To find the best trail running shoe for women, we looked over 100-some different models before purchasing and testing 14 of 2019's best models. To test each pair, we went from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Hawaii. We summited 16,000-foot peaks in Peru and rocky alpine terrain in Iceland. We ran in the sun, the snow, and the rain for days on end. Each shoe saw at least 60 miles, sometimes all at once, others with short work-outs. After months of testing, we've got a pretty good idea of which trail shoes are the best, offering our top recommendations for different surfaces, fit, and condition.
The Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2019
|Price||$150 List||$99.93 at REI|
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|$109.90 at Amazon|
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|$84.97 at Backcountry||$129.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Superb traction, amazing durability, wide-toe box, zero-drop design, great sensitivity, highly protective outsole and upper||Aggressive and versatile outsole, breathable upper, protective, light cushioning, zero-drop, wide forefoot||Inexpensive, super lightweight, light cushioning, comfortable, zero-drop, wide toe box yet narrow profile||Versatile fit, large toe box, breathable, responsive cushioning, lightweight, quick to dry, less absorbent, great stability||Excellent traction, great balance of foot protection and sensitivity, specific fit, durable outsole|
|Cons||Laces come undone easily, lacks a women’s specific fit, upper takes time to break-in||Durability issues, expensive||Potential durability issues||No rock plate, some durability issues, mesh is not particulate-proof||Higher heel is less stable, lugs wear down on pavement|
|Bottom Line||This Editors' Choice winner is basically scores high in every metric, offering the best balance of features we've seen!||A lightweight zero drop shoe with ample toe splay that'll take you anywhere you wish.||This Best Buy winner offers lightweight cushioning with a zero-drop platform and wide toe box.||A low profile and lightweight shoe that makes you feel like you have wings.||An aggressive trail shoe that is built for the steepest and most technical trails out there.|
|Rating Categories||Inov-8 TerraUltra G260||Altra King MT 1.5 - Women's||Altra Superior 4.0 - Women's||Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4||Speedcross 5|
|Foot Protection (20%)|
|Comfort And Fit (15%)|
|Specs||Inov-8 TerraUltra G260||Altra King MT 1.5 - Women's||Altra Superior 4.0 - Women's||Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4||Speedcross 5|
|Weight - ounces||8.75 oz||9.60 oz||7.9 oz||8.90 oz||10.7 oz|
|Ideal Terrrain||All terrain||All terrain||All terrain||All terrain||Soft surfaces|
|Relative width (wide, regular, narrow)||Regular to Wide||Wide||Wide||Regular||Regular and Wide|
Best Overall Women's Trail Runner
Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's
If you seek a durable and high-performance trail shoe with a wider forefoot, great stability, and versatile traction, then this Editors' Choice winner, the Inov-8 TerraUltra G260, is our best recommendation. This unisex shoe features a thin design that integrates Kevlar into its uppers, which provide superior protection and breathability. The outsole features a Graphene polymer that is both strong and flexible, offering excellent traction on hard-packed and slippery terrain. It has a wider forefoot, better balance, and stability when shredding down boulder-stream trails. Our testers are astounded at the amazing performance and traction this shoe offers, making it our favorite, performing well in all categories.
While it offers flawless performance, it is not perfect. The uppers are super durable, but take a few runs to break-in, feeling rigid at first. We aren't too thrilled about the laces, which have a tendency to come undone. We also wish that the colors were a little more attractive. Some of our narrow footed testers didn't love the wide toe box, but they did like the tightly fitting heel cap that doesn't allow your foot to slide around much.
Read review: Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck for Versatility
Saucony Peregrine 8 - Women's
The Saucony Peregrine 8 offers the best performance for the best price. It stands out for versatility that is best for those used to a traditional shoe and wants something that can truly go anywhere. Its construction provides a fine balance of sensitivity, protection, and aggressive traction that'll have you confidently tackling all terrain from steep mountaintops to dusty dirt roads. Its durable outsole features 6mm lugs and a sticky rubber composite that works on moderate to super technical trails. The upper is nice and breathable, offering protection year-round. The cushioning underfoot is ample and comfortable, providing excellent protection. This best buy winner has a great price with amazing versatile protection, doing about average through all the metrics.
The newly designed midsole offers a comfortable ride on the trail but is quite soft. In this year's update, the midsole has changed, taking out the rock plate, and integrating a new foam layer. This layer adds weight to the shoe, making it more absorbent and unstable. Caveats aside, it's a high-value shoe and still offers excellent protection for fantastic versatility on all trails.
Read review: Saucony Peregrine 8 - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck for Zero Drop
Altra Superior 4.0 - Women's
The Altra Superior is a lower priced favorite that offers a zero heel-to-toe drop with a wide toe-box. We make it the best buy winner for those who seek a wider shoe with a zero-drop profile. The shoe features lightweight and very comfortable materials and is built to tackle everything from your first 5K to ultramarathons. Doing best on hardpacked surfaces, this lightweight and thinly cushioned contender offers a versatile outsole that isn't particularly aggressive. Given the lacking cushioning in the heel, it offers a neutral ride and is best for those seeking a wide-foot. A great option for those who like to stay on moderately technical terrain.
Given the outsole isn't super aggressive, this shoe slips and slides in heavy mud and doesn't stick as well as contenders with longer lugs on super steep terrain. Also, the Superior has been known for blow-outs after just a few hundred miles with the cushioning packing down quick. While it's a high-value shoe, it's longevity is questionable.
Read review: Altra Superior 4.0 - Women's
Top Pick Award for Versatility
Altra King MT 1.5 - Women's
Boasting a lightweight design with burly traction underfoot, the Altra King MT 1.5 can tackle any terrain that you can dream up. This lightly cushioned shoe is for those seeking incredible trail sensitivity with a zero-drop design. It offers total toe freedom, allowing your toe to completely spread out while providing one of the most specific fits we've seen from Altra thus far. This model is one of the lightest trail runners out there, and because the outsole is so burly, it does well on easy to challenging trails. Stick to the sides of mountains, fly down switchbacks and experience the balanced protection and stability of this awesome shoe that almost made it an Editor's Choice.
Given the zero-drop profile, it does not have ample cushioning and is best for forefoot strikers (not heel strikers). While traction is incredible and can perform in mud, it doesn't shed it well sadly. Also, this shoe has seen blowouts (from ultrarunning friends) after just a few hundred miles, so it frequently needs to be replaced if you're planning on training and running for hundred-mile races.
Top Pick Award for Traction
Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
The Salomon Speedcross 5 is a classic that doesn't see many updates. In this new rendition, we notice a wider, less narrow fit, deeper lugs and better performance overall. The chevron-shaped lugs are well-spaced offering great mud shed while sticking to the steepest slopes. The rubber is also sticky, grabbing rocks while scrambling about on ridges. Feel the overwhelming confidence as you charge around steep switchbacks. This Top Pick is our favorite when it comes to grabbing soft surfaces.
With many positives, there are bound to be some caveats. The upper absorbs water readily, taking time to dry out. The heel, while nicely cushioned sits high on the outsole, making it a little less stable than other lightweight contenders. It's also heavier and won't endure the pavement without the lugs wearing down quickly. This shoe is intended to be worn just on the trails, tackling the slippiest and steepest slopes out there.
Read review: Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
Top Pick for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 - Women's
In search of comfort? This uber plush midsole of the Hoka One One Challenger 5 will have you hitting the trails for hours on end. Built as a maximalist shoe, it has a bomber outsole that grabs and suctions to most surfaces. It does well over most terrain and in most climates. The thin, streamlined outsole is super breathable and quick to dry, making it a perfect option for river crossings or wet weather. It has a wider forefoot that provides decent toe-splay while hugging the heel and arch.
Given the excellent level of breathability, this shoe is not warm in the winter, nor do the lugs do well in slippery or sloppy weather. Also, because of all the responsive cushioning, it's not very sensitive nor is it the most stable shoe out there (but it's pretty good for a maximalist option). If you are a sucker for cushion underfoot, this is a favorite and top recommendation.
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King is a Senior OutdoorGearLab Editor that has been reviewing trail running shoes for the last six years. She's an avid trail runner taking on ultradistance marathons. She has raced in several trail ultramarathons including the Bryce Canyon 50 miler and the super technical and steep Telluride Mountain Run. When she's not climbing rocks around the Southwestern part of Colorado, you can find her taking on fastpacking missions around the world. Just last summer, she flew to Iceland and fastpacked the super remote Hornstrandir Natural Reserve that has no roads and only trails in its 580 km^2 wilderness. This year, she plans on fastpacking the Colorado Trail as a thru-run with her fun-loving roommate, Joanne Marcyzk, who is one of the many helping out in the testing process.
We have traveled all over the world testing trail running shoes. They've been up towering passes in Peru, over the summits of the San Juan mountains, and saturated on the beaches of Hawaii and Iceland. Each pair of shoes sees at least 80 miles of wear. Our testing team consists of a series of women located around Ridgway, CO who provide input and feedback on varying conditions and trail surfaces. With this feedback, we evaluate six critical metrics that help us determine our award winners and top recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
In this article, we provide a comparative overview of the best trail running shoes on the market. We look at key comparisons in the areas of foot protection, sensitivity, stability, traction, and weight, noting which do best in each. A great trail runner should provide you with the right amount of protection you need and the traction that you seek for any of your ambitions.
It's important to consider value, even though we don't provide a number score for it. Finding a good deal is as good as finding money in the pocket of an old jacket you haven't worn in a year. The best value options are the best buy award winners, and we highlight two in this update for different reasons. The Saucony Peregrine 8 (now the Saucony ISO) is a versatile option that does well on all trails. It is not the lightest out there, but best for those who need a tiny bit of cushion in the heel. The Altra Superior is a bit cheaper and offers a lightly cushioned ride. Its zero-drop design is best for forefoot strikers, and it offers an extra wide toe box that's great for hardpacked surfaces.
A great trail runner offers wonderful foot protection while maintaining sensitivity on the trail. Underfoot hazards are present on the trail, and it's important they don't stab through the outsole. Also, the upper should keep out particulates. We looked at the construction of each shoe and tested it while running over hazardous surfaces. We also note which shoes are water resistant, waterproof, or can't do water at all.
Shoes with a thicker midsole can cushion better from underfoot hazards, and those with an integrated rock plate in thinner cushion construction do well in this metric. Longer and thicker lugs in addition to hard rubberized toe caps offer better protection than those without them. Overlays that are tightly knit or continuous do better than those that are porous and breathable. Below, we outline some of the top performers in this category.Best All-Around Protection
If you're seeking a shoe that will keep your feet protected mile after mile, the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor is one of the top performers. It combined all the essential features of a protective shoe and kept our feet happy and healthy after a technical twenty mile run in the mountains. The super-thick cushioning (29mm in the heel, 22mm in the forefoot) of the midsole is what sets it apart from other protective options. The Inov-8 Roclite 305 is another protective option that earns a high score in this category, but only features 24 mm of cushioning in the heel with 16 mm in the forefoot. The Editors' Choice award winner Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g provides a superb amount of protection despite the 8mm of cushioning throughout, due to the rock plate.
The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 is another protective trail shoe that doesn't integrate a rock plate or a super hard toe cap. The midsole on this trail trotter features a responsive midsole with airy cushioning that wraps around all rocks and sticks on the trail. While this shoe has 28mm in the heel and 23 mm in the forefoot (similar to the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor), the variety of cushioning feels more protective in comparison to the denser midsole materials used in both the Ultra Raptor and Roclite 305.
Best for Water Crossings
Seeking the best trail running shoe for crossing the odd stream? A shoe with a waterproof upper that doesn't absorb water or dries quickly is the best option. None of the shoes we tested are entirely waterproof, but some dry out faster than others. For example, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 has an overlay mesh that isn't water-resistant or waterproof, but can dry quickly.
Feeling the trail underfoot is important for most trail runners. Enhanced sensitivity allows you to be nimble and quick, re-adjusting your body on the fly to ensure a normal foot strike position. To test sensitivity, we ran hundreds of miles over all types of terrain to see how easily we could feel the trail underfoot. To get a better comparison, we even wore two different shoes on each foot. In our tests, we learn that shoes with less cushioning and more flexibility did better than those with stiff and ultra-protective properties.
The HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz is the most sensitive in this review because of its lack of cushioning. The Altra King MT 1.5 and the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g are both super sensitive shoes that do an excellent job balancing foot protection. Both offer a responsive ride with the King MT's utilizing 19mm of cushioning underfoot and the TerraUltra's only using a measly 8mm! The outsole on the TerraUltra is a little thicker, each offering a similar level of sensitivity.
The Nike Terra Kiger 4 - Women's is another favorite in this realm. It's only protection is in the form of roughly 20-some millimeters of cushioning throughout the sole. It does not use a rock plate so that you can feel more of the trail. That said, it's not as protective as the Altra King MT or TerraUltra and doesn't have the same remarkable protection to sensitivity ratio.
When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. When testing, we subjected each shoe and pushed it to its limits. We ran in all types of terrain that brought us over mud, snow, pavement, scree, sand, and more. We tested on steep and unstable slopes, flat trails, and everything in between, hopping over river crossings to see which were the least (and the most) slipperiest.
It seems to be that the shoes manufactured by Inov-8 offer some of the best all-around protection out there! The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260 g blew our mind with the new hybrid outsole that integrates Graphene materials that is thin, flexible, and durable. On our runs, we were able to stick to the slipperiest of hard-packed surfaces with the lugs suctioning to anything we put them over.
Our Top Pick for traction offers brand new updates this year that has it shedding mud better than ever. It's designed to crush soft, technical trails better than any option out there right now. If you're going to be seeing the steepest mountainside and sliding down scree or mud, this is best recommendation we have for that purpose.
The Inov-8 Roclite 305 is another trail runner that has fantastic traction. It's a traditional trail runner with bomber versatility. Its outsole features a different but super durable rubber compound that sticks to all surfaces. The 5-mm lugs do a great job grabbing steep slopes and slippery surfaces, making it a better option for softer surfaces. The lugs are nicely spaced, shedding mud easily. Of the shoes tested in this review, it seems to grab best on wet rocks and over snow. The compound changes based on the temperature, becoming a little firmer in the snow or more pliable in warmer temperatures. The Altra King MT is another option with a bomber outsole that can do best on most surfaces.
Uneven surfaces and trail obstacles are inherent to the sport of trail running. Stability is key to avoid rolled ankles or falls. In this metric, we look at the relative stack weight to width ratio and consider the heel-to-toe drop. If that means nothing to you, to test, we ran in each over uneven surfaces to see which felt closer to the ground, and which felt like we were running in high heels.
Of all shoes tested, the most stable shoe proves to be the HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jaws. This low profile trail runner feels super low to the ground. With its less protective outsole, it also provides better sensitivity and thus stability. As a result, we felt confident running as fast as we could over technical terrain.
Another great option is the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g with its zero-drop design, wide platform, and simple 8-mm of cushioning underfoot. The lightweight Altra brands are similar in design with a little more cushioning, but broader platforms.
The La Sportiva Ultra Raptor is another stable shoe, not because it's sensitive or flexible, but quite the opposite. Despite its tall stack height, it displays a superb amount of security in the way of its stability features. If you like to wear a protective shoe that isn't flexible, this is our recommendation.
Comfort & Fit
In this metric, we rate the overall comfort of the shoe. We look at the anatomy of the materials on the collar, the lacing system, and note how the cushioning feels on lift-off and landing. In this section, we note relative fit but don't score on it simply because it's such a subjective metric. The most comfortable shoe will be the one that fits you correctly.
With amazingly cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 won our Top Pick for Comfort award. It stands out for its soft yet responsive midsole that provides ample protection from underfoot hazards. There are other shoes with a taller stack height like the Salomon Speedcross 5 and the Altra Lone Peak 4 but neither offer the super springy experience on the trail that we love as much as the Challenger 5.
There are other amazingly comfortable contenders in this review that also scored quite high in this metric. For example; the Saucony Peregrine 8 stands out for its versatile fit and comfort for the long run. The midsole offers a quick response that feels luxurious on foot. On the trail, it's a shoe that will keep you comfortable all day. The upper is breathable, offering a precise fit and the toe box is wide.
Lightweight shoes like the Altra King MT 1.5 offer comfort in the form of lightweight performance. It doesn't have a whole lot of cushion, but similar to all Altra shoes, the toe box is nice and wide which allows you to spread your toes on the trail. This width inherently helps to protect against blisters, keeping you happy for the ultra-distance. The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260-g is another lightly cushioned by a comfortable competitor, with it's cushioning being more responsive than the Altra options.Fit
In this section, we provide recommendations for relative sizing. Here we focus on the foot width to provide you with a jump off point for where you need to start looking.Narrow Fit
If you prefer a narrow fit from the arch of the foot to the forefoot, see the recommendations below.
Salomon Speedcross 5: This traditional trail runner offers plush cushioning throughout the midsole with a small amount of arch support. The shoe does best with a narrow to a regular fit, fitting snuggly throughout the heel, arch, and toe box. The new rendition is more narrow than the previous version.
La Sportiva Bushido: This low-profile shoe offers minimal cushioning throughout the midsole and provides more stability and sensitivity. The toe box is wide, but the shoe has a narrow fit from the heel to the arch. The fit is about a half size smaller than most American shoe sizes, so make sure to order a half size up.
Other options for narrow feet: inov-8 Roclite 305, HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, Vasque Constant Velocity II, Iceberg Zeal3 RB9X.Regular Fit (most versatile)
If you seek a shoe that has a fit best for most feet out there (most versatile fit), see the recommendations below.
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5: This shoe offers a full toe box but is best for a regular or even narrow foot.
Other options: Nike Terra Kiger 4, HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, Brooks Caldera 2, Saucony Peregrine 8.Wide Toe Box
Do you have wide feet? See our recommendations below.
Inov-8 TerraUltra 260G: This shoe offers a unisex fit that isn't women's specific. The wide toe box accommodates toe-splay and provides a well-fitted design through the arch of the foot, and the heel has a tight-fit that offers more precision than the Altra Lone Peak 4. It features a zero-drop design and only 8-mm of cushioning throughout the shoe that is best for midfoot strikers.
Other options: Topo Athletic Terraventure, Saucony Peregrine 8, Brooks Caldera 2, Altra King MT 1.5, Altra Lone Peak 4, Altra Superior
Having a lightweight shoe on the trail can make a world of difference if you're out for the day. If you're an ultra-runner, a couple of ounces may feel like ankle weights after 50 miles. If you're a recreational runner, a lighter construct may allow you to increase your turnover and have you feeling liberated on the trail. Also, it's important that when a shoe gets wet, it doesn't weigh you down. When evaluating the weight, we look at which is the lightest on foot and the scale.
The lightest shoe in our selection is the HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz weighing just 6.95oz. We felt like we could fly with this shoe on our foot; this makes it an excellent option for a quick race or speed workouts on the trail.
If you prefer a shoe with lightweight construction and protective cushioning, the Nike Terra Kiger 4 is a great option. It features a breathable and lightweight construct weighing only 8.55 oz. The Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 is also pretty amazing, weighing slightly less and offering more protection.
The Altra options (zero-drop & wide foot) are lightweight running options, slightly varying based on the level of outsole aggression and cushioning. The Superior is the lightest at weighing just a measly 7.6 oz while the Trail King MT 1.5 a heavier at 9.60 oz because of its more aggressive outsole. The Lone Peak, with the most amount of cushioning, is the heaviest of them all at 9.90 oz. All offer a nice lightweight ride on the trail, built to take you on journeys that extend into the ultradistance range.
Trail running is a perfect way to get into the backcountry and explore while moving quickly over varied terrain. A great trail running shoe will balance a healthy mix of all key metrics that we discussed in this review. While you continue your search for the best trail running shoe, be sure to brainstorm the features that you need and require, then try on some shoes. Happy trails!
— Amber King