Whether you’re just beginning your running journey, or you’re an experienced runner looking for a new shoe to try out, finding a quality pair of running shoes is the first step to guaranteeing that your future running endeavors will be enjoyable. It wasn’t so long ago that not much thought was given to the difference between male and female runners and their separate needs as athletes. The go-to phrase was, “shrink ’em and pink ’em.”
Luckily, athletic companies have moved away from this simplistic – not to mention sexist – standard and have taken into consideration that women’s bodies are different than men’s, so they need running shoes made specifically for them. With so many women representing the running population, this is a smart move. In 2016, women made up 58% of all the 5k races in the United States and 43% of all marathons.
Women’s vs. men’s running shoes
So what makes a woman’s model of a running shoe different than a man’s? First off, women tend to have smaller heels in relation to the forefoot, so the shape of the shoe will be slightly different. A lower body mass results in slightly less foam in the midsole of the shoe and deeper grooves make it easier to flex the midsole when toeing off. Men and women also have different Q-angles, or the angle of incidence between the quad muscle and the kneecap, as women generally have wider hips than men. This can cause pronation to occur, which requires different types of cushioning.
Overpronation vs. underpronation
If you overpronate, your foot tends to roll inward too far as you run, and your body isn’t absorbing shock as efficiently. For overpronation, you’ll want a more supportive motion-control shoe to help correct your foot motion. If you underpronate, your foot isn’t rolling in far enough, making the outside of it take the brunt of the impact after the initial heel strike. If this is the case, you’ll want a more neutral-cushioned shoe that will encourage a more natural foot motion. This is one of the most important things to consider when buying running shoes, as overpronation or underpronation can cause serious injury over time if it’s not addressed.
Different shoes for different types of running
You’ll also want to consider the type of running you’ll be doing. Are you planning on doing a lot of road racing? A lightweight shoe will likely be best. Do you tend to do your long runs on trails? Then you may want a shoe designed specifically for trail running. If you’re looking for a simple training shoe for casual running, then durability may not be a big concern. However, if you’re the type of runner who lives in their running shoes, finding a high mileage shoe will give you the best quality for your money.
It may sound overwhelming, but luckily we’ve done the research for you and chosen what we think are the best women’s running shoes based on a variety of running needs.
Here are the best women’s running shoes:
The best running shoes overall
The Brooks Ghost 11 shoes are durable enough for long runs, light enough for speedwork, and are even more responsive than the Ghost 10 thanks to the new sole unit.
If you’re looking for a cushioned neutral running shoe, the Brooks Ghost 11 should be considered for your new go-to. The latest model of the line-up, the Ghost 11 provides both comfort and durability, and can tackle anything from long distances to short and snappy speed work. The Ghost is known for out-of-the-box comfort, which I can personally speak to as an owner of the Ghost 10. You won’t have to worry about any break-in period with these.
The Brooks Ghost 11 keeps much of what worked in the Ghost 10, including the 12mm heel to toe drop for a smooth ride. However, there have also been some significant design changes. Most notable is the new sole unit. While the Ghost 10 featured a thick layer of Brooks’ DNA foam, the new design cuts down on the foam and integrates DNA loft foam under the heel.
According to Brooks, this foam is “engineered to be lightweight and ultra-soft without giving out underneath the foot.” The rest of the sole keeps the original DNA foam which gives it the cushioned and responsive feel that the Ghost line is known for.
As with any sole redesign, this does change the initial feel of the shoe. In this case, some reviewers say it gives the shoe a firmer feel. This is great for speedwork but could lead to some discomfort for long distances. Keep in mind, every runner is different and much of this comes down to personal preference.
Most reviewers feel that the new version is just a continued improvement on an already fantastic running shoe. Sueby, a reviewer from brooksrunning.com says, “These are amazing shoes with exceptional cushion. I have several pairs and they just keep getting better.”
The sole isn’t the only thing that has changed. The upper has also received a full redesign with seamless, engineered mesh. It keeps the airflow going while keeping dirt and debris out, and also gives the shoe a sleeker, more modern look. One tongue loop was kept in the redesign which does help keep the tongue of the shoe from slipping around while you’re running. Having run in shoes that don’t have this feature, this seems like a small thing until you have to stop and retie your shoes to readjust the tongue. When it comes to running shoes, little things like this can make a big difference.
In keeping what works combined with some innovative design changes, it comes as no surprise that the Ghost 11 has yet again received the Editor’s Choice Award from Runner’s World. While it is heavier than many of the lightweight running shoes available, weighing in at 9.5 ounces, its design allows it to keep a fast and responsive feel usually found in lightweight models.
The comfort and increased responsiveness, as well as a consistent price, make it worth upgrading to the Ghost 11. Another benefit? The price for every new Brooks Ghost model has remained the same for the past five years.
Pros: Well-cushioned while still having a light feel, smooth heel to toe transition, new seamless upper design for added breathability and comfort, new DNA loft foam allows for more responsiveness, versatile design is ideal for both speed work and long distances
Cons: On the heavier side, won’t provide enough support for overpronation, some reviewers feel the sole redesign creates a firmer feel that could become uncomfortable on long distances
The best running shoes for support
The New Balance 860 line is specifically designed for those who overpronate, providing a smooth, comfortable ride from heel to toe.
As a tried and true stability shoe, the New Balance 860 line is solely (pun intended) dedicated to helping those who overpronate, providing the stability needed to help prevent any unnecessary running injuries.
The newest version keeps the dual-density TruFuse midsole for a soft, yet supportive feel and the 10mm heel drop also remains the same. The upper has received some welcome updates, but the toe box remains roomy. This allows the toes ample room to splay out for push-off, adding to the smooth, natural-feeling ride.
The upper has received another update from the 860v9, allowing for more breathability and comfort with seamless engineered mesh. It also keeps the shoe looking modern and fresh despite being on its 9th version. Often, stability shoes look bulky, but that isn’t the case with the 860v10. The midfoot of the upper now features fewer overlays, which add to that sleek look, and more targeted stitching for even better support. There are currently four different color schemes available, ranging from neutral to flashy so you can easily find a style to match your running wardrobe style.
These shoes are on the heavier side, but unlike many stability shoes, the 860v10 finds the balance between providing the right amount of support without completely weighing you down. The T-Beam stability shaft that runs under the midsole helps correct overpronation and still allows for a snappy and responsive feel often found in lighter running shoes. The blown rubber outsole is designed to last and does well in both wet and dry conditions so you won’t have to put your run on hold just because of a little rain or snow.
The 860v10 excels at providing a steady and well-supported run. The comfort alone makes this shoe a winner in the support department – especially if you have wide feet. As mentioned above, the toe box is roomy, but there are narrow, wide and extra-wide widths available to accommodate different feet.
The durability of this shoe makes it ideal for high-mileage, so if you’re looking for a pair that can withstand daily training, the 896v10 is well worth considering. Most reviewers have had a great experience with the 860v10. Even those who don’t run regularly, or just want added support throughout the day at work or while running errands find themselves turning to this stability shoe.
Pros: Great support for overpronation, cushioning provides a comfortable ride, newly designed mesh upper provides more breathability, T-Beam shaft for additional stability, 10mm drop provides a more natural heel to toe motion
Cons: On the heavier side, not ideal for neutral runners who don’t need additional support, some runners found the mesh upper too breathable in cold weather
The best running shoes for trails
Hoka One One
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 shoes are designed to handle rough terrain on the trails with maximum cushioning and rugged soles, but the lightweight feel allows you to transition from the trail to the road anytime you want.
While some trail shoes tend to be on the heavy side, the Hoka One One (pronounced o-nay o-nay) Challenger ATR 5 shoes manage to provide maximum cushioning while still being lightweight. They’re responsive, rugged, and won’t weigh you down while you conquer the trails.
The newest version in the Challenger ATR line weighs in at a surprising 7.7 ounces. All you have to do is look at the Challenger ATR 5 shoes to see that they fall into the maximal cushioning running shoe category. While they may not be the prettiest running shoes on the market, all of that cushioning offers less stress and impact to the body. This combined with a rugged outsole make the Challenger ATR 5 the perfect shoe for tackling long trail runs.
If you begin or end your runs on the road, the traction and grip performance of this shoe works just as well on trails and rough mountain terrain as it does on the pavement, and its lightweight feel will provide you with a seamless transition. It should be noted that despite all the cushioning, the Challenger ATR 5 is considered a neutral running shoe, so it won’t offer much in terms of support for overpronators.
The toe box of the Challenger ATR 5 is reinforced with thermoplastic polyurethane to help protect your feet from protruding rocks and roots on the trail. It does have a narrower design, but to remedy this, the Challenger ATR 5 now has a wide width option. This was an issue with previous models for those who have wider feet, so it’s nice to see that the company listened and delivered. The sole of the shoe has also received a slight update: The distance between the 4mm lugs has been shifted to allow for an even more comfortable feel on hard surfaces, and stronger grip on technical terrain.
The upper of the shoe is designed to be durable, and durability is something the entire design of this shoe excels at. Running Shoes Guru gave the latest model high marks, stating that “It performs well on dirt trail, but also works well on rocks, roots, boulders and steep climbs.” The tester plans to wear them in an upcoming 50k, and “has no doubt it will be comfortable and perform well.” Its rugged durability makes this shoe a favorite for casual trail runners as well as the racing shoe of choice for ultra-marathoners.
Whether you want a more cushioned ride for casual trail runs, or you’re a modern-day Wonder Woman tackling your next ultra-marathon, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 is definitely worth considering.
Pros: Fantastic cushioning to weight ratio, rugged outsole with 4 mm lugs provides good traction on both trails and roads, toe box offers substantial protection from rocks and roots, wide width is now available
Cons: Not suited for overpronators, some reviewers felt this shoe was on the expensive side
The best lightweight running shoes
The New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon running shoes provide a super lightweight feel without sacrificing cushioned comfort, and they’re versatile enough to tackle both short and long runs.
If you’re looking for a neutral lightweight running shoe with a cushioned feel, the New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon just might become your go-to shoe. The women’s model weighs in at a mere 6.2 ounces, which seems almost impossible with all the foam cushioning involved.
The magic lies in what’s known as Fresh Foam Ground Contact. This is the material that makes up the sole unit. It’s ultra-light so you won’t feel weighed down while running but provides a soft and responsive feel. Combined with a seamless upper unit, the result is a comfortable neutral running shoe that may look simple but certainly doesn’t skimp on quality.
The block of Fresh Foam GC that makes up the sole of the shoe is specifically designed to withstand impact and wear over time. The concave and convex hexagon design isn’t just there for aesthetics – the sculpted shapes are specifically placed to provide cushion and stability where it’s needed most. From heel to toe there is a 6mm drop, ideal for neutral runners.
The sole does have quite a bit of exposed foam, with five spots of reinforced rubber lugs for durability. While most running shoes can handle up to 500 miles on the high end, because of the exposed foam, the Beacon is likely to hold up for 250 to 300 miles. However, the rubber lugs are placed under the heel and forefoot – areas that see the most impact.
Testers from roadtrailrun.com were impressed with how well the sole of the shoe held up saying, “New Balance has done some serious work to make a midsole used as an outsole as durable as this.”
When it comes to the upper of the Beacon, the thoughtful design continues. While basic, the all knit upper it does its job well, allowing for comfort, breathability, and stretch. The simple ‘N’ on the sides of the shoe isn’t just a logo – it’s also highly reflective. If you are running in low light at dusk or dawn, these shoes are great for visibility.
Being both lightweight and cushioned makes the Beacon a great shoe for both short and long runs. They allow you to pick up the pace, but won’t leave your legs and feet feeling fatigued even after running long miles. Amazon reviewer Rachel W. has dubbed these her “new marathon shoe” saying, “they are super light but cushioned enough to run a marathon in!” She, along with many other reviewers, do advise going half a size up to ensure a comfortable fit.
Pros: Super lightweight, cushioned feel, comfortable upper, reflective, versatile enough for both short and long runs
Cons: May not be able to handle as many miles as some running shoes, some reviewers had to size up to find their perfect fit
The best running shoes for high mileage
The Under Armour HOVR Infinite is specifically designed for long runs, with responsive cushioning, a durable outsole, and a built-in chip that will help you track your running progress.
Whether you’re training for a marathon, or simply enjoy taking long runs for the mental and physical benefits, the new Under Armour HOVR is a shoe that should be on your radar. Not only has it been designed for long runs in mind, but it’s also what’s known as “connected foot wear” featuring Under Armour’s Record Sensor Technology.
What does this mean? A sensor in the form of a removable chip is embedded in the insole of the shoe to track your speed, distance, stride length, and cadence. This data can be uploaded to the Under Armour Map My Run app post run, so you can view your stats in one place. Unfortunately, the data can only be uploaded to the one app (for now) but it still serves as a nice back up in case your GPS watch dies, or you simply want to geek out and compare stats.
A neutral running shoe, the HOVR Infinite has just the right amount of cushion to keep your legs feeling fresh even as you pile on the miles, and the responsiveness to keep you up to speed. This is thanks to the high energy return HOVR foam that’s used in the entire midsole. The outsole is comprised of blown rubber and carbon rubber for extra durability, a must for shoes that are expected to withstand high mileage runs.
While this does add some extra weight to the shoe, it’s not enough to leave you feeling bogged down. This tester from Runner’s World says, “I’ve worn the shoes for 40 miles at the beginning of my marathon training and am impressed by the comfortable cushion on long runs, but also the lightness on the track.”
There is a distinct difference between the men’s and women’s versions of these shoes. Under Armour took the anatomy of the female foot into consideration. The result is a better fit, with a contoured sock liner, and the tongue of the shoe being softer and higher than the men’s version. The rest of the engineered mesh upper is lightweight and breathable, and there is a cushioned heel collar for added comfort.
Between the connectivity feature and the effective, well-thought-out design, it comes as no surprise that the HOVR Infinite was a winner of the 2019 Runner’s World “Recommended” Award. Some reviewers did have to size up to find their perfect fit, but most were extremely happy with the comfort and support these shoes offer, and were impressed with the Record Sensor technology.
Pros: Cushioned comfort, responsive feel, durable outsole, gender-specific design, digitally connected so you can track your running stats
Cons: Some runners needed to size up to find their perfect fit, the connectivity feature is currently only compatible with the MapMyRun app