The 11 Best Running Shoes for Women

How could you not love California winters?
Is the search for new shoes running you into the ground? Our team thoroughly researched eighty of the most popular women's products on the running shoe market and hand-picked eleven of our favorite bestsellers for months of hands-on, pavement-pounding research. Whether you're training for your fiftieth marathon, working up to your first 5k, or simply looking to keep up with your dog on walks around the neighborhood, we here at OutdoorGearLab have all the information you'll need to make the right purchase. We took each shoe to the streets, into the mountains, and around the track. We ranked each pair on landing comfort, responsiveness, upper comfort, support, and weight to bring you this comprehensive review and guarantee that you'll be crossing the finish line in style and comfort with the pair that is perfectly matched for your unique needs.

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Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Brittney Ahrens & Lauren DeLaunay

Last Updated:
Monday
April 23, 2018

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Updated April 2018
With a warm winter across the Western United States, we've had plenty of time to get our running fix. We took advantage of the weather to get out and test the new version of our Best Buy Award winner, the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4. We found all the same great qualities that we found in the v3, including a lightweight design, great stability, and an impressively affordable price tag. Though the v4 is one-third of an ounce heavier than the v3, it was still far ahead of most of its competitors. We stand behind our other award winners as well, including the Editors' Choice Award-winning Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18, the Hoka Bondi 5 as our Top Pick for Distance, and the Altra Intuition 4.5 as our Top Pick for Comfort.

Best Overall Running Shoe for Women


Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$119.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight per shoe: 8.3 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 12 mm
Comfortable
Responsiveness
Supportive
Not as light
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 is, without a doubt, an outstanding shoe. Well-balanced as any shoe we've ever seen, this model promotes stability without compromising weight and is comfortable without sacrificing responsiveness. This would be our clear choice for a one-shoe quiver.

We'd highly recommend this shoe for the average runner looking for an everyday product to get them through whatever workout they might endure. We had no problem choosing this shoe for our Editors' Choice Award because of its beautiful blend of all the traits we look for in a shoe. While other competitors may excel in one category, the Adrenaline brought home the highest scores across the board.

Read review: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 - Women's

Top Pick for Going the Distance


HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 5


Top Pick Award

$149.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight per shoe: 8.7 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 4 mm
Maximum cushioning
Comfortable
No responsiveness
HOKA ONE ONE came on the ultrarunning scene only a few years ago, sparking interests with their strange maximally cushioned designs. We had to try these out for ourselves, and we were nothing but impressed. The Bondi 5 is the most cushioned shoe in HOKA's lineup, and we loved using it for our long, slow runs.

We awarded this shoe our Top Pick for Going the Distance in honor of this model's comfy, cozy, cloud-like step. It definitely takes some getting used to, and while there are other shoes with ample cushioning, nothing protects our feet like the Bondi. If you're looking for some 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 5

Top Pick for Speed


Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$71.47
at Backcountry
See It

Weight per shoe: 8.3 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 10 mm
Highly responsive
Supportive
Not as comfortable
The bright colors of the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 drew us in, and we were quickly impressed with the bounce in our step. While not as cushioned as other models, this lightweight shoe is built for speed. The sole is responsive and comfortable, and the upper is equipped with excellent support and a snug heel that boost confidence when running fast.

We might appreciate a little extra padding in the upper, and it could be nice to shave some ounces off of our racing model. That being said, the bounce is great and the breathable upper is amazing on hot days or when running fast. We awarded this shoe our Top Pick for Speed Award because we just couldn't wait to get it out on the track for a time trial.

Read review: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34

Best Buy on a Budget


New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4


Best Buy Award

$99.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight per shoe: 7.4 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 6 mm
Responsive
Lightweight
Inexpensive
Not as comfortable
New for 2018 is the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4. We were impressed with this shoe's all-around appeal and great, affordable price. Our testers loved the lightweight, breathable design. We found it to be quite responsive and bouncy, but we did wish for a little more cushioning on longer runs.

It's not as plush as our Editors' Choice Award winner, but the light construction was great for short workouts. With high marks across all our scoring metrics, our reviewers agreed that this is a great choice for a wide range of running interests and abilities. At only $100, the Zante v4 is adequately comfortable and supportive and creates an excellent choice for athletes on a budget.

Read review: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4

Top Pick for Comfort


Altra Intuition 4.5



Weight per shoe: 8 oz | Heel-to-toe drop:0 mm
Highly responsive
Supportive
Not as comfortable

If you are looking for comfort look no further than our Top Pick for Comfort the Intuition 4.5. The newly updated Intuition 4.5 has great underfoot comfort, plush upper with nice ventilation, and ample toe room. The innovative design and women's specific fit that the Alta 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 single piece insole and we were impressed by how these changes added to the overall smooth ride of these shoes. 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 though the landing comfort and the upper comfort of these shoes 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 shoes style and structure. If you want comfort here it is!

Read review: Intuition 4.5

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
84
$120
Editors' Choice Award
Balancing high scores in every metric, the Adrenaline GTS 18 is an amazing shoe.
77
$120
This supportive shoe is both comfortable and responsive.
77
$110
Top Pick Award
Cushioned and comfortable, the zero drop and wide toe box are decent but not awe-inspiring.
74
$110
Top Pick Award
The Pegasus is responsive and supportive, creating an awesome speed shoe.
74
$130
The Clifton 4 is both comfortable and supportive.
74
$150
The Glycerin 15 is incredibly comfortable.
73
$150
Top Pick Award
Great for going the distance, the Bondi is a maximally cushioned shoe.
69
$100
Best Buy Award
New Balance's Zante v4 has universal appeal in both use and price.
66
$180
Less comfortable than our favorite shoes, the Ultraboost X is unique and highly responsive.
61
$120
Supportive yet uncomfortable, the Gel-Cumulus 19 is not our favorite shoe.
55
$130
Not as comfortable as its competitors, the Escalante is lightweight and minimalist.

Analysis and Test Results


Whether you're a new runner or a seasoned marathon racer, choosing a new pair of kicks can be an overwhelming task. 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. Luckily for you, we here at OutdoorGearLab are here to help make sense of it all.

Blue and pink are clearly the colors of 2018.
Blue and pink are clearly the colors of 2018.


First, were need to decide if road-specific running shoes are the best choice for you. If you run primarily on roads, sidewalks, treadmill, or a track, with an occasional cruise through mellow trails or dirt roads, you are in the right spot. If, however, you frequently find yourself cruising up technical trails, chunky gravel surfaces, or in extreme weather conditions, we recommend that you look into a trail-specific shoe or a weather-resistant hybrid (see our review of the best women's trail runners shoes). Additionally, if you're looking to take part in sports or activities that require lateral movements on top of running, or if you lift weights and frequent the gym, you'll be better off in a shoe that supports a fuller range of motion (check out our shoes for crossfit women's review). Because the primary objective of your running shoe is to increase the efficiency and ease of transition through the gait cycle (in a forward motion), it won'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.

Ready to get started on your quest to find the perfect road running shoe? We recommend looking for a model that has a balance of all the metrics we judge. 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, specifics and unique features will help determine which pair of kicks best meet your individual needs and running goals.

We awarded these shoes our Top Pick for Comfort because they keep our feet happy mile after mile.
We awarded these shoes our Top Pick for Comfort because they keep our feet happy mile after mile.

Types of Road Running Shoes


Running shoe categories are commonly organized by the degree of foot motion they accommodate. More specifically, we're looking at 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).

In the last few decades, the running shoe industry has revolutionized itself, expanding constantly to absorb new research and their subsequent trends. From support to cushioning to bounce, shoe designers try to play catch up with the many different types of proposed benefits a shoe can bring to your feet. Whether you overpronate, have high arches, or suffer from painful knees, there is a company out there marketing a shoe to you. With all these keywords buzzing around, ebbing and flowing with the tides of popularity, it can be difficult to know which terms are important to your shopping and which are just catchy.

Here, we dedicate a short section of this review to defining these terms to help you know what to look for based on your body and its unique, individual needs. Below we describe each type of design from neutral to minimalist, to help you better understand what the term refers to, and how one over another might better fit your running needs.

Neutral


Neutral shoes are best suited for runners with even, or "neutral," gait patterns and moderate to high arches. These models are built with enough stability to keep your foot secure but tend to focus more on cushioning and flexibility. Neutral shoes tend to be a great middle ground between cushioning and stability, with the right padding for comfort, but not too heavy or unstable. 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 5 with the moderate Altra Escalante.

Stability


Stability shoes are great for mild over-pronators as they offer guidance and medial support to keep the runner's gait in an ideal pattern. Shoes that fall within this category are solid and secure, perfectly bracing the foot and protecting from unnecessary motion that could cause injury. 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 best stable running shoes are ones that have a plush underfoot feel with good arch support, such as Adrenaline GTS The long term benefits of a good stable shoe is that they can lessen the impact on the joints and help fix imbalances that may happen during the gait cycle. TheAdrenaline GTS and Air Zoom Pegasus made their mark in this category.

Minimalist


The minimalist scene has exploded in recent years, and companies like Altra are taking advantage. We reviewed the best barefoot shoes on the market in a separate review, but for athletes seeking a light, nonless-supportive shoe, like the Altra Escalante might be just the one for you. Shoes of this nature are built to do nothing but protect the bottom of the foot on the assumption that our bodies know best and will return to a more natural gait and stride when given the chance to spread out. If you're interested in trying this type of shoe but are accustomed to a traditional shoe, you may want to transition to a lower heel-toe offset first. Most traditional running shoes have a drop of around 10mm which has historically been believed to push you onto the balls of your feet. Some shoes in this review, like the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v3 have a more moderate drop (4mm in the Zante's case) which could be a good way to experiment with this alternative design without putting too much impact on the knees right away. Once you feel ready for the change, 0mm drop shoes like the Altra Intuitions or Altra Escalante are both great options with less foam allowing for natural foot positioning.

Maximalist


At the same time, Altra was introducing their flat, natural shoes, companies like HOKA ONE ONE were introducing eye-catching maximalist shoes. While some of these models have zero heel-toe drops as well, they also included more padding than the running world had ever before seen. Designed for ultra-marathon distances, shoes with maximalist cushioning are clunky and lacking in responsiveness, but oh-so-comfortable. A shoe of this nature could be a great fit for your if ultras or marathons are in your repertoire, or if you suffer from joint pain and instability.

Comparing landing comfort with the HOKA Bondi (left) and Altra Escalante (right)
Comparing landing comfort with the HOKA Bondi (left) and Altra Escalante (right)

Landing Comfort


Whether you run a few miles a year or are tied to a rigorous training schedule, we call it "pounding pavement" for a reason.


Step after step, our feet take quite the beating. For this reason, our testers used "landing comfort" as our first and most important metric. Nothing makes us want to stop running like tired feet, so for this metric, we looked to a wide array of shoe details. For each shoe, we looked to its cushioning and shock-absorbing qualities. We compared and contrasted midsole construction and materials and described each shoe's different ideal scenarios. While there are obvious differences between a high-mileage shoe like the Hoka Bondi and a racing flat like the Saucony Fastwitch, 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.

Comparing landing comfort with the HOKA Bondi (left) and Altra Escalante (right)
Comparing landing comfort with the HOKA Bondi (left) and Altra Escalante (right)

The Bondi 5 was, without a doubt, the most cushioned shoe in this review. It does, however, have a significantly different feel than any other shoe in this review, and likely than any shoe you've tried on before. The foot sits considerably higher off the ground than in any other product in our fleet, leading to a unique feel that takes some getting used to. Once adjusted to, however, the Bondi provides excellent protection for long runs on pavement.

You've never seen cushioning like the Bondi!
You've never seen cushioning like the Bondi!

The Bondi is followed by the HOKA Clifton which is also quite padded, and then all three Brooks models, the Adrenaline, Ghost, and Glycerin. The Altra Intuition 4.5 also stands out here. The Adidas Ultraboost X, along with our Best Buy Award-winning New Balance Fresh Foam Zante also score towards the top of the spectrum. Beware the Ultraboost, however, which, though comfortable, is also unique and requires some getting used to because of its floating arch design feature. 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


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. It makes sense, then, that racing flats are the most responsiveness type of running shoe; their stiff outsole and minimal cushioning help us kick and bounce for maximum speed. Additionally, responsiveness can help us 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. Adversely, big cushioning, 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.

Ready  set  go! We put the Pegasus to the test.
Ready, set, go! We put the Pegasus to the test.


The Air Zoom Pegasus from Nike was one of our favorite responsive shoes, along with the unique Ultraboost X. 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, the Adrenaline and Ghost are great options.

The Intuition 4.5 are a responsive  durable  comfortable road shoe.
The Intuition 4.5 are a responsive, durable, comfortable road shoe.


Upper Comfort


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.

All three Brooks models we tested had superior upper comfort. From left to right: Glycerin  Ghost  Adrenaline GTS.
All three Brooks models we tested had superior upper comfort. From left to right: Glycerin, Ghost, Adrenaline GTS.

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 X may appeal to some buyers for its sock-like fit and feel, but we recommend trying it on before making the purchase. Similarly, the Altra Escalante received a low score here for its lack of padding, but for a minimalist shoe, the upper was soft despite not having any cushioning on the tongue.

We provided the best scores we could based on objective amounts of padding and material softness, but fit preferences vary significantly from runner to runner. We highly advise trying on shoes in a store, ideally with an industry professional, before pulling the trigger on an important and expensive purchase.

Stability


In order 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 in order to create the best match for you.

We loved the stable  reinforced midfoot of the GEL-Cumulus.
We loved the stable, reinforced midfoot of the GEL-Cumulus.


Regardless of arch shape, everyone wants to feel supported in their shoes. We 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.

Weight


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, 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 important 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.

Striding out in the Escalante
Striding out in the Escalante

The range of weights per shoe in this review was from 7.1 ounces to 9.4 ounces. In first place is the Escalante, at 7.1 ounces, quickly followed by the Zante at 7.4 ounces. Next in line is the Clifton, despite its heavy padding, and the Altra Intuition 4.5. In the mid-eight-ounce range, you can find the Ultraboost X, Adrenaline, and Air Zoom 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 difference 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.

Conclusion


With a saturated market, new developments in design, and bright colors galore, we know that picking the right pair of running shoes can be a daunting task. With this comprehensive review of the eleven most popular pairs on the market today, we're here to break down the basics and provide a definitive overview to help you choose the perfect shoes for you. If you feel ready to jump to the task, head on over to our individual reviews where we get down to the nitty-gritty about each and every pair. Still baffled as to where to begin? We provide some more information in our buying advice article. We hope that the information within each review will assist you in finding the best shoe to fit your foot and your overall needs.

Showing off the highly cushioned sole of the Glycerin
Showing off the highly cushioned sole of the Glycerin
Brittney Ahrens & Lauren DeLaunay

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