Before embarking on a 115km segment of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I knew I needed to find the perfect pair of hiking shoes. Not just any shoes would do – they had to be waterproof, have excellent traction, and most importantly, be comfortable enough to prevent blisters and foot issues during my weeklong trek. This was the ideal opportunity to put various hiking shoes to the test, ensuring they would also be suitable for our guests on Classic Journeys walking tours.

Classic Journeys co-founder on the Camino de Santiago with friends

The Great Hiking Shoe Showdown

To find the best options, I ordered six different hiking shoe styles and put them through their paces. Some were simply tried on for fit and comfort, while others were taken out on local trails for a more rigorous test.

6 pairs of hiking shoes agains the grass to compare

Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes

The first decision was whether to opt for a hiking boot or a hiking shoe. After reading reviews and blog posts, I determined that the portion of the Camino I planned to walk consisted mostly of compressed dirt paths (muddy when it rained), rocky trails, and paved, cobblestone, and gravel roads – similar to the terrain on Classic Journeys walking tours. While hiking boots would provide better ankle support, I ultimately decided that the superior comfort of a hiking shoe was my top priority, as it would be less likely to cause blisters. However, for Camino pilgrims carrying heavy packs or hiking through the Pyrenees, a comfortable, waterproof hiking boot would be the better choice.

After narrowing down my search, I ordered the following hiking shoes from Zappos (no affiliation, but I appreciate their great selection and return policy for unworn shoes):

Danner Trail 2650 3″ GTY (Size 8M, $189.95)
Merrell Bravada 2 Waterproof (Size 8M, $112.33)
Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX (Size 8M, $149.95)
The North Face Vectiv Exploris 2 FutureLight (Size 8M, $101.37)
Hoka Women’s Anacapa Low GORE-TEX (Size 8M, $169.95)
On Shoes Cloudventure Waterproof 3.0 (Size 8M, $169.99)

Note: I typically wear a size 7.5M or 8M, but some recommendations suggest going up a half or full size for hiking shoes.

Series of hiking shoes in the grass to compare

The Try-On Test

Since I planned to purchase only two pairs and return the rest, I wanted to keep the shoes in unworn condition during the try-on process. Wearing the hiking socks I intended to use (more on those later), I put one shoe style on my left foot and a different style on my right foot, then wore them around the house. Throughout the week, I swapped the shoes, paying close attention to how my toes felt in the footbed, arch support, potential rubbing areas, stability, and traction.

After this trial period, the Merrell Bravada 2 Waterproof and the Hoka Women’s Anacapa Low GORE-TEX emerged as the best fits, so I took them out on local trails and packed them for a Classic Journeys walking tour in Provence to put them through their paces.

The Trail Test

Lacing up my new shoes, I hit the local trails, replicating the terrain I’d encounter on the Camino with hills, dirt paths, and rocky sections. The good news? The Merrell Bravada 2 Waterproof shoes felt fantastic – comfortable and stable throughout. The bad news? My feet weren’t as happy in the Hoka Women’s Anacapa Low GORE-TEX. On downhill sections, my left toes kept hitting the front of the shoe, and the shoe felt heavier than the Merrells. Perhaps I should have sized up even further (as I often do for running shoes), but for hiking, I wanted a snug, supportive fit for navigating uneven surfaces and scrambling over rocks.

Pair of black Merrell Bravada 2 waterproof shoes in the grass

The Winner: Merrell Bravada 2 Waterproof

Thrilled with the Merrell Bravada 2 Waterproof hiking shoes, I ordered two pairs to bring on the Camino. This decision proved invaluable on the first 16-mile day when we encountered a major rainstorm, complete with rivers of mud running down the trails, mud puddles, and small streams we had to ford by stepping on partially submerged rocks. I walked over 115 km in the Merrells over five days, through rain, mud, and sunshine, and my feet felt great the entire time. At the end of the trip, I could have happily walked even further in these trusty hiking companions.

Dirty shoes from the Camino de Santiago walking trails

Now, with the perfect hiking shoes in hand, I’m ready to tackle my next adventure…

Classic Journeys' co-founder, Susie Piegza, hiking on a trail along the Camino de Santiago

About the Author
Susie Piegza is Co-Founder of Classic Journeys, the world’s leading walking tour company offering walking tour itineraries in 50+ regions around the world.

Couple walking along the coast