The Journey to Find the Best Women's Hiking Boots of 2017
To find the right women's hiking boots for you, we evaluated the 40 most popular models available and subjected the best 10 to side-by-side tests over three months and hundreds of miles. With so many options and bold marketing claims, it's not easy to determine which ones provide solid traction on slippery paths or are truly comfortable mile after mile. Our lead testers designed tests and wore these hikers tirelessly, from well-traveled trails of Yosemite Valley to cross-country through the wilds of the Sierra Nevada backcountry, to create a comprehensive analysis of this category. Trails, hikers, and climates are diverse, and so is this review. Whether you're seeking a champion all-around boot, the best value, or a pair that will last you years underfoot, we help you narrow down the options for your perfect fit.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
To provide the latest and greatest models out there this Spring, we have updated this review with new award winners. HOKA ONE ONE won our top spot in its first inclusion in this review category, while Lowa's all-leather construction provided unbeatable durability. We are stoked to find that the market of hikers, as a whole, is becoming more comfortable and lightweight every year. We also added charts and tables to highlight each model's performance in the test metrics.
Best Overall Women's Hiking Boot
HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra HI - Women's
Judging only by looks, the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra - Women's stands out from the pack with its oversized sole and funky graphic design. We soon found out that it stands out in hiking performance as well. The Tor Ultra takes our Editors' Choice award of 2017 for offering almost everything a hiker could want; stability, support, low weight, waterproofness, and a revolutionary new design that promotes foot comfort to an extreme. Don't be intimidated by this new look and approach, as it will keep your feet comfortable all day and virtually need no break-in period. Our reviewers with wide and narrow feet all found this boot accommodating. Hailing from France, HOKA ONE ONE has been producing running shoes since 2010, and they have applied their successes in technology from that category to hiking specific boots very effectively.
Lots of cushion underfoot
Read full review: HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Vasque Monolith UltraDry - Women's
Lightweight. Comfortable. Supportive. Best of all, affordable. The Vasque Monolith - Women's provides the most performance per dollar of any model in this review. Ready to endure days on the trail, this model's leather and mesh construction also breathes well while keeping water out. The moderate tread pattern was grippy on unstable, slick granite boulders. The Monoliths felt light, even after a full day of hiking. After numerous hikes around Yosemite Valley, these became our go-to for all-day hikes and day-to-day walking on the valley floor.
Easy to break in
Effective water resistance
Mesh paneling could wear quickly
Read full review: Vasque Monolith - Women's
Top Pick Award for Durability
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid - Women's
Good ankle support
Sizing runs big
Lacks support for long hikes
Trailing close behind our 2017 Editors' Choice in our ratings is the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid - Women's, last year's returning champion. This is a great boot that shines in its durable construction and waterproofness. The Renegades are a throwback to hiking-specific boots of yesteryear when you could buy a pair of leather boots and know they would last decades. In that way, these boots are classic; burly, leather, and waterproof. They are lined with GORE-TEX and have a waterproof coating on their Nubuck leather upper to keep your feet dry while allowing them to breathe. Lowa has also done an amazing job making these boots comfortable as well as durable. They break in quickly and will last you a long time. We are excited about the lightweight, hybrid boots, but the Lowa Renegades are a tried-and-true choice for a well-crafted, comfortable hiking boot.
Read full review: Lowa Renegade GTX Mid - Women's
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Analysis and Test Results
Hiking footwear options are plentiful. We understand the challenge in matching the best footwear to your adventures and have provided an overview of the different hiking footwear styles For a thorough guide to selecting the best hiking footwear and a comprehensive look at women's boots, see our Buying Advice article.
Types of Hiking Footwear
Hiking shoes and boots are closely related. In fact, with modern footwear designs, the line between boots and shoes is blurring. Many manufacturers, like Merrell, Keen, and Salomon, offer popular boot models in low-cut versions. These low-cut models are everything you love about boots, minus the high ankle shaft. Some boots, such as the Columbia Redmond Mid-Women's, have low ankle heights and fit more like a shoe right out of the box.
Shoes are lighter, messier, and usually more comfortable and flexible than boots. These are the best option for day hikers, hot weather, and those who have strong ankles and don't need the added height and support of boots. For hiking on maintained trails and easy-to-moderate terrain, hiking-specific shoes provide traction and stability. For more insight on this style of footwear, see our Best Women's Hiking Shoe Review.
Material and firmness determine the break-in period. Hiking-specific shoes are made of lighter weight synthetic materials paired with large mesh panels and flexible soles. Most hiking shoes can be worn comfortably right out of the box. On the other hand, boots are constructed of leather uppers with small mesh panels and firm rubber soles. There is usually a break-in period of at least a single outing, with many pairs of boots requiring a handful of short hikes before optimum comfort.
Criteria for Evaluation
Months spent on trail, riverside, and on summit ridgelines exposed the important considerations when selecting a hiking boot: weight, comfort, support, traction, versatility, water resistance and breathability, and durability. Each pair of women's boots were evaluated based on these metrics and then compared with the others. See the table below that summarizes the overall scores of each, then read on for an explanation of how we tested each metric.
Hiking shoes will often be lighter than boots. The boots selected this year are focused on being light, so the difference between the two categories is becoming less and less significant. The top women's boots tested this year weigh between 1.7 and 2.2 pounds. While lighter footwear makes for more comfortable hiking, this small weight difference is insignificant when considering the benefits and long-term durability of hiking-specific boots.
We evaluated the weight of each pair on and off trail; weight reflected in the chart above was measured by our reviewers to ensure accuracy. While some boots weigh less than others, the lightest did not always feel the lightest on foot. Actual weight is only one of many considerations when selecting a pair of boots. Weight also encompasses how heavy the boots feel while hiking.
This year, most of the boots tested were lighter than previous years, reflecting a trend toward lighter boot designs. The award-winning HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra - Women beat the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid - Women's, in large part due to their light feel, while still providing the support and comfort of a top hiking boot. Similarly, the Vasque Monolith - Women and the Ahnu Sugarpine got high scores in weight, each well under two pounds. That said, the sturdy Lowa Renegade and the Oboz Bridger Mid - Women (our heaviest boots) each weigh around two pounds per pair (size 7). That is only one pound per foot, giving these boots a light feel, even with the added weight.
Boot support is determined by sole stiffness, midsole construction, arch support, and forefront flexibility. The height of the boot also lends support to the ankles and feet — the higher the ankle shaft, the more stable and supported the ankles will feel. This ankle height is the main difference between a hiking boot and a hiking shoe in terms of support. For rugged trails where the ankle is prone to rolling, boots with relatively high ankle heights are optimal.
Stability is synonymous with support while hiking. All of the women's boots reviewed have stiff rubber soles incapable of bending the toe downward toward the heel. This provides support on rugged terrain by limiting the contortion on rocks and roots.
Boots like the Columbia Redmond Mid - Women and the Merrell Capra Bolt Mid - Women have low ankle heights and offer less ankle support. Many hikers that have used the HOKA feared ankle rolling because of the oversized sole, but the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra bypasses this issue by having ankle support. When we wore the Tor Ultras, our feet felt stable on uneven terrain, despite the tall soles.
Midsoles are the layer between the outer sole and the insole. Boots often have shanks and plates either above or beneath the midsole layers, adding support and stability. The shanks serve as a barrier from impact on rugged surfaces. These inner shanks create additional stiffness that the rubber soles cannot achieve on their own. Hiking shoes do not need this stiffness, but rather offer flexibility that is suitable for day hiking, so they do not have shanks. The overall construction of boots is more durable and stable than hiking shoes.
Arch support varies by foot. Some women may find enough comfort in the original insoles. Other women will need to customize by replacing the original insoles with aftermarket insoles or orthotics. Depending on how flat or pronounced the arches of your feet are, differing levels of support will be necessary. To avoid foot cramps and discomfort, accurately support the arches of your feet.
The Oboz Bridger Mid BDry - Women has a stiff sole and offers support in this way, but for some this might be too stiff to be comfortable in the long term. The Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX - Women scores high in the support metric, because they provide cushioned ankle support as well as a moderately stiff sole, making them a happy medium between the ultra stiff OBoz and the lighter weight boots, like the Ahnu models.
Unlike hiking shoes that are flexible in the sole and forefoot, boots should only offer flexibility in the forefoot. When you take a step, your feet bend upward, creasing at your toes. This area of the boot should accommodate your stride. The HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultras address this with their rockered sole design. The oversized sole is turned up at the toe and in the heel. This propels you forward as you walk and allows the foot to flex naturally because of the cushion.
We rated the support of all 10 pairs of women's boots based on sole stiffness, midsole construction, forefront flexibility, and ankle shaft support. We reviewed them with and without backpacks up to 40 pounds.
Overall, the most supportive contenders are the award-winning HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra - Women's and the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid - Women's. For hikers looking for an ultra-stiff boot, look no further than the Oboz Bridger Mid BDry.
Tread on the soles of footwear acts similarly to tread on a bike or car tire. The pattern, spacing, and depth affects grippiness, stability, and handling. Tread patterns that have spaced lugs in variable patterns manage dirt, sand, mud, and snow by pushing them out from the bottom of the shoe. When these accumulate on the bottom of shoes and boots, it is a result of poor tread design and depth (or there is a better application). Semi-aggressive to aggressive tread patterns are expected design features on the soles of boots.
Boots that received the highest scores in traction were able to stick to rocks and talus, handle well in wet and muddy conditions, and protect the foot from debris. The Ahnu Montara and the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra are made with Vibram rubber soles, which we found to stick the best to granite slabs and boulders. On and off trail, we trusted that the rubber on these boots would stick. Boots like the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid and the OBoz Bridger Mid BDry have aggressive tread that provides maximum traction. It is good to think about the types of surfaces you travel over when looking at the tread patterns of different boots. Overall, the deeper lug depths, like those on the Lowa Renegade GTX, the Keen Targhee II Mid - Women, or the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra provide more traction than boots with less aggressive tread.
Comfort is the most important consideration for boots. If you sense discomfort in the fit, sizing, or performance of a pair of boots, you should consider other sizes, models, or styles. Comfortable boots will be more enjoyable on trail. Comfort is a rating that will vary individually, therefore we have rated each pair of boots based on overall comfort while noting obvious uncomfortable design features. We kept our focus on insole and lining padding, comfort in support, materials, and how our feet felt after multiple miles on the trail.
We found the most comfortable boots to be the Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX - Women for their padding around the tongue and ankle, the Vasque Monoliths for their quick break-in period, and the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra for their thick soles that remained comfortable after days of hiking. We found that few boots came close to HOKA's comfort and unique design. Beyond making our feet feel comfortable, the extra padding in the HOKAs prevented joint pain in the knees and hips that can flare up after miles on the trail.
What separates a comfortable boot from an uncomfortable one? A lot of it has to do with support underfoot. Many shoes that were lightweight in their design, such as the Merrell Capra Bolt - Women and the Columbia Redmond Mid - Women, lacked support and cushion in the sole and became painful after a few hours on trail. On the other end of the spectrum were boots like the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultras, which have extremely thick soles, or the OBoz Bridger Mid, which have very thick soles.
A lot of this comes down to personal preference; some people find that stiffer soles provide more comfort, while others prefer a flexible shoe. Adjustability in the lacing system adds to the overall comfort. On a wide foot, for example, the Ahnu Montara was uncomfortable, because the laces are not adjustable toward the toe of the shoe/the widest part of the foot. The Lowa Renegade, on the other hand, has a lacing system that is adjustable and can be tweaked to provide more support in the ankle than the foot by the locking mechanism at the flexing part of the foot.
Water Resistance and Breathability
Water resistance is measured by how dry our feet remained while exposing the boots to typical trail wetness. We walked each pair through creeks up to five inches in depth. We first tested them while walking from one side to the other without stopping. All of the models in our review succeeded. Then, we tested the water resistance when submerged in water while standing in place. Within a couple of minutes in inches of standing water, all of the boots began to absorb water.
The higher ankle shaft heights withstood deeper water crossings, as did the thicker soled boots, like the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra. Mesh paneling on the Vasque Monolith - Women is treated with Vasque's own version of GORE-TEX, called UltraDry. We found these boots to be water resistant, keeping water out during creek crossings. The boots with the best waterproof qualities are the Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX and all-leather boots, like the Lowa Renegade GTX and the OBoz Bridger BDry.
The GORE-TEX waterproof membranes used in the Lowa Renegade and the Salomon Ultra are comparable in breathability to the eVent liners in Ahnu products as well as in the HOKA ONE ONE Tor Ultra - Women. These waterproof linings are also breathable. Although some believe that waterproof membranes limit breathability, we found that all of the linings were adequate in keeping water out while keeping our feet wicked and dry. Breathable mesh panels on the sides of boots and tongues allow for airflow and help maintain dry, comfortable conditions inside the boots.
Leather models are heavier than mesh and synthetic uppers commonly found on hiking shoes, offering less breathability. This is an important consideration for mid-summer hiking in hot climates. If you intend to hike mostly in dry climates and regions, a pair of boots that do not have a waterproof lining and have mesh on the uppers may be the best option. Most of the models reviewed are offered in waterproof (GTX) and non-waterproof models.
Once feet become wet, they are prone to blisters and hot spots. If you intend to hike in a region that could get your feet wet, bring an extra pair of socks. Keeping your feet dry is aided by choosing the best boots for your intended uses as well as noticing when your feet become wet and attending to them. Consider waterproof features as well as breathability.
In order to lose weight in materials and construction, there is also a loss in durability. A full-leather boot will last longer than a synthetic leather and mesh shoe. Yet, lightweight boots require little break-in period and are more comfortable when trekking long distances (when compared to a clunky heavyweight boot). All of these boots have a longer lifespan than a shoe, though they will not last as long as a heavyweight option. We are pleased with the durability of all of the models reviewed and believe they can last for a couple of seasons or more when seeing regular use.
Though we tested these boots for three months, as opposed to years of use on trail, we got a good idea of what boots would last longest without showing significant wear. The boots with all-leather uppers tend to be more durable because they have fewer seams — the first place to show weakness. The Merrell Capra Bolt Mid boots, for example, are constructed entirely of mesh, and showed significant signs of wear almost immediately out of the box. All leather boots, such as the Lowa Renegade GTX, stand up to wear much better.
The quality of your boots will have a large effect on your ability to enjoy a hike of any length. However, with many choices available, finding the right pair that suits your type and level of activity can be a tricky task. We tested each model rigorously in a variety of settings and uses in hopes of helping you come to an informed choice. For additional tips on how to get the right boots for your feet, see our Buying Advice article.
— Jane Jackson
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