Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2021
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|Pros||Well cushioned midsole, excellent traction, good stability, excellent at everything including long distances, high value||Excellent traction, great balance of foot protection and sensitivity, specific fit, durable outsole||Superior cushioning and protection, stable landing platform, wide and regular fit options, nice cross over performance||Superior comfort, light on foot, protective cushioning, stable architecture, breathable upper||Light, very protective, excellent mud shed, superior traction, surprisingly stable|
|Cons||Stack height takes some getting used to||Higher heel is less stable, lugs wear down on pavement||A little narrow at the toes, not very sensitive, rubber isn't super sticky||Lace pocket is difficult to use, tight collar can bite into the ankle||Narrow fit, runs small, rigid construction takes time to break-in|
|Bottom Line||With a comfortable and responsive midsole and enough room in the forefoot for toe wiggle, you'll be happy running mile after mile||An aggressive trail shoe that is built for steep, technical, and sloppy trails||A well-cushioned trail runner that balances stability so you can throw down the miles in comfort||Our favorite shoe offers a well-balanced ride with one of the stickiest and most confidence-inspiring outsoles we've ever seen||Stable and deliciously sticky, this contender is just a crusher all the way around, built for training runs and long distances alike|
|Rating Categories||Hoka Torrent 2 - Wo...||Salomon Speedcross 5||Hoka One One Challe...||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||Dynafit Feline SL -...|
|Foot Protection (25%)|
|Comfort And Fit (15%)|
|Specs||Hoka Torrent 2 - Wo...||Salomon Speedcross 5||Hoka One One Challe...||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||Dynafit Feline SL -...|
|Measured Weight (per shoe, size 9)||8.6 oz||10.7 oz||8.9 oz||9.8 oz||9.8 oz|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop||5 mm||10 mm||5 mm||8.6 mm||8 mm|
|Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot)||Not disclosed||35 mm, 25 mm||Not disclosed||26.8 mm, 18.2 mm||Not disclosed|
|Upper||Engineered mesh||Nylon mesh, sythetic overlays||Textile mesh (Unifi REPREVE recycled yarn in collar and primary mesh)||Textile/synthetic||Mesh, continuous nylon|
|Midsole||EVA||Injected EVA||CMEVA foam||Energy Cell, polyurethane foam||Feline SL midsole|
|Outsole||Rubber||Contragrip||Rubber||Rubber||Sticky Pomoco Outer|
|Rock Plate?||None||Yes||None||Not disclosed||Not disclosed|
|Wide Version Available?||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Sizes Available||6 - 11||5 - 12||5 - 12||4 - 13||5 - 11|
Best Overall Trail Running Shoe for Women
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Women's
We are so pleased to add the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 to our lineup because it's a new favorite that absolutely crushed the competition. A go-to for all types of running missions, this is the shoe to buy if you want one that'll do it all. We used it for everything — from technical ridge missions to fast road runs, it performs. We love the responsive midsole, super sticky outsole, and breathable upper that seems to protect from every type of particulate. We've been running in it for well over 400 miles, and it's still going strong. This unisex shoe seems to do it all and is one we recommend to all our friends, including you.
While this shoe, performance-wise, is pretty amazing, the price is a hard one to swallow. Even when converted for women's sizing, the fit also feels large, so we recommend sizing down if you like a tighter feel. Lastly, the collar is tight around the ankle, so be sure to wear taller socks and exercise a little patience getting into them. This amazing trail shoe is one you've got to try and earns our highest accolades for its balanced performance on all types of terrain.
Read review: Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
Best Bang for Your Buck
Merrell Antora 2
The Merrell Antora 2 stands out as a versatile trail running shoe with a traditional design and fun rainbow pattern. It did well over snow, wet mud, buffed-out trails, and technical terrain during our testing. The protective cushioning underfoot and breathable mesh offers traditional trail comfort for both long and short distances. The outsole is responsive and energetic, propelling you forward with each step. It also comes at a great price.
This shoe scores average across our metrics, earning it a lower position overall, but it is still an overall nice trail runner. It is offered in wide and regular sizes, and while testing the wide version, we felt the toe box was actually "regular" in width. Additionally, the harder underfoot cushioning does take some breaking in time and might be too firm for certain preferences. That said, this is a supportive trail runner that does well across most surfaces (except for very sticky mud). It is an excellent value that we recommend to take you over steep and technical trails while crossing over to the road.
Read review: Merrell Antora 2
Comfort Mile After Mile
Hoka Torrent 2 - Women's
The Hoka Torrent 2 is a favorite for its wear-all-day comfort. Loaded with a responsive and cushioned midsole, we ran 20+ mile distances with ease. The traction is superior with sticky rubber and multidirectional lugs, built to bite down on any surface. It transitions nicely from the trail to the road and is a great choice if you're looking for a shoe that'll carry you into the ultra distances.
While this is one of the most stable Hoka brand shoes we've tested (they are known for having a high stack height), the Torrent 2 still requires a little getting used to. The fit is great for those with a regular width foot but might be harder to lock down if your foot runs super narrow. Other than that, if you're looking to have a bit more impact absorption and comfort for miles on end, this model comes with our highest accolades.
Read review: Hoka Torrent 2
Best for Sloppy Surfaces
Salomon Speedcross 5 - Women's
The Salomon Speedcross 5 stands out for its claw-like grip that'll tackle muddy trails with ease. The 5mm chevron-shaped lugs are well spaced and shed mud effectively, keeping you going even when the rain pours. This shoe offers a cushioned feel and a sensitive forefoot that allows you to feel the trail while retaining just the right amount of needed protection. We appreciate the specific fit that hugs the foot, so you most likely won't experience toe bump when charging on the downhills. The Speedcross is also durable, so expect a long lifecycle with this contender.
There are only two notable caveats to point out. This is not a great crossover shoe as the soft rubber that sticks well when scrambling over rocks will wear down quickly on a classic road run. Some of our testers also felt that the steeper sidewall made for a less stable ride on super tricky terrain. But if you seek a shoe that'll do well on typical technical, steep, and sloppy terrain, this is the one to buy.
Read review: Salomon Speedcross 5
Best for Sensitive Zero Drop Performance
Inov-8 Terraultra G270 - Women's
The Inov-8 Terraultra G270 is a low-profile and streamlined shoe that hardly feels like it's there. Designed to feel like an extension of your body, it is incredibly lightweight yet still durable. The upper is breathable and quick to dry, with a newly redesigned outsole that's incredibly sticky. It has a zero drop, favoring those with a forefoot strike and without much extra cushioning in the heel. In this shoe, you'll feel intimate on the trails, as it has no rock plate and only 12mm of underfoot cushioning, making it very flexible and agile on the trail. Overall, if you're seeking a sensitive and flexible shoe that is amenable for a forefoot striker, look no further.
Unfortunately, the newest iteration of this shoe has a narrower fit, whereas the past design offered a wider toe box. While this is amenable to some, others may not like it. Additionally, the size 9 shoes we tested just fit our main tester, without a lot of room for foot swell or toe splay. For extra room, we'd recommend buying a half size up. The underfoot protection lacks a rock plate, which makes the shoe more flexible, but you can definitely feel impacts underfoot. If you're looking for full protection, this shoe doesn't have it. Finally, the price is high. While the shoe is durable, if this isn't the perfect design for you, the upfront cost may not be worth it. Overall, this is best for a forefoot striker seeking a sensitive and streamlined fit that's race-ready for technical and crossover terrain.
Read review: Inov-8 Terraultra G270
Best for Long Distances
Altra Lone Peak 5 - Women's
The Altra Lone Peak 5 is a staple shoe in the ultra distance and hiking community for a good reason. It is packed with 25mm of cushioning throughout the length of the midsole, with an extra-wide toe box that mimics the natural splay of the forefoot. The upper offers breathability for hot days, it drains well when wet, and dries quickly after a good dunk in a cool stream. It hosts a 0mm drop, meaning this doesn't have additional support or cushioning in the heel. It is best for those that intend to strike the ground with the forefoot and not the heel. It's our favorite for longer distances and the one we choose when there's a long fast pack or training day ahead.
While we love this shoe, it's not for everybody. The zero-drop design takes a lot of training to get used to. Since there is no extra cushioning in the heel, it pushes you onto your forefoot, which can be tough on both the calves and Achilles. With proper training, this can wane, but it will take time, rolling, and a little physical therapy to get a newbie up to speed. Also, the fit is very difficult to lockdown, and one of our narrow-footed testers had trouble in regards to the foot sliding forward on big descents. One of our biggest gripes with Altra shoes, in general, has been poor durability. Over the last six years, this model (and others) have consistently torn in the upper and packed out after 300 miles (or less). We hope this new update is more durable than the last, but time will tell. We keep buying them because when the performance is good, it's head and shoulders above the rest in comfort. For those seeking a cushioned, well-protected, and wide trail running shoe that gives you room to spread your toes, look no further.
Read review: Altra Lone Peak 5
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King is a Senior GearLab Editor that has been reviewing trail running shoes for women since 2014. 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 fast-packing missions worldwide. Day to day, she develops an outdoor experiential curriculum for her non-profit, Treeline Education.
We have traveled all over, testing women's trail running shoes for years. We've hiked up towering passes in Peru, run over summits in the Rocky Mountains, and jogged over dry singletrack in the desert. We've taken on self-supported 50K distances in Iceland and logged training miles on the sunny shores of Hawaii. Our main testing site is the steep trails of Ouray and Silverton, Colorado, home to the Hardrock 100, which offers some of the most beautiful trails you'll find in the USA (in our opinion). Each pair of shoes in our review has logged at least 60 miles — some with over 1000 miles, if they last that long. Our review compiles this data to give you recommendations for your best trail sidekick.
Analysis and Test Results
Our trail running shoe review covers a wide range of products to reflect the best options on the market. Each shoe is subjected to the same tests to objectively determine even tiny differences in performance. After rating each across our metrics, we assign it a comparative score to determine which has the best performance. We offer an in-depth comparison to help you find exactly what you're looking for.
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 and won't break down after a hundred miles. Many shoes will either lose responsiveness in the foam or lose an upper after this time. However, many folks 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.
Of the shoes we tested, there are plenty of durable options that offer great performance for a reasonable price. The Saucony Peregrine 11 stands out for its versatile design with an aggressive outsole that'll stick to steep trails and mud. Others in our lineup include the Merrell Antora 2 and Hoka Torrent 2. The Antora 2 is a versatile trail runner, scoring lower points overall, but built for moderately technical trails that can easily cross over to the pavement. The Torrent 2 offers a superiorly cushioned ride and is built to take on long trail runs. All offer a durable construction that has lasted 300+ miles so far for our testers. If you're looking for a deal, these are the ones to check out.
An excellent trail running shoe provides the right combination of foot protection to sensitivity, allowing a runner to feel the trail underfoot without suffering hard blows from unsuspected hazards. In this metric, we consider the cushioning and the presence (or not) of a rock plate. We also explore the architecture of the upper to see if it is breathable and keeps out smaller particles from entering the shoe. Finally, we look at the toe cap's rigidity and protection from unsuspected stubbed toes. All the trail running shoes tested offer enough protection to be worn on trails, with some providing more than others.
The most protective shoes are those with lots of underfoot cushioning and a well-constructed upper. Of our selection, the most protective shoes with a thicker outsole include the Hoka Torrent 2 and the Hoka Challenger ATR 6. Neither have a rock plate, but instead have loads of underfoot cushioning. While Hoka doesn't discuss the stack height of their shoes, it is much taller than other brands of shoes we've tested in this review. The Torrent 2 offers a little more stack height in the heel than the Hoka Challenger ATR 6.
The Salomon Speedcross 5 earns an equally high score with a well-cushioned midsole (especially in the heel) with no rock plate, ensuring a flexible and sensitive ride. The Speedcross 5 is protective underfoot, offering 35mm of rigid EVA cushioning in the heel and 25mm in the forefoot. It has a continuous upper with excellent wicking capabilities that keeps out trail matter and small sprays of water. If you're seeking a protective shoe, this is a great choice.
While these shoes have beefier outsoles with a larger heel-to-toe drop, there are other protective options with a medium amount of cushioning underfoot. The integration of a rock plate aids a little extra protection. The Altra Lone Peak 5 is a notable shoe in this category, sporting a softer but thick midsole (25mm in the heel and forefoot) that is incredibly protective and well-cushioned, with the addition of a rock plate to counter the softness of the materials. The Topo Ultraventure 2 is a similar contender, boasting a little extra cushioning in the heel (30mm) and 25mm at the forefoot. It has an outsole that is much more rigid than the Lone Peak but doesn't integrate a rock plate. The Scarpa Spin Ultra also falls into this category (without a disclosed stack height), with more responsive foam and the integration of a rock plate. The Brooks Cascadia is a durable and protective contender that features a thick yet soft midsole and hard toe cap, protecting from unsuspecting bumps along the way. All of these are great options for hammering on either the pavement or trails for ultra-length distances because of the level of comfort.
Other shoes sport minimal cushion but have protective elements that still make them a good choice for technical terrain. The Dynafit Feline SL features an ultra-hard toe cap, similar to the La Sportiva Bushido II. Both have a lower stack height. The Feline SL does not disclose this, but the Bushido II is only 19mm in the heel and 13mm in the forefoot. The Feline SL also has a burlier upper with a single-pull lacing system and isn't as flexible as the Bushido II, thus earning a higher score in this category.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 moisture 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 Challenger ATR 6, La Sportiva Bushido II, and Inov-8 Terraultra G270 all have an overlay mesh that isn't water-resistant or waterproof but does dry quickly while on the run. We appreciate the Altra Lone Peak 5, which has a dedicated drainage system for quick-drying performance. We also love the Salmon S/Lab Ultra 3 as the upper dries quickly and resists water from penetrating around the outsole if the puddles aren't too deep.
When treading over slippery and soft terrain, good traction inspires confidence and limits slips and falls. So, we made sure to pay attention to each shoe's ability to bite down on the trail. When testing, we subjected each trail running shoe to different types of surfaces in different conditions; this included mud, snow, pavement, scree, sand, sandstone, granite slabs, and more. The slope we test on ranges from steep and unstable to flat. We also dunk them in rivers and run in the snow to see how each performs when wet.
Three shoes stand out for superior traction: the Dynafit Feline SL, Hoka Torrent 2, and Salomon Speedcross 5. All have longer lugs that stick well to rocky surfaces. The Speedcross 5 and Feline SL both have more rigid and durable lugs, holding better on steep surfaces that are quite sloppy. Both shed mud well too. We appreciate the stickiness of the Torrent 2 and the longer lugs that are a little less rigid but seem to stick to anything we tried. On steep downhills, all shoes kept us in place, making them all great choices for technical terrain.
If you plan on tackling trails less littered with grass, mud, and other soft surfaces, you'd be better off looking at shoes with lugs that aren't as long but feature stickier rubber and a nice pattern. The stickiest rubber out there comes with the Salmon S/Lab Ultra 3, La Sportiva Bushido II, Terraultra G270, Brooks Cascadia 16, and the Salomon Sense Ride 4. All have a rubber compound that grips well to rocks.
Less sticky, but more aggressive outsoles with longer lugs for better purchase on steeper trails include the Saucony Peregrine 11. This high-value shoe features longer lugs that did well across most tests, only really falling short with mud shed. The only shoes that performed in the mud shed tests are those with lugs that are a little further apart, like the Salomon varieties. The Altra Lone Peak 5 also has a more aggressive outsole, but it's not as sticky as others, like the Topo Ultraventure 2 that sports a Vibram sole which is also more durable.
While the choices above are great for more technical terrain, all the shoes scoring mid-range offer functionality on most trails you'd encounter when running. All can take on rocky, dry singletrack easily. Those that are great for both the road and the trail (crossover options) also exist. If you find yourself on the road more often than not, take a look at the Brooks Cascadia 16, Altra Superior 5, and Nike Terra Kiger 7 that transition easily from the road to trail. These have less technical outsoles that are still pretty grippy on moderately technical terrain with lugs that won't wear down quickly on pavement.
Shoes that offer excellent sensitivity have less cushioning underfoot. Sensitivity is important because it allows a runner to feel underfoot hazards, which gives them time to re-adjust body positioning. Sensitivity must be balanced with foot protection to make an excellent shoe. To test this, we noted which shoes are the thinnest and which allowed us to actually feel underfoot hazards.
The most sensitive options come with just a tiny bit of cushioning underfoot, so you can feel the trail as you run. The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is among the most sensitive, with just 18.2mm of dense cushioning in the midfoot. The sole is flexible, which had us feeling most objects underfoot, with a balanced level of protection. Both the Inov-8 Terraultra G270 and La Sportiva Bushido II have very thin outsoles with an added rock plate for protection. The TerraUltra G270 has 12mm across the outsole, which is also incredibly flexible (it has no rock plate either).
The Bushido II is a touch more rigid, but the outsole is incredibly dense. Both offer a very sensitive ride. The Altra Superior 5 also scores high in this metric, with a thicker outsole (21mm, heel to toe) and a very thin rock plate. While the stack height is higher, the midsole material is incredibly soft, which translates to a similar level of sensitivity on the trail. If intimacy is what you seek, choose any of these options.
A stable trail running shoe is one that'll keep you on your feet when picking through rough rocks and uneven terrain. The stability of the shoe comes as a proportional value of the height and width of the shoe itself. Those that are lower to the ground, with a more flexible nature and wider outsole, tend to do better here. That said, some shoes are built to be rigid, which flattens uneven terrain underneath them. So while some stable shoes are flexible, others can be rigid. Overall, we look for a shoe that doesn't feel tippy and keeps us upright while tearing down the trails.
Two shoes stand out as among the most stable in our review, for two completely different reasons: the Scarpa Spin Ultra and the Inov-8 Terraultra G270. The Spin Ultra is comparatively a beefier shoe with a more rigid platform and an integrated rock plate. The body of the shoe is rigid, with a wide forefoot and heel that offers an excellent landing pad. The shoe doesn't feel tippy, but light and responsive, earning its high stability score. The Terraultra G270, on the other hand, is incredibly lightweight, low to the ground, and has a narrow profile. It is similar to the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 and Altra Superior 5. All are stable because of their incredible flexibility that allows for agile and full movement. The Superior 5 stands out because it has a wider forefoot and low level of cushioning, which always feels close to the ground. All four of these shoes earn the same score for their excellent overall stability, but for different reasons.
Other options with a little less cushioning include the La Sportiva Bushido II and Dynafit Feline SL. We aren't sure why the Feline SL shoe feels so stable on the trail, but the fit makes it feel like you aren't sitting very high. The platform width is narrower than the Bushido II, but they both feel close to the ground, without tipping over technical terrain. Both also have a really nice fit, with nice agility. The Bushido II feels a touch more rigid but has a wider toe box for better balance as you move down the trail.
Other options with a wider toe box feel a little more stable than those that are more narrow. For example; the Altra Lone Peak 5 has a higher stack height but an incredible amount of stability for its boaty fit. The Brooks Cascadia 16 is another stable contender with a new flexible design that offers better stability than ever before.
Comfort and Fit
In this metric, we score based on the anatomy of the materials on the collar, the lacing system, and how the cushioning feels on both 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 the most comfortable shoe is the one that fits you best.
With amazing cushioning throughout the midsole, it's not surprising that the Hoka Torrent 2 is the most comfortable shoe we have tested. It stands out for its wider fit and stable ride, making logging miles on the trail easy. The Hoka Challenger ATR 6 is another comfortable shoe with a little more arch support and a narrower fit. Between the two, we prefer the Torrent 2 because of its better stability which ultimately adds more comfort for the long haul.
Other shoes with a taller stack height, like Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 and Salomon Speedcross 5, don't provide the super springy experience quite like the Torrent 2, but each has responsive cushioning underfoot. We also like the Inov-8 Terraultra G270, La Sportiva Bushido II, and Dynafit Feline SL for this reason.
The Topo Ultraventure 2 and Altra Lone Peak 5 both have a wide toe box that lets your toes wiggle. On longer runs, this is an advantage as feet tend to swell as you put down the miles. Between the two, the Lone Peak 5 has a wider toe (with a wide and regular fit option) while the Ultraventure 2 has a wide toe box at the widest part of the foot, with a more significant taper towards the twos. Those that appreciate toe-wiggling freedom should consider either of these. They both have medium amounts of cushion too, with the Lone Peak 5 having a softer insole that tends to pack out a little faster than the Ultraventure 2.
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. We recommend the Dynafit Feline SL, Inov-8 Terraultra G270, Salomon Speedcross 5, and Nike Air Terra Kiger 7.
Most shoes fit in this category. A regular fit is one that most people can wear. Of them, the Saucony Peregrine 11, Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3, and Merrell Antora 2 are three of our favorites. Many of the shoes we tested have a regular fit and fall under this category. Many of these shoes have regular and wide-size options too.
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. Our favorites include the Topo Ultraventure 2 and Altra Lone Peak 5. Both are options you should try on and check out if you like more room in the toe box. The Ultraventure has superior durability and a little extra cushion in the heel in comparison to the Lone Peak. However, we like the softer cushioning housed in the Altra's midsole.
Having a lightweight trail running shoe 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. When evaluating the weight, we look at which is the lightest on both the foot and the scale.
The lightest shoe we tested is the Altra Superior 5 (7.9 ounces per shoe). Its zero-drop is perfect for anything from long distances to short training runs. Following this are other super lightweight contenders. The Inov-8 Terraultra G270 is also pretty amazing (second lightest), weighing just 8.3 ounces with excellent protection, traction, and durability. Surprisingly, the well-cushioned HOKA Torrent 2 comes in third, weighing in at just 8.6 ounces per shoe, with the Nike Terra Kiger 7 (only 8.7 ounces), a light and low profile shoe, earning fourth place.
We've come a long 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. The quest for the perfect shoe is always challenging, so be sure to identify what you care about most, try on potential options, then buy the one that fits best. Happy shoe hunting.
— Amber King
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