The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Hiking Shoes for Women

Thursday October 24, 2019

For our testing, we hiked around Bend, Oregon, as winter transitioned to spring and again as summer transitioned to fall, through snow showers, rainstorms, and perfect sunny days. We tested these shoes on ice, snow, mud, sand, rock, and dirt. We put dozens of miles on each pair, comparing them back to back on short loops, and donning backpacks to see how they fared with weight on longer treks. We hiked up scree-covered buttes and traversed the high desert. Shoes were tested and rated on the following metrics: Comfort, Support, Traction, Water Resistance, Weight, and Durability. Here is how we specifically scored and tested each metric.

One of the traction tests: mossy rock slabs and wet logs.
One of the traction tests: mossy rock slabs and wet logs.

Comfort


When determining the comfort of a hiking shoe, we primarily compared the comfort level of the midsole while hiking. We hiked with light day packs and with heavier, 20-30 lb packs to find the differences and limits in each pair. Some models are more comfortable because they favor the shape of one person's foot over another. For example, a narrower shoe will likely feel too tight for someone with a wider foot. We did note if there are pressure points from the laces or tongue and if our toes fell asleep, but our goal is for the rating to reflect something that we all experience regardless of foot shape. With that being said, we also make recommendations for what shape of foot each model will work best accommodate.

A lot goes into making a shoe that is comfortable. Our experts spent over a dozen miles in each pair to suss out the details.
A lot goes into making a shoe that is comfortable. Our experts spent over a dozen miles in each pair to suss out the details.

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. Arch support is somewhat relative to the shape of each foot; too much can make a shoe uncomfortable for those with high volume feet. However, a good hiking shoe should provide some foot support to prevent fatigue and 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 - in a motion similar to wringing out a towel - to determine stiffness. Finally, we evaluated the lacing and adjustability on each pair, which affects how effectively we can secure our ankles and minimize heel lift.

The Hoka One One Sky Arkali has an extra heel strap for maximum adjustability.
The Hoka One One Sky Arkali has an extra heel strap for maximum adjustability.

Traction


There are also several aspects that go into our traction score. A hiking shoe should provide traction on a variety of terrain, both going uphill and downhill, and on off-camber surfaces. We noted if we had any slippage issues on the trails, and then took all the shoes out at the same time and went up, down, and across rock slabs, wet logs, and rubbly cinder cones in each pair. We noted how sticky, soft or hard, the rubber was, and the effectiveness of the tread pattern on different surfaces.

Mossy rocks are always a traction nightmare  but some shoes  like the Salomon X Ultra 3  fared quite well.
Mossy rocks are always a traction nightmare, but some shoes, like the Salomon X Ultra 3, fared quite well.

Water Resistance


We tested these shoes around Bend, Oregon, which is notorious for moody and unpredictable weather. There were plenty of rainy (even snowy) mornings, wet bushes, and mud puddles to help determine water resistance. We also performed a ten-minute bucket test with each pair to determine the effectiveness of the waterproof liner, weighing the shoes before and after to see how much moisture the uppers absorbed.

Our bucket test meant wearing each pairs of shoes in 3 inches of water for a minimum of ten minutes to check for leakage. The dog was helping!
Our bucket test meant wearing each pairs of shoes in 3 inches of water for a minimum of ten minutes to check for leakage. The dog was helping!

Weight


Manufacturers state their product's weight in a variety of shoe sizes, so we weighed each pair on a calibrated scale to have a relative measurement that we could compare. Lighter shoes tend to create less fatigue over time and can be more agile for fast hikes.

Weighing the shoes before and after the bucket test shows how much water the shoe absorbs when wet.
Weighing the shoes before and after the bucket test shows how much water the shoe absorbs when wet.

Durability


While we hiked many hours, hundreds of miles and thousands of vertical feet in our field testing of these shoes, most hiking shoes fail around 300-500 miles, which we could not achieve in our testing time frame with this many pairs of shoes. However, we examined each pair closely for any signs of wear or weak spots and also researched 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 in the long term.

Testing on sharp rocks and steep trails help us evaluate durability of a hiking shoe.
Testing on sharp rocks and steep trails help us evaluate durability of a hiking shoe.