How We Tested Hiking Shoes for Women

By:
Cam McKenzie Ring
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday

To find the best hiking shoes out there, we researched and analyzed over 55 different pairs. After selecting the ten most popular and highly rated ones, we bought each one in a women's size 10. Here is where we encountered our first issue, as not all size 10s are created the same. Two pairs, the Asolo Outlaw GV - Women's and the Salomon Ellipse GTX - Women's, were significantly larger than the rest of the group. While other pairs' size 10 correlated to a 41.5 or 42 Euro size, these were a 42.5 and up. We swapped them out for the right size, but this does illustrates the need to be careful when ordering European shoe brands on the internet, as their sizing doesn't always correlate to what you might be used to. The only shoe that was a little short in a 10 was the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator - Women's, but it wasn't enough of an issue to require an exchange.

 

Once we got the right size in each pair, we wore them for three months while hiking around Las Vegas, NV. Our real world testing included putting dozens of miles on each model and comparing them side-by-side, sometimes even switching shoes halfway through a hike. We then evaluated them on the following metrics: Comfort, Support, Traction, Water Resistance, Weight, and Durability. Here is how we specifically scored and tested each metric.

Switching shoes mid-hike. We tested out ten pairs over three months  hiking as much as our knees could stand!
Switching shoes mid-hike. We tested out ten pairs over three months, hiking as much as our knees could stand!

Comfort


When determining the comfort of a hiking shoe we specifically only compared the comfort level of the midsole. While some models were more comfortable because they fit us properly (our head tester has long but somewhat narrow feet), a narrower shoe might feel terrible on someone with a wider foot. We did notice if there were pressure points from the laces and/or tongue, and if our toes fell asleep, but we tried to mostly keep the rating to something that we would all experience regardless of foot shape.

Support


For support we looked at several components of the shoe: the arch support (both internal and the insole), lateral support, and support provided by the lacing system. Again, arch support is somewhat relative, but a good hiking shoe should have a least a modicum of arch support to prevent fallen arches over time. We rated the lateral support based on hiking experience (did the sole cave in on us, did we feel unstable on rocky ground, did our ankles cave in at all), and we also twisted each pair like wringing out a towel. The lacing on each pair and the adjustability they provided affect how tightly we could secure our ankles and if it minimized heel lift at all.

Rock hopping with a heavy pack? What better way to test a shoe's stability.
Rock hopping with a heavy pack? What better way to test a shoe's stability.

Traction


There were also several aspects that went into our traction score. A hiking shoe should provide traction on a variety of terrain, both going uphill and downhill. We noted if we had any slippage issues on the trails, and then took all the shoes out at once and went up and down rock slabs in each one. We noted how sticky, soft or hard the rubber was, and the effectiveness of the tread pattern.

Some shoes helped us stick to the rock like a gecko  and others didn't inspire as much confidence.
Some shoes helped us stick to the rock like a gecko, and others didn't inspire as much confidence.

Water Resistance


Splashing around in the raging river (for Vegas  anyways). We compared the water resistance of each pair in the field.
Splashing around in the raging river (for Vegas, anyways). We compared the water resistance of each pair in the field.

We tested these shoes in and around Las Vegas, NV, which is usually not the best environment to determine water resistance. Luckily it was a wet year here, so we had plenty of streams and puddles to splash in. We also did a ten minute bucket test with each pair to determine the effectiveness of the waterproof liner, and how much moisture the uppers absorbed.

Our bucket test. We wanted to see what would happen to each shoe after being submerged for 10 minutes.
Our bucket test. We wanted to see what would happen to each shoe after being submerged for 10 minutes.

Weight


Manufacturers state their product's weight in a variety of shoe sizes, so we weighed each pair on a calibrated scale to at least have a relative measurement that we could compare.

Durability


While we spent hours in the field testing these shoes and hiked umpteen miles and thousands of vertical feet, most hiking shoes fail at around 300-500 miles, which we could not achieve in three months with ten pairs of shoes. Instead, we examined each pair for any signs of wear or weak spots, and then researched other online user reviews to see if there were any consistent patterns of wear. We were also able to examine some well-used pairs in our friends' shoe racks to get a sense of how they fared long term.

Veronica Long in the Merrell Moab Ventilators on the Appalachian Trail. 1 000 miles and no blow-outs!
Veronica Long in the Merrell Moab Ventilators on the Appalachian Trail. 1,000 miles and no blow-outs!
 

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