Best walking shoes 2021: Lightweight, waterproof outdoor shoes for men and women

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Swap clunky hiking boots for a pair of lightweight and waterproof walking shoes – here’s our pick of the best

In this article, you’ll find our pick of the best walking shoes for men and women. Our list includes everything from lightweight water-friendly shoes to heavy-duty hiking trainers, with options to suit every budget. If it’s hiking boots you’re after, you can check out our dedicated article here.

If you don’t know where to begin, or you have some burning questions you need answering, you’ll find our guide to buying the best walking shoes for you immediately below.

How to choose the best walking shoes for you

What’s the difference between walking shoes and hiking boots?

Essentially, walking shoes are designed with the same features as hiking boots, including waterproofing, rugged, bouncy soles and breathable fabrics, but usually feature lower ankle cuffs and tend to weigh less than boots, making them ideal if you find heftier hiking boots restrictive in the summer or if you’re travelling in warmer climates.

Walking shoes are versatile, too, and easy to wear everywhere from peak to pub to morning dog walk. They’re often as comfy as trainers to wear, and don’t need breaking in, but their breathable, man-made fabrics do make them less warm than thick boots. They’re also cheaper than hiking boots – we’d recommend spending around £50 and picking a waterproof pair such as the high-performing pairs we’ve tested below.

How do I get the right fit?

When trying on walking shoes, check that they don’t feel tight anywhere around your heels and that you have plenty of room to wiggle your toes. Don’t pick anything that feels like it fits on the snug side, as your feet will tend to expand on long hot walks.

Try lacing the shoes up tight and checking they feel like they’ll stay in place without any tightness or rubbing around your ankles. Take along the kind of socks you usually wear to walk in, and try on as many pairs as possible to see what styles fit you best – if you have wide feet or suffer from bunions, look out for shoes designed specifically for you.

What key features should I look out for?

A good walking shoe is waterproof and breathable on top, with tough rubber soles with great grip below. It makes sense to pick a good-looking pair of shoes, so that you can get more wear out of them. If you want to wear your shoes in the summer, a lighter mesh fabric is a good pick – if you want a style to use in all weathers, leather and suede shoes are heavier but warmer.

Tough, bouncy soles are worth investing in if you’re planning on hillwalking, and some shoes use branded technology such as Vibram soles that are great quality. Check they offer good grip – some shops even have mock terrain you can test your shoes out on.

Do my walking shoes actually have to be waterproof?

If we were rounding up hiking boots suitable for cold weather we’d say absolutely yes, but when it comes to walking shoes it does depend on where you plan to use them. If you want shoes for summer walks, travel in hot climates or aquatic adventures such as rock pooling, you’re better off picking something light and quick-drying, such as a mesh shoe or walking sandals with closed rubber soles that will keep your feet cool in and out of the water whilst protecting your feet. You can even buy ‘shandals’ – sandal/shoe hybrids that have large vents to keep you cool and enable you to wear them in water. 

If, however, you want hiking shoes with low ankles you can wear on walks in the hills and use in spring and autumn, pick a waterproof pair. Make sure the shoes you buy are labelled waterproof, rather than water-resistant if you want to wear them in bad weather. Gore-Tex is a reliable waterproofing system to watch out for.

The best walking shoes for men and women

1. Adidas Terrex Skychaser 2.0 Gore-Tex shoes: The best shoes for trail walking

These shoes may look like relaxed trainers, but they perform like technical hiking boots and are designed to withstand the elements. The Skychaser shoes are fully waterproof, treated with reliable Gore-Tex technology, and also offer the hardiest, grippiest soles of all the shoes we tried out. Both tough and lightweight in one well-designed package, they’re ideal for walking in the back of beyond, especially in bad weather, when they show their mettle and give fantastic grip even on muddy paths. Worth shelling out for if you regularly hit the trails, especially since they’re available in fashion-forward colourways that make them easy to wear daily as well as in the great outdoors.

2. Mountain Warehouse Path Waterproof walking shoes: The best shoes for a tight budget

A pocket-friendly price for a surprisingly high-performing shoe. The Paths, from Mountain Warehouse, are very comfy, trainer-like walking shoes perfect for the summer. Their price is reflected in the fact that only the soles are fully waterproof – the uppers are just water-resistant, and will withstand light rain but will probably let in water if you jump in puddles. That doesn’t stop the Paths from being a smart choice for fair weather walkers, though – we like their tough rubber soles, which offer great grip even on slippery rock, and the breathable fabric, ideal if your feet tend to overheat on walks.

3. Vivobarefoot Primus Trail II: The best for getting into barefoot shoes

Join the barefoot revolution in Vivo barefoot trail shoes, which are designed to mimic how feet move with no footwear on at all and provide sensory feedback from the trail whilst still protecting from rocks and debris. These kicks are light as air and so flexible that you’ll barely feel them on your feet – you can even roll them up small for easy travelling. They aren’t waterproof, but they are quick-drying, and the deep lugs on the soles provide excellent grip. The Primus Trail is made of recycled PET bottles too, for extra eco brownie points.

4. Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator: The best all-rounder

Merrell’s Moab ticks all our boxes for warm weather walking. The smart suede outer means the shoe is good-looking enough to wear in the city as well as the country, but it offers substance as well as style, packing a hefty punch when it comes to design features. The shoe is lightweight and cushiony to wear, with tough rubber soles, a hardy rubber toe cap to protect your feet on rock and plentiful mesh ventilation pockets to keep your feet cool. Top marks for this versatile shoe – wear from spring until autumn.

5. Keen Arroyo II sandals: The best for summer

Are they sandals? Are they shoes? We’d argue that they’re the best of both worlds. Keen’s Arroyo II are a fantastic choice for balmy summer walks. They aren’t waterproof, obviously, but by choosing walking sandals you gain a lot of lightness and breathability – no sweaty feet here. Meanwhile, the tough rubber toe cap makes them hiking-ready, and you can also wear them for swimming when hiking on the shoreline, as they’ll protect your feed in water. These smart leather ‘shandals’ are seriously comfy and give great grip on long walks, although they aren’t as quick-drying as fabric walking sandals.

6. Keen Terradora II waterproof shoes for women: The best shoes for travelling

Keen’s much-loved Terradora shoe for women is back and better than ever in its latest incarnation, the Terradora II. This deliriously comfortable, lightweight shoe feels like just wearing your favourite trainers (and has trainer-like looks and colourways, too) – but performs brilliantly when you’re trekking, too.

The Terradora II is reliably breathable, offers good grip and is waterproof enough to withstand a shower. We love them for travelling in hot climates when you need just one shoe that can go from city exploring to serious hiking.

7. Aku Bellamont III Suede GTX: The best shoe for smart wear

Who knew sensible trainers could look this smart? Aku’s Italian-designed hiking boots are a stylish joy, and the same goes for their walking shoes. These Gore-Tex treated suede trainers will go anywhere you do, and can deal with sudden mountain storms as well as just popping down the pub. Thick Vibram soles make them one of the heavier walking shoes we tested, but that rugged grip is worth the extra few grams. We’d recommend picking a dark colour if you’re planning on wearing your Bellamonts anywhere muddy. The suede will also need regular cleaning and care.

8. Merrell Choprock Sieve sandal: The best for aquatic adventures

The perfect balance between a shoe and a sandal, the Merrell Chop rock Sieve combines tough rubber toe and heel boxes with lightweight ventilated main body and seriously grippy soles. The Chop rocks aren’t waterproof but do dry superfast, making them perfect for wild swimming, rock pooling and summer adventures by the sea. The smart lacing system helps you get the perfect snug fit and keeps the sandals from sliding about. These fit large, so we’d recommend ordering a size down from your usual.

9. Keen Targhee III Waterproof Hiking Shoes: The best for waterproof all-terrain adventures

We’ve found Keen footwear to be instantly comfortable from the word go, so it’s no surprise that its hard-wearing Targhee III walking shoe is factored into our list of the best walking shoes on the market at the moment. It’s an iconic shoe in its third incarnation and has a focus on the company’s KEEN. dry technology, which includes a waterproof, breathable membrane and a leather mud shield that makes sure your feet stay dry in most of the conditions you’re likely to throw at it. The fit and durability of the Keen boot has been transferred to this lighter-weight, comfortable shoe and we’d feel that you’d be confident taking it across a multitude of terrains.

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