After 6 years, 44 pairs of women's running shoes, and the receipts to prove it, we know which kicks make for the best runs. Here are the top 14 options. Our testing team is running obsessed. We took these shoes out for road, trail, and track runs to compare them side-by-side and sort the good from the great. Along the way, we noted our overall impressions and dove into the details, taking note of characteristics like landing comfort, stability, and responsiveness. We kept track of width options to help you find the right pair for your foot shape. From budget buys to long-distance runners to lighting fast milers, we've found the right side-kick for your running needs.
The Best Running Shoes for Women
Best Overall Running Shoe for Women
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 - Women's
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 is one of the most well-rounded shoes we've ever worn. It's amazingly balanced and has achieved excellent scores in nearly every metric. We love how stable and supportive it is, and the upper comfort is one of the best in this review. The landing comfort is more than adequate for the average runner without sacrificing too much responsiveness.
The major drawback to the Adrenaline is weight. It's undoubtedly one of the heaviest shoes that we tested, and for runners looking to race or work on their PRs, this might not be the best choice. That being said, if we could only run in one shoe for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to be able to move quickly, and over great distances, this would surely be the one.
Read review: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 - Women's
Best Budget Pick
Altra Intuition 4.5
If you are seeking comfort, look no further than our Best Buy Award winner, the Altra Intuition 4.5. The newly updated Intuition has great underfoot comfort, a plush upper with adequate ventilation, and ample toe room. The innovative design and women's specific fit that the Intuition 4.5 offer made us excited to run and rack up the miles in these comfy kicks. The 4.5 model has been updated with full rubber outsole and a single piece insole, and we were impressed by how these changes added to the overall smooth ride. We quickly felt their comfort underfoot from the moment we laced up; the soft EVA foam cushioning didn't compromise our performance, and we enjoyed the midsole A-Bound top layer and InnerFlex grooves that allowed the shoe to flex properly during our runs.
That being said, the Innerflex (that we do like for its landing comfort) did have some stability issues when we transitioned from flat road running to hill climbing or more dynamic terrain. Overall, the landing and upper comfort are what took the cake, along with their engineered mesh that kept our feet happy in any climate - not to mention the 3D pinstripes on the side that added to the shoe's style and structure.
Read review: Altra Intuition 4.5
Best for Speed
Salomon Sonic RA Pro 2 - Women's
New to our lineup is the Salomon Sonic RA Pro 2. This highly responsive shoe quickly became one of our favorites, and we found ourselves choosing it nearly anywhere we went. As one of the lightest shoes that we tested, the Sonic's responsive sole complements the shoe's design and makes for a super quick ride. The cushioning is comfortable yet thin, and we loved how this shoe managed to include great upper comfort without sacrificing weight.
There is not a lot of cushioning on the bottom of the Sonic, and there are certainly more stable models out there. At the end of the day, while this might not be the most well-rounded shoe or the one that we'd recommend to beginners, it's an incredibly valuable addition to our quiver, and we're happy to award it our Top Pick for Speed.
Read review: Salomon Sonic RA Pro 2 - Women's
Best for Distance
HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 - Women's
HOKA ONE ONE came on the ultrarunning scene only a few years ago, sparking interests with their strange, maximally-cushioned designs. Naturally, we had to try these out for ourselves. After weeks in these shoes, our testers were nothing but impressed. The HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 is the most cushioned shoe in their lineup, and we loved using it for our long, slow runs that require less responsive and more luxury.
We awarded this shoe our Top Pick for Distance in honor of this model's comfy, cozy, cloud-like step. While it takes some becoming accustomed to and there are other shoes with ample cushioning, nothing protects our feet quite like the Bondi. If you're looking for extra comfort, whether to stabilize knee pain or to shelter your feet from high mileage, the Bondi is truly a shoe you won't want to take off.
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our pavement warriors include Brittany Ahrens and Lauren DeLaunay. Brittany is an avid runner, tackling half marathon distances and placing in many races. When she's not running around her home town of Durango, CO, you can find her making candles and sharing the gift of yoga with friends and students. Lauren is also an avid runner who has been living on the road for many years. When she's not going out for a long run through the High Sierra and Tuolumne Meadows, you can find her tackling hard granite cracks in Yosemite. Both of these strong women, in addition to many other voices on our testing team provide invaluable feedback on the best road shoes out there.
Testing in all conditions, climates, and on a plethora of surfaces, we've truly put each to the test. After selecting a few of the best models out there, we spent hours diving into online research and intricately comparing features and materials of each shoe. Not only did we take each shoe on runs after school, but evaluated them through speed workouts and going to the gym. Through an unbiased lens, we provide you with our favorite recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you've just signed up for your twentieth marathon or need to walk your dog around the block, picking the right pair of kicks can be a challenging task. Recent advancements in materials and design have led to a bewildering array of choices. In addition to the improvements made in traditional models, the progression toward minimal or barefoot footwear and the recent eruption of maximally cushioned products have added new layers of complexity to the market. Luckily for you, we're to help make sense of it all.
Before we get started, we need to decide if road-specific running shoes are the best choice for you. If you run primarily on roads, sidewalks, the treadmill, or a track, stay right here! You are in the right spot. Even if you take the occasional cruise through dirt and gravel roads, a road-running shoe is going to be your best option.
We're going to get started by recommending a model that has a balance of all the metrics we tested for. Unlike some of our other reviews, where our award-winning products score highly in every single category, a product that scores highly in cushioning, for example, may not be the right fit for you. Hence, we start our quest by looking for a road shoe that balances cushioning and responsiveness without weighing us down. After establishing that baseline, we can look at the smaller details of each shoe to narrow down your perfect fit.
Types of Road Running Shoes
Running shoes are commonly categorized by the degree of foot motion they accommodate. More specifically, the amount of pronation that individuals experience during the gait cycle, taking into consideration runners with a neutral gait, runners whose feet over-pronate inward, and runners who under-pronate, or supinate, outward. Secondary classifications around shoe performance and the level of cushioning give runners a nice matrix of options when it comes to selecting the right product. Here's a quick rundown of the types you'll encounter when shopping. Some of these types describe different aspects of shoe design, so some models may fit a few classifications. For example, a "neutral" fit describes the amount of stability, while a "maximum cushioning" shoe's build will be reflected in its "landing comfort" score.
Neutral shoes are best suited for runners with neutral pronation or supinated gait patterns along with moderate to high arches. These models are built with enough stability to support the foot through its average range of motion but tend to focus more on cushioning and flexibility. All of the shoes in this review are marketed as neutral runners by the manufacturer except for the Brooks Adrenaline GTS and Nike Air Zoom Pegasus, both of which promote their supportive yet balanced designs. The range in this category can be quite broad, which is nowhere more evident than when comparing the maximally cushioned HOKA Bondi 6 with the minimalistic Altra Escalante 1.5.
Stability shoes are great for neutral runners to mild over-pronators as they offer guidance and medial support to keep your gait in an ideal pattern. Generally, these sneakers are more rigid than their neutral counterparts and can be heavier due to the extra postings used in structuring the foundation of the shoe. The Adrenaline GTS and Air Zoom Pegasus made their mark here.
A relatively new trend in running shoes, especially trail running shoes, is minimalism. This term can be used to describe a few different traits but often is referring to the shape and amount of cushioning on a shoe. Altra, for example, uses "zero-drop" construction, meaning that the heel and toes are at the same height, as opposed to traditional shoes which often elevate the heel 5-10mm. This term can also refer to the amount of cushioning a shoe has, as more and more runners seek a "barefoot" feel.
On the other end of the spectrum from minimalism is, of course, maximalism. Companies like HOKA ONE ONE and Altra are promoting heavy padding, specifically targeted to distance and ultra-distance runners.
At OutdoorGearLab, we respect quality products that present a good value. For that reason, we grant a variety of awards, including our Best Buy award. You'll find that the Altra Intuition 4.5, is the winner of our Best Bang for the Buck award. However, a variety of other products ring in just above that price range including the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19, Brooks Ghost 11, Altra Intuition, and Salomon Sonic RA Pro 2.
When we're testing shoes, our team aims to be as objective as possible. Generally speaking, we ignore prices until our testing is complete. We don't want the price of a product to change our perspective, but we also know that it's an important criterion. To judge value, we factor in the price after we've finished our hands-on testing and scoring, and then we see how the scores stack up when related to price. But as a quick reminder, running shoes are an incredibly personal purchase, and if you're the type of runner who packs on serious miles, the right shoe can make a big difference, even if it means spending a few more dollars.
Whether you run a few miles a year or are tied to a rigorous training schedule, it's called "pounding pavement" for a reason.
With that pounding in mind, our testers used the "landing comfort" metric as the first and most important evaluation criteria. Nothing makes us want to stop running more than tired, blistered feet, so we used this category to judge a few different shoe traits. For each shoe, we reviewed its ability to cushion our feet and provide adequate shock absorption. We also compared the construction of midsoles and materials.
We got to know each shoe and were able to comment on each product's ideal running scenarios, whether they were built for long runs or speed workouts (or neither). While there are obvious differences between a high-mileage shoe like the HOKA Bondi and a racing model like the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus, we want our shoes to leave our feet feeling fresh from the first mile to the last. Generally, the more cushioned a shoe, the higher its score in this metric, though we did appreciate shoes with a middle ground between cushioning and support, such as the Altra Intuition 4.5.
The Bondi was, without a doubt, the most cushioned shoe that we tested. It does have a very different feel than any other shoe in this review, and likely, different than any shoe you've tried on before. Because of the maximum cushioning, your foot will sit considerably higher off the ground, creating a unique feel that takes some getting used to. If you take the time to adjust to this shoe, we think you'll find a great fit ideal for runners who pack on the miles. If shorter distances are more your style, however, you may want something with a bit less cushion.
The Bondi is followed by the HOKA Clifton which is also luxuriously padded, and then all three Brooks models, the Adrenaline, Ghost, and Glycerin. The Altra Intuition 4.5 also stands out here. Take note of the Adidas Ultraboost and Reebok Floatride, however; while comfortable, are also unique and require some getting used to because of their sock-like upper supported by a plastic cage. While it may not be the right fit for every runner, we recommend trying it on in a store and seeing what you think.
Responsiveness, as far as running shoes are concerned, describes how a shoe responds to the energy we put into it.
We initiate our strides with kinetic input, and a shoe's responsiveness dictates how easily our feet travel through the motions. When we're closely connected to the movements of our feet and the variations in terrain, we adapt our pace with less energy output; this translates to more efficient running at quicker speeds. Adversely, significant cushioned, high-mileage shoes are inherently less responsive. As a general rule, the higher a shoe scores in responsiveness, the lower it scores in landing comfort, and vice versa.
This is one metric that's going to require some real introspection. Of course, we'd love to find a shoe that is as comfortable as it is responsive. Unfortunately, that's not how shoes are usually made, which leaves you to decide which of these two characteristics are more relevant to you, or if you want something in the middle.
The Air Zoom Pegasus from Nike and the Sonic RA Pro 2 from Salomon were two of our favorite responsive shoes. Next up were the similarly-built Ultraboost and Floatride. These are lighter styles more appropriate for racing or speed workouts than everyday running, however. Out of our fleet of shoes for the average recreational runner who is looking for an equal blend of responsiveness and comfort, the Adrenaline, Ghost, and Mach are great options.
Aside from style, the first thing we notice about a shoe is its upper comfort. The moment we slip our feet into a new pair of shoes, we have an initial reaction to its materials, tongue cushioning, and shape.
Some shoes in this review we disliked immediately, while others we never wanted to take off. While it may not seem as important as some of the performance metrics like "responsiveness" and "stability", if your shoes are uncomfortable, you'll never want to get out to use them, making comfort a hidden performance factor. We look at the lacing structure, softness, and breathability of materials, footbox shape, and overall upper design and construction, ideally finding a shoe that lets us forget we're even wearing it. Breathability is a feature most people tend to overlook while focusing on comparing fit, but breathability does play a large part in how comfortable your ride is while you're cranking up the mileage. Our frontrunners were built off a lack of interference that allowed us to run with ease.
Our reviewers' favorite uppers were all featured on Brooks models. This helped win the Adrenaline GTS our Editors' Choice Award. The Ghost and Glycerin weren't far behind, with both HOKA models, along with the Altra Intuition 4.5, ranking exceptionally comfortable thanks to their plush padding. Some shoes that had slightly non-traditional designs were still comfortable, however. The Adidas Ultraboost or Reebok Floatride may appeal to some buyers for their sock-like fit and feel, but we recommend trying them on before making the purchase. Similarly, the Altra Escalante and HOKA Mach received low scores here for their lack of padding, but for minimalist shoes, the uppers were soft despite not having any cushioning on the tongue.
To correct over-pronation, some running shoes include stability-focused design elements. These shoes have additional support in the form of plastic posts or plates in the midsole that counteract excessive rotation of the foot and help support it into a more neutral position. Not everyone needs stability in their running shoes, so this criterion applies specifically to runners with moderate or flat arches that tend to collapse when running. Not sure if this describes you? Many running shops and even some online companies offer a gait analysis test and knowledgeable staff trained to determine if stability is important or helpful for you.
Stability in a running shoe is a performance design element that is intended to correct over-pronation. The additional support (in the form of plastic posts or plates in the midsole) counteract the excessive rotation of the foot and support it into a more neutral position. Stability models are for those with moderate to flat arches that tend to collapse when running. Many running shops and even several online companies offer a gait analysis to determine if stability and support are helpful tools in their running. Choosing a shoe design that best meets your support needs is a real effort in knowing your body, its movements, and recognizing the type of support being offered to create the best match for you.
Regardless of arch shape, everyone wants to feel supported in their shoes, and we've awarded high scores to shoes that had ample reinforcements in the midfoot and toe. Only the Adrenaline GTS and Air Zoom Pegasus have manufacturer-touted stability features, and we recognized both of these while testing. Despite not being constructed for support purposes, the ASICS Gel-Cumulus and HOKA Clifton have exceptional reinforcement.
We can't deny that weight affects running ability, and this is one of the first metrics we noticed when we pulled each pair out of its box. That being said, in our experience, counting ounces just isn't as important as many of the other performance and comfort factors that we evaluated.
Unless elite-level racing is in your near future, we'd suggest using weight as a secondary deciding factor after more noticeable criteria like upper and landing comfort. Once you've narrowed your selection down to a few miles, then you might consider looking at weight to make your final pick. The more cushioned and supportive a shoe, the more likely it is to weigh more, so the right shoe for you is likely going to be one with a weight in the middle of the range.
The range of weights per shoe in this review was from 6.8 ounces to 9.8 ounces. Tied for first place are the HOKA Mach and Salomon Sonic, both clocking in at a mere 6.8 ounces. Next up we have the Escalante, at 7.1 ounces, quickly followed by the Reebok Floatride at 7.2 ounces, and the Altra Duo at 7.3. Next in line is the Clifton, despite its burly padding, the Altra Intuition 4.5, and the Pegasus. Because most of the shoes we tested fall in the 8-ounce range, we wouldn't worry too much about the difference between fractions of an ounce. You might, however, notice the gap on the extreme ends of the spectrum, so it's worth checking out the weight listed and determining for yourself what "too heavy" or "too light" means for you.
As full-time testing rats for OutdoorGearLab, we do a lot of shopping. We know that the running market is oversaturated with options and is full of fancy lingo, and misleading marketing. With so many options to choose from, finding the right running shoe can be a huge task. We spent months reviewing the fourteen most popular women's models on the market, from lightweight, minimalist racers to plush, maximalist mileage hogs and everything in between. In this article, we aimed to explain each of the scoring metrics we used in our evaluations to help you pin down just the right pair.
— Lauren DeLaunay