In this women’s hiking boot guide we explain exactly what to look for in a good hiking boot and how to avoid blisters on your next hike.
As proven by the person who slid 500ft down an ice path on a mountain in their Nikes, hiking boots are essential for outdoor, wilderness activities. Whether you’re mountain climbing, trekking, or walking the dogs, hiking boots will keep your feet dry and protected over longer distances than you might typically be used to walking. They may not be cheap but think of them as an investment in your future safety and comfort while outdoors.
But with such a wide range of boots available offering so many different features, how do you know which hiking boots to choose? You have to consider the shape of your feet and the amount of support you need around the ankle. For longer hikes with a backpack on you should look for a mid to high top hiking boot to protect your ankles.
As an active woman, it’s important that you pick the right boots for you, so be sure to check out our list of the best women’s hiking boots after reading this post. But first, we’ll show you what to look for when choosing your hiking boots: things like comfort, durability, waterproofness, weight, and support all make a big difference over time. This
Knowing Your Purpose
When I first started getting into hiking, I made the mistake of just buying the cheapest boots that were on sale. They looked decent, but in reality, they were poor quality and not suitable for anything but light walking. So the first thing you need to decide is what you want the boots for:
- Trail running with very light (up to 15kg) or no loads, on-trail? Trail running shoes will be great. They’re more durable than normal trainers and are lightweight. But they don’t offer any support for your back or ankles.
- A day hike or short backpacking trip, with a light load, walking across light terrains? If so, women’s hiking shoes are ideal for you. They are low-cut around the ankle and offer some flexibility and more support than trail runners.
- Multi-day trips or medium backpacking trips, with a light-to-medium load (20-30kg), on- and off-trail across mixed terrains? If so, hiking boots for women are the way to go. They are available in mid-to-high cuts and offer more support than hiking shoes, with less flexibility due to their inner shanks.
- Extended day trips and longer backpacking trips, with a medium-to-heavy load (40-50kg), on- and off-trail, mixed terrains? You’ll want backpacking boots. The main difference here is support for the weight you’re carrying. These are high cut and provide ankle straps for maximum support. They are less flexible and more durable than hiking boots.
- Climbing mountains, with a heavy load (over 50kg), over rugged and icy terrain? You’ll need mountaineering boots. These are stiff, thicker, heavier, and more durable than hiking or backpacking boots. They enable you to carry heavy loads and attach crampons to climb on ice. They’re also insulated to prevent frostbite in high altitudes and freezing temperatures.
If you’ll be doing a mixture of these activities, opt for the boots that cover the most rugged terrain you’ll encounter or if possible, buy two different types of boots. Having a second pair of footwear like slippers or sandals will provide a bit of rest bite from being in your hiking boots all the time.
Choosing the Right Material
When you come to choose your boots, you’ll notice they are made of a range of materials to suit the type of adventure:
- Synthetic: These include nylon, nylon mesh, polyester, and synthetic leather boots. Most hiking boots are synthetic. The benefits are that they are light, cool, easy to break in, and dry quickly. The cons: they’re not as durable or abrasion resistant in the long run as leather.
- Split-grain leather: These are mixed with nylon/nylon mesh to enable breathability and make the boots lighter overall. However, they’re less water and abrasion-resistant, though some do have waterproof liners.
- Full-grain leather: Most backpacking boots are leather as they’re great for heavy loads, rugged terrains, and long trips thanks to their durability and water/abrasion resistance. However, they’re not very breathable and take a lot of breaking in. Nubuck leather is full-grain but looks like suede.
- Waterproof membrane: These boots keep your feet dry, but the membrane means reduced breathability, so they can lead to sweaty feet in warmer environments.
If you’re going to be hiking in wet environments or walking in snow, you’ll want to buy waterproof boots or choose to waterproof them yourself with a treatment. If you are going to be in hot places or have to cross rivers then a fast drying and breathable combination will serve you the best. If you’re walking over rough terrains, look out for boots that have rubber toe protection, as they will prevent painful stubbed toes.
Checking the Soles
If you are looking for lightweight hiking boots for women then you should expect the soles to be thinner and more flexible. This also means that will wear through much faster than a more heavyweight sole.
The first thing you should look for is a deep tread and lugs. All this means is that the grip should be nice and deep so that even when they are caked in mud, you don’t lose grip and end up on your bum. You don’t want to have to repair them with glue after only 6 months.
The next thing to look at is flexibility. You can do this by bending the shoe in half to test its resistance. And the final thing to look for is the material it is made from. Vibram is well known for making a long-lasting sole but just be careful of the less dense and more foamy/squishy materials that wear out very quickly.
Find the Right Size and Fit
As every woman is different, it’s vital that you try on a range of boots to see what fits and what is comfortable. Head down to your local outdoor shop where they will measure your feet, let you try on boots and advise you how to check the fit.
- Make sure you tie the laces up correctly and tightly.
- Trim your toenails before you try on any boots (though preferably not in the shop!)
- Remember to leave sufficient room for walking socks, and ideally, try them on with the socks you’ll be wearing for the trip. It’s recommended to get half a size bigger than you need to accommodate swelling feet in warm environments and thick socks in cold environments.
- Check the fit when standing and sitting. You should be able to wiggle your toes and move without your feet sliding.
- Check your feet don’t slide on an incline board to imitate walking up a mountain or hill. In this women’s hiking boot guide we recommend really pushing into the boot to see if it will touch your toes.
- See whether you need anything to improve comfort such as specific insoles or footbeds, which can improve arch support.
- If you have wide feet and find them too narrow, men’s boots may actually fit you better than hiking boots for women.
Checking the Weight
Unless you plan on some serious mountain climbing (where you need the support), it’s best to choose boots that are lightweight when you’re hiking. As the saying goes ‘one pound on the shoe is five on the back. That is, the heavier your boots, the heavier it will feel on your back, and the harder your trek will be. That being said, leather boots with a solid sole will weigh more than average but will offer better waterproofing, support, and will be far more comfortable over longer distances.