The Best Hiking Shoes for Women Review
Need a new pair of hiking shoes for 2017? We can help! We researched the market's top 55 pairs and chose the 10 best for our side-by-side testing process to help you find the right footwear for your next outdoor adventure. Whether you have wide feet, high arches, bad knees, or just don't want to spend a fortune on your footwear, we have you covered here at OutdoorGearLab. We've compared all of the various options and features of the top models out there through hands, err, feet-on testing while hiking in a variety of terrain. We rated each model on an assortment of features, so if you need something specifically for a wet climate or for a cushioned ride, we have recommendations for you. Keep reading below to see which models we liked the best.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Hiking Shoe
Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry - Women's
Our Editors' Choice Award of 2017 goes to the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry. This pair was comfortable to wear all day long, and can easily be used for overnight hikes and heavy mileage days over rough terrain. It has a waterproof/breathable membrane that helps keep your feet dry from the outside and inside elements (i.e. sweat). The heavy-duty lugs are soft and grippy, providing excellent traction on a variety of terrain. This pair is well-made, with triple stitching in places and attention to details. There is also a molded heel counter to increase the longevity of the shoe and it has great stability. It is a little heavier than some other models out there — but considering the other great features of the shoe it wasn't a deal-breaker. We did also find the cut a little wide. While we were still able to get a good fit, we had the laces about as tight as they could go with a heavier sock on, so if you have very narrow feet this might not be the hiking shoe for you. Fit is the most important consideration when it comes to footwear, and if this shoe fits you, we're sure you're going to love it.
Comfortable and stable
Cut slightly wide
A little heavy
Read full review: Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck
Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator - Women's
The Merrell Moab 2 Ventilators have been around for as long as we can remember, and for good reason. These hiking shoes are lightweight and comfortable, with great traction for all kinds of terrain. Best of all, they retail for only $100, and even though they were the least expensive pair in our review, they performed better than some models that were twice the price. They are mesh lined for optimal breathability, but their water resistance is limited, so if you live in a wet climate, it is available in a waterproof version, the Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof - Women's.
Read full review: Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator - Women's
Top Pick for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP - Women's
Hoka One One has been changing people's minds about cushioning and support over the last couple of years, and their latest offering, the Tor Summit WP, is a revelation when it comes to hiking footwear. Why should we feel like we're hiking on a piece of hard wood, when instead we can feel like we are floating on clouds all day long? And if you're worried that the extra thick midsole will make these shoes too soft or heavy, fear not. They are lightweight, and the EVA is supportive without being overly compressible. This model comes with an eVent breathable/waterproof liner, and the extra height from the sole gives you even more clearance when crossing streams. The extra height doesn't make them too tippy though, as your foot actually sits down into the midsole, meaning you still have great support. The only thing we weren't too thrilled about was the traction. While it's fine for moderate trail hikes, the lugs are not very aggressive or sticky, so we had some issues on steep terrain and bare rock. Otherwise, these are a great choice for anyone with foot or joint issues, and indeed anyone who prefers to be extra comfortable while hiking.
Not the best traction
Rough terrain can shred exposed midsole
Read full review: Hoka One One Tor Summit WP - Women's
Great for Fast and Light Hiking
Salomon Ellipse GTX - Women's
If you're searching for the look and feel of a trail runner but want something with slightly more support and durability (that is also waterproof), the Salomon Ellipse GTX is a great choice. While it looks more like a trail runner than your typical hiking shoe, it still offers a lot of great features for hiking, like a stiffer upper made with abrasion resistant material, and a Gore-Tex liner. The traction on this shoe impressed us with its stickiness on bare rock, even though it doesn't have the most aggressive lugs. The Ellipse is only ounces heavier than a typical trail runner, and it definitely won't weigh you down. If you like to move fast in the mountains, this is a shoe you can strap on and take off like the wind in.
Trail runner hybrid
Not enough support for hiking with a pack
Read full review: Salomon Ellipse GTX - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
We took these ten pairs of shoes on dozens and dozens of hikes over a three month period, comparing all of their features along the way and evaluating their Comfort and Stability. We also did some specific testing to determine scores for Water Resistance and Traction, and compared designs and other user reviews to find any Durability concerns. Finally, we weighed each pair that we tested to compare their Weight relative to each other in a similar size. You can read more about our testing methods in our How We Test article. Below you'll see how the different models scored overall.
Comfort is queen when it comes to hiking footwear — while we may squeeze our feet into some uncomfortable shoes for a night out on the town, when it comes to hitting the trails we want something that's cushioned and comfortable. That's why we've weighted our comfort score to be 25% of the overall score for each shoe. Whether you intend to spend hours or weeks on the trail, a shoe's comfort can greatly affect your experience. Comfortable shoes are well-padded, supportive, and sized correctly. Too loose or too tight, and you'll end up with hot spots, pressure points, and blister, oh my! Not enough padding and your joints will take the brunt of the impact, and pay you back for it later. So it's very important to get a good fit, and since a shoe's fit will affect everyone's comfort level differently, we purposefully tried to eliminate fit from our consideration for this score and consider instead factors that would affect every user. Why? Our main tester has long and somewhat narrow feet, and there are some wider cut models out there that will never be a good fit (and therefore never comfortable) for her. For example, both the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry and the Keen Voyageur - Women's have a wide cut, but they received vastly different comfort scores due to the amount and placement of the padding underfoot. You can see the different comfort ratings in the chart below.
The standouts in this category where the aforementioned Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry and our Top Pick for Comfort, the Hoka One One Tor Summit WP. Both of these models have ample cushioning that is plush but not too soft. The Tor Summit has the thickest midsole we've ever seen in a hiking shoe, and to good effect. It completely cushioned our ride, absorbing the impact of each step without feeling too soft or squishy. If you're looking for the most padding out there, this is the shoe for you.
What was also really key for us comfort-wise was having ample cushioning under the whole length of the foot. While it's true that your heel tends to strike first when hiking on flat terrain, as soon as the angle steepens you tend to place your forefoot on the ground first. Some models really overlooked the forefoot padding, and we really noticed the difference. The Asolo Outlaw GV - Women's and Keen Voyageur were examples shoes lacking forefoot cushioning.
Most of the shoes in this review used EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) midsoles, which can be manufactured to different densities. The soft-EVA Ahnu Sugarpine WP - Women's were almost too soft, as we could feel sharp rocks through the soles. While these shoes felt great while walking the dog around the neighborhood, once we were on the trail we found them too soft to be truly comfortable. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo - Women's, which uses a polyurethane midsole, which is much firmer than EVA. While there are pluses and minuses to each, EVA is typically used in hiking shoes because people are looking for a comfortable ride for shorter hikes. Polyurethane is more durable and a better shock absorber, but it is more often found in hiking boots where a stiffer ride helps absorb the extra weight from a heavy pack and prevent foot bruising and pain.
There were many different considerations that went into our support score. While hiking shoes are inherently less supportive than a full boot, there are many other features than can contribute to or detract from a shoe's stability rating. We considered the support under the arch, the sole and its stability, and also how well the laces adjusted the shoe and if there was any heel lift or other unwanted movement.
Arch support is another somewhat subjective rating; if you have flatter feet and put on a shoe with a pronounced arch it's not going to feel stable at all! Conversely, little to no arch support can feel brutal to someone with regular to high arches. According to the Institute for Preventative Foot Health, only about 4% of the US population have "flat feet," or fallen arches, but since this syndrome seems to affect people who spend a lot of time moving on their feet, aka us hikers, it is probably more of a consideration for hiking shoe companies than other manufacturers. Still, having good arch support from the get go might be one way to avoid fallen arches later in life. Some models offered great arch support, like the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry and Hoka One One Tor Summit WP. In fact, the Sawtooth come with the best insole we've ever seen that we didn't have to pay extra money for. It has extra padding and a molded arch that holds its shape. Compare that to the Asolo Outlaw's insole (see picture below), and you can see why we were so impressed. While some automatically purchase aftermarket insoles for all of their footwear, we'd like to hope that once we are paying over $100 for something that it would come ready to go and not need an additional purchase. So don't be afraid to peek inside a shoe the next time you are trying one on in a store and pull out the insole — what you see may or may not encourage you to buy that pair.
Lateral stability is also important in a hiking shoe — while you are mostly hiking forward, as opposed to say tennis or basketball where you move side to side — any type of boulder hoping, scrambling, or hiking in rough terrain will benefit from a stable shoe. This comes from the aforementioned internal arch support and also the flexibility and firmness of the sole. If you can wring a shoe around like a wet towel, its stability will leave a lot to be desired. While stiff soles are great for adding stability, if they are too stiff you'll lose flexibility in the forefoot, which will make it harder to hike up steep terrain. Here again is where the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry stood out from the pack. We had ample flexion in the forefoot without too much side-to-side play. The Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo also had great stability thanks to its stiffer sole and exterior arch support.
Some shoes, like the Ahnu Sugarpine WP, offered little stability overall. The soft soles were too pliable, and the short lacing system (only four eyelets that don't extend very far down the forefoot) limited our ability to get a secure fit on the shoe. While hiking shoes offer more flexibility at the ankle than a hiking boot, you still want to feel like your foot is secure and that your heel is not lifting with every step. The uppers on shoes like the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator and Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry come up slightly higher on the top of the foot (along with the laces) which allowed us to tighten the ankle opening sufficiently to keep our foot in place and minimize heel lift. Even the slightest heel lift can be a recipe for severe blisters over time, so if you can't get a good fit in that area you should consider a different pair. Once again this is an issue that arises from variances in foot and shoe shape; every one is a little different.
While most hiking shoes are designed for day hiking with minimal pack weight, some people prefer to wear low cut shoes for all of their backcountry adventures. If you need substantial ankle support, a hiking boot is definitely recommended for all of your hiking needs, but if not there's no reason why you can't try wearing hiking shoes with a backpack and see if that works for you. Definitely look for a more rugged pair, like the Vasque Talus Trek Low UltraDry - Women's or the Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo. These pairs are really just low-cut versions of full hiking boots, and still provide a good amount of overall stability. Lighter weight trail runner/hiking shoe crossovers, like the Salomon Ellipse GTX - Women's and The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX - Women's, are great for fast hiking without a pack, but aren't the best choice for backpacking.
A hiking shoe's traction is a key consideration from a safety perspective. If your feet are constantly slipping out from under you on the trail you could end up on your rear, or worse. There are several components that go into creating traction: the shape, size and depth of the lugs, and the stickiness of the rubber. You might think that all Vibram rubbers are created equal, but in fact there are many formulations even within one company's products that vary the tackiness of the sole. You can have the biggest and most aggressive tread, but if you make it with a harder rubber it might not do you much good on a smooth granite slab. Below you'll see our evaluation of the different test models' traction.
We considered the traction of each pair going up and down steep and loose trails, and also tested them on rocky slabs. Good traction on dirt is usually achieved through deep lugs that can dig into the ground with each step. Having "multi-directional" lugs (ones that look like zigzags or arrow tips) will also help your soles grip in a variety of directions. You might notice that the lugs are angled in one direction on the forefoot and the other direction on the heel. That takes into consideration that you need more grip on the forefoot when hiking up steep trails, and more on the heel when coming back down them. We really liked the traction on the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry. The lugs are wide and grippy, and worked equally well on dirt and rock.
As we mentioned above, good traction on bare rock has more to do with the stickiness of the rubber than the shape of the lugs. Hard and stiff rubber doesn't grip as well as softer and more pliable formulations. The flexibility of the forefoot will also affect the traction you can achieve. If you can't bend the front of your feet, or the sole is too thick to feel the rock (as with the Hoka One One Tor Summit WP), then you'll have a hard time achieving secure footing. The Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator had great traction on bare rock. The rubber is soft and sticky, and we scrambled all over Red Rock Canyon in this pair without any slippage issues.
Depending on your regular hiking area, you might encounter a lot of exposed rock, or none. If you don't expect to encounter bare rock, look for a model with a harder rubber sole, as softer rubber wears out faster. You can check the hardness of the rubber by pushing on the lugs with your thumb. If you can easily flex the lug, it's a softer rubber, and if you feel little to no resistance it's a harder one.
You've probably heard before that 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. The lighter we can keep our shoes and gear, the more enjoyable our whole experience will be on the trail. Hiking shoes are getting so light as to almost be on par with a trail running shoe, and even hiking boots are now constructed with weight in mind. While there wasn't much variation between the lightest and heaviest pairs in this review (a little more than half a pound), we could feel a noticeable difference between the 1.56 pound Ahnu Sugarpine WP and the 2.13 pound Lowa Renegade II GTX Lo. While we applaud manufacturers' attempts to move in lighter directions, sometimes that comes at the expense of stability or durability. The Ahnu was so light as to provide little overall support. The Lowa feels heavy, but has rubber covering the entire midsole and toe, which will help it last a long time.
The Salomon Ellipse GTX and the The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX struck a sweet spot between a lightweight but still supportive design in our estimation. Both of these models felt light on our feet, and are good choices for people who like to move fast on the trail.
We were also impressed with how lightweight the Hoka One One Tor Summit WP felt. We thought for sure that something with such a thick sole would be heavy, but it weighs only 1.75 pounds and never weighed us down. Unfortunately, out Editors' Choice winner, the Oboz Sawtooth BDry Low was on the heavier side at 2 pounds 1 ounce in the women's size 10 that we tested it in. In some cases though, a few extra ounces may be worth it if you get the extra stability, comfort and durability that the Sawtooth provides.
Many hiking shoes come in both a waterproof and a non-waterproof model. The best option for you depends on the climate that you live in. Live in the desert Southwest and never plan to hike in the rain? Then forego the Gore-Tex and opt for a breathable pair instead. While the technology in waterproof barriers, like Gore-Tex and eVent, helps vent your body's moisture (aka foot sweat) while keeping nature's moisture out, they still lead to hotter feet overall than a breathable mesh liner. Better to prevent the sweat from building up in the first place than having to worry about venting it. But, if you live in a wet climate, or are planning any type of long trip into the mountains, a waterproof shoe or boot is a key necessity, as mountain weather can change on a dime and wet feet can quickly lead to an uncomfortable or ruined trip.
We did a variety of tests to determine water resistance, including splashing around in streams and also a 10 minute bucket test with 3 inches of water in it. We tested mostly fully waterproof versions, but also included two popular non-waterproof models, the Keen Voyageur and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator. Here's how they fared in our tests.
The first thing that stood out to us from our bucket test was that the technology of the waterproof barriers and the uppers used in hiking shoes these days result in shoes that are pretty close to fully waterproof. We didn't have a single leak in any of the eight lined shoes that we tested. While the bucket test doesn't 100% correlate to real-world stream crossing, it does help to illustrate that if water is getting into your shoe when crossing a stream, it's most likely coming in from the ankle opening and not the upper or even the gusseted tongues.
In order to further refine our water resistance score, we examined how much water the shoes seemed to absorb after 10 minutes in water, and how high off the ground the ankle opening sits. A higher ankle opening will give you more protection from errant splashes of water, and the absorption rate is also key. Picture hiking in a light drizzle or through a wet, grassy field. If the upper sheds water with no absorption, that'll keep your feet drier in the long run, and also lighter.
The Hoka One One Tor Summit WP and the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry had the highest ankle opening at 4 inches, whereas the Asolo Outlaw GV and the Vasque Talus Trek Low UltraDry had the lowest at 3.5 inches. The leather upper on the Talus Trek also absorbed a lot of water, which is why it received a relatively low score for a "waterproof" shoe. As for the non-waterproof mesh-lined shoes in this review, the Keen Voyageur and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator, they lasted a total of 30 and 60 second respectively in our bucket test. The shoes are in no way dunk-proof, but their uppers do shed a light rain or dew.
The adage of "buy nice or buy twice" is just as applicable to footwear as it is to every other piece of outdoor gear. Your hiking shoes will also experience more wear than almost any other piece of gear in your hiking arsenal. Mile after mile, step after step, your shoes are taking the brunt of the impact for you. How long will a pair last? The number typically bantered about in the industry is 300-500 miles for a pair with an EVA midsole. If you hike only a few miles a week, it could take you years to get to that point, but if you're doing the John Muir Trail this summer they'll be done after only a few weeks. Polyurethane (PU) midsoles are thought to last longer, maybe even twice the mileage, but that extra durability comes at the expense of comfort. Normal wear and tear on any shoe will pack down the midsole and wear down the outsole, so stiffer midsoles (like a dual-density EVA vs a soft one) and harder rubber soles will last longer overall. Below you'll see our estimation of the different models' durability.
While we couldn't put 500 miles on each pair for this review, we did hike in them all extensively and inspect them for signs of damage or potential week spots. We read through online user reviews to try and determine any consistent wear patterns, and looked through our girlfriends' shoe racks to examine personal pairs and see how they were faring. We were most impressed with the construction and durability of the Lowa Renegade II GTX LO. (And at a retail price of $210, we should hope it's well made!) This was the only model in our test group that uses a PU midsole, which won't pack down because there's no give in it whatsoever. The rubber sole encases the entire side and toe as well, protecting the shoe from toe stubs and midsole wear. In order to reduce weight, a lot of midsoles are completely exposed. Since that material is softer than rubber, it is more prone to catching on vegetation, tearing out, or separating from the upper.
We also considered the various uppers used, and how prone they were to snagging, unravelling, or other types of wear. While the cut-out leather and mesh uppers of the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry and Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator help keep the shoe ventilated, anyplace you see stitching is a potential point of weakness. Thankfully those areas are double or even triple stitched in those models, and should stand up to wear and tear. The synthetic uppers on the Salomon Ellipse GTX impressed us with its abrasion resistance — one of our friends has been using her pair regularly for almost a year and they still look virtually brand new. Finally, it's always good to examine the toe box, as that's another area that wears out quickly in hiking shoes. A full rubber toe cap like the one on the Keen Voyageur will last longer than most, though most of the models we tested try to reinforce that area at least a little.
The Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry has an added durability element that we hadn't seen before: a 3-D molded heel counter. This extra piece of rubber on the heel helps maintain the shape and structure of the back of the shoe and prevent it from caving in.
A final note about durability is that a well-looked after pair will have a much longer lifespan than one that is put away wet or dirty. It may seem tedious, but if your shoes get muddy or wet on the trail, taking the time to dry them properly (and not by a heater with leather shoes!) will make a world of difference.
Gaiters are a good option for the trail if you want to enhance the water resistance of your hiking shoes and also prevent small debris from getting in your shoe and causing you 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. You can check out our complete gaiter review for more options there.
As our review has shown, many manufacturers don't put proper insoles in their very expensive hiking shoes. Insoles can help give you the proper arch support you need for a full day spent on your feet, and even some additional cushioning. The Superfeet Green Premium Insoles are a comfortable option that help minimize foot ache from a long day of hiking.
Hiking shoes are often the best option for day hikes and backpacking trips. They are much lighter, more 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 next purchase, head on over to our Buying Advice article. Happy trails!
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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