Need some new women's running shoes? In the last 7 years we have tested over 75 unique models with the best 11 pairs in this 2020 review. We have pounded miles of pavement, judging every detail of these kicks along the way. We tested each pair on roads, tracks, treadmills, and trails, taking in-depth notes on the most influential characteristics through scorching heat, pelting rain, Coronavirus quarantine, and beautiful days. We ruthlessly judged upper and landing comfort, responsiveness, weight, durability, and breathability. From budget buys to long-distance runners to lightning-fast milers, we've found the right kicks for your individualized needs and budget.Related: Best Running Shoes for Men of 2020
Best Running Shoes for Women of 2020
The Saucony Endorphin Pro quickly became the trainer we would hate to live without. Highly responsive due to their updated PWRRUN PB foam composition and carbon-plate midsole, these shoes are a great choice for up-tempo days. The durable soleplate enhances the responsiveness by creating a rolling effect from one step to the next, and a single-layer of thin yet soft FORMFIT mesh across the entire top helps these kicks stay in place with zero slippage as the miles add up. The stretchy tongue-attachments create a snug fit that keeps the tongue from shifting and becoming uncomfortable. And, because these shoes are constructed from a single piece of material, opportunities for hotspots and blisters are impressively low. Additionally, the Endorphin Pro is made of vegan materials and is blissfully lightweight — a women's size 7 weighs in at only 6.3 ounces. We felt faster than ever on our tempo runs and think anyone looking to PR or sprint will love this pair of kicks.
The sensation of the Endorphin Pro is unlike anything we've felt thus far. The carbon plate sole and stack height are somewhat difficult to get used to. Our first downhill sprint was almost terrifying, as it felt like we had wheels attached to our feet! Once we adapted to the engineering, however, we grew to love the feeling of our feet moving faster than our legs. The steep price tag on these runners is also understandably hard to swallow. That said, conscious athletes looking to invest in their race times will be satisfied with this purchase. The Endorphin Pro does run narrow, and currently, there is no wide option available. But for those it fits, this is an excellent choice for runners looking to ratchet up their speed.
True to its namesake, the Brooks Glycerin 18 is silky smooth, outrageously comfortable, and highly moisture-wicking. These shoes are incredibly versatile, and they hold up as the miles multiply. Their comfort, responsiveness, and durability inspired us to go the distance because our runs felt effortless and light. Often, responsiveness and comfort are mutually exclusive, but that's not the case with the Glycerin. The addition of extra DNA Loft and the reconfigured outsole ratio of this version delivers well-balanced performance and comfort. The outsole shape provides quick and precise energy return, and the neutral 10 mm midsole drop boasts extreme underfoot softness without compromising responsiveness. This iteration also has a reconfigured sole that provides more shock absorption and adaptability than previous models — and at a lower weight per pair. Runners (and walkers) with a history of lower-body injuries will likely love the softness and space offered through the base of this shoe. Brooks also added a bit of extra stretch to the specialized upper mesh to enhance individualized comfort with this version. The collar is soft enough for long mileage days yet snug enough to prevent heel slippage. We feel that the higher price tag on these is worth it.
Runners looking for a barefoot running feel or 0 mm drop might find the cloudlike sensation of this model to be cumbersome, and anyone preferring a stiffer structure will find these to be too soft. The moderate arch support might also be too intense for flat-footed runners. And, while quite heavy, our reviewers agree that the smooth ride, DNA Loft technology, and ultra-comfortable fit negate this shoe's weight. On top of that, Brooks technology took off nearly half an ounce per pair from the previous version while still increasing comfort and constructing an overall smoother ride. Our team unanimously agrees that the weight does not detract from the performance of these shoes. When worn with cotton socks, these kicks do heat up, making them slightly less breathable than we prefer, but anyone desiring a supportive, traditional shoe for everyday use will be pleased by the feel and fit of the Glycerin 18.
Read the full review: Brooks Glycerin 18 - Women's
Just because a running shoe is lightweight does not mean it will be a stellar shoe. Though, in the case of the Saucony Kinvara 11, you get the best of both worlds. It is exceptionally light with a low price to match, but that's not all it has going for it. From the moment we slipped our feet into these mesh-laden trainers, we knew they were something special. Runners looking to shed weight and intensify speedy miles will appreciate the Kinvara. The just-right underfoot cushion and impeccable stabilizing structures come together to create a really exceptional racing shoe. This latest version weighs in at less than 7 ounces per shoe (women's size 7), which is on par with barefoot running models. Even as we worked our way into double-digit mileage, these kicks never weighed us down. The PWRRUN+ base is shock-absorbing but feels lighter and more agile than traditional running shoes, and the FormFit sole enhances its responsiveness making it ideal for runs when speed is a priority. These shoes continue to be our first choice for tempo runs and middle-distance race days. The heel and collar are spacious but don't slip when in motion, the laces stay tied tight for the long haul, and the tongue is perfectly padded., protecting feet from a potentially uncomfortable lace bed.
Runners looking for a goose-down pillow landing base might find the Kinvara 11 to be a little too minimalist. Because they are flexible and less rigid, they also don't score as high in the durability department. They outperformed other shoes in our test, but their lightweight, foam sole degrades faster than we'd like and makes them an impractical crossover choice. Not only is the foam vulnerable to abrasions from the environment, but they do not offer much in the way of protection if you want to switch to a rock-covered trail. However, keep in mind that this is the exact thing that makes them so responsive and light. The base is more springy than soft, constructed of PWRRUN+ sole and light-as-a-feather rubber to dampen each footfall's impact. Runners who land heavily might not be as successful as we were — heavy steppers typically need a bit of underfoot cushion to protect their joints. The Kinvara offers a more lightweight style landing, so be sure to keep that in mind.
Read the full review: Saucony Kinvara 11 - Women's
Our team loves the shape and fit of Brooks running shoes, and the Revel 4 does not disappoint. The energetic BioMoGo DNA and Green Rubber come together to create a lighter-than-average, long-distance winner. The medium arch and neutral style seamlessly culminate to allow runners to find their legs. These kicks are highly breathable and comfortable bot pre- and post-run. Each women's size 7 shoe weighs in at 7.9 ounces, which is lower than the other Brooks models we've tested. The lighter-weight and unencumbered feeling of the Revel makes them excellent for runners hoping to up their distance or for workers required to be on their feet all day. The 8 mm toe-to-heel drop is less aggressive than a traditional 10-12 mm drop shoe, making the underfoot feel natural and comfortable. The DNA Loft and engineered mesh are two components that also help to encourage foot health, proper posture, and spot-on running form. We find these kicks to be an affordable option for long-distance hopefuls and experienced marathoners alike, and we are very thankful to have found a shoe that offers neutral support without adding weight or bulk.
The Revel 4 might not be the softest shoe, but its breathability is impressive, especially considering the traditional shape. However, that breathable mesh comes at the cost of protection — runners looking for a trail crossover shoe will find the construction on the Revel to be lacking. And, while Brooks dropped the weight for this shoe, unfortunately, it comes at the expense of upper comfort. The technology of the upper is fine, it certainly doesn't irritate and is ultimately comfortable enough, but when compared to the incredibly techy uppers of other shoes, it is unimpressive. That said, runners who are motivated to shed shoe weight while maintaining a supportive structure will feel right at home with the Revel 4.
Similar yet somehow better than other traditionally shaped running shoes, the Saucony Freedom 3 lives up to its noble namesake. The soles of these shoes are flexible enough to promote agility even on tired legs and protective enough to cross over to light trail runs, earning them top marks for versatility. Their light weight allows wearers to kick up the speed while the PWRRUN+ cushion provides noticeable comfort. Based on our experience in these shoes, we think that anyone looking to crank up their speed on long-distance days should give them a try. The 4 mm drop is made up of a FORMFIT upper mesh and patented PWRRUN+ inner foam. The flexible mesh adapts to your unique foot shape, and a 28% decrease in weight allows this version of the Freedom to really shine. Because the sole is made of rubber, the impact absorption is high without giving the shoe a maximalist feel, and it holds up even through marathon-esque training, which is atypical for extra light shoes. The base is tough enough to withstand abrasions from wear and tear as well. The support frame around the heel adds to the stability, and the extra-plush collar helps prevent blisters. The laces are a bit slippery, but they don't stretch out during long runs. Because of their durability and versatility, we think the upper-edge pricing is fair here.
Saucony designed the Freedom 3 to be flexible and responsive, and we absolutely felt that when running. The entirety of the shoe has been reconfigured from the previous model, which was plush but also heavier and slower. Our wide-footed sisters might find the platform of these shoes to be a bit narrow, and unfortunately, there is no wide option available. We always recommend trying running shoes on before purchasing them, but since the Freedom offers a relatively narrow base and less-than-traditional ride, we think trying before buying is, in this case, absolutely necessary. Because they are a 4 mm drop shoe, we would recommend the Freedom to runners looking to dabble in the 0 mm sphere — they will be a good gateway pair. Motivated marathoners will enjoy how these shoes provide ample cushion while allowing legs to move as quickly as possible.
Read the full review: Saucony Freedom 3 - Women's
There's a lot to love about the Altra Escalante 2, but it's not for everyone. This iteration is far less beloved than the 1.5 version — diehard fans are dropping left and right. Still, new Altra runners have been roped into the zero drop club with the creation of this shoe, and we're on board. Anyone looking to try out a 0 mm shoe will find the transition to be nearly seamless with the Escalante 2. Since zero drop shoes encourage proper form and muscular engagement, it is a blessing that these shoes weigh in on the lower end of the spectrum. The toebox is wide, the midfoot is flexible and forgiving, and breathability is high due to extra perforations for added airflow. Altra introduced the Altra EGO midsole and outsole in this expression, and the result is a flexible yet durable pair of runners. The half Altra EGO outsole works harmoniously with the FootPod technology that Altra is known for, and the Fit4Her and FootShape toe box increase comfort, structure, and fit. The FootPod rubber offers excellent shock absorption as well, so each step hits the joints more softly than in other, less cushioned shoes. We think these shoes perform best on days when you're motivated by proper form and a strong finish. We feel as though running in these shoes sorted out our posture and imbalances, which has led to healthier runs over the long term. Anyone looking for a subtle yet supportive arch and extra toe space will find the shape of these kicks to be just right.
The Escalante 2 is of average responsiveness amid the sea of running shoes in our review. They won't kick you into turbo mode, but they also won't slow you down like many others we have tested over the years. Zero drop shoes, like this one, typically offer slightly less in the way of responsiveness because of their lack of differential. Instead of relying on the shoe shape to propel you into the next step, runners need to rely on their own muscles. Especially when legs are adjusting to running with a 0 mm drop, the musculature just doesn't give the same feedback, resulting in less energy return and responsiveness. We truly enjoyed every step we got to run in these shoes, despite their lack of responsive oomph, but keep this in mind when deciding. The tongue and lace situation on the Escalante 2 isn't our favorite — we typically prefer a bit of tongue cushion in the construction of our marathon-worthy trainers, and it's pretty flimsy on these. The laces are also prone to slipping, do plan to perfect your double knot. Overall, however, this shoe provides excellent postural-coaching, muscle-building, and toebox space for anyone looking to focus on biomechanical health.
Read the full review: Altra Escalante 2 - Women's
The Brooks Ghost 13 is the latest expression of a forever favorite. Runners who love a supportive and stable shoe should look no further because this one is top shelf. The heel to toe transition on these kicks is great, and the amount of energy you put into this shoe is met with an equal response, making them a perfect race day propeller. We put our feet through a lot of miles for this review, but with the DNA BioMoGo midsole to absorb the impact, we were able to spare our joints some wear and tear. The Ghost is a classic 12mm drop sidekick that is responsive and suitable for almost any running needs. The midfoot base comprises an absorbent crash pad material that holds up over the long term (marathons, ultras, daily runs, whatever), and the 3D FitPrint molds to fit the natural curvature of its wearer's feet without losing its cushion prematurely. The cushioning stays plush from training to race day and beyond. The engineers at Brooks understand that runners' feet swell as they warm up and, as such, they continuously design toe boxes that accommodate expanding feet without feeling like clown shoes. The collar and tongue of this iteration are generously cushioned as well, which keeps them snug and comfortable on long-distance days. Our testers adore the seamless feel and the sole-to-ground contact of this neutral runner; both features aid in the responsive comfort of this tried-and-true model.
The Ghost 13 is yet another Brooks model weighing on the heavy end of the pack. Still, it's honestly difficult to tell the difference between an ounce or two when you're focused on running. This rendition of the Ghost isn't as breathable as other shoes we tested, but it's decent. The durable structure takes away from a bit of airflow, but we still find them to be far above average — with a good pair of moisture-wicking socks, you'll stay comfortable no problem. The more breathable shoes we tested tended to score lower in other metrics, so be sure to consider what climate you will be running in and what aspects are most important to you personally. If a stable, long-distance running sidekick is what your heart desires, look no further than this iteration of the Ghost. They will reliably stand by you.
The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 is an updated version of a cult favorite — but talk about a glow-up! This version of the Pegasus offers a more comfortable midfoot, a more responsive sole, and a smoother ride when compared to past versions. Your feet will slide into this comfy speedster with ease and fit like a glove while there. The outsole architecture provides ample responsiveness, and the gentle, hug-like arch cradles sweet spots and keeps symptoms of plantar fasciitis at bay. The arch is made up of Cushlon ST foam, which creates a responsive AND cushioned runner. The collar design flares, tapers, and touches in just the right way to provide space around the tender Achilles tendon without creating heel slippage, and the beveled heel forms to its owner's foot contours without sacrificing functionality. Nike reworked the upper comfort, lace bed, and collar by adding some much-needed padding. From its maiden voyage to its beat up state several months later, this pair propelled us forward and allowed us to push our limits. When you are ready to kick it up a notch and leave your running buds behind, grab the Pegasus and take off!
For us, the arch of the Pegasus 37 softly cascades underfoot, providing a supportive and comfortable ride. We acknowledge, however, that the sensation might be too aggressive for some runners and too flat for others. While other shoes outshined this shoe in some metrics, we feel that the synergy between landing comfort, responsiveness, and breathability culminate in a great pair of shoes. However, while Nike upped the ante with the durability of these shoes from past iterations, they still lag slightly behind some of our top competitors. And, unfortunately, the slightly-increased durability is achieved at the expense of some breathability. Those things aside, if you are in the mood for an everyday shoe that can be worn to the gym, to backyard hangs, and beyond, look no further than this fairly-priced option.
The rubber sole is on the heavier side, but it balances well with the GuideRail structure and engineered mesh. The Adrenaline GTS-20 weighs in at slightly over 8 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7, which is pretty standard. While certainly not the lightest option out there, with so many runners buying this shoe year after year, Brooks is clearly doing something right. This shoe runs slightly narrow, but there are wide and extra-wide versions available so that, hopefully, all shapes and sizes can be accommodated. We did find the heel bed to be somewhat shallow, which was concerning at first. Once we adjusted to this lower profile, however, we found the extra ankle breeze to be quite comfortable. Runners looking to run long distances in a supportive and traditional shoe will love these — they will very likely earn a place in your heart and in your closet just like they did for us.
Read the full review: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 - Women's
Whether you want a little bit of extra padding on your recovery days, impact reduction from everyday aches and pains, or a pair of shoes that will support you through everyday activities, the HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 is a great choice. Don't let its clown-like countenance fool you — these shoes offer a stable and snug midfoot fit with ample toebox real estate. The EVA foam base is super-stacked, measuring 31 mm tall on the heel — while mega plush, this beefy base will feel weighty at first to runners who are accustomed to a more minimalist feel. Not only does the thick base absorb impact, however, but the internal structure is smooth and wonderfully comfortable. The intensity of the underfoot cushion and stack height takes some getting used to for sure, but these kicks are fantastic for anyone with a history of overuse injuries, shin splints, or joint pain. Long runs turned into après adventure beers with friends, and we never once thought about our feet. The lace and tongue combo — something we are picky about — is well made, and the laces don't cut in through the soft and squishy tongue. The fluffy undercarriage keeps lower back, knee, and foot pain to a minimum, so it's no wonder that these are also popular amongst people who work on their feet all day.
Unsurprisingly, these shoes are quite heavy. Outweighed by only a few pairs in this technologically advanced day and age, the Bondi 6 weighs in at nearly 9 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7. While the fit is almost identical to the previous version, the weight is just slightly higher. However, in this instance, we don't mind. They aren't great sprinting shoes, obviously, but they aren't meant for that either. The ultra-plush footbed adds weight and bulk, but on long-distance runs, the cushion is appreciated and we honestly never felt weighed down. It took us a run or two to adjust to the unique architecture, but ultimately, these easily earned a place in our closet. Great for runners, walkers, and hard workers alike, anyone who spends a lot of time on their feel will be satisfied with their choice to purchase these reliable steeds.
Read the full review: HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 - Women's
The ASICS Gel Nimbus 22 is a heavily padded and cumbersome road runner that's also incredibly durable and doesn't get pounded out as the miles add up. This shoe takes heel cushion and protection to a whole new level. The narrow fit and excessive cushion make this pair of trainers an excellent choice for narrow footed runners, especially those who need stability. The 13 mm drop stack is higher than we prefer, but the extreme differential creates a type of responsiveness. We often find that heavy shoes are unresponsive, especially when stability is the goal. ASICS took huge strides with his iteration of the Gel Nimbus. We are delighted that they are now offering a responsive-ish choice with ultimate protection and heel cushion. The bulk of this shoe is also made up of super durable material, so we consider that a huge plus.
For a classically shaped running shoe, the feeling of the Gel Nimbus 22 is difficult to adjust to. The heel height and cushion are great if you're nursing an Achilles injury but may not be so great for day to day runners looking to build strength. They are clunky and heavy, weighing in at 9 ounces per shoe, and we often found the large heel size would trip us up while we were in motion. Chalk it up to our own inadequacies if you will, but we have never had that happen in more streamlined kicks. Despite this issue, the toebox feels narrow even to skinny-footed folks, and there is only one width choice currently available. Ultimately, the Gel Nimbus 22 makes for a stable and well-padded ride that is decent for athletes who are nursing injuries but might not help you shave your mile time. They will, however, protect your feet and, most notably, your heels.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our road running expert is Exercise Specialist, Ally Meller. She is an avid runner, fitness junkie, and cancer survivor, as well as an accomplished ultramarathoner, personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and yoga teacher. Ally has broken tape at quite a few middle distance races and intends to win more now that her cancer journey is behind her. Wherever there is an open road, beach, or trail, you can find her and her dogs out running on it. Her years of work in physical therapy help guide her through the sea of running gear available, and her kinesiology degree provides valuable scientific insight. Ally, in addition to many other voices on our testing team, provides exceptional feedback on the best women's road shoes out there.
Testing in all conditions, climates, and on a plethora of terrain, we've truly put each pair of shoes in this review to the test. We ran hard to find which kicks can hold up and which aren't worth the time. After selecting a few of the best models out there, we spent hours diving into online research and intricately comparing features, materials, and fit. Not only did we take each shoe on punishing road workouts, we evaluated them through speed workouts, trail days, and of course, gym workouts. Through an unbiased, albeit competitive lens, we provide you with our favorite recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you've just signed up for your twentieth marathon or need to walk your dog around the block, picking the right shoe for your needs can be a challenging task. Recent advancements in materials and design have led to a bewildering array of choices, with every company catering to a different need. In addition to the improvements made in traditional models, the progression toward minimal or barefoot footwear and the recent eruption of maximally cushioned products have added new layers of complexity to the market. Luckily for you, we're here to help make sense of it all and guide you towards finding your new running mate.
Before we get started, you need to decide if road-specific running shoes are the best choice for you. If you run primarily on roads, sidewalks, the treadmill, or a track, stay right here! You are in the right spot. Even if you take the occasional cruise through dirt roads and light cross-country trails, a road-running shoe is going to be your best option. Read on to learn more.
Responsiveness describes how a shoe responds to the energy you put into it. Strides are initiated with kinetic input, and a shoe's responsiveness dictates how easily your feet travel through the motions stride after stride. Put another way, it is how easily each step rolls into the next and how agile you feel doing so. When you're closely connected to the movements of your feet and the variations in terrain, you can adapt your pace with less energy output; this translates to more efficient running at quicker speeds.
As a general rule, the higher a shoe scores in responsiveness, the lower it scores in landing comfort, and vice versa. Through our most recent batch of outstanding shoes, we found that manufacturers are going to great lengths to increase responsiveness in ultra-comfy kicks. Despite this, through our testing process, it became clear that our testers do not always agree on what makes a shoe responsive. We also found that each testers' individual foot shape and musculature dictate how agile they feel when outfitted in a certain pair of shoes. That being said, there are certain patterns and indicators that help us make a decently objective assessment of this complicated metric.
The Saucony Endorphin Pro is, by far, the most responsive shoe in our lineup. The snug fit makes each step feel intuitive and somewhat effortless. Each footfall feels as though it rolls into the next, which is the epitome of "responsiveness" in the running shoe world. The Saucony Kinvara 11, Brooks Glycerin 18, and Nike Pegasus 37 all score highly in this metric, too, because of a lightweight design that propels you from one stride into the next. Delightful and speed-inducing, indeed. All of these runners will definitely get you moving in the right direction — and quickly!
Whether you run a few miles a year or are tied to a rigorous training schedule, it's called "pounding pavement" for a reason. With that pounding in mind, our testers consider this metric one of the most important evaluation criteria. Nothing makes someone want to stop running more than tired, blistered feet, so we used this category to judge a few different shoe traits. For each shoe, we reviewed its ability to cushion the feet and provide adequate shock absorption. We also compared the construction of midsoles and materials. We got to know each shoe and assessed its ideal running scenarios, whether built for long runs or speed workouts (or neither). While there are obvious differences between a high-mileage shoe like the HOKA Bondi 6 and a racing model like the Nike Pegasus 37, we want our shoes to leave our feet feeling fresh from the first mile to the last.
The HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 is, without a doubt, the most cushioned shoe that we tested. It does have a very different feel than any other shoe in this review, and likely, different than any shoe you've tried on before. Your foot will sit considerably higher off the ground because of the maximum cushioning, creating a unique sensation that takes some getting used to. Call it clown-like if you'd like, but once you adapt, your joints will be thanking you. We think you'll find these shoes to be a great fit, ideal for serious mileage.
The Altra Escalante 2 is another standout in the landing comfort metric. The marriage of softness and strength in the supportive structure is seriously smooth. The Escalante offers an average-height arch with a soft interior, and while the 0 mm drop takes some time to adjust to, the ample landing comfort helps ease this transition. If rapid, short-distance sprints are more your style, you may want something with a bit less cushion like the Saucony Kinvara 11 or the Saucony Endorphin Pro. Both offer less cushion but exceptional landing comfort for shorter, faster stints on your feet.
We can't deny that shoe weight affects running ability, but we have mixed feelings about how to judge shoes based on this metric. This may be one of the first things we notice as we pull shoes out of the box — could a few ounces hold the key to your running success? It all depends on what your goals are. Unless elite-level racing is in your near future, we'd suggest using weight as a secondary deciding factor after more noticeable criteria like upper and landing comfort. Once you've narrowed down your selection slightly, you can use weight to hone in on your final choice.
If you are looking to lay down speedy miles and build strength through sprinting, check out the Saucony Endorphin Pro, the lightest shoe in our roundup. The Saucony Kinvara 11 is another lightweight but ultra-comfy choice. All of that said, depending on what feels good for your body, you might find a moderately weighted shoe more supportive and perfect for quick miles. The shoes we tested ranged from 6.3 ounces to 9.0 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7. As you might expect, both the lightest and heaviest shoes have things to offer, depending on your needs and preferences. The Endorphin Pro is light and diverse, ready for sprints or high mileage days. The HOKA Bondi 6 is plush and protective, an excellent option for runners who want to keep their joints healthy and happy over the long haul.
Value and durability go hand in hand, and no one wants to spend their hard-earned schillings on shoes that will degrade after just a few miles. That is why we picked the best of best and made sure to run on hot days, abrasive surfaces, and through the occasional puddle.
Brooks continues to dominate the podium for durability. Our four Brooks contenders, the Glycerin 18, Adrenaline GTS 20, Ghost 13, and Revel 4 all earned high scores in this metric. In our testing history, we've found that shoes start to break down through the sole and the outer upper mesh due to high mileage. We are happy to report that none of the Brooks shoes in our collection started to break down during our testing period. These shoes held up through a rigorous and sometimes ridiculous testing regime, so we feel that it's highly likely that they'll hold up to your preferred terrain and schedule as well.
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. We are also highly picky about the way the tongue and lace combo touch our feet. Nobody wants the lace bed digging into their upper foot, so we weeded out the aggressive from the smooth. Some shoes that we've tested in our years of running we disliked immediately, while others we didn't want to take off. The flexibility of materials, foot box shape, and overall upper design and construction all play into this, ideally coalescing in a shoe that lets you forget you're even wearing it. Feet often swell as running heats up as well, so tight and unforgiving laces that obstruct blood flow were a sure way for a shoe to get a lower score in this area.
Brooks and Saucony construct the best upper comfort this time around. Brooks-made kicks are plenty flexible with the silkiest and most secure laces we've ever seen. The Glycerin 18 is a solid choice for upper comfort if you're looking for a traditionally shaped running shoe. Even as we ran (and ran and ran and ran), the upper comfort never waivered, and the shoe body never held us back. The Kinvara 11 also earned a high score in this metric due to its soft upper and traditional running shoe shape. On the Altra side, the Escalante 2 provides extra toebox space with a forgiving upper.
Breathability is a feature most people tend to overlook while focusing on comparing fit, but it plays a large part in how comfortable your ride is when you're cranking up the mileage. Our frontrunners boast zero interference, allowing for easy and breezy outings. We love the super forgiving mesh of the Altra Escalante 2, Saucony Endorphin Pro, and Brooks Revel 4. While we always recommended skipping cotton socks, we tested every single pair with cotton socks as well as moisture-wicking ones. We rated breathability based on how overheated — or not — our feet felt post-run. Neither the Escalante, the Endorphin Pro, or the Revel caused our shoes to turn into foot saunas, for which we are supremely grateful.
Other top contenders for this important but oft-overlooked metric are the Glycerin 18, Adrenaline GTS 20, and Freedom 3. What a lineup, eh?
As full-time testers for GearLab, we do a lot of shopping. We know that the running market is oversaturated with options and is full of fancy lingo and misleading marketing. With so many options to choose from, finding the right running shoe can be a huge and daunting task! We spent months reviewing the most popular women's models on the market, from lightweight, minimalist superstars to plush, maximalist mileage hogs — and everything in between. Hopefully, you can use our hard-earned knowledge to find your way towards your next pair of shoes.
— Ally Meller