Best walking shoes for men 2021: versatile footwear for lighter hikes

Looking for protection and support without the bulk of boots? You need a pair of the best men's walking shoes

best walking shoes for men: Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX
(Image credit: Merrell)

A pair of the best men's walking shoes can be one of the most versatile tools your outdoor armory. It's a great footwear choice for everything from light-but-fast days out on the hills, to casual low-level rambles, walking the dog, or commuting across town. In this guide, we've rounded up the best men's walking shoes around, to help you put your best foot forward.

Don't think you'll be able to get away with a pair of standard street shoes; dedicated walking shoes pack plenty of extras that make a huge difference to their performance. In fact, the best walking shoes should have many of the elements you'd find in the best hiking boots, such as a relatively stiff sole – often augmented with a stiffening shank and a rockplate for extra protection – as well as excellent lacing to lock your foot into place. 

Most walking shoes also include a waterproof membrane to keep casual dampness (like wet grass) from wetting out the upper and getting into the shoe, and many also include a higher rand or protective panels around the sides of the upper to fend off sharp stones and general abrasion. If you're tackling particularly tricky or vertiginous terrain, you might need approach shoes, which are kind of a technical walking shoe/climbing shoe hybrid. 

Although boots are the tools you'll need for really rugged stuff, walking shoes fit the bill for a host of less-serious walks, as well as urban rambles of all kinds. Do bear in mind that walking shoes don't support the ankle much – if at all – so for hillwalking or more remote walks it's best to opt for a safer, boot-shaped option if in doubt. But on a more gentle walk, pair any of these with some of the best walking trousers and a good waterproof jacket for a comfy and versatile outdoors outfit. 

The best men's walking shoes 2021

best men's walking shoe: Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX

(Image credit: Salomon)

1. Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX

The best men's walking shoe for most people

Specifications
Type: trail runner / walking shoe hybrid
Upper: textile
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex
Outsole: rubber
Reasons to buy
+Built like a tank yet lightweight+Sturdy and stable+Roomy toe box
Reasons to avoid
-Not great for very narrow feet

The Salomon Ultra 4 GTX combines the lightweight build and cushioned comfort of a trail runner with the added protection and sturdiness of a dedicated walking shoe, and we think it's the best men's walking shoe around right now. Given that the vast majority of hiking injuries are ankle sprains, the attention given over to ankle stability is a welcome innovation. It might not match the support you'll find in the best men's hiking boots, but the addition of an ADV-C Chassis in the X Ultra 4 GTX does deliver extra stability without limiting mobility too much.

A roomier toe box helps avoid hotspots, although may not suit those with very narrow feet. The upper includes Activesupport ‘wings’ connecting the lacing system to the chassis, again to boost stability without adding too much weight, and the Quicklace fastening system is speedy and efficient. Head to our Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX men's trail shoe review to find out more.

best walking shoes: Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX

(Image credit: Merrell)

2. Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX

The best men's walking shoes overall – and a T3 Award winner

Specifications
Type: hiking shoe
Upper: mesh
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex
Outsole: Quantum Grip rubber
Reasons to buy
+Super-breathable+Lots of traction+Robust
Reasons to avoid
-Light on protection

Merrell has gone all out with the MQM Flex 2, throwing a kitchen sink of tech and innovation into creating a technical and competent shoe. In spite of the name, the MQM is simply a great fast and light hiking shoe, especially at the business end, the outsole. 

That outsole is made from Merrell's 'mountain-grade' Quantum Grip rubber, and packs deep 5mm lugs arranged in a trail running-style format that really do grip well in most conditions. There’s an essential rock plate built in as well as a highly flexible midsole, which results in stiffness where you need it, but enough flex to get on with enjoying the trail. 

While the bellows tongue does a decent job at keeping bits of the trail out of your boots, there are walking shoes that provide better protection against trail debris. It sits low enough to not impact adjustability, as well as allowing a wide opening for your size 11s. The beefy lacing system looks the part, incorporating an extra band across the arch of the foot, which helps capture the foot and hold it snugly on longer rambles. There are useful smaller touches too, such as the generous finger pull on the heel, and the TPU toe cap extends to protect much of the front of the shoe from abrasion. Finally, there’s a Gore-Tex membrane underneath the mesh to prevent rain stopping play without hindering breathability. It's a compelling package if speed is your priority – head to our Merrell MQM Flex 2 review for more info, or check out our Merrell Agility Peak 4 vs Inov-8 Roclite 280 comparison to see how it matches up against another speedy shoe.

best walking shoes for men: Columbia Facet 30 Outdry shoe

(Image credit: Columbia)

3. Columbia Facet 30 Outdry shoe

The best trainer-style walking shoe

Specifications
Type: hiking sneaker
Upper: Ballistic textile
Waterproofing: OutDry
Outsole: Omni-Grip non-marking traction rubber
Reasons to buy
+Waterproof+Responsive cushioning+High-traction
Reasons to avoid
-Marmite styling

The Columbia Facet 30 might have marmite styling, but there's plenty of tech lurking beneath the surface. Those angular overlay panels provide reinforcement for the ballistic mesh upper at key points, while a speed lacing system keeps your foot stable in the shoe. As you'd expect, there's a waterproof membrane here, courtesy of Columbia's OutDry own-brand system, and a combination of heel stabilisation and responsive cushioning thanks to a high-energy return midsole constructed from Techlite – another Columbia in-house innovation.

Meanwhile, that outsole is high-traction but non-marking rubber that'll see off grip-based challenges on trail and off equally well, and a final little touch is the positive finger-pull on both tongue and heel for easier donning and doffing. Overall, these deliver all the tools for the outdoor walking shoe job, as well as a different design take that's well worth a second look. If you like the style but want a touch more support, there's a version with an ankle sock section that's worth considering – head to our Columbia Facet 45 OutDry review to see what we thought of those.

best men's hiking shoe: Merrell Zion Gore-Tex

(Image credit: Merrell)

4. Merrell Zion Gore-Tex

The best men's walking shoe for versatile looks

Specifications
Type: hiking shoe
Upper: full grain leather and mesh
Waterproofing: Gore-Tex
Outsole: Vibram Megagrip
Reasons to buy
+All-round style +Hardwearing construction+Aggressive outsole

The Merrell Zion Gore-Tex strikes a strong midpoint in the walking shoe canon – traditional materials, traditional lacing and looks, but with hidden technical abilities and highly aggressive outsole. The result is a shoe that's at home around town but perfectly capable on-trail and off. There's a hidden dry barrier lurking beneath the full-grain leather upper, an important factor in making these breathable yet usable in damper conditions. Merrell has deployed experience from creating trail shoes here, which is clear from the spec list – bellows tongue, contoured insole and a flexplate for torsional rigidity are all present, correct and contribute to making a solid walking platform.

That platform is solidly anchored to the rough stuff with a combination of Vibram Megagrip rubber and robust 5mm lugs that'll grip mod and greasy rock equally well. For a traditional-style shoe that ticks all the boxes the Merrell Zion Peak is a good candidate for anyone's shortlist. 

best walking shoes: Inov-8 Roclite 280 Men's

(Image credit: Inov-8 Roclite 280)

5. Inov-8 Roclite 280

The best walking shoes for men needing speed in difficult terrain

Specifications
Type: trail runner / speed walking shoe
Upper: mesh
Waterproofing: none
Outsole: Inov-8 rubber
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Breathable+All-day comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof

The Roclite 280 means business, being based on Inov-8's well-regarded trail running shoe platform, and looks it too. A robust rand protects your toes and the sides of the shoe from sharp rocks and the like, while an internal rockplate will fend off similar obstacles from below. The big noise, though, is the sole unit, boasting massive 6mm deep lugs, which will grip on just about anything. Inov-8 has tweaked the drop to a more hiking-friendly 8mm, as well as adding an External Heel Counter (EHC) for extra stability and support.

Weighing in at a featherweight 280g, there's no weight here at all to blame your tired legs on, in part due to the mesh upper. There's no waterproof membrane either, which gives the ultimate in breathability, although does mean that water runs both ways. Overall, if you're in the market for an incredibly lightweight, faff-free trail blaster that'll munch through whatever terrain you throw at it, this is a strong contender. 

best men's walking shoes: KEEN Venture Vent

(Image credit: Keen)

6. Keen Venture Vent Walking Shoe

The best men’s walking shoes for summer adventure

Specifications
Type: walking shoe
Upper: mesh with TPU overlay
Waterproofing: none
Outsole: non-marking rubber
Reasons to buy
+Super-breathable+Lots of traction+Fast and light
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof (waterproof version available)

In many ways the Keen Venture Vent walking shoes are based on a simple idea: take a very breathable mesh upper, add in some midsole cushion, finish with massive 4mm lugs for traction. The result is more than the sum of these parts though, delivering enormous breathability for those warm summer days, but with a rugged underfoot platform that inspires confidence.

There's a neat interlocking heel-capture system that does what it says on the tin – minimising heel lift – while still allowing a relatively stiff stability shank for support. Meanwhile a dual-density footbed treated with KEEN’s Eco Anti-Odor system emphasises comfort – both your own and your co-adventurers' – and finally a non-marking sole leaves no trace. A simple, yet well-executed summer trail specialist. If waterproofing is important to you, opt for the Gore-Tex version instead.

Scarpa Mescalito

(Image credit: Scarpa)

7. Scarpa Mescalito

The best shoes for scrambling

Specifications
Type: approach shoes
Upper: suede
Waterproof: water-resistant 1.8 mm
Outsole: Vibram Dynamis LBT
Reasons to buy
+Stiff in the right places+Super-sticky sole+Suede upper moulds to your feet
Reasons to avoid
-No deep lugs for mud

For tricky trails that involve technical scrambing or even bits of rock climbing, it might be better to don a pair of approach shoes, and our favourites are the Scarpa Mescalito. The Vibram MegaGrip sole delivers outstanding grip, and there's an extra rubber section over the toes to ramp up grip and protection further. Vibram Dynamis technology keeps weight down (around 780g per pair), while a bi-density midsole adds cushioning, making these comfortable over longer distances – not true of all approach shoes. The breathable suede upper moulds to the foot over time (it's water-resistant rather than waterproof, but there is a heavier Gore-Tex version of these in the range). Note that it's not easy to get clean if you do end up encountering a particularly muddy match. If you’re staying on the flat then you'll want to pick a less stiff shoe from our list, but if it's approach shoes you're after, this is our pick of the bunch. Head to our Scarpa Mescalito review for more info.

Best men's walking shoes: Jack Wolfskin Scrambler Low M

(Image credit: Jack Wolfskin)

8. Jack Wolfskin Scrambler Low M

The best men’s walking shoes for versatile use

Specifications
Type: hiking shoes
Upper: microfibre and synthetic
Waterproofing: none
Outsole: Vibram
Reasons to buy
+Good all-rounders+Super-grippy Vibram sole+Durable
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof

The Jack Wolfskin Scrambler Low M walking shoe offers something for every man. There’s a ‘rock zone’ of stickier rubber in the toe for climbing and scrambling, a cushioned midsole for day-long treks, and a super grippy Vibram outsole with a deep tread to tackle all types of terrain with ease. A simple but effective lacing system is highly unlikely to go wrong in the hills (and is easily repaired if needed). Be aware these aren't waterproof, though.

Best men's walking shoes: Adidas Five Ten Five Tennie Men's Approach Shoe

(Image credit: Adidas)

9. Adidas Five Ten Five Tennie Men's Approach Shoe

The best men’s walking shoes for hiking and climbing

Specifications
Type: approach shoe
Upper: leather upper
Waterproofing: none
Outsole: Stealth S1 rubber
Reasons to buy
+Sticky Stealth rubber+Retro appeal+Fast and light 

The Five Ten Tennie is a controversial beast. Once the undisputed king of approach shoes, thanks to robust construction and incredibly sticky Stealth soles (used for technical climbing shoes), then fallen on harder times and failed redesigns. Now resuscitated by Adidas, will the most recent Five Tennie cut it? In a word, yes! We're fans of the retro stylings, but if you prefer something more traditional there are more muted black/grey/green versions too, and the Stealth rubber is as sticky as ever. There’s enough flex in the shoe to use the huge toe welt for smearing, and enough stiffness in the midfoot to walk as many miles as you need to. This best men’s walking shoe contender has the addition of a sock-like knit inner provides support, and gives confidence in the fit when the laces are tightened. For scrambling and on up, these are excellent foot-soldiers. 

best walking shoes for men: Arc'teryx Konseal LT

(Image credit: Arc'teryx)

10. Arc'teryx Konseal LT

Another excellent approach shoe for alpine climbing

Specifications
Type: approach shoe
Upper: mesh upper with TPU overlay
Waterproofing: none
Outsole: Vibram Megagrip
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Plenty of friction+Ingenious 2-in-1 design
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof

If you're tackling mountain approaches, take a look at the Arc'teryx Konseal LT. As well as delivering the streamlined silhouette we've come to expect from Arc'teryx, this latest iteration of the Konseal approach shoe has gone for the essentials first – it's very light, very durable and grippy. The latter is down to a super-sticky Vibram Megagrip outsole, while the lugs are specifically designed to add forefoot friction for better grip on smooth surfaces. 

The toe cap and extensive sidewalls will fend off plenty of rough stuff, while a subtle squared heel adds improved braking ability in descents. A hidden but particularly ingenious feature is that the heel section is designed to fold flat, making them into camp clogs, also a very handy feature in belay shoes for the dedicated climber. Arc'teryx has finished the inner with barefoot comfort in mind too, making these ideal for summer camping trips, alpine adventures, and fast and light scrambles.

The best men's walking shoes: what to look for

So what do you need to consider when figuring out which pair for buy? The key is to pick a comfortable fit, as well as considering the terrain you'll be covering. The best men's walking shoes offer a reinforced sole (usually TPU) to fend off stones underfoot, a robust rand to protect the sides, and an aggressive, grippy sole. 

Many walking shoes will have a waterproof membrane built in, which can be useful in wet grass, for example, but can also limit breathability if you’re really gunning it, so if you're thinking of picking up a pair of these, it's worth considering how you’ll mainly be using your shoes. 

Unlike boots, rain resistance in walking shoes is a bit of a red herring, as without the closed calf of the boot your feet will be soaked in heavy rain, waterproofing or not. 

Others have made their lightness and flexibility around the ankle more of a benefit by incorporating sticky rubber and protective high rands to deliver a hybrid approach/scrambling shoe that can cope with pretty much anything in the hills. 

More aggressive tread patterns are ideal for muddy conditions, but handle rocky smearing poorly, while stickier rubber will wear out faster and can be slippy in muddy conditions.

Although spec is important, getting the right size is absolutely essential. It's a good idea to try on a few pairs to get a good idea of any potential issues. Also, keep in mind that if you are planning high-energy walking pursuits, you might want to size up as you would for running shoes, because your feet will swell over longer stretches.

Do I need a pair of dedicated walking shoes?

The reasons for getting a good pair of shoes for walking are many and varied. The best options will improve performance by making your hiking easier and more comfortable. Plus, once you're done you'll be able to pop your muddy shoes in the boot and drive off in a fresh pair. 

Proper walking shoes are ideal for lighter hikes, short approaches and summer rambles, as well as faster and lighter mountain expeditions. Although you'd be best off with the extra support of boots for the really rough stuff, some of our best men's walking shoes do offer a ‘mid’ style, providing some support akin to a boot but with more ankle movement. 

Unsure which type of footwear is right for you? Take a look at our walking boots vs walking shoes guide to discover the key differences.

There's also a whole sub-category of walking shoes dubbed ‘approach shoes’, which build in more scrambling and rock climbing orientated traits, like sticky rubber and extended lacing to grip the entire foot tightly.