As much as I love my GORUCK MACV-1s, sometimes wearing boots just…isn’t fun.
Thankfully, GORUCK is having a nutty, ~50% off pre-Black Friday sale where you can pick up the best rucking shoes from our list, the GORUCK Mackall shoes!
Anyways, last summer, I was on some random, unnamed, slightly hilly trail in coastal Montenegro in my MACV-1s laced up, feeling like I was ready for anything.
Unfortunately, the combination of the heat and humidity made the lower half of my legs feel like they were boiling in some molten pit. The second I could get boots off and shoes on (at that point, I didn’t care how nasty I’d make the clean pair of socks!), I developed a whole new outlook on life.
Following up on our list of the 15 best boots for rucking, we have seven more rucking footwear options for those who prefer more of a low-top experience. We’re confident that on Mile 42 of a Star Course-50 Miler (especially if you’re in some hot-weather location!), you’ll be thankful you click on this post!
Table of Contents
Our Criteria for Selecting the Best Shoes for Rucking
Having collectively rucked hundreds of miles in a variety of different shoes, we have a pretty good idea of what a good rucking shoe feels like.
…we also know how much you really don’t want to get caught rucking in the “wrong” pair of shoes or boots!
Besides our personal experiences, we have also scoured countless reviews of rucking shoes and have taken a lot of input into consideration. We are confident that our list is an aggregator of the best shoes for rucking to choose from!
The 7 Best Shoes for Rucking
GORUCK Mackall (Best Overall)
As you might expect, GORUCK dominates the entries comprising the best shoes for rucking list, with their Mackall offering being the best overall. Unlike GORUCK’s much more popular Ballistic Trainers featured later, the Mackall shoes design is more in line with the true “old school” rucking enthusiast in mind.
I personally prefer a different type of shoe when I’m performing a bunch of ruck shoulder-to-overheads and “dynamic movements” than when putting in the miles with 40-plus pounds strapped on my back!
As such, I prefer the feel and functionality of the Mackalls. After all, they are, in the words of their GORUCK designers, “an off-road rucking machine”.
Now that is some serious praise!
The Mackall shoes take their name from the U.S. Army’s Special Forces training ground, Camp Mackall. SF candidates are tasked with rucking with up to 125 pounds of weight, and the Mackall shoes pride themselves on being up to this task. The EVA midsole provides the stability base to handle these loads while the triple compound rubber outsole is one of the most, if not the most heavily engineered outsoles of any rucking shoe.
With a large, 13mm heel drop, I almost feel like I’m gliding when rucking in the Mackalls (to be fair, I’m used to low or no-heel drop shoes!). Even with this larger-than-average heel drop, the tight grip of the Mackall has been likened to “glue” on the feet. The reinforced toe cap adds an extra layer of protection to one of the most vulnerable portions of the shoe.
The only real “problem” with the Mackalls is, as a newer entry, nobody has had enough time to determine what, if any, problem areas exist. However, with GORUCK’s history of producing quality footwear, such problems may fail to ever materialize!
Danner is a name that is synonymous with outdoor activity, producing shoes beloved by both casual and serious enthusiasts, alike. Most well known for their boots, Danner’s Trail 2650 GTX (waterproof) is the best entry in the rucking shoe category by a company that has earned a spot on the best boots for rucking list.
Beloved for its waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex (GTX) liner, the Trail 2650 shoes not only excel at keeping water out, but also in moving accumulated moisture and sweat away. Additionally, Danner’s proprietary thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) (the “Trailguard”) provides an extra degree of stability and support on rough and uneven terrain.
I’m always a sucker for a Vibram outsole, but they truly provide additional grip on terrain that is oftentimes wet, rugged, or variable. I certainly appreciate these in Danner’s entry on this list.
Danner’s proprietary PlyoGo Midsoles provide an unparalleled degree of cushioning and comfort and with a 365-day warranty, the Trail 2650 shoes are a good bet to last. Although these are the most expensive entries on this list, the overall durability and functionality of Danner’s entry on this list likely justifies the cost.
You probably knew that it was a pretty safe bet that GORUCK would find itself on the list of best shoes for rucking! We had to include the Rough Runners in order to cover the special type of rucking enthusiast who likes to do things…fast.
The heart of the Rough Runners is the Gradient Density EVA midsole. This component perfectly balances the rebound and “bounce” necessary for an effective running shoe with superior durability that any substantial rucking venture requires.
The multiple rubber compounds of the outsole combine together to create an incredibly tough exterior that not only accommodates harsh terrain, but provides exceptional grip…which is particularly necessary when moving under load at high speeds.
The anatomically molded TPU heel counter and 3D molded heel lock provide support around the ankle while limiting excessive unwanted movement and slippage within the shoe.
Some have complained that the Rough Runners are good shoes, but don’t provide any “significant advantages” over similar ruck running shoes. I can see the rationale here. I’m, admittedly, pretty cautious about moving quickly on rough terrain. As such, I (like some of the people complaining) am unable to truly “appreciate” the advantages that the Rough Runners provide since I’m not really moving that fast in them. So…if you’re not really planning to run in your ruck, the Mackalls are better.
A less popular tactical brand that should be on your radar (it’s team is comprised of former marines, Green Berets, SEALs, SWAT members, and “soldiers for hire”), VIKTØS has developed quite the catalogue of quality, apparel, equipment and footwear.
VIKTØS’ “standard bearer”, the Range Trainer, claims to be “bringing speed to a gunfight”. Even if you’ve opted to keep your pieces locked at home during your rucking venture, you (and your feet!) will appreciate the full rubber outsole and superior traction it provides on rugged surfaces. Additionally, the rubber-reinforced heel and toe caps ensure that the Range Trainers will hold up in extreme conditions for the long haul.
The EVA foam midsoles provide a balance of both comfort and stability while the Airprene foot collar forms a tight closure around the ankle, keeping all debris, dust, and other unwanted trail components out. Strategically placed micro-vents keep the feet cool and move excess heat out of the shoe.
Some have complained that the Range Trainer runs a bit narrow, however, this sample size (2 commenters) is incredibly small. Even if such problems arise, VIKTØS offers a standard 1-year workmanship and materials warranty, confidently standing behind their products.
As you might expect, GORUCK is a running (no pun intended!) theme on this list…and with good reason! The company has perfected the craft of engineering the ideal shoes and boots (amongst a multitude of associated items) for rucking.
As much as the GORUCK Rough Runners excel when speed matters most and the GORUCK Mackalls are ideal for heavy duty conditions and environments, GORUCK’s Ballistic Trainers are the standard for dynamic rucking shoes.
Designed with support and stability at the forefront, GORUCK’s Ballistic Trainers are comprised of an anatomically molded heel counter which promotes stability during dynamic movements under heavy loads. Whether this involves handling rough terrain in your ruck or feeling grounded when performing ruck thrusters, the general feeling of security this creates is unparalleled.
In many cases, a large degree of flexibility has to be sacrificed in the name of stability. However, the Ballistic Trainers’ Gradient Density EVA Midsoles promote high rebound and high flexibility as well as a degree of cushioning to actually complement the shoes’ stability.
The Ballistic Trainers really are good at their specific purpose. I’d rather wear my Nano X3s if I’m doing CrossFit or something similar or the Mackalls for dedicated rucking. However, for that sweet spot of “dynamic rucking”, the Ballistic Trainers are the go-to shoes.
Some have complained that the shoes run a bit narrow, but these are extremely isolated cases. It really is difficult to find something “bad” with these bad boys!
The Whitin brand is known for it’s “barefoot” shoes and “minimus”- footwear. Although this may seem like a somewhat…different entry on the list of the best shoes for rucking, the Whitin Barefoot Cross-Trainer definitely provides an alternative for a certain category of rucker!
For those of us who have grown accustomed to non-heeled shoes, the Barefoot Cross-Trainer feels like a breath of fresh air in an industry dominated by average-to-above average heel drops (Whitin’s entry has zero heel drop). More “grip” and less “glide” is something that only minimalist shoe enthusiasts can truly appreciate.
However, as the Barefoot Cross-Trainers were not only designed for rugged outdoor environments, but specifically for “obstacle races” and similar events, the hard rubber exterior protects the foot while ensuring a degree of durability necessary for extreme challenge and rigor.
The wide toe box (and wider overall construction), accommodates the inevitable swelling that comes with long-distance rucking, making the Barefoot Cross-Trainers more appropriate for lengthier excursions. A select few have citied durability concerns, however, if you’re like me and you’re (now) accustomed to your low-to-no-heel drop shoes, Whitin might provide an entry point to dedicated rucking shoes.
To those exclusively focused on the U.S. rucking boot and shoe manufacturers, LOWA may be an unknown brand. However, the German outdoor and tactical gear stalwart not only moves three million pieces a year, but it also had an entry on our list of the best boots for rucking!
(it has to be putting out some good stuff to have made that list!)
Recommended for “moderate on-trail hiking with a light to medium pack”, the Explorer, “low” (shoe) is ideal for a more “outdoorsy” rucking venture with loads up to 70 pounds. This recommendation describes literally all of my (non-dynamic) rucking escapades, making these ideal for me and, I’m assuming for the vast majority of people reading this post!
The trademarked DynaPU+ midsole, combined with a cushioning heel wedge, makes for an extremely comfortable rucking experience while the (also trademarked) Vibram® Rock Trac Evo outsole provides incredible grip on tough terrain.
An intentionally designed, climate-controlled insole works to keep the feet warm in cool conditions while reducing moisture and heat on hot days.
Those dedicated to buying American might be turned off by the company’s German headquarters, but for those who are open to some international flavor, the LOWA Explorer might provide the perfect foray into non-domestic rucking footwear.
Best Shoes for Rucking Buyer’s Guide
Purchasing your first pair of dedicated rucking shoes constitutes a small investment. You should have a good idea of what you should be on the lookout for to ensure that your investment reaps yuge returns in the “miles rucked” department!
Outsole and Insole
Perhaps the most important characteristics when selecting rucking shoes, the integrity of your shoes’ outsoles greatly influence how functional they will be while their insoles largely contribute to their overall comfort.
When looking at the best rucking shoes, our choices all have some type of multi-compound hard rubber outsole. This construction contributes to their ability to grip all types of terrain while providing adequate traction in different environments. These outsoles are also extremely durable and are longer lasting.
The Evo/Eva mid-sole is one of the most common insoles of dedicated rucking shoes (and boots!) of all persuasions. These blend comfort with rebound and “bounce”, necessary components to promoting an effective rucking gait.
Your environment may be more arid than wet, but on the occasions where the sky does open up, you’ll be ecstatic at your shoes’ ability to resist and to repel rainwater and mositure.
Truth be told, not all of the entries on our list of the best shoes for rucking are certified “waterproof”. However, most of the entries do possess technology to minimize the effect of accumulated wetness and moisture within the shoes (if they allow it to penetrate at all).
Look for shoes that are “waterproof” or that contain some type of water-mitigation system.
As you might expect, the entries on our list of the best rucking shoes are almost exclusively constructed of tough leather. The reason why there is such little variation in this regard? It has shown time and time again how durable it is, able to withstand harsh conditions and ultimately proving to be a lasting material.
Some of the entries, such as the GORUCK Ballistic Trainers, take things a step further, employing the uniquely tough Cordura material to better accommodate the rigors of more dynamic movements. If you’re interesting in more…traditional rucking ventures, don’t worry if you don’t see Cordura in the materials list!
Most of the best shoes for rucking are roughly 3/4 of a pound each. Outliers, like the Whitin Barefoot Cross-Trainers and the Lowa Explorer Lo entries are a bit lighter and heavier, respectively, but you won’t really find extremes on either side with these.
Ultimately, weight is more of a personal preference, although there is an ever-present trade-off (heavier shoes are more cumbersome over time…but generally have additional protective and related features)
This one seems obvious, but in many cases, you’ll find options for designated “wide” and “narrow” varieties of rucking shoes. When you’re in a more casual setting, your feet are generally better able to handle slightly squeezing into a narrow shoe or slightly bouncing around in a wider boot, but this isn’t…ideal in a rucking shoe.
Check out this video on how to accurately measure your foot length and width in order to determine the best size for you!
This one is somewhat related to the waterproof nature (or lack thereof) of your rucking shoes. Look for shoes that are engineered to allow your feet to properly “breathe” and that promote “drainage” of excess water and moisture.
You know what happens to feet in shoes that are wet, and overheated? Blisters…
Nobody wants blisters!
The Best Shoes for Rucking…Like, the Best Boots for Rucking…Except Shorter
Between the seven entries on our best shoes for rucking list and our list of the 15 best boots for rucking, you now have quite a few options regarding rucking footwear.
Whether you ultimately go with one of the options we discussed here, or one of the boots from our other list is a personal preference (I’m more of a “shoe guy” myself…but that’s just me!), one thing is for certain: you won’t go wrong with a pair of these bad boys.
(Especially if you go with the GORUCK Mackall shoes…the best shoes for rucking!)