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: Best Hiking Boots for Women of 2020
Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2020
Best Overall Women's Hiking Shoe
La Sportiva Spire GTX - Women's
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 a 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. No matter where your experience takes you, 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 priciest 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
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
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 supportive enough for days when a heavy pack is required. Because of the upper's lightweight nature, 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
The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is a hiking shoe built with trail running DNA. While it has a trail runner's look and feel, 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 various 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
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 while getting 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.
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 that 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
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 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 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
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 looking very closely at over 65 different 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 various 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
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.
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 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 the majority of hiking objectives. 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.
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, 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 scenery 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 highly subjective, as a shoe that fits one person's long and narrow feet might not feel that great on someone else with 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.
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.
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 we could adjust the shoe with the lacing system. We looked at each feature and evaluated the different models on how they performed. Keep in mind that hiking shoes, being ankle height, do not offer the same amount of support as a full boot. Our scores are relative to each other and 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, you may 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. 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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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 loose 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.
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 Merrell Moab 2 WP 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 Arc'teryx Aerios FL has a sweet spot between flexion and stability that works well for lightweight 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), 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.
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. 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.
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 tackling big hikes in a day, especially on steep or challenging 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.
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 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, for many hiking destinations weather is unpredictable, and an afternoon rainstorm far from the trailhead can make for a soggy, uncomfortable, and even painful hike.
While the technology in waterproof barriers, like Gore-Tex and eVent, helps transfer heat and sweat away from your foot while keeping rain and snow out, it still leads to hotter feet overall than the breathable mesh liner in a non-waterproof shoe. 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 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 typically a necessity. We did 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 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.
The first thing that became apparent from our soak test is that the waterproof barriers and uppers' technology is 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 shoe 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. Shoes that absorb water will be heavier, even if they do keep your feet dry. Imagine hiking in a light drizzle or through wet grass. If the upper sheds water with no absorption, that will maintain the shoes' dry weight while keeping 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 those scores down even though they are "waterproof."
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.
Considering that your hiking shoes are carrying the weight of your body plus the weight of your pack and supporting you on rough and rugged surfaces, it makes sense that they will wear out faster than the rest of your hiking gear. A typical pair with a soft EVA midsole lasts between 300-500 miles. If you hike only a few miles a week, it might take years for your shoes break down, but ambitious hikers might go through one or two pairs a year. Shoes with polyurethane (PU) midsoles are expected to last longer, 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 we couldn't put 500 miles on each pair for this review, all models were worn extensively on all different kinds of terrain and then evaluated for signs of damage or potential weak areas. 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, and we looked closely for signs of premature wear and compression. The most impressive model in terms of expected life span is the Oboz Sawtooth II. The upper is primarily constructed of durable leather with mesh inserts to improve breathability. The seams holding these materials together are double or triple-stitched with high-quality craft, 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 survive the longest among the shoes we tested.
We also considered the various materials used in the uppers and how prone they are to tearing, 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 also impressed us with its toughness. Finally, we evaluated the toe box, as that's another area that is quick to wear out. Welded overlays are becoming increasingly common on newer models of hiking shoes. These are 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 stubs.
It is a great time to be shopping for your next pair of hiking shoes. With models that utilize exciting new technology, shoes are lighter and more responsive while maintaining high stability and support levels. All of these new features and models, however, can make it challenging to make a selection. 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