||4 mm||No||Maximum||15|
|HOKA ONE ONE Stinson ATR (M/W)||23.4 oz / 663 g||$170||5 mm||No||Maximum||15|
|La Sportiva Bushido (M/W)||21 oz / 595 g||$145||6 mm||Yes||Medium||15.5|
|La Sportiva Wildcat (M/W)||24.7 oz / 700 g||$135||12 mm||No||Medium||13.5|
|Merrell Moab (M/W)||33 oz / 920 g||$110||N/A||No||Medium||15|
|Oboz Sawtooth X (M/W)||31.6 oz / 896 g||$125||N/A||No||Medium||15|
|Salomon XA Pro 3D (M/W)||24 oz / 680 g||$130||11 mm||Yes||Medium||14|
|Topo Athletic Terraventure (M/W)||20.4 oz / 578 g||$130||3 mm||Yes||Medium||15|
|Topo Athletic Ultraventure (M/W)||20.8 oz / 590 g||$135||5 mm||No||Medium||13|
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