Disclaimer: Since I am only one man, I unfortunately have neither the time nor the resources to acquire and laboriously compare many different pieces of gear. As such, the reviews on this blog are only my honest assessment of certain pieces of gear and clothing that I’ve purchased and used over the years. If you are looking for exhaustive comparisons backed up by hours and hours of testing and data, I’d highly recommend checking out reviews from sites like The Wirecutter (or its sister site, The Sweethome) and OutdoorGearLab, both of which I refer to in these reviews and when I’m shopping for myself. I am not affiliated with any of these sites, but I rely on their research like any other consumer, and have found their work to be helpful, transparent, and extremely thorough. All of this said, thank you for reading, and I hope you find that the following recommendations positively inform your outdoor gear research and purchasing.
A good hiking shoe or boot might be the most important piece of gear you have. It can determine whether your trip ends in elation or blistering defeat. What kind of foot support you want depends a lot on both personal preference and what kind of hiking you are doing.
I grew up hiking in a pair of Lafuma Argenteras. Large clunky boots by most standards, they served their purpose well, though they weighed probably four pounds apiece. They always seemed like overkill to me, but I was not one to turn down parentally purchased gear at a time when Boy Scouts was a significant part of my adolescence.
Fast-forward a decade. I found myself with the opportunity to study abroad in India and Nepal. The trip would involve several hundred miles of trekking through both rural western Nepal and the heavily trafficked northern Himalayan region around the Everest Base Camp route. My professor's recommended footwear of choice? The North Face Ultra 109 GTX Shoe. Most people ignored that recommendation and wore whatever they already had. One foolish classmate hiked in black combat boots. Results varied from discomfort to blistered feet bandaged with duct tape. Three people had no shoe or foot problems for the entire ten weeks. Those three people were all wearing Ultra 109s.
Since then, mine have weathered the beaches of St. Croix and a return trip to Nepal with no hot spots or blisters in sight. They perfectly fit my preference for a shoe with more support than a traditional lightweight trail-runner, but without the heft and size of a high-cut hiking boot. Though The North Face describes these as "stability trail-running shoe[s]," I've been using them without complaint for all of my longer hiking endeavors. They sport a remarkably short break-in period and are comfortable right out of the box. They're wind- and waterproof while still maintaining breathability and comfort.
The 109s have received OutdoorGearLab's Editors' Choice Award for several years in a row. They have an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars across hundreds of reviews on Amazon, REI, and Moosejaw.
If you're looking for a hiking shoe that is both supportive and rugged without weighing down your feet, look no further than the North Face Ultra 109 GTX Shoe for $120.