Women's gear, up first
I hike relatively rough terrain in deep snow and ice while carrying a 30-pound pack. I also periodically snowshoe. What boot can handle all these conditions and activities? Mirja Concord, Massachusetts
My rule of thumb with hiking boots: Once you find a pair that fit you well, wear them out.
Some hiking boot manufacturers still build their "women's-specific" shoes from a men's last. You want something that is made for your feet. Here are three options that work particularly well for women:
Lowa's Lady GTX ($280; lowaboots.com) has a Gore-Tex-lined nubuck leather upper and a PU midsole that absorbs shock and is a good insulator for cold weather activities like snowshoeing. This boot is built on a women's-specific last, which allows for better fit at the ankle, which in turn provides more lower-leg comfort. Designed to handle 50- to 60-pound packs for extended trips in the backcountry, the Lady GTX is likely more than enough boot for you.
I have a narrow foot with a high arch, which seems to fit Merrell's women's trail-running shoes and boots particularly well. Their Winterlude 6 ($120; merrell.com) waterproof boot has a few handy features like furry, antimicrobial Polartec insulation, a backstay with a snowshoe strap ridge, and a nubuck leather upper.
If you like the retro look and feel of a classic hiking boot, try Vasque's Summit GTX ($200; vasque.com). These waterproof boots are old-school bomber, with a chunky Vibram sole and a coffee-bean colored leather upper. At three pounds, four ounces, they're a little heavy and need a few good miles before they're properly worn in, but they'll be your BFF. Mine have lasted me at least a good ten years.