With a plethora of factors contributing to the ultimate decision, choosing the right hiking shoe is all but an easy task.
However, if you’re serious about your outdoor adventures, bear in mind that this is one of the most important decisions you can make – having the right pair of hiking shoes can make all the difference when you’re deep in the backcountry.
If you’d like to get yourself a pair of either Merrell vs Keen hiking shoes but still can’t decide between the two brands, keep reading.
Knowing that these two companies are big rivals (Merrell vs Salomon is another fierce rivalry) and offer similarly priced footwear products, I’ve decided to take a closer look at them and help you make the right choice.
Merrell – A General Overview
Born from the work of three friends – John Schweizer, Clark Matis, and Randy Merrell – this brand was established in 1981 in the United States.
In the beginning, the three friends only wanted to provide outdoor enthusiasts with affordable but high-performing hiking shoes. However, as the years went by, their company slowly expanded and moved into other industries as well.
The result of this is a pretty big catalog of Merrell products – the company covers a wide variety of outdoor activities. In fact, the brand became a sort of reference point for mountaineering, trekking, and hiking.
If I had to choose a couple of keywords upon which Merrell’s production is based, those would definitely be a simple design, genuine versatility, as well as above-average durability.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that Merrell manufactures a lot of its hiking shoes from natural and recycled materials. In other words, it’s one of those rare footwear brands that actually care about environmental sustainability.
One of Merrell’s mottos that perfectly describes its approach to manufacture and production is “purchase fewer products, use them longer”. So, if you care about the environment, you definitely won’t make a mistake by going with Merrell’s hiking shoes.
As I mentioned above, Merrell is well-known for the fact that it makes a lot of its footwear products from recycled materials. To reduce the negative impact on the environment, the brand puts a lot of effort into using only recycled polyester and rubber.
And while Merrell uses quite a bit of natural materials in the manufacture of hiking shoes and other products, it is worth pointing out that it heavily relies on synthetic materials as well.
And when it comes to the brand’s in-house shoemaking technologies, the most well-renowned one is undoubtedly M-Select Dry. As you can already guess from its name, this is Merrell’s own version of Gore-Tex (although the brand uses Gore-Tex as well).
Other proprietary technologies worth noting are M-Select Fit (used to make the shoes as comfortable as possible) and Kinetic Fit (exceptionally supportive insoles).
Finally, to make its hiking shoes suitable for use on all types of terrain, Merrell equips them with Vibram outsoles. This is one of the market’s best third-party outsole solutions and one that provides absolutely phenomenal traction.
As I mentioned in the intro, Merrell and Keen sit in the same price category – both brands offer their hiking shoes at genuinely reasonable prices.
Merrell’s technical designs can cost as much as $250. However, if you’re only a day hiker and don’t really need a feature-packed hiking shoe, you’ll be pleased to know that a lot of the brand’s quality footwear products can be obtained for as “little” as $80.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that all Merrell hiking shoes – whether they’re feature-packed or not – are worth their prices. The company’s catalog of footwear products is very wide, and there’s something for the budget of every camper, backpacker, and hiker.
You may also want to check out my Oboz vs Merrell Hiking Shoes article – both of these brands sit in the same price category.
Merrell – Popular Products
Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoes
- Dimensions: 10” x 15” x 6”
- Colors Available: 8
- Weight: 2.34 lbs
As its name suggests, this shoe is made for those who often have encounters with water during their outdoor adventures. Fortunately, the fact that these hiking shoes are waterproof is not the only good thing about them.
Just as I expected, the construction quality is excellent. On Moab 2 Waterproof, you will find a blended EVA midsole, a Vibram TC5+ outsole, an arch shank made out of molded nylon, as well the synthetic/leather upper lined with Merrell’s own version of Gore-Tex: M-Select Dry.
When used on moderately-difficult trails, Moab 2 Waterproof is very comfortable and stable. However, while testing it, I felt that it could use a tiny bit more underfoot protection – I could feel almost all of the pointy and uneven rocks beneath my feet.
The aforementioned Vibram TC5+ outsole does its job pretty well, though. With its varying degrees of rubber density and the combo of swooping grooves, curved V-shapes, and ovals, it effortlessly grabs snow, mud, and wet rocks.
- Comfortable on moderate trails
- Fantastic Merrell build quality
- First-rate traction
- Could use more underfoot protection
Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Hiking Shoes
- Dimensions: 10” x 15” x 6”
- Colors Available: 18
- Weight: 2.20 lbs
If you’re an experienced hiker, you’ve almost certainly bumped into folks wearing these shoes during your outdoor adventures. This is Merrell’s best-selling product – it’s a trekking shoe that is incredibly grippy, comfortable, and above all, breathable.
The “Ventilator” in this shoe’s name tells us that the ventilation it provides stands as its main selling point. And that’s definitely true: as it is remarkably breathable through its mesh upper (which doesn’t have any kind of waterproof membrane), it is particularly pleasant to wear in warm weather.
However, Moab 2 Ventilator also offers above-average support and traction. It grips most surfaces quite well, as it is equipped with the same outsole (Vibram TC5+) as the Merrell shoe reviewed above – Moab 2 Waterproof. Its wide forefoot, on the other hand, ensures good balance on all types of terrain.
If you’re looking for a truly breathable hiking shoe, you won’t make a mistake by going with this one.
- Unmatched breathability
- Great support & traction
- Very comfortable
- Not a waterproof shoe
Merrell Moab Speed Hiking Shoes
- Dimensions: 10” x 15” x 6”
- Colors Available: 1
- Weight: 1.56 lbs
The last Merrell hiking shoe I’ll be taking a look at is also a member of the Moab family. However, this particular model is designed for folks who value low weight over everything else.
At 1.56 lbs for a size 10.5, Merrell Moab Speed is certainly one of the lightest offerings in the brand’s catalog of hiking shoes. And the most important thing to point out here is that nothing is actually “missing” from this model – it is just as durable and grippy as other hiking shoes while also weighing less.
During the testing period, all parts of the model remained intact, which is a testament to its durability. Moab Speed is available in GTX and non-GTX variants, and both of these come equipped with Vibram EcoStep outsoles that effortlessly grab all kinds of surfaces thanks to their deep lugs.
The only drawback of this lightweight hiking shoe is that it won’t feel comfortable for folks with narrow feet. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful choice if ounces really matter to you.
- Ideal for ultralight hikers
- Deep, grippy lugs
- Very durable
- Not for narrow feet
Keen – A General Overview
Keen is significantly younger than its rival – it was established at the dawn of the new millennium, in 2003. Currently, the company’s headquarters are based in Portland, with Keen being a world-famous footwear & apparel brand that is well-known for its sandals, shoes, boots, hats, socks, bags, and other products.
The most important event in Keen’s history is undoubtedly the launch of its Newport sandal, which is now seen as the symbol of this brand – an emblem of innovation, outdoor life, as well as traveling.
Created almost two decades ago, the aforementioned Newport sandals were designed in such a way that they protected one’s feet while still allowing them to breathe. The model went through numerous redesigns throughout the years and is still one of the company’s best-selling products.
If there’s one term that perfectly describes this brand, it is definitely “pioneering vision”. To put it simply, Keen makes genuinely innovative sandals, boots, and shoes.
The engineers working at Keen still manage to come up with new shoemaking methods that are completely in line with the brand’s well-established policy of transparency of the production processes.
In its catalog of footwear products, Keen has hiking sandals, boots, and shoes that are designed for difficult routes and terrains but also for not-so-technical requirements.
Generally speaking, Keen’s hiking shoes are quite flexible and offer that kind of versatility that allows one to use them for various outdoor activities. Most models have very good traction and are waterproof enough to keep your feet safe while you’re wading through shallow creeks.
And when it comes to the production of these shoes, it is important to point out that the brand has a special regard for the materials it uses – they have to be safe for the consumers, the company’s workers, as well as for the environment.
Some of the materials and technologies that Keen uses in the manufacture of its hiking shoes include Cleansport NXT (odor control), non-marking rubber outsoles, EVA insoles, hydrophobic mesh linings, high-quality leather, and PFC-free water repellency.
Also, just like its rival uses its proprietary M-Select Dry technology, Keen utilizes its in-house Keen.Dry technology – this is the brand’s own version of Gore-Tex (a special membrane that is both waterproof and breathable).
Keen is also well-known for its use of the Higg Index. This tool, which guides improvement by allowing the brand’s engineers to measure the actual performance of the products, helps the brand increase sustainability in manufacturing.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that this company is genuinely focused on its three main values – responsibility, transparency, and sustainability.
While the brand’s technical options can cost as much as $200, most of its popular (but also truly well-made) hiking shoes can be found in the $100 – $150 range. For what it offers, Keen’s footwear truly isn’t that expensive.
Those looking to try hiking sandals, boots, and shoes that are unlike any other on today’s market will be happy to know that they can obtain them at genuinely reasonable prices. I should also point out that Keen’s footwear goes on sale quite often.
As far as I’m concerned, Keen’s hiking shoes and other similar products are fairly priced and definitely worth trying out. After all, they are made out of premium-quality materials and with the help of cutting-edge perspiration, waterproofing, and durability technologies.
Keen – Popular Products
Keen Targhee III Low Hiking Shoes
- Dimensions: 10” x 15” x 6”
- Colors Available: 3
- Weight: 2.26 lbs
Probably the best-selling Keen hiking shoe, this particular product is a good all-around choice that provides comfort and durability. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an extraordinary choice for light backpacking.
In terms of traction, Keen Targhee III Low performs very well on both dry and wet trails. And while it’s not the heaviest Keen shoe I’ve tested so far, it’s far from the lightest – you’ll have to look elsewhere if ounces really matter to you.
The fit is comfortable right out of the box, while the model’s ESS shank provides the wearer with much-needed support. Unfortunately, this shoe is not the best choice for folks with narrow feet. If you’re one of such individuals, you’ll end up with an insecure fit no matter how tightly you secure the laces.
Water-resistance is good as well, as is the model’s overall durability. All in all, a fine choice for any day hiker.
- A great all-around hiking shoe
- Stable & supportive
- Good traction
- Not for narrow feet
Keen Targhee Vent Hiking Shoes
- Dimensions: 12.7” x 8.5” x 4.8”
- Colors Available: 2
- Weight: 2 lbs
Another member of Keen’s Targhee lineup of hiking footwear is the Vent shoe, whose only major drawback is its somewhat thin outsole. Otherwise, it’s a pretty good adventure-ready model that provides above-average ventilation (hence the name) as well as support and comfort.
The outsole mentioned above is Keen’s proprietary Keen. All-Terrain outsole made out of rubber. Equipped with 4mm lugs, this outsole effortlessly bites into all sorts of surfaces. It’s just that it’s not thick enough – you will feel every rock under your feet.
The compression-molded EVA midsole doesn’t help much in terms of comfort, but it provides the wearer with a very stable and arch-supported ride. And, as I said above, this shoe is very breathable: its side mesh panels do a great job of keeping one’s feet well-ventilated.
Other features worth mentioning are the protective toe box, easy-to-adjust lacing system, as well as anatomically designed Metatomical footbed.
- Very grippy – bites well into all types of surfaces
- A well-ventilated hiking shoe
- Stable, arch-supported ride
- Thin outsole
Keen Voyageur Low Hiking Shoes
- Dimensions: 13” x 9” x 6”
- Colors Available: 4
- Weight: 1.65 lbs
Thanks to its breathable mesh construction, this particular Keen shoe is an ideal choice for those who often hike in hot and dry conditions. It’s an especially great option if you have wide feet.
Overall, Keen Voyageur seems to be a very durable and sturdy hiking shoe. I particularly liked the additional rubber on the model’s toe – it is bound to protect you from accidental toe-stubbing during your backcountry adventures.
The uppers of these hiking shoes will keep your feet dry while you’re walking through dew-coated grass, but they’re not completely waterproof and will soak through when submerged in water. Keen Voyageur is equipped with 4mm multi-directional lugs and provides good traction on moderately technical trails.
As far as I’m concerned, the biggest disadvantage of this Keen shoe is the lack of underfoot padding. If you’re searching for a pair of genuinely comfortable hiking shoes, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
- Very breathable mesh upper
- Solid durability & traction
- Minimal underfoot padding
Merrell vs Keen – The Verdict
Since it exists twice as long as its rival, Merrell is the more famous out of the two companies – it’s a world-known brand that is held in high regard by millions of outdoor enthusiasts all over the planet. However, both Merrell and Keen design, manufacture, and sell genuinely great hiking shoes.
But which one of them is a better choice for you? Answering this question is quite difficult, as both brands offer their products at reasonable prices, use advanced in-house technologies, and promote sustainable means of production.
Merrell is definitely the brand with a wider selection of products. Others would say that it also offers more solidity and reliability, although I think that’s debatable. But it’s still more of a “safe purchase” when compared to its rival.
Keen, on the other hand, focuses more on novelties and innovation. As you can already guess, this turns it into an ideal choice for outdoor enthusiasts who want something different and who are not afraid of experimentation.
And when it comes to the prices, I can only repeat what I’ve already said – both companies offer their hiking shoes and other products at prices that I believe to be reasonable and not excessively high.