Our experts have tested over 85 of the best women's trail running shoes over the last 6 years. This season we bought 19 of the current best to test side-by-side. Our team of experts took each pair to the trails all around the world. From high mountain passes in Peru to the steep, rocky singletrack of the Rocky Mountains in Ouray, CO. We've tackled isolated beaches in Iceland and tested each over the frozen sidewalks surrounding Toronto, Ontario. Each pair has seen at least 60 trail miles. The result? An intensive unbiased review written solely to help you find the best pair that matches your needs.Related: The Best Trail Running Shoes of 2020
The Best Women's Trail Running Shoes of 2020
Best Overall Women's Trail Runner
Merrell MTL Long Sky - Women's
Balancing all elements that you'd expect in an excellent trail runner, the Merrell MTL Long Sky totally blows the competition out of the water. Our testers fell in love with this shoe from the time they slipped it on to take on 20+ mile trail runs over technical terrain. The outsole features durable lugs that hug wet rocks, zoomy single track, roads, and snow. While it has a traditional heel to toe drop, the shoe still feels quite low to the ground, inspiring confidence and stability. This is a trail shoe we'd recommend for any runner at any level, whether you're starting out or taking on your next ultradistance trail race.
There's very little wrong with this shoe. The platform is surprisingly wide but not as wide as some contenders, like the Altra Lone Peak or Topo Terraventure. While it'll fit most women, some may not be fond of the 8mm drop from heel to toe. We also wish the laces did a better job of staying laced. Aside from that, it's our favorite and earns our high accolades. Nice work Merrell!
Read review: Merrell MTL Long Sky Shoe - 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 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 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. We especially love the wide toe box that keeps our feet happy for longer runs.
While this is a great product for those that appreciate zero drop construction, most people enjoy 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 Technical and Muddy Terrain
Salomon Supercross - Women's
The Salmon Speedcross stands out for its excellent traction and stable design that crushes rocky, muddy, and snowy terrain. The 5-mm lugs are built from sticky ContraGrip rubber that inspires confidence while blasting up and down steep slopes, talus, scree, and muddy trails. The only shoe that comes close is the Salomon Speedcross 5, another excellent traction shoe that isn't as stable as the Supercross. We chose this shoe for long days on the trail, especially when rocky, wet, or muddy conditions were anticipated.
The fit of this shoe is huge and definitely needs to be sized down. For those that like a little extra room, only go a half size down. For those that like a more specific fit, size down a whole size. While it has a wider platform, the toe tapers sharply to the front, which, if your shoe is larger, squish your toes together when heading down super steep trails. Aside from these caveats, it's one of our favorites and still a go-to.
Read review: Salomon Supercross - Women's
Best Versatility for Wider 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 rocks, 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
Best for Long Distances
Altra Lone Peak 4.5 - Women's
We can't help but give the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 a notable mention. We love this shoe for its excellent performance over super long distances. It boasts the largest toe box of any trail runner tested with ample amounts of cushioning underfoot. This shoe is built for distance and is a popular choice in the ultra running community. Its upper is flexible and protective while the outsole will stick to rocky terrain and technical trails. It's been a favorite of ours for a long time and the pair of shoes we reach for on long training runs, and ultra-distance races.
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 wain, but it will take time. Additionally, it's not a very durable trail shoe. Expect to replace it after running 250-300 trail miles as the cushioning tends to pack out with heavy use.
Read Review: Altra Lone Peak 4.5 - Women's
Best Super 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 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
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King is a Senior OutdoorGearLab Editor that has been reviewing women's trail running shoes 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 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 (some with over 500 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 crossover 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.
Of the shoes tested, there are plenty of super durable options that offer great performance. 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. It does, however, have a nice wide toe box and a lightweight appeal. The Salomon Speedcross is also considered for a Best Buy award because its price is low while its performance is superior. It proves to be the best value option for technical terrain. 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. This is by far the least expensive shoe with the best performance overall.
An excellent trail runner provides the right combination of foot protection to sensitivity, which allows a runner to feel the trail underfoot without suffering hard blows from unsuspected hazards. In this metric, we consider the cushioning and the presence of a rock plate to protective feet. 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 most types of 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 our Editors' Choice winner, the Merrell MTL Long Sky, La Sportiva Akyra with a super thick and responsive cushioning, and Salomon shoes like the Speedcross 5 and Supercross. All have beefy, protective midsoles without a rock plate. The Salomon Speedcross 5 and Supercross doesn't have a mesh upper (like the Akyra and Long Sky) 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 rock plate, 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, which does a good job at draining, while 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 yin 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 which ones allowed us the most trail feedback.
The most sensitive shoes are those with very minimal cushioning in the forefoot (less than 8mm) and no rock plate. 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 felt pretty sore. 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 rock plate integrated while the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 6 (10.5/14.5mm) 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 perform when wet.
Two shoes this year stand out for their traction, but only one takes our award for sloppy and technical surfaces. Both engineered by Salomon, the Supercross, and Speedcross 5 say head to head competition. Both are built with long, sticky lugs that bite down on muddy and technical surfaces. Both shed mud well and offer confidence on scary descents. However, the Salmon Supercross wins out the competition this year because it feels more stable than the Supercross 5, adding to its stability and overall traction.
The body of both of these shoes are is rigid enough (like the Merrell Long Sky, 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 these in our review, making them 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 and our Editors' Choice winner, the Merrell Long Sky are others. All offer aggressive outsoles that'll perform on technical trails while easily transitioning to the road.
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 (crossover 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 Nike Terra Kiger 6 that transitions easily from the road to trail. 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, 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. We also appreciate the stability of the Merrell Long Sky that does well over uneven surfaces. Despite its higher stack heigh, you still feel low to the ground as you glide above the trail.
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 6. The Nike Terra Kiger is very flexible with minimal underfoot airy cushioning 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 and balance as you crush the miles.
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 Merrell Long Sky, Salomon Supercross, and Salomon Speedcross 5, 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.
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 go-to for ultra running missions and hiking on long trips. The Altra Superior and Altra King MT are two other wide-footed options without ample cushioning. They are still comfortable, but take some time to get used to on long trails.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 6 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 8.7 ounces) and protective cushioning, the Nike Terra Kiger 6 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. We are also impressed by our Editors' Choice winner, the Merrel MTL Long Sky. Not only is it protective and stable, but it only weighs 8.90 oz, which is impressive and race-ready.
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. Happy shoe hunting!
— Amber King