The latest versions of synthetic, mid and high-top trail runners are here.
I steer clear of true hiking boots whenever possible…unless I’m carry a heavy pack or negotiating glaciers or other heavy duty hiking terrain, I prefer something more nimble. And while banging out 14,000 foot peaks in trail runners is undoubtedly efficient, and badass, over the last several years I’ve leaned toward something with a little bit more substance under foot—and over ankle.
Sacrificing some speed for a bit more stability, this category of shoe is light but markedly sturdier than its low-rise counterpart. For the uninitiated: high-top hikers mix trail runners with a traditional hiking boot. The tread and ankle structure harkens back to your classic boot, but material and style choices keep the shoe well within the range of a synthetic trail runner. For those moving fast over fickle terrain, this hybrid can’t be beat.
It’s true that shoes like this have been around for a while, but really since the first HOKA-mid trail runner, which was somewhat revolutionary in terms of performance and weight at the time, the category has rapidly grown, shifted, and progressed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a true hiking boot for its key purpose—hiking. Incredible footwear from literally dozens of great brands exists. I’ve written about countless excellent boots over the years from mountaineering shells to lightweight synthetic hikers. But I’ve tested a few this year that tend to veer more toward run than hike, when speed or weight is of the essence. I ultimately appreciate the combination of durability, support, weight, and aesthetics that’s being achieved by these high-top hikers. This category of shoe is still on the rise, so stay tuned for more highlights from other brands beyond these three seasonal favorites.
Adidas TERREX FREE HIKER 2
We love this modern and innovative shoe, initially tested by Adidas on the PCT. With its running shoe design and integrated sock-like gator, the Free Hiker 2 offers the perfect option for long distance hikers who want a less cumbersome upper without sacrificing support in the outsole. The Continental rubber provides unprecedented grip and support, while the shoe’s upper consists of 50 percent Parley reclaimed ocean plastic, and 50% recycled polyester, for a bit of peace of mind in the environmental department. The sock-like gaiter keeps out debris and adds comfort, but doesn’t provide the enhanced support I’d want for more intense scrambles through boulder fields or with a heavy pack. Overall, the shoe is a lightweight hiking gem that I’ve found stylish and versatile enough to wear to the gym and on the trail; and it really shines on long trail runs with undulating, moderately technical terrain.
Saucony Ultra Ridge GTX
Saucony recently released its first hiking boot, the Ultra Ridge GTX. From a brand trusted by runners worldwide, the Ultra Ridge GTX comes in as one of the lightest on the market. As Saucony celebrates its 125th anniversary this spring, the brand is making an effort to go lighter and faster while pushing performance innovation, resulting in the all-weather, all-terrain performance hiker of your dreams. The Ultra Ridge more closely resembles the light-and-fast high-top sneaker category than a true hiking boot. But the shoe’s deep lug soles, cushioning, and Gore-Tex waterproofing feels hikey and doesn’t add any unnecessary bulk. Lightweight hiking boots typically run about 2-2.5 pounds total, but the men’s and women’s Ultra Ridge GTX boots weigh less than a pound. For women, it’s only 1.3 lbs per pair—so you’re lifting significantly less with every step, and those energy savings add up. The upper also contains recycled materials. Equipped with a pillowy bed of cushioning and toothy tread underfoot, you’ll float through whatever peaks and valleys lies ahead, no matter how laden you are.
Columbia: Facet 75 Mid OutDry
This simple but innovative mid-high hiker delivers on any terrain. Columbia has their shoe game dialed, and the new Facet 75 in Men’s and Women’s is no exception. It falls right between a trail runner and a sturdier boot, for a sneaker style elevated by performance-specific design features. The Navic Fit System locks your midfoot in place so hikers feel more confident and secure as they navigate difficult terrain. As the intensity increased, I loved the Adapt Trax outsole, which performed expertly in both wet and dry conditions. You never really know what you’re going to get out there, especially in terms of weather, and Columbia’s OutDry technology provides another confidence boost for the hiker who dares to fly in the face of a gloomy forecast. Lace these up when you’re not sure exactly what you’re getting into…so you need a little bit of everything.
–Author Aaron H. Bible is an award-winning writer and multimedia producer with three decades of experience working as a content specialist, creative director, and journalist. Aaron is a contributing writer, editor and photographer to publications including SKI, Freeskier, Men’s Health, Popular Mechanics, Sunset, Gear Junkie, 5280, Elevation Outdoors, Vanish, and more. He holds an MFA in photography from the Savannah College of Art & Design, and has worked as a photographer, gallery director, and educator. A ski bum at heart, Aaron lives with his family in the high-country of Colorado where he and his wife are raising two girls to love thin air, fresh pow, and the flow state. Follow him @DefinitelyWild.