Gear | September 8, 2021 12:40 pm

I Walked Around Our National Parks for a Week in These Shoes. You Should, Too.

Vans, believe it or not, makes a great pair of hiking shoes

vans ultrarange exo
With 20 different colorways, the UltraRange EXO brings a rare bit of flair to the mountain.

Nota bene: If you buy through the links in this article, we may earn a small share of the profits.

There’s a section of Arches National Park called the “Devils Garden Primitive Loop,” where the federal government pretty much encourages you to go rogue.

In order to sightsee some of the park’s most isolated sandstone fins, you have to put in multiple miles on untouched, unmarked path. Some of the route is lined with cacti and leopard lizard; other sections involve trekking straight up caprock with 20-foot plunges to either side. It’s epic. It’s also extremely unclear how it’s still open to the public (not that I’m complaining), and it requires a truly great pair of shoes.

Names like Merrell, Salomon and Vasque might come go mind when pondering hiking sneakers. To be clear: those brands absolutely have trainers built for Arches. Or the Grand Canyon. Or Rocky Mountain National Park. But I can tell you with certainty — as I’m currently park-hopping the American West — that a more affordable (and aesthetically pleasing) brand also makes a shoe that can handle the country’s toughest terrain. That’d be our old friends over at Vans.

Vans does more than canvas sneakers. The label’s been around for over 50 years, and recently, it’s made a successful foray into beefier, outdoor-minded gear. Prime example? The UltraRange EXOs, which I’ve been wearing essentially nonstop on this trip. At a quick glance, they resemble skate shoes. The silhouette is similar to the Old Skools and features the iconic “jazz stripe” that the brand trotted out in the late ’70s.

But where most Van sneakers have smooth rubber waffle outsoles, the bottoms on the EXOs are lined with lugs to improve traction and grip. They hold up on wet rock, trust me (it started raining about 15 minutes into our South Rim hike last week), and so does the upper, which is waterproof at the toe cap, while leaving some breathable mesh on the sides and near the tongue.

This certainly isn’t a “give it your grandson” piece of equipment, as the industry’s hyperbolic gear critics are wont to say. They’ll wear down quicker than top-line options, and I’ve already picked up a couple permanent scuffs on mine. But the comfort is fantastic, and the vibe — as always with Vans — will never let you down. These are the best-looking trainers on the trail, and the brand has almost 20 colorways to choose from.

Find them in your size here, and get out there. Primitive trails await.