Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Hiking Shoes for Women

Friday May 20, 2022

For our testing, we wore these hiking shoes all over the Front Range in Colorado, the badlands in Central Oregon, and the desert Southwest as winter transitioned to spring and again as summer transitioned to fall. We tested them in snow showers, rainstorms, and perfect sunny days. We hiked 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 mountains, and traversed the high desert. Shoes were tested and rated on the following metrics: Comfort, Support, Traction, Water Resistance, Weight, and Durability. Consider this your guide to how we tested and scored shoes according to each metric to help you in your buying decision.

hiking shoes womens - one of the traction tests: mossy rock slabs and wet logs.
One of the traction tests: mossy rock slabs and wet logs.
Credit: Laurel Hunter

Comfort


When determining the comfort of a hiking shoe, we compared the comfort level of the midsole, in addition to considering how each aspect of the shoe would contribute to a plush or uncomfortable fit while hiking. We hiked with light day packs and with heavier, 20- to 30-lb packs to find the differences and limits in each pair. Some models were more comfortable because they favored 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; likewise, a wide shoe will feel too loose or spacious for a narrow foot. We made notes about whether the tongue sat wonky over our instep, whether it was challenging to adjust the laces, and whether the heel cup was too big or bit into our ankles. However, some of these variables may be specific to the shape of your foot. Our goal was for this rating to reflect something we all experience regardless of foot shape. We made notes about these things, but we tried to consider comfort from as neutral a position as possible. With that being said, we do make recommendations for the shape of foot each model will best accommodate.

hiking shoes womens - we consider the shape of the shoes, in addition to the padding and...
We consider the shape of the shoes, in addition to the padding and midsole cushioning they offer.
Credit: Jared Ross

Support


For support, we looked at several components of the shoe: the arch support (both internal as well as 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. We rated the lateral support based on hiking experience (did the sole collapse 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 wet towel - to determine stiffness. Testing for lateral stiffness indicates how much side-to-side support a shoe will offer when you're traveling on uneven ground, especially when your feet are fatigued. We also evaluate the flexibility of the forefoot. Too much flexibility and the balls of your feet will fatigue from too much flexion. Too little flexibility and the front end of your shoe won't be as grippy. Finally, we evaluated the lacing and adjustability of each pair, which determines how effectively we can secure our ankles and minimize heel lift.

hiking shoes womens - lots of technology wrap the x ultra to add additional support, which...
Lots of technology wrap the X Ultra to add additional support, which make it feel almost like a custom-fit shoe.
Credit: Laurel Hunter

Traction


There are several factors that go into our traction score. A hiking shoe should provide traction on a variety of terrain, whether moving uphill, downhill, or traveling on off-camber surfaces. We noted if there were any slippage issues on the trails. Then we 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.

hiking shoes womens - we walked on granite slabs to test the traction of each of the shoes.
We walked on granite slabs to test the traction of each of the shoes.
Credit: Jared Ross

Water Resistance


We tested these shoes around Fort Collins, Colorado, and Bend, Oregon, in all kinds of weather. There were plenty of rainy (even snowy) mornings, wet bushes, soggy trails, and steep muddy hills, and trails covered in wind-blown snow to help determine water resistance. In addition to testing the shoes in the field, we evaluated water resistance by wearing fresh socks and then submerging each pair of shoes in three inches of water for ten minutes. At the beginning and end of this test, we weighed the shoes to determine whether and how much moisture the shoes absorbed while in the water. For the non-waterproof models, we also made note of how long it took for the shoes to dry.

hiking shoes womens - our bucket test meant wearing each pair of shoes in 3 inches of...
Our bucket test meant wearing each pair of shoes in 3 inches of water for a minimum of ten minutes to check for leakage. The dog was an essential helper.
Credit: Laurel Hunter

Weight


Manufacturers state their product's weight in a variety of shoe sizes, so we weighed each pair on a scale to have a relative measurement that we could compare. Lighter shoes tend to create less fatigue over time and can be more agile on faster hikes. However, they also tend to be less durable, supportive, and stable for longer hikes. Fortunately, as technology advances manufacturers have incorporated lighter-weight materials that offer excellent support and performance.

hiking shoes womens - weighing the shoes before and after the bucket test shows how much...
Weighing the shoes before and after the bucket test shows how much water the shoe absorbs when wet.
Credit: Laurel Hunter

Durability


We hiked hundreds of miles and thousands of vertical feet over the course of the many weeks to test these shoes. That said, most hiking shoes fail around 300-500 miles, which we could not achieve in our testing time frame with this many pairs of shoes. We did closely examine each pair for signs of wear or weak spots and also researched online user reviews to see if there were any consistent patterns of wear or weakness. For models that have been around for a few years, 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.

hiking shoes womens - we test hiking shoes on sharp rocks, steep trails, and rugged...
We test hiking shoes on sharp rocks, steep trails, and rugged terrain to evaluate the durability of each pair of shoes.
Credit: Laurel Hunter

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