The Best Women’s Footwear for Hiking and Backpacking
Women can get away with wearing men’s shoes, but research over the past ten years has shown that women have different strides and gait patterns than men, as well as differently shaped feet. If the shoe is fitting incorrectly, injuries will follow in a fairly predictable pattern. The best women’s trail shoes typically have lower-volume heels, different ratios of cushioning throughout the midsole, and support variances to align with the anatomy of women’s feet.
That said, each hiker has individual needs. Most of our writers follow the trend of trail-running shoes for their thru-hikes, but some opt for more heavy-duty boots, and one swears by her Chacos. No matter what you choose, be sure your trail shoe provides arch support, has a durable upper and outsole, a solid lacing system, and incorporates a rock plate or similar cushion to protect from rocky trails over extended periods of time.
The fit of the shoes should be snug enough that your toes aren’t bashing the front on downhills or sliding out of the back, but not too tight where material will rub, creating blisters or pinch points. Wider toe boxes are a good option, as thru-hiker’s feet will swell and even gain up to a full size. After that, it’s entirely up to the individual. Everyone’s feet are shaped differently, and you have to try on shoes before you know if they will work for you.
The Best Women’s Footwear for Hiking and Backpacking
Salomon XA Pro 3D
These Salomon shoes handled the endless rocks, roots and rebar of the Appalachian Trail like a hero. At first they may seem a bit clunky, but you’ll quickly realize that clunk represents stability and protection for your feet, while still giving your toes room to breathe. They’re reliable on every type of terrain and seriously grip wet rock like it’s their job (because it is). Comfortable and lightweight, yet rugged enough to make it through Pennsylvania alive, these puppies are in it for the long haul. While the popular (for a good reason) Altras start to break down around 400 miles, I easily squeezed 1,000+ miles out of the XA Pro 3Ds over some of the roughest sections on the AT. If you’re looking to stretch your dollars over miles, these shoes are a solid option. Waterproof version pictured; non-waterproof version available here. – Tosha Kowalski
MSRP: $130 (previous models available for a discount)
Now in their 13th edition, this stalwart has been a go-to for runners, hikers, and those who want a comfortable shoe they can rely on year after year. The lugs are deep and grippy, and the design of the upper wraps around your foot in a way that makes them feel really secure. They aren’t too bulky, but still provide stability over uneven terrain. The rock shield, segmented sole, and proprietary midsole cushioning means you can go longer on rough trails without feeling that nasty foot tenderness that all long-distance hikers and runners know and love. I know many hikers and runners who just keep buying these shoes year after year. –Maggie Slepian
Chacos Z2 Classic
I hiked the AT in a variety of trail runners, but did the entire PCT in Chacos—one pair got me 1,000 miles. Initially, I was opposed to Chacos because I didn’t want to be labeled more extreme… I feel like anytime you choose a less-popular gear option, people have something to say. Then I realized they just functionally worked better for me. Chacos have a faster dry-out time—technically no dry-out time—and they lasted longer than any trail runner I ever used. My feet aren’t forced to conform into a shape they shouldn’t be, and I experienced less ankle rolling and had no need for camp shoes. They are easy to put on and take off, plus there was never any trouble with putting them on because of feet swelling. As a bonus, people will be impressed that you hiked in sandals, even though I found Chacos actually a lot easier to hike in. –Lauren Hafley
My go-to trail runners are the Brooks Caldera, which are consistently extremely comfortable and plush. Brooks shoes (both trail runners and road runners) are known for having wide toe boxes, which alone makes them my favorite shoes for the comfort this feature affords. I prefer the Caldera model to the ever-popular Cascadia, as the Caldera feels cushier and significantly more padded in the sole. The insole in the Caldera 2 seems to have been upgraded—it’s softer than the previous model and feels as if it shapes to your foot with wear. The Caldera has a minimal drop (4mm) and an airy and breathable mesh upper. I’d recommend changing them out before 500 miles of use. Pros: Extremely comfortable, wide toe box, lots of mesh so lightweight and dries quickly. Cons: Tread wears quickly; lacks traction (feels especially slippery until worn in a bit), moderately durable. –Shani Arbel
Hiking is a year-round activity, which makes a boot that can be used in all conditions ideal. With a waterproof, yet insanely breathable Gore-Tex lining, I have seamlessly taken these boots on both summer backpacking adventures, and (paired with a warm sock and knee-high gators) snowy winter hikes. If you are a hiker who prefers the support and durability of boots, yet wants the comfort and feel of a trail runner, then these are the shoes for you. The price is in the middle range as far as hiking footwear goes, and considering the fact that even after 550+ miles these boots seemingly still have tons of trips left on their lifespan, the price point is absolutely worth it. Read the full review here. -Colleen Goldhorn
Altra Lone Peak
I probably don’t need to go into great detail on this one—there are a million Altra-praising reviews out there. The wide toe box is essential for me. The gaiter attachment is a nice touch. Although they tend to fall apart around 400-500 miles, they are easy to repair to get some additional mileage out of them. These shoes have taken the long-distance hiking world by storm, with other brands jumping on the zero-drop and wide toe box design. The mid-rise version adds ankle support for anyone with a tendency to roll their ankles. The 3.5s are on sale now, and the Lone Peak 4.0 will be available soon. -Samantha Olthof
These boots were amazing. They never gave me blisters, had great traction, and were super durable. My first pair made it 1,200 miles before I finally had to replace them. The boots are a classic, rugged style with waterproof, breathable nubuck leather uppers. The lugs are multidirectional and provide incredible traction over anything the trail throws at you. As a bonus, Oboz plants a tree for every pair of shoes sold. –Jessica Tinios
Salomon Mission 3
MSRP: $115 (on sale for $85)
When suffering from chronic plantar fasciitis, finding the right hiking shoes is key. After trying several pairs of traditional hiking boots, both low and high ankle, I finally decided to give trail runners a try. Salomon shoes were recommended by a fellow female hiker and after trying on a few pairs I committed to the Mission 3s. I have owned three pairs of these shoes now and would recommend them to anyone who is looking for a comfortable shoe that offers amazing grip even on rugged trails. They are extremely comfortable, require no break-in period, and have never aggravated my foot issues. –Rebecca Sperry
Vasque Mesa Trek
I walked for 500 miles in the Vasque Mesa Trek. My concerns with footwear were super high because I’m really tough on shoes, and being a heavier person, I wear them down a little quicker than most. The Vasque Mesa Trek is a mix between a trail runner and a boot, providing comfort and support. The shoe has a waterproofing on it, so I had no problem trekking through the snow, rain, and over creeks. I still needed to be sure to wear custom gaiters so that the rain didn’t slide down my legs and into my boot. The support was good but didn’t last a super long time, and I eventually switched out the sole of the shoe for some super feet. I would recommend these to anyone who is unsure about trail runners or wants to stay with a long-distance boot. –Ashley Manning
Salomon X Ultra
These low-rise shoes are great for hiking and hold up for a surprisingly large number of miles—my current pair is on 600 miles, and I could comfortably do another 100-200 without pain. The downside is that they seem to take a few days to break in, and may cause blisters during this period. The toe box is wide and spacious, while the rest of the shoe has a snug, tight fit that is secure without feeling binding. Best of all, the laces are an easy pull-to-tighten mechanism that leaves you never having to tie a lace again. The midrise version is available here. –Juliana Chauncey
What are your favorite trail runners, boots, and hiking sandals? Let us know in the comments below!
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