The Best Running Shoes for Women Review
What's the best road running shoe for women? We bought 13 road shoes and tested them by a trial of miles. We spent two and a half months and 97 hours running over 300 miles. We ran paved trails, winding dirt roads and streets during autumn's sunny and soggy weather conditions. We compared several types of road footwear side-by-side, and ranked each on responsiveness, durability, landing comfort, weight, upper comfort, breathability, and stability.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Running Shoe
Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
ASICS Gel-Cumulus 18
Top Pick Award for Comfort
Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's
Top Pick Award for Support
Nike Air Zoom Structure 20 - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
Choosing a running kicks can be overwhelming. Advancements in sole and upper materials and construction have led to a bewildering array of choices. In addition to the improvements made in traditional models, the progress towards minimal or barefoot footwear, and the more recent evolution of maximally cushioned offerings, have added new layers of complexity to the market. We're here to help make sense of it all! This is a brief run-down of the different types of road footwear. Some of these descriptors can overlap and more than one can apply to one shoe. For instance, a pair can be neutral and maximalist at the same time.
First, let's determine if road shoes are the best option for you. If you run primarily on the roads or track, with an occasional cruise through mellow, natural-surface trails, get a road sneaker. If you run technical trails, chunky gravel surfaces, or extreme weather conditions, we recommend that you look into a trail shoe or weather resistant road/trail hybrid.
If you want to participate in sports and activities that require lateral movements on top of running, get a shoe that better supports those activities. Because the primary objective of your shoe is to increase the efficiency and ease of transition through the gait cycle (in a forward motion), they don't incorporate the lateral support and other special features that sport-specific footwear takes into consideration. That's why we don't recommend using your running kicks as cross-trainers and why running specific designs are so critical to keeping us healthy and on the road, mile after mile.
We look for a road shoe that balances cushioning and responsiveness without weighing us down significantly. After establishing that baseline, specifics and unique features help determine which pair of kicks best meet our individual needs and running goals.
Types of Road Running Shoes
Running shoes are commonly categorized by the degree of foot motion they accommodates. 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.
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, but tend to focus on cushioning and flexibility. Some of the neutral models we tested included the Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's, Asics Gel Cumulus 18, and Hoka One One Bondi. The range in this category can be quite broad, which is nowhere more evident than when comparing the maximally cushioned Hoka One One Bondi 4 with the more minimally designed Adidas Pure Boost X, which sits squarely in the 'natural' camp. More on these differences can be found in our buying advice.
Stability shoes are great for neutral runners to mild over-pronators, as they offer guidance and medial support to keep the runner's 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 Nike Air Zoom Structure 20, Saucony Guide 10 and New Balance 860 V7 made their mark in this category.
Motion Control shoes are, like the name suggests, intended to control severe pronation of the foot inward during the gait cycle. Runners who over-pronate tend to be heavier, with flat, flexible arches. The Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's plays the field and is good for neutral to underpronation (supination) along with anther of the Top Picks, the Nike Air Zoom Structure 20. The Structure 20 is good for those who overpronate due to the tightness of the upper, which hugs the foot and provides great security.
Criteria For Evaluation
Responsiveness describes how well a shoe responds to the kinetic input we initiate while running, and the ease at which the shoe allows our foot to travel through the motions of running. Racing flats are the most responsive kicks with a stiff outsole and minimal cushioning, where highly cushioned or supportive footwear, by nature of their additional materials, are inherently less responsive. If a pair skews heavily in the cushioning and stability department, it scores low this category. The more responsive the sneakers, the greater the ground feel — it's the opposite of that 'dead shoe' sensation.
Responsiveness helps maintain proper running form. 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.
The Salming Race 3 came in as the most responsive shoe for women, ranking highest in our side-by-side testing. Racing flats are the most responsive type of shoes, featuring a stiff outsole and minimal cushioning. The new Salming Race 3 features Salming's RunLite midsole; this midsole offered an effective and lighter yet efficient responsive sole. The even ride that the Salming Race provides with the RunLite is a firm feel without jarring the body. We reached for these first when speed workouts or races were on the calendar. This shoe is a different ride for those accustomed to what a traditional, supportive model delivers.
Shoes that have a more traditional feel with a responsive ride are Nike Air Zoom Structure 20 and Saucony Guide 10. The Brooks Ghost 9 and Asics Gel Cumulus 18 provided the most responsiveness, coming in behind the Salming Race 3, whereas the Hoka One One Bondi and Altra Intuition 3.5 ranked towards the bottom of our fleet, scoring a 5 and 6 out of 10, respectively. If you're on the hunt for a shoe that provides the ultimate amount of responsiveness, stick with the Salming Race 3, or our Editors' Choice winner, the Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's.
Landing Comfort is a key function of footwear designed specifically for running, and it plays an increasingly important role as we pack on the miles. Whether it's during a speedy 5k or a chill ten miler, we're looking for a comfortable ride from our first stride to our last. For us, landing comfort speaks to the ability of the shoe to absorb impact, not swallow our foot whole. Designs that incorporate more cushioning almost always garner the highest reviews in this segment, but models that temper this cushion with a bit of support do best in keeping us comfy for the long haul.
It's hard to grasp how comfortable a pair is in the store or even in the first few miles on the road. When rating footwear on comfort level we make sure to base our scores off of that point in which we feel the cushion breaks in; it's at this stage that the runner gets the best sense of play between support and cushioning, and therefore, the comfort level. This varies by shoe — the more durable the cushioning materials, the longer it takes to break-in. Our top scoring model, the Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's, which scored a perfect 10 out of 10, took about 20 miles to reach that break point. The additional midsole cushioning of the Brooks Glycerin 14 gave a comfortable landing. Descents were just a little more forgiving.
The ASICS Gel-Cumulus 18- Women's and Brooks Ghost 9- Women's were close runner up contenders in this category and took significantly less break-in time with that out-of-the-box-awesome feeling. What we especially appreciated in the Asics Gel-Cumulus 18 model was the gender-specific cushioning in the midsole that addresses that women, on average, have a lower body mass to foot size ratio than men. As a result, they need softer cushioning. For the ladies that are searching for the minimum amount of landing comfort, we'd recommend taking a peek at the Hoka One One Bondi 4. Scoring a near perfect 9 out of 10 in this metric, the Bondi 4 provided excellent landing comfort in terms of shock absorption, alongside a full EVA midsole.
Upper Comfort is one of the first things we can evaluate, as the critique begins as soon as you pull the shoe out of the box. We believe that comfort is as important of a metric as the performance categories. The lace, design, materials, and construction come together in a seamless and natural way to create an upper that melts away during a run. We asked ourselves "Which of these pairs did we forget about while running?", and we used that lack of interference to build the frontrunners.
The Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's received a solid 9 point score, while the New Balance 860 V7 came out on top with a 10 out of 10. While the Brooks Ghost 9 was super plush, various points in the upper that were more restrictive. The New Balance 860 V7 upper is incredibly flexible and only became more so after a few miles on the pavement. Women with wide feet or fit issues will love the almost sock-like sensation that is a result of the engineered mesh which flexes and adapts to the foot.
Other stand out contenders include the Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's, Asics Gel-Cumulus 18, and Nike Zoom Structure 20 - Women's, which all scored an impressive 8 out of 10. The Glycerin 14, our Top Pick for Comfort, has a padded tongue that provided optimal comfort, along with a fitted upper. The Gel-Cumulus 18 locks your foot into the shoe, allowing ultimate comfort and support. The Zoom Structure 20 has a design that allows for maximum breathability, alongside plenty of comfort and support, especially on longer runs.
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 support are a helpful tool 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 in order to create the best match for you.
The Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's was the most stable women's shoe we tested, scoring a 9 out of 10. The technology included a saddle that wrapped our foot up, allowing it to feel nice and snug in the mid-foot region, along with a padded heel area which essentially locked our heel down. Both of these features explain how and why the Glycerin 14 responded and transferred exceptionally well from pavement, dirt, and rocky trail. For those looking for over-pronation support in a lighter package, try the Nike Air Zoom Structure 20 - Women's. The triple-density foam midsole provided plenty of support and was quite responsive; Nike Zoom Air technology added under the forefoot allowed for decent stability.
In terms of the contenders that provided the most support, the Editors' Choice winner, the Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's, along with the Asics Gel-Cumulus 18 (our Best Buy winner), and New Balance 860v7, each scored an 8 out of 10 in this metric. If exceptional support is what you're after, consider any of these top performing models. Combined with their performance rankings in other metrics, we have a feeling that you'll find what you're looking for.
Durability is one of the three more heavily weighted metrics in our review. When investing in new gear, it's beneficial to understand the kind of mileage you will get. This helps compare price points, and thus, the life of a shoe. During testing, we asked ourselves, "How many miles can we expect to get out of this shoe until performance begins to degrade?". It's important to uncover this answer based on total mileage expectation of the shoe rather than by strain or injury as a result of worn out gear.
Many times it is difficult to discern if the shoe has reached mileage carrying capacity exclusively by checking out the exterior wear on the sole. In order to establish the durability of each model in our review, we relied on our own experience with the footwear. We logged miles, examined materials, and noted wear patterns. We paid special interest to cushioning and support materials, outsole rubber, traction design, and upper materials. We also combed through user reviews and satisfaction rates across the web to uncover if there was any general consensus regarding durability for the models we reviewed.
The Hoka One One Bondi 4 captured one of the top spots in this metric, along with landing comfort. While the Brooks Glycerin 14 and Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's received high marks for their level of durability, the Hoka One One Bondi 4 was most notable for its rubber placement that didn't seem to wear out, even after racking up the miles. As Hoka's most cushioned shoe, the Bondi has high quality construction; it's a shoe made for the road, but still crosses over to light trails.
Alongside the Bondi 4 sit the Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's and the Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's. Each of these competitors scored an exceptional 9 out of 10 in terms of durability, cinching the win in this metric. If you're on the hunt for a durable and comfortable shoe, we recommend our the Brooks Ghost 9 - Women's, which scored a 9 out of 10 in durability, landing comfort, and upper comfort.
Breathability in your trainers is an important consideration. Why? Have you ever tried holding your breath for a long time? That's what you ask your feet to do in stuffy kicks. In all seriousness, a daily trainer without the proper ventilation can lead to excess sweat, blisters, chafing, and general discomfort. 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.
In temperate or hot environments, or if your feet tend to run hot, check out the Salomon S Lab Sonic, which scored highest in breathability among the shoes we tested. Finishing right behind the S Lab Sonic is the Altra Intuition 3.5. Both of these contenders kept our feet nice and cool, even on hot days and long runs. These two contenders were the most breathable shoes in our review, scoring a 10 and 9 (out of 10), respectively.
Sometimes you want to trade in some breathability for weatherproofing features. Depending on your location and the time of year, you may want a quiver of shoes for variable conditions. For frequently wet and cold climates, look to a model with a waterproof lining, treated leather, or watertight construction. A good cold weather shoe is the Brooks Glycerin 14 - Women's or the Nike Air Zoom Structure 20, which features a nice overlay material design.
Weight affects running ability. However, we feel that the hype over fractions of ounces in shoes is a little overblown. Unless you're an elite racer, it's best to look for a pair that meets all of your performance and support criteria first, and then look to weight as a secondary deciding factor.
The Altra Intuition 3.5 and Salming Race 3 blew away the competition at the scale. The Altra Intuition's lightweight design still managed to maintain a highly cushioned ride that easily carry you through a half or full marathon. The other competitor in the weight category is the Salming Race 3. Featuring a Torsion Efficiency Unit made of carbon fiber, Salming is able to keep the weight down with the RunLite midsole. Overall, we were super impressed at the amount of support and breathability that both of these light and lean shoes offered.
The Bottom Line
Choosing the perfect pair of running shoes is difficult. Our testing observations are intended to help you choose the best product for your needs. If you're still having trouble deciding, please check out our buying advice article for additional information.
— Brittney Ahrens
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