You stop to take a photo of the waterfall, observing the cascading rivulets gushing down across soft sandstone before free falling over the lip of the cliff into the cavernous basin below.
You put away your camera and sit down on a dry rock nearby, untie your hiking shoes, take off your Smartwool hiking socks and dip your toes into the cool water of the pool.
Hiking doesn’t have to mean buying an entirely new wardrobe, investing in a massive amount of gear, wearing clunky footwear or donning a heavy backpack.
It can be a relatively simple, elegant activity — complete with lightweight clothing, low-cut boots, and minimal equipment.
Maybe you prefer the low-cut feel of tennis shoes as opposed to high-cut hiking boots?
Hiking shoes are gaining notoriety across the outdoor industry as appealing alternatives to the clunky hiking boots of days past.
Here is our guide to the best women's hiking shoes available, whether you prefer short romps through the woods or long ventures into the wilderness.
KEEN Women's Terradora Waterproof
Best Women's Hiking Shoe to Go From Trail to Town
Salomon Women's Ultra Mid 2 GTX
Best Women's Traction & Stability Hiking Shoe
Merrell Women's Moab Ventilator
Best Women's Lightweight Hiking Shoe
KEEN Women's Voyageur
Best Rugged Women's Hiking Shoe
Ahnu Women's Sugarpine Waterproof
Best Women's Athletic/Performance Hiking Shoe
The first thing to understand is the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots.
Hiking shoes tend to be relatively low cut, rising at their highest point below the ankle, while hiking boots generally provide encompassing ankle support.
Hiking boots are made for rough trails, uneven terrain, and spending extended lengths of time in the backcountry. They provide the physical support you need for hauling a heavy backpack and for overcoming trail obstacles.
Shoes, on the other hand, are made for moving fast across relatively even terrain, smooth trails, and carrying lighter loads. Perfect if you are going hiking for the first time.
Both have a distinct purpose and many experienced minimalist hikers have set their sights on hiking shoes as an appealing alternative to heavier hiking boots.
Trail runners are not to be confused with hiking shoes, but are often used in the backcountry as an efficient way to get from point A to point B when speed is of utmost concern.
These are ultralight options not intended for backpacking purposes, yet are often seen out on the trail.
The disadvantages of trail runners? Minimal toe and underfoot protection.
Approach shoes are also often lumped under the category of hiking shoes, but it needs to be understood these shoes serve a niche market. Approach shoes are utilized by rock climbers or hikers requiring movement across steep, rocky terrain.
Approach shoes are defined by a sticky rubber toe rand that provides for maximum grip on rock. They’re not as comfortable for long distances but are a quality choice for hikes that involve scrambling across boulder fields or low-grade rock climbing.
Here is a breakdown of the different parts of a hiking shoe so that you understand the meaning of each component when you’re researching different types of shoes.
You’ll want to know what your shoes are made of so you can evaluate comfort, durability, and different terrain suitabilities.
Upper: The upper comprises the components of the shoe that enclose your foot, excluding the rubber sole.
The upper is responsible for providing breathability and waterproofing, if you choose that option.
Uppers are usually constructed of synthetic nylon and mesh or nubuck leather. While nylon and mesh panels offer the most breathability, leather uppers offer increased abrasion resistance.
Leather is also heavier than synthetic materials.
Often, shoes offer a blend of nubuck leather and nylon mesh to provide for combined abrasion resistance and breathability.
Midsole: Midsoles are tasked with providing shock absorption and protecting the feet from harsh external elements such as rocks or tree roots.
Midsoles are usually constructed of EVA, which is a molded foam, or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).
While EVA provides more cushioning, it tends to breakdown over time. TPU on the other hand is typically less comfortable, but will maintain its shape and is much less likely to break down over time.
Many manufacturers incorporate TPU into the shank of the shoe and add EVA underfoot for comfort.
Outsole: This is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the trail. While usually constructed of rubber, there are some shoes that are developed with mostly foam and partial rubber integrated into the foam.
Outsoles provide traction when the conditions get slippery or rocky, but a hiking shoe’s outsole is going to be much less burly than its hiking boot comrade.
Vibram dominates the market of outsoles similarly to how Gore-Tex serves as the most common waterproofing option, although some brands offer their own proprietary materials.
Hiking shoes are typically designed with toe caps whereas trail runners, for example, are often designed without.
If you’re a truly minimalist hiker in the backcountry you could forego toe protection but otherwise it is highly recommended.
While this is sort of a no-brainer when discussing hiking boots unless you strictly hike in dry, arid conditions, hiking shoes don’t necessarily offer standard waterproofing on their products — although you are usually given the option to opt in.
A waterproof, breathable membrane is highly recommended for stream crossings, muddy trails, and unexpected rainfall, but because hiking shoes boast a typically low-cut profile, a waterproof layer on a hiking shoe doesn’t offer as much protection as it does on a hiking boot, so the decision really comes down to personal preference.
A waterproof layer adds weight and will also increase the cost of a hiking shoe, but will prevent your feet from getting wet.
Gore-Tex is the most common form of waterproofing available.
This stylish waterproof hiker takes you from the city streets to the winding, wooded trails with ease, offering a women-specific TrailFit tailored just for you.
The narrow last is integrated through to the heel, providing for stability on ascents without causing discomfort in the toe box. Dual-density footbeds and lightweight EVA cushioning provide for comfort and free range of motion.
This shoe features a KEEN.DRY proprietary waterproof breathable membrane so that your feet stay dry whether you’re trudging through city street puddles or crossing a forest stream.
For those that want a little added ankle support, try the KEEN Terradora Mid version, boasting the same features in addition to a cushioned ankle panel.
Salomon blends the stability of a hiking boot with the comfort of a running shoe in the Ultra Mid 2 GTX.
The product combines the best of both worlds of TPU and EVA for a cushy feel and stability meant to last the lifetime of the shoe.
Waterproof leather uppers provide for breathability while Gore-Tex liners protect your feet from the rainy conditions or unexpected stream crossings.
These shoes provide added ankle support not always found in hiking shoe, made especially for those who covet the stability of a boot and the lightweight feel of a shoe.
Weighing in at just 1 pound, 10 ounces per pair, these shoes deliver in all departments.
The best feature? Contragrip rubber soles provide for unparalleled traction on steep, rocky slopes or choppy, uneven terrain.
If your top priority is moving fast, you’ll want your feet to feel weightless with every stride.
This means selecting the lightest shoe possible — and while the Merrell Moab Ventilator weighs something, it will feel like close to nothing.
The upper boasts a crafty design of interwoven leather and nylon mesh, offering an excellent level of breathability ideal for hot and humid climates. Tipping the scales at just 1 pound, 6 ounces, the Moab Ventilators are designed to take you where you want to go — in a heartbeat.
Air Cushion heel pockets provide for extra shock absorption to cushion every footfall as you move fast across undulating terrain.
The tried-and-true Vibram Multi-Sport outsoles complete the package, serving for reliable traction even when conditions get wet.
The only downside? These shoes aren’t waterproof — but if you’re looking for a lightweight option, they’re worth their weight in gold.
If you’re a serious hiker looking to take on rugged terrain or long distances, the KEEN Voyageur is up to the challenge.
Torsion stability is provided by supportive ESS plastic shanks which will keep your feet protected on uneven, harsh backcountry terrain.
S3 heel support completes the stability package, serving to dissipate shock upon impact.
In addition to its unparalleled performance in rugged conditions, this shoe is also extremely breathable, with polyester mesh vents integrated into the leather upper. Enjoy the feeling of cool feet on the most rugged backcountry endeavors.
An added bonus? Burly toe guards help protect your feet in case of contact with rough roots or sharp rocks.
If you want a hiking shoe that performs as athletically as a trail runner, try the Ahnu Women’s Suparpine.
This stylish product is constructed in the shape of a tennis shoe while boasting the necessary support and waterproof features provided by a hiking shoe.
Dual-density EVA midsoles provide for plenty of cushioning underfoot while nylon and fiberglass arch shanks compliment the midsole with stability and support.
Vibram outsoles ensure grip on all terrain and best of all, these shoes are entirely waterproof.
If you’re looking for a hiking shoe that can deliver a high level of performance, you may have found your perfect companion.
Whether you’re strolling through your local city park or packing up to hit the backcountry for an afternoon in nature, you’re going to need the right footwear to get you to your final destination.
Hiking shoes fill the perfect gap between city wear and burly boots — serving for the ultimate solution for that casual hiker or perhaps the most minimalist backpacker who prefers to keep things light in any conditions.
This guide should help get you started in the right direction — but whichever trail you choose to take, don’t forget to stop and look around.
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Ashley's a Florida girl that didn't see snow until her twenty's. Andrew initiated her with a January trip to Breckenridge and the rest is history! A flatlander most of her life, Ashley now craves challenging trails but isn't a fan of log crossings over rapidily flowing mountain streams. Click here to learn more about Ashley's outdoorsy background...
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