What’s best for summer walks – shoes or boots? We take a quick look at the pros and cons in our summer walking shoes gear test.
For some it’s an iron law of hiking that on country walks you should wear boots with high sides.
That’s mainly because boots provide ankle support – protecting you from turning or twisting your ankle on rough ground. If you plan to carry a heavy pack, the extra protection might be particularly valuable.
But fans of walking shoes point out that the elaborate architecture of hiking boots is not essential for most walkers. Boots are bulky and weighty. Shoes, obviously, are lighter.If you are not planning to schlep up rocky tracks, or down steep slopes, or to hoik a heavy load around, heavy hiking boots might be unnecessary.
Even on long and technically tricky trails, a good pair of shoes may provide the grip and stability you need. They are inevitably more responsive-feeling than boots, which tend to lock your ankles into position, restricting movement. Shoes are undeniably cooler, too: the low sides allow more air in to hot soothe hot feet. Of course that’s great on warm, dry days.
Boot fans retort that boots are far better at coping with wet conditions. The ankle cuffs built into boots help keep water out, and can be worn with gaiters too.
In contrast, a rainy walk in shoes – through deep puddles or wet grass, for example – will soak your feet, even if your shoes are meant to be waterproof – as the water will come in over the side.
A really persistent champion of shoes will retort that you can solve this by problem simply by wearing waterproof socks.
But we leave it you to decide. Here are some options… ending with a compromise of sorts.
Force Striker Texapore shoes
Jack Wolfskin, £120
This sturdy-looking shoe is great for most terrains. The Vibram Megagrip outsole provides grip and good stability on most surfaces, including rocky pathways.
A waterproof membrane (made of eco-friendly Texapore O2 fabric) keeps your foot dry, while breathable textile uppers allow in cool air. Toughened rubber around the toe and heel protects your feet well on rugged ground, and keeps water out as you splash through shallow puddles. This substantial protection adds a little weight to the Force Striker at 690g (the men’s version weighs about 800g), but this is still one of the lighter shoes on test. The wide fitting gives your toes wiggle room, and a comfortable EVA midsole keeps feet well-cushioned.
Verdict: Grippy, breathable and waterproof, this shoe gives you confidence even on rough terrain. HC. ★★★★☆
Fellmaster Active GTX
A lightweight, cushioned walking shoe that quickly moulds to the feet and feels comfortable from the off. Toe and heel caps offer robust protection on rough paths and rocky terrain and the grippy Vibram sole is reassuring in wet weather. Despite these enhancements, the overall weight barely registers, which meant I still had a spring in my step after a full day’s walking. The OrthoLite inner sole offers proven, long-lasting cushioning and – combined with well-made Nubuck uppers – should last years without a serious drop in performance. The sole also claims to wick away foot moisture and thus combat unpleasant foot odours. Coupled with fully breathable uppers, this should be a particular bonus. With all the hot weather, this has been about 90% effective but I wouldn’t want to get the shoe wet inside.
Thanks to the Gore-Tex membrane, the waterproofing is sound but these are shoes for spring and summer walks and would be overwhelmed in a downpour and puddles deeper than 4cm. Even long, dewy grass wet my feet when moisture came over the side of the shoe.
Some may not be thrilled with the subdued grey I tested (the more vibrant brown is shown above) but I liked this serious, classy look, particularly when wildlife watching. Post adventure, they’d be perfectly at home resting under a table in a pub or café.
VERDICT: A stylish walking shoe with a carefully judged balance of comfort, protection and weight. FC. ★★★★☆
Fellmaster Active GTX: facts at a glance
The women’s equivalent is the Kanga.
Uppers: Nubuck and Gore-Tex
Outsole: Opti-stud Vibram sole
Waterproofing: Fully waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex
Fit: Standard. If you have narrow feet, thick walking socks may be all you need for a snug fit.
Weight: 874g, size 9; women’s (Kanga) 752g, size 6
Eco: OthoLite inner sole made from partially recycled material
TX5 Low GTX
La Sportiva, £150
This heavy-duty shoe instantly brings to mind a cut-down hiking boot; and in fact there is a full-height version, which should appeal to backpackers who love mountain treks.
Both formats seem alike from the ankle down: they are extremely well protected, with a chunky heel, a substantial rubber toecap and a beefy rand – the bumper around the bottom of the shoe. This and the lacing system – basically, laces that go most of the way down to the toe – are inspired by climbing shoes. The result is a pair of shoes that can take some serious punishment in rugged, rocky environments – and look as if they should last for years.
The necessary consequence though is that they feel a little hefty … oddly heavier than other shoes of similar weight, which probably has something to do with the distribution of the weight on the foot. On a low-cut shoe, that chunky heel in particular seems a bit out of proportion. This, combined with a the stiff outsole, would no doubt not be an issue on a full-height boot, but on a shoe, the effect is a bit cumbersome. I had to lace them very tightly to keep my heel from slipping.
Despite the shortcomings I have a soft spot for them. They seem likely appear to be very durable. And I do like the way they look. I’m just think that some hikers will find them a little hard work.
VERDICT: Handsome, durable, supremely solid; slightly cumbersome. JP. ★★★☆☆
Best for: Durability
When I imagine the classic summer walking shoe, I think simple, low-cut and leather. Fitting this vision is the Jorvik Trail, a no-fuss shoe designed and made by Altberg for walking on lower-level footpaths.
Like most of the Yorkshire bootmaker’s footwear, the Jorvik Trail is made from one piece of leather with minimal seams and stitch lines, resulting in a clean, traditional look, and more importantly a shoe that will last.
They are low cut, making them lighter than your average Altberg, and they keep your feet a bit cooler than a full-height boot.
They are of course more susceptible to water leaking in from the top – so not ideal for harsh weather or boggy ground. On tough mountain trails, or when you are carrying a heavy pack, you might prefer a higher boot to support your ankle and protect it from going over.
Even so, the chunky soles can cope with some pretty rugged surfaces, making these shoes a tough and reliable option for dry-weather walks along coast paths and hill paths, provided all you have on your back is a light daypack. The Vibram sole, made from shock-absorbing rubber, has well-defined lugs, which I found to hold well on most terrains, including mud, rock and grass.
The SFit last (‘last’ refers to the shape inside the shoe) has a little less volume with a lower instep than Alberg’s AForme last, with good toe depth and a curved heel. Given the relatively close-fitting nature of the shoe, it’s best to wear them with thin socks.
The supple water-repellent upper, with its waterproof membrane interlayer, is far more forgiving than first impressions suggest, soon loosening to complement the shape of your foot.
VERDICT: traditional, durable and comfortable, a good choice for low-level walking in spring and summer. DG. ★★★★☆
Jorvik Trail shoe: Facts at a glance
For men and women.
Uppers: 1.8mm Nida Hydro full grain soft supple leather.
Outsole: Vibram Masai, rubber
Waterproofing: Soft, supple water-repellent leather. The four-layer lining includes a waterproof membrane.
Fit: The SFit last (footshape) is asymmetrical with good toe depth and slightly curved heel, made specifically for shoes. Sizes range from 4 to 14 UK.
Weight: 1.198kg (pair).
Eco: Resoleable; and Altberg offer repairs. Made to last.
Bellamont III Plus shoes
If you are looking for a shoe you can wear on hills and dog walks as well as the high street, pub and work, the Bellemont II Plus is an excellent option.
Aku is based in Montebelluna, just south of the Dolomites National Park in Italy, and sure enough you can imagine these shoes being perfectly suited to the hot, hard trails of Alpine valleys and ridges in summer.
The overall impression is somewhere between a trainer and a climbing shoe, with a lower profile and narrower stance than for example the La Sportiva shoes also on test (below). They are more stylish than they look – photos don’t flatter them somehow.
They are super-comfortable – a good fit on low-volume feet like mine – with fairly well-cushioned EVA midsoles, and the Vibram Predator II outsoles are grippy.
While the leather uppers are soft, my feet felt well protected. The uppers are very water resistant if kept waxed and ready for rain, but this shoe has no waterproof membrane, so if you get into a long stomp wet weather, expect to get damp feet eventually. That said, the lack of a waterproof membrane makes them less sweaty on hot days.
If I was hiking more than around five miles, or over rough ground, I would probably opt for something a bit more stable, but if you are in the habit impromptu walks and wanders, and want something that can step up to something moderately demanding when needed, they are ideal.
They are probably one of the most sustainable shoe choices in this selection, boasting uppers made with a chrome-free tanning process, and are lined with Zero Impact leather, tanned without the use of heavy metals, and for which a tree-planting programme is designed to offset the carbon released in production.
Incidentally Aku supplies the shoe with alternative laces in a burnt-orange colour which I think is much better-looking than the oatmeal colour of the ones in the picture above.
VERDICT: Excellent, hard-wearing, handsome, low-profile versatile shoes for short to medium length walks on easy to moderate terrain. JP. ★★★★☆
Bellamont Plus III: Facts at a glance
Price: shop around – as ever; you’ll find the price varies widely
Uppers: Chrome-free Nubuck
Outsole: Vibram Predator II
Fitting: Regular to narrow; suits low-volume feet
Best for: Affordability
These reasonably priced men’s walking shoes are light and airy with a flexible toe-bend, making them a good option for newcomers to the trail or intermediate-level walkers. The rugged Protex fabric and suede upper are designed to keep your feet dry in showers, while the rubber toe bumper offers a reassuring level off protection from toe-stubs on rocky and rooted trails.
The soft open cell lining and cushioned midsole deliver a generous level of comfort, which marries well with the Como’s light weight (425g per shoe) – this meant I could move quickly and nimbly along both flat and undulating paths. I was also impressed by the traction offered by the Rock Rubber outsole, which provided welcome support when the track steepened.
Vango’s Cord-Flow lacing system means the shoes can be pulled tightly around the upper foot. I did, however, feel a small amount of slippage around the heel, which could prove an issue on long walks across rough ground.
All in all, the Como trail shoe is a decent alternative to a boot, best suited to day walks and low-level hikes. It has the feel of a summer walking shoe, perfect for riverside rambles, country lanes, low foothills and urban adventures.
VERDICT: well-cushioned and light with good traction, perfect for beginners and day walkers. DG. ★★★★☆
Como shoe: Facts at a glance
Uppers: Polyester, suede, rubber toe bumper and Achilles heel lock.
Outsole: Rock Rubber outsole with a cushioned PU (Poly-Urethane) midsole.
Waterproofing: The rugged Protex membrane and suede upper is designed to keep feet dry.
Fit: Regular width.
Weight: 850g (size 8.5, pair).
Belorado II Low Lady GTX
I tested these during the lockdown during local walks along canals, country tracks, grassland and gravel roads, and found the lightweight feel was perfect for gentle terrain.
The shoe has a fairly shallow tread which is good for level surfaces, but not so effective on areas of loose stone, where they were prone to slip.
They offer decent support, and a durable rubber cap protects the toe. The suede and fabric mix over the rest over the shoe gives it a smart appearance. The waterproof Gore-Tex lining provides good, breathable comfort when wearing. Although, of course, all low-cut shoes are prone to shipping water over the sides, for example when walking through wet grass.
If you have wide feet, you may find the fit a little narrow (though note that a special version is available for people with bunions).
VERDICT: Good for gentle terrain. HC. ★★★☆☆
Women’s Terradora II Low waterproof hiking trainers
These super-lightweight shoes for women feel more like sports footwear than hiking shoes. They have good flexibility and I found them extremely comfortable. Arch support is good, and my heel felt secure, without any movement.
The mesh uppers combine with the Keen Dry membrane to keep your feet breathing on warm days. In wet weather, the membrane is shower proof – but won’t keep moisture out for long – so keep clear of puddles.
The outsole is sturdy and the 4mm lugs provide decent grip on undemanding terrain. I wouldn’t recommend them for scrambling over loose rocks, though, where the grip doesn’t feel strong enough.
Protection is pretty minimal to keep the shoe light but there is some rubber to protect you from stubbing your toes. The fabric colours are attractive and have an interesting design which stands out from the standard hiking shoe choices.
VERDICT: A good shoe for dry-weather walks on gentle terrain. HC.
Terradora II Low waterproof hiking trainers for women: facts at a glance
Uppers: Synthetic mesh
Outsole: Keen All-terrain rubber with 4mm lugs
Waterproofing: Keen Dry waterproof membrane
Best of both worlds!
Sky Toa Gore-Tex
Hoka One One, £160
I’ve broken a rule to allow in a shoe with some ankle protection…. but I thought it was worth including this supremely comfortable and well-balanced shoe… OK, a boot, albeit a low-profile one.
That ankle collar is relatively low but feels supportive, protecting your ankle from twists and sprains on lumpy ground – a bonus if you like to walk with a heavy pack.
Despite the extra storey, the Sky Toa remains very light at well under a kilo for the pair. The fabric uppers are breathable and the shoes feel pleasant in warm weather. All good news if you like to move fast.
A rubberized foam midsole cushions your feet well, feeling comfortable even after miles of pounding the trail, but doesn’t overdo it: the shoe still feels responsive. And thanks to the Vibram Mega-Grip outsoles, I felt remarkably sure-footed over wet and uneven ground.
In spring or summer walks on rugged hills or coast paths, these would be superb. And they are more than capable of dealing with most winter conditions – the waterproofing is a big improvement on previous generations of Hoka shoes, thanks no doubt to the Gore-Tex membranes introduced in 2019.
VERDICT: Outstanding comfortable and lightweight boots for strollers, speed-walkers serious hikers alike. JP. ★★★★★
• Other low-profile, lightweight boots for summer include the Inov-8 Roclite G345 GTX and the Mammut Ducan GTX – check out our reviews!
Sky Toa Gore-Tex: Facts at a glance
Uppers: Breathable, synthetic
Outsole: Vibram® Megagrip outsole lugs,
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex membrane
Fit: Regular to wide
Weight: 856g (men’s pair), 718g (women’s)
Hilary Clothier (HC), Fergus Collins (FC), Daniel Graham (DG), Joe Pontin (JP)