- A good pair of running shoes specific to your biomechanics will make every mile more comfortable and safe.
- It’s important to consider how much cushioning you need and where, and what surface you run on.
- Our top pick, Brooks Ghost 13, is lightweight yet cushioned and durable enough to last countless miles.
Running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise (and stress relief). Whether you’ve decided you’re going to start running a mile a week or you’re training for your first marathon, finding a quality, comfortable pair of running shoes is the first step to guaranteeing that commitment will happen — and that it’ll actually be enjoyable.
It wasn’t long ago that little thought was given to the difference between male and female runners, as well as their separate needs as athletes. The go-to phrase was “shrink ’em and pink ’em.”
Luckily, athletic companies moved away from that simplistic — and sexist — standard and finally took into consideration that women’s bodies differ from men’s. This included an understanding that women need running shoes made specifically for them.
With so many women representing the running population, it’s a smart move, too. One analysis, which looked at over 107.9 million race results from the 1986 to 2018, found that the number of women participating in races since the mid-80s has grown by 30 percent. In 5Ks, women account for nearly 60 percent of total participants.
But it’s not as simple as lacing up whichever pair catches your eyes most. The shape, cushioning, support, and tread of a running shoe all affect how your foot lands with each strike and how much shock your knees and body will absorb. Over time, running miles and miles in the wrong shoe for your body can lead to stress and overuse injuries. What’s more, features like deeper lugs or waterproofing can make things like trail runs or winter runs not only more comfortable but also safer.
The ins and outs of finding a worthy runny shoe may sound overwhelming, but we’ve done the research (i.e. running) for you. At the end of this guide, we go into more detail on how to shop for a women’s running shoe. Here, the six best women’s running shoes based on a variety of running needs.
Here are the best women’s running shoes:
- Best overall: Brooks Ghost 13
- Best for overpronating: New Balance 860v11
- Best for trail running: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 6
- Best lightweight shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3
- Best for long runs: Under Armour HOVR Infinite
- Best for winter runs: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield
Updated on 2/24/2021 by Rachael Schultz: Added the best winter running shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield
Best women's running shoe overall
The Brooks Ghost 13 shoes are durable enough for long runs, light enough for speedwork, and are even more responsive than the Ghost 10 thanks to a new sole unit.
Pros: Well-cushioned, lightweight, smooth heel-to-toe transition, breathable, versatile design ideal for both speed work and long distances
Cons: Heavy, not supportive enough for overpronation, some reviewers feel the sole redesign creates a firmer feel that could become uncomfortable on long distances
If you’re looking for a cushioned, neutral running shoe, the Brooks Ghost 13 is your pick. The latest model of the Ghost line-up, the Ghost 13 is known for out-of-the-box comfort and works for both comfortable long runs and snappy speed work.
The Ghost 13 keeps much of what worked in prior Ghost iterations, including the 12mm heel-to-toe drop for a smooth ride.
There have also been a few significant design changes, most notable the new sole unit which cuts down on the foam of previous models. According to Brooks, this foam is “engineered to be lightweight and ultra-soft without giving out underneath the foot.” The rest of the sole keeps the original DNA foam which gives it the cushioned and responsive feel the Ghost line is known for.
This redesign does offer a firmer feel underfoot than its predecessors, which is great for speedwork but could create some discomfort for longer distances. Keep in mind, every runner is different and much of this comes down to personal preference.
The shoes upper features a seamless, engineered mesh that promotes airflow while keeping dirt and debris out. It also gives the shoe a sleeker, more modern look.
One tongue loop was kept in the redesign which does help keep the tongue of the shoe from slipping around while running, which may seem unnecessary. Having running shoes that don’t have this feature, this seems like a small thing until you have to stop and retie your shoes in order to readjust the tongue.
Best for overpronating
The New Balance 860 line is specifically designed for those who overpronate, providing a smooth, comfortable ride from heel to toe.
Pros: Great overpronation support, comfortable cushioning, breathable, stable, 10mm drop for a natural heel-to-toe motion
Cons: Heavy, not ideal for neutral runners, upper too breathable for cold weather, narrower toe box than previous models
As a tried-and-true stability shoe line, the entire New Balance 860 line is solely dedicated to providing stability to those who overpronate, helping prevent any unnecessary running injuries. The newest model in the line, the 860v11, has a new Fresh Foam midsole, which delivers a soft-yet-supportive feel. The 860v11 excels at providing a steady and well-supported run. The upper features a high level of breathability and comfort via a seamless engineered mesh. The comfort alone makes this shoe a winner in the support department.
The one major downside of the 860v11, particularly in comparison to past models, is the toe box got slightly narrowed, which will be a deal-breaker for some (though it’s worth noting the model comes in narrow, standard, wide, or extra-wide widths).
The durability of this shoe makes it ideal for high-mileage. These shoes are on the heavier side but unlike many stability shoes, the 860v11 finds a balance between providing the right amount of support without completely weighing you down. The T-Beam stability shaft that runs under the midsole helps correct overpronation and still allows for a snappy and responsive feel often found in lighter running shoes. The blown rubber outsole works well in both wet and dry conditions, too.
While stability shoes often look bulky, the midfoot overlays make for a super sleek look in the 860v11. There are currently five different color schemes available, making this a good offering for a range of people.
Best for trail running
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 can handle rough trail terrain with its rugged soles, yet provides max cushioning and feels lightweight for a comfortable run.
Pros: Fantastic cushioning-to-weight ratio, rugged outsole and 4 mm lugs provides great traction, works on both trails and roads, toe-cap protection against rocks, comes in wide-width option, beloved by runners with joint pain
Cons: Not suited for overpronators, maybe too cushioned for rugged trails
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 is the ideal road-to-trail shoe for anyone who may be tackling mixed terrain. With Hoka’s signature cushioning underfoot, the Challenger ATR 6 provides stability and less stress and impact on the body. The Challenger ATR 6 is considered a neutral running shoe, so it won’t offer much in terms of support for overpronators. Devotees of the brand swear by that padding for reducing stress on their tendons and muscles, though.
Lightweight at just 8.8 ounces and with 4mm lugs, they’re responsive, rugged, and won’t weigh you down while you conquer your local trail. The shoe’s box is reinforced with thermoplastic polyurethane to protect your toes from rocks and roots on the trail. It does have a narrower design but to remedy this, the Challenger ATR 6 now has a wide-width option.
If you have to log some pavement strides before you hit trail, the traction and grip performance of this shoe is the sweet spot to works just as well on trails as it does on the pavement.
The biggest update to the ATR 6 from the 5 is the switch to recycled Unifi REPREVE® yarn derived from post-consumer waste plastic in the primary and collar mesh, and recycled poly laces, both of which are moves to help reduce waste in the running shoe industry.
The New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3 running shoes provide a super lightweight feel without sacrificing cushioned comfort, and they’re versatile enough to tackle both short and long runs.
Pros: Super lightweight, cushioned, comfortable upper, reflective, versatile for both short and long runs
Cons: Shorter lifespan for total mileage, runs small
If you’re looking for a neutral, lightweight running shoe with a cushioned feel, the New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3 are your go-to. The women’s model weighs in at a mere 6.2 ounces, which seems impossible with all the foam cushioning involved.
The magic lies in what’s known as Fresh Foam Ground Contact, the concave and convex hexagon material that makes up the sole, sculpted and shaped to provide cushion and stability where its needed most. It’s ultra-light, so you won’t feel bogged down while running, and it still provides a soft and responsive feel. This material block is specifically designed to withstand impact and wear over time, too.
The all-knit upper, meanwhile, allows for comfort, breathability, and stretch. Combined with the sole material, the Arishi are a comfortable neutral running shoe that looks simple but doesn’t skimp on quality.
From heel to toe, there’s a 6mm drop, which is ideal for neutral runners, and the ‘N’ logo is highly reflective, making for a safer dawn or dusk run.
The sole does have quite a bit of exposed foam, and while they have strategically placed lugs to keep the heel and forefoot supported the longest, this design brings the total lifespan of this running shoe down from the typical 500 miles to a more realistic 250 to 300 miles of durability.
Being both lightweight and cushioned makes the Arishi a great shoe for short and long runs. They allow you to pick up the pace but won’t leave your legs and feet feeling fatigued after running longer distances. We recommend going half a size up to ensure a comfortable fit.
Best for long runs
The Under Armour HOVR Infinite is specifically designed for long runs, with responsive cushioning, a durable outsole, and a built-in chip that tracks your running progress.
Pros: Cushioned comfort, responsive feel, durable outsole, gender-specific design, digitally connected to track running statistics
Cons: May need to size up, connectivity feature is currently only compatible with MapMyRun
If you’re logging longer and longer runs, the Under Armour HOVR are ideal for two reasons: its distance-specific design and built-in Record Sensor technology.
A neutral running shoe, the HOVR Infinite is marked by its high energy return HOVR foam. This has just the right amount of cushion to keep your legs feeling fresh even as you pile on the miles, and offers responsiveness with each stride to help keep you moving with more ease. The outsole is comprised of blown rubber and carbon rubber for extra durability — a must for shoes expected to withstand high-mileage runs.
The HOVR Infinite are specifically designed for the anatomy of the female foot, as well, to deliver a tighter better fit with a contoured sock liner.
The tongue of the shoe is both softer and higher than the men’s version, as well. The rest of the engineered mesh upper is lightweight and breathable, and there’s a cushioned heel collar for added comfort.
As for Under Armour’s proprietary Record Sensor tech, this is a removable chip is embedded in the insole of the shoe to track your speed, distance, stride length, and cadence. This data can then be uploaded to the Under Armour MapMyRun app post-run, allowing you to view your stats in one place. The data only works on MapMyRun (for now) but still serves as a nice back-up in case your GPS watch dies or you simply want to geek out and compare stats.
Even if you don’t care about the connectivity aspect, the shoe itself is still impressive. They clock in at $120, which is roughly the same as other running shoes on the market that don’t offer the same smart features.
Best for winter runs
The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield are incredibly comfortable, have great traction on icy roads, and keep your feet dry running through slush, snow, or rain.
Pros: Lightweight, springy, great waterproofing, superior traction
Cons: Can feel a little tight around the top of the midfoot, will feel narrow for wide feet
After testing 15 pairs of winter-specific running shoes, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 Shield is our top pick thanks to its road-specific design that provides a little bounce back with each stride you take. What’s more, the traction on these shoes replicates what you’d find on tires. The result is a ton of grip underfoot without the lugs normally required for such a hold, which is a very hard combo to find in running shoes.
These shoes kept fitness writer Mallory Creveling’s feet dry on snowy runs, as well as when splashed directly with water in a bathtub test of the shoes waterproofing capabilities. Despite being water-repellent, these shoes are still flexible and breathable.
These do have a unique feature of giving a squeeze of support from the upper, which can feel a little too tight at times. Creveling notes loosening the laces is a simple fix, but these probably won’t be comfortable for a wider foot shape.
Overall, these are running shoe you could wear every day year-round without having to worry about cold, wet, or uncomfortable feet through many chilly miles. –Rachael Schultz
How to shop for running shoes
While shopping, you’ll want to consider the type of running you plan to do. Do you intend on doing a lot of road racing? If so, a lightweight shoe should be your go-to. Perhaps you’re planning on embarking on long trail runs; you may want a shoe designed specifically for trail running.
If you’re looking for a simple training shoe for casual running, then durability won’t be a big concern. However, if you’re the type of runner who lives in their running shoes, finding a high-mileage shoe gives you the best quality for your money.
One of the biggest factors in which running shoe is right for you depends on whether your foot strike overpronates, supinates, or remains neutral.
When your foot strikes the ground, the arch of your foot is going to collapse to some degree, which then causes your ankle to roll inward. This concept is called pronation, and it is the most defining factor in what kind of support you need from your shoe.
Some people have a neutral footstrike, so they don’t need cushioning on either side. But most of us have a tendency to overpronate or supinate.
If you overpronate, your foot rolls inward when you run, and your body isn’t absorbing shock as efficiently. To help with this, you’ll want a more supportive motion-control shoe designed to correct your foot motion.
If you supinate, your foot doesn’t rolling in far enough. This causes the outside of your foot to take the brunt of the impact with every strike. If this is the case, you’ll want a more neutral-cushioned shoe that encourages natural foot motion.
This is one of the most important things to consider when buying running shoes, too — overpronation or supination often causes serious injury over time if not addressed.
The difference between women's and men's running shoes
What makes women’s running shoes different from men’s starts with foot shape. Women tend to have smaller heels in relation to the forefoot, so the shape of the shoe needs to be slightly different. A lower body mass also results in slightly less foam in the midsole of the shoe, while deeper grooves make it easier to flex the midsole when toeing off.
Men and women also have different Q-angles, or the angle of incidence between the quad muscle and the kneecap, as women generally have wider hips than men. This tends to cause pronation, which requires different types of cushioning.
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