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Salomon vs. Merrell: Which Brand for Trail Running and Hiking?

Salomon vs Merrell

Published on: 12/07/2022

Whether you’re an off-road runner or a keen hiker or are just getting into either sport, it’s very likely that you’ll have heard of two of the biggest brands out there: Salomon and Merrell. With star-studded collaborations in running, Salomon has been a key innovator for decades. At the same time, Merrell dominates hiking footwear, offering boots and trainers for all tastes.

So, which should you choose if confronted with a Salomon vs. Merrell option in trail running shoes or in hiking boots? In this article, we look at the main characteristics of each brand, including their history and values, to help you see which one you feel more aligned with. We’ll also tell you what the best shoes and boots are from each, from light hiking to ultra running and more.

Read on to find out how to choose between Merrell and Salomon!

Salomon vs Merrell: A Brief Overview

Salomon hiking gear (shoes here)

Before picking your next running or hiking shoe from either brand, here’s a brief history of how each got started and what their key characteristics are.

Salomon – the king of French mountain running

Launched in the French mountain town of Annecy in 1947 by a father and son team, Salomon (1) started as a ski specialist business. They were the go-to ski bindings brand in just a few years and soon became a top outdoor clothing and gear retailer. In the 2000s, the team started using their experience in the mountains to create trail shoes and apparel.

Salomon is huge in France and worldwide, thanks to some fantastic sponsorships. From Kilian Jornet (2), who has been dominating mountain running at all distances for over a decade (Salomon’s face in running and skiing for almost as long, until 2022), to the 4-time winner of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (3), François D’Haene (4) (arguably the best long-distance mountain runner in the world), to the queen of trails, Courtney Dauwalter (5)… Salomon sponsors them all. The brand has a huge media budget and team, having recently created its own mountain running championship, the Golden Trail Series (6). And we haven’t even started talking about all the so-called “young guns” in shorter trail distances that they’re involved with!

It’s safe to say that Salomon dominates the world of trail and mountain running, but not just because of their sponsorships. The brand offers a huge array of technical models and constant innovation in shoes and apparel. They produce some great all-rounders and some specialized models, too – which we’ll look at below.

Merrell – American all-terrain excellence

Merrell trail shoes

Founded by Clark Matis, Randy Merrell, and John Schweizer in 1981 (two ex-executives of ski company Rossignol and one custom boot maker), Merrell has strong roots in hiking. From high-performance hiking boots, they expanded to all sorts of apparel, lighter hiking shoes, and, more recently, running kits.

The key difference from Salomon is that Merrell has focused on a narrower objective: top performance in hiking shoes and boots at an affordable price. Today, the Merrell Moab range is the widest recommended and appreciated in its category. Another important pillar of the brand identity is Merrell’s commitment to sustainable means of production. Finally, as is evident with their hiking boots, Merrell is closely associated with the minimalist philosophy.

You won’t have seen Merrell too prominently in the running world, although the brand has some excellent elite athletes on its roster. Denisa Dragomir (7) is the reigning World Skyrunning (8) and World Trail Running Champion (9); she has been near unbeatable in shorter-distance races for years. Other top sponsored athletes include ultra-running elites Ragna Debats (10) and Pere Aurell (11).

Key differences between Salomon and Merrell in trail running and hiking footwear

While Salomon has expanded to include trainers in almost any category, from short technical trail races to cushioned road trainers, Merrell has kept it simple and closer to its roots, focusing on all-terrain hiking first. Each brand has unique elements that we’ll explore here.

Outsoles and grip

Salomon has long had a problem with its trail shoes regarding grip on wet rocks. The brand uses Contagrip – made of low and high-density rubber combined. While durable and gripping well on dry surfaces, this is simply not enough for wet conditions as far as most hiking boots and shoe reviews are concerned. Salomon does make up for this with its Contagrip Winter Grip soles for winter shoes, which are great on ice and snow.

On the other hand, there is no question that a Vibram outsole is unbeatable in any condition. This is where Merrell’s hiking shoes and boots score big: they all feature this compound, enhanced with Arctic Grip in snow and ice.

Merrell Vibram Artic Grip outsole

Waterproof technologies

One of the most important features when selecting a hiking shoe is waterproofing. To avoid blisters and chafing and get through wet conditions in one piece, trail runners must choose between two brands that offer Gore-Tex versions of their most popular shoes.

Merrell M-Select Dry uses a waterproof membrane technology similar to Gore-Tex, giving feet more breathability. Crossing deeper water in their shoes and boots is not advisable unless you have opted for shoes with added Gore-Tex.

Salomon offers a technology called Climashield, for water-resistant insulation, as a standard. There are also specific winter shoes and boots made by the brand, where Climashield is paired with Gore-Tex. While less breathable, they make a great choice for really wet conditions or snow and ice.

Insoles and footbeds

Another interesting difference between the brands comes in the shape of the insoles used. Salomon’s Ortholite footbeds are known to be long-lasting and have fantastic engineered support built in. They are some of the best in the market.

By contrast, Merrell’s Kinetic Fit is flexible yet less durable. There is a specific M-Select Fit for arch support, too.


It’s worth mentioning the lacing system for running shoes, which is a very recognizable feature of Salomon footwear. The Quicklace design, with its quick (literally!) drawstring style and pouch for packing away the laces, is brilliant for keeping them out of the way, especially in the face of trail debris. It’s also a very good way to ensure a snug fit on your hiking boot.

While more traditional with their lacing in general, some Merrell hiking shoes feature the Omni-Fit Lacing System. This offers a tighter “like a glove” fit and is often present in the minimalist Barefoot shoe range.

Which Brand is Best for Trail Running?

Salomon S/Lab Pulsar

In running, Salomon has the upper hand over Merrell shoes, simply because of the wide range and presence among trail runners. Their innovative technologies continue to lead to ever more lightweight shoes that perform really well on technical terrain. However, Merrell is catching up fast.

Skyrunning and fast racing

One relatively recent Salomon innovation stands out for fast runners: the S-Lab Pulsar. These super-fast lightweight shoes were made for record-breaking and offer fantastic soft cushioning combined with a rocker design and an unbelievable pop. They are now sold in a soft-ground version for more technical terrain. Read our detailed review here.

For high performance benefiting from Salomon’s latest manufacturing techniques, the brand’s S-Lab collection features some superb shoes for various types of racing, from shorter and more technical (like the S-Lab Sense 8 (12)) to longer distances (the S-Lab Genesis (13)).

Merrell has produced the MTL Series for shorter, more technical running. The best one in the array is the MTL Skyfire, a versatile, fast trainer that provides excellent protection from trail debris, good cushioning and grip, and perfect breathability (it’s actually also used for swim-run events!). The MTL Long Sky 2, a favorite of champion athletes, is also excellent for longer runs thanks to the breathable mesh fabric on the upper and will be a great ally on longer races.

Entry-level shoes and all-rounders

For a new trail runner or those looking for great all-around performance off-road, the Speedcross collection launched in 2006 and continues to be one of Salomon’s most popular shoes. Today, Speedcross 6 offers great grip on technical terrain, close fit thanks to the SensiFit midsole construction, and light weight. There is also a special waterproof version with added Gore-Tex membrane. And, in road-to-trail, you can bank on the wonderfully versatile Sense Ride 4, consistently voted best and most approachable trail shoe by running magazines.

As for Merrell, your best choice for an all-arounder is the Moab Flight. Wonderfully comfortable for longer outings, it features a durable Vibram EcoStep outsole that puts runners of all skills at ease on all terrains.


For those interested in long runs, cushioning and comfort are key, coupled with good grip and breathability. Salomon takes the crown here, too. The S-Lab Ultra 3 and, more recently, the Ultra Glide range are fantastic options for those with a narrower foot looking for great performances in running races over 50km long.

Merrell doesn’t seem to have a dedicated focus on ultra running, but their Agility Peak 4 is catching up and offering great value for money. The unique FlatPro foam combines a plush ride with energy return. The 5 mm lugs and Vibram MegaGrip outsole give you stability in almost any terrain.

How to Choose Between Salomon and Merrell Hiking Boots and Shoes

In the world of hiking, Salomon is a name to be reckoned with. However, Merrell’s tradition of excellence in this area means that they produce some of the best hiking shoes in the market.

Day hikes

Merrell Moab 2

For a day hike, light weight and decent support are all you need. And this is where the Merrell Moab 2 reigned supreme before being upgraded to the third version (14) recently. The brand itself calls these “the mother of all hiking shoes” for good reason: a comfortable 11.5 mm drop keeps your foot stable without too much lift off the ground, the breathable mesh fabric allows feet to stay dry and comfortable, there’s a protective rubber toe cap and heel to keep you safe from rocks, and the cushioning is superb.

There are lots of different options to personalize your Moab to your hike. The Moab 2 Ventilator is excellent for added breathability in summer, while the waterproof lining in the Moab 2 GORE-TEX makes them ideal if you love hiking in bad weather.

As for Salomon, their X Ultra 4 is a great hiking shoe. Lighter than its predecessors and with an 11 mm drop, it’s great for day hiking. Its midsole features shock-absorbing EnergyCell, which keeps you going just like a standard hiking boot, but the shorter, snappier design makes it more versatile. Thanks to a gusseted tongue attached to the upper on both sides, this shoe also prevents debris from entering it when hiking on looser terrain.

Longer hikes or backpacking

Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX hiking shoes

If you’re preparing for long hikes, where comfort and durability are more important, we recommend the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX. These Salomon boots ride higher and offer more ankle support, essential on rugged terrain and when you carry heavier packs. Also featuring EnergyCell midsole like the hiking shoes, the mid-height boots have a Gore-Tex membrane to keep you dry.

As for Merrell, its Alverstone Mid GTX are some of the best waterproof hiking boots out there. Their mesh and suede leather upper feel soft and comfortable, while the molded Nylon shank gives you extra arch support. This makes this model ideal as a backpacking boot for longer expeditions.

We should also mention the excellent women-specific Merrell boots – the Siren Edge 3 (15). They feature a stabilizing foam midsole and Vibram outsoles while also being lightweight and breathable. Additionally, this hiking boot features an Air Cushion in the heel for extra shock absorption and the same molded Nylon shank we find in most of the brand’s hiking shoes, such as the Merrell Moab collection.

Merrell boots - the Siren Edge 3

Winter hiking boots

For higher mountains or winter conditions, waterproofing is not the only consideration. You’ll also require good grip and secure footing, with added ankle protection for more rugged terrain.

For excellent waterproof hiking boots designed for winter, you can’t go wrong with the Salomon X Ultra 4 Winter CS. An upgrade of the Ultra Mid GTX hiking boot for the cold season, these Salomon boots (16) are insulated and warm, while the full-grain leather upper has a PU coating that sheds moisture well. The only downside is the narrower fit, including a toe box that leads some reviewers to develop blisters – the best advice would be to go up half a size here.

As for Merrell, don’t let the name of their Thermo Chill 6” Shell Waterproof Sneaker (17) deceive you: this is a great hiking boot with ankle support, a rubber toe cap that you can trust for protection from rocks, and very good water resistance and breathability.

Finally, a special mention goes to the Merrell Trail Glove (18) – a minimalist, amazingly gripping shoe for all weather that mimics the human foot and features a rock plate and a BLOOM performance midsole made from 10% algae biomass, making a positive impact on the environment too.

What About Brand Values?

Choosing your next trail shoe or hiking boots isn’t just about functionality – the brand’s relationship with its environment, society, and nature at large also matters. Overall, both manufacturers use natural materials (like nubuck leather) and are involved in many local initiatives, making both Salomon and Merrell good choices from this point of view.

Most Merrell running products are vegan and made with a large percentage of recycled materials. They support people’s involvement in the outdoors and run a hiking club while funding causes like the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and The Conservation Alliance.

Salomon, on the other hand, has an objective of investing 1% of annual revenue to educate about environmental impact. They also run the Salomon Foundation, which supports athletes and other members of the mountaineering community in case of injury. And they have a strong environmental commitment, recently launching the Index.O1, a road shoe that can be fully recycled. You can also view educational videos about being more sustainable using their products here (19).

Conclusion: Choosing Between Salomon and Merrell on the Trails

In the running category, you cannot beat Salomon shoes’ variety and technological advances. However, Merrell’s latest offerings are excellent if you’re looking for more reasonably priced versatile footwear, especially for newcomers.

For hiking boots and shoes you can rely on, we’d happily recommend Merrell, but Salomon also offers good quality footwear for rough and uneven terrain.

For a first step in choosing shoes or boots from either brand, check out their shoe finder pages and make sure you try your pair out in-store and for a few days before deciding it’s the one for you.



Kilian Jornet

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

François D’Haene

Courtney Dauwalter

Golden Trail Series

Denisa Dragomir

World Skyrunning

World Trail Running Champion

Ragna Debats

Pere Aurell

S-Lab Sense 8

S-Lab Genesis

Merrell Moab 2

Merrell Siren Edge 3

Salomon X Ultra 4 Winter CS

Merrell Thermo Chill 6” Shell Waterproof Sneaker

Merrell Trail Glove

Salomon Sustainability

Alecsa Stewart

Alecsa Stewart

Alecsa is an ultra runner, mountain guide, and freelance writer living in the Pyrenees-Orientales (France). She is passionate about the mountains and life in the wilderness and also practices cycling, climbing, and skiing from time to time. Her passion is to share her adventures with others and inspire them to spend more time outdoors. She’s completed iconic races like the UTMB Mont-Blanc and Lavaredo Ultra Trail and she’s switching to some road running this year, aiming to complete the Manchester and Berlin Marathons, while also looking to improve her time at the UTMB CCC.

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