- You don't need much gear to start running, but a good pair of shoes goes a long way to making each run (and post-run) more comfortable and safe.
- It's important to understand different designs of shoes, and whether you need more or less cushioning, or a specific type of traction for the surface you'll be running on.
- Our top pick, Brooks Ghost 13, is the ultimate workhorse of women's running shoes with a lightweight-yet-cushioned feel, a breathable upper, and durability to grind out mile after mile.
Running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise (and stress relief). Whether you've decided you're going to start running a mile a week or you're training for your first marathon, finding a quality, comfortable pair of running shoes is the first step to guaranteeing that commitment will happen — and that it'll actually be enjoyable.
It wasn't long ago that little thought was given to the difference between male and female runners, as well as their separate needs as athletes. The go-to phrase was "shrink 'em and pink 'em."
Luckily, athletic companies moved away from that simplistic — and sexist — standard and finally took into consideration that women's bodies differ from men's. This included an understanding that women need running shoes made specifically for them.
With so many women representing the running population, it's a smart move, too. One analysis, which looked at over 107.9 million race results from the 1986 to 2018, found that the number of women participating in races since the mid-80s has grown by 30 percent. In 5Ks, women account for nearly 60 percent of total participants.
The difference between women's and men's running shoes
What makes women's running shoes different from men's starts with foot shape. Women tend to have smaller heels in relation to the forefoot, so the shape of the shoe needs to be slightly different. A lower body mass also results in slightly less foam in the midsole of the shoe, while 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 tends to cause pronation, which requires different types of cushioning.
Overpronation vs. supination
When your foot strikes the ground, the arch of your foot is going to collapse to some degree, which then causes your ankle to roll inward. This concept is called pronation, and it is the most defining factor in what kind of support you need from your shoe.
Some people have a neutral footstrike, so they don't need cushioning on either side. But most of us have a tendency to overpronate or supinate.
If you overpronate, your foot rolls inward when you run, and your body isn't absorbing shock as efficiently. To help with this, you'll want a more supportive motion-control shoe designed to correct your foot motion.
If you supinate, your foot doesn't rolling in far enough. This causes the outside of your foot to take the brunt of the impact with every strike. If this is the case, you'll want a more neutral-cushioned shoe that encourages natural foot motion.
This is one of the most important things to consider when buying running shoes, too — overpronation or supination often causes serious injury over time if not addressed.
How to shop for running shoes
While shopping, you'll want to consider the type of running you plan to do. Do you intend on doing a lot of road racing? If so, a lightweight shoe should be your go-to. Perhaps you're planning on embarking on long trail runs; you may want a shoe designed specifically for trail running.
If you're looking for a simple training shoe for casual running, then durability won't be a big concern. However, if you're the type of runner who lives in their running shoes, finding a high-mileage shoe gives you the best quality for your money.
The ins and outs of finding a worthy runny shoe may sound overwhelming but we've done the research (i.e. running) for you and found 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:
- Best overall: Brooks Ghost 13
- Best for support: New Balance 860v11
- Best for trail running: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 6
- Best lightweight shoes: New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3
- Best for high mileage: Under Armour HOVR Infinite
Updated on 11/13/2020 by Rachael Schultz: Updated the difference between overpronation and supination, checked the availability of each recommended running shoe, replaced discontinued models, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
The best running shoe overall
The Brooks Ghost 13 shoes are durable enough for long runs, light enough for speedwork, and are even more responsive than the Ghost 10 thanks to a new sole unit.
Pros: Well-cushioned while still feeling lighter, smooth heel-to-toe transition, new seamless upper design for better breathability and comfort, new DNA loft foam for more responsiveness, versatile design 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
If you're looking for a cushioned, neutral running shoe, the Brooks Ghost 13 is your pick. The latest model of the Ghost line-up, the Ghost 13, provides both comfort and durability while allowing you to tackle anything from long distances to short and snappy speed work. The Ghost is known for out-of-the-box comfort, so you won't have to worry about any break-in period with these.
The Ghost 13 keeps much of what worked in prior Ghost iterations, including the 12mm heel-to-toe drop for a smooth ride. There have also been a few significant design changes, most notable of which 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 the Ghost line is known for.
As with any sole redesign, this does change the initial feel of the shoe. The shoe offers a firmer feel than its predecessors, which is great for speedwork. However, this could lead to some discomfort for longer distances. Keep in mind, every runner is different and much of this comes down to personal preference.
The shoe's upper also features a seamless, engineered mesh that promotes airflow while keeping dirt and debris out. It 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 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 in order to readjust the tongue.
The comfort and increased responsiveness, as well as a consistent price, make it worth upgrading to the Ghost 13. The price for every new Brooks Ghost model remained the same for the past five years ($130) and the Ghost 13 is no different.
The best running shoe for support
The New Balance 860 line is specifically designed for those who overpronate, providing a smooth, comfortable ride from heel to toe.
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, narrower toe box than previous models
As a tried-and-true stability shoe line, the entire New Balance 860 line is solely (pun intended) dedicated to providing stability to those who overpronate, helping prevent any unnecessary running injuries.
The newest model has traded out the midsole from the v10 for a new Fresh Foam, which delivers a soft-yet-supportive feel. The upper received some welcome updates, but the toe box got slightly narrowed, which will be a deal-breaker for some.
The 10mm heel drop also remains the same, and the upper still features a high level of breathability and comfort via a seamless engineered mesh. It also keeps the shoe looking modern and fresh despite being on its 10th version.
Stability shoes often look bulky but that isn't the case with the 860v11. The midfoot of the upper now features fewer overlays, which add to its super sleek look, while targeted stitching improves support. There are currently five different color schemes available, ranging from traditional black or grey to more eye-catching baby blue and purple, so you can easily find a style to match your running wardrobe.
These shoes are on the heavier side but unlike many stability shoes, the 860v11 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 works well in both wet and dry conditions, too.
The 860v11 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 capable of withstanding daily training, the 896v11 is well worth considering.
The best running shoe for trails
The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 6 is designed to handle rough trail terrain with its maximum cushioning and rugged soles, and its lightweight feel allows you to transition from the trail to the road with ease.
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
While some trail shoes tend to be on the heavy side, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 6 manages to provide maximum stability while remaining lightweight. They're responsive, rugged, and won't weigh you down while you conquer your local trail.
The newest version in the Challenger ATR line weighs in at a surprising 8.8 ounces — and all you have to do is look at the shoes to see that they fall into the category of maximum cushioning. While they may not be the prettiest shoes on the market, HOKA ONE ONEs are a real style, especially in the outdoor community. Plus, the Challenger ATR 6's cushioning offers less stress and impact on the body. This, combined with a rugged outsole, makes this shoe perfect 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 pavement. It should be noted that despite the cushioning, the Challenger ATR 6 is considered a neutral running shoe, so it won't offer much in terms of support for overpronators. Devotees of the brand swear by that padding for reducing stress on their tendons and muscles, though.
The biggest update to the ATR 6 from the 5 is the switch to recycled Unifi REPREVE® yarn derived from post-consumer waste plastic in the primary and collar mesh, and recycled poly laces, both of which are moves to help reduce waste in the running shoe industry.
The shoe's toe box is still reinforced with thermoplastic polyurethane to protect your feet from protruding rocks and roots on the trail. It does have a narrower design but to remedy this, the Challenger ATR 6 now has a wide-width option. This was an issue with previous models for those with wider feet, so it's nice to see HOKA listened and delivered.
The sole of the shoe has kept the ATR 5's 4mm lug pattern for that strong grip on technical terrain but comfortable feel on hard surfaces.
The upper of the shoe is designed to be durable, and 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 6 is up to the task.
The best lightweight running shoe
The New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3 running shoes provide a super lightweight feel without sacrificing cushioned comfort, and they're versatile enough to tackle both short and long runs.
Pros: Super lightweight, cushioned feel, comfortable upper, reflective, versatile enough for both short and long runs
Cons: May not handle as many lifetime miles as other runners, you might have to size up to find a perfect fit
If you're looking for a neutral lightweight running shoe with a cushioned feel, the New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi v3 just might become your go-to. The women's model weighs in at a mere 6.2 ounces, which seems impossible with all the foam cushioning involved.
The magic lies in what's known as Fresh Foam Ground Contact — i.e. the material that makes up the sole unit. It's ultra-light, so you won't feel bogged down while running, and it still provides a soft and responsive feel. Combined with a seamless upper unit, the result is a comfortable neutral running shoe that looks simple but 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, either — the sculpted shapes are specifically placed to provide cushion and stability where it's needed most. From heel to toe, there's a 6mm drop, which is 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 handle up to 500 miles on the high end, because of the Arishi's exposed foam, it's likely to hold up for 250 to 300 miles. However, the rubber lugs are placed under the heel and forefoot — both areas that see the most impact.
When it comes to the upper of the Arishi, the thoughtful design continues. While basic, the all knit upper 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 Arishi a great shoe for short and long runs. They allow you to pick up the pace but won't leave your legs and feet feeling fatigued after running longer distances. We recommend going half a size up to ensure a comfortable 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 tracks your running progress.
Pros: Cushioned comfort, responsive feel, durable outsole, gender-specific design, digitally connected to track running statistics
Cons: Some runners needed to size up to find their perfect fit, the connectivity feature is currently only compatible with MapMyRun
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 also features 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 then be uploaded to the Under Armour MapMyRun app post-run, allowing you to view your stats in one place. Unfortunately, the data only works on MapMyRun (for now) but still serves as a nice back-up in case your GPS watch dies, or you simply want to geek out and compare stats.
Even if you don't care about the connectivity aspect, the shoe itself is still impressive. They clock in at $120, which is roughly the same as other running shoes on the market that don't offer the same smart features. So, no sweat (and no money wasted) if you choose not to take advantage of the high-tech bonus.
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, as well as 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 expected to withstand high mileage runs.
There is a distinct difference between the men's and women's versions of these shoes, too. Under Armour specifically took the anatomy of the female foot into consideration during the design phase and the result is a better fit, with a contoured sock liner.
The tongue of the shoe is both softer and higher than the men's version, as well. The rest of the engineered mesh upper is lightweight and breathable, and there's a cushioned heel collar for added comfort.
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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected]
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