The 9 Best Hiking Boots & Trail Shoes For Women
Like many people, in 2020, my appreciation for the outdoors increased tenfold. Not only because it was a blissful sanctuary from my mundane indoor existence but also because in 2020 I moved from New York City to Joshua Tree, California.
While I've always loved hiking, while living in the city, the opportunities were pretty few and far between—excursions outside the concrete jungle were a savored treat. But with my newfound residence just 10 minutes from a National Park (that's a story for another day), suddenly I found myself hiking more than I had in years: trekking through desert terrain, hopping from boulder to boulder, and even putting in some uphill mileage. Plus, by taking just an hour's drive in either direction, I could hike portions of the Pacific Crest Trail in Big Bear or enjoy scenic peaks in Idyllwild.
All this to say, I had plenty of opportunity to put a number of hiking boots to the test. Which brings us to this list: I've compiled some of my favorite trail-tested hiking shoes for women. Each one brings something helpful to the table—to help you summit that mountain or enjoy a nature walk with optimal support and comfort.
Before buying hiking boots.
There's certainly no one-size-fits-all perfect hiking boot. Selecting the best shoe to lace up really depends on the adventure that awaits. "The first step in purchasing a trail shoe should really be to research the trail and read up on what to expect. Before making any purchases, research trail options in your area and find the kinds of trails you want to run, and/or familiarize yourself with the trail you've already set your heart on conquering," says Meaghan Praznik, head of communications at AllTrails (a company with excellent resources for scoping those trails, FYI).
From there, a shoe needs to be specific to you and your needs. "What works well for your partner or BFF isn't necessarily going to work well for you," says Praznik. "Likewise, what works well on a hot and dusty trail in August may not be a good option for a cool and wet trail later in the year."
While the right hiking boot is very individual, there are some key factors to consider:
How we picked:
We chose shoes that are comfortable from the get-go. While a hiking boot might require a bit of breaking-in, your shoe should feel comfortable the moment you try it on.
We prioritized hiking boots that have a consideration for terrain and the elements. That might mean features like sturdy Vibram outsoles; GORE-TEX waterproof technology; thick, strategically placed lugs; and more.
We selected shoes that will offer enough support for the trail at hand.
We chose shoes that are built to last, with high-quality, sturdy materials.
mbg's pick for the best hiking boots for women:
Best value: Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof
- Ankle support
- Out-of-the-box comfort
- Available in wide width
- A bit bulky
There's a reason Merrell Moabs are a cult favorite among outdoor enthusiasts: They're the real deal when it comes to hiking boots. These mid-height waterproof hikers have everything to support your excursion: waterproof yet breathable material; heel and arch cushioning; plus a sturdy Vibram outsole for plenty of traction and grip. I swear by just about every shoe Merrell makes when it comes to outdoor adventuring—and these are no exception.
Best lightweight hiker: Altra LONE PEAK ALL-WTHR MID
- Natural foot shape
- Out-of-the-box comfort
- Thinner outsole
For anyone who likes to feel a little more one with nature, Altra has you covered. The brand has a signature FootShape design, which is meant to accommodate the natural shape of your foot. While the sole is a bit less robust than other hikers on this list, it does feature durable material and strategically placed lugs, to help provide optimal traction with every step. I'm a huge fan of Altra's road and trail running shoes—and these lightweight hikers certainly lived up to the others.
Best desert boot: Erem Xerocole™ - Women's Desert Hiking Boot
- Durable hand-stitched leather outsole
- High-traction sole
- Made with Earth-friendly materials
- Not waterproof
I was beyond thrilled when this boot hit the market. Why? It's a first-of-its-kind hiking boot designed specifically for desert terrain—which means ultimate protection from the elements (looking at you, pokey cactuses) and high-traction tread to support every dusty step. I also love that this boot is made with "only materials that have a proven, safe, and timely path back to nature," making this a great eco-friendly pick, too.
Best slip-on: Columbia Vitesse™ Slip Shoe
- Bootie construction
- Minimal ankle support
- Not waterproof
- Not for long hikes
Sometimes you just need a no-fuss shoe to throw on before you head out for a nature walk or easy hike. For me, this Columbia slip-on quickly became that shoe. While it's not quite as durable or ultra-supporting as others on this list, the bootie construction provides a decent amount of ankle stability (while keeping rocks and debris out). Plus, it's lightweight, provides plenty of cushion, and has a decently grippy outsole, perfect for those more relaxed outdoor excursions.
Best hiking & running hybrid: Allbirds Trail Runners SWT
- Grippy tread
- Earth-friendly materials
- Out-of-box comfort
- Little ankle support
- Not for long hikes
Similar to Allbirds usual best practices, these running shoes are constructed with earth-friendly materials—such as eucalyptus tree fiber, natural rubber, and recycled plastic bottles. And they certainly don't compromise on performance. When I tested these out, I personally appreciated the wonderful combination of a wide, cushioned outsole and ultra-grippy tread (perfect for scaling desert boulders, I might add). Plus, it has a knit, sock-like "collar" at the top of the shoe that wraps around your ankle and keeps nasty rocks and debris out.
Best classic boot: Danner Mountain Light
- Classic design
- Requires time to break in
For the hiking boot purists, this one's for you. This classic boot has been around for over 30 years, and each pair is still made by hand in Portland, Oregon, constructed with durable full-grain leather. They're also waterproof thanks to GORE-TEX liners. Admittedly, I felt pretty dang cool the first time I took these for a spin—but it's worth noting they do take a couple of wears to really break in and feel amazing on your feet.
- Podiatrist-accepted footbed
- Grippy rubber tread
- Lightweight, breathable
- Not for long hikes
Yes, these aren't technically a pair of boots, but I couldn't resist rounding out this list with a sandal option. These classic, durable shoes feature signature ChacoGrip™ rubber for a high-performing grippy outsole, optimized for traction on wet surfaces. Plus, the footbed is podiatrist-accepted—so you can expect all-day comfort and support during your warm-weather adventure.
Best trail runner: The North Face Flight VECTIV™ Shoes
- Abrasion-resistant upper
- Durable and responsive footbed
- Lugs for a rugged grip across terrain
I first took these shoes for a test run on mountain trails during the middle of winter, and I was immediately impressed by how seamlessly I could hop from dirt path to paved (often icy) road, without losing stability—thanks to the brand's signature Surface Control rubber outsole, and slightly shorter lugs, for grip on various terrain. For all my trail runners out there, the rocker midsole and 3D carbon-fiber plate in this shoe (among other energy-maximizing technology) helped me feel super speedy and light on my feet.
Best ankle support: Vasque TORRE AT GTX
- Ankle support
- GORE-TEX waterproof lining
- Grippy Vibram outsole
- Tall cuff can restrict ankle mobility
This sleek, lightweight boot is ready to support you through any adventure. The mesh upper molds to your ankle for reliable support and features a GORE-TEX waterproof lining, to make sure your feet stay cool and dry in any conditions.
What is the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots?
Hiking shoes are going to be more flexible and generally more lightweight. They're a great option for more mild terrain, while hiking boots may be best for longer, more challenging excursions.
Should hiking boots be tight or loose?
Your foot should feel snug and supported while still able to comfortably wiggle your toes. Experts recommend trying on your shoes with the same socks, insoles, and ankle braces that you plan on wearing, to ensure you get the proper fit.
Can you wear hiking boots for walking?
There's no reason you can't wear hiking boots for more casual walks or off the trail. In some cases, these boots can provide more support than your everyday shoes. That said, the tread may wear out faster on the street, so keep that in mind for the longevity of your boots.
Ultimately, the best hiking boots will meet your precise needs for the trail ahead. That might mean ankle support, thick tread, or waterproofing. Or, you might want to opt for a trail runner or something more minimal to help you conquer your hike. In any case, be sure to do a little research and be mindful with your selection. As Praznik summed it up: "Not only will you be more comfortable with a shoe that's tailored to your trail, but you're going to head out with peace of mind, confidence, and gear selections that will help keep you safe." Now, who's ready to hit the trails?
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Kristine Thomason is the health and fitness director at mindbodygreen. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.