Looking for the best women's trail running shoe? After researching over 80 of the top models of 2019, we purchased 18 of the best on the market. We wore a different shoe on each foot while summiting high mountains peaks in the Rocky Mountains and Peru, running over unmarked trails in the far reaches of Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and exploring the beaches of Hawaii. We also visited the desert, focussing on a few key metrics to compare the performance objectively. We've logged thousands of miles to provide you with great recommendations for buying your next trail running shoe.
The Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2019
|Price||$149.95 at Amazon||$120.00 at REI||$129.95 at Backcountry|
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|$120 List||$69.83 at REI|
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|Pros||Superb traction, amazing durability, wide-toe box, zero-drop design, great sensitivity, highly protective outsole and upper||Comfortable, versatile fit, great responsiveness, fantastic value, durable||Excellent traction, great balance of foot protection and sensitivity, specific fit, durable outsole||Great price, flexible, comfortable, responsive, one-pull lacing system||Aggressive and versatile outsole, breathable upper, protective, light cushioning, zero-drop, wide forefoot|
|Cons||Laces come undone easily, lacks a women’s specific fit, upper takes time to break-in||Doesn't shed mud well, some midsole compaction over time||Higher heel is less stable, lugs wear down on pavement||No aggressive outsole, lug durability is questionable||Durability issues, expensive|
|Bottom Line||This Editors' Choice winner crushes every metric with its innovative and super durable design.||A superior performer that offers exceptional value on all types of terrain.||An aggressive trail shoe that is built for the steepest and most technical trails out there.||A well fitted and comfortable shoe that is best for non-technical surfaces.||A lightweight zero drop shoe with ample toe splay that'll take you anywhere you wish.|
|Rating Categories||Inov-8 TerraUltra G260||Peregrine ISO||Speedcross 5||Sense Ride 2||Altra King MT 1.5 - Women's|
|Foot Protection (20%)|
|Comfort And Fit (15%)|
|Specs||Inov-8 TerraUltra...||Peregrine ISO||Speedcross 5||Sense Ride 2||Altra King MT 1.5...|
|Measured Weight||8.75 oz||9.8 oz||10.7 oz||8.6 oz||9.6 oz|
|Ideal Terrain||All terrain||All terrain||Soft surfaces, technical terrain||Non-technical trails, cross-over terrain||All terrain|
|Width Options||Regular||Regular and Wide||Regular and Wide||Regular||Regular|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop||0 mm||4 mm||10 mm||8 mm||0 mm|
|Stack Height from toe to heel (mm)||9/9||18.5/22.5||10/20||27/19||19/19|
|Upper||Kevlar Mesh||IsoFit||Nylon mesh, sythetic overlays||3D Mesh||Ripstop nylon/mesh|
|Midsole||EXTERFLOW||PWRFOAM||Injected EVA||Vibe||Altra EGO|
|Outsole||Graphene Grip||PWRTRAC||Contragrip||ContraGrip||Vibram MegaGrip|
|Rock Plate?||Yes||None||Yes||None, profeel film||Yes|
|Sizes Available||4 - 15||5 - 12||5 - 12||7 - 10||6 - 11|
Best Overall Women's Trail Runner
Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's
If you seek a durable and high-performance trail shoe with a wider forefoot, great stability, and versatile traction, then this Editors' Choice winner is our best recommendation. This unisex shoe features a thin design that integrates Kevlar into its uppers, which provide superior protection and breathability. The outsole is outfitted with a Graphene polymer that is both strong and flexible, offering excellent traction on hard-packed and slippery terrain. It has a wider forefoot, better balance, and stability when shredding down boulder-stream trails. Our testers are astounded at the amazing performance and traction this shoe offers, making it our favorite, performing well in all categories.
While it offers impeccable performance, it is not perfect. The uppers are super durable, but take a few runs to break in, feeling rigid at first. We aren't too thrilled about the laces, which have a tendency to come undone. We also wish that the colors were a little more attractive. Some of our narrow footed testers didn't absolutely love the wide toe box, but they did like the tightly fitting heel cap that doesn't allow your foot to slide around much.
Read review: Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck
Saucony Peregrine ISO - Women's
This year, Saucony has redesigned the Peregrine to present the ISO series, which totally crushes it in the performance category. Not only does this shoe present some of the best value out there, but it was considered for our Editors' Choice Award. It offers amazing traction over all surfaces, while the rubber grips and clings to even surfaces. The midsole is plush with a super responsive midsole that will carry you for many miles, while the fit is versatile, offering options for those with wide to narrow feet.
While it was very difficult to find any caveats with this shoe, we did notice debris getting stuck in cracks of the outsole. We also noticed that it doesn't shed super sticky mud efficiently. Aside from that, it's one of the most versatile shoes tested, offering amazing performance on all surfaces in all kinds of weather.
Read review: Saucony Peregrine ISO - Women's
Top Pick for Stability
Scarpa Spin Ultra - Women's
The Scarpa Spin Ultra is one of the newest additions to our selection, making its debut in the Spring of 2019. It stands out as an ultra-stable shoe that offers impeccable traction with fairly lightweight construction. It provides a good level of sensitivity while sticking and holding onto some of the most technical of trails. Given its responsive cushioning and all-around wonderful performance, we recommend it for all distances from short to ultra in length.
While it's pretty hard to find anything wrong with this shoe, we aren't too psyched on the higher price point. Its rubber offers great stickiest on most dry surfaces but the tread isn't the best when those surfaces become a little saturated. Aside from that, we appreciate the performance and versatility of this ultra-stable trail shoe that has grown to become a brand new favorite.
Read review: Scarpa Spin Ultra - Women's
Top Pick Award for Traction
Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
The Salomon Speedcross 5 is a classic that doesn't see many updates. In this new rendition, we notice a wider, less narrow fit, deeper lugs and better performance overall. The chevron-shaped lugs are well-spaced offering great mud shed while sticking to the steepest slopes. The rubber is also sticky, grabbing rocks while scrambling about on ridges. Feel the overwhelming confidence as you charge around steep switchbacks. This Top Pick is our favorite when it comes to grabbing soft surfaces.
With many positives, there are bound to be some caveats. The upper absorbs water readily, taking time to dry out. The heel, while nicely cushioned sits high on the outsole, making it a little less stable than other lightweight contenders. It's also heavier and can't be worn on the pavement without the lugs wearing down quickly. This shoe is really intended to be worn just on the trails, tackling the sloppiest and steepest slopes out there.
Read review: Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
Top Pick for Comfort
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 - Women's
In search of comfort? The uber plush midsole on the Hoka ONE ONE Challenger 5 will have you hitting the trails for hours on end. Built as a maximalist shoe, it has a bomber outsole that grabs and suctions to most surfaces. It does well over most terrain and in most climates. The thin, streamlined outsole is super breathable and quick to dry, making it a perfect option for river crossings or wet weather. It has a wider forefoot that provides decent toe-splay while hugging the heel and arch.
Given the excellent level of breathability, this shoe is not warm in the winter, nor do the lugs do well in slippery or sloppy weather. As a result of the responsive cushioning, it's not very sensitive nor is it the most stable shoe (but it's pretty good for a maximalist option). If you are a sucker for cushion underfoot, this is a favorite and top recommendation.
Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King is a Senior OutdoorGearLab Editor that has been reviewing women's trail running shoes for the last six years. She's an avid trail runner taking on ultra-distance marathons. She has raced in several trail ultramarathons including the Bryce Canyon 50 miler and the super technical and steep Telluride Mountain Run. When she's not climbing rocks around the Southwestern part of Colorado, you can find her taking on fastpacking missions around the world. Just last summer, she flew to Iceland and fastpacked the super remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve that has no roads and only trails in its 580 km^2 wilderness.
We have traveled all over the world testing women's trail running shoes. We've taken them up and over towering passes in Peru, on top of summits in the San Juan Mountains, and tested while playing on the beaches of Hawaii and Iceland. Each pair of shoe sees at least 60 miles of wear. Our testing team is comprised of a series of women located around Ridgway, CO who provide input and feedback on varying conditions and trail surfaces. With this feedback, we evaluate six essential metrics that help us determine our award winners and top recommendations.
Analysis and Test Results
In this article, we provide a comparative overview of the best trail running shoes on the market. We look at key comparisons in the areas of foot protection, sensitivity, stability, traction, and weight, noting which do best in each. A great trail runner should provide you with the right amount of protection you need and the traction that you seek for any of your ambitions.
It's important to consider value, even though we don't provide a number score for it. Finding a good deal is as good as finding money in the pocket of an old jacket you haven't worn in a year. The best value options are the best buy award winners, and we highlight two in this update for different reasons. The Saucony Peregrine ISO is a versatile option that does well on all trails. It is not the lightest out there, but best for those who need a tiny bit of cushion in the heel. The Altra Superior is a bit cheaper and offers a lightly cushioned ride. Its zero-drop design is best for forefoot strikers and it offers an extra wide toe box that's great for hard packed surfaces. Not only do we look at performance and price, but we also consider the durability of each shoe. While this is a metric that's hard to score, we provide a comment of relative durability over roughly 60 miles of use (or more) depending on our testing period.
An excellent trail runner provides the right combination of foot protection to sensitivity, which allows a runner to feel a trail underfoot without suffering hard blows from unsuspected hazards. In this metric, we consider the cushioning and the presence of a rock plate to assess this. We also explore the architecture of the upper to see if it is breathable and keeps out smaller particles from entering the shoe. We also evaluate the toe cap's rigidity and protection from unsuspected stubbed toes that can cause you to halt to a stop.
To start, all the trail shoes we tested offer a level of foot protection to be expected from any trail runner. Our metrics reflect critical insights and comparison. In general, those that did better in this metric are made with a harder toe cap, a thicker midsole and/or integrate a hard rubberized toe cap. We also note the responsiveness of the cushioning and whether or not it's hard, springy, or subject to compression to help you understand the overall level of protection to expect from each shoe. This metric makes up 20% of the overall score.Best All-Around Protection
The most protective trail running shoes indeed offer several protective elements that we trust to take us over exceptionally treacherous terrain without any issue. Of those top performers is the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor with super thick and responsive cushioning that also integrates a rockplate. This, in addition to its super hard and rubberized toe cap makes it one of the most protective in this review. Unlike the Ultra Raptor the Salomon Speedcross 5, another protective shoe option, doesn't have a mesh upper but offers a continuous upper that is superior to any at keeping debris out of the shoe. It also has a beefy toe cap and midsole but lacks a rock plate.
The Inov-8 Roclite 305 is another protective option that earns a high score in this category that does a fantastic job at balancing sensitivity with a much thinner midsole but utilizes a bomber rock plate. The cushioning is very hard, similar to the Scarpa Spin Ultra, but super protective and responsive. Other shoes like the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 and Speedgoat 3 take a different approach. The cushioning in both of these shoes is super springy, wrapping around trail hazards. Neither uses a rockplate, with the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3 offering more underfoot protection with its ample amount of cushioning.Best for Water Crossings
Seeking the best trail running shoe for crossing the odd stream? A shoe with a waterproof upper doesn't absorb water and/or dries quickly are the best options. None of the shoes we tested are completely waterproof, but some dry out faster than others. For example, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 and the Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 have an overlay mesh that isn't water-resistant or waterproof but does dry quickly while on the run. Consider these options if you're seeking something that can plow through a stream and dry on the go.
Feeling the trail underfoot is an important element in any trail running shoe. Enhanced sensitivity allows you to be nimble and quick, re-adjusting your body on the fly to ensure a healthy foot strike position. To test sensitivity, we ran at least 60 miles in each shoe, sometimes with a different shoe on each foot. We ran over all types of terrain to see how easily we could feel the trail underfoot. We also consider the flexibility and rigidity of the shoe in this metric. All the shoes tested in this review offer some level of protection. The shoes that offer the best sensitivity often emulate a closer experience to running barefoot. Typically, these are shoes with less cushioning, no rockplate, and a more flexible body. This metric makes up 20% of the score, providing an oppositional balance with foot protection.
By far and large, the HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz is the most sensitive in this review due to its almost complete lack of cushioning; you feel like there is so little sole between you and the trail. Both the Altra King MT 1.5 and Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g offer a touch more cushioning than the Jawz, providing a great balance of foot protection and sensitivity. Both offer a sensitive ride with the King MT's utilizing 19mm of cushioning underfoot and the TerraUltra's only using a measly 8mm! While you'd think the TerraUltra 260 would be more sensitive, it's beefy outsole and more rigid midsole offers a little more protection than the King MT's softer cushioning. The La Sportiva Bushido II is another amazing trail shoe that offers minimal underfoot protection to promote sensitivity on the trail.
When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. A great trail running shoe will inspire confidence and grip suspicious surfaces. When testing, we subjected each shoe to all types of surfaces, seeing when and it would slip or fail. We ran in all types of terrain that brought us over mud, snow, pavement, scree, sand, and more. We tested on steep and unstable slopes, flat trails, and everything in between, hopping over river crossings to see which were the least (and most) slipperiest. In general, the shoe that inspired the most confidence while tackling this terrain obviously did the best. In this metric, we evaluate the outsole materials and architecture and report on our findings for each shoe. It makes up 15% of the total score.
During this comparative testing cycle, two shoes stand out for entirely different reasons. First is the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g, our Editor's Choice winner, that offers a new hybrid outsole that integrates super durable Graphene materials. The outsole is designed beautifully, doing well on all of the nastiest surfaces. The lugs mold around hazards, changing stickiness with temperature and ultimately give us tremendous confidence on super treacherous terrain.
Another is the Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces, the Speedcross 5. Salomon came out with a new iteration that sheds mud better than ever before. It's super long, and well-spaced lugs are designed to stick to the stickiest and softest of surfaces. Think…thick mud, snow, grass. The body of the shoe is rigid enough to kick in steps on a snow slope, similar to the Inov-8 Roclite 305, another favorite for traction. We also love the classic Saucony Peregrine ISO that offers an aggressive outsole that'll satisfy any trail condition.
While these women's trail running shoes are best for technical surfaces, some trail runners are best for non-technical trails and dirt roads. If you're not planning on heading up the sides of mountains, and just want a trail shoe that'll allow you to get from the road to a hilly single-track trail, the Salomon Sense Ride 2 is one of the most comfortable options you'll find on the market. The soft uppers and non-aggressive outsole do well on most trail surfaces but really thrives in hilly terrain. Another great option geared towards those with a regular to a wide foot is the Brooks Caldera 3 that offers a cushioned ride that lacks a super aggressive outsole. The lugs are perfectly designed to take you from your doorstep to your favorite trail after work.
Uneven surfaces and trail obstacles are inherent to the sport of trail running. To avoid rolled ankles or falls, stability in a trail running shoe is key. In this metric, we look at the relative stack weight to width ratio and consider the heel-to-toe drop. If that means little to you, we ran in each over uneven surfaces to see which felt closer to the ground, and which felt like running in high heels. Ultimately, shoes that do better in this metric are low to the ground, but a wide toe box that enables toe splay, and a wider but tight-fitting heel cup that prevents slippage. This metric is responsible for 15% of the overall score.
The Scarpa Spin Ultra is our favorite trail running shoe when it comes fantastic performance and enhanced stability. This comes primarily in the form of a low profile design (6mm heel-to-toe drop) with a wide toe box and a less flexible design overall. Like the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g (with a zero-drop platform) it does a fabulous job of dispersing the impact force of unforeseen trail hazards. Even with super rocky terrain with unmovable rocks, this shoe remained upright with little to no lateral torsion, offering amazing protection on the trail. Other more stable shoe options that provide stability through its rigidity. include the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor and the La Sportiva Bushido.
Other trail running shoes offer a super wide toe box that inherently leads to better overall stability. The Altra shoes are masters in this domain. Of the shoes, the Altra Lone Peak 4 is probably the least stable (even though they all score the same in our metrics) because it has more cushioning but also has the widest toe box. The Altra Superior offers a similar level of stability because it has a wider toe box than the Altra King MT 1.5 but has a little more cushioning underfoot. All of these shoes are more flexible than the trail shoes mentioned above.
Another super stable contender that rocks this metric is the ultra-flexible HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jaws, which molds and shapes to the trail. Since it has little to no cushioning, it is super stable. Other super flexible shoes that did well in this metric include the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5.
Comfort and Fit
In this metric, we rate the overall comfort of a trail running shoe. We look at the anatomy of the materials on the collar, the lacing system, and note how the cushioning feels on lift-off and landing. In this section, we note relative fit but don't score on it simply because it's such a subjective metric. The most comfortable shoe will be the one that fits you correctly. This metric accounts for 15% of the overall score.
With amazingly cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 won our Top Pick for Comfort award. It stands out for its soft yet responsive midsole that provides ample protection from underfoot hazards.
Other shoes with a taller stack height, like the Salomon Speedcross 5 and the Altra Lone Peak 4, don't offer the super springy experience quite like the Challenger 5 does. While the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3 offers more of this springy cushioned bliss, it didn't win our Top Pick for Comfort because its fit is narrow and too specific (in comparison to the Challenger 5).
Many contenders offer amazing comfort elements. The Saucony Peregrine ISO has excellent responsive cushioning that isn't too mushy, while the Brooks Caldera 3 makes you feel like you're running on air. The Salomon Sense Ride 2 offers such a nice ride that you could run in it all day long.
Of the wide and zero drop shoes, the Altra Lone Peak 4 stands out as the most cushioned, and the most comfortable, especially for super long trail days. The Superior is close and seems to utilize a more responsive midsole foam that doesn't break down as easily as the Lone Peak.Fit
In this section, we provide recommendations for relative sizing. Here we focus on the foot width to provide you with a jump-off point for where you need to start looking.Narrow Fit
If you prefer a narrow fit from the arch of the foot to the forefoot, check out the recommendations below.
Salomon Speedcross 5: This traditional trail runner offers plush cushioning throughout the midsole with a small amount of arch support. The shoe does best with a narrow to a regular fit, fitting snuggly throughout the heel, arch, and toe box. The new rendition is more narrow than the previous version.
La Sportiva Bushido 2: This low-profile shoe offers minimal cushioning throughout the midsole and provides more stability and sensitivity. The toe box is wide, but the shoe has a narrow fit from the heel to the arch. The fit is about a half size smaller than most American shoe sizes, so make sure to order a half size up.
Other options for narrow feet: Inov-8 Roclite 305, HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, Salomon Sense Ride 2, Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5, Altra Superior, Altra King MT1.5, HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 3.Regular Fit (most versatile)
If you seek a shoe that has a fit best for most feet out there (most versatile fit), check out the recommendations below.
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5: This shoe offers a fairly wide toe box but is best for a regular or even narrow foot.
Other options: Scarpa Spin Ultra, La Sportiva Bushido 2 & Ultra Raptor, Brooks Caldera 3, Saucony Peregrine ISO, Altra Superior, Altra King MT 1.5, Altra Lone Peak 4, Topo Terraventure 2Wide Toe Box
Do you have wide feet? Check out our top trail running shoe recommendations.
Inov-8 TerraUltra 260G: This shoe offers a unisex fit that isn't women's specific. The wide toe box accommodates toe-splay and provides a well-fitted design through the arch of the foot, and the heel has a tight-fit that offers more precision than the Altra Lone Peak 4. It features a zero-drop design and only 8-mm of cushioning throughout the shoe that is best for midfoot strikers.
Other options: Scarpa Spin Ultra, Topo Athletic Terraventure, Saucony Peregrine ISO, Brooks Caldera 3, Altra King MT 1.5, Altra Lone Peak 4, Altra Superior, Topo Terraventure 2.
Having a lightweight shoe on the trail can make a world of difference if you're out for the day. If you're an ultra-runner, a couple of ounces may feel like ankle weights after 50 miles. If you're a recreational runner, a lighter construct may allow you to increase your turnover and leave you feeling liberated on the trail. It's also important to remember that when a shoe gets wet, it doesn't weigh you down. When evaluating the weight, we look at which is the lightest on foot and the scale.
The lightest shoe in our selection is the HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz weighing just 6.95 ounces. We felt like we could fly with this shoe on, making it an exceptional option for a quick race or speed workouts on the trail.
If you prefer a shoe with lightweight construction and protective cushioning, the Nike Terra Kiger 5 is a great option. It features a breathable and lightweight construct weighing only 8.4 oz. The Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 is also pretty amazing, weighing slightly less (8.75 oz) and offering more protection. If you want a great lightweight cross-over shoe, the Salomon Sense Ride 2 (8.6 oz) is worth checking out.
The Altra options (zero-drop & wide foot) are lightweight running options, varying slightly based on the level of outsole aggression and cushioning. The Superior is the lightest at weighing just a measly 7.6 oz while the Trail King MT 1.5 a heavier at 9.60 oz because of its more aggressive outsole. The Lone Peak, with the most amount of cushioning, is the heaviest of them all at 9.90 oz. All offer a nice lightweight ride on the trail, built to take you on journeys that extend into the ultra distance range.
So what do you need to do? Try on some shoes! While we offer insight into the performance and fit of each model, the best shoe is ultimately the one that fits. Put together a list of the shoes that you think might work, order them, try them on, and send back the ones you don't like. We hope that our review has helped you find the best running shoe for all of your future ambitions. Happy trails!
— Amber King