Writer wearing Keen hiking school
Alyssa Hui for Wide Open Spaces

This Ultralight Hiking Shoe Replaced My Boots

The Keen Zionic Speed Hiking shoe is lightweight, comfortable, and breathable.

When it comes to hiking and long walks outdoors, wearing the right footwear is crucial for comfort and support. The last thing anyone wants to feel during their outdoor adventure is discomfort and pain—I'm talking about foot blisters, bruises, cramps, tightness, and black toenails.

Personally, when I hit the trails, hiking boots are often my go-to. They offer an unbeatable combination of comfort and protection for tackling any kind of terrain or weather conditions. But I'll admit they can feel bulky and heavy at times and leave my feet feeling sticky and sweaty in hot weather.

On the search for a lightweight alternative that still offers protection and traction, I opted to try Keen's Zionic Speed Hiking Shoe from its Zionic collection, which may be some of the fastest and lightest performance trail shoes out there. I've been wearing them the last few weeks on my hikes and casual walks and have not been disappointed—here's my review.

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About the Keen Zionic

KEEN's new Zionic Lightweight Trail Shoe

Alyssa Hui

The Zionic Speed Hiking Shoe is made with a blend of different materials and features, setting them apart from traditional hiking boots and athletic sneakers. Notably, these ankle-height shoes feature a lace-up closure, a lightweight foam midsole, a full-length stability plate, and lots of cushion, while weighing less than 11 ounces a pair in women's sizes and men's sizes. These features provide the needed protection, sturdiness, bounce, and comfort that traditional hiking boots normally provide without the added bulkiness and weight.

The shoe's uppers are made with a mix of mesh and plastic materials, offering breathability to keep your feet feeling dry and comfortable, while providing the necessary reinforcement for stability and durability.

Additionally, the shoes feature "multi-directional" lugs on the sole to enhance traction and grip, particularly when walking downhill or on different types of terrain like paved roads, gravel, and rocky paths. These shoes also include a heel loop for easy pull-on and an anti-odor treatment that will keep your shoes fresh even after extended use. Overall, the shoes offer a compelling alternative to both traditional hiking boots and regular sneakers, placing a primary emphasis on lightweight comfort, durability, protection, and support.

Technical Specs

  • Ankle height
  • Lace-up closure
  • Uppers made with mesh and TPU for breathability plus support
  • Midsoles made with EVA plastic foam for shock absorption
  • Outsoles made of TPU rubber for durability and flexibility
  • 4mm multi-directional lugs on the sole for traction
  • Stability shank offers support to reduce pronation
  • Heel loop for easy pull-on
  • Removable, breathable insole for arch support
  • Anti-odor treatment
  • Light weight
  • In women's sizes 5 to 12 and men's sizes
  • Cost: $145

Keen Zionic Speed Hiking Shoe - $145

How the Zionic Speed Hiking Shoe Performed

Keen hiking shoes

Alyssa Hui

I've been wearing the Keen Zionics during my hikes and daily walks in fairly hot and humid conditions. They've performed well on trails in the St. Louis area, in addition to more rugged terrain that includes dirt, grass, and gravel. Drawing from my hands-on experience, let me share a rundown of some key aspects of the shoe.

1. They're Ultra-Lightweight

Keen's Zionic Speed shoes live up to the claim of being lightweight. Unlike hiking boots, these don't feel heavy, bulky, or clunky—and most notably, they didn't feel like they bogged me down, whether on short hikes from 2 to 3 miles or longer hikes from 4 to 6 miles. These shoes are made for hikers who are looking for something lightweight and fast that shares similar functions to hiking boots.

2. They're Super Comfortable

I have to wear most hiking boots and athletic sneakers a few times before they feel "right" and comfortable. But I didn't have to break in my Zionic Speeds. I wore them straight out of the box for casual walking and shorter hikes and didn't experience any blisters, tightness, chafing, or cramps.

The shoes feature a contoured fit that follows your foot's shape, which makes it feel more snug and secure, especially when hiking on more demanding terrain like dirt, gravel, and rocks. That said, the shoes offer enough space so your toes won't feel cramped or squished.

3. They Provide Good Support and Cushioning

Even though these hiking shoes are very lightweight, they provide good support and cushion. The Keen Zionic Speed shoes feature a stability plate that provides backbone and structure on those long hiking days. The midsoles are made with high-rebound foam and shock-absorbent EVA, a plastic that has similar properties to rubber but is softer and more flexible. The stability plate and foam work together to create a supportive yet springy effect with every step you take. During hikes, these shoes take most of the impact and protect my Achilles and calves from strain, especially when going downhill.

4. The Traction is Good

In addition, the Zionic Speed Hiking shoes have 4-millimeter-long lugs in the shape of ovals, which I've found to provide moderate traction on all surfaces,  uphill or downhill. The lugs seem to sufficiently dig in and grip various surfaces including rocks, gravel, and concrete. When I've been out on the trail, I've had no issues with traction. However, I haven't worn them yet during slick or extremely wet conditions to attest to their full grip and traction capabilities. But, overall, they seem to work fine and safely on most types of terrain.

5. They're Breathable

The last aspect of the Zionic Speed hiking shoes worth mentioning is their breathability. As I said earlier, wearing hiking boots on the trail, especially in the summer, causes my feet to get sweaty, which leads to damp socks, discomfort, and smelly shoes. However, the Zionic shoes are made with mesh that allows your feet to breathe. During my test hikes and walks that have been in mostly hot and humid conditions, these shoes effectively prevented my feet from feeling overly sweaty. Even with thicker socks on, my feet did not feel clammy, sticky, or damp, but if I needed to dry them out, the insoles are removable.

6. They Run Wide

I normally wear a size 5.5 in shoes, but for these, I sized up to a 6—particularly because I wear a size 6 in Keen's WK400 walking shoes. Plus, when it comes to hiking shoes, most people will tell you to size up. However, when I tried them on, the 6's were both too long and too wide. And though my usual 5.5 fit more comfortably, they ran wider in the toe box area. This is not necessarily a bad thing for people with wide feet, but for hikers with narrow and slim feet like myself, just know the toe box has a roomy fit.

7. They're Not Waterproof

Lastly, the shoes I specifically tested are not waterproof, which means if you find yourself in wet conditions, your socks and feet may get wet. (Personally, I'm a fair-weather hiker, so I avoid going out on days when rain is in the forecast.) However, if you're looking for a waterproof feature, Keen offers the Zionic Hiking shoe in a waterproof edition for $160.

How the Keen Zionic Compares to the Competition

One way the Zionic Speed hiking shoe stands out from the competition? How lightweight and nimble it is, especially while offering this much comfort, support, and grip. When compared to similar shoes, the Zionic shoes easily win the weight category with an average weight of 10.41 ounces per pair. The similar Merrell's Moab 3 Hiking Shoe weighs 11.6 ounces, the Teva's Grandview Gore-Tex weighs 13.5 ounces, and the Salomon's Elixir Gore-Tex shoe weighs 11.9 ounces per pair, respectively.

The other thing that stands out about the Zionic Speed Hiking Shoes is the streamlined and sleek design, which makes it look like a standard athletic shoe. In my opinion, it's simply more stylish than your standard hiking shoe or boot. Plus, the brand offers different color options that are both neutral and bold, versus other brands that only tend to offer shoes that are earth tones like brown and gray.

Is the Keen Zionic Worth Buying?

Keen ultralight hiking shoes.

Despite a few drawbacks, I don't think anyone who is looking for a lightweight, supportive, and breathable hiking shoe can go wrong with the Keen Zionic Hiking shoes. The shoes feature sufficient traction that will dig into whatever terrain you tread upon, are made with materials that give you some bounce and support with every step you take, and are made with materials that allow your feet to breathe.

Plus, the shoes are made with 100% post-consumer recycled plastics which are plastic water bottles. What's more, every pair is entirely PFAS-free, which means there are no forever chemicals, reducing the impact on the planet.

The Zionic Speed Hiking shoe is a great option for outdoor enthusiasts looking for an everyday athletic-yet-stylish lightweight hiking shoe to wear on the trail that functions like a hiking boot. These shoes have become my go-to for the trail and you won't regret it if you decide to snag them, too.

Keen Zionic Speed Hiking Shoe - $145

READ MORE: More Great Women's Hiking Shoes