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Women’s hiking boots represent a revolution in footwear design.
When true “hiking boots” began to be built and marketed to climbers in the Italian Alps just after World War I, women had to contend with men’s sizes and fit issues. Or they had to order a custom-made pair – always a pricey option.
However, from the 1980s forward, as more and more people took to the outdoors, boot makers began marketing directly to women.
Now, hundreds of hiking boots made specifically for women are available.
But their sizing, fit, and durability vary greatly.
How do you narrow down the field to find the best hiking boot to suit your needs?
We know all the options can be overwhelming, so at BestReviews, we did the work for you!
Several factors should be taken into account when choosing women’s hiking boots, and we researched them all, highlighting the most important considerations below.
Keep reading to learn the common types of hiking boots, the best ways to determine which boot is for you, and how to customize your boots to fit just right.
We researched all the considerations and factors that you should take into account when choosing hiking boots.
If you're ready to buy a new pair, please see our product recommendations above.
If you'd like to learn more about hiking boots and our experiences with them, have a read!
Amy is an outdoor addict who began her love affair with nature as a tiny 3-year-old running the trails of Nova Scotia with boundless energy. She has continued to live in close harmony with the outside world ever since, growing up hiking and camping on the East Coast. She moved to Los Angeles after college and lost no time exploring the infinite adventure opportunities that the Southwest offers. She is now a backpacking guide with TSX Challenge on their Eastern Sierra and Grand Canyon routes. She adores nerding out about anything to do with gear, camping, or backpacking in general.
There is a tremendous variety of women’s hiking boot models to choose from, but you’ll generally see three main types in retail stores: hiking shoes, day hikers, and backpacking boots.
All have a stiff rubber sole and plenty of lugs (those knobby rubber protrusions from the sole) to ensure a good grip on many types of terrain. Their weight can vary, but even high-cut, heavy-duty mountaineering boots can be rated as “lightweight” depending on the materials used to make them.
Here are the details on the three main types of hiking boots.
Needs and requirements vary greatly from person to person. Hiking shoes work best for me for everything, from day hikes to backpacking. I also know very experienced backpackers who wear only trail runners.
These are generally low-cut shoes with flexible midsoles. They’re much lighter than high-cut, heavy-duty boots and don’t need much walking to be broken in, yet they offer a more rugged build than your standard running shoe.
These are made for short backpacking trips with relatively light loads (around 20 lbs.). They have mid- to high-cut uppers to provide greater ankle support, yet the soles still flex somewhat, and they need little to no time to break in.
Higher-end and heavy-duty hiking boots typically have a shank – a stiff piece of composite material or even steel placed between the midsole and outsole – to provide more stability and reduce torsion.
These are high-cut, durable, and built to provide good support when carrying heavy loads (20 to 40 lbs. or more) on longer backpacking trips.
Their midsoles are much stiffer, with a sturdy shank built into the boot that runs along the foot bed, and they usually need ample breaking in to be completely comfortable on long treks.
Backpacking boots are an essential part of the backcountry hiking experience, so a lot of thought should go into choosing the right pair.
Consider your hiking experience, fitness level, and skill level when choosing hiking shoes or boots. Experienced hikers may opt for low-cut hiking shoes even on longer hikes with heavier gear, because they already know what they can comfortably carry. New hikers may want to pick day hikers with good ankle support even for light hikes as they build up their leg strength and endurance.
Different hiking boots are made of different materials. You’ll hear a lot of different advice about the best type of material for hiking boots. But in the end, it’s your decision. Typical hiking boot materials include the following.
Full-grain leather is extremely durable, resistant to abrasion from rocks, and water-resistant. It’s a preferred material for heavy-duty backpacking boots. However, full-grain leather isn’t breathable, and boots of this material take quite a bit of time to break in properly so they’re comfortable to wear. A slightly more flexible option is Nubuck, which is a full-grain leather that has been buffed to look like suede.
Don’t take long hikes in full-grain leather boots right out of the box – they need substantial break-in time to be breathable and comfortable. For several days or weeks before a planned hike, wear new boots around the house (with hiking socks and insoles), around the block, and on short day hikes.
While not as durable or water-resistant as full-grain, this type of leather is lighter, more breathable, and costs less to produce. It’s often paired with nylon or a nylon mesh to make the boot even more breathable. You’ll see split-grain leather used often in light- to midweight hiking boots and shoes. Often, a water-resistant liner is sewn into the leather to increase its water-repelling capability.
Polyester and nylon are increasingly taking the place of real leather. They’re durable, lightweight, and often cost less – but they also wear out much quicker than leather. Other options include materials like waterproof membranes (liners made with Gore-Tex or eVent that help keep your feet dry), higher amounts of insulation for mountaineering boots used in icy conditions, and boots designed to fit crampons for extreme terrain challenges.
Gore-Tex, a water-resistant membrane that lines many of the hiking boots on the market today, was invented (by accident) in 1969. However, it wasn’t added to boots until 1982.
Women’s hiking boots can range widely in cost, but surprisingly, the prices are less about brand and more about their type (lightweight, midweight, heavyweight) and the materials used. That’s great for the consumer, because it means price variations within hiking boot types tend to stay within the same range from brand to brand.
For example, you can expect to pay between $60 and $120 for a pair of good-quality, lightweight, low-cut hiking shoes.
Expect to pay between $80 and $200 for light- to midweight hiking boots, about $200 to $360 for backpacking boots, and $300 to $600 for heavy-duty, insulated mountaineering boots.
If your hiking boots are really wet, stuff some newspaper or clean rags into the toe box as they dry. This can help absorb moisture inside the boots and prevent mildew. Change the paper every day until the boots are completely dry.
Picking the right women’s hiking boot starts with a bit of introspection. Ask yourself these questions before shopping:
Will I wear these boots on day hikes, multi-day hiking trips, or just around town?
What’s my hiking style? Do I prefer walking, climbing, or leisurely ambling?
How heavy is the backpack I’ll be carrying with these boots?
What are the trail conditions in the areas I’ll be hiking?
Will I be spending time in a wet environment (from rain or frequent water crossings)?
What time of year will I be hiking?
If you plan to hike for several days in a wet environment, or if you anticipate wading through a lot of river crossings, consider lighter day hikers or low-cut hiking shoes, which will dry out more quickly overnight than heavy-duty, all-leather boots.
While cost is an important consideration, hobbling around camp after a day in poorly fit, unsupportive boots will make you question why you didn’t just shell out the extra $20 to $50 for a better pair.
Now that you’ve got a few pair in mind, what constitutes the best fit? Hikers should experiment with a few different models to get an idea of how each brand sizes their footwear.
Check each manufacturer’s sizing chart online. Measure your feet and match to their guidelines for proper sizing.
If you’re using specialized insoles, insert those in a new boot before trying it on.
To start, leave the boot unlaced. Slip your foot in and slide it as far forward as the boot will allow. Run your hand down to your heel. You should have only about a finger’s width of space between your heel and the back of the boot – any more and the boot will probably be too large.
Make sure your toes have enough wiggle room in the front of the boot, a.k.a. the toe box.
The boot should be snug when laced up, but it shouldn’t feel too tight.
Make sure your heel doesn’t slide up and down inside the boot when you walk around in it.
Watch out for your feet shifting around too much from side to side or from front to back.
Try on hiking boots at the end of the day, when your feet have swollen a bit, and wear a pair of mid-weight hiking socks (or your favorite hiking socks). You’ll find the most comfortable fit this way.
To break in a new pair of hiking boots, especially full-leather and Nubuck boots, take several short hikes first. This is especially important if you plan to take them on a tougher multi-day hike in the near future.
These walks will also help you fine-tune your hiking boots as you adjust the laces, figure out which socks to wear with them, and make sure the overall fit and feel are exactly right.
To get the longest life out of your hiking boots, break them in gently and give them a little bit of TLC after each use.
Cleaning hiking boots will keep them in top condition for years to come, but make sure you use the right cleaning materials for your boot’s material. Smooth, heavy-duty leather can be cleaned with a leather cleaner and treated with leather conditioner. Suede needs a suede-specific cleaner. Nylon and mesh can be cleaned with mild soap and water.
After each hike, knock the mud out of your boot soles, brush off any dirt and debris, and let the boots air-dry overnight in a well-ventilated spot.
You may want to take out the laces and pull out the insoles and air them out as well, especially if you waded through any streams during the hike.
Most women’s hiking boot manufacturers will have specific instructions about cleaning and maintaining their boots, and they may recommend that you use (or avoid) certain cleaning and waterproofing products depending on the type of boot you have. Check the manufacturer’s website for additional care instructions as soon as you purchase your boots.
Q. Should I wear lightweight socks in hot weather with hiking boots?
A. That’s for you to decide. Socks play a big role in fitting your hiking boots properly. If the socks are too thin or made of the wrong material, your feet will slide around inside the boots as you walk. You’ll tire more quickly on the trail, get footsore easily, and could develop blisters and other foot injuries. Try different thicknesses and weaves to find the most comfortable, best-fitting sock for your hiking boots.
That said, you should avoid all-cotton socks at all times of year. Cotton doesn’t do a good job of wicking away moisture, leaving your feet sweaty and more prone to chafing, blisters, and other injuries.
Q. My feet still slide around just a bit in my low-cut hiking shoes, especially at the heel. Do I need to buy a new pair?
A. First, try adjusting your shoe laces. Most hiking and running shoes have two eyelets, side by side, at the top of each shoe. To keep your heel from sliding up, down, or forward, you can use the extra top eyelets to create a “marathon loop” that can be drawn tight to hold your shoe in place around your ankle. Lace your shoes all the way up, and then loosely thread each lace through the second top eyelet, creating a loop on each side. Thread the end of each lace through the opposite loop. Pull the laces snugly, tightening the loops. Then, tie the laces as usual. This will draw the top of the shoe in a bit tighter, locking your heel into place.
Q. I’ve always had trouble with hiking boots irritating the top of my foot. How can I solve this?
A. If you have a high instep and boot laces irritate the top of your foot, simply avoid crossing the laces above your instep using a technique called window lacing. Tie a locking knot – a half-knot sometimes called a surgeon’s knot or overhand knot – just below the section you want to skip. Then run the laces along the side of the boot to the next eyelet. Tie another locking knot above the skipped section, then continue lacing upward as usual. The open section relieves pressure on the top of your foot.
A dizzying array of women’s hiking boots are on the market today. But by narrowing down your search to the type of boot you need based on your planned activity, you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect style and fit to rock the trail. Happy hiking!
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.