Hiking shoes and boots, like people, have different personalities. And just as you might not bring your party-hardy pal to a candlelit piano recital, you don’t want to make the mistake of wearing nonwaterproof shoes on a soggy trail.
The best hiking shoes or boots for you will depend on what types of trails and hikes you usually take. For example, if most of your hikes are short, a lightweight trail runner might be all you need; for multiday treks and through-hikes, a more heavy-duty over-ankle hiking boot is probably better. If you’re a casual hiker, you may prioritize style; if you live in a wet climate, anything without Gore-Tex could be a no-go.
If you’re not sure where to start, our guide to the best women’s hiking shoes and boots will help you match the right shoe to the right adventure.
What to look for in a hiking shoe or boot
The right hiking boot or shoe depends on the kind of hiker you are, the climate you’ll be hiking in, and the type of hike you’ll be doing. Here are features to consider when shopping for the perfect hiking footwear:
- Style. A classic hiking boot will give you more stability and ankle protection and is ideal for long treks and serious backpacking. However, a trail runner will be lighter and more agile and is often more than enough for day hikes or walks on well-worn trails.
- Weight. Heavier boots can protect your feet more, but they’ll also weigh them down and add bulk to your bag when you pack.
- Material. Most shoes are made from leather or lightweight, synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester, or a combination of both. Full leather shoes tend to be the most durable and long-lasting, but they aren’t as lightweight and breathable as synthetics. Leather may be great for cold hikes but less ideal for a hot day in the desert.
- Cut. Hiking shoes come in low-, mid-, or high-cut styles. The lower the cut, the less ankle support your shoe will give you. On well-maintained trails, a low-cut is fine for most people.
- Additional features. If you’ll be hiking in the rain or hopping across streams, you may want a waterproof shoe made with Gore-Tex. Compression EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) midsoles will absorb shock and protect your joints while Vibram soles will give you maximum traction on a variety of surfaces. With hiking boots, these features aren’t just bells and whistles; they’re careful design elements that improve performance and comfort.
- Exchange policy. You won’t know if you’ve found the right fit until you try on your new hiking shoes and take them for a spin. Especially if you’re buying online, make sure to check the brand’s exchange policy in case your shoe doesn’t meet your needs.
1. Mountain Pass by Danner (pictured above)
- Buy now: $370, rei.com
- Style: Hiking boot
- Weight: 2 lb. 6 oz.
- Features: Gore-Tex membrane, Vibram outsoles, full-grain leather
These hiking boots by Danner were a splurge for sure. But after pining over them for years, I figured the nonslip Vibram sole and Gore-Tex waterproof lining meant I could use them on hikes and make them my winter boots in NYC. The black leather with red laces combo is stylish with jeans in the city and doesn’t look out of place with hiking gear on the trails. The thick leather takes a little breaking in, but I can tell these will last me for years. —Lyndsey Matthews, destination news editor
2. Patch by Forsake
- Buy now: $150, forsake.com
- Style: Hiking boot
- Weight: 14 oz.
- Features: Waterproof, compression EVA midsole
The Patch by Forsake has beautiful support, includes tread that grips and prevents slips, and is waterproof. Plus, it just looks cool—a good combination of old-school hiker and street style. I bought a pair specifically because they’re the kind of shoes I can wear on challenging weekend hikes around Mt. Tam, Butano State Park, and other woodsy spaces in the Bay Area. But I can also wear them to dive bars and breweries in San Francisco afterward without looking like I’ve just taken a wrong turn off the Pacific Crest Trail. —Maggie Fuller, associate editor
3. Caldorado III OutDry by Columbia
- Buy now: $109 (was $145), columbia.com
- Style: Trail runner
- Weight: 9.8 oz.
- Features: Waterproof upper, FluidFoam midsole
Yes, Columbia’s Caldorado III is a trail running shoe, but the same proprietary FluidGuide tread that provides stability over rocks and uneven terrain works just as well at a slower pace too. And because it’s designed to be breathable and light enough to not drag down runners, it’s a great hot-weather hiking shoe. Best of all, a special membrane fused to the upper material makes it waterproof. — M.F.
4. Breeze LT GTX by Vasque
- Buy now: Breeze LT, $135, backcountry.com
- Style: Hiking boots
- Weight: 1 lb. 11 oz.
- Features: Waterproof membrane, Vasque traction plus sole
Even if I tried, I doubt I could destroy my Mesa Tek UltraDry hiking boots from Vasque, which have abrasion-resistant mesh, a cushy footbed, and an outsole that provides extraordinary traction, whether you’re scaling a pebbly rock face, standing on a slippery path under a waterfall, or walking on a sidewalk of slushy snow. (This is real experience speaking here, people!)
Mesa Tek UltraDry boots are coated with waterproof suede leather, which means you can hold them under running water and wash any grime right off, and their lightweight design makes them equally suitable for short hikes and long treks. Even better? You can wear these boots right out of the box—no uncomfortable break-in period required.
Although the Mesa Tek is discontinued, Vasque carries a range of high-quality hiking boots and shoes for women. The Breeze style, from Vasque’s most recent line, is like an updated version of the Mesa Tek. —Katherine LaGrave, digital features editor
5. Speedgoat 4 by Hoka One One
- Buy now: $145, zappos.com
- Style: Trail runner
- Weight: 9.2 oz.
- Features: Vibram Megagrip outsole, breathable mesh upper
Runners who prefer trails over the road need specialized shoes with plenty of cushion to protect their feet from roots and rocks and a serious sole that holds up to all kinds of rugged terrain.
The Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 has a Vibram Megagrip high-traction outsole that provides supreme grip, a lightweight foam midsole that supplies cushioning and agility, and open-engineered mesh construction to maximize breathability. Whatever the trail holds—sharp rocks or slippery mud—walking or running in these shoes feels almost like dancing. —Jill K. Robinson, contributor
6. Pyramid GTX by La Sportiva
- Buy now: $189, sportiva.com
- Style: Hiking boots
- Weight: 13.9 oz.
- Features: Vibram soles, waterproof Gore-Tex surround
Shoes that fit well and stay stable while you’re hiking on rocky trails or making your way through a boulder field are a hiker’s best friend. La Sportiva Pyramid GTX shoes are mid-cut, classic-style hiking boots that give your ankle a little more stability, and the Vibram Nano outsole delivers excellent traction in various terrains.
These shoes stick well to granite slabs, packed dirt, loose scree, and mud (no surprise coming from a brand that also makes excellent climbing shoes). With an upper made of hardy leather and Nano Cell Air Mesh, these boots are also durable and breathable.—J.K.R.
7. Z/Cloud X2 by Chaco
- Buy now: $88 (was $109), backcountry.com
- Style: Hiking sandal
- Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz.
- Features: Adjustable fit, Luvseat dual-density PU midsole
When the weather is warm and you’re meandering alongside a cool, sparkling creek, shoes seem almost excessive. Wiggle your toes in Chaco Z/Cloud X2 sandals from Chaco’s Cloud Collection. These are no old-school Chacos. The sandals have a top layer of ultra-soft polyurethane to cushion feet, double-strapped polyester jacquard webbing that wraps around the foot and midsole for a customized fit (a toe loop ensures secure movement), and a ChacoGrip rubber compound in the sole for traction in wet conditions.—J.K.R.
8. Kailash Trek GTX by Scarpa
- Buy now: $249, backcountry.com
- Style: Hiking boot
- Weight: 1 lb. 5.5 oz.
- Features: Waterproof Gore-Tex, Vibram outsole
Backpackers prefer to travel light, but when they have to haul a lot of items in their pack, they need boots that will provide solid support. Scarpa’s Kailash Trek GTX boots support the ankle and offer great protection for hikers without adding a lot of weight to the equation. Vibram soles keep traction on a variety of trail surfaces, and Gore-Tex Performance Comfort Footwear lining combines durable waterproofness and optimized breathability. —J.K.R.
9. Women’s MQM Flex 2 Gore-Tex by Merrell
- Buy now: $140, rei.com
- Style: Hiking shoe
- Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
- Features: Waterproof Gore-Tex, mountain-grade rubber outsoles
Shortly after moving to Seattle, I learned that my trusty East Coast hiking boots weren’t cut out for the Pacific Northwest’s soggy, rugged trails. Fortunately, Merrell’s MQM Flex 2 Gore-Tex shoes were. With a breathable, Gore-Tex waterproof membrane and mesh upper, these shoes kept my feet dry even when the trails weren’t, while a 5 mm lug depth and Quantum Grip rubber outsole provided stability and grip. Best yet, they didn’t feel clunky as I made my way along root-and-rock-dotted paths. —Jessie Beck, SEO manager
This article was originally published in May 2018; it was updated on June 22, 2020, to include current information.