Hiking in the desert heat requires specific equipment. Most notably footwear, which will have a huge impact on the comfort you feel every step of the way.
The best hiking boots for desert terrain can greatly improve your experience. Designed to be lightweight, ventilated and supportive; they are adept at keeping out sand and will help you keep your cool.
When making our assessment, we analysed a multitude of boots from across the market to find you the very best. Each option has the ideal characteristics to help you negotiate sandy dunes on a hot summer day.
Ranking The Best Hiking Boots For Desert
- Scarpa Zodiac Plus Gtx
- Merrell Altalight Knit Mid
- Adidas Terrex Freehiker Parley
- Keen Targhee Vent Mid
- The North Face Ultra Fastpack IV Mid Futurelight
Best Hiking Boots For Desert Comparison
Outstanding support and traction while still remaining breathable. Simply the best.
Lightweight and well cushioned boot with supreme comfort
A day-hiking boot with desert hiking features, it feels fast and light
Stiff and supportive hiking boot that ensures grip on sandy terrain
A hiking boot that maximzes breathability and comfort for a bargain price
Supportive, good traction, breathable, waterproof, durable, comfortable
Excellent traction, comfortable, lightweight, cushioned, waterproof
Lightweight, waterproof, reliable traction, good toe protection, comfortable
Supportive, lightweight, durable, good traction, keeps out sand and debris
Ventilated, comfortable, good traction, short 'break-in' time, cheap
Expensive, lacks the ankle support for really heavy loads
Lacks durability, limited stability
Lacks cushioning, not waterproof
limited cushioning, lacks durability
Nubuck Lether, Mesh
2lb. 6.4oz (1089g)
1lb. 8.2oz (686g)
1lb. 14oz (850g)
1lbs. 14oz (850g)
2lbs. 1.2oz (941g)
Why Do I Need The Best Hiking Boots For Desert?
Hiking in the desert poses a variety of challenges. The hot weather and shifting surface can make walking extremely difficult.
Finding the best hiking boots for desert terrain is no easy task. They need to be lightweight, breathable and ventilated; while also providing ankle support that’s usually only offered by ‘heavy-duty’ backpacking boots.
Another factor to keep in mind is the ability of sand to enter your boot, which will inevitably lead to discomfort and blisters. Finding a boot that will keep the elements out will be key in your quest for desert hiking comfort.
If you find that your feet generally run hot, it might also be worth investing in a breathable pair of socks. Fortunately, we also have a guide detailing the best summer hiking socks.
How To Choose The Best Hiking Boots For Desert
Type of Hiking Boot
Hiking boots come in three different types. Each type offers various pros and cons that will affect their performance and comfort in desert situations.
Hiking shoes closely resemble regular sneakers. Using a low cut design; they are comfortable, flexible and lightweight.
Most hiking shoes are designed for summer weather, making them breathable and ventilated. However, they lack the ankle support required on uneven dunes and can easily allow sand to enter through the ankle.
Day-hiking boots use a mid to high-cut design that will wrap around or above the ankle joint. They are well suited to spending a day in the outdoors, providing reasonable ankle support while remaining light and flexible.
Many day-hiking boots are well-suited to desert conditions. Some combine great ventilation with an ankle cut that promotes stability and is capable of keeping out sand.
Anyone that requires maximum support should be looking towards backpacking boots. High-cut, stiff and often heavy in design; they are the hiking boots of choice for anyone carrying a heavy pack on challenging terrain.
Backpacking boots can perform well on desert dunes by providing excellent support and making sure sand doesn’t enter. However, they tend to be the heavy and can lack ventilation in serious heat.
We all know that desert weather can be hot, so it’s no surprise that breathability should be assessed. Sweaty feet can be a recipe for blisters, so keeping your feet cool and dry is often the key to comfort.
The material your boots are made from will often have the biggest impact on breathability. Heavy leathers can be great at keeping moisture out, but they are rarely adept at letting humid air escape.
Synthetic blends are often the best at keeping your feet cool. Many boots incorporate mesh into their design, which provides supreme ventilation while reducing weight.
It’s worth noting that a waterproof ‘membrane’ can also reduce the cooling capability of a hiking boot. It’s usually the case that non-waterproof boots provide the best ventilation, providing you don’t get caught in a desert downpour.
It’s a common myth that it never rains in the desert. In fact, most deserts experience rainfall, so being prepared is of high importance.
Most boots provide waterproofing by using an inner ‘membrane’ or ‘bootie’. It’s designed to provide a thin layer of protection that cannot be penetrated by water, but still allows your feet to breathe.
Using Gore-Tex is a popular method that hiking boots use to keep your feet dry. Some brands will also use their own version, with each one claiming to have the ultimate waterproofing capability.
It’s worth noting that water-resistant features often make a boot run warm. Despite their claim to have excellent breathability, they will almost always be warmer than a non-waterproof version.
When you’re on a long and hot hike through the desert, the last thing you need is your boots weighing you down. Finding a pair that are lightweight can work wonders for your energy levels and will help to keep your feet cool.
Aim to prioritise boots that use incorporate mesh or synthetic to keep weight down. Some lighter leathers like split-grain or suede can also save weight, while still adding durability.
Keep in mind that lightweight boots are often less supportive. If you’re hiking long distances with a heavy load, you might need to look for a boot that’s slightly heavier in order to meet your demands.
Desert surfaces can be uneven and unpredictable. In order to keep your footing, you need to make sure your soles have suitable traction.
Every boot comes with a different outsole that provides a varying level of traction. Most are made from rubber, with added ‘lugs’ providing additional grip on a range of different surfaces.
When analysing the best hiking boots for desert terrain, we have reviewed the level of traction you can expect from each product. Once you have found reliable grip, you can attack any trail without concern.
Midsoles provide cushioning and protection for the bottom of your feet. It will help to relieve some of the stress placed on your joints by improving shock-absorption.
Most boots use a midsole that’s constructed from EVA or PU. You will find that most lightweight boots use EVA, while heavier boots use PU due to its improved protection.
The type and thickness of the midsole will often correspond with the weight of the boot. If you’re looking to hike fast and light over deep sand, it’s best to go with EVA. However, a PU midsole will better serve anyone required to carry a heavy load over uneven surfaces.
Best Overall Hiking Boots For Desert
Anyone looking for a serious hiking boot that can cope with anything you might encounter in the desert will be impressed by the Zodiac Plus Gtx. Upon review, its exceptional all-round performance made it stand out as the go-to boot for attacking touch terrain in hot weather.
We found the boots to provide the perfect balance between ventilation and water-resistance. Using Gore-Tex inner membrane, these boots provide exceptional waterproofing while still providing excellent breathability.
Another area where the Zodiac excelled was support, with the high-cut backpacking upper providing superb stability on uneven surfaces and shifting sand. Underneath the boot, you will find a sole that provides exceptional traction on a range of different terrain types.
Finding a sturdy and supportive boot that can also keep your feet cool is difficult, but the Scarpa Zodiac Plus Gtx ticks all the right boxes. It’s durable and rugged design is perfectly complemented by the comfort it offers in warm weather.
- Superb traction
- Stability on any surface
- Waterproof (Gore-Tex)
- Wide fitting
Best Lightweight Hiking Boots For Desert
Anyone that loves hiking fast and light through desert conditions will enjoy wearing the Terrex Freehiker Parley. The boot features a modern looking design that’s typical of Adidas’ hiking boots and we found it to perform admirably in a range of performance categories.
We were amazed by the level of stability the boots offered on uneven surfaces. Despite their light and flexible design with only minimal ankle coverage, we found them to be far more supportive than other boots in the ‘ultra-lightweight’ category.
As you might expect when looking at the modern shape, this boot offers excellent comfort and flexibility right out of the box. The Terrex Freehiker also provides the best cushioning upon test, providing plenty of energy for those seeking to attack a variety of challenging underfoot conditions.
Overall, we were thoroughly impressed by the grip and stabiity the Terrex Freehiker Parley has to offer considering its weight. If you’re looking for an energetic and lightweight boot that’s breathable and waterproof, you won’t be left disappointed.
- Decent stability
- Excellent cushioning
- Great traction
- Comfortable out of the box
- Lacks the ‘serious’ support of a backpacking boot
Best Comfortable Hiking Boots For Desert
Wearing comfortable boots can make turn a good hike into a great one, so its no surprise to see most modern boot manufacturers prioritising comfort. When making our assessment, we found The North Face Ultra Fastpack IV Mid Futurelight gave the best feeling underfoot without sacrificing performance.
The flexibility and fit offered by the Futurelight makes your foot feel at home the moment you take it out of the box. The lightweight upper is also complemented by a ‘fastfoam’ midsole that did well to cushion impact, while the stern toe cap works wonders to stop stubbed toes when encountering rocky terrain.
The Fastpacks are designed using a mesh upper to maximize breathability while keeping the weight down to give them a fast and light feel that’s ideal for hot and dry conditions. The boots are completed with a reliable waterproof membrane, which despite sacrificing a touch of ventilation is definitely worth it if you face a desert downpour.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack IV Mid Futurelight is a typical modern hiking boot that aims to maximize comfort while still providing support. Anyone looking for a lightweight boot with the feel of a sneaker that can stand up to sandy dunes will be happy with their purchase.
- Supreme comfort
- Decent cushioning
- Reliable traction
- Good support for a lightweight boot
- Questionable durability
- Lightweight design diminishes stability
Best Traction Hiking Boots For Desert
If you frequently face steep, wet or dusty terrain during your outdoor excursions; you already know the importance of good traction. The Merrell Altalight Mid far exceeded our expectations when assessing grip, making it an excellent choice for hiking on shifting sand.
The Altalight was also one of the most supportive boots we reviewed. We found the nylon and synthetic upper to be relatively stiff during ‘break-in’, while providing excellent stability over slanted dunes that’s sure to save your ankles.
The lightweight design was found to provide excellent breathability in hot weather, which is not often found in such a supportive boot. Another bonus was the tongue and lace design, which is ideal for keep out sand and debris.
Anyone looking for a reliable boot that will keep your joints safe will appreciate the Altalight Knit Mid. Its design proved to be outstanding when we assessed traction and support, which are two key features anyone should be looking for in a quality desert hiking boot
- Great traction
- Protects against sand
- Good breathability
- Feels stable and secure
- Relatively poor midsole cushioning
- Not waterproof
Best Budget Hiking Boots For Desert
When assessing budget boots that are well suited for desert hiking, the Keen Targhee Vent Mid came out on top. When you look at the ventilation and support it provides for such a reasonable price, it’s easy to see why we’ve labelled it as a top pick.
The nubuck leather and mesh upper is impressive in hot and dry conditions, allowing hot air to escape better than any other boot we have reviewed. We were also pleasantly surprised by the level of ‘out the box’ comfort the Targhee offered, with minimal ‘break-in’ time required.
Another key desert hiking attribute is traction, which happens to be a strong point for the Targhee. You can expect it to perform well on a variety of terrain types if you decide to venture away from the sandy dunes onto something more rocky.
Keen have been a trusted supplier of reasonably priced hiking boots for a number of years, so it was no surprise to use that the Targhee Vent Mid performed so well in our review. Providing grip, breathability and comfort in hot desert conditions; it’s a boot that will definitely please budget friendly adventurers.
- Plenty of traction
- Comfortable toe-box fit
- No break-in time
- Super breathable
- Excellent value for money
- Limited long-term durability
- Not waterproof
- Lacks cushioning
If you’re planning on hiking through the desert, wearing the right boots is crucial to your experience. Keeping your feet cool is vital for the prevention of blisters, while making sure your ankle is supported also holds high importance.
The best hiking shoes for desert terrain are breathable, stable and reliable. The aim is to make sure you feel light on your feet, while also protecting against sand and dust that might enter.
Every product we have reviewed is best suited to a different type of hiker. Take the time to analyse the information and find the boots that suit your style.
Our priority here at SnowSunSee is to make sure you have the tools to maximize your time in the outdoors. Once you’ve found the right footwear, you’re all set to make the most of your experience.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.