The Best Trail Running Shoes for Women Review

Does the thought of pounding pavement seem dull and senseless? Or are you a road-running warrior that likes to hit the dirt once in awhile? We’ve selected 7 of the finest women’s trail running shoes out there, ranging from barefoot-style to traditional to assess in the wide range of conditions you might expect to encounter as a trail running enthusiast. We evaluated these trail runners in six categories: comfort, traction, breathability, protection, weight, and durability. We used this knowledge to select the cream of the trail-runner crop and tell you about what we found out along the way.

To get more specific details on the range of styles that we tested, reference our Trail Runner Buying Advice article.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Sarah Hegg ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab February 25, 2013

Top Ranked Trail Running Shoes - Women's Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's
Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's
Read the Review
Video video review
Vibram Spyridon LS - Women's
Vibram Spyridon LS - Women's
Read the Review
Video video review
Brooks Cascadia 7 - Women's
Brooks Cascadia 7 - Women's
Read the Review
Saucony Peregrine 2 - Women's
Saucony Peregrine 2 - Women's
Read the Review
Keen A86 TR - Women's
Keen A86 TR - Women's
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award   
Street Price Varies $81 - $125
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $72 - $89
Compare at 3 sellers
$110$100Varies $60 - $90
Compare at 4 sellers
Overall Score 
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Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Bright and neon colors, lightweight, best traction, very durable and protective.As close to barefoot as you can get without being barefoot!Insta-comfort, well-built protection.Inexpensive, lightweight, a good shoe for many purposes and types of runningFeather-like, inexpensive, assymetrical laces
Cons For more narrow feet, bulky laces.Styling and graphics of the reflector material are not attractive. People might give you weird looks when they notice your separated toes.Heavy, not very breathable.Takes a few runs to break these shoes in.Least durable
Best Uses Trail running, cold weather running, muddy or snowy running, hiking.Running or hiking on any surface in warmer temperatures.Trail running in any weather or substance, hikingTrail running, road running, running races, hiking, transitioning to barefoot runningRacing flats, transitioning to barefoot trail running, gentle trail running
Date Reviewed Feb 25, 2013Feb 25, 2013Feb 25, 2013Feb 25, 2013Feb 25, 2013
Weighted Scores Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's Vibram Spyridon LS - Women's Brooks Cascadia 7 - Women's Saucony Peregrine 2 - Women's Keen A86 TR - Women's
Weight - 20%
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9
10
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6
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8
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10
Foot Protection - 20%
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9
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6
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8
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6
Traction - 20%
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10
10
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7
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8
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8
10
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6
Comfort - 20%
10
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8
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9
10
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9
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7
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8
Breathability - 10%
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7
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6
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9
Durability - 10%
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6
Product Specs Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's Vibram Spyridon LS - Women's Brooks Cascadia 7 - Women's Saucony Peregrine 2 - Women's Keen A86 TR - Women's
Weight (Per Pair for size 8) 1.22 lbs .72 lbs 1.34 lbs 1.4 lbs .94 lbs
Sizes Available 19.46 oz 11.44 oz 21.48 oz 16.4 oz** 14.96 oz
Lining Sizes 5-12 Sizes 36-42 Sizes 5-12 Sizes 6-12 Sizes 5-11
Upper Abrasion resistant Textile 3mm Polyurethane Insole Anti-Microbial Dri-Lex Sockliner Polyester/nylon Hydrator lining - transfers moisture to keep collar and tongue drier Moisture wicking textile
Midsole Water and abrasion resistant textile Stretch Mesh and Polyamide? Polyester/nylon mesh/synthetic leather/microfiber overlays synthetic mesh with structural overlay Breathable textile mesh
Sole Rubber anti-debris mesh N/A BioMoGo - biodegradable SSL EVA Ultralight compression molded PU midsole
Construction Type molded XSTrek Vibram Rubber foam polymer alloy/high viscosity liquid pods External Bedrock Outsole (EBO) Non-marking rubber outsole
Comments injected EVA Barefoot/minimalist Carbon rubber/recycled rubber Transitional with 4 mm heel drop Lightweight transitional with 4mm heel drop

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Weight
The longer the distances and times you plan on using the shoes, the more weight should be considered into your buying decision. Picking up that extra weight on your feet over and over again on a multiple-hour hike or run can make a considerable difference with even just a few ounces. Many competitive runners have a special pair that are lighter that they use just for racing. Most consider 20 ounces (per pair) as a cut-off for racing vs. training shoes.

Another point to consider regarding weight is that it often corresponds with durability. While this is not always the case, lighter materials are typically known to be less durable than their heavier counterparts.

The traditional trail shoes that we reviewed were the heaviest, while the minimal ones were the lightest. We did not separate this metric into sub-categories because the purpose of a traditional trail running style is never to be a “heavy” shoe – only to provide more protection or cushion.

We weighed each on our own scale. The lightest tested was by far the barefoot-style Vibram Spyridon (11.44 ounces per pair). The heaviest was the TNF Ultra 105’s (24.48 ounces per pair).

Durability
Everyone wants a good thing to last. The rocky, dirty conditions that trail running models need to perform in means that it is important they are made of extra-durable materials. We evaluated this category based on both actual performance and the appearance after testing over several months.

The Keen models have the lowest durability score. While there wasn’t any major deterioration, the materials have a lower quality appearance compared to the other contenders we tested. The Brooks Cascadia 7 - Women's, the Salomon Speedcross and the TNF Ultra 105’s have the highest scores.

Protection
One of the biggest differences between road and trail running styles is the extra protection that trail running styles offer your feet. This has traditionally meant a combination of a stiffer toe box to protect against stubbed toes, a stiff plate in the mid sole to protect against bruises from running over rocks and sharp objects, and denser material for uppers to keep dirt away from your feet.

With the increased popularity of bare-foot style running, many newer trail models that try to cater towards a minimal approach have reduced a lot of this protection. In some views, this is ok because inherent in the bare-foot style of running is being more conscious and nimble in your foot placement, making some of this protection unnecessary.

The The North Face Ultra 105 GTX XCR - Women's offered the most protection and also are waterproof, but this came at the cost of low breathability and heavy weight. The New Balance Minimus 10 Trail - Women's offered the least protection of the shoes we tested. However, they offered a significant amount of protection while enabling you to get the barefoot-style experience.

Comfort
The comfort metric is all about general fit and coziness. This is one of the most important factors in choosing a shoe. If the shoe that gets the best overall performance score doesn’t fit your foot, you’ll have all sorts of injury and discomfort potentials that usurp any performance measures. For this metric, we tried to mention any factors that are general and not fit-dependent, but we also describe anything that stood out about how each shoe fit our reviewer’s foot. Overall we found the Brooks Cascadia to be outstanding in comfort.

To help compare our general fit descriptions to how the shoe might feel on your foot, here we will give a general description of our primary reviewer's foot and running style. Sarah wears a size 7.5-8 and has a narrow heel, and slightly wider-than average forefoot. Her arch is high and she is generally a mid-fore foot striker.

Traction
Traction gauges a shoe’s ability to grip and stick on the whole gamut of surfaces a trail runner may encounter. This includes rocky, icy, snowy, loose dirt, hard-pack dirt, slick-rock, and, yes - even pavement.
Click to enlarge
The tread and outsoles of each product tested. From left to right: Vibram Spyridon, New Balance Minimus, Keen A86 TR, Saucony Peregrines, Salomon Speedcross, Brooks Cascadia, The North Face Ultra 105.
Credit: Sarah Hegg

The Salomon Speedcross had the best traction overall. In muddy terrain, the widely spaced lugs accumulated the least amount of mud, and in combination with the incredibly sticky Contagrip® rubber outsole material, put it at the top of our traction list.

The New Balance Minimus had the lowest traction rating of the shoes we tested. While it has sticky and durable Vibram® rubber outsoles, and its lugs are low profile which helps to deflect mud, but the unidirectional shape of the lugs made it more slippery on icy and wet surfaces than other shoes we tested.

Breathability
Breathability in shoes is similar to breathability in other apparel – the amount of breathability you want depends on the function. In very wet conditions (for example – running while it is pouring rain outside), most running shoes, like any other non-boot footwear, will not protect your feet from getting wet. In moderately wet conditions (a puddle here and there, or rock-hopping across a stream), a waterproof shoe can be very helpful in keeping out the moisture. In cold conditions, a waterproof or less breathable upper can lock heat in and help keep your foot warm. In most other conditions, allowing your foot to breathe and dissipate moisture is preferable as it keeps you blister-free.

The TNF Ultra 105’s were the least breathable due to their waterproof Gore-Tex® lining. The Vibram Spyridon’s and the Keen A86 TR - Women's had the highest amount of breathability. Their uppers are made of almost entirely mesh materials, which offers no protection for keeping moisture out, but does a great job of allowing your feet get and stay dry during your run.

The Bottom Line
Best in Class
The Salomon Speedcross 3 - Women's shoes had great traction and exceptional protection. With a zero-drop and moderate midsole cushioning, they strike a balance between the traditional shoes and the trend towards a minimalist shoes. The Speedcross’s have all of these factors and they still weigh less than 10 oz. per shoe.
Click to enlarge
The Salomon Speedcross on an extreme mud and mucky day. The fact that you can see some of the center outsole is a testament to the fact that these widely-spaced treads help cast-off the sludge.
Credit: Sarah Hegg

Top Pick
Feeling a greater connection to the ground underfoot goes hand in hand with what many trail runners love about trail running – feeling the connection to the outdoors. The Vibram Spyridon LS - Women's allows you to get a great intimacy with the trail, but have developed a few extra protection measures that help to prevent bruising the sole of your feet. The Spyridon’s certainly fill a niche in the trail running world, which is why they earned our Top Pick Award.
Click to enlarge
Beth Johnson getting the barefoot trail running experience in the Vibram Spyridons.
Credit: Sarah Hegg

Best Buy
The Saucony Peregrine 2 - Women's are good overall performers with a low pricetag, making them the perfect candidate for the Best Buy Award. They’ve got protection, but they’re also relatively lightweight. They have great traction, but they can go anywhere, even on pavement. We tested a few other shoes that could also handle a wide-range of conditions, but these shoes tested just as well but at the lowest cost.
Click to enlarge
Sarah Hegg rock-hopping in the Saucony Peregrines.
Credit: Beth Johnson

Sarah Hegg
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