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Best Hiking Shoes of 2021 {Review & Buying Guide} | GearJunkie

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Stay comfortable and agile on the trail with the best hiking shoes for men and women. From day trips to thru-hikes, we’ve got you covered.

Summer means long days, warm temps, and miles on the trail. And while we love a good pair of hiking boots, a hiking shoe is best for many trail adventures. They’re light, easy to move in, and keep feet cool. You’ll give up a bit of ankle support with a shoe, but many find the increased comfort and performance are worth the trade-off.

In search of the best, we spent months on the trail testing out hiking shoes. From the dry Arizona desert to the hot and humid Appalachian Trail to the Rocky Mountains, we’ve logged a lot of miles.

And while we know many people use trail running shoes for hiking, we’ve focused this article on hiking shoes. If trail running shoes are what you’re after, check out our Best Trail Running Shoes of 2021. Or for more support, take a look at the Best Hiking Boots of 2021.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Hiking Shoes of 2021

Best Overall: Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero — Men’s & Women’s

Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero

These shoes ($120) check all the important boxes: breathable, grippy, and comfortable. If you’re looking for a warm-weather, summer hiking shoe, this is it. The polyester mesh panels help keep feet cool. And at about 1.5 pounds for the pair, these won’t weigh you down.

With the mud guards and extended toecap, we never had any problems with rocks or sticks jabbing our feet. And the lugs proved plenty burly even for technical trails.

The sole is surprisingly flexible, which our testers enjoyed. But if you’re looking for something stiff, you may want to choose a different shoe.

Another feature that you’ll either love or hate is the Quicklace system. Pull the lace, and it locks into the desired tightness. We’ve found it works well and doesn’t need retightening throughout the day. However, it can limit how specific you get on tightening your shoe.

All in all, these shoes offer traction and comfort while keeping feet cool. With this Salomon offering, you get a lot of do-all shoe for $120. The women’s version seems to run a bit large, so we recommend going down a half size.

If you’re looking for a waterproof hiking shoe, check out the Salomon X Ultra Low 3 GTX. This GORE-TEX-lined hiker offers a lot of the same comfort and performance of the Aero in a waterproof package.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 6.4 oz.
  • Material: Nylon mesh 
  • Best Use: Summer hiking and technical trails
  • Top Attribute: Breathable and light, with plenty of grip

Check Men’s Price at REI Check Women’s Price at REI

Runner-Up: Oboz Sawtooth II Low — Women’s & Men’s

Oboz Sawtooth II Low

Are you looking for a hiking shoe that offers more of a traditional hiking boot design? This below-the-ankle pick could be just what you need. The under-2-pound Sawtooth ($110) slices through harsh terrain better than most midheight hiking boots.

The leather-and-textile hybrid upper defies abrasion. And the outsole design has enough rocker to make walking easier on rollers and steeps.

It comes out of the box ready to hike. It promotes more foot freedom with a wider toebox and a heel cup that combats shifting even on daunting descents.

The lug pattern gives plenty of grip. And the toe overlays prevent abrasion. Our testers are happy to report that even after multiples seasons of use, these show little signs of wear. Plus, you can feel good knowing that Oboz plants a tree for every pair of shoes sold.

We found this model runs about a half size large. For a waterproof version, take a look at the Oboz Sawtooth II Low BDry. It’s the same shoe, but with Oboz’s waterproof membrane.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
  • Material: Nubuck leather
  • Best Use: Mid- to high-mileage backpacking journeys with loads up to 50 lbs.
  • Top Attribute: Versatility

Check Women’s Price at REICheck Men’s Price at REI

Best Budget Hiking Shoe: Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Low — Men’s & Women’s

merrell moab 2 ventilator low

It’s no surprise these ($100) are one of the top-selling hiking shoes. The side ventilation keeps feet cool during warm-weather hikes. And the leather and mesh hold up well through rocky scrambles, long day hikes, and multiday adventures.

We like that they provide some of the stability and traction generally found in a hiking boot with the low-top freedom of a shoe.

The toebox was wide enough that our testers didn’t experience any uncomfortable rubbing. But they are a bit stiffer, and we would recommend slowly amping up your mileage. Give them time to break in and you could have a great hiking shoe for seasons to come.

These aren’t the lightest hiking shoes available. And on technical or wet terrain, they didn’t perform as well as shoes like the Salomon X Ultra or the SCARPA Rapid, but these are winners for day hikes on regular trails.

They retail for $100 but can often be found for less (we’ve seen them as low as $74 depending on the size and color). They’re also available in a waterproof version.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
  • Material: Suede leather and mesh
  • Best Use: Day hikes
  • Top Attribute: Durable, solid value

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Style & Function: Danner Trail 2650 — Men’s & Women’s

Danner Trail 2650

Danner is known for making high-quality, long-lasting hiking boots. And this is true of their hiking shoes, too. Inspired by the terrain of the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Trail 2650 ($149) is built to go the distance.

The mesh liner helped keep our feet cool and aided in breathability even on hot summer hikes. In addition to the stylish looks, we really appreciate the fantastic grip these provided. We found them comfortable out of the box and suitable for all manner of day hikes.

Some testers wished they had more arch support, while others found them a perfect fit. This is a matter of personal preference and foot shape. The Trail 2650 shoe comes in several versions, including waterproof, mesh, and mid styles.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
  • Material: Leather
  • Best Use: Day hikes, dry summer adventures, town-to-trail excursions
  • Top Attribute: Out-of-box comfort, breathable, stylish

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Best Water Hiking Shoe: Astral TR1 Water Hiking Shoe — Men’s & Women’s

astral tr1 water hiking shoe

If you like exploring slot canyons or trekking through soggy rain forests, a good pair of quick-drying hiking shoes is essential. North Carolina-based Astral is known for making bomber life jackets. And it’s bringing this same water-centric focus to shoes.

Whether you’re a paddler who also plans to hike or a hiker who happens to be near water, the TR1 shoes ($125) will keep your feet happy.

We like how light they feel on our feet and how easily they shed water. With holes at the front and back, they easily drain water, and the mesh dries quickly. Plus, they help feet breathe and stay cool even on dry trails.

The sticky rubber soles provided plenty of traction even when rock-hopping along the river’s edge. And we like that the wider toebox design gave our feet room to spread out.

And the Polygiene-treated insole makes stinky shoes a thing of the past. This is an all-around great shoe for moderate hiking, tropical adventures, and all manner of watersports.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 5.2 oz.
  • Material: Ripstop 2-denier mesh with TPU overlays
  • Best Use: Desert canyons, tropical trails, and trails with water crossings
  • Top Attribute: Easy-draining and quick-drying

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at Backcountry

Best Travel Hiking Shoes: Lems Trailhead Hiking Shoe — Men’s & Women’s

Lems Trailhead Hiking Shoe

Anyone looking for a single summer shoe will love the Trailhead ($130). With plenty of comfort and style, it can easily transition from travel to trail to a night at the brewpub.

Known for making the ultrapackable Boulder Boot, the Trailhead is sure to become a fan favorite. Built for the trail but styled for the city, it’s the perfect go-to for adventure travel.

We’ve worn it during long days at the airport, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, and exploring in the hills of northern Georgia. Through it all, it’s offered plenty of comfort and support.

The 4mm drop encourages a more natural footstrike, without going into extreme minimalist territory. And the wider toebox gives your feet plenty of room to wiggle.

The firm EVA midsole can seem a bit stiff at first, but you’ll reach maximum comfort after a few wears. The firmer foam molds nicely to feet while providing needed support.

And anyone looking for a leather-free shoe can rest easy wearing this vegan-friendly option. If you have any summer travel plans that involve hiking, biking, sightseeing, or general adventuring, this is the shoe for you.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 7.4 oz.
  • Material: Microfiber and mesh 
  • Best Use: Adventure travel
  • Top Attribute: Style and performance

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at Backcountry

Best for Approaches: BD Session Suede Approach Shoe — Men’s & Women’s

black diamond session suede

For treks around town, climbing approaches, rambles to hidden swimming spots, and scenic scrambles, the almost-barefoot-feeling Session Suede ($154) gives feet just enough protection for summer exploring.

The suede upper and rubber toe bumper were durable and kept rocky scrapes at bay. Sticky rubber gripped on everything we could scamper up or down.

Where these did not excel was in the mud, as the lugs are shallow and got packed with gunk. But on dry rock or sandy surfaces, they are great.

The Session Suede has a fold-down heel so you can slip them on hands-free. The heel is slung like a climbing shoe, so when we pulled them all the way on and laced them up, we were sure-footed. The rubber toe bumper helped with fourth-class climbing moves, too.

The Session Suede’s thin EVA midsole gives these shoes flip-flop level cushion and stability. We wore them casually, for scrambles, and shenanigans.

At the crag, you can clip them to your harness via the webbing heel loops. They were the perfect shoes for rappels, negotiating descent gullies, and walking off the backside of a climb. We wore them without socks, and the soft upper was comfortable and didn’t rub.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.
  • Material: Suede
  • Best Use: Getting to the climbing wall
  • Top Attribute: Comfort and performance

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Best of the Rest

Vasque Breeze AT Low — Men’s & Women’s

Vasque Breeze AT Low

Grab your daypack and hit the trail in this grippy and light hiking shoe. Whether you’re heading out for a few days on the trail or enjoying a day hike, these shoes ($159) provide plenty of traction and comfort. The Nubuck leather upper makes these super durable, and the air mesh helped keep our feet cool.

These are definitely on the stiffer end of the spectrum, so plan to slowly break them in for maximum comfort. We found the Megagrip outsoles provided plenty of traction, even on wet trails. And they have great arch support, which helps for long excursions.

These aren’t the lightest hiking shoes available, but for anyone looking for a more structured shoe, these are a winner.

  • Weight: 2 lbs. 11 oz.
  • Material: Nubuck leather and air mesh
  • Best Use: Multiday hikes
  • Top Attribute: Extra support and durability

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at Backcountry

Merrell Moab Speed — Men’s & Women’s

merrell moab speed

The closest thing to a bedroom slipper you can hike in, the low-cut Moab Speed ($120) light hiker is breathable, durable, and won’t cramp your style because it’s so darn comfortable from the moment you put it on.

Not every trail outing demands crazy aggressive footwear. For more casual meanders, even when the road is rocky, uneven, or generally variable, this shoe was the ultimate in comfort.

The Moab Speed’s mesh upper is layered to keep out trail debris, including sand, pebbles, and thorns. Then it’s reinforced with welded-on TPU for structure that was soft and unrestrictive but kept my foot balanced over the sole and midsole.

Although this shoe’s cushy EVA midsole shoe looks and feels more like a sneaker, it’s made for the trail. The thickly padded tongue and padded collar protected my foot from getting rubbed by the laces. They also helped keep debris out.

A well-protected toecap with a bumper over it not only prolongs the life of these hikers but also protects toes. And many parts of this shoe are recycled, including the lining and laces, to reduce the Moab Speed’s impact on the planet.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
  • Material: Suede leather and mesh
  • Best Use: Tackling the approach before a multipitch climb
  • Top Attribute: Grippy and comfortable for narrow feet

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Adidas Terrex Swift R2 — Men’s & Women’s

Adidas Terrex Swift R2

The Continental’s outsole tips the hand early for this pair as one hiking boot in the evolving Terrex line. Never mistaken for a running shoe, Swift R2 ($112-140) excels in nasty conditions, including moving across sidehill seeps and slick rock.

Feet are protected like few other models under test with a toecap crafted for apocalyptic rock falls and narrow canyons. Tensioned speed lacing allows fast on-trail adjustment even as the padded collar minimizes Achilles trauma.

Not for bouncing along tourist paths, this hiker craves bigger challenges and carries the load in multiday backpacking scenarios. Tight mesh uppers keep abrasion resistance high but can’t undo the weight of the Traxion outsoles at over 27.2 ounces per pair.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 11.2 oz.
  • Material: Ripstop mesh with TPU
  • Best Use: High mileage on marginal trails
  • Top Attribute: Long-term value

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

SCARPA Rapid — Women’sMen’s

SCARPA Rapid hiking shoe

This model ($100-120) skirts the line between hiker and trail runner, with a solid build to deliver the former (hiker) and not quite enough rocker to excel at the latter (trail runner). Here’s where the warm-weather hiker wins toes-down with a fluid, multisport approach to a low-cut design.

Suede and a recycled polyester mesh upper hold together well across mixed terrain with a weight-trimming notched outsole.

Sufficient torsional stability prevents ankle twists. Normal feet (if they even exist) will like the heel cup and the moderate toebox volume that turns quickly and tightly around corners.

SCARPA’s lacing system again proves to be a favorite over a tongue that doesn’t bunch or pinch. And the weight is surprisingly refreshing at 22 ounces per pair.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
  • Material: Suede and recycled polyester mesh
  • Best Use: Low-to-moderate mileage with lighter packs, scrambling across technical terrain
  • Top Attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box

Check Women’s Price at REICheck Men’s Price at Amazon

Helly Hansen Loke Dash — Men’s & Women’s

Helly Hansen Loke Dash hiking shoe

Almost like a Flyknit upper shoe, the Loke Dash ($140) sprints where others saunter and accelerates when others drop back. These shoes are more for warm weather and moderate terrain than alpine extremes.

The Loke plays tricks on the feet of hikers with superior lacing tension, a debris-shedding ankle cuff, and outsoles that give gravel and pebbles nowhere to hide.

Those with more sensitive feet will struggle with the lack of a stone guard plate. Another model that travels well between trail and train station, the Loke takes international and adventure travel in stride.

A removable EVA footbed is a bonus that saves $30 or more in a pair that walks tall in less demanding conditions.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
  • Material: Engineered knit
  • Best Use: Frequent, short hiking outings with light loads when powered by athletic wearers
  • Top Attribute: Fast, secure fit out of the box

Check Men’s Price at MoosejawCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Hiking Shoes vs. Boots

One of the main differences between hiking shoes and boots is the height. Whereas shoes have a below-the-ankle height, hiking boots offer full ankle support and high-top construction. What you give up in ankle support, you make up for in weight savings and out-of-the-box comfort.

Hiking shoes are great for day hikes, smooth trails, and anytime you want to go fast and light. For bigger backpacking trips with a heavier pack, you may want to consider a full hiking boot. But we know thru-hikers who swear by lightweight hiking shoes and day-trippers who won’t head out without their boots.

So, at the end of the day, it’s really a matter of personal preference. And while there isn’t a single best trail shoe for everyone out there, we’ve broken down this list into categories to help find the best hiking shoe for you.

If you need help deciding, refer to our buyer’s guide for tips on choosing the best hiking shoes.

Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Hiking Shoes

From day hiking to thru-hiking, the right pair of hiking shoes can become the most beloved and essential piece of gear in your kit. As the primary contact between you and trail, your shoes make your adventures possible, and it is essential that they are reliable.

While some still prefer the ankle support and robust structure of boots, more and more hikers and backpackers are opting for the weight savings and nimble performance of hiking shoes. From day hiking to thru-hiking, good-quality shoes are more than capable of handling a wide variety of terrain.

Because there are so many styles and variables, it can be difficult to select the perfect pair of hiking shoes. In this guide, we include everything you need to know to select a pair of shoes that will treat your feet well and instill confidence in your stride.

Weight

In recent years, hiking shoe technology has moved toward low-profile and lightweight designs. Modern fabrics and soles manage to be thinner and lighter without sacrificing performance on the trail. For long hikes and thru-hikes, the benefits of a light pair of shoes only grow as the miles wear on.

While many burly hiking boots weigh over 4 pounds per pair, hiking shoes tend to weigh around 2 pounds or less. If you like to go fast on the trail, or if you plan to do some trail running in your hiking shoes, light is undoubtedly better.

Yes, shaving ounces sometimes does reduce long-term durability. However, lots of pairs of shoes on this list are more than capable of holding up just as long as a hefty pair of boots.

With modern materials and advancements in design, you don’t need to give up durability to cut weight and gain comfort.

Comfort and Fit

Comfort is the most important factor for any pair of active footwear. The shape of the human foot varies wildly, and the shoe that feels comfortable to someone else might not be comfortable for you. Feet can be wide or narrow, arches can be high or flat, and heels can be bulbous or low volume.

When selecting a pair of hiking shoes, there is really no substitute for trying them on and really paying attention to how they feel in action. Most people will want to seek out a fit that minimizes negative space but does not actively constrict or compress your feet or toes.

If your foot moves in the shoe, you’ll likely be dealing with blisters before long. In general, hiking shoes tend to be more comfortable than hiking boots. It’s totally possible to find a pair that you can happily wear all day long,

Hiking in the Desolation Wilderness - photo by Mallory Paige
Testing hiking shoes in the Desolation Wilderness.

Waterproof

There are pros and cons to hiking in a pair of shoes that are billed as “waterproof.” When hiking on muddy and wet terrain, waterproof hiking shoes help keep your feet dry and comfortable. When your feet are wet, you’ll be more likely to develop blisters and other foot issues.

However, waterproof hiking shoes also tend to be warmer and less breathable. Once wet, waterproof shoes usually take longer to fully dry.

Most waterproof hiking shoes include a membrane in their liner (GORE-TEX is the most common) that keeps water from reaching the inside of the shoe. In addition, many hiking shoes are treated with a durable water repellent coating, which can be reapplied after it wears off.

While it is good to prioritize dry feet, it is also important to remember that by sealing moisture out, you’re also sealing it in. Shoes with a waterproof liner are prone to becoming hot and sweaty in warm or humid conditions.

All hiking shoes will soak through if they get very wet or become fully submerged, even if they’re labeled as waterproof.

Durability and Materials

The two primary areas of a hiking shoe that will suffer most from wear are the upper and the outsole. On the top of the shoe, the upper is the material that determines how waterproof, durable, and breathable the shoe is overall.

Most hiking shoes include an upper made from nylon, mesh, leather, or a combination. Nylon is lightweight and breathable, but may not hold up well to repeated abrasion.

Mesh tends to be the least hardy, but it is super breathable and makes a comfortable choice for the tongue of a shoe. Leather is significantly less breathable, and it is often found on heavier-duty hiking shoes because it holds up to wear.

Although heavier and burlier hiking shoes often have an advantage in durability, many modern lightweight options are impressively long-lasting too. Softer rubber outsoles will wear through faster than dense, firm outsoles.

Stability and Support

A shoe’s support comes from the construction of its components, including the sole and the midsole. These underfoot layers can be thick and sturdy, or thin and floppy.

For hiking, most people prefer a shoe that is stiff and stable through the middle part of the foot, but slightly more flexible near the toe. This allows your foot to feel supported without sacrificing the ability to flex your toes.

Most hiking shoes have a low-cut ankle collar. If you are seeking lots of ankle support, hiking boots are probably a better choice.

Traction

The bottom of a good hiking shoe will feature a firm and grippy outsole. Vibram is the most common manufacturer of outsoles, although some footwear companies make their own.

A sturdy outsole is the major feature that sets a hiking shoe apart from a sneaker or tennis shoe. On a wide range of surfaces from loose scree to slick rock, a good hiking shoe will maintain reliable traction.

Many hiking shoe soles are designed to specialize on certain types of terrain. If you’ll be regularly hiking through unstable surfaces like deep mud, you’ll want a sole with firm, large rubber lugs underfoot.

If you plan to do a lot of scrambling and smearing your feet on slabs of rock, a soft and sticky rubber sole with a flat toe edge is the way to go. Many entry-level hiking shoes will include a versatile sole that will perform fairly well on any hiking surface.

Breathability

A shoe’s breathability comes from the materials that make up its construction. Areas of open synthetic mesh and woven nylon will greatly increase breathability.

Meanwhile, large patches of leather and waterproof membranes like GORE-TEX will decrease breathability. A breathable shoe will feel cooler and less sweaty over the course of a rigorous hiking day.

However, breathable shoes are more likely to soak through to your sock when hiking in the rain or trudging through puddles. Shoes billed as “waterproof” may feel hot and sweaty at times, but they also help keep mud and moisture from reaching your sock and foot.

Price

The cost of hiking shoes varies, and it is possible to buy a quality pair without breaking the bank. There are many excellent and long-lasting pairs with reasonable price tags. However, you may find that some lower-priced shoes come with fewer features, such as a waterproof liner or a Vibram sole.

The general price range of modern shoes is about $75-200, although there are some exceptions. After lots and lots of testing, we have determined that the cost of a pair of hiking shoes is not necessarily a direct indicator of performance.

FAQ

What Are the Best Shoes for Hiking?

The best hiking shoes are the ones that fit your feet comfortably and allow you to enjoy your time on the trail. When combing through the options, your first priorities should be fit and comfort.

Durability, support, and traction are important, too, but ultimately none of that matters if the shoes hurt your feet.

Also, no single pair of hiking shoes will be the very best for every application. The materials, design, and tread pattern will add up to a set of strengths and weaknesses in every shoe.

Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots: Which Is Better?

The current momentum in hiking footwear has shifted away from bulky ankle-high boots in favor of nimble, lower-cut hiking shoes. Hiking boots are heavier, and weight carried on your feet can feel very uncomfortable at the end of a full day.

Switching out a 4-pound pair of boots for a 2-pound pair of hiking shoes can make a huge difference in your performance.

Also, many hiking boots have very stiff soles that keep the foot from flexing properly. Many boots are constructed with nonbreathable materials, meaning that your feet are more likely to get sweaty and form blisters. That said, hiking boots can be a great option for those who prefer lots of ankle stability or underfoot stiffness.

Hiking shoes are generally similar in shape to a pair of trainers or tennis shoes. The difference is that hiking shoes are built with durable materials and feature an outsole that is made to grip dirt, rocks, and mud. Compared to boots, hiking shoes feel light, nimble, and somewhat less supportive.

Do I Need Waterproof Hiking Shoes?

That depends. Keep in mind that no pair of hiking shoes is entirely water-resistant. Although some are marketed this way, full submersion in a puddle for more than a few seconds will soak through just about any pair of hiking shoes. Also, because they are low cut around the ankle, water is prone to getting in at the top of the shoe anyway.

Still, waterproof shoes do include membranes, like GORE-TEX, that can keep a significant amount of moisture out. When walking through dewy grass or muddy trails, waterproof shoes will keep your socks and feet drier than non-waterproof shoes.

Shoes with waterproof membranes are less breathable. If you will be hiking in hot and dry areas, you’ll probably feel more comfortable in non-waterproof shoes.

Is It OK to Hike in Sneakers?

For the most part, sneakers are designed to perform on artificial surfaces such as asphalt or cement. Many sneakers have flimsy soles and lack the appropriate level of support that is needed for hiking on uneven terrain. Additionally, sneakers are less likely to hold up to the abrasion and wear that is common while hiking on rough trails.

If you plan to mostly walk on flat trails in urban parks or backyards, you’ll probably be just fine with sneakers. However, for hikes of any significant length — and especially backpacking — hiking shoes are a much better choice.

Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Hiking?

Barefoot shoes are designed to allow your foot to flex naturally with every step. Thanks to their thin and flexible materials, barefoot shoes let you feel the texture of the trail in the soles of your feet.

With each step, the tissues of your feet directly respond to the trail, conforming and contracting as needed. As the name suggests, the experience is similar to walking barefoot.

While barefoot shoes are known for helping hikers and runners develop strong feet, they do take some getting used to. If you have been hiking in boots or hiking shoes, the transition to barefoot shoes will need to be gradual. If you do too much barefoot shoe hiking too soon, you may experience discomfort or quickly develop an injury.

Barefoot shoes lack insulation. They also will not protect your feet from sharp objects underfoot and may be quick to wear out. While some experienced hikers have made the transition to barefoot shoes, we generally do not recommend them to beginners.


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