Snow's melting: Time to find budget hiking boots

April 10, 2013 at 12:11 PM ET

The Merrell Moab Ventilator is a low-cut hiking shoe, an increasingly popular and affordable alternative to higher-cut boots.

April showers and spring snowmelt signal that it’s time to trade in ski boots and snowshoes for hiking boots. Of course, those harbingers of warm weather also turn hiking trails to muck. Opt for a cut-rate pair of boots, and you could easily wind up with wet, blistered feet and a muddy rump. You could also wind up with a high-quality hiking shoe or even a reliable mid-cut boot for under $100.

Cheapism.com has highlighted four top picks, all of which come in men’s and women’s versions.

  • The Merrell Moab Ventilator (starting at $72) has been labeled an excellent value in side-by-side comparisons by outdoor gear experts. This is a supportive hiking shoe that grips the trail with deep 5-millimeter lugs, or treads, yet it’s lightweight and very comfortable, according to online reviews. While the Ventilator is not waterproof (pricier Moab models are), it has a highly breathable mesh upper that allows it to dry out quickly in warm weather. The namesake ventilation further helps prevent blisters by airing out hot, sweaty feet. (Where to buy)
  • The Keen Alamosa WP (starting at $72) caters to hikers who prefer a waterproof shoe. In this price range the term is often used loosely, but reviewers verify that the waterproof membrane that lines this shoe prevents water from leaking through. They also note the sturdy yet extremely lightweight construction, including durable, suede-like nubuck leather and a rubber bumper on the toe. (Where to buy)
  • The mid-cut L.L. Bean Waterproof Trail Model Hikers (starting at $90) are classic hiking boots that come up higher on the ankle to provide additional support and protection. The mid-cut design alone is often enough to price a shoe over $100 and this budget pair is waterproof to boot (no pun intended). Again, numerous reviewers vouch for the effectiveness of the waterproof lining. (Where to buy)
  • The Salomon Synapse (starting at $60) is uniquely designed for trail running, or for covering a lot of ground quickly. The midsole is tilted downward, toward the toe, to propel the wearer forward. A record holder who completed the fastest end-to-end hike of the Appalachian Trail wore these inexpensive shoes to accomplish her feat. Novices, too, have found them durable and supremely comfortable. (Where to buy)

Light hiking shoes dominate the low end of the market and have become a popular alternative to heavy-duty backpacking boots. A multi-day trip with a heavy pack over rough, uneven terrain calls for a burly boot with a higher price tag. But for day hikes that don’t venture off the trail, many hikers prefer nimbler footwear. While that often means a low-cut shoe, a few mid-cut boots, such as L.L. Bean’s Trail Model Hikers, offer similarly light weight and low cost.

Another hallmark of this type of shoe is a sole that’s supportive without being too stiff. All four pairs listed above manage to walk that line, reviewers say. They feature foot beds made from cushy EVA, or ethylene vinyl acetate. However, nothing will make a boot comfortable if it doesn’t fit correctly. Outside magazine explains exactly how to find the right one for you.

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