Picture yourself on an adventure – on a remote incredible venture through the unknown and the precious. Imagine yourself on a mountain or in a forest or on a beach or anywhere else your fantasies might bring you, and then look down. What do you see? I can bet it’s a pair of loyal hiking shoes.
Hiking shoes are an essential part of any trip – small and cosy picnic or an epic expedition. They are what enable you to go further, faster and safer; they are what will protect your wonderful feet and will help you conquer your personal summits.
Picking the perfect pair of hiking shoes often involves a bit of trial and error; I hope this guide will decrease the latter to minimum. I will discuss hiking footwear types, main characteristics and criteria to use, when choosing your match, and will suggest some shining examples of popular hiking shoe models.
Women's Hiking Shoes: A Comprehensive Guide
Shoes vs Boots
In this article I often use the words “shoes” and “boots” interchangeably, without intending to refer to their specific type, as the distinction is not always so clear. However, in plain terms, “shoes” usually refer to low-cut ankle footwear, while boots are high-cut ankle ones. The first type is also usually considered lighter, more comfortable than the latter, but it is not always the case anymore these days.
Things to Consider When Choosing Your ideal Pair
The best way to start picking your hiking boots is to determine, what will be their main purpose. Are you looking for a pair of shoes for short single-day or easy afternoon walks or are you planning a two-week backcountry epic through a rugged mountain range?
Will you be hiking in summer heat and dessert sand or in freezing winter temperatures and snow? Do you need something that can fit a pair of crampons or you want to do some fast pace exploring, scrambling up peaks and ridges?
The purpose of your boots will determine all the other factors described below. All of these characteristics form a continuum and you will have to decide which combination of intermediates you are willing to settle with.
Finally, anticipate if you will be getting one pair to “suit them all” or are you likely to have several pairs for more specialized uses. If you are a beginner hiker, getting your first pair, do not hesitate to choose something mid to heavy duty, if you are at a good level of fitness. Since your hiking experience and ability is likely to grow fast, sturdier pair will be more versatile in more hiking environments later.
A good shoe fit is absolutely crucial; and the more challenging and longer your trips are, the more important this becomes. Your outdoors footwear should not be too tight or too loose, there should be no movement or friction points on any parts of your feet, and there should be enough space for you to wiggle your toes. Do not buy a pair, if you feel rubbing or can sense uncomfortable seams/bumps somewhere, as over numerous kilometres this might become a torture device.
Of course, many boots require some break-in time, especially if they are heavier and more rigid, but there are enough designs and companies out there so you can find something that does not have immediate issues needed to be fixed. Most of the people buy hiking shoes/boots for at least a few years, so it’s definitely worth the effort to find the perfect pair for you.
When trying boots on, take the pair of socks or any insoles you would be wearing them with, as they affect the fit. Also, it is always advisable to try on boots in the second part of the day, when your feet are a bit swollen (somewhat simulates the hiking state). Spend some time in the shoes in the store – walk around, climb up some stairs, find a slope to walk up and down, and notice if there are any friction points.
If you are planning to wear those boots with a thicker sock for warmth and comfort, look at getting a bit bigger size shoes.
Weight on your feet translates to several folds the weight on your back; hence this definitely should be a key factor, when making your pick. However, heavier boots also provide a stable platform, when you have to carry a heavy pack.
Sturdier, stiffer, heavier duty and technical boots are also much heavier than low-cut ankle lightweight boots, but this contributes to their ability to tackle difficult rugged terrains.
So in general, when choosing your boots, the lighter the shoe - the better, given that it has the characteristics suitable for the choice of your trip and hiking terrain. Lastly, when thinking about boot weight, you should consider your own hiking experience, level of fitness, built and weight. Lighter built and less experienced hikers might find it challenging to carry massive burly boots on their feet.
Hiking footwear also varies in its ankle support, i.e. how high is the ankle cut of the boot and how well is it fitted. Most of lightweight hiking shoes have a low-cut trail-running-shoe-like ankle, which gives you a lot of flexibility, provides lightness and comfort.
This type of shoe is perfect for short and/or easy hikes. However, if you are planning to carry a backpack of 10-15 kilos and more or will be hiking over rough terrain, you should consider higher-cut, ankle-supporting boots. This will both provide you more stability and confidences in each step, but will also protect you from spraining your ankle.
Spraining your ankle while hiking with a heavy pack can have quite dramatic outcomes, especially if you are on your own in the backcountry.
Stiffness & Flexibility
Stiffness (or flexibility) of the boot is a crucial measure determining what terrain and type of trip are the boots suitable for. The usual test of boot flexibility is trying to bend the toes of the boot upwards towards the heel and seeing how much effort it requires.
The most flexible of the range are usually the most comfortable to wear, as they allow your feet to move in the most natural manner. These shoes are excellent for light trips or easy hiking terrain.
As the conditions get more rugged, rocky, uneven and snowy, boots from the stiffer side of the spectrum are a better fit. Stiffer mid-soles will protect your feet from all the bumps on your way, at the same time providing a better platform if hiking through scree or snow. Stiffer boots can also fit crampons – an essential feature, if you are considering winter and alpine hiking.
The stiffest boots of the lot are mountaineering boots that are completely inflexible and suitable for technical crampons and steep technical climbs up snow, ice and rock.
Breathability & Waterproofness
This is very important, when hiking in hot climates and mainly applies for the lighter shoes of the spectrum. Materials like mesh uppers allows air to circulate between inside and outside of the shoe, keeping your feet dry and helping to avoid blisters, as well increasing the overall hiking comfort. Breathability is not a very important factor in heavier duty boots, where waterproofness is the main concern.
If you’re only looking to buy one pair of hiking boots, do pick something waterproof and suitable for rougher, wet conditions. Heavier less breathable boots can still be used in summer conditions, while lightweight airy sneakers are quite useless in colder, muddy or snowy conditions.
Materials like full-grain leather or synthetic membranes like Gore-Tex® or eVent® will provide you climate and water protection, while simultaneously giving the necessary breathability.
One of the key features of any outdoors footwear is enhanced traction created by highly featured outsoles. This allows you to tackle fearlessly any surfaces Father Outdoors might offer you, whether it’s mud, wet rocks, snow or talus. A combination of deep irregular tread, grooves and prominent lugs allows this to be achieved.
Heel break on the sole is another feature that increases traction, especially for slippery, loose downhill sections. Finally, if you are planning to spend a lot of time on steeper soft and snowy terrain, consider getting boots with a well-defined sole side-edge, as this allows easier step kicking and more stable platform in snow and soft ground.
Crampons are technical snow and ice gear that fits on your boots to walk and climb on snow and ice. There are a few different categories of crampons that are used for different purposes. In the order of technical ability: micro-spikes for snow walking, general mountaineering crampons, technical mountaineering and finally ice and mixed climbing crampons.
The first category can be fitted on almost any outdoors shoe, even running sneakers. They are an amazing tool for light easy winter walks in your local hills and snowy trails. General mountaineering crampons require the boot to be quite stiff, as too much flex in the foot will make the crampon fall off.
For these crampons you should ideally have a mid to heavy duty boot with relatively stiff sole. The exact requirement will depend on how steep the terrain is; the steeper the terrain - the stiffer the boot should be.
The last two categories - technical mountaineering and ice/mixed climbing crampons require a special edge on top of your boot heel and fit only completely stiff mountaineering boots.
For most winter or alpine hiking purposes, general mountaineering crampons matched with a mid to heavy duty boot would the best choice.
Hiking boots are costly, but can also be seen as a long-term investment. Most of the higher range, quality outdoor brand boots are highly durable and will last you a number of years, if taken care of properly. The sturdier, heavier duty boots tend to be more expensive, but also more durable.
It is very hard to tell just by looking at a boot, how long it will last or if it might have some weak spots, but that’s what reviews are for. When you find a suitable pair, do look up the model for reviews from fellow hikers. Do not trust every review, but see if there are any recurring themes or frequently identified faults.
Types of Hiking Shoes
City & Travel
Hiking shoes can be categorized to a few different types: light (day) hiking shoes, midweight (light multiday) hiking shoes, heavy duty hiking boots and technical mountaineering boots. We can also include trail running shoes and barefoot footwear as light and ultra-light footwear hiking options, as well as approach shoes as technical shoe choice for scrambling and approaching climbs in comfort.
It is important to note that there is substantial overlap between these categories, and depending on personal preferences and skill level, each can be used for multitude of activities, conditions and terrains. “Lightweight” and “technical” can also mean different things for different outdoors people, and hence you should accept these descriptions as relative comparisons.
Light Hiking Shoes
Light or day hiking shoes assume little carrying weight, and hence usually are very lightweight and have little ankle support. Depending on the hiking terrain (well-groomed trails versus off-trail rugged terrain), the hiking shoes will differ in the outsole grip capacity.
The rougher, more slippery or maybe wet or snowy terrain it is designed for, the more aggressive the outsole should be. Shoes suited for more rugged terrain usually also have stiffer midsoles and more foot protection, like rock plates, for your foot not to wrap around every uneven bit of ground surface and not get bruised (!) from rocks and branches.
Salomon Ellipse GTX W's is an excellent shoe for day hikes.
Designed as a trail running shoe, the Salomon Ellipse GTX combines that with increased weather and food protection and durability. It is comfortable, light and fast, has excellent outsole grip and weather protection.
Midweight Hiking Boots
If you are off for a few days trip and carrying some more gear of 10-15 kilos or are traveling through some rougher terrain, you should consider getting a more supportive, sturdier shoe that offers ankle support and a more technical design.
Choose something with a higher ankle, aggressive outsole and either leather or synthetic outer with waterproof membranes. Comfort still remains of primary importance, so pick a boot that suits your feet well and offers enough space to combine it with a thicker sock.
Salewa ALP Flow MID GTX Woman’s is a superb lightweight for the type, yet very supportive pair of boots perfect for a variety of mountain activities.
It features the Gore-Tex® Surround technology that combines waterproofness with excellent breathability. The boot is also reported to be excellent for climbing hence could be suitable for more technical scrambles.
Heavy Duty Hiking Boots
If you’re planning a serious multi-day trip over loose and technical terrain or snow and are going to carry a heavy pack, I suggest you get yourself a pair of heavy duty boots. Heavy duty means ankle support, more support in the midsole, aggressive good grip outsole and waterproof outer.
My personal preference, when carrying a pack above 20 kilos is to use a pair of relatively heavy, very stiff sole boots, as this allows me to be stable on the ground and feel balanced under the weight.
It also makes it easier to walk over irregular ground, without feeling each rock poking my feet. However, every person is different, so you are fully justified to aim for a lighter shoe, just make sure it provides the support you need for you ankle and feet.
Lowa Tibet GTX® W’s – pure trekking perfection.
Words cannot describe how much I love my Lowa Tibet GTX®. They are super sturdy, feel amazingly stable and yet are one of the most comfortable boots I’ve ever worn in my life. I feel I can walk any terrain with them, including snow and technical rocky terrain, and walk for days, with no blisters or pain – not the most usual combination.
It has a Nubuck Leather upper and GORE-TEX® lining and it is very easy to break in; I used for the first time in a 10 days trek in Nepal, and could not have asked for anything better. I honestly cannot recommend this boot enough.
Mountaineering boots are suitable for the harshest of the environments and offer strong foot and ankle support and technical climbing ability. Mountaineering boots are heavy, completely stiff, with a high ankle and often – extensive insulation and cushioning for warmth.
These boots are completely waterproof and fit technical climbing crampons, allowing climbing up steep slopes and even vertical ice and mixed climbs; since the sole is completely inflexible, it creates a great platform, when “front-pointing” – standing perpendicular to a wall just on the front points of your crampons.
La Sportiva Nepal Evo W's – reliable choice for mountaineering.
Gore-Tex® Insulated Comfort Footwear combined with Vibram® with Impact Brake System and excellent climbing design makes this boot a very solid choice for any female mountain climber. These boots are warm and beefy with plenty of ankle support, but still have excellent climbing ability and, needless to say – are very durable.
Approach shoes are mainly used by rock climbers to approach the base of their climbs. Climbers often need to scramble up some semi-technical and technical rock segments up to their climb, hence this type of shoes are in essence similar to technical rock climbing shoes.
They contain soft rubber sole that adheres perfectly on smooth slabby rock surfaces and have a snug fit to improve footwork specificity. Often climbers take their approach shoes up the wall to make the descent down; hence approach shoes are always lightweight and have narrow profile.
Having all that in mind, climbers have to sometimes spend hours walking in them and dealing not only with sleek rock, but also mud, scree and even snow, carrying heavy packs with all the climbing gear; hence they have to be durable, relatively rigid and very comfortable.
Many approach shoes can also fit general mountaineering crampons. La Sportiva Boulder X Women's approach shoe was reviewed to have a great balance between technical climbing ability, durability and performance on loose terrain.
Trail Running Shoes
Over the last years, the outdoors world has experienced a serious shift towards fast, lightweight gear philosophy. People want to get more done faster. Due to this and the rise of trail and mountain running sports scene, we now have an incredible variety of trail running shoes to choose from that work perfectly for hiking.
Trail running shoes might not be the best option if you are going on a multi-day trip or going to carry a heavy pack, as trail-runners lack ankle support, which might be fatiguing to your feet and result in injuries. However, in terms of traction, breathability, lightness, trail running shoes are a superb choice. For a full trail running shoe review, see here.
Salomon Speedcross 3 CS is my favourite trail running shoe.
I wrote at length about this shoe in the trail running shoe review linked above and have used it for runs and walks of various lengths through all types of terrain and could not recommend it enough for anyone, who wants to know how stability and speed feels like.
The Salomon Speedcross are quick and agile; they fit like a glove and are perfect, when negotiating more variable, technical terrain, whether it is due to rocks, tree branches or mud. Mud, snow and other types of wet and soft ground is where the shoe’s performance really excels!
While most of lightweight outdoor wear is not very reliable on wet muddy surfaces, you can trust Salomon Speedcross. Arrow-shaped prominent lugs will provide you stability even on compact snow and steep “mud-slides.”
The CS portion of the name stands for Salomon Climashield™ technology that protects your feet from getting wet. When hiking, I usually combine my running shoes with a pair of lightweight Salomon S-LAB trail running gaiters to prevent water, rocks, mud and all other stuff from accumulating in my shoes.
I cannot not mention the very unique and inspiring philosophy of barefoot footwear. The idea behind it is that unsupported footwear restores natural gait and leg motion, helping you avoid injuries and strengthen foot, ankle and calf muscles and connective tissue.
This type of shoes usually just comprises of a thin layer of flexible rubber and not much else really. Some of the most popular barefoot hiking choices include Vibram Fivefinger Seeya and Luna Sandals.
Have in mind that barefoot-wear is not for carrying heavy weights, and due to its unusual to modern human construction, requires time to get used to avoid injuries.
Hiking Shoes for Travelling & City Use
Once you learn, what a comfortable pair of hiking or trail shoes feels like, it is very hard to come back to those feet-framing, toe-squishing, non-sporty city shoes. Luckily, in many cases you don’t have to!
Outdoors brand spend a lot effort making their gear cool-looking, and there a number of models that are designed for lifestyle and street-wear. If you are someone who walks or cycles to work or just moves a lot in daily life, hiking shoes could be a really good match for you.
I usually use lightweight hiking shoes or trail runners for summer use, while I do not imagine going through winter slush without my Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX. City conditions can sometimes be no different than those in mountains, and having a pair of good-traction, comfortable and lightweight shoes will make your survival easier in these conditions. A pair of lightweight hiking shoes is also an excellent option for those backpacking and travelling.
Salomon City Cross Aero W’s - stylish and very comfortable lifestyle shoes.
Inspired by the wonderful Speedcross trail running shoe; Salomon City Cross Aero W’s are athletic, very breathable due to their mesh upper and have a lot of midsole support for everyday use. I personally really like these shoes.
Outdoors is all about peace and adventure, and reliable gear makes it all happen easier.
If this is your first pair of hiking shoes, try quite a few different pairs by at least several brands and styles to determine, what works best for you. Talk to shop consultants, spend some time in your potential new shoes, and do not choose a pair just because they are the most expensive/cheapest/coolest looking. The most important is for the boots to fit your feet and the basic requirements of your outdoors goal. The other stuff is peanuts!
When you do find that one pair to complete you and make you into an indestructible mountain machine, take all the precautions against blisters, i.e. make sure you are wearing quality wool or synthetic socks (of a correct size!), and carry some sticky tape with you. Not band-aids, but sport’s tape. The moment you feel any rubbing or discomfort, evenly patch the area with broad even pieces of tape to prevent blister formation.
Hope you find the best pair of boots for you!
Onwards & Upwards!