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Women on the Road

What to Look For in Women's Hiking Boots

Deciding to take along a pair of women's hiking boots on a trip is an investment - they're expensive, they're heavy and they're bulky. But sometimes absolutely nothing else will do and no amount of shoe will give you the support you need.

PLEASE NOTE: Every effort is made to keep articles up to date but the changing coronavirus situation has made it impossible to provide information about the pandemic or travel restrictions. You'll find updated information from the CDC about travel conditions by country but please check all appropriate sources before you travel as situations can change in minutes. 

If you're already sold on hiking boots and are just trying to decide, take a look at these brands - I can't recommend a specific model because this is one item for which one size does not fit all. In fact, although these links are here for your convenience, if you have problem feet do yourself a favor and buy your hiking boots in person, at a shop, with expert advice.

Living in France for some reason I hadn't come across Merrell - and now I'm in love with every pair I've tried. I have a pair of their low-cut boots and I can walk for hours in them. They give me support, they're light and they feel more like city shoes than anything meant for hiking. Buy from Amazon

A friend of mine suggested my next pair of hiking boots be Keens. She says they're comfortable, keep her feet dry, and have walked her through muddy trails in six countries. So yes - if I'm going to be walking in the same conditions, I'll try these. Buy from Amazon

I don't know these at all but he Lowa brand consistently ranks at the top of the review lists for sturdy hiking boots for women. They certainly look the part!

Buy from Amazon

Should you be taking women's hiking boots in the first place?

When you travel you'll have a choice of footwear: walking shoes or sandals, hiking sandals, hiking shoes (without major ankle support) or hiking boots (high-backed, with ankle support). Each has its own purpose - and hiking boots will be the right choice under these circumstances:

  • If you expect to walk through difficult terrain such as mountains, rainforests or swampland
  • If you plan to walk up or downhill a lot
  • If you have weak ankles that twist often
  • If you're a photographer or star-gazer or if you otherwise spend your time with your nose in the air, looking anywhere but where you put your feet
  • If you're carrying extra weight, like a heavy backpack or equipment (or in my case, myself!)

They also provide extra support and protection if streets and sidewalks are uneven, if there are shards or glass or metal lying around, if you're near poisonous snakes or spiny plants, or if there's a risk you might be attacked (a swift kick will do a lot more damage than a nudge with a sandal).

I'm not an expert in foot gear but I do know what backpacking feet need - there are certain things you should look for.

Women's hiking boots - can take quite a beatingYou wouldn't want to be doing this in flimsy running shoes, would you?

How to choose the right ladies' hiking boots

When shopping for hiking boots keep the following points in mind:

  • Weight: look for light boots. Heavy boots on your feet will tire you, and you'll have to carry them around when you're not wearing them - but be sure to balance weight and sturdiness.

  • Height: If you're scrambling around boulders, you'll need ankle support, no two ways about it. But if you're walking through cleared trails, you might be fine with more of a hiking shoe. Your call - but I'm the kind of hiker who twists her ankles easily so I'm excessively cautious about that ankle support.

  • Material: they should be made of breathable material if you want to reduce the chance of sweaty feet. That said, I wore leather hiking boots for years and managed fine.

  • Water resistance: waterproof is better, especially if you plan to be sloshing through mud (remember, wet boots cause blisters) or trekking during monsoons; aim for a quick-drying boot, although if they get soaked (if water spills over the top, for example) they could take days to dry.

  • Soles: look at the treads of the sole - you need good grip! The soles should be thick and stiff so you don't feel stones or pebbles through them or don't endanger yourself if you step on a nail.

  • Laces: try lacing them up - it shouldn't take you ten minutes and a PhD in knot-making each time you put your boots on; and that little loop above the heel is handy to pull your boot up. They should be tough and non-fraying too.

  • Support: your boot should provide good ankle support but shouldn't be too stiff: you'll have to find a compromise between protection and comfort. And you may opt for the lower cut rather than over-the-ankly - it's a personal choice.

  • Fit: make sure your feet don't slip or pinch up and down or side to side - both are certain recipes for blisters.

  • Comfort: I shouldn't even have to mention this but - just in case! Some of the newer hiking boots have memory foam and can be comfortable immediately without having to break them in.
Used women's hiking boots - still serviceableAn everyday pair of perfectly serviceable women's hiking boots - these boots are about 12 years old!

How to pick the right hiking boots brand

Each maker of hiking boots for women has its own specialty - natural or man-made, special insoles and pads... but remember, no two pairs of feet are alike, so my best boot won't be yours. 

Certain manufacturers get excellent reviews but have outsourced to other countries. The result: inferior products which don't last as long, soles which wear down more quickly, seams that burst. Reviews take time to catch up, which is why buying from a reputable outdoor shop certainly has benefits.

You'll get professional advice and the best selection. A professional will be able to help you determine whether a boot is too tight, or just snug enough. A standard shoe shop often has 'amateur boots' - they look like the real thing but are just glorified walking shoes. A good salesperson will also be able to advise you on the best brand for narrow, wide or problem feet.

Not only that, but each manufacturer has its own 'last' - the form on which the shoe is made. So if you have wide feet, you'll need a brand whose shoes are made for wide feet. Trying different models won't make a difference - it's the brand you need to change. For example, Merrell shoes fit me perfectly but that might not be the case for you.

One piece of advice when you go boot shopping: take your own hiking socks. Your boots won't fit the same with ordinary socks provided by the shop.

For hot countries you should investigate Coolmax by Bridgedale (best ordered if you have a friend in the UK) - they have worked well for me; they don't overheat and have great built-in foot protection and cushioning. For colder climates their WoolFusion Summit range (for men, but I wear these and can recommend them) are comfortable and have lasted me through many trips.

Once you buy those hiking boots...

Break them in!

I'm not joking - don't even think of taking new boots on your trip. You should break them in at home, over weeks or even months, and test them on a few local trips. 

Try walking around town first - just sitting at home with your boots on won't help break them in (this step is especially important if your boots are made of sturdy leather).

As for the weight, unless you're packing a steamer trunk, wear them on the plane to cut back on luggage weight and bulk.

One more thing: if you plan to do a lot of your walking around town, lower-cut hiking shoes should do the trick, with the same proviso: get the best you can afford!

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