Seeking women's hiking shoes? In 9 years, our all-female hiking team has tested 44 pairs. This review compares the best 14 contenders of 2021. Our 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 carry loaded packs, consider all-day comfort, and evaluate traction over and through wet and slippery surfaces. From variable foot shapes to varied trail surfaces, we look at it all and rank each shoe according to our on-trail experiences. Over months of side-by-side comparison and testing, we tease apart the differences between these shoes and share our findings to help you pinpoint your perfect pair.Related: Best Hiking Boots for Women of 2021
Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2021
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|Pros||Durable, waterproof||Lightweight, generous toe box, flexible upper||Comfortable, adjustable heel/ankle, great traction||Lightweight, breathable, affordable|
|Cons||Takes some breaking in, hard to get a comfortable fit, absorb water||Lacks support, not completely waterproof, medium traction||Not waterproof, runs wide, wild style may not be for everyone||Not waterproof, lacks support|
|Bottom Line||A durable shoe with lots of great qualities that will work best for women with wider feet||The Vaya is a very lightweight and roomy hiking shoe suitable for day hikes but also has lower water resistance||HOKA owns the comfort metric. The Sky Arkali is both cushioned and responsive, and offers a dialed in fit, making it our Top Pick for Comfort||The MQM Flex is a lightweight and breathable hiking shoe that works for short and mellow hikes in dry climates|
|Rating Categories||Keen Ridge Flex Wat...||Salomon Vaya Low GTX||Hoka One One Sky Ar...||Merrell MQM Flex 2 Low|
|Water Resistance (15%)|
|Specs||Keen Ridge Flex Wat...||Salomon Vaya Low GTX||Hoka One One Sky Ar...||Merrell MQM Flex 2 Low|
|Weight per Pair (Size 7)||1.73 lbs||1.22 lbs||1.69 lbs||1.22 lbs|
|Outsole||KEEN.ALL-TERRAIN||Contragrip||Vibram Megagrip Hi-traction with 5mm lugs||M Select Grip|
Best Overall Women's Hiking Shoe
La Sportiva Spire GTX - Women's
The La Sportiva Spire GTX hiking shoes quickly became a surprise favorite in our search for the best women's hiking shoes. They look something like a trail runner—fairly light and technical rather than a rugged hiker. But the more we wore them, we realized how capable they are for all kinds of hiking objectives. The upper is both flexible and comfortable. The midsole is solid and supportive. The traction is bomber. The happiest surprise with the Spire is the Gore-Tex Surround waterproof liner, which is also breathable. Yes, you can wear these on a trail run, but they shine on multi-day hikes and light-and-fast mountain adventures. For scrambling off-trail, peak-bagging, or enjoying any trail we came across, these hikers are exceptional.
All the technology that makes this shoe so impressive, however, comes at a price. As one of the priciest options we tested, this shoe is may not be an affordable option for many. For those planning 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
The Merrell Moab 2 WP is a tried and true hiking shoe that continues to deliver year after year. It is relatively affordable, reasonably lightweight, and received high 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 controlled tests. Indeed, this shoe does well in every category and at an excellent price.
The Moab 2 was found to be somewhat stiff on our initial wearing. However, they grew much more comfortable after a couple of short hikes. 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 of the majority of trails.
Read review: Merrell Moab 2 WP - Women's
Best Aggressive Shoes
Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex - Women's
The Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex is the latest update in the X Ultra series and it has some notable changes, including a new fit and new materials. It has shed significant weight, added stability, and our testers love it. The toe box is noticeably roomier for added comfort, while the snug support of the upper holds the foot in place, preventing any sloppy feelings in the shoe. The cinching Quicklace system bucks traditional laces, allowing these shoes to go on and off in seconds, and we like them. Salomon uses a lot of proprietary tech terms to describe why their shoes offer support and comfort. As we interpret it, after miles of hiking, the lightweight upper is strategically reinforced with a variety of materials to aid in both flex and stability. Contagrip soles provided excellent traction on loose scree and wet rocks. The Gore-Tex liner proved to be fully waterproof in our tests.
We have some concerns about durability, as a Quicklace storage pocket tore almost immediately, and we noted some signs of compression in the midsole. The comfort and cushion of the midsole are a trade-off for underfoot support and protection, and this wouldn't be our go-to shoe for multi-day expeditions that require a heavy pack. However, it shines for light and fast adventures that require agility and speed. This model runs long and we suggest ordering a half size down from your normal size. This is an all-around, hard-charging option that experienced and casual hikers alike will appreciate. Priced moderately, too, this is a great alternative to the more expensive La Sportiva Spire.
Read review: Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex - Women's
Best Lightweight Model
Arc'teryx Aerios FL - Women's
The Arc'teryx Aerios FL is an incredibly lightweight and performance-oriented hiking shoe in a clean and minimalist style. It achieves this appearance with welds instead of stitching, and mono-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 compressed EVA midsoles' support for light hiking, we do not consider them supportive enough for days when a heavy pack is required. We also wouldn't choose this shoe for multi-day trips or hikes on extreme terrain because of the upper's lightweight nature. 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
Hoka One One Sky Arkali - Women's
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 and a secure 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 in these shoes.
As is typical with 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. A thicker sock may be needed. The Sky Arkali has no liner in the upper and is therefore not waterproof (by design). Still, we found they kept our feet dry on a drizzly hike. Lacking a waterproof liner, the Sky Arkali is quite breathable, however, adding to its overall supreme comfort. For hiking in dry weather and climates, if you place comfort and cushioning above all else, these shoes are for you.
Read review: Hoka One One Sky Arkali - Women's
Best for the Long Haul
Oboz Sawtooth II Low BDry - Women's
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 room in the toe box to allow our toes to wiggle and splay. The shape of the upper, combined with the insole's shape, holds the heel perfectly in place, minimizing lifting and rubbing.
The only thing we don't love about the Sawtooth II is its weight. It's the heaviest shoe we tested, and in our bucket test, though it proved to be waterproof, the leather upper also absorbed a measurable amount of water, making it even 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
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 firsthand 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.
Before testing begins, we research the breadth of options available. After scouring the market and vetting a huge variety of manufacturers and models, we purchase all shoes discussed here at retail price. Our selection includes models which we consider the most promising, innovative, intriguing, and high-value hiking shoes available. We then test our selected models for months, hiking dozens of miles in each pair. We wear them in various terrain, from soft trails in the forest to scree-covered buttes to rocky scrambles. We assess support while wearing a light daypack and a heavier 20-30 pound load, check traction by wearing them back to back on wet and technical scrambles, and carefully evaluate all of their positive and negative aspects along the way.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Shoes for Women
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 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.
Hiking, at its core, is a pretty basic activity that requires much less gear than many sports. However, a good pair of hiking shoes, tailored to your outdoor objectives, is essential. Back in the day, you could buy one pair of leather hiking boots that would last a decade or two, while current styles of hiking shoes typically last a fraction of that time. While these shoes benefit from lighter materials and innovative technology, people who hike a lot may blow through one or even two pairs a year. While the shoes in this review may not be outrageously expensive, the dollars add 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.
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 it'll do just fine for most people and their hiking objectives. One tip for finding value in hiking shoes is to consider if you 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 somewhat less expensive than their water-resistant counterparts. As a bonus, non-lined shoes almost always have better breathability, too, which is great for warm-weather hiking.
It is hard to overstate the importance of comfort when it comes to hiking footwear. Your feet are your driver on the trail, navigating roots, rocks, and rugged terrain, so it is essential to have shoes that are cushioned and comfortable. Even a short hike can be unpleasant in an uncomfortable shoe, let alone a weeklong through-hike in remote mountains. Imagine trying to take in the view when all you can think about are the hotspots forming on your toes. Comfortable shoes are well-padded, responsive, supportive, and correctly sized. Of course, a good fit is important and highly subjective, as a shoe that fits one person's long and narrow feet might not feel so great to someone who has wider feet. Too loose or too tight, and you'll end up with blisters, pressure points, and sores. While we attempt to state which models will work best for a certain shape of foot or height of the arch, fit influences a shoe's comfort score less than 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, the Salomon X Ultra 4, Oboz Sawtooth II, and the Hoka Sky Arkali. These shoes have ample cushioning without being soft. One telltale sign of a comfortable shoe is the amount of fatigue and soreness you feel in your feet at the end of the day. The Hoka model has super thick midsoles to cushion your ride. It absorbs the impact of each step without feeling 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. 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 X Ultra 4 features soft materials that flex while technical overlays add support, making a shoe that is remarkably agile and comfortable.
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 Merrell MQM Flex, have little to no forefoot padding, and that affected our overall comfort.
Leather shoes may require a few hikes to “break in,” as the material needs to be worked to conform with your foot. Conversely, shoes made with synthetic materials tend to be more comfortable out of the box, and more easily fitted to individual feet with their laces. Occasionally, a stiffer material, like that of the Adidas Terrex Swift R3 needs a few hikes to soften up. We note which shoes do and do not soften with wear, and recommend wearing any new shoe on a couple of short jaunts to dial in lacing and comfort before taking them out for an epic adventure where hot spots and blisters can be a problem.
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. These models are worth considering by those who need or prefer more width in their hiking shoes.
Support and stability come from several features, including arch support, lateral stability, and stiffness of the sole, as well as how effectively one can adjust the shoe with the lacing system. We looked at each feature and evaluated the different models on how they performed relative to each other. Keep in mind that ankle-high hiking shoes do not offer the same amount of support as a full boot. Our scores do not account for the support you would get from a boot that has a higher cuff height. If your ankles are unstable or you plan to hike with a heavy pack on a very long hike, consider a full boot (often called "Mid" height).
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 in a shoe can feel brutal to someone with medium to high arches, especially during an all-day hike. The arch support is often a feature of the insole, which can be replaced with after-market insoles that suit your foot. If you love every other feature of a specific shoe but want more arch support, this is worth considering. However, we evaluated these models with their stock insoles.
Some models have excellent arch support, like the Oboz Sawtooth II, Oboz Arete Low BDry, La Sportiva Spire GTX, and Keen Ridge Flex. 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.
Lateral stability is also crucial in a hiking shoe because hiking rarely happens on totally manicured terrain. If you are boulder hopping, scrambling, or hiking in mixed or rough terrain, you need a stable shoe. Stability results from a combination of 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. Of course, 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. Salomon's X Ultra 4 impressed us with its ample flexibility while providing ankle and pronation support via overlays on the outside of the upper. The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX has excellent support in the midsole and uses stiff fabric in the upper for additional support. The La Sportiva Spire GTX offers slightly less flexibility but greater protection underfoot and incredible stability with limited side-to-side play. The Keen Ridge Flex utilizes unique rubber bellows above the toes to increase forefoot flexibility without sacrificing stability.
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, allowing for more adjustment in the ankle opening to create a snug fit and minimize 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 Sky Arkali incorporates 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.
Traction is a critical factor for 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. 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 shoes on snow, ice patches, rocky slabs, roots, wet logs and boulders, loose lava scree, and any surface you might encounter on a big hike. 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 Salomon X Ultra 4, theMerrell Moab 2 WP, the Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX, and the Oboz Sawtooth II. 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, X Ultra 4, Swift R3, and Arc'teryx Aerios all have this outsole feature.
When it comes to traction on rock, the greatest impact comes from the rubber stickiness rather than the shape of the lugs. Hard and stiff rubber doesn't grip as well as softer and more pliable formulations. The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX is a top performer on bare rock, as is the La Sportiva Spire GTX. The rubber is soft and sticky, and we scrambled with confidence all over rocky slabs in both of these models. 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 Salomon X Ultra 4 has a sweet spot between flexion and stability that works well for fast and aggressive hiking.
Light hiking gear can often lead to a more enjoyable experience on the trail. New technologies are being utilized that are allowing for hiking shoes to be almost as light as trail running shoes without sacrificing the protection needed for hiking.
There is about a half a pound difference between the heaviest and lightest pair of shoes in our test group. This extra 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 US Women), falls almost exactly in the middle. The upper is less burly than the heaviest models, but they are an almost perfect union of performance and weight by taking advantage of the best and latest technology.
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 more foot support and less foot fatigue at the end of the day. Sometimes, lighter materials lead to less comfortable, stable, and durable shoes. The Salomon OUTline (1.19 lbs) is lightweight 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 we found it to be a durable and comfortable choice for longer treks. Our favorite aspect of the Lowa Locarno is that it consists of a durable nubuck leather upper while weighing less (1.56 lbs) than all other leather options tested, and some models with synthetic uppers, too.
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. We kept reaching for the Aerios for 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 fast packing, mountain running, or tackling big hikes in a day, the Salomon X Ultra 4 is a great option. At 1.37 lbs for the pair (size 7), it weighs less than the Spire, and the aggressive and dependable tread allow for confident speed on tricky terrain.
Many hiking shoes come in both a waterproof and a non-waterproof model. The best option for you depends on the climate and terrain where you plan to hike. Do you live in the desert and do everything you can to avoid hiking in the rain? Are your hikes primarily shorter and close to home? You may want to pass on the Gore-Tex and opt for a pair with a mesh lining instead. However, most hiking destinations have unpredictable weather, and an afternoon rainstorm far from the trailhead can make for a soggy, uncomfortable, and even painful hike.
Technology is improving on waterproof membranes, allowing them to transfer heat and sweat away from your feet and out of the shoe, but they are inevitably less breathable than a shoe without one. The best we have seen yet is featured in the 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 a Gore-Tex Surround liner that promotes breathability while maintaining its water resistance. The Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX, on the other hand, while being perfectly waterproof, is not nearly as breathable and our feet got rather toasty while hiking, especially in the warmest days of summer. On a cold, wet day, the Terrex Swift is an excellent choice. If you live in a wet climate or are planning any trip into the mountains, a waterproof shoe is typically a necessity. We performed various tests to determine water resistance, including splashing around in streams and standing in a bucket filled with 3 inches of water for a 10-minute soak test. Most of the models that we tested claim to be waterproof, but we also included a few non-waterproof models, including the Merrell MQM Flex and the Hoka Sky Arkali.
What became immediately apparent from our soak test is that the waterproof barriers and technology are really good these days. Almost all the shoes that claim to be waterproof are. While the bucket test isn't a replica of what happens in a real-world stream crossing, it does help to illustrate that if water is getting into your waterproof shoes when crossing a stream, it's most likely coming in from the ankle opening and not the upper or even the gusseted tongues.
To further refine our water-resistance score, we evaluated how much water the shoes absorbed during the 10-minute bucket test by weighing them before and after being dunked. Shoes that absorb water will be heavier, even if they do keep your feet dry. Imagine hiking on a drizzly day or through wet grass where the steady amount of moisture can saturate. If the upper sheds water with no absorption, that will maintain the shoes' dry weight while keeping your feet drier and more comfortable. Though hiking shoes are inherently providing less coverage than a full boot, we also measured how high off the ground the ankle opening sits, as a higher ankle opening better protects from random splashes of water.
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, theMerrell MQM Flex, and the Hoka 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 and dew-covered vegetation.
Hiking shoes are the buffer between you (and all your gear) on rough, rugged, and abrasive terrain, so it's no surprise that they will wear out faster than the rest of your hiking gear. The typical shoe with a soft EVA midsole lasts between 300-500 miles, depending on the structure of the shoe, as well as where you hike, how you walk, and how much weight you carry. If you are a casual hiker, it might take years for your shoes to break down. Ambitious hikers, however, may go through one or more pairs a year. Shoes with a polyurethane (PU) midsole are expected to last up to 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 time does not allow for us to put 500 miles on all the models in this review, each pair was worn extensively in a variety of terrain. We closely inspected the shoes for damage, areas of potential weakness, or premature wear and compression. To make shoes lighter, some midsoles are left almost entirely exposed. Since that material is softer than rubber, it is more prone to snagging on vegetation, tearing, or even pulling away from the upper. If you hike in very brushy terrain, you may see more of this kind of damage than if you are out on desert slabs.
In addition to the soles, we look closely at the uppers. Leather tends to have the greatest longevity, especially when it is double-stitched. Synthetic materials are lighter weight and more breathable than leather, but our experience shows that they are more vulnerable to tearing or cracking much earlier than leather breaks down. We closely inspect seams, eyelets, toe boxes, and areas of pressure for any indication of failure, de-lamination, or wear. The abrasion-resistant mesh on the La Sportiva Spire GTX is supplemented with a polyurethane toe cap and heel surround for added durability. The synthetic upper on the Arc'teryx Aerios FL also impressed us with its toughness. Some models have welded overlays, made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which adds durability while being much lighter weight than rubber. It protects from abrasion but will not provide as much protection from rocks, roots, or other potential toe-stubbing hazards.
The most impressive model in terms of expected life span is the Oboz Sawtooth II. Though the upper is constructed primarily of durable leather, there are several mesh inserts to improve breathability. The seams holding these materials together are double or triple-stitched with no indications of pulling or unraveling, 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 footbed's life. Even if you are using these shoes for hiking long distances and with a heavy pack, we expect them to perform the longest among the shoes we tested. Leather shoes tend to be a better investment for their longevity, though they come with a weight and bulk penalty.
There are so many innovative and exciting technologies being used in hiking shoes these days, making shoes lighter and more responsive without sacrificing support or stability. New features and models can be overwhelming to compare without putting in miles to test them. This review should help you narrow down the options and find the right hiking shoe for any adventure, whether you are exploring backyard trails or planning an epic adventure.
— Laurel Hunter & Cam McKenzie Ring
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