Gear Guide: How to pick out your first pair of hiking boots

beginner's guide to womens hiking boots

“I’m just starting out, I don’t need hiking boots,” I whined to my boyfriend. I hiked the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland in just sneakers and survived, despite the trail being less of a trail and more just rocks and boulders. So why did I need to buy hiking boots?

Hiking boots can be expensive, and if you don’t see yourself doing a ton of hiking, you may wonder whether they’re worth it. Three (to four) words: Ankle support. Waterproof-ness. Grip. You want these things. Hiking boots give you these things. No matter how comfortable your current sneakers/walking shoes of choice are, they will be dead to you once you hike in a pair of good, sturdy, boots. They are so worth the investment.

Not surprisingly, comfort is your highest priority when trying on boots. Make sure they are comfortable in at the store (don’t think any odd pressure points will magically disappear). Don’t be shy about busting some moves to try them out – you want to make sure you aren’t getting any surprise pinching once you’re out on the trail.

If you’re at REI, they have a handy-dandy faux rock you can climb on, or you can just take them hiking. If you buy from REI, you can return your boots in whatever condition, no questions asked, up to one year from purchasing them.

REI’s return policy saved me on my first pair, which was made by Lowa. I absolutely adored them, but once I started hiking over more varied terrain, going downhill became incredibly painful. There was a weird pinching spot right on the outside of my pinky toe, which may seem like a minor issue, but in reality, it is completely non-negotiable regardless of the length of the hike. I have very long, narrow feet, so if your feet are shaped differently, I still encourage you to check out their boots.


If you’re not used to wearing any sort of boot that comes up to your ankle, wearing them can be a comfort adjustment as well. But besides feeling a little stiff, you shouldn’t be experiencing any rubbing or discomfort. The extra support comes in handy once you start hiking around, trust me! Even on a well-maintained trail, there will always be little rocks or divots that you may miss, plus having ankle support makes hiking anywhere way more comfortable.

My Lowas and me in happier days.
My Lowas and me in happier days.

Next priority – finding a grippy sole. Merrell is a brand that uses Vibram soles, which give you a crazy amount of grip even on wet rocks and steep inclines. I know Vibram makes many people think toe shoes, which makes many people shudder in disgust. But don’t worry, I would never recommend toe shoes to you.

Turns out Vibram makes regular shoe soles as well, and at the price point that Merrell offers, they’ve become my favorite shoe. There are tons of brands that offer Vibram soles, so if you can find one that is also otherwise comfortable, go for the Vibram.

My current boots - the Merrell Siren Waterproof Mid Leather women's hiking boot.
My current boots – the Merrell Siren Waterproof Mid Leather women’s hiking boot.

My Merrell boots are also waterproof, which is a must. You sacrifice breathability, but it’s absolutely worth it to be able to trudge through whatever water you come across (even just a small creek or puddle can totally soak your socks, and then you’re miserable). I have admittedly sweaty feet, and as long as you get some thinner hiking socks (click here for a guide to hiking socks) you’ll be good to go on the temperature front.

They even look cute with regular jeans! The pig is the mascot of our favorite BBQ place in Colorado.
They even look cute with regular jeans! The pig is the mascot of our favorite BBQ place in Colorado.

Hiking boots also vary in weight, and unless you’re doing some really intense hiking (in which case you are reading the wrong blog) anything heavy is just going to be a chore to wear.

A great option for lighter but sturdy shoes is Salomon’s trail-runner/hiking boot hybrid. My fiance has the men’s version and is in love with them, plus he always reminds me that he will be able to outrun me if we ever run into a bear (that’s what’s really important, right?).

From The Ground Up: Beginner's Guide to Hiking Boots

So when you go shopping, remember: find something comfortable with good ankle support that’s waterproof and grippy. Keep an eye out for REI sales, which is how both my fiance and I have gotten excellent deals on our boots! Once you’ve found your perfect pair, you’ll want to make sure to find a good pair of socks (or multiple pairs…#sockaddict) to go with them. Find out more about what sock brands you should look for here.

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