From muddy local trails to epic mountain runs, we’ve found the best trail running shoes for women.
Sure, you could get away with wearing normal sneakers on the trail, but having a pair of trail-specific running shoes provides increased comfort, grip, and protection from rocks and debris.
From sloppy southern trails to rocky peaks of the Pacific Northwest, we’ve spent the past six months running, hiking, and testing to find the best trail running shoes for women. While testing, we focused on choosing a variety of shoe styles to fit each runner’s needs and feet. Because the shoe each trail runner needs is unique as the trails they run.
3 Tips for Choosing a Trail Running Shoe
- Set realistic running goals. If you dream of running a 100-miler one day, but realistically will use the shoes for 5-mile training loops around your local park, buy shoes for the latter usage first.
- Consider shoe width. For folks with wide feet, or those running very long distances, a wide forefoot can be a bonus that lets toes splay. The downside is that wider shoes are less precise, can be a little more clumsy, and won’t fit well on people with narrow feet.
- Test out the tongue. Does it fit comfortably? Will it keep rocks out of your shoe?
For the complete guide to choosing a trail running shoe, check this out:
Best Trail Running Shoes for Women
Whether you prefer a minimalist feel, extra cushion, extreme grip, or a do-all workhorse, we’re confident you’ll find a new favorite running shoe here. Get ready to lace up and hit the trails.
With a roomy toe box and responsive traction, these shoes have quickly become one of our favorites for long days on the trail. The breathable upper kept our feet cool on the Appalachian Trail even in the heat of summer, and the ESS rock plate provided plenty of protection.
For more technical terrain, you may need a sole with more aggressive tread, but for dirt, mud, and even pavement, the Runventure will get you there in comfort and style.
Weight: 7.4 oz.
Heel-to-toe drop: 0 mm
Buy this if you like to give your toes more room to wiggle and want a shoe that will provide all-day comfort on the trail and off.
Salomon Sense Ride: $120
Borrowing from the elite S-Lab line, the Sense Ride offers excellent functionality without breaking the bank (at least compared to the $180 elite series). Weighing in at 8.8 ounces and with a 27-mm heel stack, these shoes offer plenty of protection without weighing you down.
The quick-laces are great for anyone used to fighting with laces coming undone on the trail. And we like that the breathable mesh keeps feet cooler and helps avoid blisters. An all-around solid trail running shoe for a multitude of terrains and up to ultradistances. Salomon does tend to run a little narrow, so try on a few pairs to see how they fit your foot.
Weight: 8.2 oz.
Drop: 8 mm
Best for ultradistances.
Updated with a new seamless upper, these shoes rate high for abrasion-proof comfort and offer plenty of grip with a 4-mm lug. The reinforced toe cap protects from debris without adding bulk, and the patented midfoot technology provides top-notch stability. These also come in an OutDry model, which is a great choice for sloppy winter conditions.
Columbia’s Montrail is a favorite all-around trail running and hiking shoe. Overall, it’s an excellent running shoe that also gives enough support and traction for lots of fast hiking.
Weight: 8.5 oz.
Drop: 8 mm
Best for anyone looking for a supportive trail shoe that works for running and hiking.
Altra Superior 3.5: $110
If squished toes are your problem, Altra is your answer. Designed to “look like a foot,” the expanded toe box is a favorite among wide-footed runners. Very similar to the Superior 3.0, the 3.5 brings the addition of a more durable upper and varied color options. GearJunkie’s barefoot-running fan and tester, Mallory Paige, likes the zero drop, but it may take some getting used to for those accustomed to more padded shoes.
It’s perfect for a lightweight day trek, minimalist thru-hike, or off-road trail run. We’ve used these on ultramarathons up to 100 km where, with a light 21 mm of cushion underfoot, they were a little thinner than some may prefer. Consider adding some more cushion with Altra’s Lone Peak (25 mm) or Olympus (36 mm) for long distances if you have sensitive feet.
Weight: 8.02 oz.
Drop: 0 mm
Best for lightweight day treks, minimalist thru-hikes, and off-road runs.
inov-8 TrailRoc 285: $150
The new 285s have an even more durable upper mesh than previous models. And best of all, it’s fine enough to keep out tiny rocks, grit, and sand. Additionally, the soles have a slight increase in heel and midsole cushion, making these even more comfortable for longer and harder trail runs.
For the recreational hiker or runner, these may be too much. However, for the technical mountain runner, ultrarunner, or climber looking for a long-distance light approach shoe, these could be your new best mates.
Weight: 10 oz.
Drop: 8 mm
Best for technical mountain runs.
Vasque Vertical Velocity: $130
These provide just enough protection from rocks and sticks without losing the ability to feel the trail beneath your feet. Great for trail running, we also like them as a lightweight hiking option. The wide toe box gives feet plenty of room, and the high-energy return will keep you feeling spry. At 8 ounces per shoe, these we won’t weigh you down either.
Weight: 8 oz.
Drop: 4 mm
Best for fast-and-light hiking.
Merrell Trail Glove: $100
Barefoot aficionados will love the Trail Glove. The lightweight design prevents “lead foot” and the thin sole provides plenty of ground feel. We wouldn’t wear these on rocky or extreme trails, but for light trails, they provide plenty of protection combined with a barely-there feel.
Weight: 6 oz.
Drop: 0 mm
Best for barefoot fans who want to hit the trail.
For maximum comfort and cushioning, look no further than the Challenger. The oversize foam sole provides plenty of protection, and the extended toe cap guards against rocks and branches. The 5-mm drop and rocker shape can take some getting used to, but the extra padding and breathable upper provide all-day comfort. Some testers found it to run large, so we recommend trying on to find the perfect fit.
Weight: 7.3 oz.
Drop: 5 mm
Best for anyone looking for a shoe that can transition from trail to road while providing plenty of cushioning.
inov-8 X-Talon 212: $115
This entire shoe is so flexible you can literally wring it out like a wet rag. Combined with the ultrasticky sole, this makes the inov-8 X-Talon 212 an amazing choice for off-trail running and unpredictable, technical trails. They are also great for big climb runs, as they work well for scrambling up rocks and are light enough to easily clip onto a harness.
We don’t suggest using these as your everyday trainers; the rubber wears down over time. However, for special occasions like race days and hard training days when the terrain is loose, wet, or muddy, these are your best weapon.
Weight: 7.42 oz.
Drop: 6 mm
Best for race days scrambling up rocks and running down loose trails.
Brooks PureGrit 6: $120
Looking for increased traction without the bulk? The PureGrit 6 has it. Plus, the mesh-like upper provides plenty of ventilation, and the expanded toe rubber protects from rocks. We’ve worn these dashing about on trail runs, hiking along the AT, and even to the gym on a few occasions. Through it all, they’ve provided plenty of comfort, durability, and, of course, traction.
Weight: 7.8 oz.
Drop: 4 mm
Best for fast hiking and trail running.
Altra King MT 1.5: $140
This is a specialized shoe for mud and slop, so it’s not a good choice for everyday running. But for mud racing or steep, sloppy trails, this is our top choice on the market. The King MT has gnarly 6-mm Vibram lugs to grab soft earth. A Velcro strap over the instep keeps the shoes stable even when wet.
Think of them as mud tires for your feet. We’ve used them and love them on the super-soft muck of spring. Just don’t plan to bang out pavement miles, as these things are dedicated off-road traction!
Weight: 7 oz.
Drop: 0 mm
Best for mud racing and steep, sloppy trails.
How Long Do Running Shoes Last?
The life of a shoe depends on a variety of factors, including running style, weight, and how often they’re used. But in general, 300 to 500 miles is a good rule of thumb.
So if you run 10 miles per week, your shoes could last eight months to a year. If you’re logging 20 miles per week, plan on replacing your running shoes every four to six months.
And if you see excessive wear patterns, holes, tears, or notice a decrease in footbed comfort, it’s probably time to grab a new pair of sneakers.
Have a favorite trail running shoe we didn’t include? Let us know, and we’ll check it out for future updates.