Finding the right pair of hiking boots or hiking sneakers is time-consuming and difficult, though not impossible. In the search for the perfect hiking shoe, there are consequences to picking something based entirely on looks. Hiking footwear isn’t cheap, and if it doesn’t fit properly or fails to meet your unique hiking needs, you will have lost money, wasted time, and put yourself at risk of injury. To help avoid all that, we asked eight experienced female hikers to tell us about their favorite hiking shoes. They agreed that the best pairs are breathable, waterproof, and seriously tractional.
The best hiking boots for women
Three of the hikers we spoke with recommended Keen hiking shoes, including Sophie Radcliffe, an endurance athlete and avid hiker who has switched from traditional hiking boots to something lighter and more versatile. “I don’t wear really heavy, sturdy hiking boots anymore unless I’m doing something that requires them,” says Radcliffe, who instead looks for shoes she can wear for multiple activities. “I always want a shoe that’s really versatile, and it has to be comfortable, lightweight, and flexible. I love my Keen Terradorra waterproof boots not only because they’re fantastic boots that remain comfortable on the trail, but also because the company has a massive commitment to sustainability. They give back to support projects all around the world.”
Jessica Baker does most of her hiking with her two kids in tow, so she isn’t doing the most challenging trails. “My hiking shoe of choice is the Women’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof boots by Merrell. Even though they’re boots, they are super-breathable and keep my feet from overheating,” she says. “Maybe the best thing about them is the fact that they are waterproof. When I find myself hiking through streams or even in the rain, my feet stay completely dry.”
Another pair of waterproof hiking boots came recommended by Lauren Bendinelli, a hiker who lives between Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and stresses the importance of finding the exact right size lest you lose a few toenails. “For my Rocky Mountain hikes, I’m currently loving the Vasque Women’s Talus UltraDry Hiking Boot,” she says. “They’re waterproof — which is essential for hiking in Colorado with all the lakes and rivers — fairly lightweight, still provide some ankle support, and are super-durable. I’ve been wearing them hard for three summers, and they’re holding up great.”
“A lot of instructors are now moving to more lightweight trail-running and hiking shoes from Altra’s Lone Peak line. That’s the new thing,” says an Outward Bound logistics coordinator who splits her time between frigid northern Minnesota and the desert by Big Bend National Park in Texas. We’ve also spoken to her about her favorite outdoor goods.
“If you’re looking for one boot to rule them all, the vintage styling of the Danner Mountain Light is iconic, and the one-piece leather design makes for a sturdy boot that can handle anything from a casual walk around Telluride to a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail,” says Zina Bougri, an account manager at Backcountry. “They’re the boots Reese Witherspoon is wearing in the movie Wild. Once these babies mold to your feet, if you’re invested in the process, they should be absolutely comfortable within a month, if not just a few weeks.”
The best low-top hiking boots and hiking sneakers for women
Anita Mahaffey is one of the three women who recommended Keen hiking shoes. She has hiked trails from Machu Picchu to Zion National park to the Swiss Alps and owns both high- and low-tops from the brand. “I was just telling my husband today that they feel like slippers,” she says. “I’m sure they are not great for everyone, but I love them. I have a female hiking group with about eight women, and half of them also wear Keen boots.”
“The Vasque Breeze LT are my new favorite go-to boot right now” said Stephanie Harper who is based in Asheville, North Carolina and spends most weekends with her husband and 4 kids hiking and camping. “They’re lightweight and form to your foot without risking stability and they feel like I’m wearing tennis shoes. I love the colors and they go with practically anything I wear.”
“If I decide to do some thru-hiking, I choose Altra Lone Peak trail runners,” says Jennifer West, who is a positive-movement coach and EGCM/MCT-MovNat Level 2 trainer. “First, they’re what’s called ‘zero drop,’ meaning the elevation of the toe of my foot in the shoe is the same elevation as the heel,” she says. “This gives me a more natural gait and is so much better for the knees, back, and hips. They also have a wide toe box. Plus, unlike other trail runners, these shoes have lots of cushioning, which protects the soles of my feet from bruising over long distances and really rugged terrain. Lastly, they have crazy-good lugs for gripping the trail. I actually have to admit that when I was looking at these shoes I noticed that ‘Trail Claws’ was printed on the lugs, and I really liked that.”
West also recommends these shoes from New Balance, saying, “My favorite style of shoes for all my hiking needs are trail runners. For shorter hikes of eight miles or less, I prefer minimal shoes, and my favorites are New Balance 10v1 trail-running shoes. The treads, although minimal, really grab the rock but don’t hold on to mud. They have a minimal sole, so I’m less likely to roll my ankle (it feels more like being barefoot), and I can feel the surface I’m hiking on, which I like. These shoes have that same wide toe box, so my toes can help to balance me better. I also use these shoes for obstacle-course racing because they drain water well.”
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