I had breathlessly reached another summit in the California Sierra mountains where I sat down on a rock next to three other hikers. One of them was in visible discomfort, telling the other two that he was getting blisters in his new boots.
“What size are you?” asked one of the other hikers. Then he pulled a pair of lightly-used sandals from his backpack and offered it to the sore hiker. I didn’t think much of this interaction until I met the hiker hobbling in his sandals a few days later at a resupply stop. “I’m done,” he told me, “I’m exiting the trail early. First, the boots didn’t fit me well because I didn’t try them on before beginning this hike. And the sandals aren’t working either.” Hikers know that keeping their feet comfortable and blister-free is critical. Your shoes are arguably the most important gear purchase you’ll make. On the trail, you’ll see many types of shoes: hiking boots, trail-running shoes (or “trail runners”), running shoes, and even sandals. Your choice of shoe will depend on your activity. For instance, day hikers may use different shoes than backpackers, who hike for multiple days.
The following list of shoes is well-reviewed among female hikers. They include three pairs of trail runners – the most popular choice of shoe for lightweight hikers – one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of hiking boots, and one pair of hiking sandals. All these shoes are designed for rugged terrain and cost between $100 to $150.
Best For: Day-Trips, Backpacking, Rugged Trails
Latest Price: $129
If you buy Altra Lone Peak trail runners, you’ll be in good company; these Colorado-created shoes are incredibly popular with both women and men. I have personally worn Altra Lone Peaks, blister-free, on multiple trails including the Grand Canyon and John Muir Trail. These shoes are light and flexible, weighing just over one pound. They are also sturdy enough for rugged trails that require extra grip.
They include a rock plate, an essential feature that protects your soles on rocky paths, and a wide shoe box. And if you’re a gaiter girl, they have toe and heel gaiter hooks. Stylistically, Altras come in bright or neutral colors (I own a pair in bright red). You can buy these for approximately $130. Buy them here (REI). For those who prefer higher ankle coverage, Altra Lone Peak is also offered as a hiking boot.
Best For: Day-Trips, Backpacking, Trail Fashionistas, Rugged Trails
Latest Price: $130
These are the lightest trail runners on this list, weighing only one pound and one ounce. They also include a rock plate and rock guards that protect your feet on rough terrains. Stylistically bold, LA Sportiva shoes are fashion statements. Their neon, geometric designs are stubbornly set in a 1980s aesthetic so wearing these will make you feel like a character in a TRON movie.
There are some missing features, such as a lack of gaiter hooks. However, if you’re looking for a light, fun pair of shoes with impressive features, these are worth trying out. They’re also vegan. If you prefer a sturdier shoe with GORE-TEX and Vibram outsoles, check out the sturdier La Sportiva GTX hiking shoe (REI).
Best for: Day-Trips, Trail Fashionistas, Urban Trails
Latest Price: $145
The alien-like HOKA One shoes from France have been dominating the road-running world where their heavily cushioned footwear is excellently suited for running on compact pavement. Now, HOKA One is making a footprint on the hiking shoe world. They bring style and comfort with their bright colors and thick soles.
I have seen hiking influencers adopt them for day hiking. However, I have yet to see backpackers wear these shoes. They are light enough, weighing just over one pound. However, they are bulky and still lacking many of the key features of other hiking shoes, such as gaiter hooks and rock plates. They also cost more than other trail runners at approximately $145 per pair. Buy them here (REI).
Best for: Day-Trips, Backpacking, Eco-Conscious Mountaineering, Water Hikes
Latest Price: $115
Designed in the mountainous state of Montana, Oboz is formidable in the hiking boot world. These shoes are sturdy, low-cut around the ankle, and still weigh less than two pounds. Stylistically, they look like a classic boot. They are waterproof, which is helpful if you intend to hike on a trail with many water crossings. However, they are bulky for hiking shoes and still lack many of the key features of other hiking shoes, such as gaiter hooks and rock plates.
So if you’d like a similar hiking boot by Oboz, you can buy the over-the-ankle hiking boot (weighing only one ounce more) here (Backcountry). They cost approximately $140 per pair for the hiking shoes and $155 for the boots. Buy the shoes here (REI). Either way, if you buy a pair of Oboz shoes, they’ll plant a tree for you.
Best for: Day-Trips, Backpacking, Rugged Trails, Water Hikes
Latest Price: $165
Hiking boots are a popular choice for women who are concerned with protecting their ankles in a high-cut shoe. However, high-cut shoes are often bulkier and heavier, which can impact hiking performance. As a result, the French company Salomon makes popular, lightweight mid-ankle boots for female hikers. Weighing under two pounds, these boots also boast many essential features such as GORE-TEX waterproof liners and Contagrip rubber outsoles. They cost approximately $165 per pair. Find them here (Backcountry).
Best for: Day-Trips, Ultra-Light Backpacking, Rugged Trails, Water Hikes
Latest Price: $165
If you’re a minimalist looking for comfort, you’ll be happy to see that many hikers walk in sandals. Weighing only one pound, California-created Bedrock sandals are lightweight and can make great camp shoes or even serve as your main shoes. On the JMT, I saw a few women backpackers wearing 38-pound backpacks with their Bedrocks. These sandals have Vibram soles, which are the gold standard in hiking footwear for rocky terrain so they’ll handle water crossings like a pro. Stylistically, they’re cute. They’re also vegan. For only $105 per pair, you can find them here (REI).
Whatever your choice of footwear – trail runners, hiking shoes, boots, or sandals – be sure to try on a few pairs in person before you break them in on the trail. And remember to treat your feet well! Wear socks designed for hiking. Consider gaiters if you frequently collect rocks in your shoes. And bring extra bandages in case you catch blisters. Finally, enjoy the trail in whatever shoe you’re happiest with!
Sonja Lind is an experienced hiker and new-ish runner who lives in Southern California. When she’s not dusting up her shoes on a trail, she works in higher education. Read her occasional blog at www.sonjalind.com.