Nearly all of the hiking shoes and backpacking boots discussed in this report come in both men's and women's sizes. But women with especially small or narrow feet might find a better fit by trying female-specific designs.
In the made-only-for-women category, the Asolo Stynger GTX (*Est. $210) is the best reviewed hiking boot, featuring Cordura nylon mesh segments in the water-resistant suede uppers and a built-in Gore-Tex waterproof membrane. This boot earns high marks from reviewers at REI.com, Moosejaw.com, Backcountry.com and Zappos.com. Owners say these boots are comfortable for activities from day hiking up to backpacking with loads up to 35 pounds or so. Sizing can be somewhat counterintuitive: Some users say the Asolo Stynger GTX runs true to size, but at Backcountry.com one user recommends ordering a size smaller than you would normally buy and users at Zappos.com say the medium width is great for narrow feet.
Reviewers praise the Asolo Stynger GTX for excellent traction, comfort and water resistance. A few complain that the sole's durability is poor; some say it wore out or pulled away from the uppers. However, Backpacker magazine -- one of the most reliable and prolific sources of hiking boot reviews -- praises the boot's durable construction. At 2 pounds, 8 ounces, these boots are a bit heavy for light hikers, but if you need a women-specific fit, they're definitely worth a look.
Backpacker's editors also recommend the 38-ounce Asolo Attiva GTX (*Est. $220). Testers for the magazine's 2008 gear guide issue found these boots durable and comfortable even with a 45-pound load, but "not exceptionally breathable." The Attiva GTX earns high marks in user reviews at REI.com, where one woman says they provide "an amazing 'grip' going down hill." Quite a few owners at Buzzillions.com found them comfortable right from the first day.
For day hiking, Good Housekeeping recommends The North Face Vindicator Mid GTX (*Est. $120) for excellent moisture control -- both for rain from the outside and sweat from within. However, editors don't give details about why this Gore-Tex-lined boot proves better at moisture resistance than others tested. One drawback is that they may take a bit of time to break in.
The non-waterproof version of the Merrell Siren Sport (*Est. $95), a lightweight hiking shoe built on a women-specific last, also gets attention from users, although it doesn't crop up in expert reviews. One Moosejaw.com reviewer raves that you should buy the Siren Sport "if you want your feet to love you," praising the fit and comfort of these shoes, plus the fact that they accommodate her custom orthotics. REI.com users like the Siren Sport's comfort and light weight (average 1 pound, 4 ounces), and happy users say they put their Siren Sports to work for everything from housework to standing at work to hiking. Most agree that the shoe offers good cushioning, but a few complain about poor stability, and a number of owners say that even with three widths to choose from, these shoes still run quite narrow.