In our 2017 test, the best overall women’s light hiking boot was the Oboz Sawtooth Mid BDry. To test this category, we selected five different women’s hiking boots that were new within the past year. All the boots tested were waterproof and used a mid or high cut design. The boots chosen this year focused on lightweight hiking with enough support for use on long hiking days or short and light backpacking trips.
The boots were tested in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming during the summer and in the Sierra Nevadas of California during early fall. They were used on trails with numerous water crossings and muddy backcountry routes during early summer and then across rocky and hard packed trails in the fall. They were typically used for hikes ranging from 3-8 miles a day and on a couple of lightweight backpacking trips. Three different testers used the boots to provide different perspectives, but they all hiked on the same trails for continuity.
The Oboz Sawtooth scored only slightly higher than the La Sportiva Nucleo, but has certain features that perform better overall. It scored the highest in support and stability because of its rugged design and lower cut which allowed for more nimble walking over rocky terrain. One of the best aspects of the Sawtooth is that it is comfortable for all-day hiking, arguably the most important feature of a shoe. It has a wider toe box that provides enough room for the toes to splay but still felt comfortable for people with narrow feet. Some testers disliked the design, which was was more clunky than the other boots in the test, but in the end were won over by all the other great features of the boot.
The La Sportiva Nucleo stands out as the most comfortable of the boots tested while also excelling in all other categories. It is made of nubuck leather, which provides comfortable cushioning for all-day hiking. It also comes equipped with advanced Nano Cell and Gore-Tex Surround technology to protect against water and the elements while maintaining breathability. This boot feels lightweight, yet durable enough to also make it a great option for backpacking with a light load. The La Sportiva Nucleo was just a point below the Oboz Sawtooth, which won best in class for this round of testing and is a great option if breathability in a supportive and comfortable boot is a high priority.
The Vasque Breeze III is the latest version of the company’s best selling boot, which is highly breathable and provides good traction in a variety of conditions. The best best aspect of the boot is all the mesh incorporated into its design, making it more breathable in hot conditions. However the downside to the mesh is that durability may be more of an issue over time as the fabric breaks apart sooner than the rest of the nubuck leather that makes up the boot. The Breeze III has the feel of a lightweight boot and is more comfortable out of the box, but after a full day of hiking some testers complained of heel rubbing that didn’t occur with other boots.
The Lowa Levante GTX Qc Ws is a well constructed hiking boot that succeeds in being very lightweight at the expense of comfort and stability. It has a very narrow toe box that all the testers agreed was uncomfortable after a day of hiking. The minimal cushioning cuts down on weight but results in poor support and stability. It provides decent traction in most conditions but would not be the first choice of most testers for use on more difficult terrain. Overall, it scored middle of the line in most categories with the exception of being on the lighter weight end of the spectrum.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack Mid II GTX is a lightweight boot with minor design changes and an updated sole from its previous version. It sports a stylish look but unfortunately is quite uncomfortable due to minimal padding and a noticeable seam along the heel. The Ultra Fastpack provides good protection due to its higher mid cut and Gore-Tex lining. It also uses a Vibram outsole that provides good traction on most terrain. Compared to some of the other boots tested it provides less support and stability over the long run.
The Oboz Bridger Mid B-Dry boots offer above average protection and stability at a comfortable weight. They hold up to lengthy hikes on rugged trail surfaces though the all leather upper is not as breathable for warmer weather hiking.
The highest rated boots for comfort this year were the La Sportiva Nucleo and the Oboz Sawtooth. Both of them required no break-in period and were comfortable out of the box without any rubbing or discomfort, even after a full day of hiking. The main difference between the two is that the La Sportiva Nucleo is made completely of nubuck leather and has lots of padding so that it feels soft and flexible when hiking. It is also the most breathable boot due to new technology of Nano Cells along the bottom of the boot that allows air to circulate underneath the foot. The Oboz Sawtooth is a lower cut boot which some testers found to be more comfortable. It had a wide toe box which allowed plenty of room for toes to remain comfortable, even after a full day of hiking. The Lowa Levante and the North Face Ultra Fastpack II both suffered from some design flaws which need to be fixed. The Lowa Levante has a very narrow toe box which causes a lot of discomfort after only a couple hours in the boot. Similar to the Ultra Fastpack II, the Levante has minimal padding to cushion the impact of hiking all day. The North Face Ultra Fastpack II was the least comfortable boot due to a seam in the heel which was very uncomfortable, even right out of the box.
Support & Stability
For the category of support and stability the Oboz Sawtooth and La Sportiva Nucleo were at the top again. The Oboz Sawtooth is the highest rated due to its burly construction and a lower cut that still provides ankle support while having a nimble feel on rough terrain. The La Sportiva Nucleo also provided lots of support and stability but it has a softer feel around the foot which could be improved upon to provide even more support. The North Face Ultra Fastpack and the Lowa Levante both left a bit to be desired in this category since they felt quite unsupportive both underfoot and side to side when hiking over rugged terrain, and therefore seemed better suited to easy hiking on mellow terrain.
There wasn’t one clear winner in the category of traction and most of the boots performed fairly similarly. The La Sportiva Nucleo, Oboz Sawtooth, and Vasque Breeze III all received scores of 8 in this category. All of them sported aggressive lug patterns on the outsole and when tested did well on rocky terrain and through wet or slippery trails. The Lowa Levante scored the lowest since it was the only boot tested not using a Vibram outsole and generally felt more slippery and less secure on rough terrain. However, for more moderate hiking with less incline, the Lowa Levante performed just fine, making it a decent choice if not embarking on a rugged expedition.
The Oboz Sawtooth Mid BDry scored the highest for protection since it is a rugged boot that uses a completely waterproof BDry lining to keep feet warm and dry. The La Sportiva was the runner up in this category due to its high cut that is completely covered in nubuck leather. Both these factors mean that neither water nor debris like sand or thorns can easily enter the boot. Both boots are made of high quality materials which should help them withstand years of use. On the other end of the spectrum, both the Vasque Breeze III and the Lowa Levante scored low in this category for different reasons. The Vasque Breeze III uses a lot of mesh which could degrade and rip easier over time while also allowing more debris to enter the boot. The Lowa Levante showed signs of weakness when tested in a bucket of water since it was the only boot that allowed a significant amount of moisture into the boot due to a low gusseted tongue.
The two clear winners for weight are the Lowa Levante and the North Face Ultra Fastpack II. Both these boots didn’t perform as well in other categories since they were obviously designed with lightweight hiking as a priority. With that in mind, either of these boots are a decent choice if looking for a boot that provides ankle support with the feel of a light shoe. The Oboz Sawtooth looks like it would be the heaviest boot, but was actually slightly lighter than the Vasque Breeze III. However, the Sawtooth does feel clunky.
In this round of the testing, both the La Sportiva Nucleo and the Oboz Sawtooth were highly rated women’s light hiking boots, with the Oboz Sawtooth scoring slightly higher. The Oboz Sawtooth is a durable and rugged boot that looks and feels at home on rough terrain. It also shines in the comfort category making it a great option for both lightweight backpacking expeditions as well as all-day hiking trips. The La Sportiva Nucleo is a great option for a breathable boot and uses new Nano Cell and Gore-Tex Surround technology to achieve this. This technology utilizes a more breathable Gore-Tex lining with a permeable membrane along the bottom of the boot that allows air to circulate underneath the foot. It would be great to see this technology adopted by other manufacturers to add more breathability to boots that performed well in many other categories. While the trend for this type of footwear seems to be heading towards the lightest possible boot, manufacturers have to be careful not to let this consideration outweigh the need for comfort and support.
To test out hiking boots we researched a number of companies that had new boots out this year. All the boots tested were similar in style and features such as waterproofness, similar cut, and intended use. The same size boot was tested for all the pairs so that their fit and sizing could be compared across brands. Additional testers were used to help wear the boots on the same trails and to give their ratings in order to cut down on the subjectivity of a single tester. Five different criteria were used to rate the boots during testing.
One category that testers looked at was comfort. This is often the first aspect that users notice in a boot and can vary widely depending on the person. Having a few testers try out the boots helped create an average for comfort that removed some of the subjectivity. In the comfort category, testers also noted whether the boot was better suited to people of a certain foot type such as a narrow or wide foot, which can greatly influence how different people perceive the comfort of a boot.
The next category is support and stability, which is tested on a variety of terrain. Using the boot on rocky and steep terrain compared to smooth trails helps users notice differences in how the boots perform in different situations. The third category is traction, one of the harder categories to measure, where testers would rate how much grip the boots had in various conditions such as muddy trails or wet and slick rocky terrain.
The fourth category is protection. A few different factors are important for protection which include how well a boot will prevent debris such as small stones or sand from entering the interior. Another important factor is how waterproof it is and that was tested in the field during stream crossings and in a controlled setting of standing in a bucket of water for 3 minutes which each boot. The last factor to take into consideration for the category of protection is durability. After using the boots for a couple months the condition of the boot was inspected and any obvious signs of wear or weakness in the shoes were noted.
The final category, weight, is mostly based on the manufacturer listed weight of the boot. The feel of the boot was also taken into consideration, so it is possible for a heavier boot to receive a decent rating in this category if it feels very lightweight despite a higher actual weight.
What are Light Hiking Boots?
Hiking boots have evolved a lot over the years with such a wide variety from even a single manufacturer that it can be daunting to pick out a good pair for yourself. The first thing to take into consideration is how you plan to use the boot. Hiking boots have become very specialized, so knowing what type of hiking you will be doing will help narrow down options a lot. Hiking boots are made for a wide range of uses. There are universal light hikers that would do fine hiking on packed trails and still be comfortable when walking around town for the day. Then there are burlier boots that are intended for more rugged hiking or even lightweight backpacking trips. Finally, there are hiking boots intended for multiday expeditions, where they are worn for many miles while carrying a heavy pack. Choosing the right boot for the right hike can make or break your trip and help prevent sore feet from ruining your day.
Another consideration is what specific type of terrain you will be on. If you are planning on hiking someplace that is often wet or has many river crossings, then a waterproof boot is an important factor. Conversely, if you hike mainly in hot, dry environments, having a very breathable boot will be much more important. The terrain will also dictate how much protection you need. If you are in a desert environment then protection may be much more important to prevent thorns and sand from entering your shoe whereas if you mostly hike on packed down forest trails then there is often less that you need to protect against.
Understanding what kind of foot you have is also an important consideration in choosing a boot. Some people have narrow feet and will prefer certain brands of shoes built on a narrow last. Likewise, there are boots that have a tendency to be wider which could result in too much room and not enough support for people with narrow feet. There are also many manufacturers that specifically make wide and narrow versions of the same boot, which is a great option to fit a variety of feet.
Hiking boots are often such a personal preference that it is difficult to recommend any one boot that is suitable for everyone in all conditions. Trying on boots and thinking about the practical uses of each will only enhance the decision making process and ensure a more appropriate selection that will lead to many happy days on the trail.