Does the search for new running shoes have you running in circles? Over the past four months, our expert review team researched 80 of the most popular women's models on the market today, carefully selecting our top twelve models for hands-on testing. We pounded pavement so you don't have to, bringing you the most comprehensive review of women's road running shoes today. Whether you're gearing up for your twentieth marathon or prepping for your first 5K, we've got the scoop to help you make the right decision. 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
As summer turns to fall, our expert team of testers continues to lace up the newest shoes to make sure you had all the latest information. Earlier in the season, we added five new reviews to spice things up. The Altra Intuition 4.5 remains our Top Pick for Comfort, and we rave about the HOKA Mach's lightweight design. Our testers also checked out the new versions of Brooks Glycerin and Altra Escalante 1.5 to bring you the latest information on some classic shoes. No matter what type of shoe you're looking for, we've got the information you need to get started on the right foot.
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 35 - Women's
We admit that we may have been drawn in by the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35's bright colors and flashy design at first, but it was the lightweight design and responsive sole that kept us coming back for more. We were impressed by this shoe's ability to help us push the pace. Its supportive upper, snug heel and bouncy sole were some of our favorite traits.
While we would have liked to see a little more padding in the upper, the weight reduction in this newest iteration was enough to make us forget about comfort for a while. The breathable material makes this an excellent choice for hot weather or speedy workouts. As our favorite shoe for hitting the track, we awarded this product our Tip Pick for Speed.
Read review: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 35
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 excellent 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
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 shoe's 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 world or gearing up to compete in your fiftieth marathon, choosing a new pair of kicks can be an overwhelming task. Recent advancements in materials and design have led to a bewildering array of choices. 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 to help make sense of it all.
Before we get started, we 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 and gravel roads, a road-running shoe is going to be your best option.
We're going to get started by recommending a model that has a balance of all the metrics we tested for. 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, we can look at the smaller details of each shoe to narrow down your perfect fit.
Types of Road Running Shoes
Running shoes are commonly categorized by the degree of foot motion they accommodate. More specifically, the amount of pronation that individuals experience during the gait cycle, taking into consideration runners with a neutral gait, runners whose feet over-pronate inward, and runners who under-pronate, or supinate, outward. Secondary classifications around shoe performance and the level of cushioning give runners a nice matrix of options when it comes to selecting the right product. Here's a quick rundown of the types you'll encounter when shopping. Some of these types describe different aspects of shoe design, so some models may fit a few classifications. For example, a "neutral" fit describes the amount of stability, while a "maximum cushioning" shoe's build will be reflected in its "landing comfort" score.
Neutral shoes are best suited for runners with neutral pronation or supinated gait patterns along with moderate to high arches. These models are built with enough stability to support the foot through its average range of motion but tend to focus more on cushioning and flexibility. All of the shoes in this review are marketed as neutral runners by the manufacturer except for the Brooks Adrenaline GTS and Nike Air Zoom Pegasus, both of which promote their supportive yet balanced designs. The range in this category can be quite broad, which is nowhere more evident than when comparing the maximally cushioned HOKA Bondi 5 with the minimalistic Altra Escalante 1.5.
Stability shoes are great for neutral runners to mild over-pronators as they offer guidance and medial support to keep your gait in an ideal pattern. Generally, these sneakers are more rigid than their neutral counterparts and can be heavier due to the extra postings used in structuring the foundation of the shoe. The Adrenaline GTS and Air Zoom Pegasus made their mark here.
A relatively new trend in running shoes, especially trail running shoes, is minimalism. This term can be used to describe a few different traits but often is referring to the shape and amount of cushioning on a shoe. Altra, for example, uses "zero-drop" construction, meaning that the heel and toes are at the same height, as opposed to traditional shoes which often elevate the heel 5-10mm. This term can also refer to the amount of cushioning a shoe has, as more and more runners seek a "barefoot" feel.
On the other end of the spectrum from minimalism is, of course, maximalism. Companies like HOKA ONE ONE are promoting heavy padding, specifically targeted to distance and ultra-distance runners.
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 35 - Women's.
When we're testing shoes, our team aims to be as objective as possible. Generally speaking, we ignore prices 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 an incredibly personal purchase, and if you're the type of runner who packs on serious miles, the right shoe can make a big difference, even if it means spending a few more dollars.
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 used the "landing comfort" metric as the first and most important evaluation criteria. Nothing makes us 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 our feet and provide adequate shock absorption. We compared the construction of midsoles and materials. We got to know each shoe and were able to comment on each product's ideal running scenarios, whether they were built for long runs or speed workouts (or neither). While there are obvious differences between a high-mileage shoe like the Hoka Bondi and a racing model like the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus, 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 that we tested. It does have a very different feel than any other shoe in this review, and likely than any shoe you've tried on before. Because of the maximum cushioning, your foot will sit considerably higher off the ground, creating 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 luxuriously 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. 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 usually 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, 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 noticeable 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 range of weights per shoe in this review was 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 burly padding, the Altra Intuition 4.5, and the Pegasus. In the mid-eight-ounce range, you can find the Ultraboost X and Adrenaline. 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.
We do a lot of shopping here at OutdoorGearLab, and no sport demands such high-risk decision-making as running. With rows upon rows of bright colors and fancy language, shoe manufacturers try to convince you that you need their new technology. To help you fight this uphill battle, we've spent months reviewing the most popular women's shoes on the market, from bulky distance runners to sleek, lightweight racers and everything in between. Above, we've explained each of the five scoring metrics we used to evaluate each pair. To learn more, click on the individual link for each product, where we really get down to business.
— Brittney Ahrens & Lauren DeLaunay