Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2020
Related: Best Trail Running Shoes for Men of 2020
|Price||$130 List||$100.00 at Amazon||$81.73 at REI|
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|$130 List||$89.93 at REI|
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|Pros||Excellent value, protective, lightweight, superior stability, cushioning for the long haul||Wonderful traction, balance of sensitive and protection, durable outsole and upper, unisex design||Protective, comfortable, wider toe box, excellent beefy traction for soft surfaces, huge value||Light, very protective, excellent mud shed, superior traction, surprisingly stable||Versatile use, aggressive outsole, fits most, comfortable, protective, all terrain use, good price|
|Cons||Short laces||Laces are short and stupid, expensive, potential midsole durability issues, zero drop may not be for everybody||Not ideal for roads, huge sizing||Narrow fit, runs small, rigid construction takes time to break-in||No water drainage system|
|Bottom Line||Perfectly balanced across all the metrics, this top dog has a little bit of something for everybody||Conquer all types of trails with this all-around performer||Soft and technical trails are no problem with this high value contender||Built for soft and slick surfaces, this shoe truly does stick to everything and sheds mud like a champ||Comfortable and aggressive, this shoe is built for any trail for any distance|
|Rating Categories||MTL Long Sky||Inov-8 TerraUltra G260||Supercross Blast||Dynafit Feline SL - Women's||Peregrine 10|
|Foot Protection (20%)|
|Comfort And Fit (15%)|
|Specs||MTL Long Sky||Inov-8 TerraUltra...||Supercross Blast||Dynafit Feline SL...||Peregrine 10|
|Measured Weight||8.90 oz||8.45 oz||10.5 oz||9.80 oz||9.80 oz|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop||8 mm||0 mm||10 mm||8 mm||4 mm|
|Upper||Mesh & TPU||Kevlar Mesh||Continuous ripstop nylon||Mesh, continuous nylon||Engineered mesh with 3D print overlays|
|Midsole||EVA||EXTERFLOW||EVA Foam||Feline SL midsole||PWRRUN|
|Outsole||Vibram MegaGrip||Graphene Grip||Contragrip TD||Sticky Pomoco Outer||PWRTRAC|
|Sizes Available||5 - 11||4 - 15||5 - 12||5 - 11||5 - 12|
Best Overall Women's Trail Runner
Merrell MTL Long Sky - Women's
Balancing all elements that you'd expect in an excellent trail runner, the Merrell MTL Long Sky blows the competition out of the water. Our testers fell in love with this shoe from when they slipped it on to take on 20+ mile trail runs over technical terrain. The outsole features durable lugs that hug wet rocks, zoomy single track, roads, and snow. While it has a traditional heel to toe drop, the shoe still feels quite low to the ground, inspiring confidence and stability. This is a trail shoe we'd recommend for any runner at any level, whether you're starting out or taking on your next ultradistance trail race.
There's very little wrong with this shoe. The platform is surprisingly wide but not as wide as some contenders, like the Altra Lone Peak or Topo Terraventure. While it'll fit most women, some may not be fond of the 8mm drop from heel to toe. We also wish the laces did a better job of staying laced. Aside from that, it's our favorite and earns our high accolades.
Read review: Merrell MTL Long Sky Shoe - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck
Saucony Peregrine 10 - Women's
The Saucony Peregrine 10 continues to be one of the most versatile trail running shoes tested. The mega-bomber outsole offers the traction that bites in with support for even the softest of surfaces. The midsole is responsive, plush, and very comfortable with more room in the forefoot and midfoot for wide feet and toes that need to wiggle. The shoe is both flexible and protective and feels lightweight after running for miles. Designed for those who plan on tackling just about any surface, from smooth dirt roads to super rocky terrain, it is one of the highest scores for a good price.
The newest iteration of this shoe has a fit that is a little tighter than it used to be in the forefoot with a new upper, making it harder to fit for those that love toe splay. As a result, we'd recommend a half size up if you're on the fence. It's a wonderful option for those with a regular and narrow foot profile and offers well-rounded performance at a great price.
Read review: Saucony Peregrine 10 - Women's
Best Bargain for Sloppy Surfaces
Salomon Supercross Blast - Women's
The Salomon Supercross Blast follows its predecessor, the Salomon Speedcross, in design and performance. Built for comfort and confidence on the trail, it features 5-mm sticky ContraGrip rubber lugs that stick to basically everything. This shoe is a top choice for sloppy, wet, or muddy terrain. It also does well on dry or technical trails where ridge traversing or some rock climbing is involved. The continuous nylon upper is ultra-protective with a fit that is surprisingly wide in the forefoot for the Salomon brand. What's better than that at such a fantastic price?
Unfortunately, the fit of this shoe is huge If you're not into having about an extra inch of space at the toe, we recommend sizing down at least a half size. Many of our testers noticed this first when slipping it on. While we like the ease of use of the single-pull lacing system, the lace sometimes comes unlatched and flops around, which for some, can be a deal-breaker. If you're a woman seeking a super comfortable and technical trail runner, this one will stick to the trail, whether it is muddy, slick, or steep.
Read review: Salomon Supercross Blast - Women's
Best Affordably Priced Trail Runner
ASICS Gel Venture 7 - Women's
This year we took the time to find some decent trail runners at a very affordable price. While most trail running shoes are an initial investment, the Asics Gel Venture 7 is a traditional shoe that offers good performance over rocky terrain - with great crossover action. Available in two widths, it offers wonderful arch support with a supportive collar, which prevents foot slippage when moving up and down trails. While it is not our choice for technical terrain, it's perfect for easy single-track and non-technical surfaces over shorter distances. The underfoot foam is protective, while the constructive seems to be pretty durable over our 60 miles of testing.
Unfortunately, at a lower price, you won't get the same performance as other higher quality options in this review. While the lugs do well on less technical terrain, it's not ideal for super-slippery surfaces. It can handle rocky trails, but not for long as the only protection is in the form of foam, with no rock plate. While the upper can resist the occasional splash of water, it will saturate quickly and takes more time to dry out. It is also a shoe that isn't as breathable for the summer months.
Read review: Asics Gel Venture 7 - Women's
Best for Muddy and Soft Surfaces
Dynafit Feline SL - Women's
Every woman that's tried on or seen the Dynafit Feline SL in our testing group has been quite impressed. This shoe seems to have almost everything. A protective yet breathable upper that'll wick away rain and mud. An aggressive and sticky outsole that's fit for scrambling over mountain ridges, sticking to steep, kitty-littered trails, and built to shed even the stickiest of clay mud. The fit is narrow throughout the shoe and offers a surprising level of sensitivity as well as comfort for short or medium length runs. This is a great all-season running shoe, especially when the trails or roads are muddy, wet, or slick.
While we wanted to completely love this shoe, we are not huge fans of the fit. The fit is narrow from the heel to the forefoot. For those that like to spread their toes, you should pass on this one and move to another option. For those that do love a narrow fit, be sure to size up a half size. This shoe runs small. Also, be prepared for a break-in period; this isn't a shoe you can run long distances out of the box. If you're looking for the best when it comes to excellent traction so you can climb a technical peak or run steep trails, this narrow trail runner is a good one to consider.
Read review: Dynafit Feline SL - Women's
Best for Long Distances
Altra Lone Peak 4.5 - Women's
We can't help but give the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 a shout-out. It's our main editor's favorite for any long distance. It boasts the largest toe box of any trail runner tested with ample amounts of cushioning underfoot. This shoe is built for distance and is a popular choice in the ultra running community. Its upper is flexible and protective, while the outsole will stick to rocky terrain and technical trails. It's been a favorite of ours for a long time and the pair we reach for on long training runs and ultra-distance races.
While we love this shoe, it's not for everybody. The zero-drop design takes a lot of training to get used to. Since there is no extra cushioning in the heel, it pushes you onto your forefoot, which can be tough on both the calves and Achilles. With proper training, this can wain, but it will take time. Additionally, it's not a very durable trail shoe. Expect to replace it after running 250-300 trail miles as the cushioning tends to pack out with heavy use.
Read Review: Altra Lone Peak 4.5 - Women's
Best for Stability and Protection
La Sportiva Akyra - Women's
If you appreciate a burly, protective, and stable construction, you can't go wrong with the La Sportiva Akyra. After testing this shoe for over 1000 miles, we're still using it on the trail. The cushioning is comfortable and responsive for everything from 5K'ers to ultradistances. If you're an ankle roller or need additional stability elements, this one has great arch support and provides an excellent heel to toe flow. It's built for forefoot and heel strikers alike, but those that strike with the heel will appreciate the rolling camber (heel to toe) and the extra cushioning in the forefoot. While it's not the most sensitive, you can still feel the trail, with the burly outsole giving you confidence on any type of loose or hard-packed terrain.
This shoe isn't for every woman. It's heavy, bulky, and armored for ultra-protection and stability. While some women might appreciate this, especially for long distances, many will pass to a lighter option with a little "less" when it comes to materials. Also, be aware that the break-in period takes more time than other trail running shoes. If you seek a super stable and protective trail runner, you're going to love this one.
Read review: La Sportiva Akyra
Best for Cushion
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 - Women's
In search of comfort? The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 features an uber plush midsole for hitting the trails for hours on end. Built as a maximalist shoe for long-distance running, it has a bomber outsole that grabs and suctions to most surfaces, doing best over dry flatter surfaces with minimal technicality. The thin, streamlined outsole is super breathable and quick to dry, making it a perfect option for river crossings or wet weather. Its wider forefoot offers nice toe-splay while hugging the heel and arch, without your foot sliding forward.
Given the excellent level of breathability, this shoe is not warm in the winter, nor can the lugs grab super sloppy muddy surfaces. As a result of the responsive cushioning, it's not very sensitive, nor is it the most stable shoe (but it's pretty good for the amount of cushioning it has). Avoid it for rocky tundra or surfaces where you might find yourself constantly on uneven terrain, and keep it for flatter terrain with rock slabs, sand, and kitty litter trails.
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 women since 2014. She's an avid trail runner taking on ultra-distance marathons and has raced in several trail ultramarathons, including the Bryce Canyon 50 miler and the 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. For work, she is the founder and teacher of her educational non-profit, Treeline Education that specializes in outdoor education and experiences.
We have traveled all over the world, testing women's trail running shoes for the last six years. We've taken them up towering passes in Peru, over summits in the Rocky Mountains, and the dry terrain of the desert. We've flown to remote Islands in Iceland and run along the sunny beaches of Hawaii. Each pair has at least 60 miles (some with over 1000 miles, if they last that long) of trail experience with our team of female experts providing feedback on each one. With all this data, we've compiled an authentic and genuine review that reflects our on-trail experience.
Analysis and Test Results
Our train running shoe review covers a wide range of products to reflect what the best options are on the market. Each shoe is subjected to the same tests to objectively determine fine differences. After rating each across our metrics, we assign it a comparative score to determine which has the best performance. We compare each in-depth to help you find exactly what you're looking for.
When buying a pair of shoes, you want to ensure that they will perform well for the money you invest. A good shoe with great value is one that'll last at least 500 miles, depending on how you run, where you run, and your physique. Many shoes will either lose responsiveness in the foam or lose an upper after this time. However, many opt to buy those that are not as durable simply because they are light and flexible with good performance when they are in top shape.
Of the shoes tested, there are plenty of durable options that offer great performance. The Saucony Peregrine 10 has excellent performance and a reasonable price. While the cost of this shoe isn't that different from many of the other top performers, it's a little less. The Salomon Supercross Blast - Women's is another low-cost option with superior performance and is best suited for technical or softer terrain. The ASIC Venture 7 is a classic trail runner with nice cushioning and protection throughout. It's more rigid and takes some time to break in, but offers superior durability. This is by far the least expensive shoe with the best performance overall. The La Sportiva Akyra is another to highlight. While it's upfront cost is high, this one has lasted us the longest, logging over 1000 miles, with juice still left over. This is after running through the mountains for dry Colorado. All are great value options to consider.
An excellent trail runner provides the right combination of foot protection to sensitivity, which allows a runner to feel the trail underfoot without suffering hard blows from unsuspected hazards. In this metric, we consider the cushioning and the presence of a rock plate to protective feet. We also explore the architecture of the upper to see if it is breathable and keeps out smaller particles from entering the shoe and evaluate the toe cap's rigidity and protection from unsuspected stubbed toes that can cause you to halt to a stop. All the trail running shoes for women tested offer enough protection to be worn on most types of trails.
The most protective trail running shoes are those with hard toe caps, a continuous upper, and a midsole that is thick enough to protect from underfoot hazards. These are the ones that'll protect for many miles on treacherous terrain. Our favorites include the Merrell MTL Long Sky, the La Sportiva Akyra with a super thick and responsive cushioning, Dynafit Feline SL, and Salomon shoes like the Salomon Speedcross 5 and Salomon Supercross Blast.
All have beefy, protective midsoles without a rock plate. The Salomon Speedcross 5 and Supercross Blast doesn't have a mesh upper (like the Akyra and Long Sky) but is built with a continuous upper that is superior to any at keeping debris out of the shoe. The Saucony Peregrine ISO has a thicker outsole but doesn't have a hard toe cap or a continuous upper. The Dynafit Feline SL has some of the best protective features (apart from the Las Sportiva Akyra) with one of the beefiest toe caps on the market.
Other protective options aren't as thick in the sole, but thinner with a protective rock plate. They are also a little more flexible. The Inov-8 Terraultra G 260 and Scarpa Spin Ultra both fit into this category. While the Inov-8 Terraultra is thinner than the Scarpa Spin Ultra, its rock plate is of very high quality, and the kevlar infused upper does a great job at resisting water, which adds to its protection score. The Scarpa Spin has more underfoot protection, which earns it a higher score in this category.
Other shoes like the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 and HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 are both maximalist options with a huge amount of springy cushioning. When moving over trail hazards, the foam wraps itself around the hazard, protecting your foot. Neither uses a rock plate, with the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 offering the amplest cushioning of these two maximalist contenders. Since the Speedgoat 4 uses more cushioning underfoot, it is inherently more protective, even though both offer a nice barrier from underfoot hazards.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 and dries quickly is the best option. None of the shoes we tested are completely waterproof, but some dry out faster than others. For example, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 and the Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 have an overlay mesh that isn't water-resistant or waterproof but does dry quickly while on the run. We also appreciate the Topo Ultraventure, which does a good job at draining, while the upper doesn't get saturated on snowy runs.
Shoes that offer excellent sensitivity are ones that have less cushioning underfoot. A shoe with enhanced sensitivity allows you to be nimble on the trail. You feel underfoot hazards, which gives you time to re-adjust body positioning when setting off balance. Sensitivity is the yin to foot protection yang. A good shoe will have a little bit of both, which is both metrics are equal in weight. To test, we see which shoes offer the least amount of cushioning in the forefoot and which ones allowed us the most trail feedback.
The most sensitive shoes are those with very minimal cushioning in the forefoot (less than 8mm) and no rock plate. None of the shoes we reviewed fit this criterion. Instead, the most sensitive options come with a rock plate with a tiny bit of cushioning. The Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 takes the cake in this category with only 9mm of cushioning underfoot. The La Sportiva Bushido 2 is also very thin but has 14.5mm of cushioning in the forefoot. During our testing, we could wear both of these shoes on pretty rocky terrain; however, after about ten miles (and we have seasoned feet), we felt pretty sore. As a result, we'd recommend building up some miles slowly if you're planning on running ultra distances in either.
Other options have thicker cushioning that is softer to make sensitivity ideal. The Altra Superior has 21 mm of cushioning with a rock plate integrated while the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 6 (10.5/14.5mm) has no rock plate. Since the cushioning in the Superior is softer, we can feel the ground more closely than the Nike Terra Kiger 5. Others have thicker soles, like the Altra King MT 2, which takes a little bit away from the sensitive feel of the trail.
When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. So, we made sure we rated each on its ability to bite down on the trail. When testing, we subjected each trail running shoe to different types of surfaces in different conditions; this includes mud, snow, pavement, scree, sand, sandstone, granite slabs, and more. The slope we test on ranges from steep and unstable to flat. We dunk them in rivers and run in the snow, simply to see how each will perform when wet.
Three shoes this year stand out for their traction, but only one takes our award for sloppy and technical surfaces. First, that beats out both the Salomon options is the Dynafit Feline SL. The Salomon Supercross Blast, then the Salomon Speedcross 5 follow. All have longer sticky lugs that'll stick to most surfaces. However, the Dynafit Feline SL has lugs that are more rigid and durable, holding better on steep surfaces that are quite sloppy. We tested this while running with one on each foot. The Dynafit proves to slip less, earning it higher points than both options in traction. We can also run with this shoe on the road without having to worry about lug wear-down, unlike the Salomon options.
If you plan on tackling more trails less littered with grass, mud, and other soft surfaces, you'd be better off looking at other shoes with lugs that aren't as long but just as awesome. The Saucony Peregrine 10 has an aggressive outsole that'll satisfy any trail condition. The TerraUltra 260g and the Merrell Long Sky are other good choices. All offer aggressive outsoles that'll perform on technical trails while easily transitioning to the road.
The La Sportiva Akyra and Altra King MT 2 are two more options to consider. The La Sportiva Akyra features a sturdy build that adds to the traction of its superiorly beefy outsole. The Altra King MT is not as sturdy with its soft, flexible upper, but it has deeper chevron spaced lugs that are spaced out on a zero-drop design, making it the most aggressive of Altra shoes that we've tested.
While the choices above are great for more technical terrain, all the shoes scoring mid-range offer functionality on most trails you'd encounter while running. All the shoes tested can take on a rocky, dry single track easily. Those that are great for both the road and the trail (crossover options) also exist. All the shoes mentioned above function for this well. However, if you find yourself on the road more often than not, take a look at the Nike Terra Kiger 6 that transitions easily from the road to trail. The Brooks Cascadia 14 also has a less aggressive outsole that is durable enough for road running. The Asics Venture 7 is another lacking a protective rock plate, and featuring a gel-infused midsole that'll have you bouncing easily from the trail to the road.
A stable shoe is one that'll keep you on your feet when picking through rogue rocks and uneven terrain. The stability of the shoe comes from the use of more rigid materials in the outsole of the shoe in addition to its relative height to width at the base of the shoe. The shoes that offer good support in the upper while hugging the ground are the ones that do best in this metric.
There are two favorites that we want to gloat about. First, is the La Sportiva Akyra. This is the most protective and armored shoe tested with excellent stability. The Scarpa Spin Ultra does the same work but is lighter, which is attractive to many, however, it's not as protective and more flexible. We also appreciate the stability of the Merrell Long Sky and Dynafit Feline SL that do well over uneven surfaces. Despite its higher stack height, you still feel low to the ground as you glide over the trail.
Unlike the two shoes mentioned above with a lot of underfoot cushioning and a more rigid structure, the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g is another stable option with less cushioning underfoot and enhanced sensitivity that inherently increases stability. It has a wider foot box that disperses the impact force. The La Sportiva Bushido is another with less cushioning, but it infuses a more rigid outsole for better stability on super technical surfaces. All the shoes mentioned above can take on rocky or uneven terrain well into the ultra miles. Your feet will just appreciate some time getting used to them, especially after mile 10.
Other women's trail running shoes with a super wide toe box are more stable than those with a more narrow toe box. Many shoes from Altra keep you low to the ground. Of the three tested, the Altra Superior is the most stable since it has the least amount of cushioning with the widest relative toe box in comparison to the Altra King 2. The Altra Lone Peak 4.5 is the least stable of the three simply because of its thicker cushioning. The Topo Ultraventure is another shoe constructed almost exactly like the Lone Peak. It has a more specific fit, but isn't as flexible as the Altra Lone Peak 4,5, making it a touch less stable.
Flexible shoes with a lightweight, low profile design tend to be more stable. This includes the Nike Terra Kiger 6. The Nike Terra Kiger is very flexible with minimal underfoot airy cushioning that wrap around trail hazards to help keep you upright. Since you can feel the ground, you'll get a better sense of where it is, offering more stability and balance as you crush the miles.
Comfort and Fit
In this metric, we rate the overall comfort of a trail running 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. We note relative fit but don't score on it simply because it's such a subjective metric. Ultimately, it's important to consider that the most comfortable shoe is the one that fits you best.
With amazingly cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 is our most comfortable shoe. It stands out for its soft yet responsive midsole that provides ample protection from underfoot hazards. While the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 offers more of this springy cushioned bliss it's not as light as the Challenger and has a slightly more narrow toe box.
Other shoes with a taller stack height, like the Merrell Long Sky, Salomon Supercross Blast, and Salomon Speedcross 5, don't provide the super springy experience quite like the HOKA ONE ONE shoes, but do have responsive cushioning underfoot. The Topo Ultraventure has a wide toe box that lets your toes wiggle while the Speedcross 5 has a more fitted and narrow design.
Of the wide and zero drop shoes, the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 stands out as the most cushioned, and the most comfortable, especially for super long trail days. It's actually our go-to for ultra running missions and hiking on long trips. The Altra Superior and Altra King MT are two other wide-footed options without ample cushioning. They are still comfortable, but take some time to get used to on long trails.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. We indicate if the shoe you want comes in either a wide or regular fit option.Narrow Fit
If you have a narrow foot, look for shoes with a tight-fitting heel cup and a narrow profile around the arch. The forefoot can still be wide, but it's important that you can lock your foot into the shoe to avoid slippage. The shoes made by Salomon are a great option for you. We also like the Nike Air Terra Kiger 6 and Brooks Cascadia 14.
Most shoes fit in this category. A regular fit is one that most people can wear. Of them, the Saucony Peregrine 10 and Inov-8 Terra Ultra are two of our favorites. Many of the shoes we tested have a regular fit and fall under this category.
Wide Toe Box
Are you looking for a shoe that offers a wider toe box? The shoes by Topo and Altra dominate this market, but there are many other options out there. The favorites that we've tested include the Topo Ultraventure and Altra Lone Peak 4.5. All are options you should try on and check out if you like to splay out your toes. The Topo Ultraventure has superior durability and cushioning when comparing it to the Altra Lone Peak 4.5, but the comfort of the Altras, we think, can't be beaten.
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 leave you feeling liberated on the trail. It's also important to remember 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 we tested is the Altra Superior (7.9 ounces). Its zero-drop is perfect for anything from long distances to a short training run. Following this are other super lightweight contenders. With its lightweight construction (only 8.7 ounces) and protective cushioning, the Nike Terra Kiger 6 feels weightless on the trail. The Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 is also pretty amazing, weighing just 8.45 ounces with more protection, better traction, and durability. We are also impressed by the Merrel MTL Long Sky. Not only is it protective and stable, but it only weighs 8.90 oz, which is impressive and race-ready.
We've come a long way from running barefoot. While some still prefer this wild form of running, a great trail running shoe will offer you more comfort and protection from underfoot hazards. While the quest for the perfect shoe is always challenging, be sure to identify what you care about most, try on potential options, then buy the one that fits best. Happy shoe hunting!
— Amber King