The Best Hiking Shoes for Women Review
Before stepping foot on the next trail, consider your feet! We put 14 pairs of women's hiking shoes to the test to find the best shoes for hiking and light backpacking. These shoes have some of the support of a hiking boot married to the lightweight agility of a trail running shoe. While working on trail building and restoration in the High Sierra and wandering on well-traveled trails, we tested these shoes for weight, comfort, support, traction, water resistance and breathability, durability, and versatility, finding that some kept us comfortable on long hikes of 200+ miles and others were better suited for day hikes. Check out our side-by-side comparative review of top-selling women's shoes for hiking below.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Models for Specific Applications
Best for backpacking the John Muir Trail: Salomon Ellipse GTX or Merrell Siren Sport 2
Best for walking the dog: Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh or Keen Marshall
Best for wearing into town after a hike: Vasque Grand Traverse or Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh
Best for spring hiking: Salomon Ellipse GTX
Best for summer hiking: Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh or Keen Marshall or Merrell Siren Sport 2
Best for fall hiking: Merrell Moab Ventilator or Salomon Ellipse GTX
Best for mild winter conditions: Merrell Azura
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Analysis and Test Results
Hiking footwear options have become expansive. Whether you prefer to push the limits of your running shoes or find ultimate support in a hiking boot, you will see women on the trails with a diverse range of footwear selections. Here we offer a brief explanation of the different styles of footwear for hiking and suggestions on when you would want to wear a certain style. Read our Buying Advice article for more in-depth information on different styles of footwear as well as sizing and fit suggestions.
Types of Hiking Footwear
Women's Hiking Boots review to compare more durable models for hiking.
Trail Running Shoes
Women's Trail Running Shoes Review.
Shoes vs Boot
With weight no longer offering a supportable argument for choosing a shoe over a boot, let's take a glance at the reasons to choose a shoe for hiking:
Flexibility: A shoe offers a degree of flexibility that stiff soled hiking boots do not.
Durability: A hiking boot will almost always outlive a shoe. This is a result of the stiffer and sturdier soles of boots as well as the more durable upper materials. Shoes have majority mesh uppers and hiking boots have leather or synthetic leather uppers. Hiking shoes will almost always exceed the lifespan of trail running shoes. Again, this is due to the beefy rubber soles and incorporated leather on the uppers.
Cost: Shoes for hiking typically cost around $100 while hiking boots usually cost around $150-200 dollars. This price difference reflects value over the long term. A shoe will need replacement before a hiking boot will.
Pack weight: If you are planning to hike with weight greater than 20-30 pounds, we highly recommend hiking boots for their added support and ankle stabilizing design. For carrying day packs and light backpacking weights, most of the models in our hiking shoe review are suitable, depending on the terrain you intend to explore.
Ankles: Hiking boots offer a lot of ankle support. If you need ankle support for 1 mile or 40 mile hikes, a hiking boot will be best. For most hikers, especially day hikers and light backpackers, hiking shoes are suitable and offer some ankle support in the form of molded midsoles and embracing, padded heel cups. There is a significant difference in the ankle support provided by a hiking boot versus a hiking shoe and personal needs should be assessed before opting for one or the other.
Break in period: Hiking shoes are designed to be worn comfortably and immediately. If you intend to go hiking tomorrow, consider shoes. Hiking boots require varying break in periods for maximum comfort. The stiff materials used to add support will soften and form to your feet over time, but do not provide the ultimate comfort straight out of the box.
Just as there are many styles of backpacking, there are many styles of hiking. From moving ultra fast while carrying only water and Gu, to walking along trails for weeks or months while moving at a leisurely pace, hiking presents the opportunity to get outside and see the natural landscape for both exercise and fun.
A majority of hiking outings will fall into this category. A day hiker is planning to start and finish their objective within a single day, often in a few hours. This woman will carry water, a map, layers of clothing for changing weather conditions, snacks, and minimal accessories, such as a camera. Her pack will be light but her other gear components are not necessarily 'lightweight'. Hiking may include a variety of terrain conditions and diverse grades. Adventuring on well-traveled trails is the likely scenario. For this hiker, any of the shoes in our review are suitable. Comfort, support, and durability are the top considerations for day hiking. Personal preferences and sizing will dictate which shoes are best for you.
Fast hiking demands a shoe that is flexible and supportive. A fast hiker seeks to cover a specific distance in a short amount of time. Sometimes this distance is far and arduous and other times the distance is short and quick. Peak bagging and moving briskly to mountain summits are often associated with a fast hiking style. Fast hikers are not necessarily trail runners and may seek more support than is offered from a traditional trail running shoe. Shoes like the Salomon Ellipse GTX and Salomon X Ultra GTX - Women's are ideal for agile hiking, particularly on uneven or rocky terrain. Weight is considered for those who fast hike, but as mentioned throughout the review, all of the models we tested are around 2 lbs or less.
Light backpacking is day hiking that extends overnight. A day hiker seeking to enjoy the landscape and terrain for a couple of days will camp in the wilderness. Light backpacking means that a hiker is planning to pack on the lighter side, not necessarily lightweight or ultra lightweight, and intends to use the gear and footwear on occasional overnight trips, but not regularly. A hiker who intends to backpack with more gear or heavier pack weight will surely need greater support and durability than a hiking shoe will provide. We tested the shoes in this review on overnight trips and found many of them to be suitable options but only for weights under 20-30 pounds. The Merrell Siren Sport 2 - Women's and Salomon Ellipse GTX are suitable for light backpacking. We took both pairs on multi-day backpacking trips and were pleased with their support and comfort.
Trail to Town Versatility
Lastly, many women seek a shoe that is versatile for wearing on the trail and in town. This is dependent on the style of the shoe. A casual model like the Ahnu Sugarpine Air Mesh - Women's or Keen Marshall- Women's is stylish for wearing in town and has all of the function that a hiker demands. The Merrell Moab Ventilator offers a lot of padding, but this translates to a bulky shoe for wearing into town.
Criteria for Evaluation
After several months hiking across three seasons, we thoroughly evaluated these top products around the Sierra Nevadas, Rocky Mountains, and Southwest Utah desert region. We put the shoes to the test in water and snow, sand and talus. We have addressed common expectations of hiking footwear, such as weight, water resistance, and comfort.
Weight on the feet translates to five-fold weight on the back. Add the weight of a daypack or overnight backpack filled with the essentials for an enjoyable hike, and you have a significant measure of weight to carry. Light is right. The lighter we can keep our shoes and gear, the better we will fare over time. In the past, a trail running shoe would have presented the most weight-friendly option for hiking, but now hiking shoes, and even hiking boots, are constructed with light weight in mind. All of the reviewed contenders weigh in around 2 pounds or less. This evolution in design and construction means that we have more options for lightweight footwear and we can invest our weight in other gear (or lighten it all!). Manufacturers' weight measurements are not always accurate, so we weighed each pair on our scale and provided the actual weight of every model/style in a women's US size 8.
The Ahnu Sugarpine Air Mesh- Women's measured as the lightest at 1lb 3.8oz. In contrast, the heaviest are the Merrell Moab Ventilators and the Oboz Yellowstones. Just because a shoe weighs less doesn't necessarily mean it feels lighter while hiking. A good example of this is the Vasque Grand Traverse shoes that weigh in at 1.55 pounds, but feel heavier than the Merrell Moab Ventilators while hiking. Weight is one of many important considerations, but the difference in a few ounces should not be a primary deciding factor.
Comfort and fit are the most important aspects of choosing hiking footwear. Whether you intend to spend hours or weeks on the trail, comfort will enhance or hinder your experience. Comfortable shoes are well-padded, supportive, and sized correctly. Loose or tight sizing will give you blisters and inflammation. Improper padding will lead to muscle aches and discomfort. See our Buying Advice for more information on proper fit. Hiking in your shoes should feel easy so that you have more energy and attention to focus on the scenery.
Comfort is a subjective rating. We based our scores on general comfort without adhering too closely to personal comfort concerns. We addressed some personal discomforts but kept the scoring metric to the comfort of shoe cushioning and padding and overall comfort after a 6-mile or longer hike. The most comfortable pairs were the Salomon Ellipse GTX - Women's, both the Merrell Moab Ventilator - Women's and Moab Siren Sport 2, and the Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh.
The support of a shoe is determined by arch support, flexibility and firmness laterally along the sole, ankle support, and the lacing system. Every woman's foot demands varying degrees of arch support. Some of us find the most comfort and support in flat foot beds while others will use inserts to increase the arch support, depending on our natural arch and the best way to comfortably accommodate our feet. The Salomon X Ultra GTXs have the most pronounced arch support and the Merrell Azuras have the least pronounced arch support.
Flexibility and firmness of the soles were tested in stride and over rigid surface edges. A supportive shoe provides a balance between flexibility in the forefoot and firmness under the center of the foot. This allows for comfortable hiking while still remaining supportive of the foot ergonomics. The Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh and Salomon Ellipse GTXs are both firm underfoot yet flexible at the top of the toe box and forefoot.
Hiking shoes offer more flexibility at the ankle than support. Stability is achieved by adjusting the laces to assure that the heel does not lift out of the shoe when you are hiking. Some heel designs are lower than others, and this design will present an issue to people will high heels; the Vasque Grand Traverse shoes have a shallow ankle that was easily lifted out by some of our testers. Shoes offer much less ankle support in comparison to hiking boots. If you need substantial ankle support, a hiking boot is recommended.
The lacing systems hold the feet in the shoes for security and stability while in stride. How well the upper holds and protects the foot is also attributed to the lacing system. Two distinct lacing systems made an appearance in our review: traditional laces and a quick lace system by Salomon. While both serve to secure the feet, more sets of eyelets added more support and we found that the quick lace system required some attention after the initial tightening.
We compiled the ratings for support based on firmness of the outsole, flexibility of the upper material (particularly around the forefoot), security of the lacing systems (particularly in their ability to remain tightened from the initial tie in without having to constantly adjust the laces), and the overall support of the shoe in bracing our feet while actively hiking. We also gauged the shoes' ability to remain supportive with backpack weight of 1 to 25 pounds.
Overall, the most supportive are the Salomon Ellipse GTX, the Merrell Siren Sports 2, and the Merrell Moab Ventilator.
Sole tread is the direct connection between the shoes and the trail. Traction on varying terrain is important, especially when hiking on uneven, loose, and slick trails. In our experience, deeper tread equates to better traction. Smooth and shallow tread patterns are suitable for well maintained, low angle trails, but let us down on steep or uneven terrain, especially on smooth rock surfaces. Uniformity in tread patterns reduced traction as well. Some types of rubber provided better traction. Vibram rubber soles, like the ones found on the Merrell Azura and the other Merrell models in this review, are notable for stickiness on smooth surfaces and the stiff overall performance. Contagrip is Salomon's proprietary rubber blend that is comparable to Vibram in its durability, flexibility, and grip. The Salomon X Ultra GTX and Salomon Ellipse have aggressive tread patterns and scored highest for traction.
Versatility refers to the ability to wear shoes on and off the trail or in varying terrain conditions and seasons. Some models in our review are great for wearing both on and off the trail, such as the Ahnu Sugarpine Air Mesh - Women's. Some shoes are great for three season hiking- spring, summer, and fall- like the Salomon Ellipse GTX and Merrell Siren Sport 2. The Vasque Grand Traverse are designed to be versatile between hiking and climbing approaches although we recommend a dedicated approach shoe over this hybrid concept.
It is important to note that certain styles of versatility may come as a disservice to your hiking comfort and support. In the case of a shoe that doubles as an approach shoe, the sizing of each should be different. An approach shoe is sized snugly for maximum sensitivity and control of the shoe. A shoe for hiking is best sized up a half to full size to account for foot swelling with heat and activity (it is best to try new shoes on in the afternoon- see our Buying Advice for more information). In the case of a hiking shoe that may also be used as a trail running shoe, the soles will have varying degrees of stiffness and may not be suitable across all types of terrain. Consider the spectrum of fit for your shoes before using them across different applications.
A hiking shoe will ideally keep you comfortable, secure, and supported on flat trails and steep trails, uneven slopes and rocky paths. We recommend the Salomon Ellipse GTX as the most versatile in varying terrain and across different applications and seasons.
Water Resistance & Breathability
Most hiking shoes, particularly the selection in this review, come in both a waterproof and a non-waterproof model. We tested some fully waterproof versions lined with Gore-Tex, some meshy and breathable versions such as the Keen Marshall - Women's, and some with water resistant upper materials. These different levels of water resistance each have pros and cons and are more desirable for different hiking conditions.
Your hiking destination will influence the need for water resistance while breathability is determined by climate and personal foot needs- sweaty feet need better breathability! For instance, if you plan to hike in the sunny and dry Sierra that can have patches of snow and frequent stream crossings, water resistance will be beneficial and breathability will be less important because of its cool climate. If you plan to hike in the heat of the Southwest desert region, water resistance will be less important but breathability will be essential. Consider the hiking location, climate, and personal preferences to determine your needs for water resistance and breathability.
Breathability is attributed to the material of the upper. Mesh will offer more breathability and leather or waterproof linings will offer the least amount of breathability. Most of the pairs in our review are designed with a combination of materials to offer the best of many benefits between fabrics. Waterproof materials or chemical treatments have the potential for limiting breathability but Gore-Tex, the most common waterproof membrane, is both breathable and waterproof in design. The Keen Marshalls offered the best breathability, particularly during summer heat. The Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh shoes excelled at providing both water resistance and breathability!
We put each shoe to the test by walking them all through shallow water to measure the ability to keep our feet dry. Surprisingly, the Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh excelled in our water resistance test despite the mesh upper due to other water resistant treatments. This provided a welcome balance between water resistance and breathability. The Salomon Ellipse GTX also rated highly in our water test because of its Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable membrane.
In order to lose weight in materials and construction, there is also a loss in durability. A full leather-hiking boot will undoubtedly last longer than a synthetic leather and mesh hiking shoe. Yet, light weight shoes require little to no break in period, are comfortable immediately, and can withstand a lot of wear and tear. We were pleased with the durability of all of the models in our review. After months of hiking, not a single pair revealed weakness and some, like the Salomon Ellipse GTXs looked practically new after miles of use. Proper application- i.e. using a summer specific shoe in the summer vs. winter- lends to greater durability as well. The Salomon Ellipse GTX, with the rubber toe caps and semi aggressive tread, were durable throughout our testing. Even shoes like the Merrell Moab Ventilator and Ahnu Sugarpine Mesh, with mesh uppers, remained durable!
Gaiters are a wonderful way to prevent debris and snow from getting in your shoe that can cause discomfort or even blisters. The Outdoor Research Women's Wrapid Gaiters can be put on without taking off your hiking shoes. The Outdoor Research Women's Verglas Gaiters are a high style gaiter that protects your shoe and leg up to mid-calf. If your looking for something a little more minimalist then the Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters are a great option.
Insoles can be very important to help give the proper arch support needed for a long time spent on your feet. We find the Superfeet Green Premium Insoles to be very comfortable and help with the foot ache at the end of a long day of hiking.
Hiking shoes are often the best option for day hikes and backpacking trips. They are much lighter, breathable and less expensive than hiking boots while giving more support and traction than trail running shoes. We hope we narrowed down your selection to find the right product for your needs. For more tips on making your purchase, read through our Buying Advice article.
— Briana Valorosi
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