The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

The Best Women's Running Shoes of 2020

The Wave Horizons are surprisingly responsive considering their heavier-than-average weight!
By Ally Meller ⋅ Review Editor
Friday May 22, 2020
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Need some new running kicks? For 7 years we've been at this, testing over 60 unique models with the 15 best women's running shoes in this current review. We pounded miles upon miles of pavement in these shoes and judged every nitty-gritty detail along the way. We tested each pair on roads, tracks, treadmills, and trails to compare them side-by-side and sort the "above average" from the "can't live without." Through scorching heat, pelting rain, Coronavirus quarantine, and beautiful days, we took in-depth notes on the most influential characteristics. We ruthlessly judged upper and landing comfort, responsiveness, weight, durability, and breathability. From budget buys to long-distance runners to lightning fast milers, we've found the right kicks for your individualized needs!

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Best Overall Running Shoe for Women


Brooks Glycerin 18 - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$149.95
at Backcountry
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Responsiveness - 25% 9
  • Landing Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 20% 5
  • Durability - 10% 9
  • Upper Comfort - 10% 10
  • Breathability - 10% 8
Weight per shoe: 8.2 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 10 mm
Silky soft
Durable
Beyond comfortable
Responsive
Not as light
Expensive

We are obsessed with the Brooks Glycerin 18, and our love affair isn't going to be cooling off anytime soon! This shoe earned incredible marks across the board and nabbed our Editors' Choice Award. From its silky laces to its uber-soft landing, these kicks deliver everything we want in a women's running shoe. The toe box is wide enough to allow toes to splay, but the body of the shoe is supportive over long distances. We are so excited to have found a shoe that offers squishy landing comfort while also being responsive. This is our top-shelf pick for PR days for sure.

The only drawback with the Glycerin 18 is their weight. They are of average weight, nothing outrageous, and because of the amount of support they offer, this really isn't a huge concern. Track stars looking to shave seconds off their times might find these puppies to be cumbersome, but regular folks will be as psyched as we are. We never once felt weighed down as the miles added up, and the structure these offer kept our feet healthy and happy. This isn't a cheap shoe, but we think these are excellent enough to warrant the price point.

Read review: Brooks Glycerin 18 - Women's

Best Bang for the Buck


Saucony Kinvara 11 - Women's


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Responsiveness - 25% 8
  • Landing Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 20% 10
  • Durability - 10% 6
  • Upper Comfort - 10% 9
  • Breathability - 10% 7
Weight per shoe: 6.7 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 4 mm
Lightweight
Comfortable
More affordable
Responsive
Less durable
Not as much support

Looking for a lightweight shoe that won't break the bank? Look no further than our Best Buy Winner, the Saucony Kinvara 11. This extremely responsive pair of shoes weighs in well below average and we love the PWRRUN+ sole because of its impact-absorbing magic. If you're looking for a shoe that makes you feel unstoppably agile, these are the kicks for you. The energy return is exceptional and truly propels legs from one stride into the next. The low price point of these kicks makes them a worthy pair to keep around when the mood to lay down a few lightning-fast miles hits!

Unfortunately, the Kinvara doesn't hold up over the long term as well as other shoes. The soft sole that so perfectly absorbs impact is vulnerable to rips and tears depending on the terrain. Runners looking to push their pace on the track or treadmill will not find this to be a problem because of the gentle surfaces. Athletes hoping to challenge themselves on light trails will have better luck with a more versatile and durable pair, such as the Saucony Freedom 3.

Read review: Saucony Kinvara 11 - Women's

Best for Versatility


Saucony Freedom 3 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$119.90
(20% off)
at Amazon
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Responsiveness - 25% 8
  • Landing Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 20% 7
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Upper Comfort - 10% 8
  • Breathability - 10% 8
Weight per shoe: 7.1 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 4 mm
Instantly comfortable
Lightweight
Springy
Less supportive
Pricey

Saucony delivers an out of this world runner yet again! The Freedom 3 is a durable, versatile pair of trainers that truly deserves our award for Most Versatile award. From city streets to the beach to high altitude mountains, the Freedom has everything you want in an everyday trainer. The PWWRRUN+ midsole and engineered mesh upper come together to create a soft and rapid ride, allowing legs to nimbly twist and turn for miles on end.

Running shoes are expensive, we know. That's part of the reason we love this shoe so much. Sure, they cost quite a bit, but because they can be comfortably worn on different types of terrain, we think they are worth it. They aren't as durable and rugged as a true trail shoe, but for someone looking to purchase only one pair of shoes, these kicks hold up. While not as supportive as a pair of Brooks or ASICS, they are incredibly responsive. Slipping your feet into a pair of these is like strapping jetpacks to your feet; we dare the competition to keep up!

Read review: Saucony Freedom 3 - Women's

Best for Comfort


Altra Escalante 2 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$64.83
(50% off)
at REI
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Responsiveness - 25% 5
  • Landing Comfort - 25% 8
  • Weight - 20% 7
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Upper Comfort - 10% 8
  • Breathability - 10% 9
Weight per shoe: 7.2 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 0 mm
Comfortable
Durable
Breathable
Less responsive
Less well-received

Runners around the globe are outraged with the changes made in the creation of the new Altra Escalante 2. We, however, are pretty thrilled. We cannot get enough of the soft yet supportive arch structure, the ample toebox real estate, and the ease in which our feet stay cool. The Escalante encourages exceptional running form and proper biomechanics no matter how hard you pound the pavement. Though breaking speed records is perhaps out of the question in these kicks, we've never felt more comfortable or properly supported. The long lifespan of these shoes definitely sweetens the deal.

We are really sorry for all of the runners whose feelings are disappointed by this iteration of the Altra. We know what it's like to have your favorite pair of shoes taken off the market (RIP), but we think zero-drop runners will grow to like the Escalante 2 and everything it has to offer. It isn't the most responsive shoe we've ever worn, but the supple structure and unending support should make even the pickiest feet smile.

Read review: Altra Escalante 2 - Women's

Best for Distance


HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$149.95
at Backcountry
See It

69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Responsiveness - 25% 6
  • Landing Comfort - 25% 9
  • Weight - 20% 4
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Upper Comfort - 10% 8
  • Breathability - 10% 7
Weight per shoe: 8.8 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 4 mm
Super cushioned
Comfortable
Responsive for a maximalist shoe
Protective
Heavy
Bulky

HOKA ONE ONE is the obvious choice for our Best for Distance Award. Not only does the plush base of the Bondi 6 create the sensation of running on clouds, the protective upper shields feet from the elements. We admit we were skeptical of this shoe because of its clown-like countenance, but after running marathon-distance mileage in them, we are serious converts. Each footfall is so immaculately cushioned that it makes you forget that running is a high impact sport. The Bondi delivers supreme comfort for upbeat tempo runs and recovery days when the legs are totally gassed. The extreme durability of these bad boys also makes their higher-than-average price tag a bit easier to swallow. The Bondi is a shoe that can be with you for the long haul.

Ultimate comfort comes with a catch, unfortunately. We are pleased to report that the Bondi 6 is surprisingly responsive for their bulk, but they are indeed quite heavy. These kicks probably won't be your best bet for turbo-speed splits. Over long mileage days, though, we found that the cushioned footfalls and protected feet made the bit of extra weight worthwhile.

Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Bondi 6 - Women's


Why You Should Trust Us


Our road running extraordinaire is Exercise Specialist, Ally Meller. Ally is an avid runner, fitness junkie, and cancer survivor. She is also 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 dogs out running it. Her years of work in physical therapy help guide her through the sea of running gear available, and her kinesiology degree provides valuable scientific insight. Ally, in addition to many other voices on our testing team, provide exceptional feedback on the best women's road shoes out there.

Another day  another southbound beach sprint!
Another day, another southbound beach sprint!

Testing in all conditions, climates, and on a plethora of terrain, we've truly put each pair of shoes to the test. We ran hard with the intention of determining which kicks can hold up and which can kicks can kick rocks. 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.

Related: How We Tested Running Shoes for Women

On and on we go  never stopping in these turbocharged kicks.

Analysis and Test Results


Whether you've just signed up for your twentieth marathon or need to walk your dog around the block, picking the right sidekick 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 BFF!

The Ghost has always been one of our favorite  and fastest  pair of shoes.
The Ghost has always been one of our favorite, and fastest, pair of shoes.

Related: Buying Advice for Running Shoes for Women

Before we get started, you need to decide if road-specific running shoes are the best choice for you. If you run primarily on roads, sidewalks, the treadmill, or a track, stay right here! You are in the right spot. Even if you take the occasional cruise through dirt roads and light cross-country trails, a road-running shoe is going to be your best option. Read on to learn more — we have some excellent recommendations.

Related: The Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2020

Road running shoes are the top choice for running on sand.
Road running shoes are the top choice for running on sand.

Value


At GearLab, we respect quality products that present a good value. For that reason, we grant a variety of awards, including our Best Buy Award. This time around, the Saucony Kinvara 11 takes home this high honor. It scored well enough all around that it even narrowly missed the Editors' Choice Award. Suffice it to say, we were impressed.

Lightweight  breathable  and perfectly shaped  we love long-distance days in the affordable Kinvara.
Lightweight, breathable, and perfectly shaped, we love long-distance days in the affordable Kinvara.

When we're testing shoes, our team aims to be as objective as possible. Generally speaking, we ignore prices until our testing is complete. We don't want the price of a product to change our perspective, but we also know that it's an important criterion. 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 in relation. 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.


Responsiveness


Responsiveness 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 stride after stride. 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.


As a general rule, the higher a shoe scores in responsiveness, the lower it scores in landing comfort, and vice versa. We found through our most recent batch of outstanding shoes that manufacturers are going to great lengths to increase responsiveness in ultra-comfy kicks. Another way to view responsiveness that is slightly less scientific is to think about how easily each step rolls into the next and how agile you feel doing so. Through our testing process, it became clear that our testers do not always agree on what makes a shoe responsive. We also found that each testers' individual foot shape and musculature dictate how agile they feel when outfitted in a certain pair of shoes. That being said, there are certain patterns and indicators that help us make a decently objective assessment of this complicated metric.

There she goes again  bounding down the beach in the responsive Ghosts 12.
There she goes again, bounding down the beach in the responsive Ghosts 12.

Generally speaking, the more responsive a shoe, the less stable it is. Bear in mind that the bodies of our elite runners run often, so they feel comfortable with less support. If you're new to running, a more stable option will likely help you develop proper form and muscular engagement in a sustainable way.

The Glycerin 18 is the most responsive shoe in our arsenal. The excellent fit makes each step feel intuitive and somewhat effortless, as though they were made for your feet alone. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS-20 and Brooks Ghost 12 both scored slightly below the Glycerin in this metric, but not by much. Their soles are equally responsive, but the extra supportive structures caused them to trail behind just a smidge. Both pairs of Saucony kicks we tested (the Kinvara 11 and Freedom 3) tied with the Ghost and Adrenaline because of their lightweight design. The Kinvara and Freedom almost feel like they have rollers on the bottom, propelling you into your next stride. Delightful, indeed. Finally, The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 impressed us by encouraging forward motion in a highly responsive way. All of these runners will definitely get you moving in the right direction, and quickly.

Brooks struck the perfect balance between comfortable and responsive with the newest Glycerin.
Brooks struck the perfect balance between comfortable and responsive with the newest Glycerin.

Landing Comfort


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 one of the 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 also compared the construction of midsoles and materials. We got to know each shoe and created opinions based 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 6 and a racing model like the Nike Pegasus 36, we want our shoes to leave our feet feeling fresh from the first mile to the last.


The Bondi 6 is, without a doubt, the most cushioned shoe that we tested. It does have a very different feel than any other shoe in this review, and likely, different than any shoe you've tried on before. Because of the maximum cushioning, your foot will sit considerably higher off the ground, creating a unique sensation that takes some getting used to. Call it clown-like if you'd like, but once you adapt, your joints will be thanking you! We think you'll find these shoes to be a great fit ideal for sticking with you through serious mileage.

What's the softest thing you can think of? Whatever it is  THAT is what HOKA stuffed the base of the Bondi 6 with!
What's the softest thing you can think of? Whatever it is, THAT is what HOKA stuffed the base of the Bondi 6 with!

Surprise, surprise, the Glycerin 18, our Editors' Choice, tied the Bondi for first place in this metric as well. The marriage of softness and strength in the supportive structure is seriously magical. The Glycerin also offers landing comfort without sacrificing style, and we are all about it. The Bondi doesn't look bad, but they are far from a sleek-profiled pair of sneaks. We cannot recommend these two, the Bondi and Glycerin, enough for your long run days.

If, on the other hand, rapid, short-distance sprints are more your style, you may want something with a bit less cushion like the Saucony Kinvara 11. The Altra Torin 4 has a slightly lower profile but just as much squish as the Bondi, and we love them as a zero-drop option. The other two high-scorers in this category are the Adrenaline GTS 20 and the Escalante 2, our Top Pick for Comfort.

Zero drop and full of fluff  the Torin kicks offer unending joint protection.
Zero drop and full of fluff, the Torin kicks offer unending joint protection.

Weight


We can't deny that weight affects running ability, but we have mixed feelings about how to judge shoes based on this metric. This may be one of the first things we notice as we pull shoes out of the box — could a few ounces hold the key to your running success? It all depends on what your goals are. Unless elite-level racing is in your near future, we'd suggest using weight as a secondary deciding factor after more noticeable criteria like upper and landing comfort. Once you've narrowed down your selection slightly, decide upon your immediate running goals.


If you are looking to lay down speedy miles and build strength through sprinting, check out a super lightweight shoe like the Salomon Sonic 3 Accelerate or the Kinvara 11. The Kinvara surprised us by being a lightweight but ultra-comfy choice — even though the Sonic is almost as light, it is far from as comfortable. All of that said, depending on what feels good for your body, you might find a moderately weighted shoe supportive and perfect for quick miles.

These kicks didn't impress us very much  but they are one of the lightest pairs we reviewed.
These kicks didn't impress us very much, but they are one of the lightest pairs we reviewed.

The shoes we tested ranged from 6.7 ounces to 8.85 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7. Interestingly, both the heaviest and the lightest pairs won awards for different things. The Kinvara 11, our lightest shoe, won our Best Buy Award, and the Bondi 6 earned our Top Pick for Distance. Vastly different, each shoe satisfies our metrics differently. The Kinvara is light and diverse, ready for sprints or high mileage days. The Bondi 6 is plush and protective, an excellent option for runners who want to keep their joints healthy and happy over the long haul.

The Kinvara surprised us by being light but supportive. This is the lightest shoe in our review.
The Kinvara surprised us by being light but supportive. This is the lightest shoe in our review.

Durability


Value and durability go hand in hand, and no one wants to spend their hard-earned schillings on shoes that will degrade after just a few miles. That is why we picked the best of best and made sure to run on hot days, abrasive surfaces, and often through puddles. Brooks sweeps the podium for durability. Our three Brooks contenders, the Glycerin 18, Adrenaline GTS 20, and Ghost 12 all earn high scores for this metric. These shoes held up through our rigorous and sometimes ridiculous testing regime, so we can confidently say that they'll hold up no matter what you put them through.

We'll be over here beating the .... out of road runners until further notice!
We'll be over here beating the .... out of road runners until further notice!

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 highly specific 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 oh-so-smooth. Some shoes in this review we disliked immediately, while others we never wanted to take off. The flexibility of materials, foot box shape, and overall upper design and construction all play into this, ideally coalescing in a shoe that lets you forget you're even wearing it. Feet often swell as running heats up as well, so tight and unforgiving laces that obstruct blood flow were a sure way for a shoe to get a lower score in this area.


Brooks and Altra construct the best upper comfort. Brooks-made kicks are plenty flexible with the silkiest and most secure laces we've ever seen. On the Altra side, Torin 4 and Escalante 2 both provide extra toebox space with a forgiving upper. Our sweaty, nasty feet were honored to be caressed by such softness.

Check out the breathable upper mesh of the Glycerin 18. So breezy and smooth!
Check out the breathable upper mesh of the Glycerin 18. So breezy and smooth!

The Glycerin 18 is by-far the best choice for upper comfort if you're looking for a traditionally shaped running shoe. Through our research, we ofen found that the comfier the shoe, the less it actually feels like a running shoe. We awarded the Glycerin a perfect 10 in this metric because of how completely it satisfies this basic requirement. Even as we ran (and ran and ran and ran), the upper comfort never waivered, and the shoe body never held us back. The Kinvara 11 and the Adrenaline GTS 20 both also earned high scores in this metric due to their soft upper and traditional running shoe shape. They are comfy, but no one quite holds up the standard set by the Glycerin.

Can shoe laces be sexy? In the case of Brooks-made laces  we totally think so!
Can shoe laces be sexy? In the case of Brooks-made laces, we totally think so!

Breathability


Breathability is a feature most people tend to overlook while focusing on comparing fit, but it plays a large part in how comfortable your ride is while you're cranking up the mileage Our frontrunners boast zero interference, allowing us to run with ease and breeze. We loved the super forgiving mesh of the Escalante 2 and the Pegasus 36. While we always recommended skipping cotton socks, we tested every single pair with cotton socks as well as moisture-wicking ones. We rated breathability based on how overheated — or not — our feet felt post-run. Neither the Escalante nor the Pegasus allowed our shoes to turn into foot saunas, and we are supremely grateful.

The engineered mesh of the Escalante keeps feet cool and fresh(ish).
The engineered mesh of the Escalante keeps feet cool and fresh(ish).

Other top contenders for this important but oft-overlooked metric are the Glycerin 18, our Editors' Choice, the Adrenaline GTS 20, and the Freedom 3, our Top Pick for Versatility. What a lineup, eh?

Conclusion


As full-time testing rats 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 forever running mate!

Pretty and plush  the Torin 4 is ultra-cush!
Pretty and plush, the Torin 4 is ultra-cush!

Ally Meller