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Best Running Shoes for Women of 2021

The running shoe market is super saturated? Let our expert shoe heros ...
Photo: Ally Meller
By Ally Meller ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday February 17, 2021
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Over the last 7 years, our crew has tested over 85 of the best running shoes for women, and recently bought 11 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 buyers 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

1

Best Overall for Speed


Saucony Endorphin Pro - Women's


Saucony Endorphin Pro - Women's
Editors' Choice Award

$294.09
at Amazon
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 6.3 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8 mm
Speedy and responsive
Well-cushioned
Comfortable upper
Somewhat narrow fit
Expensive

The Saucony Endorphin Pro quickly became the trainer we would hate to live without. Highly responsive due to the 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 as the miles add up, without any slippage. 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. As a bonus, the Endorphin Pro is comprised 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 try sprint training will love this speedster.

The sensation of the Endorphin Pro is unlike anything we've felt thus far in our gear testing careers. 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 seemingly 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 likely 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.

The Endorphin Pro offers unparalleled fun and responsiveness...
The Endorphin Pro offers unparalleled fun and responsiveness, especially when running downhill.
Photo: Ally Meller

2

Best Traditional Women's Running Shoe


Brooks Glycerin 18 - Women's


Brooks Glycerin 18 - Women's
Editors' Choice Award

$119.95
(20% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 8.2 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10 mm
Smooth footstrike
Durable
Highly comfortable
Responsive
Not as light
Somewhat expensive

True to its namesake, the Brooks Glycerin 18 is silky smooth, outrageously comfortable, and highly moisture-wicking. These shoes are versatile, and they hold up well as the miles multiply. Their comfort, responsiveness, and durability inspired us to increase our distances 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 of this version delivers well-balanced performance and comfort. The outsole shape provides quick and precise energy return, and the moderate 10-millimeter heel-to-toe drop provides 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 minimalist running feel or zero heel-to-toe 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 (we recommend other Brooks models for more structure). The moderate arch support might 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 help negate this shoe's weight. 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

Lunge break. Breezy kicks like the Glycerin make for the best beach...
Lunge break. Breezy kicks like the Glycerin make for the best beach workout days.
Photo: Ally Meller

3

Best Bang for the Buck


Saucony Kinvara 11 - Women's


Saucony Kinvara 11 - Women's
Best Buy Award

$97.75
(11% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 6.7 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm
Lightweight
Comfortable
Affordable
Responsive
Less durable
Not as much support

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. 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 or fast-training shoe. This latest version weighs in at less than 7 ounces per shoe (women's size 7), which is on par with some of the lightest models available. Even as we worked our way into double-digit mileage runs, these kicks never weighed us down. The PWRRUN+ base is shock-absorbing but feels lighter and more agile than traditional running shoes. 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 lateral stability department. However, the structure is strong enough to support apathetic pronation as your muscles fatigue. They outperformed other shoes in our test, but their lightweight foam sole is vulnerable to wear and tear, and the outsole doesn't offer much protection if you want to switch to a rock-covered trail. However, 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

The Kinvara 11 strikes the perfect balance between soft and strong.
The Kinvara 11 strikes the perfect balance between soft and strong.
Photo: Ally Meller

4

Best Biomechanically-Sound Support


Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 - Women's


Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 - Women's
Top Pick Award

$129.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7):8.0 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 12 mm
Super stable and supportive
Very comfortable
Reliable
Durable
On the heavier side
The twenty-first version Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21 was put forth with GuideRails, a structural system that runs bilaterally through the midfoot that was introduced with its predecessor. These kicks are plenty supportive, yet covered with plenty of impact-absorbing cushioning and softness in all of the right places. Injury-prone runners will feel secure in this version of the Adrenaline because of the extra lateral support. The midsole is made up of DNA LOFT and BioMoGo DNA, two of Brooks' highest performing materials. This shoe is one of our favorites for speedy splits on pavement due to the new and improved DNA LOFT structure; it now extends through the midsole for added responsiveness and comfort. Its energy return is exceptional, and the tough rubber combined with the soft-cushioned heel stack helps propel legs forward mile after mile. The cushion is strategically placed and understated — they are built as a traditional runner with a 12-millimeter offset and classic shape and aesthetic.

The rubber sole is on the heavier side, but it balances well with the GuideRail structure and engineered mesh. The Adrenaline GTS-21 weighs in at 8 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7, which is about average in our lineup. 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. 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 your closet just like they did for us.

This durable and supportive sidekick is great for daily training or...
This durable and supportive sidekick is great for daily training or long-distance races.
Photo: Ally Meller

5

Best for Cushioning and Joint Preservation


HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 7 - Women's


HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 7 - Women's
Top Pick Award

$149.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7):8.8 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm
Ultra-plush
Supportive
Joint-protective
Heavy
Anti-minimalist profile won't suit everybody

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 on 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 wonderfully comfortable. The underfoot cushion and stack height's intensity 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. The TPU overlays help stabilize squirrelly ankles, a thoughtful update when compared to the ankle-twisting Bondi 6. HOKA reconstructed the upper portion of the Bondi this time around. The result of their hard work is a smoother and softer fit with a plusher-than-average upper. Compared to the Bondi 6, we found that this iteration offered a bit more room in the toe box with a slightly thinner profile. 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. 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.

Unsurprisingly, these shoes are quite heavy. 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 weighed down too much. It took us a run or two to adjust to the unique architecture, but ultimately, these easily earned a well-deserved place in our closet. Great for runners, walkers, and hard workers alike, anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet will be satisfied with their choice to purchase these reliable steeds.

We loved post-run stretch sessions while wearing the ultra-soft...
We loved post-run stretch sessions while wearing the ultra-soft Bondi 7.
Photo: Ally Meller

6

A Versatile and Reliable Everyday Trainer


Brooks Ghost 13 - Women's


Brooks Ghost 13 - Women's
Top Pick Award

$129.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 8.64 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 12 mm
Supportive
Comfortable
Traditional style
Heavy
Might offer too much support for some runners

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 12-millimeter 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. 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 13 is yet another Brooks model weighing on the heavy end of the spectrum. Still, it's 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.

Our feet felt super protected while encased in this iteration of the...
Our feet felt super protected while encased in this iteration of the forever classic Ghost.
Photo: Ally Meller

7

A Supportive Option for Over-Pronators


ASICS GEL-Kayano 27 - Women's


ASICS GEL-Kayano 27 - Women's

$159.95
at Amazon
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 9.0 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 13 mm
Excellent support
Great landing comfort
Many width options
Well-shaped
Heavy
Aggressive support won't suit everyone

The ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 reignited our longtime love affair with ASICS-made running shoes. As occasional over-pronators ourselves, we love the extra rigidity offered by this version of the Gel-Kayano, which is specifically made to accommodate this common gait style. The support chassis is comprised of DYNAMIC DUOMAX® technology, which helps prevent fatigued ankles from rolling inward. From our first test run to our last, we never felt hotspots or pressure. The 27th version of the Gel-Kayano truly hits the mark when it comes to combining softness with strength. Additionally, this shoe's lateral support is strong without making you feel like you're clomping around in metal boots. The streamlined shape adds to the above-average responsiveness, a quality that we love for race-paced excursions. We tested the standard width Gel-Kayano, which felt great on our exceptional average feet. ASICS makes a narrow, wide, and extra-wide option to accommodate a larger range of foot shapes.

While the ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 boasts a streamlined profile, it weighs in far above average. Each shoe weighs in at 9.03 ounces in a women's size 7. We assume that the higher weight is directly correlated with the extra rigidity and structure, so if you aren't looking for over-pronation correct, these might not be the kicks for you. The lateral edges of the shoes are quite stiff, so if this aggressive architecture doesn't naturally fit your foot, it might end up eliciting pain during runs. Ultimately, we love this version of the Gel-Kayano and cannot recommend these supportive sidekicks enough to runners looking to level up their gait and reduce their risk of pronation-induced injury.

We found a major decrease in ankle rolling potential while wearing...
We found a major decrease in ankle rolling potential while wearing the streamlined ASCIS Gel-Kayano 27.
Photo: Ally Meller

8

Lightweight and Versatile


Saucony Freedom 3 - Women's


Saucony Freedom 3 - Women's

$114.95
(23% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 7.2 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4 mm
Comfortable right out of the box
Lightweight
Springy
Less supportive
Pricey

Similar to other traditionally shaped running shoes, the Saucony Freedom 3 lives up to its noble namesake. These shoes' soles are flexible enough to promote agility even on tired legs and protective enough to cross over to light trail runs, earning top marks for their 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-millimeter heel-to-toe drop is made up of a FORMFIT upper mesh and patented PWRRUN+ inner foam. 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 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 this shoe's platform 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, essential. Because of its 4-millimeter drop, we would recommend the Freedom to runners looking to dabble in the zero drop sphere — it will be a good gateway model. 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

Light, form-fitting, and ready for action, the Freedom 3 will make...
Light, form-fitting, and ready for action, the Freedom 3 will make you feel free to stick each stride's landing with confidence.
Photo: Ally Meller

9

An Affordable and Flexible Model


Brooks Revel 4


Brooks Revel 4

$99.95
at Amazon
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 7.9 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8 mm
Comfortable
Less rigid
Breathable
Less supportive
Less protective

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 with a medium arch and neutral style. These kicks are highly breathable and comfortable, both 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 make it excellent for runners hoping to up their distance. The 8-millimeter toe-to-heel drop is less aggressive than a traditional 10-12 millimeter drop shoe, making the underfoot feel natural and comfortable. Because the Revel lacks harsh lateral support, 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 might not be the most supportive shoe, but its breathability is impressive. That breathable mesh comes at the cost of protection, though — 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. Injury-prone runners should steer clear of this neutrally-supportive pair of kicks. That said, runners who are confident in their biomechanics and are motivated to shed shoe weight will feel right at home with the Revel 4.

The Revel 4 is a more pliable version of the classic Brooks style...
The Revel 4 is a more pliable version of the classic Brooks style. We love the lack of weight and rigidity in this pair of trainers.
Photo: Ally Meller

10

Most Comfortable Zero-Drop Transition


Altra Escalante 2.5 - Women's


Altra Escalante 2.5 - Women's

$129.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 7.2 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0 mm
Comfortable
Durable
Breathable
Less responsive
Less well-received
Less durable

There's a lot to love about the Altra Escalante 2.5, but it's not for everyone. This iteration was created in response to diehard fans' outrage at the 2.0 version, which was far less beloved than the 1.5 version. Anyone looking to try out a 0-millimeter shoe will find the transition to be comfortable with the Escalante 2.5. Since zero drop shoes encourage natural running form and muscular engagement, it is a blessing that these shoes weigh in on the lower end of the spectrum. The toe box 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. Anyone looking for a subtle and supportively soft arch, and extra toe space, will find these kicks' shape to be just right.

The Escalante 2.5 is of average responsiveness due to its anti-aerodynamic shape. Instead of being shaped like arrows, they are shaped like flippers. 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 zero drop, the musculature just doesn't give the same feedback, resulting in less energy return and responsiveness. The tongue and lace situation on the Escalante 2.5 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. Unfortunately, we complained about this with the Escalante 2.0, and with the 2.5 version, the tongue is even thinner. The laces, however, do slip out less than in the previous versions. Furthermore, the entire shoe feels thinner and less well-constructed when compared to the previous version. They are our go-to around town shoes, but they are never our first pick for training runs. Overall, this shoe provides excellent postural-coaching, muscle-building, and toebox space for anyone looking to focus on biomechanical health.

We loved the Escalante 2.0 but these updated, flipper-shaped zero...
We loved the Escalante 2.0 but these updated, flipper-shaped zero drop shoes aren't living up to the hype or our durability standards.
Photo: Ally Meller

11

A Classic Everyday Trainer


Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 - Women's


Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 - Women's

$119.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight Per Shoe (Size 7): 7.67 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10 mm
Lightweight
Comfortable
Responsive
Less durable
Not as much support
Breathability not as good as past versions

The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 is the latest version of a longtime classic, offering a more comfortable midfoot, a more responsive sole, and a smoother ride than past versions. The outsole architecture provides ample responsiveness, and the gentle, hug-like arch cradles our 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 our foot contours without sacrificing functionality. Nike also reworked the upper material, lace bed, and collar by adding some much-needed padding.

For us, the arch of the Pegasus 37 softly cascades underfoot, providing a supportive and comfortable ride. However, we acknowledge 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. While Nike upped the ante with these shoes' durability 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.

We are pleased with this version's beveled heel and support. Nike...
We are pleased with this version's beveled heel and support. Nike made huge strides this time around and we enjoyed putting in the miles with these strapped to our feet.
Photo: Ally Meller

Why You Should Trust Us


Our road running expert is Exercise Specialist, Ally Meller. 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 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. 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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

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.

Related: Best Women's Trail Running Shoes

Responsiveness


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 of each stride. Put another way; it is how quickly and efficiently each step rolls into the next and how agile you feel doing so. When you're closely connected to your movements and the variations in terrain, you can adapt your pace with less energy output; this translates to more efficient running at quicker speeds. 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 hinder responsiveness. Through new technologically-advanced foams and materials, manufacturers are going to great lengths to increase 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, there are certain patterns and indicators that help us make a reasonably objective assessment of this complicated metric.

An aerodynamic shape, elite-level responsiveness, and supreme...
An aerodynamic shape, elite-level responsiveness, and supreme breathability help make the Endorphin Pro a smash hit.
Photo: Ally Meller

The Saucony Endorphin Pro is the most responsive shoe in our lineup. The snug upper fit 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 cushioning helps balance things out with a bit of softness and extra bounce. We believe the Speedroll Technology to be the real all-star here, though. The Speedroll Tech creates a rockered sole shape that allows one stride to roll into the next, which we definitely experienced while running in the Endorphin Pro.

The simple upper comfort of the Kinvara, combined with its thin...
The simple upper comfort of the Kinvara, combined with its thin profile and lightweight foam base, makes for a super speedy choice.
Photo: Ally Meller

The Kinvara 11, also by Saucony, has the PWRRUN Cushioning as well- this definitely is the culprit for this shoe's responsiveness. The Kinvara is simply constructed and doesn't offer much protection or stability, which helps keep the weight low. The low weight combined with the PWRRUN Cushioning makes for a lightweight shoe that we always find ourselves reaching for on speed days.

This version of the classic Nike Pegasus is ultra-responsive and...
This version of the classic Nike Pegasus is ultra-responsive and excellent for tempo runs and race days. We love the beveled heal and the lithe feeling we have when picking up the pace in these stylish kicks.
Photo: Ally Meller

The Nike Pegasus 37 also scores well here with its lightweight construction and responsive cushioning. Nike added larger a 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.

Brooks struck the perfect balance between comfort and responsiveness...
Brooks struck the perfect balance between comfort and responsiveness with the newest Glycerin.
Photo: Ally Meller

The Brooks Glycerin 18 earned excellent marks in the responsiveness category in part because of its shape. The Glycerin is a traditionally shaped running shoe with the right amount of oomph in the sole. The DNA LOFT adds an extra bit of bounce, in addition to cushioning, that makes it a responsive shoe for long-distance days. We often find that we reach for the less traditionally shaped running shoes for marathon-distance days. Part of the reason we love the Glycerin is that it offers support as well as responsiveness.

Landing Comfort/Cushioning


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).

HOKA is becoming a household name when it comes to epic landing...
HOKA is becoming a household name when it comes to epic landing comfort.
Photo: Ally Meller

The HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 7 is the most well-cushioned shoe that we tested, providing supreme landing comfort. 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. Once you adapt to the sensation, your joints will be thanking you. This excessive but wonderful amount of cushion is what makes the HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 7 an excellent choice for anyone looking to up their landing comfort.

Ready, set, GO. The Bond 7 is soft, full of squish, and super smooth.
Ready, set, GO. The Bond 7 is soft, full of squish, and super smooth.
Photo: Ally Meller

The Altra Escalante 2.5, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21, and the Brooks Glycerin 18 are other standouts in the landing comfort and cushioning metric. The marriage of softness and strength in these shoes is seriously spot-on. 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 how the Adrenaline and Glycerin offer stability and protection without going overboard on rigidity. All three of the above options offer super comfy collars and tongues to match their comfortable feeling underfoot.

This lineup of kicks boasts extraordinary landing comfort. Shown...
This lineup of kicks boasts extraordinary landing comfort. Shown here: the Brooks Glycerin (top), Brooks Adrenaline (middle), and Altra Escalante (bottom).
Photo: Ally Meller

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 11 or the Saucony Endorphin Pro. Both offer less cushion but exceptional landing comfort and feel for shorter, faster stints on your feet. The Endorphin Pro has a relatively narrow platform with a minimalistic approach to landing comfort atop it. The landing platform offers enough cushion to protect your joints from the excessive pounding that running involves, but the barebones approach won't slow you down. The Kinvara offers consistent padding through the body and base of the shoe. The platform is slightly wider than that of the Endorphin Pro, and the EVA foam base offers great shock absorption. Neither of these Saucony superstars is our pick for marathons or ultra-distance runs, but they offer the perfect landing comfort for up-tempo training days.

Both of these Saucony-made shoes (Endorphin Pro; left, and Kinvara;...
Both of these Saucony-made shoes (Endorphin Pro; left, and Kinvara; right) offer good landing comfort for a fraction of the weight of other shoes in our review.
Photo: Ally Meller

Stability


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 love that the ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 offers exceptional support for...
We love that the ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 offers exceptional support for narrow, standard, wide, and extra-wide feet.
Photo: Ally Meller

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 27. The Adrenaline has built-in GuideRails that enhance the shoe's stability and help runners eliminate excess ankle movements. 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.

Over-pronation can be caused by weak glute muscles, unstable ankles, or years of training with an inefficient gait pattern. If you find your ankles rolling in slightly while on the run, we recommend trying out a pair of kicks made specifically to correct this postural misalignment.

Both the Gel-Kayano 27 (left) and the Adrenaline GTS-21 (right) have...
Both the Gel-Kayano 27 (left) and the Adrenaline GTS-21 (right) have more rigid siding to support your gait.
Photo: Ally Meller

Upper Comfort


Aside from style, the first thing we notice about a shoe is its upper comfort. The moment we slip our feet into a new pair of shoes, we have an initial reaction to its materials, tongue cushioning, and shape. 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.

From wide toe boxes to super-smooth tongues, we tested some shoes...
From wide toe boxes to super-smooth tongues, we tested some shoes that are extremely comfortable on the upper part of our feet.
Photo: Ally Meller

Brooks and Saucony constructed 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. The tongue is plush, and the laces are silky smooth. The soft and thick tongue protects our upper feet, and the forgiving laces don't dig in when tied appropriately.

The Brooks Glycerin 18 (left) and the Saucony Kinvara 11 (right)...
The Brooks Glycerin 18 (left) and the Saucony Kinvara 11 (right) both offer plush collars and tongues for added comfort.
Photo: Ally Meller

The Kinvara 11 also earned a high score in this metric due to its soft upper and more traditional running shoe shape. The surfaces of the Kinvara feel as though they are stuffed with a half-inch of soft padding across the shoe. This helps keep hot spots and aggravations at bay. The laces are not as soft as those of the Glycerin, but the ample tongue padding ensures that the upper comfort is well above that of a standard running shoe.

Weight


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.

The Kinvara surprised us by being light but supportive. This is one...
The Kinvara surprised us by being light but supportive. This is one of the lightest shoes we have ever had the pleasure of testing.
Photo: Ally Meller

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 lineup. It weighs in at 6.3 ounces per shoe. 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 features that you may find useful, depending on your needs and preferences. The Endorphin Pro is light and diverse, ready for sprints or high mileage days, and the ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 is perfect for days when you want some stability over a lot of miles.

Conclusion


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.

A line up of some of our favorite running shoes.
A line up of some of our favorite running shoes.
Photo: Ally Meller

Ally Meller