Though cut below the ankle, reducing stability and warmth, walking shoes beat boots in other important areas: notably comfort via their energy-saving, lighter weight. The average pair of boots is about 500g heavier than the average pair of walking shoes, and over time this makes a considerable difference to how tired (or not) you feel after a gruelling, steep climb or eight hours trudging hot tarmac in summer.
When considering which shoe is best for you, think about speed, distance, time, terrain and climate. The lighter and more breathable shoe, the better suited it is for the summer months or walking in more exotic climes than Blighty.
Some of those in the featherlight category have also been designed with speed in mind. On the other hand, the heavier options tend to have a more sturdy structure and stiffer sole. Though flexible soles can aid pace, they also make your feet work slightly harder, so a degree of rigidity is good for longer distances over rugged terrain. The latter will also better suit all-season adventures, offering more grip in mud. In this case, make sure your shoes are waterproof – don’t be caught out by mere “water resistance”.
The type of terrain you’ll be exploring will influence your decision in other ways too. If you’re just looking for a pair of everyday walking shoes that will keep you comfortable as you traverse around the block, then you’ll need a smoother tread.
In general, for rougher trails, the deeper the lugs the better the shoes will fare, keeping you sure-footed on scree, gravel and grass in wet and dry conditions. The only exception is if you’re covering a lot of rocky ground, in which case a shallower tread is advisable.
In terms of comfort, you’ll know best what requirements you have for arch support and toe-box size and shape. Of course, trying on shoes in person is always advisable. There are a few things to keep in mind. Remember that the longer you’re walking, the more important it is to have a well-cushioned sole. Tougher upper materials might feel slightly less comfortable at first, but they will be more durable if you walk regularly on rougher terrain. Plus some materials such as leather will require break-in time, whereas many synthetic materials won’t.
How we tested
We took every pair on walks several miles long following gravel trails, paths through fields and on steep rocky climbs in a mixture of wet and dry conditions. We tested them for grip, support, comfort and value for money, to pick the best of both the big and lesser-known brands.
The best women’s hiking shoes for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Danner women’s trail 2650 campo: £130, Danner.com
- Best vegan hiking shoe – Merrell women’s moab speed Gore-Tex shoe: £125, Blacks.co.uk
- Best low cut shoes – Regatta women’s highton stretch low waterproof walking shoes: £39.98, Amazon.co.uk
- Best lightweight shoes – Haglöfs L.I.M low women: £90, Haglofs.com
- Best everyday walking shoes – Brooks addiction walker 2: £110, Brooksrunning.com
- Best mid rise shoes – Columbia women’s trailstorm mid waterproof walking shoe: £90, Columbiasportswear.co.uk
- Best for arch support – Salomon outline prism Gore-Tex: £120, Salomon.com
- Best entry-level walking shoes – Mountain Warehouse path waterproof women’s walking shoes: £39.99, Mountainwarehouse.com
- Best hardwearing shoes – Jack Wolfskin scrambler 2 texapore low: £120, Jack-wolfskin.co.uk
- Best for sustainability – Timberland garrison trail sneaker: £84, Timberland.co.uk
Danner women’s trail 2650 campo
This US-based brand has created something very special with its trail 2650 campo shoes. Yes, they’re going to be able to tackle rocky scrambles and long treks in the heat, but they’re so comfortable and look so good (they also come in a bright orange), that we ended up wearing them around the house!
We didn’t have to size up at all with this shoe (though obviously, this is personal), and the fit was super snug without interfering with our gait. This mostly comes down to the footbed, which is made up of three layers of cushioning from toe to heel, and a special heel system that provides a secure fit so your feet don’t lift out of the shoe when you walk. Combined with the “monosock” construction, which means there is no tongue, the effect is luxuriously soft – they fit like a glove to the extent that the jazzy neon laces are hardly needed. The single upper also means that stones or grit can’t find their way into the shoe, which can pose a problem with ankle-height models like these.
Although the upper is partly made from supple leather and other durable textiles, the trail 2650 campo shoes are designed with warm-weather hiking in mind, so they won’t last so well if you intend to use them through the bleak winter too. They are extremely light (about 250g per shoe) and remain comfortable even after a whole day’s hike. They made hill climbing a joy.
Merrell women’s moab speed Gore-Tex shoe
Best: Vegan hiking shoe
These shoes were comfortable from the off, and provide reliable traction in unpredictable weather and more technical hikes. The Vibram ecodura sole hits the right balance between sturdy and flexible, so they’re speedy and springy for short distances and remain comfortable over longer periods of time – and we trust this tech to last. Plus the protective toe cap and thick sole was great protection when walking on more technical trails. We also loved the Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, which kept the mud and water out while also allowing moisture to pass through from the inside, maintaining comfort whatever the weather and conditions threw at us.
We are also impressed that these shoes are vegan-friendly and the sole is made from 30 per cent recycled plastic. The laces are also made from recycled materials, but we think that they are one of the shoes’ only flaws as they are a little prone to unravelling. We also thought that, compared to others, this shoe might suit those with wider feet as they have a roomier toe box and more space in the midfoot. One shoe weighs about 320g, so they’re pretty light, and the sporty aesthetic and eco credentials went down a treat with us.
Regatta women’s highton stretch low waterproof walking shoes
Best: Low cut shoes
For mid-length walks and climbs in wet weather, Regatta’s highton shoes shone. The traction we got in mud was superb and the sturdy outsole was stiffer than some of the other options (and the shoes heavier at 420g each), providing better protection on uneven terrain. The toe box feels a little narrower than others but the shoe does contain an EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) footbed.
Where the shoes come into their own, though, is the upper. We loved the stretchy, cushioned monosock design. We also enjoyed the effective lacing system, which brings the sides of the shoe flush to your sock with no uncomfortable creases. The shoes are cut lower below the ankle than some of the others that we tried, so there is no chance of them irritating your ankle bone.
This did become a slight problem when splashing through larger puddles though, as water can splash in through the top. Otherwise, Regatta’s waterproof technology is impressive. The brand has utilised a waterproof, windproof and breathable fabric, as well as a layer that protects the surface of the material from stains – indeed the shoes are easily kept clean by simply wiping away residual mud.
Haglöfs L.I.M low women
Best: Lightweight shoes
Super light, at just 210g per shoe, and minimalist in every way, these are best for short, sharp hikes, and great for packing into rucksacks and suitcases if you’re backpacking and want to throw in some decent walking shoes. Though L.I.M stands for “less is more”, summer ramblers won’t feel like they’re missing a thing.
In terms of grip, these shoes are all-rounders in both wet and dry conditions, though prone to picking up a small stone or two in the crevices. Their monosock construction makes the shoes feel so comfortable that we forgot we were even wearing them. They’re almost plimsol-like – indeed, we practically danced up the hills and back down again – yet the upper is made from thick mesh and synthetic leather (with a rubber toe guard) that is tough enough to protect your feet on rockier terrain. And though they’re only water-resistant, they kept 90 per cent of the water out, and in a dry climate, this would prove more than enough.
We did think that they would better suit narrow to standard-width feet, and you probably only need to go up half a size. Though the laces are quite tiny and fiddly, this didn’t bother us in practice. In fact, in terms of the simple, sleek aesthetics, we loved them. If you sometimes plan to sneak in a quick trek before or after work, you wouldn’t look out of place commuting or socialising in them. Good work from this established Swedish brand.
Brooks addiction walker 2
Best: Everyday walking shoes
If you’re looking for a shoe to replace your worn-out, sloppy street-wise everyday shoes, look no further than the addiction walker, which won our prize for the comfiest, coolest walking shoe we tried. Though you won’t be going anywhere fast in these, you will go far.
Brooks have taken all they’ve learned about making great running shoes and adapted that knowledge into a shoe that suits a slower pace. We love three things about them: the ample arch support, cosy leather upper and the fact it comes in both a wide (D) and narrow (B) fit. Brooks has really put comfort first here – basically, everything is sumptuously squishy. They’re also deep, so if you wear orthotic insoles, they’ll easily fit inside. On top of that, the midsole is designed to adapt to your stride, weight and speed, and therefore protect your joints. We found that after a few outings, the shoes felt more moulded to our feet.
Weighing in at about 365g per shoe, these do feel wintery, and although they have anti-slip grip, they’re not for scaling mountains. Plus, your feet will get sweaty in warmer temperatures. But if you’re a girl about town, or have a job that requires a lot of time on your feet and you regularly stack up 10,000 steps per day, we’d highly recommend a pair. The clue’s in the name: soon you’ll be addicted and will be going back for the other colour (they’re available in black or white).
Columbia women’s trailstorm mid waterproof walking shoe
Best: Mid rise shoes
With ankle support, the trailstorm mid is technically a walking boot, but they’re marketed as shoes and are extremely lightweight (and look and feel a lot like hi-top trainers!) We loved the flexibility of the sole and supportive, cushiony upper. The special lacing held our heel in place, and we were very happy with the waterproof technology which was also breathable. This is needed, as the padded upper and higher cut did mean our feet got hot in higher temperatures.
We think these shoes perfectly bridge the gap between the city and trail. The lugs didn’t gain as much traction as others, probably due to their design (they’re arrow-shaped), so we wouldn’t take them up mountains or through really boggy fields regularly. That said, their style and structure make them a versatile shoe for the casual hiker. They also have the added bonus of being just 290g per shoe, so you can wear them all day without getting heavy legs. They could have had more arch support (but an insole addition could easily fix that) and we think they’d best suit a narrower foot shape.
Salomon outline prism Gore-Tex
Best: For arch support
The outline prism shoes are probably the most trail trainer-like pair we tried, and we love them for it. They weigh about 260g per shoe and have great grip, which works as well on wet and dry surfaces. If you’re looking for something more classic and sturdy, these won’t be for you, but if this is your first foray into walking shoes, these could be just the ticket, offering good support and protection on mixed terrain in the summer months. We think the flat laces are a plus, as they stayed tied up no trouble at all. We also like the square toe and long, cushioned tongue – however, we did find that debris could more easily work its way into these shoes, and likewise with water. That said, you can’t go wrong with Gore-Tex waterproofing.
These shoes have good arch support for those in need of a neutral shoe and are a standard width. The choice of colours is also lovely, coming in dusty purple, bright peach, indigo and black options. Overall, its a great all-rounder that even felt good when breaking into a downhill run.
Mountain Warehouse path waterproof womens walking shoes
Best: Entry-level walking shoes
These shoes may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the more expensive models, but they’re a great entry-level option if you’re looking to take the quality or quantity of your weekly rambles up a notch.
One shoe weighs just under 400g, but they still feel light enough when you’re out on the trails (less so on harder surfaces). The sole is fairly flexible to allow for all speeds of walking, but with less cushioning, we thought it protected our foot better on fields and muddy trails rather than rocky terrain, and likewise, the grip is better suited to the former. They have a lovely cushioned upper and are roomier in the mid foot and toe box – so good for those with a wider foot. There’s not much arch support, but the wide, deep fit means an insole can be easily added if this is something you need. The shoes did feel on the small side lengthways, so we’d recommend sizing up (unfortunately half sizes aren’t offered).
They come in navy/pink or beige/lilac, and we’re not surprised that they’re one of Mountain Warehouse’s most popular styles. Basic but brilliant.
Jack Wolfskin scrambler 2 texapore low
Best: Hardwearing shoes
These shoes aren’t messing around. For long walks incorporating steep mountain climbs and narrow, loose descents where you don’t want to lose your footing, the scramblers are your best call.
They’re available in both hot pink and navy/bright blue. One shoe weighs about 340g and they do feel sturdier than some of the other models, with an all-round rubber toe cap that will protect you (and the shoe) on sketchy paths. They are fully waterproofed yet breathable, so you won’t be caught out on unseasonably wet summer days.
Being slightly more rigid, these shoes fared well on softer surfaces – such as boggy or muddy fields – so we feel they do have the legs for some winter walking too. The lace-to-toe lacing system gives the shoes an adventurous look (they’ve been partially developed by professional mountain guides, so this makes sense) and it kept our foot secure. Jack Wolfskin advises sizing up, but we thought the fit was on the large side – perhaps worth trying these on to get it right. And while the design definitely makes for an overall more protective and hard-wearing shoe, it does lack a little comfort in the sole, particularly in the heel.
Timberland garrison trail sneaker
Best: For sustainability
These sneaker-style walking shoes were the biggest surprise of the lot, and the best of the top-of-the-range options for summer walking. We love their retro style, they perform even better than they look and are about as sustainable as shoes can get.
We thought the sole was the best we trialled. With a combination of smaller and chunkier lugs, the tread was so grippy, it was almost sticky, which is no bad thing, especially when taking on both softer grassy and harder rocky paths. It was slightly stiffer than others while remaining bouncy across all terrains, so they should be good for longer-distance hikers, and there was enough arch support and cushion for us. We’d advise those with wider feet to try the shoes on before purchasing if possible.
The shoes arrived in recyclable packaging – the only plastic used was 100 per cent recycled. Likewise, a lot of thought has gone into making the shoes as kind to the planet as possible. The upper is made from Better Leather, which means it was manufactured in a sustainable tannery, and 50 per cent recycled plastic. Unlike most of the other shoes in this list, we think they’ll get even comfier over time while remaining as tough as old boots.
These shoes will require a little more upkeep (treatments are suggested on the website), especially if you’re planning on taking them on wet and muddy walks, as the upper is partially made from nubuck.
The verdict: Women’s hiking shoes
Our best on test shoe was Danner’s 2650 campo. Comfort will always take top priority and these ticked every box on that front for us. However, if you’re looking for a shoe that you can interchange with your hardier boots in the winter months, get Regatta’s highton shoes or the more expensive Jack Wolfskin scramblers.
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