This past year a lot of people took up hiking to get out of their quarantine bubbles, stretch their legs, and escape into nature for a while. Which is great—in my opinion, it’s the best activity to feel better mentally and physically, and you can do it anywhere, even if the trail is short and flat and there are no mountains or waterfalls in sight.
But as Joyce Carol Oates learned the hard way, your footwear choice can really make or break your stride. While good shoes are paramount on long, strenuous hikes, even short jaunts on a hiking trail require supportive and comfortable shoes. The last thing you want is arch pain, heel discomfort, blisters, or the special sort of rubbing where your skin just skips the blister phase altogether and goes straight to tearing right off. None of it is pretty, and it certainly doesn’t make for the relaxing, stress-relieving hike that you hoped for.
The best way to shop for hiking boots or sneakers is to try them on first. Raynelle Rino, nature-based coach and consultant at Hike It Out Coaching, suggests going to an outdoors store where an employee can fit you and help you find a pair that fits properly. “The investment is more worth it when someone can walk you through what fits well with your foot,” she tells SELF. If you can’t do that IRL (something about a worldwide pandemic), find a store with a good return policy, and virtual chat or email customer service to ask all the questions. Then order a few pairs and return what doesn’t work.
Another thing to keep in mind is how you want to use your new hiking boots. “I have different boots for different hikes. It depends on what kind of hiking I am doing,” says Shanti Hodges, hike guide and owner of Wild Utah Tours and founder of Hike it Baby. For example, if you’re primarily hiking in the desert, you’ll want boots that can keep you stable on sand and gravely terrain; if you’re hiking over big rocks, you’ll need to make sure your soles are very durable and made of quality materials.
If you plan to do long hikes, you may want lighter boots than if you only plan to do a few miles at a time. “Bigger and heavier doesn’t necessarily mean better if you are out doing more day hiking and fast hikes,” Hodges tells SELF.
One problem new and casual hikers I know run into is this: It’s hard to justify buying expensive boots that you are only going to wear on occasion. It might make more sense for those people to buy shoes that can pull double duty as hiking boots and casual footwear, such as approach shoes (which are stylish hybrid climbing shoes and hiking shoes wrapped up in one), or trail running shoes that you can comfortably wear on a day hike.
While it’s important to wear shoes that fit your feet and your adventures well, learning what works for other people can help you find a place to start your search. Ahead, we’ve gathered recommendations on the best hiking boots for women, plus some comfy trail running options, from hikers and adventurers who have put in the miles. Here are 15 that are worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for your perfect pair.
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