Reviews You Can Rely On

The 6 Best Trail Running Shoes for Women of 2023

We've logged many miles in the best women's trail running shoes from Salomon, Hoka, Altra, Saucony, and more to help you find your perfect match
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Best Trail Running Shoes for Women of 2023
A pile of some of the best trail running shoes on the market. We test each one in great detail so we can provide you with the most up-to-date knowledge out there.
Credit: Ally Arcuri
By Ally Arcuri ⋅ Review Editor
Friday May 26, 2023
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Our running enthusiasts have reviewed 107 of the best trail running shoes for women in the last 11 years, with 21 of the most popular options on the market in this review, tested head-to-head to determine the best. We log at least 50 miles in each pair, running day in and day out to bring you the most reliable information possible. From ultra-distance marathons to fast-packing adventures, we've embarked upon all manner of running adventures over the years. We also weigh, compare, and mull over each detail, no matter how tiny, to provide you with solid recommendations that you can trust.

Trail shoes are made specifically for rough and rugged terrain. To keep you prepared for these conditions, it is also wise to have an excellent pair of socks, comfortable running shorts, and a breezy top. If you plan to explore sandy or snowy trails, gaiters may also be a good accessory to have. If you're not sure that you need a trail-specific shoe, there are other shoe styles to consider before making a final decision. For all other gadgets and accessories, check out our favorite running gear to get you out on the trail.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on May 26, 2023, to add reviews for new offerings from Hoka, Saucony, and Salomon, as well as updated versions of old favorites.

Related: Best Trail Running Shoes for Men

Top 21 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 21
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $129.95 at Backcountry
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$180 List$112.46 at Backcountry
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$104.99 at REI
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$144.95 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Comfortable, great traction, affordable, durable, packs out to fit your foot shapeGreat weight distribution, stable architecture, breathable upper, well-tractionedSupremely comfortable, spacious toe box, far more durable than previous models, great stabilityAmazing traction, very protective, durable outsole, specific fitStrong traction, great underfoot protection, comfortable, more flexible than some, lightweight
Cons Might be too cushioned for some runners, slightly less sensitiveLace pocket is difficult to use, tight collar can bite into the ankle, pricyZero-drop isn't for everyone, might be too soft for someHigh heel feels less stable, narrow fit won't suit everyone, lugs wear down on pavementHuge outsole might not be for all runners, lacks sensitivity
Bottom Line A great all-around trail shoe that hosts some of our favorite protective features, all for a relatively affordable priceA great trail shoe that offers a streamlined fit with a grippy, confidence-inspiring outsole built to tackle the most technical terrainThis zero-drop trail runner takes trail running comfort to a whole new and ultra-protective levelWith an aggressive outsole and exceptional protective features, this trail running shoe is our top choice for the sloppiest terrainA well-tractioned and high-performing moderate trail shoe that puts underfoot comfort at the center of its focus
Rating Categories Hoka Torrent 3 - Wo... Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Altra Lone Peak 7 -... Salomon Speedcross 6 Hoka Challenger 7 -...
Foot Protection (25%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
Traction (20%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
Sensitivity (15%)
7.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Stability (15%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Comfort and Fit (15%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
Weight (10%)
8.0
4.0
5.0
3.0
8.0
Specs Hoka Torrent 3 - Wo... Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Altra Lone Peak 7 -... Salomon Speedcross 6 Hoka Challenger 7 -...
Measured Weight (per shoe) 7.48 oz (size 7) 8.68 oz (size 7) 8.22 oz (size 7) 9.07 oz (size 7) 7.34 oz (size 7)
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot) 21 mm, 16mm 26 mm, 18 mm 25 mm, 25 mm 32mm, 22 mm 29 mm, 24 mm
Heel-to-Toe Drop 5 mm 8 mm 0 mm 10 mm 5 mm
Upper Mesh Anti-Debris mesh with sockliner Mesh Textile/synthetic Mesh
Midsole EVA Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection Altra EGO Foam Energy Cell+ CMEVA
Outsole Rubber Salomon Contagrip MA MaxTrac rubber Rubber Durabrasion Rubber
Rock Plate? No Not disclosed Yes Not disclosed No
Wide Version Available? No Yes No No No
Sizes Available 5 - 11 US 4 - 13 US 5.5 - 12 5 - 11 US 5 - 12 US


Best Overall Trail Running Shoe for Women


Hoka Torrent 3 - Women's


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot Protection 7.0
  • Traction 8.0
  • Sensitivity 7.0
  • Stability 9.0
  • Comfort and Fit 8.0
  • Weight 8.0
Weight (per shoe): 7.48 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5mm
REASONS TO BUY
Incredibly comfortable
Great traction
Stable
Affordable
Durable
Great for all distances
REASONS TO AVOID
Narrower lace bed upon purchase

The Hoka Torrent 3 is a favorite for its wear-all-day comfort. In fact, this is the shoe we recommend to all long distances runners because of its almost universal comfort. Loaded with a responsive and cushioned midsole, we ran 20+ mile distances (sometimes all at once) 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 the lugs stay strong and beefy even when worn on abrasive surfaces. The Torrent is an excellent choice if you're looking for a versatile shoe that'll carry you through distances of all lengths.

Hoka is known for making comfortable shoes, but the lace bed and toe box of the Torrent 3 are a bit narrow right out of the box. However, with a bit of wear, these trail shoes pack out for an ultra-customized fit. If you want a shoe with a wide toe box from the jump, there are better options, but if you want a bit more impact absorption and comfort for miles on end, this model comes with our highest universal recommendations.

Read more: Hoka Torrent 3 review

We love how the Torrent 3 adapts to the terrain we want to run on. Sandy bluffs? No problem! Scree-filled mountain sides? Tackle them with ease.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Best Bang for your Buck


Brooks Divide 3 - Women's


69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot Protection 7.0
  • Traction 6.0
  • Sensitivity 7.0
  • Stability 8.0
  • Comfort and Fit 7.0
  • Weight 6.0
Weight (per shoe): 8.04 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable
Fits like a traditional running shoe
Good crossover shoe
Great for beginners
REASONS TO AVOID
Less protective
Less sensitive

The Brooks Divide 3 is one of our favorites for beginning trail runners. It fits like a traditional road shoe, which is great for runners or walkers who are comfortable in that style. The Divide crosses over to paved surfaces nicely, so if you want to run on various terrain types, this shoe is a great, budget-friendly option. What we love most about the updated Divide is that it consistently scores above average without emphasizing one particular area. If you don't know exactly what kind of trail shoe you're looking for, this awesome deal is a great place to start.

The Divide 3 is made for light trails, which is truly what it is perfect for. The lugs aren't as deep and powerful when compared to burlier shoes, and the shoe isn't as protective. The outsole design provides less sensitivity than we have grown to prefer, but if you are not accustomed to running trails, this lack of sensitivity might be preferable. Overall, if you are a newbie looking for a crossover shoe to tackle fire roads and gentle trails, the Divide is a great value.

Read more: Brooks Divide 3 review

trail running shoes womens - in true bang-for-your-buck fashion, the divide 3 offers a little bit...
In true bang-for-your-buck fashion, the Divide 3 offers a little bit of everything for an affordable price. This is our favorite shoe to recommend to new trail runners.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Best for Technical Distances


Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Women's


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot Protection 7.0
  • Traction 8.0
  • Sensitivity 9.0
  • Stability 8.0
  • Comfort and Fit 8.0
  • Weight 4.0
Weight (per shoe): 8.68 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 8mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent protection and traction
Fit molds to the foot
Stable and sensitive
Durable
Fast-drying and breathable
REASONS TO AVOID
Collar is tight
Expensive
Lace pocket is ineffective

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is a shoe that stands out for ultra-distance fanatics. With just enough cushion, incredible sensitivity, and what ultimately feels like a customizable fit, the S/Lab is one of our most recommended shoes. The strong mesh upper is flexible enough to allow your toe to flex and engage as you run, while the standard trail shoe differential provides great stability. The snug fit of the midfoot and collar allow it to feel like an extension of your body on the trails, which is a coveted feature as the distance adds up. The S/Lab dries quickly after being soaked and allows enough airflow to be a strong contender for hot desert runs.

The S/Lab Ultra 3 is on the expensive side, which is something you'll have to consider as you shop. It is a bit tougher to get on than a traditionally-shaped running shoe since the sockliner collar is meant to fit snugly. The one-pull lace system is a polarizing feature that some runners love and others hate. The mechanism can get gunked up if you run muddy or wet trails, and the lace pocket for the excess laces is virtually ineffective. But if you want a trail shoe that will feel like part of your body as you run, this protective, sensitive, and flexible superstar is a fantastic shoe to consider. It has been a GearLab award winner and favorite for many, many years.

Read more: Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 review

This is a unisex shoe and has also been reviewed in our men's trail running shoe review if you want to read a second perspective.

The updated S/Lab is our go-to recommendation for trail runners who want to tackle technical, varied terrain.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Best for Comfortable Zero Drop Performance


Altra Lone Peak 7 - Women's


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot Protection 7.0
  • Traction 7.0
  • Sensitivity 7.0
  • Stability 9.0
  • Comfort and Fit 9.0
  • Weight 5.0
Weight (per shoe): 7.62 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 0mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent trail intimacy
Fitted and streamlined performance
Lightweight
Updated protective features
Very sticky and confidence-inspiring outsole
REASONS TO AVOID
Zero-drop isn't for everyone
Less arch support

The Altra Lone Peak 7 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 allows for a natural splay of the forefoot. This type of toebox space is great for helping to build the musculature in the sole of the foot and toes, which can help heal foot and toe issues. The Lone Peak 7 hosts a 0mm drop, so it is best for those that intend to strike the ground with the forefoot and not the heel. We recommend this shoe for runners and hikers looking for a plush, comfortable, and durable zero-drop trail partner.

The zero-drop design of the Lone Peak takes some training to get used to. Since there is no extra cushioning in the heel to lift it, the rear chain of muscles in your body will have to work quite a bit harder, and you may feel a bit of strain on the Achilles tendon. With proper training, this can wane, but if you are new to the zero-drop game, this might not be the shoe you can buy and start running long distances in immediately. But for those seeking a cushioned, well-protected, and wide trail running shoe that gives you room to spread your toes, here it is.

Read more: Altra Lone Peak 7 review

trail running shoes womens - when it comes to zero drop comfort, the lone peak out performs the...
When it comes to zero drop comfort, the Lone Peak out performs the rest of the shoes in our collection.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Best for Sloppy Surfaces


Salomon Speedcross 6 - Women's


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot Protection 9.0
  • Traction 9.0
  • Sensitivity 7.0
  • Stability 6.0
  • Comfort and Fit 6.0
  • Weight 3.0
Weight (per shoe): 9.07 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 10mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent traction on soft surfaces
Specific fit
Fantastic durability
Very protective
REASONS TO AVOID
Lugs wear on pavement
Heel stack makes it slightly less stable
Unique shape won't fit all feet

The Salomon Speedcross 6 stands out for its crampon-inspired grip that easily tackles muddy, messy trails. The 5mm chevron-shaped lugs are well-spaced and shed mud effectively, keeping you going even when the rain pours. This shoe offers cushion and a sensitive forefoot so you can feel the trail while retaining just the right amount of needed protection. The heel is extra cushioned, which makes it a great match for heel strikers. We appreciate the specific fit and updated upper that hugs the foot so you won't likely experience toe bumps when charging on the downhills. The same fit profile helps stabilize you as you take on sloppy trails. The Speedcross is durable, so expect a long lifecycle with this contender.

There are only a few notable caveats regarding the Speedcross 6. It is not the ideal 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 and elevated heel made for a less stable ride on super tricky terrain. The heel height, which stands at 32mm, and the narrow architecture prevent this from being a shoe that all uniquely-shaped runners will love. But if you seek something that'll do well on technical, steep, and sloppy terrain, this is the one to buy.

Read more: Salomon Speedcross 6 review

trail running shoes womens - the speedcross is one of the most ruggedly equipped shoes that we...
The Speedcross is one of the most ruggedly equipped shoes that we have tested to date. If extreme traction is what you're after, this is a fantastic shoe to consider.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Best Traditional Fit


Saucony Peregrine 13 - Women's


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot Protection 7.0
  • Traction 8.0
  • Sensitivity 7.0
  • Stability 7.0
  • Comfort and Fit 6.0
  • Weight 7.0
Weight (per shoe): 7.90 oz | Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4mm
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent traction
Streamlined fit
Responsive
REASONS TO AVOID
Less cushioned
Runs narrow
Lugs wear on abrasive surfaces

The Saucony Peregrine 13 is a sticky, svelte-fitting trail running shoe with above-average protection and a nearly-imperceptible rock plate. The well-patterned lugs are strong and capable, and the comfortable Airmesh upper molds to the outer edges of your feet as it breaks in. The Peregrine rides more like a traditional road running shoe, with slightly less toe box space and a responsive 28mm stack. If you want a shoe that fits like your favorite road running shoe but is capable enough to tackle sketchy terrain, this is our recommendation for you.

The recent updates to the Peregrine have made it a bit more appealing to a wider array of people, but there are a few drawbacks to note. The midfoot is a bit narrow, which provides great stability but might not be comfortable for all trail runners. The Peregrine lacks the plush cushion of shoes built for longer distances, though many runners find its minimalistic cushioning to be enough. The outsole is one of the best on slick and unpredictable terrain, but we don't recommend wearing this pair of shoes on paved surfaces. The lugs show signs of wear when worn on roads, making the shoe less suitable as a crossover option. Overall, if you want strong traction, responsive bounce, and minimal cushioning, the Peregrine is a great, traditionally-shaped choice.

Read more: Saucony Peregrine 13 review

The Saucony Peregrine 13 is a comfortable, responsive, and breathable trail running shoe. Shown here undergoing one of our protection tests to see how well is keeps water out.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
78
Hoka Torrent 3 - Women's
hoka torrent 3 for women trail running shoes review
$130
Editors' Choice Award
75
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Women's
salomon s/lab ultra 3 for women trail running shoes review
$180
Top Pick Award
74
Altra Lone Peak 7 - Women's
altra lone peak 7 for women trail running shoes review
$150
Top Pick Award
72
Salomon Speedcross 6 - Women's
salomon speedcross 6 for women trail running shoes review
$140
Top Pick Award
72
Hoka Challenger 7 - Women's
hoka challenger 7 for women trail running shoes review
$145
71
Dynafit Feline SL - Women's
dynafit feline sl for women trail running shoes review
$130
Editors' Choice Award
71
Saucony Peregrine 13 - Women's
saucony peregrine 13 for women trail running shoes review
$140
Top Pick Award
71
Topo Ultraventure 3 - Women's
topo ultraventure 3 for women trail running shoes review
$150
70
La Sportiva Bushido II - Women's
la sportiva bushido ii for women trail running shoes review
$155
70
Brooks Catamount - Women's
brooks catamount for women trail running shoes review
$160
70
Hoka Tecton X 2 - Women's
hoka tecton x 2 for women trail running shoes review
$225
69
Brooks Divide 3 - Women's
brooks divide 3 for women trail running shoes review
$100
Best Buy Award
69
Salomon Sense Ride 5 - Women's
salomon sense ride 5 for women trail running shoes review
$140
69
Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max - Women's
inov-8 trailfly ultra g 300 max for women trail running shoes review
$195
68
Merrell Antora 3
merrell antora 3 trail running shoes women review
$125
68
Brooks Cascadia 16 - Women's
brooks cascadia 16 for women trail running shoes review
$130
68
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v7 - Women's
new balance fresh foam hierro v7 for women trail running shoes review
$140
67
Altra Superior 5 - Women's
altra superior 5 for women trail running shoes review
$130
66
Salomon Pulsar Trail - Women's
salomon pulsar trail for women trail running shoes review
$130
66
HOKA Speedgoat 5 - Women's
hoka speedgoat 5 for women trail running shoes review
$155
57
Nike Pegasus Trail 4 - Women's
nike pegasus trail 4 for women trail running shoes review
$145

trail running shoes womens - our test teams organize their lives around running. they are...
Our test teams organize their lives around running. They are thrilled that their hard work can help you find the right shoes.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Why You Should Trust Us


For over a decade, we have traveled all over testing women's trail running shoes, getting our hands on over 100 unique pairs. We've hiked up towering passes in Peru, run over summits in the Rocky Mountains, jogged over dry singletrack in the desert, raced across the beaches of California, and explored the most remote parts of the Pacific Northwest. Our main testing location in recent years is Montaña de Oro State Park, on the rugged coast of California, south of Big Sur. It offers sweeping vistas, scenic peaks, hundreds of miles of trail, and enough slippery scree to test an army of running shoes. Each pair of shoes in our lineup has logged at least 60 miles — some with over 1,000 miles if they last that long. Our review compiles this data to give you recommendations for your best trail sidekick — or two.

Our testing of trail running shoes is divided across six rating metrics:
  • Foot Protection (25% of overall score weighting)
  • Traction (20% weighting)
  • Sensitivity (15% weighting)
  • Stability (15% weighting)
  • Comfort and Fit (15% weighting)
  • Weight (10% weighting)

We love ripping up trails in the shoes we test, but we also take the time to assess their unique differences from a more scientific standpoint.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Our main tester is a trail runner, exercise specialist, and cancer survivor. Ally Arcuri has been deep in the world of running for over a decade and truly found her feet on the trails. She has taken on ultra marathons in the Rocky Mountains and is currently training for shorter, speedier trail races. Ally has a degree in kinesiology from Cal State Fullerton and utilizes her knowledge of biomechanics heavily while assessing each pair of shoes. She currently lives next door to Montaña de Oro State Park in San Luis Obispo County, California, though she attributes her love of trails to her upbringing in South Lake Tahoe.

trail running shoes womens - tackling alpine runs in the name of gear testing is always more fun...
Tackling alpine runs in the name of gear testing is always more fun with friends.
Credit: Ally Arcuri


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 determine even tiny differences in performance with objectivity. After rating each across our metrics, we assign 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.


Value


The value of a running shoe is relative, based on how many miles you like to lay down and the shoe's durability, versatility, and cost. If you like to run a variety of trail types, a shoe that offers exceptional versatility will be a better value for you than a more niche shoe that is suitable for only one terrain type. After all, not everyone wants to spend their hard-earned money on a highly specific trail shoe that only gets used once in a while.

trail running shoes womens - the best trail running shoe for you is likely the one that can...
The best trail running shoe for you is likely the one that can accompany you on the majority of your local trails.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

When it comes to trail running shoes specifically, a few different elements can influence their value and how durability relates to them. Some of the comfier options can pack out after a few hundred miles, while the more rigid options might retain their structure longer. Throughout testing, we have noticed that some lugs perfect for tackling technical trails covered in sand will show signs of wear after only a few miles on pavement. The shoes that we recommend from a value perspective are the ones that perform well for their relative cost.

trail running shoes womens - when purchasing a trail running shoe, value is partially determined...
When purchasing a trail running shoe, value is partially determined by how well it holds to up the demands you impose on it.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Hoka Torrent 3 is one example of a great value because of how versatile it is and because of its lower-than-average price tag. The Torrent is durable, doesn't pack out prematurely, and makes a great crossover. Because it does so well across the board, purchasing the Torrent means you won't need to buy other pairs of shoes if you want to switch up your terrain type.

trail running shoes womens - for runners looking for an epic shoe value, the torrent is our top...
For runners looking for an epic shoe value, the Torrent is our top pick.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Brooks Divide 3 is available for quite a bit less than our priciest options. The price alone makes it a great value, but the fact that it scores decently across all of our metrics further increases its value. If you're new to trail running and aren't sure what terrain and style you're going to focus on, this is a great place to start.

trail running shoes womens - the brooks divide is a great budget buy because of its well-rounded...
The Brooks Divide is a great budget buy because of its well-rounded features that can hold up on most types of terrain.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Foot Protection


When considering the foot protection of a shoe, we systematically look at different elements and how they work together to create cohesive protection while bombing down (or up) trails. In some cases, foot protection impedes sensitivity, another one of our scoring metrics. Some of the best trail shoes on the market strike the perfect balance between protection from unexpected trail hazards and sensitivity to feel what is beneath you.


One of the first things we look for when it comes to foot protection is a rock plate. More and more of the best trail shoes are being released without them. A rock plate is a small panel within the shoe's sole that protects your feet from feeling the sharp points of rocks as you travel over them. Shoes that are released without rock plates often have a thicker underfoot cushion, or "stack," to dampen the intensity of the trail. Beefy underfoot stacks can be as protective as rock plates, so shoes are measured on how well they protect the soles of our feet, not simply on the presence or absence of a rock plate. The best rock plates are the ones you can't feel and, interestingly, our highest scorers in this metric all lack rock plates.

trail running shoes womens - the dynfit feline is an example of a highly protective trail shoe...
The Dynfit Feline is an example of a highly protective trail shoe. Its beefy toe bumper and rigid crash pad make it a beast when it comes to tackling rocky trails.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

We also assess the toe cap of each shoe for overall protectiveness. Accidentally stubbing your toe on a rogue rock can quickly sabotage the rest of your run, which is why toe bumpers exist. Some toe caps are constructed of a thin and flexible rubber coating that provides little protection. Other shoes have straight-up bumpers at the front, which can offer more than enough protection from accidental toe stubs.

trail running shoes womens - two of our favorite toe caps and boxes, especially when it comes to...
Two of our favorite toe caps and boxes, especially when it comes to protection. Left, the Ultraventure 3 and right, the Lone Peak 7.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Many trail shoes are manufactured with a specific terrain type in mind. The style of toe cap is a great way to suss out what terrain type a shoe is made for. One of our most protective shoes, the Dynafit Feline SL, has an incredibly tough toe bumper and is made for running really rugged terrain. It lacks the well-cushioned ride of shoes made for longer distances but is super protective on rocky trails. On the flip side, the Topo Ultraventure 3 is made for moderate trails and has a more flexible toe cap. The Ultraventure is loaded to the gills with cushion, boasting a 30mm stack in the forefoot and a 35mm stack at the heel, which provides ample underfoot protection. Both shoes offer great protection but in slightly varied ways for different types of terrain.

trail running shoes womens - a close-up perspective of the ultra-thick stack of the ultraventure 3.
A close-up perspective of the ultra-thick stack of the Ultraventure 3.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

If you want a trail running shoe that prioritizes underfoot cushion for protection, we enthusiastically recommend those made by Hoka. The Torrent 3, Tecton X 2, Challenger 7, and Speedgoat 5 are divergent in the types of runners and terrain they best serve, but they all have one thing in common — highly protective underfoot stacks, none of which have rock plates.

trail running shoes womens - the stack height of the challenger allows for great underfoot...
The stack height of the Challenger allows for great underfoot protection, but in a soft, springy type of way.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

When measuring foot protection, we take a 360-degree look at each shoe, from its outsole to its toe box to its upper. While none of the shoes we've tested are waterproof, some are more water-resistant than others. Many of the shoes we tested have a "GTX" version, where Gore-Tex is used to add water protection. If you know you'll be tackling a lot of water, look for this option — just know it's likely to be less breathable and more expensive. We tested the conventional versions of each shoe by splashing through standing water, mud, and taking the occasional trip to the beach to let the ocean saturate our shoes.

One of the best ways to test a shoe's water repellence is to saturate it and gauge how wet our socks got. We then survey the length of time it takes for each shoe to dry out. Here we play in the ocean wearing the New Balance Hierro v7.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

After getting each shoe wet, we timed how long it took to dry as well as how comfortable it was to run in while wet. The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is a unisex shoe ideal for warm weather running. It dries out very quickly in the sun and is comfortable to run in even after being saturated. The single-pull lace system can get gunked up if you splash through a lot of mud, so be prepared to spend some time cleaning the lacing mechanism if you plan to get dirty.

trail running shoes womens - the super-light upper of the s/lab dries better than most of the...
The super-light upper of the S/Lab dries better than most of the shoes in our lineup.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Salomon Speedcross 6 is our go-to recommendation for muddy and slick terrain, in part because of its awesome protection. It has a burly toe bumper and a super finely woven mesh upper. When testing each shoe's ability to prevent sand and other trail debris from infiltrating, the upper mesh is hugely important. The Speedcross does a great job at deflecting water as you splash through puddles, but it takes longer to dry because it lacks lightness and breathability. The Altra Lone Peak is another shoe that scores well for protection because of its upper. We took each pair of runners out into dirty, dusty environments and intentionally tried to get dust in our shoes, and we took careful notes about how much sand and silt was between our toes post-run.

trail running shoes womens - foot protection includes water-resistance, or lack therof. in the...
Foot protection includes water-resistance, or lack therof. In the case of the updated Speedcross, we are pleased to report that hardly any sand infiltrated through the mesh upper. We definitely felt the water creep in, but it dried quickly enough to allow us to continue our run in comfort.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The final element we look at when it comes to foot protection is how well the heel collar protects and prevents sand from coming in. While none of the shoes we tested are completely impervious to sand being flung in through the heel collar, shoes with thicker cushions and more-contoured construction scored higher. The Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max and Merrell Antora 3 both have thicker collars that ride close to the skin.

trail running shoes womens - the thick heel collar of the antora helps prevent sand from...
The thick heel collar of the Antora helps prevent sand from infiltrating.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

If you are a trail runner who hates getting sand or small pebbles in your shoes, we recommend investing in a pair of ankle gaiters. Typically very affordable, gaiters adhere to the back side of your shoe via a double-stick tape that is included with them, though many trail shoes come with a ready-to-use piece of Velcro on the heel cup. Gaiters typically have hooks or bungees on the front that can anchor to the D-loops that are often on the lace bed of trail shoes.


trail running shoes womens - ankle gaiters are a sure-fire way to prevent trail debris from...
Ankle gaiters are a sure-fire way to prevent trail debris from slipping in through the collar of your shoes.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Traction


The outsole design of a trail shoe can make or break your experience. When it comes to traction, it is valuable to decide what kind of trail running you'll be running the most and then decide on some contenders from there. We tested each pair of shoes on slick, muddy trails, loose scree-covered mountains, beaches, bike paths, and many terrain types in between. No trail shoe is completely slip-resistant, but they all provide significantly more grip than running shoes built only for pounding pavement.


While many different traction types exist, a few patterns stand out. In general, shoes with multidirectional lugs of differing shapes provide the best traction. The lugs on trail shoes tend to be around 4mm, though there is no one-size-fits-all lug depth for manufacturers. On some of our highest-scoring shoes, the lugs are adorned with additional texturing, which can add even more grip.

trail running shoes womens - trail shoes all offer more rugged lugs than those you would see on...
Trail shoes all offer more rugged lugs than those you would see on road shoes. Some lugs, like those on the Peregrine 13, are great for gravelly and sandy trails.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Speedcross 6 stands out in this metric because of its sharp 5mm lugs. While the outsole is sticky, this is a shoe that relies on the sharp points of its tri-tipped lugs to keep you upright on loose and muddy terrain. Other shoes, like the S/Lab Ultra 3, rely more on the grippiness of the outsole. The S/Lab and the Speedcross scored similarly in our traction metric, though their differences equip them for slightly different terrain types. Both of these Salomon-made shoes shed mud well, making them that much more equipped for muddy trails.

trail running shoes womens - thick, sharp lugs like this are built to keep you steady on loose...
Thick, sharp lugs like this are built to keep you steady on loose, sloppy trails.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The DynaFit Feline is a slim-fitting, nimble shoe built to make you feel like a mountain goat. Its outsole is super rigid and covered in sharp lugs that can bite down into soft, shaley trails. Much like the S/Lab Ultra and the Speedcross, the Feline sheds mud like a champ, adding to its mucky terrain handling prowess. All three of these shoes are built for aggressive, technical running, and none of them cross over onto roads very well.

A closer look at the teeth of the Feline.
A closer look at the teeth of the Feline.
Though less rugged in appearance, the outsole of the S/Lab Ultra 3...
Though less rugged in appearance, the outsole of the S/Lab Ultra 3 is awesome.
The lugs on the Speedcross are a bit overbuilt but do the job when...
The lugs on the Speedcross are a bit overbuilt but do the job when the terrain turns slick.

The Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max is also a traction standard-setter thanks to its double-decker lugs and rubber outsole reinforced with graphene. The confidence that was generated by the lugs and the sticky outsole is top-notch. Additionally, even after we tested this shoe on pavement, the lugs remained crisp, substantial, and textured. They have a distinctive shape, with sharper edges and a more unified design. These shoes are excellent for navigating muddy trails thanks to the sheer depth and textured surface of the lugs and their outstanding ability to also shed mud.

trail running shoes womens - the layers of textured lugs make the trailfly a great mud running...
The layers of textured lugs make the Trailfly a great mud running shoe.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Torrent 3 and Ultraventure 3 are both distance-focused trail shoes that perform exceptionally well on moderate trails. Both outsoles have strong, durable lugs that hold their grip on varied terrain types. In both cases, ample cushioning makes these shoes suitable for crossing over into road-running territory, which is helpful if you cruise through your neighborhood to get to your local trail system. The Salomon Pulsar Trail and the New Balance Hierro v7 are two additional examples of shoes that are well-tractioned enough to tackle light to moderate trails and are cushioned enough to hit the asphalt when needed.

trail running shoes womens - the teeth on the lugs of the hierro inspire even more confidence on...
The teeth on the lugs of the Hierro inspire even more confidence on light to moderate trails.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

If you are more inclined to run softer, flowy single tracks or fire roads, shoes with overbuilt outsoles might be too clunky or protective for your needs. Some of the best shoes built for more moderately technical trails scored lower in this metric because they were being compared to super rugged competitors. Please note: every single trail shoe we tested provides traction that is suitable for the trails; it is up to you, with our help, to decide what level of traction will suit your needs.

trail running shoes womens - once you decide what kind of terrain you want to tackle, you can...
Once you decide what kind of terrain you want to tackle, you can dial in the traction type that will best serve you.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Sensitivity


The sensitivity of a trail running shoe is a black-and-white concept, but where each runner's personal preference lies is a delightfully colorful spectrum. We rank each shoe's sensitivity, or the ability to feel the specifics of the trail beneath you, in order from most to least. The most sensitive shoes have very little cushion in the sole, while the least sensitive are stacked with plush fluff. All shoes provide some amount of sensitivity, as it is necessary to be able to adapt to the terrain as you run. If you are a runner who wants a thick underfoot stack for joint cushioning and ultra-distance efforts, the "worst" in this metric might be the best fit for you.


Trail runners often value sensitivity because feeling the undulations and unique trail features beneath you can encourage your body to make micro-adjustments as you run. The stabilizing muscles in your feet and lower legs can work harmoniously when they receive information about where and when to engage or relax. Other trail runners prefer shoes that provide dampened sensitivity, meaning that they can feel that something is beneath their feet, but they can't feel exactly how pointy the rock or stick is.

trail running shoes womens - a comparative look at the plush challenger (l) and the...
A comparative look at the plush Challenger (L) and the ultra-sensitive Bushido (R).
Credit: Ally Arcuri

One of the most sensitive trail running shoes that we have tested to date is the La Sportiva Bushido II. With only 19mm of stack at the heel and 13mm in the forefoot, this is the shoe that provides the most intimate trail experience while still offering adequate protection. Don't let its sensitivity rating fool you –- the Bushido can tackle rugged trails; you'll just feel more features underfoot than you would in other shoes. The S/Lab Ultra 3 is another high scorer in this metric. Sitting at 26mm above the earth at the heel and 18mm at the toe, its flexible outsole bends and curves around rocks and ruts in the trail.

trail running shoes womens - the thin stack of the bushido is protective enough to be considered...
The thin stack of the Bushido is protective enough to be considered a rugged trail shoe but thin enough to provide more trail intel than we knew was possible.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The most universally-appropriate trail shoes strike a balance between protection and sensitivity. The S/Lab Ultra offers just enough cushion to be a highly sensitive shoe that is appropriate and comfortable for long distances. The Saucony Peregrine 13 is another well-scoring shoe that offers a great trail feel. The lugs and rock plate inhibit some of its sensitivity, but it remains a good example of what the balance point feels like. And finally, if you enjoy zero-drop sensitivity in a lightweight design, we recommend taking a serious look at the Altra Superior 5.

trail running shoes womens - the rock plate and traction of the peregrine are rugged enough for...
The rock plate and traction of the Peregrine are rugged enough for super techy trails, but the minimalistic cushioning allows you to receive pertinent trail intel as you run.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Stability


The stability of a shoe is hugely important when it comes to keeping your body safe and healthy on the trails. Stability can best be described as how secure and surefooted you feel on trails, especially when you misstep and land on an unexpected hazard. Does the shoe move with your foot as your body adjusts to regain balance, or does it go one way while your foot goes another? The latter option can result in rolled ankles and more serious injuries, which is part of why stability is so important.


Trail runners and hikers can be perfectly stable in traditionally shaped shoes that offer a standard heel-to-toe differential. For context, most road running shoes have an 8-12mm "drop," which describes how much lower the forefoot sits than the heel. For the most part, trail shoes have a less significant drop because the lower your heel is to the ground, the more stable you become.

trail running shoes womens - a super stable shoe can help absorb the impact of rogue rocks that...
A super stable shoe can help absorb the impact of rogue rocks that may otherwise be considered ankle-twisters.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Altra is known for making epic zero-drop shoes, such as the Lone Peak and Superior, which means that the heel and toe sit on the same plane. This style of shoe encourages your rear chain muscles to engage more readily, creating more stability. The caveat here is that zero-drop shoes are not comfortable for all bodies. Especially if you're unaccustomed to the fit, the difference, even though it seems subtle, can lead to a very uncomfortable adjustment period. It's best to build up the foot strength needed for this type of shoe by starting out slowly with shorter runs.

trail running shoes womens - shoes that allow your tiny muscles to engage and work provide better...
Shoes that allow your tiny muscles to engage and work provide better stability overall. The most stable shoes offer this space with some level of lateral structure for even more stability.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Another element that plays into stability is the width of your shoe. We don't suggest you hurdle down trails in something with a lot of lateral wiggle room, but you should have enough in-shoe real estate for your toes to splay and muscles to engage. Giving your feet this bit of space allows your muscles to work properly, which is your body's way of finding stability as you run. The Lone Peak and Superior are super stable shoes because they hit on the main elements that lead to stability. With a plush zero-drop differential (the Lone Peak has a bit more padding than the Superior) and an emphasis on toe box space, these are our go-to recommendations for runners who want a very stable shoe.

trail running shoes womens - the width and plush siding of the lone peak 7 make it ideal for...
The width and plush siding of the Lone Peak 7 make it ideal for runners who want stability above all else.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Hoka Torrent 3 is a 5mm drop shoe with a more svelte profile. It has a bit more responsive bounce than your typical stability-forward shoe, making it an excellent choice for runners who want stability and speed. The Torrent has a way of absorbing the impact of rogue rocks and missteps that feels supremely stable. The Tecton X 2 is another shoe that offers great stability and a 5mm drop but can encourage your legs to turn over faster, thanks to its carbon fiber plate. While no shoe is completely fool-proof, we absolutely trust the Torrent to keep us healthy and upright even on extremely fatigued legs.

trail running shoes womens - lightweight and peppy all around, the cushioning of the tecton makes...
Lightweight and peppy all around, the cushioning of the Tecton makes it comfortable, while its carbon plate makes it extra responsive. This is our top recommendation for runners who need stability but crave speed.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Comfort and Fit


This is a tricky metric to assess because of how different one runner's needs are from the next's. We took a holistic approach to evaluating comfort and fit, assessing all of the details of the shoe and aligning that with what kind of runner might prefer each feature set. We describe some shoes as "universally comfortable," meaning that their comfort will appeal to the masses. Other shoes with more niche features will be less universally beloved because their fits tend to be a bit more specific.


As we tested, we considered the spaciousness of the toe boxes, the width of the midfoot, and whether or not the heel collar rubs the ankle. We noted how long each shoe took to feel like our own and endeavored to be as unbiased as possible as we focused on how each pair felt on our feet.

trail running shoes womens - the majority of shoes won&#039;t please everyone since we all have...
The majority of shoes won't please everyone since we all have different gait patterns, foot shapes, and preferences. A few shoes will be comfortable for more runners than others, given their extra cushion and forgiving body styles.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

In general, shoes with a bit more cushion and toe box space scored higher in this metric. A shoe that stands out to us as one that we think will be highly comfortable for many people is the Hoka Torrent. With its supportive but padded body extending through the heel collar, this shoe strikes the perfect balance between forgiving and stiff. Its plush, padded tongue prevents the lace bed from digging in as your feet naturally swell. The toe box isn't as wide as other shoes we've tested, but the mesh upper has a way of molding to accommodate each unique foot shape. The Torrent 3 requires a few break-in miles, but once the upper starts to soften, it becomes a trail companion that you'll never know how you lived without.

trail running shoes womens - the breathable yet protective mesh upper of the torrent expands to...
The breathable yet protective mesh upper of the Torrent expands to accommodate your unique foot shape, making it one of the most personally comfortable shoes on the market.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Lone Peak 7 may not be as universally coveted because of its zero-drop profile, but this shoe actually scored the highest in this metric. Its extra-wide toe box is incredibly comfortable, while the midfoot taper holds your foot in place. The general plushness aligns with a bit of arch support for a shoe that cradles your footbed. While this pillowy, zero-drop shoe won't be for everyone, those who love it will delight in its rugged softness.

trail running shoes womens - the plush comfort and spacious toe box are hard to ignore once...
The plush comfort and spacious toe box are hard to ignore once you've slipped your feet into the new-and-improved Lone Peak by Altra.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Topo Ultraventure 3 is another comfortable option with a wide toe box. It's not as plush as the Lone Peak, but it also isn't a zero-drop shoe, so it may appeal to a wider variety of trail runners. With a 5mm drop, strong protection, and moderate trail traction, the Ultraventure is another high-ranking, comfortable shoe that should be on your radar if comfort is key.

trail running shoes womens - the ultraventure has a toe box that is similar to that of the lone...
The Ultraventure has a toe box that is similar to that of the Lone Peak, but since it isn't zero-drop runner, it might appeal to a wider variety of runners.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra, much like the Torrent 3, has the ability to mold to the unique shape of your foot and cradle it comfortably. After just a few runs, the forefoot of the S/Lab shows signs of this, making the ride that much more comfortable and personalized. For more narrow-footed runners who want to ensure a snug forefoot, we recommend the New Balance Hierro v7. With thick laces and well-rounded padding, the Hierro is slightly more slender than some of our other high scorers, making it great for runners whose feet run narrow.

trail running shoes womens - while not a narrow shoe, the fit of the hierro is a bit more slender...
While not a narrow shoe, the fit of the Hierro is a bit more slender than some of our forerunners in this metric, making it an appropriate choice for runners with thinner feet.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The Salomon Pulsar Trail is another honorable mention in this metric. With plentiful cushion and a slightly wider feel overall, this shoe offers a responsive bounce with well-balanced traction, sensitivity, and stability.

trail running shoes womens - the pulsar is a plush shoe that boasts salomon&#039;s typical ruggedness...
The Pulsar is a plush shoe that boasts Salomon's typical ruggedness, making it suitable for moderate rocky trails where you'll want a bit of extra cushion between your soles and the abrasive terrain.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Weight


Weighing trail running shoes is one thing, but weighing them and then assessing how that weight feels as you run is a whole different party. First, we weigh each shoe right out of the box, and then we assess that weight as it compares to our calculated average, which is currently 8.37 ounces per shoe for a women's size 7 US.


Next, we look at what protective features and comfort-forward attributes each pair of shoes brings to the table. Some runners are looking for super lightweight and responsive kicks so they can throttle down mountainsides, while others aren't concerned with their shoe's weight and would rather have a beefier shoe. The weight alone cannot determine the prowess of the shoe, so it is up to you to decide what style will best serve your running needs. Unless ultralight running is your game, the lightest weight does not always make the best trail running shoe.

trail running shoes womens - some shoes, like the tecton x 2, are super lightweight and feel that...
Some shoes, like the Tecton X 2, are super lightweight and feel that way on the trail.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

A handful of the most well-featured shoes regarding protection score the lowest in the weight metric. The Salomon Speedcross, Dynafit Feline, and Inov-8 Trailfly are all rather niche shoes that scored low in this metric. It is important to discuss them, though, since their weight does not necessarily determine their ranking overall. The weight of the Speedcross is well worth it if you consistently run on muddy, mucky trails. The weight rides low, which is a unique feeling if you are accustomed to a more traditional fit. But the beef and weight distribution of the Speedcross allows it to do what it needs to, which is to keep you upright on slippery, hilly terrain.

trail running shoes womens - the trailfly weighs quite a bit more than many of the shoes we...
The Trailfly weighs quite a bit more than many of the shoes we tested. But since it is stacked full of protective features, exceptional traction, and a great deal of cushion, its elevated weight is worth it.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The DynaFit Feline fits like a slim-fitting cleat, with sharp, stiff lugs adorning its outsole. This downright hard structure is what makes this shoe fantastic for loose scree and gravel, but it definitely makes the number on the scale tick upwards. Once you add in its burly toe cap, the Feline weighs around 9.5 ounces per shoe — heavy but well worth it if rocky trails are what your heart desires.

trail running shoes womens - another look at the feline by dynafit. the weight is high, but so...
Another look at the Feline by Dynafit. The weight is high, but so are the protective features and durability.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

The lightest shoe in our lineup is the Hoka Challenger, which weighs in at 7.34 ounces per shoe. This lightweight trail runner is followed by the Hoka Torrent 3 and Hoka Tecton X 2, which weigh 7.48 ounces and 7.51 ounces, respectively. While all three pairs of these Hoka-made trail runners provide above-average foot protection and a comfortable, well-balanced ride, none of them score the highest in the foot protection metric because they lack the rigid structures of more specified shoes.

trail running shoes womens - the challenger has a thick outsole, but its lightweight makes it...
The Challenger has a thick outsole, but its lightweight makes it great for runners who want to throttle down trails.
Credit: Ally Arcuri

Conclusion


Your running needs will dictate what kind of trail running shoe will be right for you. We have tested options that prevail on steep mountainsides and others that thrive on sandy singletrack. While no shoe is going to be right for every runner, we hope that by digging into the nuances of some of the best trail running shoes on the market, we can help guide you toward a shoe that will excite you to hit the trails.

Ally Arcuri

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