Is the search for new shoes running you into the ground? Our expert team of testers researched 80 of the most popular women's products on the running shoe market and then carefully selected 12 of our favorite bestsellers for months of hands-on, pavement-pounding research. Whether you're training for your umpteenth marathon, working up to your first 5k, or simply trying to keep up with your dog on walks around the neighborhood, we 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 and then ranked each pair based on a series of metrics. With this comprehensive review, we all but guarantee that you'll be crossing the finish line in style and comfort with the pair that is perfectly matched for your unique needs.
The 12 Best Running Shoes for Women
Analysis and Award Winners
As spring was wrapping up 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. We've also added a review of the HOKA Mach, a great lightweight shoe ready to handle anything.
Best Overall Running Shoe for Women
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 - Women's
The Adrenaline GTS 18 from Brooks is, hands-down, one of the best shoes we've ever tested. We can't believe how well-balanced it is, from the stability-focused exterior to the luxuriously padded interior. All of these features come without sacrificing too much weight. You get comfort and responsiveness, one of the biggest challenges of a road-running shoe. If we could only put one shoe on for the rest of our lives, this would likely be it.
We highly recommend this shoe for the average runner looking for an everyday product to get them through whatever workout they might endure. We jumped at the chance to award this shoe for our Editors' Choice Award because of its remarkable 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
HOKA ONE ONE came on the ultrarunning scene only a few years ago, sparking interests with their strange, maximally-cushioned designs. So of course, we had to try these out for ourselves. After weeks in these shoes, our testers 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 that require less responsive and more luxury.
We awarded this shoe our Top Pick for Going the Distance in honor of this model's comfy, cozy, cloud-like step. This model 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
While we fell into the trap of bright colors and a flashy design, the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 continued to impress, workout after workout. While not as cushioned as some of its competitors, this lightweight shoe is clearly 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 pushing the pace.
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 fantastic 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 another time trial.
Read review: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34
Best Buy on a Budget
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4
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. It is quite responsive and bouncy, though 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 an excellent choice for a wide range of running interests and abilities. At only $100, the Zante v4 is adequately comfortable and supportive and creates an outstanding 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
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
Top Pick for Weight
HOKA ONE ONE Mach - Women's
New for 2018 is the HOKA ONE ONE Mach, a lightweight design that blew us away. Compared to competitors in its weight range, this shoe is extremely comfortable. We loved the landing support that was ample yet not nearly as excessive as some of the other HOKA models we tested. The sole is a great balance between comfort and responsiveness for the average runner.
While not the most cushioned or luxurious shoe we reviewed, we were astounded at how great it was for its weight. The fit is geared toward the natural, minimalist-minded runner, which may or may not be what you're looking for. What this shoe lacks in upper comfort it makes up for in ounces shed, and we couldn't help but want to recognize the Mach for its impressive blend of weight and comfort.
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Mach - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you're just entering the running game or competing in your fiftieth marathon, choosing a new pair of kicks can be an overwhelming task. Huge advancements in materials and design 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 recent eruption of maximally cushioned products have added new layers of complexity to the market. Luckily for you, we're to help make sense of it all.
First, were 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, you are in the right spot. Even if you take the occasional cruise through dirt and gravel roads, stick with us. 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, such as those in our Best Trail Running Shoes for Women of 2018 review. Additionally, if you're looking to take part in sports or activities that require lateral movements in addition to running, or if you lift weights and frequent the gym, you'll be better off in a shoe that supports a broader 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 on the road, mile after mile.
Ready to get started on your quest to find the perfect road running shoe? We'll start by recommending a model that has a balance of all the metrics we evaluate. 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.
When we're judging shoes, we try to be as objective as possible. This means that we ignore pricing until all our testing is done. We don't want the price of a product to change our perspective on it, but we know that it's super important. To judge value, we factor in the price after we've finished our hands-on testing and scoring, and then we see how the scores stack up when related to price. The performance chart below will help you get an idea of which shoes get you the biggest bang for your buck. But as a quick reminder, running shoes are incredibly personal, and if you're packing on serious miles, the right shoe can make a big difference, even if it means shelling out a few more dollars. At OutdoorGearLab, we respect quality products that present a good value. For that reason, we grant a variety of awards, including our Best Buy award. You'll find that the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v4, which rings in at $100, is the winner of our Best Bang for the Buck award. However, as you can see in our chart below, a variety of other products ring in around the $110-120 price range and include the Editors' Choice Brooks Adrenaline GTS 18 - Women's, Brooks Ghost 10 - Women's, Altra Intuition, and Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34 - Women's.
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 a serious beating. Because of this, our testers used "landing comfort" as the first and most important scoring metric. Nothing makes us want to stop running like tired feet, blisters, or sore spots, so in this category, we looked to many shoe traits. For each product, we evaluated its cushioning and shock-absorbing qualities. We compared 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.
The Bondi 5 was, without a doubt, the most cushioned shoe in this review. It does have a significantly different feel than any other shoe in this review, and likely than any shoe you've tried on before. Your foot will sit considerably higher off the ground than in any other product that we tested, leading to a unique feel that takes some getting used to. If you take the time to adjust to this shoe, we think you'll find a great fit ideal for runners who pack on the miles. If shorter distances are more your style, however, you may want something with a bit less cushion.
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, 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. 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, significant cushioned, 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.
This is one metric that's going to require some real introspection from you. Of course, we'd love to find a shoe that is as comfortable as it is responsive. Unfortunately, that's just not how shoes are made, which leaves you to decide which of these two characteristics are more important to you, or if you want something in the middle.
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 who is looking for an equal blend of responsiveness and comfort, the Adrenaline, Ghost, and Mach are great options.
Aside from style (because style is always important), 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.
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 and HOKA Mach received low scores here for their lack of padding, but for minimalist shoes, the uppers were 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.
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 to create the best match for you.
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.
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 essential 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.
The weights per shoe in this review range from 6.8 ounces to 9.4 ounces. In first place is the HOKA Mach, at a mere 6.8 ounces. Next up we have 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.
Choosing the right pair of shoes can be an overwhelming task, especially when you're staring at rows of brightly colored products. With a million options to choose from a whole language of marketing ploys and lingo, we understand your plight. This is why we've spent months on end reviewing the top twelve women's products on the market today. We're here to break down all the information you need to know to find the shoes best suited to your individual needs. Feeling ready to start shopping? Our individual reviews get into the nitty-gritty on every product. Still looking for more shopping tactics? Head over to our buying advice article for even more information on what to look for in a shoe.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.