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Updated Aug 26, 2021 1:31 PM

If you’re looking more for agility than defense against precarious terrain, hiking shoes may be the winner, rather than hiking boots, in your personal debate about trail shoes. (That is a thing we all debate, right?)  

Hiking shoes, often marketed as trail running shoes, are generally lighter and slimmer than hiking boots, and are designed with a focus on breathability, versatility, and being ready-to-wear without a break-in period. Hiking boots, on the other hand, prioritize stability, support, and warmth, with heftier soles and ankle protection. They each, in turn, have related downsides: Hiking shoes offer a bit less support and must be replaced more at the pace of running shoes, while hiking boots can be bulky and heavy, and can’t be comfortably worn until broken in.
So how do you choose between hiking shoes and hiking boots? Well, first, consider your terrain. Then, consider the intensity of your hikes, and any past injuries or specific physical needs. We’ll take you through priority considerations for the best women’s hiking shoes  to help you decide.

Features To Consider When Shopping for the Best Women’s Hiking Shoes

How they wear — weight and width — and where they’re worn — terrain and rain — as well, of course, as price are deciding factors in finding the best women’s hiking shoes for you.

Do You Simply Want an All-Around Solid Pair of Women’s Hiking Shoes?

Outdoor generalist in the market for a pair of top hiking shoes for women that offer decent versatility? You’re in luck. As a genre, hiking shoes bridge that chasm between sneakers and hiking boots, and thus are suited for a range of seasons and activities. Most especially, of course, trail hiking. 

Any pair named an overall best hiking shoes for women needs to win out in a few major categories: comfort, breathability, weight, profile, weather-resistance, traction, and style.

Best Women’s Hiking Shoes: KEEN Women’s Terradora 2 Waterproof Low Height Hiking Shoe



Besides their extremely enthusiastic customer reviews, this pair epitomizes what’s great about the hiking shoe, versus boot, in their light weight and sneaker style that doesn’t come with  sacrificing outdoor performance. The sole includes a stability shank, multi-directional lugs, and a traction coating, and the heel-hold and footbed are designed for a secure and precise fit for women’s feet. The range of colors—and highly breathable, though still waterproof, fabric—seal the deal.

Will You Be Hiking in or Near Water, Or in Rainy Climates?

One of the quickest ways to get—and remain—uncomfortable outdoors, no matter the temperature or season, is getting wet. Technology in waterproof hiking essentials has come a long way, and often comes standard, at least to a mid-level of resistance. But if you know you’re going to be hiking in regions with frequent rainfall, or where you’ll be crossing or walking alongside creeks, rivers, or other bodies of water, do future you a favor and prioritize buying waterproof hiking shoes. And for the love of your feet and all they do for you, bring an extra pair or two of socks.

Best Women’s Waterproof Hiking Shoes: Merrell Women’s Altalight Waterproof Hiking Shoe



The waterproof nylon ripstop upper and Merrell’s M Select™ Dry Barrier impermeable membrane keep water out, and the bellows tongue keeps it (and trail debris) from finding a sneaky pathway around. These waterproof hiking shoes are designed with a lightweight exoskeleton to provide support without heft, and an air cushion in the heel adds stability and shock absorption. Also essential for wet conditions? Traction, which these bring in the form of 5mm lugs and Merrell’s Quantum Grip™ rubber outsoles.

Are You Looking for Lightweight Hiking Gear?

One of the biggest selling points for hiking shoes over hiking boots is the lighter weight. Hiking boots, to be sure, are intentionally hefty; it’s a strategic choice, not a flaw, that allows the boots to offer sure footing each time one lands on the ground. But if your terrain is fairly level or non-treacherous, and/or you plan on covering distance with comfort, ease, and relative speed, your hiking gear can reflect that, and there’s no better place to start than from the bottom. And innovations in materials, for soles as well as uppers, insoles, and other supports, mean that you can get lightweight hiking shoes without having to settle for mediocre performance in features like waterproofing and traction.

Best Women’s Lightweight Hiking Shoes: Salomon Women’s Vaya Hiking Shoe



Some brands say lightweight; Salomon does lightweight. These lightweight hiking shoes are kept simple, light, and comfortable, with a flexible-but-supportive construction that wearers celebrate for not needing any break in, and a Contragrip coating on the soles for traction on the trails. The major downside to the Vayas: They’re not waterproof. For a lightweight, waterproof shoe, we’d go for the Salomon Women’s OUTline GTX W Hiking Shoes; they’re a smidge heavier, but at 330g still weigh significantly less than our (still light as far as hikers go!) waterproof pick.

Will You Be Sticking to Maintained Hiking Paths? Consider a Pair of Women’s Trail Shoes

If by hitting the trails you really mean trails, as in, well-maintained and traversed packed-dirt trails, you have even more flexibility (literally, trail hiking shoes can be more flexible) in choosing a pair of women’s trail shoes. 

Trail shoes (versus hiking shoes, although they’re not always clearly distinguished in naming) generally share more traits in common with street sneakers in performance measures—that is: lightweight, low-profile, and breathable—as well as in styling. As such, they’re the most versatile of the bunch, and won’t look terribly out of place running errands or running up to the trailhead.

Best Trail Hiking Shoes for Women: Danner Women’s Trail 2650 3″ Hiking Shoe



These trail hiking shoes feel as if your favorite suede vintage sneaks merged with your favorite hikers. Multi-directional lugs on the soles are coupled with Vibram Megagrip rubber for major traction, and, living up to their reputation, they’ve prioritized durability as well as comfort. The latter of which brings us to the heel. That thing on the outside? It’s the EXO heel; basically, Danner moved the “heel counter” to the outside, so that rather than something rigid (and often blister-inducing) on the inside, you have something that stabilizes more comfortably from the outside. This pair is not waterproof, but others in the Trail 2650 line (named for the number of miles in the Pacific Crest Trail) are. So if you need extra protection from the elements, check out Danner’s women’s trail shoes with Gore-Tex.

Do You Need Wide-Width Hiking Shoes?

Fit matters a great deal with all shoes, and especially shoes that will be keeping you on your feet, moving for an extended period of time, as hiking shoes do. If you generally need wide-width shoes, you should look for the same for your hiking gear. And remember that you’ll be wearing socks, too, and too much constriction with either can not only cause discomfort, but also inhibit blood flow and warmth. 

If you’re not trying on the hiking shoes in person, read size guides and reviews to get a good sense of how sizing works brand-to-brand, especially if the shoes don’t come specifically labeled for wide-width sizes. And even though hiking shoes are generally ready-to-wear, if you have wide feet, you’d be smart to plan for a break-in period to make sure the shoes wear as comfortably as possible.

Best Women’s Wide-Width Hiking Shoes: Merrell Moab 2 Vent Women’s Wide-Width Hiking Shoe



The Merrell Moab 2 was neck-and-neck for our overall top choice, but because of their sizing range, they landed here as the best women’s wide-width hiking shoes. Which is to say: You’re not getting anything less than the best women’s hiking shoes just because your feet are wide. Fit is everything when it comes to outdoors shoes, for comfort as well as circulation, and the wide-width option on all sizes makes sure your foot doesn’t have to pull a Cinderella’s step-sisters to fit inside. The air cushioning, Vibram soles, and breathability will keep you comfortable on the trails. Note that the “Vent” in the name is what it implies, and this pair isn’t waterproof, but Merrell makes a Women’s Moab 2 Waterproof Wide-Width Hiking Shoe, too. 

Look at the other categories but get held back for reasons of width? Fear not. If you want something more on the sneaker side, as far as style goes, the Merrell Women’s Siren Edge 3 Hiking Shoe also comes in wide widths.

Best Budget Hiking Shoes: What You Get for Under $40

If you’re a frequent hiker/walker and want your hiking gear to hold up to long treks over several seasons, and/or you have any musculoskeletal sensitivities or old injuries, hiking shoes are an item worth investing in. But if you’re looking to try out a new hobby, tag along with friends for a weekend, or know you’re heading into conditions likely to doom your shoes (looking at you, smells), you can still get a solid pair for a much lower price.

Best Budget Hiking Shoes for Women: Jabasic Women’s Hiking Shoes



That’s Jabasic, not ya basic, and you’re anything but for saving some paper on your shoes. These cheap hiking shoes do, however, cover the basics: breathable upper, anti-skid sole, cushioned midsole, and toe and heel protection. Reviews of this pair regard them as lightweight, but they aren’t waterproof. So, no, they’re not the tops, but they pull consistently positive reviews, are totally decent style-wise, and will only cost you two 20s.


What you need to know before buying hiking shoes.

Q: Are hiking shoes worth it?

Yes, hiking shoes are worth it. Hiking shoes are significantly more lightweight than hiking boots, and they don’t require a break-in period, or at least not much of one. And unlike sneakers, they have stabilizing elements and traction coating on the soles, and have a trail-ready toe cap. It’s a sweet spot between boots and sneaks, in which you can get a whole lot of mileage.

Q: Do I need ankle support in my hiking shoes?

If you have any past foot or ankle injuries or tend to be at all clumsy on your feet, you’ll likely want to play it safe and go for hiking boots (or high-top hiking shoes) with ankle support. Ditto if you know you’ll be on unstable terrain, or dealing with an abundance of tree roots. Otherwise, though, you should be fine without. On maintained trails, hiking shoes without ankle support should do the job just fine.

Q: What are the most comfortable women’s hiking shoes?

Hiking shoes as a genre are designed around comfort, and all of our selections were made with comfort top-of-mind. If “most comfortable women’s hiking shoes” means lightest weight to you, we direct you to Salomon. (We recommend the Vaya and OUTline GTX). If it means wide-width, look to Merrell. (We recommend the Moab 2, Moab 2 Waterproof, and Siren Edge 3.)

A Final Word on Shopping for the Best Hiking Shoes for Women

There’s a reason hiking shoes exist, and once you try them, chances are you’ll reach for them far more often than your heavy hiking boots (unless, of course, the terrain demands the latter). If you want comfort in a lightweight sneaker-like style that still offers superior traction for trails, it’s hiking shoes you seek. Just remember this when searching for the best women’s hiking shoes: Brands size differently, so make that brand-specific sizing chart your friend.

Related: Best Hiking Shoes for Men