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The Best Trail Running Shoes for Women of 2018

The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260G is our Editor's Choice winner for its amazing performance over a diversity of terrain.
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday November 9, 2018
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Looking for the perfect women's trail running shoe? We researched over 130 different models before purchasing 15 of the best options on the market. Putting each to the test, we climbed up mountains, ran down hills, traversed across high deserts, and suffered in the snow. Through our testing period, our team of hard women covered over a thousand miles on foot, summiting mountains tops as high as 16,500 feet! We encountered all types of surfaces along the way from sticky to smooth, fast to slow, steep to flat. After seeing how each performed in these crazy conditions, we conducted a few tests to determine critical differences and rated each on six essential metrics. We identified award winners, and top picks to help you find the best trail running shoe for you!


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Updated November 2018
Testing has been going strong over the last few months; in this update, we bring you a brand spanking new Editors' Choice winner, in addition to an overview of the updates to the latest Altra Lone Peak 4.0! The new Inov-8 TerraUltra 260 is a unisex shoe that offers bomber durability and uncontested performance. It features a wider fit and an amazing balance of protection and sensitivity on the trail. It also sticks to pretty much any surface we tested on, making it a confidence inspiring option for steep and rocky terrain. Check out all of our trail running shoe options below to help you in your quest for the perfect shoe.

Best Overall Women's Trail Runner


Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$130.00
(13% off)
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 8.75 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 0 mm
Thin yet protective performance
Lightweight and durable design
Wide forefoot with a zero drop design
Uncontested traction
Wonderful breathability
Takes time to break-in
Laces come undone

If you seek a durable and high-performance trail shoe with a wider forefoot, great stability, and the best in traction all wrapped in an ultra-lightweight package, then this Editors' Choice winner Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's just might be the ticket! 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 also has a wider forefoot, and we noticed better balance and thus stability when shredding down boulder-stream trails. Our testers are astounded at the amazing performance and traction this shoe offers, making it our favorite for any jaunt.

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 but loosening up after a few longer runs. 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. That said, it's important to try them on to see if they're a good fit. Other than a few minor details, this favorite has many exceptional features that had our testers googly-eyed with surprise.

Read review: Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's

Best Bang for Your Buck


Saucony Peregrine 8 - Women's


Saucony Peregrine 8
Best Buy Award

$119.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 10.2 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 4 mm
Comfortable midsole
Fantastic traction and grip
Price
Upper absorbs water
The midsole is too soft

The Saucony Peregrine 8 offers the best performance for the best price. Its unique construction provides a lightweight trail running experience that will have you confidently tackling all terrain from steep mountaintops to dusty dirt roads. The outsole features 6mm lugs and a sticky rubber composite that sticks to most surfaces, while the upper is incredibly breathable and protective. The cushioning underfoot is ample and comfortable, providing admirable protection.

The newly designed midsole provides a comfortable ride on the trail but is quite soft. In this year's update, the midsole has changed, taking out the rock plate, and integrating a new foam layer. This adds weight to the shoe, making it more absorbent and unstable. For this, it trades off enhanced sensitivity and flexibility. What's more is that protection isn't compromised and the value is high. On the trail, it shows off its versatility with its ability to truly "run anywhere" for any distance.

Read review: Saucony Peregrine 8 - Women's

Top Pick for Lightweight Performance


HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz - Women's


HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz - Womens
Top Pick Award

$129.95
at MooseJaw
See It

Weight: 6.95 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 3 mm
Super lightweight
Aggressive and sticky lugs and outsole
Continuous and breathable upper
Great for soft or technical trails
Potential durability issues
Lacks protective features

The HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz features a super bomber outsole that will have you flying up and down the steepest of loose, sandy switchbacks. The grippy and aggressive Vibram sole inspires confidence on technical, loose trails while the lightweight breathable upper is perfect for warm days in the summer. With less cushion stacked throughout, it provides amazing sensitivity on the trail.

With little cushioning and no rock plate in the design, it does not provide much in the way of protection. During our testing, we noted potential durability issues with the upper; while the materials are lightweight and thin, they wore away after just a couple of runs. The dye used on the continuous shell upper also bled onto our socks. Aside from these caveats, it's our favorite shoe for going fast and functions well as a trainer or racer for shorter trail races.

Read review: HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz - Women's

Top Pick Award for Sloppy Surfaces


Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's


Salomon Speedcross 4
Top Pick Award

$90.73
(30% off)
at REI
See It

Weight: 10 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 10 mm
Excellent traction on soft surfaces
Precise fit with the one-pull lacing system
Continuous upper has great particulate protection
Great cushioning underfoot
Slow to dry
Fit can be finicky
Not good on pavement

If you plan on running in the softest or sloppiest of conditions, this Top Pick may be right up your alley. Slogg it through snow, slush, mud and more, as the chevron-shaped 5 mm lugs are deep and sticky. They plunge into soft surfaces, locking down, and moving you forward without additional effort; forget about slipping out. The widely spaced design also sloughs away mud easily. This will give you the confidence to charge up or down any surface. To top it off, its seamless construction keeps out particulates while the shoe can be pulled on quickly and easily.

Outfitted with many positives, there are some caveats. The upper absorbs water readily, taking additional time to dry out. The fit of the shoe is truly geared to those that like a narrow fit. Because of its easy one-pull lacing system, it's hard to adjust fit, making it less versatile; this is a shoe you definitely want to try on before you buy. That said, it's an excellent option for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Take it on the most technical trails - just avoid it for use on pavement.

Read review: Salomon Speedcross 4 - Women's

Top Pick for Comfort


HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$73.50
(43% off)
at Backcountry
See It

Weight:8.9 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 5 mm
Super plush and cushioned
Great traction on dry or flat surfaces
Lightweight and breathable
Wider forefoot in the new model
Dries quickly
Less stable than other shoes tested
Less sensitive

In search of comfort? This uber plush midsole 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 climates. The thin, streamlined outsole is super breathable and quick to dry, making it a perfect option for river crossings or wet weather. This model has also been updated with added arch support and a wider forefoot to better accommodate toe splay. Lovers of the Challenger 3 may not like this update, but wider footed runners may prefer it.

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. In addition, because of all the responsive cushioning, it's not very sensitive nor is it the most stable shoe out there (but it's pretty good for a maximalist option). If you are a sucker for comfort, this may be the one.

Read review: HOKA ONE ONE ATR 4 - Women's

Top Pick Award for Wide Feet


Altra Lone Peak 4.0 - Women's


Top Pick Award

$119.95
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 9.90 oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 0 mm
The wide foot-shaped toe box is wider than the previous iteration
Responsive and comfortable midsole
Upper is thin and wicks water well
Rock plate amplifies sensitivity and protection
Zero-drop design
Sloppy less precise fit
Slippery on wet rocks

The Altra Lone Peak 4.0 is our Top Pick for Wide Feet. The 4.0 features an extra large toe box that allows your toes to wiggle free! As a popular ultra-distance running shoe, it can really take you as far as you like. It's built with a cushioned midsole that integrates a protective rock plate providing a wonderful balance of protection and sensitivity. The zero-drop design promotes mid-foot striking and is best to those that are used to having no additional cushioning in the heel or don't require additional arch support. The fit is true to size with a new stretchy and breathable upper that does an exceptional job of wicking away water. In addition, the new outsole is burlier than ever, grabbing slippery surfaces well in all different directions.

While this is an excellent choice for some, the fit is finicky. With a wide toe box, the heel cup isn't exactly precise. Also, while there is cushioning throughout the midsole, it features a zero-drop design that will take users some time to get used to. Aside from that, it's a wonderful contender that is built to go anywhere.

Read review: Altra Lone Peak 4.0- Women's

Top Pick for Obstacle and Swim Run Races


Icebug Zeal3 RB9X - Women's


Icebug Zeal RB9X
Top Pick Award

$150 List
List Price
See It

Weight: 7.0 0z | Heel-to-toe drop: 6mm
Waterproof and almost non-absorbent
Super light
Stellar traction
Lacks comfort features
Poor drainage

This unique hybrid shoe is perfect for tackling your next "Tough Mudder" or swim race. It is specialized for wet conditions, drying quickly and absorbing little water with full submersion. The synthetic upper is impervious to trail debris, shedding heavy mud easily, while the lugs on the outsole stick to all sorts of soft and wet surfaces.

While this shoe is undoubtedly perfect for sports that require a transition from wet to dry conditions, this trail shoe is not our first choice as an everyday runner. It has some protective features, but cushioning is minimal, and the synthetic upper is rigid and not very comfortable when worn for long periods of time. It also has a relatively narrow fit and doesn't have the best drainage system when completely submerged. While these caveats don't make it the best long-distance trail runner, it's a great option for any adventure or sport that requires good traction and performance while moving from dry to wet to muddy conditions.

Read review: Icebug Zeal3 RB9X - Women's


Analysis and Test Results


Traveling from Canada to Peru, we've tested these trail shoes all over the world. We've logged hundreds of miles over terrain as high as 16,000 ft and as gnarly and steep as the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. Through these athletic endeavors and ambitious adventures, we've gained insight and knowledge into what makes a fabulous trail running shoe. While no running shoe is made equal, it's important to acknowledge that in our testing, we provide objective comparisons that relate to six testing metrics, which include foot protection, traction, stability, comfort & fit, sensitivity, and overall weight.

At OutdoorGearLab we take our shoe testing seriously. Here we see our main tester tackling the ascent of Crestone Peak... a fourteen thousand foot peak in Colorado's high mountains. We don't just run  we climb  scramble  and do much more! The Lone Peak 4.0 proves to do well for these long distances  providing great performance even when the weather goes a little wonky.
At OutdoorGearLab we take our shoe testing seriously. Here we see our main tester tackling the ascent of Crestone Peak... a fourteen thousand foot peak in Colorado's high mountains. We don't just run, we climb, scramble, and do much more! The Lone Peak 4.0 proves to do well for these long distances, providing great performance even when the weather goes a little wonky.

To choose our rating metrics, we not only racked our brains to determine which are the most important, but we also polled numerous trail runners on popular Facebook pages and talked to professionals and local athletes. In these conversations, we decided that foot protection (30%), traction (20%), stability (15%), comfort & fit (15%), weight (10%), and sensitivity (10%) are the most important factors to consider. In the end, we gave each trail running shoe a score out of ten in each category for a total out of 100 points.

We used the following scoring rubric for each metric:
  • 0 - 1: Failure in performance
  • 2 - 4: Poor performance
  • 5 - 7: Average performance
  • 8 - 9: Amazing performance
  • 10: The BEST!

Value


One of the metrics we don't consider with the score of a product, (but is super important) is value. That is; how well does a product perform for the price? While many of the products are priced in a similar price range, performance varies significantly. You may not be able to afford a top of the line trail shoe or maybe just don't want to spend the money for additional features that you may not need. The highest value products will have a lower price and higher level of performance. In this case, the Best Buy in this review is the Saucony Peregrine 8 ($120), while the cheapest shoe is the Topo Athletic Terraventure ($110). Be sure to read through the individual reviews to gain an understanding of why each product earned the score it received.


Foot Protection


Foot protection is one of the most important factors to consider in a trail shoe. While in the backcountry, you're bound to encounter all sorts of hazards. Unexpected rocks, rubble over slabs, mud, snow, sand, dust, and all sorts of surprises; we took each shoe through it all. When in the field, we made notes and evaluated foot protection. We also observed if our feet felt sore after long days or if any materials were able to get through the shoe. Through these tests, we learned a lot about protective features.


Shoes with a thicker midsole can cushion better from underfoot hazards, and one with an integrated rock plate provided even more protection. Those with thicker and longer lugs offered a bit more protection. A hard toe cap is favored to prevent unsuspected stubs while a tightly knit (but breathable) mesh or continuous upper did better at keeping out pesky debris and shedding mud. Water-resistant uppers also provide more water protection. Below, we outline some of the top performers in this category.

Best All-Around Protection

If you're seeking a shoe that will keep your feet protected mile after mile, the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor is one of the top performers. It hones all the essential features of a protective shoe and kept our feet happy and healthy after a technical twenty mile run in the mountains. The super-thick cushioning (29mm in the heel, 22mm in the forefoot) of the midsole is what sets it apart from other protective options. The Inov-8 Roclite 305 is another protective option that earns a high score in this category, but only features 24 mm of cushioning in the heel with 16 mm in the forefoot. The Editors' Choice award winner Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g provides a superb amount of protection despite the 8mm of cushioning throughout, which is done via a rock plate.

A look at some of the burliest toe caps in this review that provide ample protection from unexpected stubs on the trail.
A look at some of the burliest toe caps in this review that provide ample protection from unexpected stubs on the trail.

The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 is another protective trail shoe that doesn't integrate a rock plate or a super hard toe cap. The midsole on this trail trotter features a responsive midsole with airy cushioning that wraps around all rocks and sticks on the trail. While this shoe has 28mm in the heel and 23 mm in the forefoot (similar to the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor), the type of cushioning feels more protective in comparison to the denser midsole materials used in both the Ultra Raptor and Roclite 305.

These choss-laden ridges were a great place to look at underfoot protection. Those with stacked cushioning or an integrated rock plate did better than those without.
These choss-laden ridges were a great place to look at underfoot protection. Those with stacked cushioning or an integrated rock plate did better than those without.

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. The Icebug Zeal3 is a specialized option with waterproof uppers that wick away moisture. In our submersion tests, it only absorbed a measly 1.6 oz of water. It also dries the quickest of any of the shoes tested! Another option that isn't as specialized for water is the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4. It absorbed only 2.6 oz of water in our tests and was the second fastest to dry. The Icebug is a better option for obstacle courses or shorter distances, while the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 is suitable for all trail distances and more protective, versatile option.

Traction


When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. When testing, we subjected each shoe and pushed it to its limits. 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 the most) slipperiest. After these experiences, we enumerated the features of each shoe, looking at lug shape and density. We also considered the durability and stickiness of the rubber in different temperatures over different types of terrain. In the end, we were able to see which outsoles could stand up to a variety of surfaces and which were specialized terrain.


Through our testing, none of the outsoles were able to perform perfectly on the slippery and wet rocks. Be careful with a shoe that markets itself to stick to these trail hazards.

It seems to be that the shoes manufactured by Inov-8 offer some of the best all-around protection out there! The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260 g blew our mind with the new hybrid outsole that integrates Graphene materials that is thin, flexible, and durable. On our runs, we were able to stick to the slipperiest of hard-packed surfaces with the lugs basically suctioning to anything we put them over.

By contrast, the Inov-8 Roclite 305 is a traditional trail shoe that sports amazingly versatile traction, but doesn't have the integrated Graphene materials. Its outsole features a different but super durable rubber compound that sticks to all surfaces. The 5-mm lugs do a great job grabbing steep slopes and slippery surfaces, making it a better option for softer surfaces. The lugs are nicely spaced, shedding mud easily. Of the shoes tested in this review, it seems to grab best on wet rocks and over snow. The compound changes based on the temperature, becoming a little more solid in the snow or more pliable in warmer temperatures. Overall, we really love that it performs well over a wide range of surfaces. The lugs are durable enough to withstand road running and aggressive enough to tackle super steep mountain slopes.

Here we tackle uneven surfaces in the San Juan mountains  focusing on how protected our feet felt on trail
Here we tackle uneven surfaces in the San Juan mountains, focusing on how protected our feet felt on trail

Other contenders that performed well in this metric did so because they are specialized for sloppy or soft surfaces. For example; the Salomon Speedcross 4 is our Top Pick for these exact conditions because it can literally stick to any soft surface. The chevron-shaped lugs are unique because they are well spaced to easily shed mud and grab the trail in all directions. Its long length (5-mm) keeps you locked into the trail underfoot, not sliding back and forth or side to side. In addition, the lugs are thick and durable. The only downside of this shoe is that while it does well on loose and soft terrain, it doesn't do a great job on wet rocks during river crossings. The Inov-8 options are much better for these conditions.

A look at a variety of outsoles that we tested in this review.
A look at a variety of outsoles that we tested in this review.

The HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jaws (another Top Pick) is a lightweight shoe with a similar outsole to the Salomon Speedcross 4. The lugs are 6-mm in length with a square shape. When charging up sandy trails, the lugs dug in and hung on…not slipping back or forth….providing better performance in sandy conditions but doesn't do as well in mud in comparison to the Salomon Speedcross 4. Both earn similar scores for its excellent performance overall. That said, don't plan on running over roads as its lugs aren't durable enough and will most likely break off on these hard surfaces.

This Top Pick does great in the sloppy stuff. The mud sluffs off easily while the lugs grab the surfaces underfoot.
This Top Pick does great in the sloppy stuff. The mud sluffs off easily while the lugs grab the surfaces underfoot.

Stability


Uneven surfaces and trail obstacles are inherent in the sport of trail running and stability is important to keep yourself healthy while adventuring. To test this metric, we wore each shoe over a plethora of unstable surfaces, noting which ones felt like they would turn over more easily than others. We also evaluated the anatomy of the shoe. The most stable shoes are of two different groups. The first is very flexible with minimal features, while the second is stacked with stability features like shanks in the heel. In all cases, a good and stable shoe requires an effective upper (with a harness or stability wrap) that provides a secure and precise fit that attaches to the lacing system.


Of all shoes tested, the most stable shoe proved to be the HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jaws. This low profile trail runner feels super low to the ground. With its less protective outsole, it also provides better sensitivity and thus stability. As a result, we felt confident running as fast as could over technical terrain.

A look at some of the stability features of the inov-8 (forward) and Salomon Speedcross 4 (behind). The overlays that attach to the lacing system provides stability to the shoe.
A look at some of the stability features of the inov-8 (forward) and Salomon Speedcross 4 (behind). The overlays that attach to the lacing system provides stability to the shoe.

Another great option is the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g with its zero-drop design, wide platform, and simple 8-mm of cushioning underfoot. All of these elements, including increased sensitivity, had us feeling confident to move quickly over super rocky terrain and uncertain surfaces. The La Sportiva Ultra Raptor is another stable shoe, not because it's sensitive or flexible, but quite the opposite. Despite its tall stack height, it displays a superb amount of security in the way of its stability features. The TPU harness wraps around the upper of the shoe, maintaining shape while flexing and bowing with movement. The upper itself engulfs the foot for a secure fit while the integrated stability shanks in the heel provide points of balance. When treading over all types of technical terrain, it has us feeling confident to move forward with precision and ease.

Take a look at the stability components here. The overlays seen at the back of the heel provide a stable frame around the shoe to prevent the heel from contorting and twisting under pressure.
Take a look at the stability components here. The overlays seen at the back of the heel provide a stable frame around the shoe to prevent the heel from contorting and twisting under pressure.

Another great trail shoe that offers ample stability is the Vasque Constant Velocity II. It is unique in that the outsole is actually a little wider than the foot platform, offering great balance. The upper wraps around the foot for a secure fit while you feel close to the ground. A key feature that is best in this shoe is the heel. We're not exactly sure what it is about the design, but the heel cup provides the best stability of any heel cup in this review…a great option for heel strikers.

Comfort & Fit


Comfort and fit go hand in hand to provide you with a great trail experience. Of any metric in this review, the one you need to personally consider the most is fit. A shoe can have the best features, but if it doesn't fit your foot, it's next to useless. In this review, we didn't provide a number grade for fit (as it is sooooo subjective), but we did evaluate the type of fit each shoe demonstrates. To do this, we looked at the relative width and volume (top to bottom) of the toe box, fit around the arch and heel. Also, we handed them out to friends and read a plethora of reviews online to determine recommendations for each shoe.


Taking fit into account, we then evaluated comfort (which we actually rated). The intention here is to determine which shoe feels the most comfortable over technical terrain for long periods of time. So we ran in each shoe for distances up to 50 miles at once. Then we evaluated key features. In the midsole, we looked at the responsiveness, softness, and thickness of the material. In the upper, we noted its relative thickness, stretchiness, and breathability. In addition, we noted if any shoes caused consistent hot spots. Overall, a shoe that felt comfortable to wear all day scored the highest in this category.

Running out the downhill on the Santa Cruz trail. This 29-mile day was a perfect way to test the comfort of these trail shoes! Long runs  azure lakes  far-off lands! What more can a girl ask for?
Running out the downhill on the Santa Cruz trail. This 29-mile day was a perfect way to test the comfort of these trail shoes! Long runs, azure lakes, far-off lands! What more can a girl ask for?

With amazingly cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 won our Top Pick for Comfort award. It stands out for its soft yet responsive midsole that provides ample protection from underfoot hazards. The upper is thin, flexible, and super breathable and keeps feet fresh on hot days. Even after running (and hiking) 15 miles over the talus fields of the San Juans, our legs still felt fresh and ready to tackle the more technical terrain. This shoe has a wider and voluminous toe box that accommodates a medium to narrow foot with some arch support.

A look at the different uppers used in this review. Some were breathable while others weren't.
A look at the different uppers used in this review. Some were breathable while others weren't.

While the HOKA ONE ONE brand is renowned for its responsive and ample cushioning that feels like you've got marshmallows strapped to your feet, there are other amazingly comfortable contenders in this review that also scored quite high. The Saucony Peregrine 8 stands out for its versatile fit and comfort for the long run. The midsole is comfortable and decently responsive. When slipping on this shoe, our foot sunk into its luxurious comfort. On the run, it's a shoe that will keep you comfortable all day. The upper is breathable, offering a precise fit and toe box is wide.

The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g are comfortable even though they don't boast a whole lot of cushioning on the trail. Here we tackle fourteen thousand peaks  long days  and rocky  technical terrain.
The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g are comfortable even though they don't boast a whole lot of cushioning on the trail. Here we tackle fourteen thousand peaks, long days, and rocky, technical terrain.

The Altra Lone Peak 4.0 and Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g are both unique options that earn awards. Both offer a wide toe box in addition to a zero-drop design. The Altra Lone Peak 4.0 offers much more cushioning than the Inov-8, in addition to a toe box that is a smidgeon wider. That said, while the Inov-8 isn't as cushioned, the midsole is incredibly responsive and bouncy, offering amazing comfort all day long. Both are great options if you seek a wider shoe, with the Altra offering a little more in the way of a cushioned outsole.

Sizing Recommendations

In this section, we provide recommendations for relative sizing. Here we simply focus on the foot width to provide you with a jump off point for where you need to start looking. From here, check out the individual review for more in-depth information on each shoe.

Narrow Fit

If you prefer a narrow fit from the arch of the foot to the forefoot, check out the recommendations below.

The Salomon Speedcross 4 features a more narrow design fit  but still works for many trail runners.
The Salomon Speedcross 4 features a more narrow design fit, but still works for many trail runners.

Salomon Speedcross 4: This traditional trail runner offers plush cushioning throughout the midsole with a small amount of arch support. The shoe does best with a narrow fit, fitting snuggly throughout the heel, arch, and toe box. The fit is true and works well for heel and midfoot strikers alike over short to long distances.

La Sportiva Bushido: This low-profile shoe offers minimal cushioning throughout the midsole and provides more stability and sensitivity. The toe box fits a narrow foot best with a small amount of arch support. The heel cup is tight with a precise fit throughout the body of the shoe. 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, Vasque Constant Velocity II, Iceberg Zeal3 RB9X.

Medium 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.

The Saucony Peregrine 8 (Best Buy winner) has a versatile fit that does well with most foot widths.
The Saucony Peregrine 8 (Best Buy winner) has a versatile fit that does well with most foot widths.

Saucony Xodus ISO 2: This low profile shoe offers moderate cushioning and a responsive platform. The toe box is a bit narrow but not as narrow as the recommendations above. The shoe has a neutral fit with a smidgen of arch support. The fit is about a ½ size smaller than most shoes, so make sure you size up!

HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4: While the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 used to fit a narrow foot best, this new iteration now has a wider platform for better toe splay. The arch seems to be a little higher than the ATR 3, which some of our testers, while others did not. Either way, this shoe is now an excellent option for those with medium-wide feet.

Other options: Nike Terra Kiger 4, HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, Brooks Caldera 2, Saucony Peregrine 8.

Wide Fit

Do you have wide feet? Check out our top trail running shoe recommendations.

Altra Lone Peak 4: Fitting a wide foot best, this shoe feels less snug than most other contenders. It does not feature additional arch support and is best for a forefoot or midfoot striker. It has a zero-drop design that requires a little training to get used to.

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: Topo Athletic Terraventures, Saucony Peregrine 8, Brooks Caldera 2,

Weight


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 have you feeling liberated on the trail. Also, it's important that when a shoe gets wet, it doesn't weigh you down. When evaluating weight, we performed three tests. First, we weighed each model while it was dry. Then we dunked each shoe in water for 30 seconds and squashed the shoe around to mimic movement while running through streams. Then we reweighed each shoe to determine how much water it held. Then we determined the amount of water held. We measured which shoe dried the fastest and which took the longest. The shoes that scored the highest in this category weighed the least when dry and were the least absorbent overall.

All shoes tested in this review are considered "lightweight". We just provide a comparison of the heaviest to lightest options. None felt too heavy for wear on the trail.


Stealing the show for its performance as a non-absorbent shoe, the Icebug Zeal3 RB9X is ridiculously lightweight (7 ounces) and absorbs hardly any water. The waterproof uppers do an excellent job wicking, absorbing only 1.6 oz of water in our submersion tests. The only shoe that even compares is our Top Pick for Lightweight performance. The HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz is the lightest shoe tested weighing just 6.95oz. While it's light, it absorbs more water than the Icebug (3.2 oz). We literally felt like we could fly with this shoe on our foot; this makes it an exceptional option for a quick race or speed workouts on the trail.

The Iceberg Zeal is amazingly lightweight both when dry and wet.
The Iceberg Zeal is amazingly lightweight both when dry and wet.

If you prefer a shoe with lightweight construction and protective cushioning, the Nike Terra Kiger 4 is a great option. It features a breathable and lightweight construct weighing only 8.55 oz. In our water tests,

As a maximalist contender, we were surprised at the lightweight performance of the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4. It weighs only 8.9 ounces, and with its new breathable upper, it proves to be the second least absorbent, taking on just 2.57 oz of water. This makes it an excellent option for river crossings. When wet, it dries fast, allowing you to chug on for miles.

Sensitivity


Feeling the trail underfoot is important for most trail runners. Enhanced sensitivity allows you to be nimble and quick, re-adjusting your body on the fly to ensure healthy foot strike position. To test sensitivity, we ran hundreds of miles over all types of terrain to see how easily we could feel the trail underfoot. To get a better comparison, we even wore two different shoes on each foot. In our tests, we learned that shoes with less cushioning and more flexibility did better than others.


The Icebug Zeal3 RB9X and HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz prove to be the most sensitive in this review. Both feature little cushioning in addition to little underfoot protection. Neither have a rock plate, and in both, we could feel the trail. They both scored the same score for similar performance. If you seek sensitivity with some added protection, the La Sportiva Bushido is a great option. It offers a touch more cushioning with the use of a rock plate to provide a nice balance of sensitivity and protection.

The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 also offer exceptional levels of sensitivity with smooth transitions from road to trails. The Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g only has 8-mm of cushioning throughout the outsole, which provides a little more sensitivity than the Altra Lone Peak 4.0. That said, even with great cushioning to absorb impact while running, there is still great sensitivity on the trail that allows you to find great balance and performance overall.

The HOKA Evo Jaws is a super sensitive trail option that will have you feeling every rock and branch. It does not have a rock plate or any real level of cushioning.
The HOKA Evo Jaws is a super sensitive trail option that will have you feeling every rock and branch. It does not have a rock plate or any real level of cushioning.

Conclusion


Trail running is a perfect way to get into the backcountry and explore while moving quickly over varied terrain. A great trail running shoe will balance a healthy mix of all key metrics that we discussed in this review. While you continue your search for the best trail running shoe, be sure to brainstorm the features that you need and require, then try on some shoes. We hope we've been helpful to help you find the best women's trail running shoe for you and offer additional advice in our Buying Advice article.

Scrambling up through some fifth class terrain while taking in spectacular views! What a better way to enjoy running and climbing in the mountains?
Scrambling up through some fifth class terrain while taking in spectacular views! What a better way to enjoy running and climbing in the mountains?


Amber King