Whether you’re hitting the trails for the first time or training for your tenth marathon, it will quickly become apparent that your running shoes are key to your running success. Indeed, investing in a good pair of shoes is not only crucial to your short-term performance but your long-term health as well.
In fact, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health, avid runners should even consider having multiple pairs of different running shoes, as research has found that consistently rotating your shoes can decrease the risk of running-related injury by as much as 39%. The reason: A rotation can ensure the cushioning and stability continues to hold up, and cycling between different shoes gives your body a break from the same set of stresses.
“The most important thing to think about when it comes to women's running shoes is that everyone's feet are different,” said Nikki Gnozzio, CSCS, LMT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and licensed massage therapist. “What works best for someone else may not be the best shoe for you.” As such, when selecting a running shoe, Gnozzio recommends trying before buying. And if possible, it’s best to have an expert measure or fit your foot and observe your running gait to determine where you might need more cushion or support, said Gnozzio.
Because women are bio-mechanically different from men, noted marathon runner and 22-year running industry veteran Annie Kawaski, women’s running shoes differ slightly from men’s in terms of forefoot width, arch height and heel width. Moreover, she noted, because women tend to have wider hips than men, women’s feet contact the ground at a wider angle.
Best running shoes for women
There are about 35 quality brands of running shoes on the market today, each one designing its own line using new technologies and materials to elevate performance. But deciding which model and make is best for you depends on a variety of factors, including weight, cushioning, foot type and more. To help you, we’ve rounded up some of the best running shoes recommended by our experts, as well as some highly rated picks fellow runners say they are loving right now.
Gnozzio cites Brooks as one of her favorite brands for comfort and longevity, and the Ghost 15 is a perennially popular model. Across retailers, customers give this shoe well over 4 out of 5 stars, citing the quality of the shoe and the value (given how long the shoe lasts) as major pros. Weighing in at under 8.8 ounces, this shoe is extremely lightweight and is appropriate across a range of surfaces, says the brand.
Another favorite brand of Gnozzio’s, Saucony is popular among many runners for its speed-centric design. This is particularly true of the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3, which gets a solid 4.3 out of 5 stars from customers on Saucony’s site with 216 reviews. The heel fit, something Kawaski noted is especially important, is designed to be particularly snug, making this a form-fitting shoe that is designed to propel runners forward, says the brand.
This shoe gets 4.5 out of 5 stars from more than 450 customers on the Brooks website, who largely laud this shoe for its arch support. For runners looking for a bit of extra cushion, the Glycerin 20 is a great option, thanks to its softness and the thickness of Brooks’ DNA LOFT v3 cushioning, a nitrogen-infused technology that reacts to a runner’s unique stride, says the brand. This shoe weighs in at just over 9 ounces and is designed for road running and walking. According to many of its customers, the Glycerin 20 rates among the more comfortable of running shoes.
Gnozzio noted that Hoka makes good trail-running shoes, and the Speedgoat 5 is a fan favorite, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 on REI’s website. This neutral shoe weighs in at 8.5 ounces and is designed for trails and rougher terrain, says the brand. Customers note that these shoes are great not only for running but for hiking and walking as well.
This pair of running shoes got 4.1 out of 5 stars out of 144 reviews on the New Balance site. Given the significant cushion in the midsole of this shoe – the More v4 is the most cushioned shoe in the New Balance lineup – runners find this shoe offers a smooth, comfortable ride. Despite the thickness of the cushion, the shoe weighs in at just 8.4 ounces, making it well suited for runners recovering from injury or surgery, says the brand.
These shoes get a 4.6- out of a 5-star rating from Dick’s Sporting Goods customers and are among the most lightweight of the Pegasus shoes that Nike has made (they’re under 7.6 ounces). Our experts noted that a comfortable running shoe isn’t just about the sole but the sides and tops of the shoe as well – to that end, the Pegasus39 features extra padding at both the tongue and collar to prevent soreness while running or working out, says the brand.
Customers on Amazon gave the Mizuno Wave Inspire 18 a 4.8 out of 5 stars, with our experts noting that this pair of running shoes is one of the most cost-effective on the market. According to the brand, the carbon rubber outer helps to extend the shoes’ longevity and makes them especially well-suited for pavement and other hard surfaces.
The Hoka Bondi 8 comes highly recommended by Gnozzio, given the plush cushion yet neutral stance of this running shoe. Our experts and customers noted that the heel of this shoe, which has an extended geometry, provides some extra cushion that helps runs feel softer and more balanced. The Hoka Bondi 8 was also awarded the Seal of Approval from the Podiatric Medical Association, which recognizes products that have been found beneficial to foot health. To earn this recognition, each product is reviewed by a group of APMA podiatrists to ensure it promotes foot health.
This super-lightweight shoe is only 6.6 ounces and is ideal for road runners, says the brand. It’s one of the most popular models among Asics customers, with an average Amazon customer rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. Created for folks who run long distances (and want to optimize speed), these Asics use the brand’s GUIDESOLE technology, which was designed to reduce ankle flexion by leveraging a curved design (effectively helping to propel your foot forward).
More than 200 Amazon customers give the Adidas Ultraboost 22 an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars, citing the cushioned midsole as a major factor in the comfort of these shoes. While this is a slightly heavier shoe, at 10.9 ounces, our experts said it’s ideal for everyday wear in the gym or for walking.
The Cloudultra running shoe is designed specifically for trail runs, which our experts said is key to have in your rotation if you’re planning on doing any running outside of the traditional gym or pavement setting. This shoe has extra cushion to help support and balance your foot (and body) on uneven terrain, and the closed-channel outsole helps prevent pebbles from getting lodged in the bottom of your shoe, says the brand.
This cross-training shoe from Ryka is specifically designed for a woman’s foot shape, designed with a narrower heel and more room at the toe. The No Limit Trainer is meant for both gym workouts and running, providing extra support built into the midsole to help stabilize while running. Customers give this shoe an average 4.5 out of 5 stars, noting that it’s just as comfortable for studio workouts as it is for running.
How to shop for running shoes
Generally speaking, running shoes fall into two major categories: stability and neutral. Stable shoes, Kawaski noted, are best for folks who have low or flat arches and therefore need more support for their feet. On the other hand, neutral shoes have minimal arch support and are better suited for those with high arches.
When it comes to selecting a good running shoe, our experts recommended keeping the following considerations in mind.
Cushioning.“First and foremost, you should look for a shoe that is comfortable,” said Gnozzio. Typically, she said, there’s a wide gap when it comes to the amount of cushioning. “The thickness of the midsole (the material between the bottom of the inside of the shoe and the outsole) indicates potentially how much cushioning there is in a shoe,” added Kawaski. Thicker midsoles tend to be more common in stability shoes, whereas extra cushioning in the heel is more common in neutral shoes.
Toe length. You don’t want a shoe that is too tight, our experts noted. “You should make sure you have enough toe length, as your feet could swell while running or encounter blisters,” said Gnozzio. “You want enough room to wiggle your toes comfortably and about one thumb’s width of space between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe,” said Kawaski.
Weight. You’ll frequently find the weight of a shoe referenced in the specifications, and for good reason, said Kawaski. Generally speaking, the heavier the shoe, the more difficult (or uncomfortable) it might be to run for long periods of time. However, don’t confuse the thickness of cushioning with weight, she noted. Modern technology has made it such that heavily cushioned shoes can still be very lightweight.
Drop. Drop essentially refers to the difference in cushioning between the heel and toe of the shoe. While most shoes are made with a 10mm drop, these drops can range all the way from 0mm to significantly more than 10mm. Higher drops tend to place more strain on the hips and knees, while lower drops place more load on the foot, ankle and lower leg. Once you’ve found a shoe you like, you may want to note the drop for future purchases.
Terrain. More important than your running form can be the terrain upon which you’re running, noted Gnozzio. If you’re frequently running on concrete, you may need a different shoe than if you’re trail running. Be sure to check your shoes’ make and model for what kind of terrain is most suitable.
Mileage. How long and how far you run is also a major consideration. While Kawaski points out that you should always look for shoes that you’d be happy to stay in all day, sprinting shoes and distance-running shoes may carry different types of support, weight and feel.
Meet the experts
Annie Kawaski is a runner who has competed collegiately and post-collegiately in every race distance from 400m to marathons. She has worked in the running industry for 22 years, currently as a senior product manager for Women’s and Men’s Performance Running, Fitness and Outdoor at Cole Haan.
Nikki Gnozzio, CSCS, LMT, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and licensed massage therapist. She is also the founder of Junction Bodyworks.