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The Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2020

The perfect combination of weight and performance in a hiking shoe.
Tuesday July 14, 2020
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Seeking women's hiking shoes? In 8 years, our all-female experts have tested 40 pairs. This review compares the best 13 contenders of 2020. Our team of hiking enthusiasts busted out long miles through deserts and forests, up mountains and across streams, covering well over 150 miles in these hikers every testing season. We carried loaded packs, considered all-day comfort, and evaluated traction over and through wet and slippery surfaces. From variable foot shapes to varied trail surfaces, we evaluated it all and ranked each shoe accordingly. Over months of side-by-side comparison and testing, we teased apart differences between these shoes and bring you our findings to help pinpoint your perfect pair.

Related: The Best Hiking Boots for Women of 2020

Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Best Overall Women's Hiking Shoe


La Sportiva Spire GTX - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$152.00
(20% off)
at Backcountry
See It

83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Support - 20% 9
  • Traction - 15% 9
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Water Resistance - 15% 9
  • Durability - 10% 6
Weight: 1.61 lbs | Lining: Gore-Tex Surround
Comfort and stability
Waterproof construction
Great traction
Breathable
Expensive

We did not expect that the La Sportiva Spire GTX hiking shoes would win us over as the best overall hiking shoe. They look a bit like a trail runner— light and fast rather than burly hiker. But the more we wore them, the more capable we realized they are. The upper is both flexible and comfortable. The midsole is solid and supportive. The traction is bomber. The happiest surprise is the Gore-Tex Surround waterproof liner, which is also, truly breathable. Yes, you can trail run in them, but they shine on multi-day hikes and light-and-fast mountain adventures, and when scrambling off-trail. Choose your adventure and these hikers will not let you down.

All the high-tech that is built into this shoe comes at a price, however. This is the most expensive shoe in the test and may not be an affordable option for many. However, if you are planning some serious hiking adventures where comfort, support, and performance are a priority, the cost will be well worth it.

Read review: La Sportiva Spire GTX - Women's

Best Bang for Your Buck


Merrell Moab 2 WP - Women's


Best Buy Award

$124.95
at Backcountry
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Support - 20% 7
  • Traction - 15% 8
  • Weight - 15% 5
  • Water Resistance - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 6
Weight: 1.69 lbs | Lining: M-Select Dry
Comfort
Great traction
Breathes well
Requires breaking in
Runs short

The Merrell Moab 2 WP is a classic hiking shoe that continues to deliver year after year. It is relatively affordable, reasonably lightweight, and received top scores for traction. The ankle height is a little lower than some of the other models we tested, allowing water to go over the top in shallower puddles or streams, but we found the Moab 2 WP to be completely waterproof on the trail and in our "lab" testing. Indeed, this shoe does well in every category and at an excellent price.

We did find that the Moab 2 was not comfortable right out of the box. However, after a couple of short hikes, the fabric relaxed, allowing for more flex and less pinch. It also runs a little short, which is something to keep in mind if you are between sizes or like to hike in a thick sock. This shoe has been on the market longer than most of the competition here, providing reliable performance at a reasonable price that fits the hiking needs for the majority of trails out there.

Read review: Merrell Moab 2 WP - Women's

Best Lightweight Model


Arc'teryx Aerios FL - Women's


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Support - 20% 6
  • Traction - 15% 6
  • Weight - 15% 9
  • Water Resistance - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 7
Weight: 1.25 lbs | Lining: Gore-Tex
Super lightweight without losing support
Comfort
Good traction on diverse terrain
Not an ugly hiking shoe
Not enough support for hiking with a heavy pack
Runs a little long

The Arc'teryx Aerios FL is an incredibly lightweight and performance-oriented hiking shoe that offers a clean and minimalist style. It achieves this appearance with welds instead of stitching, and uniform-colored materials, from the upper to the laces to the rubber toe cap. More importantly, we are impressed by its performance on the trail, in a variety of terrain. The sticky rubber soles provide excellent traction on everything from loose, unconsolidated rubble to wet boulders, and the synthetic uppers held up well against lava rock and prickly desert shrubs. After many miles of hiking, the shoes are dusty but largely unscathed from our adventures.

Though we are impressed by the support of the compressed EVA midsoles for light hiking, we do not consider them to be supportive enough for days when a heavy pack is required. Because of the lightweight nature of the upper, we also wouldn't choose this shoe for multi-day trips or hikes on extreme terrain. When your itinerary is short and fast, or for any day that you want to be light on your feet, however, the Aerios may well be a perfect choice.

Read review: Arc'teryx Aerios FL - Women's

Best Aggressive Shoes


Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX - Women's


Top Pick Award

$112.46
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Support - 20% 7
  • Traction - 15% 7
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Water Resistance - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 8
Weight: 1.50 lbs | Lining: Gore-Tex
Good traction
Lightweight
Waterproof
Quicklace system is hard to fine-tune
Not enough support for hiking with a heavy pack
Runs a little long and narrow

The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is a hiking shoe built with trail running DNA. While it has the look and feel of a trail runner, Salomon added more support in the heel and made the upper stiffer. The result is an excellent shoe for those who like to hike aggressively and cover lots of miles. The Gore-Tex liner and synthetic upper help keep your feet dry when splashing through streams and puddles. Moreover, it comes with a supportive insole. We especially appreciate the strategic lugs and reliable traction from the Contagrip sole in a variety of conditions, from loose dirt trails to rocky scrambles. This pair performed well across the board and in particular on fast hikes that required aggressive traction.

The X Ultra 3 doesn't have the same plush feel that some of the newer models with oversized midsoles provide, but it is never uncomfortable, and we like the support and stiffness in the heel when hiking downhill for miles. It did feel better without a heavy pack, though, and as such, it is recommended for day hikes, especially on diverse terrain, and for ambitious hikers who like to bang out the miles. The Quicklace system is not for everyone; some people love it, and some people hate it. If you don't mind the inability to fine-tune your laces, the Salomon X Ultra 3 is only ounces heavier than a typical trail runner, while providing a whole lot of extra control and support.

Read review: Salomon X Ultra 3 - Women's

Best Comfort


HOKA ONE ONE Sky Arkali - Women's


Top Pick Award

$199.95
at Backcountry
See It

69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 10
  • Support - 20% 8
  • Traction - 15% 7
  • Weight - 15% 5
  • Water Resistance - 15% 2
  • Durability - 10% 7
Weight: 1.69 lbs | Lining: None
Modest weight
Super cushioned
Adjustable for a dialed-in fit
Not waterproof
Bold style may not suit everyone

HOKA ONE ONE's hiking shoes are setting the bar high for comfort. The Sky Arkali has a responsive and cushioned midsole, and velcro adjusting straps on the heel and ankle that provide additional support, while helping to get a perfect fit. The oversized soles look heavy but are not, and the shoes are remarkably supportive, sensitive, and agile. The Sky Arkali is a hybrid hiking and approach shoe, with sticky rubber soles and a protective rubber rand on the upper that offers excellent foot protection. We tackled lava rocks and steep trails confidently.

As with most shoes from HOKA, the Sky Arkali has a very roomy toe box. If you have a narrow forefoot, you may not be able to get a good fit in this model. There are a lot of lace holes to help adjust the fit (as well as those velcro straps), but they run wide, so a thicker sock may be needed. The Sky Arkali is not a waterproof shoe and leaked immediately in our bucket test, though we found they kept our feet dry on hikes in light rain. Lacking a waterproof liner, the Sky Arkali is quite breathable, however, adding to its overall supreme comfort.

Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Sky Arkali - Women's

Best for the Long Haul


Oboz Sawtooth II Low BDry - Women's


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Support - 20% 9
  • Traction - 15% 8
  • Weight - 15% 4
  • Water Resistance - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 9
Weight: 1.83 lbs | Lining: BDry waterproof/breathable membrane
Comfort and stability
Waterproof construction
Great traction
Robust design
Absorbs water
A little heavy

The Oboz Sawtooth II hiking shoes are incredibly supportive and comfortable for all-day hikes, especially when carrying a 20-30 pound pack. The midsole is plush, and the proprietary insole provides structured support, making the Sawtooth II an excellent option for multi-day trips. The lugs are chunky enough to shed mud and grab on loose surfaces, while the rubber is soft enough to grip rock slabs and logs. Oboz's BDry waterproof/breathable membrane kept our feet dry from rain and ventilated away sweat. One of the updates in this model (over previous iterations) is larger vents for increased breathability. While some hikers with a very narrow foot might want to wear a thicker sock for optimal fit, we appreciated having a little more room in the toe box to allow our toes to wiggle and splay. The shape of the upper combined with the shape of the insole holds the heel perfectly in place, minimizing lifting and rubbing.

The only thing we don't love about the Sawtooth II is the weight. It's the heaviest shoe we tested, and in our bucket test, though it demonstrated its waterproofness, it also absorbed a measurable amount of water, making it noticeably heavier. However, we believe that the extra protection and durability of the Sawtooth II is an acceptable tradeoff, especially for hikers heading out on longer treks.

Read review: Oboz Sawtooth II - Women's


Scrambling around during shoe testing. The soft rubber that gives the Moab 2 great traction also wears out faster than a stiffer sole.
Scrambling around during shoe testing. The soft rubber that gives the Moab 2 great traction also wears out faster than a stiffer sole.

Why You Should Trust Us


Senior Review Editor Laurel Hunter has her basecamp one short block from the National Forest outside of Bend, Oregon, and has a couple of pups eager for daily trail miles. Laurel was raised by an avid outdoor adventurer and has been outside most of her life. Her obsessive pursuit of perfect gear is backed by decades of trail running, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and outdoor experience. Using her training as an artist, she thinks well outside the box for her gear testing and pays attention to every detail. When she's not reviewing gear for GearLab, she is using gear on the trails right outside her home and dreaming of the perfect course for her mega pump track.

Cam McKenzie Ring also contributed to this review. Cam has spent years testing shoes and has experience with dozens of women's hiking shoes. Her unique position of having witnessed first hand the trends and evolution of hiking footwear over the years gives her insight into this category that few others have. She's also no stranger to the outdoors, having spent a lifetime climbing and five years working for Yosemite Search and Rescue.

One of the traction tests: mossy rock slabs and wet logs.
Testing out this pair with some weight in our pack. There isn't much padding and little stability  and we slipped a lot on bare rock and loose trails.
Traction and edging testing on Sierra granite in the Salomon X Ultra 3.

Before testing begins, we research the breadth of options available. After looking very closely at over 65 different pairs of hiking shoes from various manufacturers, we purchased all models discussed here at retail price. The models here are the ones we consider the most promising, innovative, intriguing, and high-value hiking shoes available. We then tested these pairs for many months, hiking dozens of miles in each along the way. We wore them in a variety of terrain; from soft trails in the forest to scree-covered buttes to rocky scrambles. We tested each pair while wearing a light daypack and a heavier 20-30 pound load, wore them back to back on wet and technical scrambles, and carefully assessed all of their positive and negative aspects along the way.

Related: How We Tested Hiking Shoes for Women

Side-by-side comparisons provides valuable insight.
Side-by-side comparisons provides valuable insight.

Analysis and Test Results


Following the testing period, we scored each pair of hiking shoes on specific criteria, including how waterproof and durable they are, and compiled our findings for you here. We'll go through each of our test metrics below, explaining why certain things like support or traction are important to consider, and which models excelled in which areas. All our scores are relative to the other shoes included in this review. As you read this guide, keep in mind your own hiking plans. Are you shopping for shoes for general use or travel? Are you planning a through-hike of a major trail system? Do you need to be ready for all kinds of weather? These are just a few things to consider as you make your selection.

Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Shoes for Women


Value


Gearing up for the outdoors can be an expensive endeavor. Hikers used to buy one pair of leather boots that would last them a decade or two, while current styles of hiking shoes typically last a fraction of that time. On the positive side, these shoes benefit from lighter materials and the latest technology, but people who hike a lot may blow through one or even two pairs a year. While the shoes in this review are not exorbitantly priced, the expense adds up if you're replacing them a couple of times a year, year after year. We offer opinions as to the value of the shoes based on the metrics below, but to a certain extent, the value will depend on your hiking priorities.

Our Best Buy winner, the Merrell Moab 2, is an excellent example of high value in hiking footwear. It gets the job done well enough in a variety of conditions and terrain without emptying your wallet. It's not the best, but for the majority of hiking objectives, it'll do just fine. One tip for finding value in hiking shoes is to consider if you truly need a pair of waterproof shoes. If you don't, most of the models in this review are available in non-waterproof versions, which tend to be significantly less expensive than their water-resistant counterparts. As a bonus, non-lined shoes almost always have better breathability, too, which is great for summer hiking.

Not the best shoe  but pretty darn good for most hiking needs makes this pair of Merrells a great value.
Not the best shoe, but pretty darn good for most hiking needs makes this pair of Merrells a great value.

Comfort


The importance of comfort cannot be overstated when it comes to hiking footwear. We may squeeze our feet into some uncomfortable shoes for a job interview or a night on the town, but when it comes to hitting the trails, it's imperative to have shoes that are cushioned and comfortable. Whether you are spending hours or weeks on the trail, a shoe's comfort will greatly impact your experience. An uncomfortable shoe will ruin your day and maybe even your whole trip, especially on a long or multi-day hike. Imagine trying to enjoy the view when all you can think about are the blisters forming on your heels. Comfortable shoes are well-padded, supportive, and correctly sized. A good fit is important, and also highly subjective, as a shoe that fits one person's long and narrow feet might not feel that great on someone else that has wider feet. The fit will change depending on a high or low arch. Too loose or too tight, and you'll end up with hot spots, pressure points, and sores. We tried to eliminate fit from our consideration for the comfort score and instead considered factors that will affect every user, such as the amount, placement, and style of cushioning.


The standouts in this category are the La Sportiva Spire GTX and the HOKA ONE ONE Sky Arkali. These shoes have ample cushioning that is plush but not too soft. The HOKA model has super thick midsoles to cushion your ride. It absorbs the impact of each step without feeling too soft or squishy, contrary to what a first impression might look like. If you want the most padding possible, a HOKA hiking shoe may be the shoe for you. They do have a distinct look that might not appeal to everyone, especially the Sky Arkali. One telltale sign of a comfortable shoe is the amount of fatigue you feel in your feet at the end of the day. While the Spire GTX is less cushioned, it has a responsive and dynamic midsole, as well as excellent support, that performs well in all kinds of terrain.

The Sky Arkali is comfortable on the chunkiest of surfaces.
The Sky Arkali is comfortable on the chunkiest of surfaces.

Another critical factor for us in the comfort category is having ample cushioning under the entire foot. While the heels of our feet tend to hit the ground first when walking on level ground, once the angle increases, most people step with their forefoot first. Some shoes, like the Keen Voyageur and the Merrell MQM Flex, have little to no forefoot padding, and that affected our overall comfort.

Shoes that lack cushion in the forefoot were noticeably less comfortable  especially on rocks and steep terrain.
Shoes that lack cushion in the forefoot were noticeably less comfortable, especially on rocks and steep terrain.

While we evaluate whether each shoe will work best for a narrow or wide foot, keep in mind that some models, including the Oboz Sawtooth II and the Merrell Moab 2 also come in wide sizes, and are worth considering by those who need or prefer more width in their hiking shoes.

There is always variation in shoe brands with width, length, and shape, and it's a good idea to check the correlating European size if you are looking at European shoe brands, as the conversion is not always consistent. Our US size 7 shoes converted to a range of Euro sizes, from 37 1/2 to 38 2/3, but only the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX, the La Sportiva Spire GTX, and the Arc'teryx Aerios FL run noticeably longer than the rest of the group. Shoes that run a little short are the Merrell Moab 2 and the Merrell MQM Flex 2. It wasn't enough of an issue to require an exchange, but something to keep in mind if you run between sizes.

Support


Many features impact shoe stability, so we considered several things when evaluating each pair for support. We analyzed the support under the arch, the lateral stability and stiffness of the sole, and how well we could adjust the shoe with the lacing system. Hiking shoes, because they are ankle height, offer less support than a full boot, so note that these scores are relative to each other and do not account for the support that you would get from a proper boot. If you have unstable ankles or plan on hiking with a heavy pack for prolonged periods, you will most likely appreciate a full boot.


When it comes to arch support, the shape of your foot will determine how much you want. If you have flatter feet and put on a shoe with pronounced arch support, it's not going to feel stable or comfortable at all. Conversely, little to no arch support can feel brutal to someone with regular to high arches, especially during an all-day hike. Often the arch support is primarily a feature of the insole, which can be replaced with after-market insoles that suit your foot. If you love every other feature of the shoe, this is worth considering. However, we evaluated these models with their stock insoles.

Some shoes work better for ladies with wide or flat feet  and may not offer enough support for others.
Some shoes work better for ladies with wide or flat feet, and may not offer enough support for others.

Some models have excellent arch support, like the Oboz Sawtooth II, Oboz Arete Low BDry, La Sportiva Spire GTX, and Keen Targhee III Low. The proprietary insole from Oboz provides the most support in the bunch with extra padding and a molded arch that holds its shape. In the Arete, however, we noticed that the Oboz insole decreased the volume of the shoe to the point that it created pressure on the top of the foot and was not comfortable. Those with flatter feet may want to consider the Salomon Vaya Low GTX or the Salomon OUTline, which have little arch support.

A range of insoles. The North Face insole (from a previously tested model) is thin and minimal while the Oboz insole is structured and offers significant support.
A range of insoles. The North Face insole (from a previously tested model) is thin and minimal while the Oboz insole is structured and offers significant support.

Lateral stability is also crucial in a hiking shoe because, unlike activities such as basketball or tennis where you move side to side, you are generally hiking in a forward direction. Hiking rarely happens on totally manicured terrain, and if you are boulder hopping, scrambling, or hiking in rough terrain, you will benefit from a stable shoe. Stability results from a combination of 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, making it harder to hike up steep terrain. Here again, the La Sportiva Spire GTX stands out from the rest of the pack with ample flexion in the forefoot and limited side-to-side play.

Ample flexion in the Sawtooth II while remaining stable.
Ample flexion in the Sawtooth II while remaining stable.

While most of the shoes in our test group have good overall stability, there are a few that don't impress us that much. For example, the Merrell MQM Flex 2 can be twisted fairly easily and we found it lacking in stability. Another key feature to ensuring stability is having your foot secure with your heel in place. The uppers on shoes like the Oboz Sawtooth II come up slightly higher on the top of the foot (along with the laces) which allows us to tighten the ankle opening sufficiently to keep our feet comfortably in the shoe while minimizing heel lift. On the other hand, our testers struggled to get the Oboz Arete Low BDry cinched tight enough to eliminate heel slippage. The HOKA ONE ONE Sky Arkali takes their design up a notch by incorporating velcro straps for the ankle and heel that allow for dialed in support. 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 would be wise to consider a different pair.

A very soft shoe feels nimble but not as stable or supportive.
A very soft shoe feels nimble but not as stable or supportive.

Traction


Traction is a really important factor to consider in any hiking or trail footwear. Slipping feet could land you on your rear end, contribute to twisted ankles, and severely limit the terrain you are confident in exploring. Knowing your shoes are up to the task helps you confidently move across varied terrain, too. Several things contribute to a shoe's traction, including the stickiness of the rubber and the size, shape, and depth of the lugs. Vibram, the gold standard for high-end hiking shoe soles, literally makes dozens of different formulations with varying degrees of surface grip.


We primarily evaluated the traction on steep and unconsolidated dirt trails, but we also tested them on rocky slabs, wet logs and boulders, and lava scree. Above-average 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. We liked the traction best on the La Sportiva Spire GTX, the Merrell Moab 2 WP, Oboz Sawtooth II, and Adidas Terrex Swift. The lugs on these models are wide and grippy and work equally well on dirt and rock. Additionally, some shoes come equipped with a unique tread pattern on the heel, intended to improve traction while descending steep terrain. We appreciate this feature, as it gives us great security and purchase when moving down steep slopes by allowing us to dig in with our heels more effectively. The Spire, Terrex Swift, Salomon X Ultra, and Arc'teryx Aerios all have this outsole feature.

Aggressive lugs add traction on loose trails and help shed mud  but can add some weight.
Aggressive lugs add traction on loose trails and help shed mud, but can add some weight.

When it comes to traction on rock, the stickiness of the rubber usually has more to do with how well your feet can grip the surface rather than the shape of the lugs. Hard and stiff rubber doesn't grip as well as softer and more pliable formulations. The Merrell Moab 2 WP is a top performer on bare rock, as is our Editors' Choice, the La Sportiva Spire GTX. The rubber is soft and sticky, and we scrambled all over rocky slabs in these models without any slippage issues. Keep in mind that temperature may affect stickiness, and soft rubber typically does not perform as well in cold temperatures. The Spire is fitted with Vibram XS Trek which works exceptionally well on cold and wet surfaces while retaining flexibility.

The flexibility of the forefoot will also affect traction. If you can't bend the front of your feet, or the sole is too thick to feel the rock, then you may have a hard time achieving secure footing. The Arc'teryx Aerios FL has a sweet spot between flexion and stability that works well for lightweight hiking.

The Merrell Moab WP has big chunky lugs that provide dependable traction  even on loose lava rubble.
The Merrell Moab WP has big chunky lugs that provide dependable traction, even on loose lava rubble.

Weight


The lighter we can keep all of our gear, the more enjoyable our whole experience will be on the trail. New technologies are allowing hiking shoes to be almost as light as trail running shoes while allowing for the greater protection needed for hiking.


There is about a half a pound difference between the heaviest and lightest pair in our test group. This added weight might not seem like much (it's only four ounces on each foot), but we could feel the difference. The La Sportiva Spire GTX, at 1.6 lbs per pair (size 7), falls almost exactly in the middle. The upper is not as burly as the heaviest models, but utilizing the best and latest technology, they are an almost perfect union of performance and weight.

The move to lighter materials, however, often comes at the expense of other important factors like comfort, stability, and durability. The Salomon OUTline (1.19 lbs) is light but provides little cushioning or support, limiting its use to gentler travel. The Oboz Sawtooth II (1.83 lbs), on the other hand, is one of the heavier shoes in the test and is a Top Pick for durability and comfort on longer treks. When it came to evaluating our favorite shoes, we realized that a slightly heavier shoe is not a deal-breaker if it gives us all of the other features that we want, such as greater foot support and less foot fatigue at the end of the day.

Lightweight and high performing  the Aerios are our favorite lightweight shoe that doesn't sacrifice support  comfort  and durability.
Lightweight and high performing, the Aerios are our favorite lightweight shoe that doesn't sacrifice support, comfort, and durability.

If you are looking for the lightest shoes that are also high performing, then consider our top choice for being light on your feet, the Arc'teryx Aerios FL. These strike a balance between being lightweight while still offering support. Our testers kept reaching for the Aerios for all light to moderate day hiking — these shoes provide just enough comfort and protection underfoot without weighing you down even an ounce more than necessary. If you are tackling big hikes in a day, especially on steep terrain, the Salomon X Ultra 3 is a great choice. It weighs a bit less than the Spire, and we especially love the aggressive and reliable tread.

The Sportiva Spire is right in the middle of the weight category  but one of the highest performing models overall. We didn't mind a tad extra weight here for the awesome performance in other areas.
The Sportiva Spire is right in the middle of the weight category, but one of the highest performing models overall. We didn't mind a tad extra weight here for the awesome performance in other areas.

Water Resistance


Many hiking shoes come in both a waterproof and a non-waterproof model. The best option for you depends on the climate where you live and plan to hike. Do you live in the desert and never plan to hike in the rain? Are your hikes primarily shorter and close to home? Then perhaps forego the Gore-Tex and opt for a breathable pair with a mesh lining instead. Better to prevent the sweat from building up in the first place than having to worry about venting it. However, keep in mind that weather is unpredictable, and an afternoon rainstorm far from the trailhead can make for a soggy, uncomfortable hike.


While the technology in waterproof barriers, like Gore-Tex and eVent, helps vent out foot heat and sweat while keeping nature's moisture out, they still lead to hotter feet overall than a breathable mesh liner. The best we have seen yet is featured in the Editors' Choice La Sportiva Spire GTX, which increases ventilation through the bottom of the shoe with open channels in the sole. This is possible with the use of Gore-Tex Surround liner that promotes breathability will maintaining its water resistance. If you live in a wet climate or are planning any trip into the mountains, a waterproof shoe is usually a necessity. We did a variety of tests to determine water resistance, including splashing around in streams and also standing in a bucket filled with 3 inches of water for a 10-minute soak test. Most of the models that we tested are the so-called "waterproof" versions, but we also included a few non-waterproof models, including the Merrell MQM Flex and the HOKA ONE ONE Sky Arkali.

While the Salomon Vaya GTX kept feet dry on damp hikes  they leaked in our bucket test.
While the Salomon Vaya GTX kept feet dry on damp hikes, they leaked in our bucket test.

The first thing that stood out to us from our bucket test is that the technology of the waterproof barriers and uppers is really, really good these days. Almost all the shoes that claim to be waterproof are. While the bucket test doesn't 100% correlate to a 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.

The bucket test: Shoes submerged in 3 inches of water for 10 minutes. No leaks for the Spire.
The bucket test: Shoes submerged in 3 inches of water for 10 minutes. No leaks for the Spire.

To further refine our water-resistance score, we examined how much water the shoes absorbed after the 10-minute bucket test. Your feet may stay dry, but if the material absorbs water the shoes will be heavier. Picture hiking in a light drizzle or through wet grass. If the upper sheds water with no absorption, that will maintain the shoes' dry weight, and keep your feet drier and more comfortable. We also measured how high off the ground the ankle opening sits, as a higher ankle opening better protects from random splashes of water.

Of the waterproof shoes in our test, several models, including the Arc'teryx Aerios and the Salomon OUTline, are only about 3.25 inches from the ground to the ankle opening. The Merrell Moab WP and Keen Targhee III have mid-range ankle height openings (3.5 inches), but their uppers absorbed a considerable amount of water. Therefore, we adjusted the scores down even though they are "waterproof."

Wet shoes are unavoidable on many hiking adventures. Waterproof membranes should be reliable enough to keep your feet dry  though.
Wet shoes are unavoidable on many hiking adventures. Waterproof membranes should be reliable enough to keep your feet dry, though.

Those shoes with a waterproof liner that did not fare so well included the Salomon Vaya Low GTX. We couldn't pinpoint precisely why these leaked, but the Vaya leaked in one shoe after only a few minutes in the water. It is probably a rare scenario that you would be soaking your shoes for several minutes during a hike, but downpours happen, as do creek crossings. We believe that gear needs to be reliable in all conditions, especially if you are out on the trail, far from home.

As for the non-waterproof mesh-lined shoes in this review, the Keen Voyageur, Merrell MQM Flex, and the HOKA ONE ONE Sky Arkali lasted less than 60 seconds in our bucket test. These shoes are in no way dunk-proof, but their uppers do shed light rain and morning dew, which may be enough for your hiking objectives. Additionally, the Sky Arkali's ankle opening is the highest we tested at 4 5/8 inches high, giving some added protection from damp vegetation.

While the Sky Arkali is not waterproof  our feet stayed dry on a hike in light rain.
While the Sky Arkali is not waterproof, our feet stayed dry on a hike in light rain.

Durability


Your hiking shoes will probably wear faster than any other piece of gear in your hiking arsenal. This makes sense if you consider the weight they are supporting and surfaces they are navigating. A typical pair with a soft EVA midsole lasts between 300-500 miles. If you hike only a few miles a week, it could take you years to get to that point, but ambitious hikers might go through one or two pairs a year. Those with polyurethane (PU) midsoles are expected 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 packs down the midsole and wears down the outsole, so stiffer midsoles (like a dual-density EVA vs. a soft one) and harder rubber soles last longer overall.


While we couldn't put 500 miles on each pair for this review, we did hike in all of them quite extensively on varied terrain and inspected them for signs of damage or potential weak spots. Additionally, we read through online user reviews to identify any consistent wear patterns or complaints. To reduce weight, a lot of midsoles are left almost entirely exposed. Since that material is softer than rubber, it is more prone to catching on vegetation, tearing out, or separating from the upper, and we looked closely for indications of early wear and compression. The most impressive model in terms of expected longevity is the Oboz Sawtooth II. The upper is largely leather with mesh inserts to improve breathability. The seams between these materials are double or triple-stitched with quality craftsmanship, giving us confidence that they will hold up long term. The shoes are burly, and the insole is also one of the best in its class, increasing the life of the footbed. Even if you are using these shoes to hike long distances and with a heavy pack, we expect them to survive the longest among the shoes we tested.

Exposed midsoles are a major weak spot for wear and tear  but help keep the shoes lighter than covering them with rubber.
Exposed midsoles are a major weak spot for wear and tear, but help keep the shoes lighter than covering them with rubber.

We also considered the various materials used in the uppers and how prone they are to snagging, unraveling, or other types of wear. The abrasion-resistant mesh on the La Sportiva Spire GTX is supplemented with PU toe cap and heel surround for added durability. The synthetic upper on the Arc'teryx Aerios FL impressed us with its abrasion resistance as well. Finally, it's always good to examine the toe box, as that's another area that is quick to wear out. It is becoming quite common to see welded overlays on newer models of hiking shoes made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is lighter weight than rubber and quite durable. It helps protect from abrasion but does not provide as much protection from rocks, roots, or other potential toe stubs.

Different types of rubber and reinforced toe caps.
Different types of rubber and reinforced toe caps.

Conclusion


There are some mighty fine hiking shoes available these days, utilizing new and exciting technology to make them lighter and more responsive without compromising stability and support. With so many options available and features to consider, choosing the right pair of hiking shoes can be challenging. We hope we have helped you narrow down your choices and find the right pair for your next adventure, whether that's a hike close to home or an ambitious multi-day adventure.

Hard at work  testing hiking shoes to help you find the right pair on the first try.
Hard at work, testing hiking shoes to help you find the right pair on the first try.

Laurel Hunter & Cam McKenzie Ring