Related: The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2020
The Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2020
Best Overall Women's Trail Runner
Scarpa Spin Ultra - Women's
The Scarpa Spin Ultra has risen to the top as we've tested it for over a year. This ultrastable shoe offers the best of all worlds, earning it our Editors' Choice award. It has just enough cushion in the heel for those that strike heel first, and just enough cushion in the forefoot to keep the underfoot terrain sensitive but protected. It's also ultra-stable at a low weight. We recommend it for those seeking a shoe that offers a nice blend of stability and sensitivity.
The price point is our only complaint. Aside from that, it's hard to find any caveats. After running for over 200 miles in this (so far) we note very little durability issues and continue to love them whole-heartedly.
Read review: Scarpa Spin Ultra - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck
Saucony Peregrine 10 - Women's
The Saucony Peregrine 10 continues to be one of the most versatile trail shoes tested. The mega-bomber outsole offers the traction that bites into the trail with support for even the softest of surfaces. The midsole is responsive, plush, and very comfortable with more room in the forefoot and midfoot for wide feet and toes that need to wiggle. The shoe is both flexible and protective and feels lightweight after running for miles. Designed for those who plan on tackling just about any surface, from smooth dirt roads to super rocky terrain, it is one of the highest scores for a good price.
The newest iteration of this shoe has a fit that is a little tighter than it used to be in the forefoot with a new upper, making it harder to fit for those that love toe splay. It's a wonderful option for those with a regular and narrow foot profile and offers well-rounded performance.
Read review: Saucony Peregrine 10 - Women's
Best Budget Buy
ASICS Gel Venture 7 - Women's
This year we took the time to find some decent trail runners at a very affordable price. While most shoes are an initial investment, the Asics Gel Venture 7 is a traditional shoe that offers good performance over rocky terrain - with great crossover action. Offered in two widths, it can be used for both the wide and narrow footed. It offers wonderful arch support with a supportive collar, which prevents foot slippage when moving up and down trails. While it is not our choice for technical terrain, its perfect for easy single-track and non-technical surfaces over shorter distances. The underfoot foam is protective, while the constructive seems to be pretty durable over our 60 miles of testing.
Unfortunately, at a lower price, you won't get the same performance as other higher quality options in this review. While the lugs do well on less technical terrain, it's not ideal for super sloppy surfaces. It can handle rocky trails, but not for long as the only protection is in the form of foam, with no rock plate for added protection. While the upper can resist the occasional splash of water, it will saturate quickly and takes more time to dry out. It is also a shoe that isn't as breathable for summer months.
Read review: Asics Gel Venture 7 - Women's
Best Zero Drop Shoe
Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's
The Inov8 Terraultra G 260 unisex shoe has won our Editors' Choice award in the past years because of its excellent performance and its wonderful balance of stability, traction, and protection. This year, it earns a Top Pick for its excellent performance as a zero-drop shoe. Built for sensitivity, you'll feel all parts of the trail while your toes have room to wiggle. The unisex fit is amenable for many women as the heel is quite narrow. We love its excellent traction that sticks to steep and slippery surfaces, while its responsive foam maintains its response, even after running for over 20 miles.
While this is a great product for those that appreciate zero drop construction, most people appreciate a little extra cushioning in the heel. This is not a shoe for those who aren't sure about a zero-drop design. Another caveat is the laces that are way too short and come undone easily.
Read review: Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 - Women's
Best for Sloppy and Technical Terrain
Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
The Salomon Speedcross 5 is a solid workhorse designed to take on the softest and most technical trails. Its deep, chevron-shaped lugs chomp down on surfaces that would otherwise leave you on your bum. The flat outsole attached to the lug sheds mud efficiently, while the super sticky rubber glomps onto rocks, leaving you confident on high ridge traverses or steep trails littered with kitty litter. If you want to feel overwhelming confidence while moving through the most technical or softest of surfaces, this shoe is the one we recommend.
Unfortunately, while it does well in dry weather, the upper absorbs water readily and takes time to dry out. The heel, while nicely cushioned, sits high on the outsole, making the whole shoe feel less stable, than lower sitting options. It's also heavier and can't be worn on the pavement without as the lugs wear down quickly. It's not a crossover shoe and is best for technical terrain only.
Read review: Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
Best for Wide Feet
Topo Athletic Ultraventure - Women's
The Topo Athletic Ultraventure is a head-turner for those that love to spread their toes. This is primarily due to its very wide toe box. Over the years, we've been devoted to the Altra Lone Peak (similar design), but this shoe has changed our tone. This shoe supersedes it with better performance and far superior durability. After running for over 150 miles over the last year, it still hasn't packed out. The cushioning is more responsive and thick, offering excellent protection and confidence on the trail. The upper can drain water easily and stays quite dry in wet conditions. It does well on all types of technical terrain, offering a little bit of cushioning in the heel, and stability on the downhill. It's a great choice for any distance, as well as hiking, and general wear around town use.
The downside? The lugs are made of a harder Vibram rubber that does a good job grabbing rocky terrain, but they aren't quite long enough to battle out on sloppy terrain. In addition, the fit feels a bit "boaty". It's still hard to lock the foot down to avoid the foot from slipping forward and hitting the front of the shoe, similar to the Altra Lone Peaks.
Read review: Topo Athletic Ultraventure - Women's
Best for Cushioned Bliss
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 - Women's
In search of comfort? The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 features an uber plush midsole for hitting the trails for hours on end. Built as a maximalist shoe for long-distance running, it has a bomber outsole that grabs and suctions to most surfaces, doing best over dry flatter surfaces with minimal technicality. The thin, streamlined outsole is super breathable and quick to dry, making it a perfect option for river crossings or wet weather. Its wider forefoot offers nice toe-splay while hugging the heel and arch, without your foot sliding forward.
Given the excellent level of breathability, this shoe is not warm in the winter, nor can the lugs grab super sloppy muddy surfaces. 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 the amount of cushioning it has). Avoid it for rocky tundra or surfaces where you might find yourself constantly on uneven terrain, and keep it for flatter terrain with rock slabs, sand, and kitty litter trails.
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 and has raced in several trail ultramarathons, including the Bryce Canyon 50 miler and the 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. She travels to remote places like Iceland, fastpacking, and exploring places with no roads, like the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. In the winter, she spends most of her days splitboarding at Red Mountain Pass, enjoying the steep San Juans mountain range.
We have traveled all over the world testing women's trail running shoes for the last six years. We've taken them up towering passes in Peru, over summits in the Rocky Mountains, and the dry terrain of the desert. We've flown to remote Islands in Iceland and sunny beach environments of Hawaii. Each pair has at least 60 miles of trail experience with our team of female experts providing feedback on each one. With all this data, we've compiled an authentic and genuine review that reflects our on-trail experience.
Analysis and Test Results
In this article, we provide a comparative overview of the best trail running shoes on the market. We chose a range of trail runners from cross-over options to the most technical. While it might seem that we're comparing apples to oranges, take the overall scores with a grain of salt. The higher scores represent a shoe that offers more versatility across all terrain. However, niche shoes that do better in some metrics might be just what you need. When looking through the options, look at the metrics that are most important to you. This will help you find the shoe you need. The metrics we evaluate include foot protection, sensitivity, stability, traction, and weight. Our award winners are meant to help you find the best shoe for your needs. You can also read about important comparisons in the article below.
When buying a pair of shoes, you want to ensure that they will perform well for the money you invest. A good shoe with great value is one that'll last between 300 - 500 miles, depending on how you run, where you run and your physique. Many shoes will either lose responsiveness in the foam or lose an upper after this time. However, many opt to buy those that are not as durable simply because they are light and flexible with good performance when they are in top shape. The Altra Lone Peak is a good example of this. While it costs quite a bit for a pair of shoes, we burn through them fairly quickly, yet we keep buying them! Why? Because, when they're good, they're really good. Now if you don't have the cash to throw down on a new pair of shoes every few hundred miles, be sure to find the ones that offer good durability, and inherently, better overall value.
Of the shoes tested, there are plenty of super durable options that offer great performance. For example; the Salomon Speedcross 5 is a shoe that's last us for over 400 miles and it still looks good. Unfortunately, it has a high sticker price, but the value is high as well for the number of miles we've gotten out of it. The Saucony Peregrine 10 wins our Best Buy award for its excellent performance and reasonable price. While the cost of this shoe isn't that different from many of the other top performers, it's a little less. The Altra Superior is another low-cost shoe, but similar to the Altra Lone Peak, it will break down a little more quickly, which is why it doesn't earn a Best Buy award. It does, however, have a nice wide toe box and a lightweight appeal. The ASIC Venture 7 is a traditional running shoe with nice cushioning and protection throughout. It's more rigid and takes some time to break in, but offers superior durability. However, it's built for those that like to tackle trails that aren't super technical. This is by far the least expensive shoe with the best performance overall. In the world of trail runners, higher prices can reflect better quality, not it's not always the case. Be sure to do your research and make your choice accordingly.
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 and evaluate the toe cap's rigidity and protection from unsuspected stubbed toes that can cause you to halt to a stop. All trail shoes tested offer enough protection to be worn on trails.
The most protective shoes are those with hard toe caps, a continuous upper, and a midsole that is thick enough to protect from underfoot hazards. These are the ones that'll protect for many miles on treacherous terrain. Our favorites include the La Sportiva Akyra with a super thick and responsive cushioning and the Salomon Speedcross 5. Both have a beefy midsole without a rockplate. The Salomon Speedcross 5 doesn't have a mesh upper (like the Akyra) but is built with a continuous upper that is superior to any at keeping debris out of the shoe. We also love the Saucony Peregrine ISO, which also has a thicker outsole, but doesn't have the hard toe cap or a continuous upper. If foot protection is your top priority, these are the ones we'd consider.
Other protective options aren't as thick in the sole, but thinner with a protective rock plate. They are also a little more flexible. The Inov-8 Terraultra G 260 and Scarpa Spin Ultra both fit into this category. While the Inov-8 Terraultra is thinner than the Scarpa Spin Ultra, its rock plate is of very high quality and the kevlar infused upper does a great job at resisting water, which adds to its protection score. The Scarpa Spin has more underfoot protection, which earns it a higher score in this category.
Other shoes like the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 and HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 are both maximalist options with a huge amount of springy cushioning. When moving over trail hazards, the foam wraps itself around the hazard, protecting your foot. Neither uses a rockplate, with the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 offering the amplest cushioning of these two maximalist contenders. Since the Speedgoat 4 uses more cushioning underfoot, it is inherently more protective, even though both offer a nice barrier from underfoot hazards.Best for Water Crossings
Seeking the best trail running shoe for crossing the odd stream? A shoe with a waterproof upper that doesn't absorb water and dries quickly is the best option. 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. We also appreciate the Topo Ultraventure that does a good job at draining and the upper doesn't get saturated on snowy runs.
Shoes that offer really good sensitivity are ones that have less cushioning underfoot. A shoe with enhanced sensitivity allows you to be nimble on the trail. You feel underfoot hazards, which gives you time to re-adjust body positioning when setting off balance. Sensitivity is the ying to foot protection yang. A good shoe will have a little bit of both, which is both metrics are equal in weight. To test, we look to see which shoes offer the least amount of cushioning in the forefoot and simply which made us feel more intimate with the trail.
The most sensitive shoes are those with very minimal cushioning in the forefoot (less than 8mm) and no rockplate. None of the shoes we reviewed fit this criterion. Instead, the most sensitive options come with a rock plate with a tiny bit of cushioning. The Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 takes the cake in this category with only 9mm of cushioning underfoot. The La Sportiva Bushido 2 is also very thin (8.5mm in the forefoot) but has 14.5mm of cushioning in the forefoot. During our testing, we could wear both of these shoes on pretty rocky terrain; however, after about ten miles (and we have seasoned feet), we could feel the soreness. As a result, we'd recommend making building up some calluses in these options if you're planning on running ultra-length distances in either.
Other options have thicker cushioning that is softer to make sensitivity ideal. The Altra Superior has 21 mm of cushioning with a rockplate integrated while the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 5 (20mm/24mm) has no rock plate. Since the cushioning in the Superior is softer, we can feel the ground more closely than the Nike Terra Kiger 5. Others have thicker soles, like the Altra King MT 2, which takes a little bit away from the sensitive feel of the trail.
When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. So, we made sure we rated each on its ability to bite down on the trail. When testing, we subjected each trail running shoe to different types of surfaces in different conditions; this includes mud, snow, pavement, scree, sand, sandstone, granite slabs, and more. The slope we test on ranges from steep and unstable to flat. We dunk them in rivers and run in the snow, simply to see how each will do when wet.
The shoe that offers the most technical traction continues to be the Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces, the Speedcross 5. Its long sticky lugs are well spaced, jabbing into the mud and rolling up scrambly terrain with ease. The body of the shoe is rigid enough, as the La Sportiva Akyra and Scarpa Spin Ultra to kick steps into snow when faced with a big slope. No other shoe has long lugs like this in our review, making it the best in this category. The only downside is you can't use it on roads since the lugs wear down very quickly when grinding against the pavement.
If you plan on tackling more trails less littered with grass, mud, and other soft surfaces, you'd be better off looking at other shoes with lugs that aren't as long but just as awesome. The Saucony Peregrine 10 has an aggressive outsole that'll satisfy any trail condition. The TerraUltra 260g is another. While its outsole isn't as aggressive as the Peregrine 10 or Speedcross 5, it offers nice transitions on harder trails (with better durability).
The La Sportiva Akyra and Altra King MT 2 are two more options to consider. The La Sportive Akyra features a sturdy build that adds to the traction of its superiorly beefy outsole. The Altra King MT is not as sturdy with its soft, flexible upper, but it has deeper chevron spaced lugs that are spaced out on a zero-drop design, making it the most aggressive of Altra shoes that we've tested.
While the choices above are great for more technical terrain, all the shoes scoring mid-range offer functionality on most trails you'd encounter while running. All the shoes tested can take on a rocky, dry single track easily. Those that are great for both the road and the trail (cross-over options) also exist. All the shoes mentioned above function for this well. However, if you find yourself on the road more often than not, take a look at the Brooks Caldera 3 that offers a cushioned ride and lacks a super aggressive outsole. The Brooks Cascadia 14 also has a less aggressive outsole that is durable enough for road running. The Asics Venture 7 is another lacking a protective rock plate, and featuring a gel-infused midsole that'll have you bouncing easily from the trail to the road.
A stable shoe is one that'll keep you on your feet when picking through rogue rocks and uneven terrain. The stability of the shoe comes from the use of more rigid materials in the outsole of the shoe in addition to its relative height to width at the base of the shoe. The shoes that offer good support in the upper while hugging the ground are the ones that do best in this metric.
There are two favorites that we want to gloat about. First, is the Scarpa Spin Ultra, our Editors Choice winner, offering a lightweight and stable ride. Most shoes will trade-off weight to enhance stability, like the La Sportiva Akyra. The Spin Ultra does the same work, but it has a lightweight profile, which is unique to the shoe. The Asics Gel Venture also features a wider toe box with a synthetic rubber upper while promotes good stability on uneven terrain.
Unlike the two shoes mentioned above with a lot of underfoot cushioning and a more rigid structure, the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260g is another stable option with less cushioning underfoot and enhanced sensitivity that inherently increases stability. It has a wider foot box that disperses the impact force. The La Sportiva Bushido is another with less cushioning, but it infuses a more rigid outsole for better stability on super technical surfaces. All the shoes mentioned above can take on rocky or uneven terrain well into the ultra miles. Your feet will just appreciate some time getting used to them, especially after mile 10.
Other trail running shoes with a super wide toe box are more stable than those with a more narrow toe box. Many shoes from Altra keep you feeling low to the ground. Of the three tested, the Altra Superior is the most stable since it has the least amount of cushioning with the widest relative toe box in comparison to the Altra King 2. The Altra Lone Peak 4.5 is the least stable of the three simply because of its thicker cushioning and less fitted feet. The Topo Ultraventure is another shoe constructed almost exactly like the Lone Peak. With its enhanced fit and better overall traction, we find it to be a little more stable.
Flexible shoes with a lightweight, low profile design tend to be more stable. This includes the Nike Terra Kiger 5 and Brooks Caldera. While the Nike Terra Kiger is much more flexible than the Caldera, both offer lofty foam cushioning underfoot that wrap around trail hazards to help keep you upright. Since you can feel the ground, you'll get a better sense of where it is, offering more stability of you as a whole.
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. We note relative fit but don't score on it simply because it's such a subjective metric. Ultimately, it's important to consider that most comfortable shoe is the one that fits you correctly.
With amazingly cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 5 wins our Top Pick for Comfort award. It stands out for its soft yet responsive midsole that provides ample protection from underfoot hazards. While the Speedgoat 4 offers more of this springy cushioned bliss it's not as light as the Challenger and has a slightly more narrow toe box. We do appreciate that the update to the Speedgoat seems to be slightly wider.
Other shoes with a taller stack height, like the Salomon Speedcross 5 and the Topo Ultraventure, don't provide the super springy experience quite like the HOKA shoes, but they do offer responsive cushioning underfoot. The Topo Ultraventure has a wide toe box that lets your toes wiggle while the Speedcross 5 has a more fitted and narrow design. We also appreciate the responsive cushioning of both the Saucony Peregrine 10 and the Brooks Caldera 3.
Of the wide and zero drop shoes, the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 stands out as the most cushioned, and the most comfortable, especially for super long trail days. It's actually our goto for ultra running missions and hiking on long thru trips. The Altra Superior is another wide-footed option, but it doesn't have nearly the same amount of cushioning. It feels more sensitive and less cushioned overall.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. We indicate if the shoe you want comes in either a wide or regular fit option.Narrow Fit
If you have a narrow foot, look for shoes with a tight-fitting heel cup and a narrow profile around the arch. The forefoot can still be wide, but it's important that you can lock your foot into the shoe to avoid slippage. The shoes made by Salomon are a great option for you. We also like the Nike Air Terra Kiger and Brooks Cascadia 14.
Most shoes fit in this category. A regular fit is one that most people can wear. Of them, the Peregrine 10 and Inov-8 Terraultra are two of our favorites. Many of the shoes tested fit into this category.
Wide Toe Box
Are you looking for a shoe that offers a wider toe box? The shoes by Topo and Altra dominate this market, but there are many other options out there. The favorites that we've tested include the Topo Ultraventure, Altra Lone Peak 4.5, and the Altra Superior. All three are options you should try on and check out if you like to splay out your toes. The Topo Ultraventure does win our Top Pick award given its superior performance in the realm of durability and cushioning when comparing it to the Altra Lone Peak 4.5.
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 we tested is the Altra Superior (7.9 ounces). Its zero-drop is perfect for anything from long distances to a short training run. Following this are other super lightweight contenders. With its lightweight construction (only 8.4 ounces) and protective cushioning, the Nike Terra Kiger 5 feels weightless on the trail. The Inov-8 TerraUltra G260 is also pretty amazing, weighing just 8.45 ounces with more protection, better traction, and durability. The Salomon Sense Ride 2 (8.6 ounces) is worth checking out as well. Its traction is pretty bomber and it has a great fit and decent protection.
We've come along way from running barefoot. While some still prefer this wild form of running, a great trail running shoe will offer you more comfort and protection from underfoot hazards. While the quest for the perfect shoe is always challenging, be sure to identify what you care about most, try on potential options, then buy the one that fits best. While our research attempts to provide recommendations for all, your best shoe is the one that you feel the best about. Happy shoe hunting!
— Amber King