Over the last 7 years, our crew has tested nearly 100 of the best and most popular running shoes for women. We recently bought 12 of 2021's top models for our latest head-to-head testing. 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. We ran through scorching heat, pelting rain, Coronavirus quarantine, and beautiful days while ruthlessly judging responsiveness, landing comfort and stability, upper comfort, and weight. 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 2021
Best Running Shoes for Women of 2021
|Price||Check Price at REI||Check Price at REI||Check Price at REI||$200 List|
Check Price at REI
|Check Price at REI|
|Pros||Supportive, comfortable, responsive, durable,||Very light, nice blend of comfort and responsiveness, reasonably priced||Very comfortable, good support and stability, classic design||Responsive, lightweight, comfortable, aerodynamic||Lightweight, versatile, comfortable, breathable|
|Cons||Heavier,||Somewhat narrow, less stable and supportive||Heavier than most, somewhat pricey||Narrower fit, lacks stability, pricier||Less protective, less supportive|
|Bottom Line||This is our favorite pair of shoes for daily runs. For an affordable price, these shoes provide everything we want and recommend out of a traditionally-shaped running shoe||A reconfigured neutral runner with surprising support and a high-tech speed rating||A durable and traditional running shoe designed to satisfy the needs of a diverse group of runners||This is the most responsive running shoe we have tested to date — They are comfortable, incredibly lightweight, and fun to run in||If a lightweight and flexible yet traditional running shoe is what you're after, you'll love the feeling of this affordable and intelligently designed running shoe|
|Rating Categories||Brooks Ghost 14 - W...||Saucony Kinvara 12...||Brooks Glycerin 19...||Saucony Endorphin P...||Brooks Revel 4 - Wo...|
|Landing Comfort Cushioning (25%)|
|Upper Comfort (15%)|
|Specs||Brooks Ghost 14 - W...||Saucony Kinvara 12...||Brooks Glycerin 19...||Saucony Endorphin P...||Brooks Revel 4 - Wo...|
|Weight (per shoe, size 7)||7.79 oz||6.07 oz||7.97 oz||6.35 oz||7.09 oz|
|Heel to Toe Drop||12 mm||4 mm||10 mm||8 mm||8 mm|
|Width Options||Regular, Wide||Regular, Wide||Narrow, regular, wide||Regular||Regular|
|Upper Material||Engineered mesh||Engineered mesh||Engineered mesh||FormFit mesh||Engineered mesh|
|Midsole Material||DNA loft, BioMoGo DNA||PWRRUN||DNA LOFT||PWRRUN||DNA LOFT, BioMoGo DNA|
|Sole Rubber||Rubber||EVA foam||Rubber||Rubber||BioMoGo DNA/ Green Rubber|
Best Overall Women's Running Shoe
Brooks Ghost 14 - Women's
The Brooks Ghost 14 is the latest expression of one of our longtime favorites. Runners who love a moderately supportive and stable shoe should look no further because this one is top-shelf. The heel-to-toe transition is super smooth, and the amount of energy you put into this shoe is met with an equal response, making it 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 12-millimeter drop shoe that is responsive and suitable for most running needs. The engineers at Brooks seem to 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. This iteration's collar and tongue are generously cushioned, 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 14 earns our top overall spot because of how it balances a smooth, responsive ride with plush joint protection and durability. This is the shoe that we recommend to both new runners and seasoned marathoners. The only metric in which the Ghost doesn't shine is weight, as each shoe weighs in at 7.8 ounces for a women's size 7. However, Brooks shaved a few ounces off of this shoe with the creation of this model, which ultimately allowed us to score it higher than previous models. If a stable, long-distance running sidekick is what your heart desires, look no further than this iteration of the Ghost, you won't be disappointed.
Best Bang for the Buck
Saucony Kinvara 12 - Women's
Just because a running shoe is lightweight doesn't automatically mean it will be a standout performer. In the case of the Saucony Kinvara 12, though, you get the best of both worlds. This shoe is lightweight, responsive, comfortable, and comes at an affordable price. The Pwrrun+ base is shock-absorbing and the FormFit sole enhances responsiveness, making this a great option for racing or fast workouts when speed is a priority. This shoe continues to be our first choice for tempo runs, track workouts, and middle-distance race days. The heel and collar are snug and don't slip when in motion. The sock-like fit of the Kinvara makes the shoe feel like a natural part of our bodies. The laces stay tied tight for the long haul, and the tongue is perfectly padded, protecting feet from a potentially uncomfortable lace bed. Even as our feet swell while on the move, we never feel like we need to loosen the laces.
Runners looking for an ultra-plush, pillowy landing base will find the neutral Kinvara 12 to be a little too minimalist. Because they are flexible and less rigid, they also don't score as high in the lateral stability department. However, the structure is strong enough to support mild, fatigue-induced pronation. Runners who land heavily might not be as successful as we were — heavy steppers typically need a bit more underfoot cushion to protect their joints. The Kinvara offers a more lightweight style landing, so be sure to keep that in mind. If you're looking to dip your toes into a more minimalist style but aren't sure you want to commit, the Kinvara is a great choice. The shape is reminiscent of a traditional runner but with all of the goodies of a neutral and responsive shoe. Finally, if you are motivated by style, the Kinvara 12's bold color schemes and sleek countenance will have you looking fast and fly.
A Light and Flexible Shoe for a Great Price
Brooks Revel 4 - Women's
Our team loves the shape and fit of Brooks running shoes, and the Revel 4 does not disappoint. The energetic BioMoGo DNA midsole and Green Rubber outsole come together to create a lightweight, long-distance shoe with a medium arch and neutral style. These shoes are highly breathable and comfortable, both pre-and post-run. The lighter-weight and unencumbered feeling of the Revel make it excellent for runners hoping to up their distance. The 8-millimeter heel-to-toe drop is less aggressive than a traditional 10 to 12-millimeter drop shoe, making the footstrike feel natural and comfortable. Because the Revel lacks extensive lateral support that can sometimes feel harsh, we loved the responsive freedom we felt to explore our natural gaits. These kicks are an affordable option for long-distance hopefuls and experienced marathoners alike.
The Revel 4 is not the most supportive shoe, but its breathability is impressive. The mesh upper is not plush, but the shape is versatile and comfortable. Injury-prone runners should steer clear of this neutrally supportive pair of shoes, as they lack the stability of some more traditional Brooks models. That said, runners who are confident in their biomechanics and are motivated to shed shoe weight and gain breathability will feel right at home with the Revel 4.
Best for Speed Workouts and Racing
Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 - Women's
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 has become a mainstay in our collection of trainers. Highly responsive due to the updated Pwrrun PB foam composition and carbon-plate midsole, this shoe is a great choice for races and 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 upper keeps your feet feeling light and secure. The stretchy tongue attachments create a snug fit that keeps the tongue from shifting and becoming uncomfortable. Because each shoe is constructed from a single piece of material, opportunities for hotspots and blisters are impressively low. As a bonus, the Endorphin Pro 2 is comprised of vegan materials and is blissfully lightweight — a women's size 7 weighs in at only 6.4 ounces. We felt faster than ever on our tempo runs and think anyone looking to PR or try sprint training will love this responsive pair of shoes.
The sensation of the Endorphin Pro 2 is unlike anything we've felt thus far in our gear testing careers. The carbon plate sole and taller stack height are somewhat difficult to get used to, so keep that in mind. Once we adapted to the engineering, however, we grew to love the feeling of our feet seemingly moving faster than our legs. Our main gripe with the updated version of the Endorphin Pro is that it has a narrower fit than the original version. The midfoot does not offer much stability, so wider-footed runners might find their feet spilling over the relatively narrow base. This is definitely a pair of shoes that we recommend trying on before buying since there is not currently a wide option available. The steep price tag can also be hard to swallow, but conscious athletes looking to ratchet up the speed and invest in an ultra-responsive shoe will likely be satisfied with this purchase.
Best Traditional Women's Running Shoe
Brooks Glycerin 19 - Women's
The Brooks Glycerin 19 is smooth, comfortable, and versatile enough to be the only option in your quiver, and holds up well even when worn daily. Often, responsiveness and comfort are mutually exclusive, but that's not the case with the Glycerin. The DNA Loft midsole and the reconfigured outsole of this version deliver well-balanced performance and comfort. The outsole shape provides quick energy return, and the 10-millimeter heel-to-toe drop provides extreme underfoot softness without compromising responsiveness. Runners and walkers with a history of lower-body injuries will likely love the balanced support and comfortable footbed offered through the base of this shoe. Brooks added a bit of stretch to the specialized upper mesh, and the collar is soft enough for long mileage days yet snug enough to prevent heel slippage.
Runners looking for a minimalist running feel or zero heel-to-toe drop might find the Glycerin a bit cumbersome with its more traditional blend of cushioning and support. We love that this shoe can suit a wide array of runners with different gaits and body types. While quite heavy when compared to some of the other shoes we tested, our reviewers agree that the ultra-comfortable fit helps to negate this shoe's less-than-amazing weight. Anyone desiring a supportive, traditional, and durable shoe for everyday use will be pleased by the feel and fit of the Glycerin 19.
Best for Cushioning and Joint Preservation
HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 7 - 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 your everyday activities, the Hoka One One Bondi 7 is a great choice. Don't let its distinct appearance fool you — this shoe offers a stable and snug midfoot fit with ample toebox real estate. The EVA foam base is super-stacked, measuring 31 millimeters tall at the heel. While mega plush, this beefy base will feel weighty at first to runners accustomed to a more minimalist feel. Not only does the thick base absorb impact, but the internal structure is smooth and comfortable. The underfoot cushioning and stack height takes some getting used to, but the Bondi is fantastic for anyone with a history of overuse injuries, shin splints, or joint pain.
Unsurprisingly, these shoes are quite heavy compared to the rest of our lineup. Outweighed by only a few pairs in this technologically advanced day and age, the Bondi 7 weighs in at nearly 9 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7. However, in this instance, we don't mind. They aren't great sprinting shoes, but they aren't meant for that either. The plush footbed adds weight and bulk, but on long-distance runs, the cushion is appreciated, and we never felt overly weighed down. Great for runners, walkers, and hard workers alike, anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet will be satisfied with these durable and comfortable shoes.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our road running expert is Exercise Specialist, Ally Arcuri. She is an avid runner, fitness junkie, cancer survivor, and 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 Ally and her dog 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. In addition to many other voices on our testing team, Ally 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're training for your twenty-sixth 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, 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 will likely be your best option.
At GearLab, we buy all of our products at retail prices just like you and have our testing team put them through the wringer without looking at the price tag. Only after we have accurately scored each pair of shoes in our metrics do we consider the price. We definitely think that value, durability, and versatility go hand-in-hand. If a shoe only performs well in one type of situation, its value is often lower than a well-rounded option. In this review, the Saucony Kinvara 12 and the Brooks Revel 4 both stand out for their lightweight responsiveness, neutral cushioning, and affordable prices.
Responsiveness describes how a shoe responds to the energy you put into it, and how quickly and efficiently your feet travel through the motions of each stride, and how agile you feel doing so. Often, the higher a shoe scores in responsiveness, the lower it scores in landing comfort, and vice versa. The thicker and softer cushioning that increases landing comfort can sometimes make a shoe feel spongy and hinder responsiveness. Through new technologically advanced foams and materials, manufacturers have greatly increased the balance of cushioning and responsiveness in ultra-comfy kicks. While individual foot shape and musculature composition can dictate how agile a runner may feel in a certain pair of shoes, some certain patterns and indicators help us make a reasonably objective assessment of this complicated metric.
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 is the most responsive shoe in our lineup. The snug-fitting upper makes each step feel intuitive and somewhat effortless. To maximize responsiveness, Saucony added three different elements to this novel design. The carbon fiber plate within the midsole provides stiffness and energy return, while the Pwrrun PB cushioning helps balance things out with a bit of softness and extra bounce.
The Kinvara 12 has the Pwrrun cushioning as well, which makes it another super-responsive choice. The Kinvara is simply constructed and doesn't offer as much protection or stability, so it is up to you to determine what matters most to you when shopping for a new pair of shoes.
The Nike Pegasus 38 also scores well here with its lightweight construction and responsive cushioning. Nike added a larger Zoom Air unit in the forefoot than on previous versions, which offers a soft landing pad without being cumbersome. The air unit is specifically tuned in this women's version to 15 PSI to offer a bit more flexibility through the sole. The lightweight React foam adds to the light, nimble feeling.
The Brooks Glycerin 19 and the Brooks Ghost 14 earned above-average marks in the responsiveness category, especially considering their traditional shape. The DNA Loft cushioning adds an extra bit of bounce, which makes for responsive shoes that perform well on long-distance days. The increased lateral support of both of these Brooks models helps us continue to run in an ergonomically correct way even as we fatigue. One of the main reasons we love the Glycerin and the Ghost is that they both offer support as well as responsiveness.
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 or achy joints, 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).
The Hoka One One Bondi 7 is the most well-cushioned shoe that we tested. It does have a very different feel than any other shoe in this review and potentially 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. This excessive but wonderful amount of cushion is what makes the Bondi an excellent choice for anyone looking to up their landing comfort.
The Altra Escalante 2.5, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21, and the Brooks Glycerin 19 are other standouts in the landing comfort and cushioning metric. The Escalante offers an average-height arch with a soft interior, and while the zero drop takes some time to adjust to, the ample cushioning helps ease this transition. The extra space in the toebox allows toes to splay out during each footfall and take off, enhancing the overall comfort.
The Glycerin and the Adrenaline both offer excellent cushioning with a bit more structure to ensure a well-balanced footstrike mile after mile. We really love they both have enough stability and protection without going overboard on rigidity.
If rapid, short-distance races or workouts are more your style, you may want something with a bit less cushioning but more responsiveness, like the Saucony Kinvara 12 or the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2.
Stability is another crucial metric in the world of running shoes. When we reference stability, we are often referring to the lateral stability a shoe offers. Lateral stability is significant for runners who tend to over or under pronate while running. Over time, these small imbalances can lead to huge, lingering injuries.
Running shoe manufacturers add structural support by reinforcing the lateral midsole of each shoe. Sometimes they will even insert more rigid materials to keep the shoe more stable and promote proper foot alignment through the stride. In general, we have found that stability-increasing structures and weight are mutually exclusive, but the extra ounces are worth a lifetime of proper running form.
We have tested quite a lineup of supportive and stable running shoes over the years. Our recurrent favorites for gently correcting over-pronation are the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 and the Asics Gel-Kayano 28. The Adrenaline has built-in GuideRails that enhance the shoe's stability and help runners eliminate excess ankle movements. On the lighter end of the spectrum, the Saucony Freedom 4 provides moderate stability that is beyond what many of the other featherweight options can offer.
The Gel-Kayano has been engineered in such a way to encourage runners to push off with their toes. This helps encourage even weight distribution in the push-off phase of a stride, which is incredibly valuable for over-pronators. In our opinion, the Adrenaline is best suited for runners who need extra support and might overpronate when their stabilizing muscles fatigue. The Gel-Kayano is a better choice for runners who KNOW that they overpronate and want to correct their gait.
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.
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 your 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 have constructed the most comfortable upper material, in our opinion. Brooks shoes are plenty flexible and have soft tongues with strong yet soft laces. The Glycerin 19 is a solid choice for upper comfort if you're looking for a traditionally shaped running shoe. The Kinvara 12 also earned a high score in this metric due to its soft upper and semi-traditional running shoe shape. This more traditional profile isn't typical in a neutral runner, but we are hyped on the marriage of the two. The laces are not as soft as those of the Glycerin, but the perfectly-placed tongue padding ensures that the upper comfort is well above that of a standard running shoe.
We can't deny that shoe weight affects running ability, but we would caution against judging shoes based solely 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 Kinvara 12, the lightest shoe in our lineup. It weighs in at 6.1 ounces per shoe.
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 2 is another lightweight but comfortable choice. That said, depending on what feels good for your body, you might find a moderately weighted shoe more supportive and better for your needs. The shoes we tested ranged from 6.0 ounces to nearly 11 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7. As you might expect, both the lightest and heaviest shoes have features that you may find useful, depending on your needs and preferences.
The Adidas Ultraboost 21 was the heaviest shoe we tested. Since the weight mostly adds up in the heel, we felt that these heavy shoes were disproportionately weighted. This led to generalized discomfort on our runs. The high price and unique shape of the Ultraboost are in stark contrast to the Asics Gel Kayano 28, which is a heavier but better-balanced option.
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 Arcuri
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