The 2018/19 test of Women’s Hiking Boots included five different brands of waterproof, mid-height boots that are advertised as backpacking boots. Three testers tried out the boots across a variety of terrain in the backcountry of Wyoming and Montana. The terrain included steep, rocky slopes, wet and slippery grasslands, and maintained park trails around Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Testers were backpacking guides and park service employees who used the boots both on single day hiking trips and multi-day backpacking trips where they were in the boots for long hours to cover a lot of terrain. This year’s test focused on boots that would be rugged enough for continual use day after day and that are suitable for a wide variety of terrain. Hiking boots continue to get lighter with modern technology and blur the line between a dedicated backpacking boot and an everyday hiking boot. Most companies have steered away from the original all leather boot which required long break-in times and modern offerings tend to be fairly comfortable right out of the box.
Salomon took the same award winning design in their running shoes to make a high performance backpacking boot that is both extremely comfortable and very supportive across all terrains. This boot excelled across the board.
The Oboz Wind River III is a durable and well-constructed backpacking boot that will withstand heavy use. It fits snugly around the foot, though the narrow heel may require a break in period for some users. This boot provides plenty of support along the arches with great lateral stability so that testers never worried about rolling an ankle while carrying a heavy pack over rocky terrain. While the tread on this boot looks quite aggressive, testers were slightly disappointed in actual performance on slippery terrain which was just average.
The Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid Gore-Tex is a burly boot that feels at home on rocky, technical terrain. It provides a lot of support and great protection but the tradeoff is all around comfort. The boot has a tight fit and would be well suited for narrow feet but can cause some discomfort after a few hours of use. While this boot is definitely a great choice for alpine adventures through rocky terrain, it is tailored for this specific use and therefore less suited as an all-around boot for a variety of easier trails.
The Scarpa Kailash Trek GTX is an all-around solid backpacking boot but lacks any special attribute that helps it to stand out from other boots in the test. Testers like the feel of the boot and both its comfort and weight make it a great choice for long treks where every ounce matters. At less than 2 ½ pounds for the pair, the Kailash Trek GTX is the lightest boot in the test even though it doesn’t feel particularly lighter than other boots in the test. It has good support underfoot and protects well from debris as well as water due to its Gore-Tex membrane. Overall, this is a well-constructed boot that continues to stand up to the test of time.
The Vasque Saga GTX is a great boot for people who prefer to backpack in more of a light hiking boot, than the heavy leather boots of the old days. The best part of this boot is how comfortable it feels right out of the box without causing blisters or requiring much time to break in. The Saga GTX provides enough support and traction for most light backpacking trips while still being comfortable and flexible around the foot. However, be prepared to replace the laces since they broke after only a few days on the trail.
For 2018, the Best In Class award went to Salomon with their updated Quest 4D boot. Salomon originally started in France developing equipment for the ski industry but ever since branching out into a wider range of products, their running shoes and boots have been a top pick for consumers around the world. The main take away from this round of testing is that comfort and weight continue to be a top priority for Salomon. The Quest 4D 3 GTX continues to receive high marks because of its all-day comfort due to great padding and a wide toe box while maintaining a rigid shoe structure that is slightly lighter than the average boot.
Testers couldn’t think of much more they would want in a backpacking boot other than continued improvements in technology to make them even lighter. There is a noticeable trend towards light hiking boots even for dedicated backpackers, but we believe there will always be a market for the slightly heavier and burlier backpacking boot that provides ankle support and lateral stability that a light hiker would struggle to achieve.
The most comfortable boot in this test was the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX, thanks to a wide toe box and plenty of cushioning. The Vasque Saga GTX also scored highly in this category, but this was more due to the fact that it is a softer boot with less rigidity than normally found in a backpacking boot. This type of boot works best for people used to hiking in a less restrictive, low cut shoe, but looking to transition to a more supportive boot that doesn’t feel overly stiff. The Oboz Wind River III and the Scarpa Kailash Trek GTX both felt comfortable out of the box but had minor issues with rubbing or just overall comfort when wearing all day out on the trail. The Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid GTX is by far the stiffest and narrowest boot in this test, which also made it the most uncomfortable for our testers. Since this boot is intended for more technical terrain, this might be a worthwhile sacrifice, but for anyone that spends all day in their boot primarily on non-technical trails, they will likely prefer a more comfortable boot.
Support & Stability
All the boots in this test scored well for support and stability. Testers like the stiffness of the Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX that provided great all-around support. While not quite to the same level as a mountaineering boot, testers felt confident scrambling around on rocks in the MTN Trainer Mid GTX while still having enough flex above the heel for comfortable range of motion. The Oboz Wind River III and the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX were both slightly less stiff which made for a more comfortable boot while still providing plenty of support and lateral stability to minimize the chance of rolling an ankle. Testers appreciated the wider sole on the Quest 4D 3 GTX which created a slightly larger base for more stability when carrying heavy loads. The Scarpa Kailash Trek GTX and the Vasque Saga GTX are both constructed out of a softer upper material and have less lateral stability to them. Nevertheless, they both felt supportive underfoot and with a mid-cut height, provide needed ankle support.
As far as traction goes, no one boot stood out as considerably better than the others. Both the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX and the Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX tied for high scores in this category. The Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX uses a durable Contragrip rubber on the outsole with a fairly aggressive lug pattern. The Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX uses Vibram rubber and a varied, aggressive lug pattern meant to excel through alpine ascents. While the Oboz Wind River III also features an aggressive lug pattern on the outsole, the rubber material failed to hold up well when crossing slick terrain.
All the boots in this test performed well with the Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX standing out slightly better than the rest for protection. Four of the five boots use a Gore-Tex lining while the fifth, the Oboz’s Wind River III, uses a B-Dry lining, to prevent water from entering the shoe and keep out debris. During testing there weren’t any notable cases where water did leak into the boot, however, these linings tend to break down over time, so a longer test period is needed to really determine which boots stay waterproof the longest. All the boots have some form of rubber toe protection, with the Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX having the largest toe cap to protect the foot though it did cause testers to trip a few times due to the height of the toe cap. The Vasque Saga GTX scored the lowest in this category for a few reasons. One issue occurred with the shoelaces which broke in half after only a couple days of use. Testers also found that the soft synthetic material around the shoe didn’t protect as well from sticks or thorns and that they could feel sharp objects underfoot when hiking through rocky terrain.
The average weight for the backpacking boots in this test was around 2 pounds and 10 ounces. The Scarpa Kailash Trek GTX weighed the least at 2 pounds, 7 ounces despite still looking and feeling like a dedicated backpacking boot. The Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX looks the clunkiest of all the boots and yet was the second lightest at 2 pounds, 9 ounces. The Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX received the lowest score weighing in at almost 3 pounds for the pair. While the boot has a slim look to it, its burly construction becomes obvious in its weight which wouldn’t be testers top choice for an extended backpacking trip where weight is a factor.
Five criteria were used to judge the women’s hiking boots in this test: comfort, support, and stability, traction, protection, and weight.
Comfort is the first category that while very important to the overall opinion of a shoe, is also fairly subjective. We have multiple testers try out the boots to reduce subjectivity and submit their ratings based on all day comfort in the boot. We also take into consideration whether the boot is comfortable out of the box or needs a longer break in time.
The next criteria are support and stability. For this category, we consider how rigid the boot is and therefore how much lateral support it provides, in addition to the stability underfoot. The type of lacing system may be mentioned here if it particularly adds or subtracts from the support around the ankle.
When judging the traction of a boot, testers made sure to try out the boots in a variety of terrain. They would test how well the boots performed when hiking across rocky boulder fields in addition to wet or slick trails. The material of the sole would be taken into consideration and serious signs of wear and tear after testing would be noted.
To judge the protection of a boot, testers would look at how high it reaches above the ankle and how thick the upper material is to protect against things poking through. The durability of the boot would also be assessed after a season of testing with particular attention paid to any spots where it looks like the boot may start to fall apart after continued use. If the boot has a waterproof membrane, then they would be tested by standing in a stream or bucket of water and noting if any water leaked through after a set amount of time.
The last consideration when testing hiking boots is how much they weigh. Each pair of boots would be tested and then given a score based on the average across the test and where it landed relative to the other boots in the test.
What is a Women’s Hiking Boot?
While fairly difficult to decide on a delineation between different types of boots, we decided to separate them into the categories of light hiking, hiking, and winter boots. When judging women’s hiking boots, we look at boots that are intended for multi-day backpacking trips and therefore provide enough protection and support for a heavy pack across variable terrain. These boots typically have a waterproof lining to keep dirt and debris from getting into the boot and more importantly to keep the feet dry while crossing streams or rivers, or simply walking through damp grass. These boots are usually a mid-cut as opposed to a hiking shoe which is typically a low cut that provides little to no ankle support. A hiking boot is burlier than a light hiking boot with more rigidity and overall stability. To differentiate from the winter hiking boot category, these boots are typically intended for hiking during the spring through fall seasons without any special consideration to added warmth for higher and colder elevations or added traction for slippery conditions more often found during winter trips in the snow and ice.